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Monthly Archives: March 2009

Nostalgia + Kantianism = Revolution?

Narrating the Left: Residual Marxism

Dead Voles has a very nice paragraph on the problem of the Left and Critical Theory, in particular the seeming failure of Americans to hold the nostalgia that Europe does (more than a paragraph, but that is what I repeat here):

Europe is a couple of generations closer than we are to a real left. The critical theorists are hopelessly wrapped around their own fannies confined to dealing with Habermas’ Kantianism, but they still occasionally remember what it’s all supposed to be about. The residual Marxists are wandering around forlornly trying to make sense of themselves in the world of Merkle, Sarcoszy, and Berlusconi, but they still retain a nostalgic sense of loss that some of them can still connect. Here in the US there are no such memories (oh, the odd blog) and no such nostalgia; and more important, not a clue about connection. Sociology was the most obvious academic victim of the cold war. At Brandeis (read “exile from New York”) I was the beneficiary of the death struggle – the end of ideology or the triumph of the will, depending who you talk to. As you said, theory decoupled from practice is meaningless, and by the end of the sixties the decoupling was essentially complete. In its place came the hodgepodge of single issue special interests you’ve talked about so many times.

What is in a Name? Does The Rose Smell as Sweet?

Perhaps this points us toward the historical and DNA difference between Anarchism and Marxism: there was a time in the history of the early 20th century that both conceptual frameworks were providing political paths divergent from growing Industrialized Capitalism. This is the difference between the love of the author versus the love of practice. As David Graeber notes in his Fragments of an Anarchist Anthropology [click here]:

Even if one compares the historical schools of Marxism, and anarchism, one can see we are dealing with a fundamentally different sort of project. Marxist schools have authors. Just as Marxism sprang from the mind of Marx, so we have Leninists, Maoists, Trotksyites, Gramscians, Althusserians… (Note how the list starts with heads of state and grades almost seamlessly into French professors.) Pierre Bourdieu once noted that, if the academic field is a game in which scholars strive for dominance, then you know you have won when other scholars start wondering how to make an adjective out of your name…

…Now consider the different schools of anarchism. There are Anarcho-Syndicalists, Anarcho- Communists, Insurrectionists, Cooperativists, Individualists, Platformists… None are named after some Great Thinker; instead, they are invariably named either after some kind of practice, or most often, organizational principle. (Significantly, those Marxist tendencies which are not named after individuals, like Autonomism or Council Communism, are also the ones closest to anarchism.) Anarchists like to distinguish themselves by what they do, and how they organize themselves to go about doing it (4)

This tradition of naming, the emphasis on authors and therefore text once pointed out becomes jarring. I love these texts actually, because I am a writer, but one also has to take the content of these texts, their reported aims and ethical footing seriously, and ask oneself, who or what is one writing for? What processes and structures are actually being supported in this text-terminology production, and to what ends? It is interesting that Carl at Dead Voles comes to his rumination from a post of his tracing the 25 most influential authors on his life, not to mention that most readers of this kind of blog are necessarily logophiles, as I am. 

To divert into an important and repeated trope, must not every text connect to the textile of the body? Is that not philosophy’s greatest question, text vs. textile? Who makes it and what does it signify? And what are we weaving now? These are the threads, that is the loom…a powerful and lasting analogy.

It is not that we need to get away from books, but perhaps get into them. Into the strands of their fabrics. Into what they are made of. Into the pulp, ink and hand, and trace them out, beyond, into their materiality.

Anodyneheavy: The Codification of Revolution

Anodyne lite has a wonderfully concise critique of what I take to be the Badioun-Zizek, perhaps Negri epistemo-revolution tactics. A brief sample, with which I in spirit and point agree:

Because insofar as our notions of what’s radical rely on rehashing a hypothesis that is haunted by the specter of colossal failure and violent abuse, grounded in a bygone era of industrial proliferation, humanism, and positivism, operating according to grandiose totalizing epistemologies that can find no purchase in praxis, and rife with unchallenged fetishism and essentialism, these ostensibly radical theories present absolutely no threat whatsoever to global capitalism.

For my part, I’m not even sure what revolutionary thinking is, or if I would want any part of it. I’m much less concerned with something being radically new, or radically radical, and much more drawn to that which is radically interesting. I’m not even sure that there is such a thing as “global capitalism” (or if any one knows what global capitalism is), other than one vast projection of a supposed series of alliances and principles of exchange that form some indominable (and evil) System. How about this: We look for a way to make peoples lives more meaningful.

Hearing Alain Badiou on Hardtalk: The Bashful Maoist

I’m sorry, I had never had the pleasureof hearing Badiou speak on contemporary politics, or even speak on anything. A funny thing happens when you see the person. Ideas, tones, the very specular sense of a person invades the writing, filling it out. Here in Hardtalk, originally posted by Infinite Thought, Badiou attempts to make himself clear. I can’t say that in presence this is a man bristling with intellectual acuity. Perhaps it is that he is speaking in English, but my sense of him as a thinker is diminished even from the sense that I already had that his ideas were somewhat inflated. Here Badiou’s ideas filtered down to everyday language and deprived of their technical, interlocking workmanship, appear pale and disorganized thought-themes.

Infinite Thought regretfully admits that this is not the most “successful” interview, something she chalks up to the interviewer’s “pure crystallised Anglo intello-Franco-phobia” (my goodness, PURE?). I have to say as someone who is rather intello-Franco-philic, I found Badiou alternately filled with sopping facializations or staid retreats into ambiguities and prevarication. Perhaps one feels that it was the interviewer’s job to try to draw out what is unique and gemlike in Badiou, a showcase…only though if one is a cheerleader, a true believer, it would seem. Badiou brings almost nothing on his own. We must believe that Communism is the “right hypothesis” despite (brutal) 20th century failures, why…because “faith” is sometimes a good thing.  If you have read Badiou you understand why he says this, but without all the terminology, concept-architecture and whatnot, this is pretty much how it all boils down. If intellectuals can’t do better than this, they are to remain essentially what they are, text-producers for a highly selective, and privileged readership.

The Power of Political Silence: Achilles, Antigone and Ignatius

The non-Being of Speech

In researching and thinking on political/philosophical application of the ideal of Achilles (written about here) I’ve run into a provocative quotation from the early Christian Bishop Ignatius:

It’s better to be silent and to be rather than speak and not to be. Teaching is a fine thing provided that he who speaks also does; there is “one Teacher” who “spoke and it was done”, and what he has done in silence is worthy of the Father. He who possesses the word of Jesus can in truth also hear his silence, so as to be perfect, and so that through what he speaks, he may act, and through what he keeps silent, he may be judged. (ad Ephesios 4. 1.2)

[Found in Language in the Confessions of Augustine, Burton]

Immediately came to mind the withdrawal of Achilles from the Hellenic contingent, and his self-imposed silence on the matter because he had no proper “being” in the speech that was available to him. Eventually, in the ninth book, he will address the hall, and speak in a unique what that defies and re-defines the language game before him. Here in Ignatius’s appeal to the being of silence and the non-being of speech, the coherence of speech and action we find the very values of integrity speech that Achilles scolds Odysseus as failing to hold. Any Achillean, thymotic economy of political power must employ silence one would think.

Also recalled for me is the silence of Antigone, her withdrawal from the social order. There are many comparisons to be made between Achilles and Antigone, and I believe that Sophocles had the hero of the Iliadin mind when writing his tragedy. She completes her act of burial silently, and in her initial interaction with Kreon is nearly mute. And, like Achilles, when she does speak, she speaks in a way that uttterly torques the language game custom into which she has entered, speaking as if “the man”.

There is something worth contemplating here, “It is better to be silent and to be rather than speak and not to be,” as Ignatius advises. He is thinking of a particular political situation in this context (the Bishop of Ephesus), but I think his words can be extrapolated out to the very corners of what “being” is. In an illustration I often return to Tommaso Campanella compares existence with the very terminus of a line, wherein we reach the capacity of ourselves, coming right up against our non-being (all of what we are not). Speaking can threaten our capacities to be if we do not fully deploy ourselves within it. Teachers must speak fully. And silence is often a power that can be drawn on.

Subjects Created in Truth Procedures at Prague’s Franz Kafka International Airport

Pursuing the Generic

Not only does this “news report” play upon our well-worn picture of Eastern Block Communism, it does so fused with the addictive Fox News/CNN mode of Breaking News anticipation, perhaps revealing the degree to which we are already pure Ideological subjects. What is striking is that we recognize ourselves here, not in some sci-fi sense of an alternate parallel universe, but rather this is the REAL (not to mention the relief of joyful distance that comes through as we idenitfy the literary references and can chuckle about it all like some highly literate Russian in our minds).

Of course the properly identified Subject has no such difficulty within an Airport, (along with the implicit experienced subject who is simply able to finesse the quirks of the system with a certain tacit knowledge). One moves seamlessly along the generic paths of processes with great, if somewhat banal, glee. It is the supposedly resistant Western capitalist “individual” (buisness traveler) who becomes confused, marked, externalized to their own internal.

Who/what is the Subject? The resistant kernel that cannot be processed, or the perfectly generisized lipidity of movements and identifications? False dichotomy. “Properly followed, proper protocols” and Wittgenstein’s Language Game sign-followings met with delicious irony. 

Professors of the Left: Unite!

The discussion that arose around my last post on the discourse of the Left brought to mind something said to me in passing a few years ago.

A professor of Classics at a college which is a standard-bearer for the American Left, who had been teaching there for nearly half a century, and at least seemed to have communitarian political views, said of his many decades of watching the dining faculty there (paraphrased):

“The further to the Left the professor, the greater the likelihood that they will leave their tray behind to be cleaned up by the help”

Now this professor was not one for over-statement, though he had a love for the anecdotal (he was smiling at the irony when he said it). I could not help but feel that he was reporting a valid, sedimented and anthropological fact. Nearly fifty years of the American Left had passed through the dining hall, and year after year this man had simply watched. I believe, because he himself made it an aim of personal friendships and personal acquaintance with much of the now largely Hispanic staff at the college, it probably alarmed him, or even amused him, that so many that speak on behalf of the silenced minority in strong theoretical fashion actually had very little connection to the labor that was all around them. He had come through the 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s, 00s. In fact, there seemed a categorical disconnect. Their place of privilege as advocates for the exploited and abused necessarily somehow detached them from the “exploited” right beside them.

This is not to bash the Left in favor of the Right. And this is not to incrimate by association either. All have a propensity to make invisible. This is only to say given the stated theoretical views and values of the Left, “Please pick up your tray at the dining hall”, so to speak. Where do you think “revolution” begins and ends?

(Is there a conceptual connection between the brutalities exacted upon their populations by Maoist, Stalinist and Khmer Rouge party officials, and Leftist professors who tend not to clean up their plates? I don’t know. Hierarchy can be an unpredictable thing. Perhaps it can be called The Autonomy of Thought.) 

Mikhail on the Communism Conference; Don’t talk about the car!

Mikhail over at Perverse Egalitarianism posts on Toscano’s presentation at the Birkbeck Communism Conference, a text provided for us by Infinite Thought. He remarks that the illustrations that I.T. provide actually illuminate something of the meaning of it, and makes the interesting mistake of including the striking image of a Rolls in Soviet colors:


In an anecdotal bit of ideological truth, among the commentators a light-hearted joy about the car rose up including a question of what kind of car it was, allowing Infinite Thought to chime in and exasperatedly advise, “Aaargh! Discuss the piece! Not the car!”.

Oddly this seems to crystallize exactly the kinds of things at stake in such a conference. There is a kind of implicit demand upon the importance of the words being spoken by largely white, middle aged men, the respective stars of academia. It is these men who are dreaming the dream for those who cannot dream for themselves, it seems. Infinite Thought’s turning of our eyes from the car (not that dream!), towards the real dream (yes!, that  dream) allows us to see the normative pre- and pro-scritions of such a discourse. In my mind, the ironic contrasts of the car are actually quite revealing of many forms of communist intellectual conflicts.

Mikhail responded to my thought of the contradictions implied when an elevated group thinks/dreams on the behalf of another,

Is this not almost always the case when it comes to philosophical and political ideas? Others are dreaming their dreams for us – I can’t think of any really significant idea that I consider to be true and useful that I personally came up with, unless, of course, you count fundamental principles like “Don’t drink too much the night before an important meeting or a presentation” and “If it doesn’t smell, it’s fresh enough to wear again”…

Which lead me to ruminate on the role of philosophers in the historical path of the world, in particular in regards to the freedoms of others who cannot speak for themselves. Something perhaps worth repeating here:

It is also the case with artists that they are “dreaming for us” and thank goodness so. But with this specific brand of philosophical revival, the attempt to make good on a Political Idea that has been done so very wrong (okay now, so the end of the world did not occur at midnight, the year 2000, what did he REALLY mean? In what way did WE fail him?) that troubles me.

I think that art is very “useful” in the sense that it dreams for us, and philosophy as well, but when description becomes prescription, when artists stop showing us what they see, and telling us how we should see, (then act and do) there is an inherent contradiction which somehow leads to brutal historical absurdity. It is a monastic priesthood all over again.

Now yes, it may be very interesting to ASK an artist what he thinks of the situation. There will be a certain feel to her/his words if you have respect for their work. But there is no necessary connection between their process and ours.

Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE reading the political philosophers. They are the dreamers of new possibilities of thought as it relates to the concrete world. But they confuse sometimes their role as dreamers with an imagined position of being the ONLY dreamers, or the only dreamer (the one with the correct argument), perhaps the “meta-dreamer”.

It is back to that odd realization, philosophers are curious TYPE, and those that have thrived in the academic environments (survival of the fittest), carry with themselves quite a number of, what would be considered genetic defects, out there in the real world of persons and lives lived. When the university arose in the middle ages there was a time when your two best vocations were those of a theologian or a lawyer. A nice, complimentary pair these two. Those that make the real world, and those that critique the makers in the name of something “higher”.

What does it mean to not talk about the car?

The Pre-eventual in Badiou: Conjoined Semiosis

Nick over at The Accursed Share posts his interesting essay on the problem of the waiting for the event, “What is to be done? Alain Badiou and the Pre-eventual” . His desire to de-emphasize the event is notable, and something I have affinity for, but I simply cannot follow his reasoning one what to do prior to the eruption in the situation. We had some extensive discussion, and still I am not clear on his point (at the very least my stunted comprehension may have brought out even more of Nick’s interesting thoughts for readers).

But aside from commending the essay which is written in a clear, forth-right style, there is a passage therein that gives me to think of my argued notion of Conjoined Semiosis, as Nick writes:

“While the idea of an evental site is clear in the case of a mass movement, is it not also the case that the elements of the presented “mass” are themselves presented precisely as specific family members, specific workers, and/or specific community individuals? In other words, while the elements of an evental site are not presented from the perspec-tive of the state of the political situation, can it not be said that the ele-ments are presented in an alternative situation, such as the community situation, or the familial situation? If this is the case, then the unpre-sented elements of one situation may simultaneously be the fully counted elements of another situation. As such, what constitutes an event and evental site for one situation may be a mere continuation of the status quo for an alternative situation. Or, to put it in other words, what consti-tutes an unpredictable rupture from one perspective is simply a culmina-tion of various, determined causal paths at another level.”

Apart from the bearing of this immediately upon Badiou, it is that very real sense in which there is ever a performative count-as-one, which makes up the semiotic horizon (inside/outside) that maintains itself through an internal coherence. This horizon is extended to include other horizon bound elements, for instance as Nick suggests, families, political unions, etc. which result from the resolution of cognitive dissonances, that is eruptions (events) within the internal coherence. Regularly, at least with human beings (though I believe it can be argued all the way down to the panpsychic), one experiences the rupture of expectation of coherence, even in our moment to moment thoughts, tracing the electric line, the “hole” at the center of consciousness. And these incoherences are then regularly made coherent again through the assertion of new, ordered states of other situations, other bodies with their own semiotic horizons (we judge their source to be either ideational/affective states of other things, our own erroneous or less than coherent internal events, or events in our shared world). What is fundamental though is that these ever eruptive events occur not only outside, in the meta-coherence of our own bodies and other bodies in a shared world (that situation), but also in a way that is not locatable within one of these three domains (self, others, world). The reason for this is that our perceptual bodies, the horizon of our semiosis is necessarily extended out beyond our own bodies, such that within our performative unity there are disruptions that occur neither within, or external to us, but BOTH, as part of our conjoined semiosis with other things. It is precisely this immanence that Nick’s observation of pre-existing situations which perpetuate through an event eruption touches on, how there is ever a continuity within the eruption of the event, a material line of traction, pushing our processes of re-coherence forward.

Some of my thoughts on this matter already posted:

Conjoined Semiosis: A “Nerve Language” of Bodies

Spinoza’s Notion of Inside and Outside: What is a Passion?

Growing Enthused – Achilles (Fetish and Blake)

The Problem with Fetish

Yesterday I spent some time researching into Sloterdijk, and making connections towards productive theories on economy and value. Re-reading parts of David Graeber’s provocative and enlightening Toward an Anthropological Theory of Value: The False Coin of Our Own Dreams, with careful attention to its last chapter helped focus me on the precise notions of imaginary relations, in particular the different meanings of “fetish”. David there makes clear the problem that Marxists have in explaining real African fetishes (they do not necessarily occlude human relations as Marxist theories require), as well as the difficulties anthropologists have with the concept of “magic” (relativist tendencies strain to explain its nature in terms other than simply that of false beliefs). There is actually a dearth of anthropological literature on magic, which is somewhat surprising. David wants to suggest that societal “magic” with its emphasis upon human agency, and a built-in skepticism for results possible, may actually provide clues for the nature of political power.  It occurs to me that somewhere in the triangle of fetishes: Marx’s commodity fetish, Freud sexual fetish, and the African fetish of bound agreements, may lie important criticisms of Western concepts of the individual, politics and desire, the possibility for a language of desire that is simply missing from the discourse. I briefly discussed Sloterdijk with David, who has as of yet had very little contact with his ideas, but who in person struck him as a genuinely creative mind (a substantive compliment). Excitingly, David is well into the writing of a new book, no doubt something to watch for. I have some difficulties with his writing style which often makes an uncomfortable compromise between the depth of his ideas and the need to draw them out into an almost conversational and much recapitulated plainness-in-sight, perhaps a product of his field (what he is saying is simply much more exciting then how he says it); but his particular synthesis of anthropological knowledge, anarchist criticisms and prescriptions, and sensitivity toward a need for just, radical conceptual change makes him a voice to be heard. One of the rare intellectuals who seems to love and like human beings, people, even more than his own ideas.

Blakean Rage and Revolution

In making my rounds I also had some contact with Emile Fromet de Rosnay at the University of Victoria, and who has promised himself Sloterdijk’s Zorn und Zeit, though it remains in the cue. He is focused on notions of Rage as they form a natural compliment to Melancholia, an interesting pair. I am unsure of how Sloterdijk would handle this as it is his position that the repression of rightful anger that leads to the excessive economy of eros and lack. Emile made the enlightening suggestion that Blakean rage may be good to look at. Somehow this struck me as quite significant, and the figure of Los/Orc from the Four Zoas came to my mind (a favorite work), the heated creative fusion of new things, which can be born out in revolutionary rage. Indeed there must be an artistic aspect to this analysis of Achillean economics, as I already suggested in regards to Achilles’s new use of language in the forming of his complaint and withdrawl. Orc, who is meant to embody the pure Revolutionary spirit, the name possibly an anagram for Cor, heart, may reflect well Sloterdijk’s concept of thymotic rage.

And Los repented that he had chaind Orc upon the mountain
And Enitharmons tears prevaild parental love returnd
Tho terrible his dread of that infernal chain They rose
At midnight hasting to their much beloved care
Nine days they traveld thro the Gloom of Entuthon Benithon
Los taking Enitharmon by the hand led her along
The dismal vales & up to the iron mountains top where Orc
Howld in the furious wind he thought to give to Enitharmon
Her son in tenfold joy & to compensate for her tears
Even if his own death resulted so much pity him paind

But when they came to the dark rock & to the spectrous cave
Lo the young limbs had strucken root into the rock & strong
Fibres had from the Chain of Jealousy inwove themselves
In a swift vegetation round the rock & round the Cave
And over the immortal limbs of the terrible fiery boy
In vain they strove now to unchain. In vain with bitter tears
To melt the chain of Jealousy. not Enitharmons death
Nor the Consummation of Los could ever melt the chain
Nor unroot the infernal fibres from their rocky bed
Nor all Urthonas strength nor all the power of Luvahs Bulls
Tho they each morning drag the unwilling Sun out of the deep
Could uproot the infernal chain. for it had taken root

Into the iron rock & grew a chain beneath the Earth
Even to the Center wrapping round the Center & the limbs
Of Orc entering with fibres. became one with him a living Chain
Sustained by the Demons life. Despair & Terror & Woe & Rage

Inwrap the Parents in cold clouds as they bend howling over
The terrible boy till fainting by his side the Parents fell

(The Fifth Night, FSZ-62.11 -63.6)


An Achillean Economy: The Economy of Thymotics and Anger, Sloterdijk

What is Greek Thymos?

The above is a signature clip from Andrei Tarkovsky’s hauntful meditation on the role of the artist in society, not to mention amid Soviet Society. There may be no greater film made on the subject of the artist than Andrei Rublev. The final chapter of the bell casting is so redounding on the issue of tradition and making, it to this day stirs and moves me. (It was a film that actually put me to sleep in the first three attempted DVD viewings. Like Freud’s the-father-who awoke-from-the-dream-of-his-son-burning, I dove into my dream rather than endure its somnambulant truth, it would seem.)

But the horse of above, for those who do not know the film, can be seen as a certain effervescence of life, a kind of natural expression that society can work to suppress. The horse, an animal of pride and tremendous strength, of the herd and a social order that is beyond the wisdom of the bit, here frolics in a way that seems to criticize the human order of the film’s brutal wars and stern, religious transcendental ambitions/isolations/silences. The horse expresses itself upon and within the field.

Why do I bring up Tarkovsky’s colt here? In recent posts, after my raising the possibility of an informative critique of Western philosophy following the Attic Greek contrast between the Ages of Achilles and Odysseus, attempting to reposition Achillean Immanence against modernist Odysseusean Instrumentality and Wanderlust, Mark Crosby was good enough to point out a rather thorough comparison between my thoughts and those presented by Peter Sloterdijk in his yet to be translated Zorn und Zeit (Anger and Time). I have to say, I just love when I find strong parallels between my own prospective thinking and the cross weft of someone else. It is as if we have fallen upon a great store of possibilities. So this post is an attempt to come to grips with some of the confluences.

“The menis (wrath), do godess sing, of the Peleusian Achilles,/destructive” (Iliad’s first line)

I will go into Sloterdijk’s thoughts more deeply in a moment, but for now it is enough to say that he, like me, returns to the epic of the Iliad, and the figure of Achilles’s  anger, as a starting point for an ideal to be followed in human relations. He proposes that the menis/wrathof the poem’s initial line is not a personal wrath, but in a sense civic and divine wrath, a natural product of the thymos (heart, spirit, passion, force) of a person before the failings of the political. Instead of an economy of lack, eros, object-oriented projections, such as that which Western civilization has evolved and Continental philosophy has often emphasized, a economy of thymos, of gift, and righteous anger is preferred. The reason why I have brought up the horse of Tarkovsky is that I believe it helps us understand something of the Greek conception of what Thymos is. When I think of thymos, I think of horses.. When reading a Greek characteristic, it is often advisable to turn to the hyperbolic form of it, as is the case with the thymotic (LSJ):

Hyperthumos, on,
A. high-spirited, high-minded, daring, freq. in Hom., in good sense, Il.2.746, 5.376, al., cf. Hes.Th.937, Pi.P.4.13, B.12.103, etc.: irreg. Sup., “huperthume statos andron” Stesich.95.
II. in bad sense, overweening, Od.7.59, Hes.Th.719, AP6.332 (Hadr.); over-spirited, of a horse, X.Eq.3.12.
III. vehemently angry, Poll.6.124. Adv., “hyperthumosagan” in over-vehement wrath, A.Eu. 824.
IV. in Adv. also, eagerly, readily, IGRom.4.1302.12(Cyme, i B. C./i A. D.).
Among these definitions we have the example of the over-spirited horse, citing Xenophon’s On the Art of Horsemanship:
To sum up: the horse that is sound in his feet, gentle and fairly speedy, has the will and the strength to stand work, and, above all, is obedient, is the horse that will, as a matter of course, give least trouble and the greatest measure of safety to his rider in warfare. But those that want a lot of driving on account of their laziness, or a lot of coaxing and attention on account of their high spirit, make constant demands on the rider’s hands and rob him of confidence in moments of danger.

We recall the figure of the “horse-trainer” from Socrates of the Apology (25b). The over-thymotic  man, someone like Achilles, is in a sense the unbroken man, the one that will not take the bit, the one withtoo much soul. How is society to deal with the thymos, and eventually the menis-wrath of the over-souled person or peoples? Is the only rapidly expandable economy that of Capitalism’s desire and lack-driven instrumentalities, vanishing petite object a’s, economies that work by “sublimating” into atomized individual of guilt and pleasure, or worse and alternately as Sloterdijkwill tell us, the vast “banking” of thymotic  anger within a social collective, resenting Revolutionary Left?

Sloterdijk’s Zorn und Zeit

I have not read Anger and Time, and am not overly familiar with Sloterdijk’s  philosophy so I will have to rely upon the two English reviews linked by Mark, and use extensive quotation so as to build something of a dialogue in thought with the book. At the very least the quotations here might give a context to arguments I am presenting.

Anger and Time: a critical assessment” [click here] , Miguel de Beistegui

“Zorn und Zeit” [click here], Fransisco R. Klauser

epd society and space

Klauser sets us in the right place, positioning the divinity of Achillean anger as part of a wide, historical immanence of rightful, citizened, defense against political injustice. In this telling Achilles is the power which will not submit to opportunism and legal or customary usurpation. It is the feeling in the breast that grows almost without object, but merely as an objection.

Sloterdijk’s reading of the Greek heroic epos, the imaginary space of gods, half-gods, and divinely chosen angry heroes, underlines that in ancient Hellenistic mythology the origins of anger are neither located in the earthly world, nor attributed to individuals’ personalities. Anger is rather understood as a possessed, divine capacity, a god-favoured eruption of power. Hence the birth of the hero as a prophet, whose task is to make the message of his god-given anger an immediate reality (pages 23 , 24). For Homer, to sing the praises of Achilles’ heroism also and ultimately means to celebrate the existence of divine forces, which are releasing society from its vegetative daze, through the mediation of the godly chosen `bringer of anger and revenge’.

It is from the Greek mythological relationship with anger that Sloterdijk derives his own conceptualisation of anger through the figure of Thymos. Originally denominating both the Greek hero’s specific organ for the reception of god-given anger and the bodily location of his proud self, Thymoslater with  Plato, and following the generaltransformationof the Greek psyche from heroic  belligerent to more civic virtues, stands for the righteous anger of the Greek citizen as a means of defence from insults and unreasonable attacks (page 42).With the figure of Thymos set against the psycho-analytical focus on Eros, anger, for Sloterdijk, is not only a vent for frustrated desires, but also, and rather, a reactive manifestation of offended pride. (Klauser)

As we can see from this paragraph’s end, the economics of Thymos, of soul and anger, vary withthose of Eros diagnosed and thus developed by psychoanalysis. In the notion and confirmation of pride, no longer is this a question of objects, or payments, but of relations. Achilles puts this very pricelessness forth, in defiance of what is hidden, in his ninth book refusal to be bought off by Agamemnon and Odysseus.

Neither counsel will I devise with him nor any work, [375] for utterly hath  he deceived me and sinned against me. Never again shall he beguile me with words; the past is enough for him. Nay, let him go to his ruin in comfort, seeing that Zeus the counsellor hathutterlyrobbedhim of his wits. Hateful in my eyes are his gifts, I count them at a hair’s1 worth. Not though he gave me ten times, aye twenty times all that now he hath, [380] and if yet other should be added thereto I care not whence, not though it were all the wealth that goeth in to Orchomenus, or to Thebes of Egypt, where treasures in greatest store are laid up in men’s houses,-Thebes which is a city of an hundred gates where from sally forth through each two hundred warriors with horses and cars; [385] -nay, not though he gave gifts in number as sand and dust; not even so shall Agamemnon any more persuade my soul, until he hath paid the full price of all the despite that stings my heart. (A. T. Murray translation)

One also recalls the Achillean novella Michael Kohlhaas by Heinrich von Kleist, wherein the hero refuses all possibility of payment or retribution, aside from the restoration of his one horse once illegitimately taken, setting the entire land to war. Righteous indignation allows no translated payment, no abstraction of a wrong. No amount of instrumental increase can restore the injury to the heart.

Miguel de Beistegui continues on with the theme, developing the historical critique that Sloterdijk brings to libidnal organizations. Once anger is internalized, and begins to be “banked”, or better, “stored up” (in just the kind of hydraulic metaphors psychoanalysis enjoys), it enters into a different economy: an economy of objects, an economy of hatred, instead of thymos or menis. Interestingly, Sloterdijk characterizes this real banking of anger not so much of the Christianized soul (which begins this internalization), but of the Revolutionary Left (which of course has its distinct history of brutal and collective abuses).

So, beginning with the fact and facticity of anger, Zorn und Zeit describes its economy or, more precisely still, its two possible economies, that is, the way it is and has been managed collectively in European history. The first type of economy is connected with a certain Greek, and specifically Homeric stance, the contemporary equivalent of which Peter Sloterdijk seeks to identify in a renewed concept of pride partakes of a healthy “thymotics”. It originates from the thymos, or the part of the soul that, according to the early Greeks, and up until Plato, was thought to be the site of the noblest affects. The second type of economy, on the other hand, is associated with the main processes of collection or gathering of anger, namely, Judeo-Christian metaphysics, and revolutionary politics. It originates from the erotic part of the soul, which defines the envious, libidinal partof the human psyche. If one can speak of anger in both instances, one also needs to emphasise the fact that they do not originate in the same part of the soul. As soon as anger is conserved, preserved, or interiorised, as soon as it is allowed, or worse still, encouraged, to accumulate, as soon as its externalisation is deferred, it enters into a different kind of economy in fact, it enters what has come to be associated with economy as such, and by that we mean the economy of accumulation, growth, and interest. Like monetary economy, the economy of anger crosses its critical threshold when anger rises and moves from a state of local accumulation and punctual expenditure [revenge to] that of a systematic investment and cyclical growth most notably, revolution, especially in its global ambition.

Paradoxically, then, and almost perversely, Sloterdijk argues that the revolutionary movements of the last two centuries, and the communist revolutions in particular, partake of an essentially capitalistic economy of anger that contradicts and undermines the very politicaleconomy it seeks to promote. In other words, and from the point of view of its dominant affect, communism would be driven by the very economy that it seeks to overturn. It would itself be an expression of the drive to accumulate, invest, and live off its capital. It would itself operate like a gigantic bank, in which the world reserve of anger would be deposited, and would grow, with a view to its final and total mobilisation in the name of a global revolution.

Under Sloterdijk’s review, Communist projects partake in the very anger-banking processes that drive the Capitalist machine that it seeks to overthrow. The resentment attributed to the priest of Christianity by Nietzsche is accumulated into a great reservoir of assembled power, a power directly attributed to libidinal organizations of psychoanalysis and beyond. And this organization is distinctly that of object-orientation, the internalization and projection upon, control over objects in the world:

The catastrophic effect of psychoanalysis, according to Sloterdijk, lies in its analysis of the conditio humana as a whole on the basis of the dynamic of the libido, and thus on the basis of erotism. This approach would not have been problematic, had it not been developed at the expense of the pole of thymotic energies (page 27). Yet such a one-sided view was no coincidence: the thymotic had long ceased to be valued and analysed as the site of possible values and virtues, with a few notable exceptions, such as Nietzsche and, more recently, Bataille. Psychoanalysis was and remains (for instance, in its Lacanian version) an economy of compensation and sublimation, born of an original and irreducible experience of lack:  “Whereas erotism indicates ways towards the `objects’ that we lack and in the possession or proximity of which we feel fulfilled, thymotics opens up ways for the human being to value what it has, what it can be, what it is, and what it wants to be” (page 30). In other words, the shift from erotism to thymotics, which Zorn und Zeit hopes to facilitate, is a shift from an economy of possession and lack to an economy of being, power, and plenitude. Throughout history, anger has been eroticised, that is, reduced to libidinal impulses defined by their lack and their weakness. Whenever the human condition is defined by a constitutive lack, also known as sin, the “ethics of indignity” prevail.

Here is where I find my greatest affinity with Sloterdijk’s ideas, for it was specifically the contrast between the ever-devising, instrumentalist Odysseus who has come in some modern philosophy quarters to essentialize the existential crisis of modern human beings, bothblessed and cursed by their technological powers, that the Greeks of Athens and even long before positioned Achillean immanence of rightful anger and immanent, eruptive power. It is precisely in terms of what is “hidden” (a favorite of such objectologists as Heidegger) and the character of device users that Achilles forms his objection to Odysseus’s very machinationed mind at the start of his book nine speech:

Zeus-born, Laertean, poly-machinationed, Odysseus, it must be now that the telling – spoken outright – it is declared, even as I have the sense, accomplished it shall be, so not with me you’ll murmur seated near another to another. For an enemy to me is that man – equal to Hades’ gates – who a different thing he hides in his chest, yet another thing he would have said. Nay, I will say what appears to me to be best.

For the Achillean, one does not hide what is other in one’s breast but speaks forthrightly, expressionally. The nothingness of hidden thoughts is hated just as the gates of Hades are hated. They are of the same stuff so to speak. I do not believe that the exception is to any dissemblance, but to dissemblance and hiddenness as proper modes of conduct, ideals to be achieved. There is in Odysseus the exemplar of the negotiator, not only of persons, but of circumstances. His is a world of objects which must be positioned. For Achilles, the world is a world of forces, and his is a immanence within them, one in which the alliance with others is a bodily constituted bond. The thymos of Achilles is the very substance that is shared between persons. His taken Briseis is his “thumares” (female form of his thymos 9.336). He thymos is poured into by the grieving of those he loves (9.612). Words matter. Riches are not worth a soul (9.401). The weapons at his disposal are merely withdrawal and action, and the power of those he is allied with. The very object-orientation of his counterpart Odysseus is misplaced. Words and weapons are the very stuff of a life.

These are very noble characteristics, at least we might get a few to agree. But in what sense do these two manners about the world form valid and alternate perspectives? Is there a way in which the Odysseusean West can become more Achillean, more immanent, more bonded, more respectful of the Menis of the wronged, such that its very economy of interactions and concepts were to be organized around notions of dignity and anger? Has history reached a point where the magnanimus, great-heart has gained a substance out-reaching the arms of the instrumental opportunism of assumed object control and prediction? Has an economics and ontology of lack and absence, via the projections of the missing object come to a limit?  De Beistegui does not see himself through to a Thymotics of Anger, questioning whether we need a modulated anger, a rationalized anger:

Despite Sloterdijk’s claim, I wonder whether anger cannot be seen to have played, and to continue to play, a positive and active role in public life, especially in the face of social injustice not as “simple explosion”, “revenge”, or “evolution”, which Sloterdijkrecognises as the three fundamental forms of anger in Western history (pages 95 , 103), but as yet another form, which can be described as revolt, or rebellion. It is not merely explosive and immediate, for it presupposes a degree of organisation and mobilisation. It is not motivated by revenge, but by a deep sense of injustice and indignity…The anger in question is one that presupposes a sense of outrage, empathy, and therefore something like a social instinct (which Aristotle would call philia, or friendship), but one which, in order to be effective, needs to be mediated and processed rationally.

Bringing Forth an Achillean Spinoza?

I think this an important point, and one which Spinoza could help us out on, for he is expert on the dovetailing of the affects of the mind and rational propositions (and not allowing them to collapse into dual distinctions). Much like a critique of object orientation, Spinoza tells us that affects of love and hatred are mistaken or confused ideas which in a sense blame our weakened states upon external objects. It is the idea of an externalcausethat makes up a mental affect. I would offer that it is precisely in the projection of our pains and sadnesses upon objects that the difference between Immanence and Instrumentality lies. While de Beistegui sees a distinction between an Aristotlean rationality of anger, and the three modes that Sloterdijk prescribes, I do not accept this difference, for within “evolution” I would includetherationalization itself of anger, with the primary Spinozist understanding that the affect of anger (and not hatred) is not counter to the rational. In fact, the menis of Achilles, his thymos by poem’s end, is no longer cholos anger, or even named mēnis wrath, now, but has become meneainō which is sheer purposive force, determination, might, strength, power (24.23-54), very close to Spinoza’s conatus and potentia. Achilles has moved to through extreme affective determinations to reach this point, but we cannot discount its end. Indeed though Spinoza often frames his advisementsin terms of utility, for instance that nothing is more useful to man, than man, this is always within the bodily, affective combinations of persons withothers and withthe world, in a view towards ultimate and mutualimmanence. The external object is part of the same expressive field. And it would strike me that the very thymotic evolutions are more greatly enhanced the affects of mind as well.

To bring up a specific historical example, the anger of the “barbaric” crowd against the De Witts, savagely murdered as they were leaving prison in August 1672,  was a complex venting of political forces. Johan de Witt had guided the Dutch Republic on a course of a uniquely modernist ends, a state of freedoms of expressions, the enhancement of new capitalist forces; yet he had utterly failed to protect the Dutch from the Catholic armies of Louis XIV which were set to eclipse the entire land. His failure as a leader cannot be dismissed from the reasons for his lynched execution. It is too easy to see him solely as the victim of reactionary, dull-minded hoi polloi who simply did not understand his Enlightened genius (and surely he was genius). It was also the uprising of the populace, farmers, women, that had perhaps saved the Republic up to this point (as deWitt was being forced into very poor positions of negotiation for defeat). The savagery with which he and his brother was killed has interesting parallels to the inhuman treatment Achilles gave Hectors corpse (there were eye witness reports of cannibalism). When Spinoza cried “Ultima barbarorum!” he was staring right into the heart of the democratic powers he hoped to enlist, but savagely so; he felt that these were not the thymotic angerof indignity and pride, but that of banked hatred and projection upon objects. I think that this is partly true. Yes, imaginary relations helped organize the riot, but the actual brutality, the excessive object concern, the rending of the flesh, likely stemmed from real thymotic incursion into the social field, the eruption of the offended beast:

For days an angry crowd had been gathering in front of the Gevangenpoort, and they wanted to see blood. Tichelaer [a likely false accuser of an attempt assinate the Prince] was given every opportunity to whip up emotions. Cornelis, in not fit state after the torture he had been subjected to, had asked his brother to send a carriage. Johan arrived in person at half past nine, apparently in the naive belief that he could calm the crowd. He could not have been more mistaken. The soldiers and civic militiamen, who had mounted guard aroundthe entrance to the prison, were becoming just as agitated as the crowd. Shops started closing in nearby neighborhoods as people began to sense trouble. Wild rumors were making the rounds, one of which maintained that peasants from the surrounding countryside were on their way to plunder The Hague. After endless waiting, at four o’clock the militia men forced the brothers outside (The Dutch Republic in the Seventeeth Century, 53-54)

The confluence of Voetian and Orangist alliance had been grafted onto I suspect, a much larger force of fear and dignity come from the country side and the lower classes, the dispersion of forces that had held the Dutch Republic intact from the assaults of the Catholic French. The bodies of the brothers deWitt eventually became inscribed with the very conatus of Dutch persistence, and in no small respect did the vicissitudes of Enlightenment capitalism and Burgerism, the mobilization of a merchant class at the expense of industry stability (such were the sea lanes and identities of nobility), incur this ignorant protest that built itself through the streets. The mark of the brutality of their murders, was I suspect less the mark of the imaginary, and more the mark of Achillean protest, pure and simple, upon the very matter that confined them, held to the surface and organs of the body.

What Is The Locus of Protest?

Further on the issue of the rational at its relationship to the affect of menis, or thymos, and I don’t know if Sloterdijk follows this at all, but Achilles’s thymotic response in one of at first petition (to his mother goddess) and then strategic withdrawl and inaction. The menis wrath is thus also a quietude of reflection. I find Achilles to be much more of a Spinozist hero than many might suppose.

De Beisteguiraises the very interesting point that if there is to be a thymotic transformation of social economies, they would have to occur within the libidnally based structure of Capitalism itself, within the very erotic realm of object-pursuit. Our very states of infinite debt seem to be too married to the deep investments of personal sublimation which constitute the very meaning of our lives. There strikes him to be a very incompatibility between the deep dept of our economic system, and the debts of our lives.

For isn’t capitalism, especially in its current form, based on the systematic appeal to the erotic, and to our ability to desire what we perceive to be lacking, and in the possession and consumption of which we hope to find satisfaction? In itself impossible to ever satisfy completely, this desire is partially fulfilled through consumption, yet at the cost of a mounting debt, and the dependence on a system to which we find ourselves ever more riveted, ever more enslaved.

In short, whilst I see how the ethics of dignity that Sloterdijk promotes is incompatible with, and in fact radically opposed to, the revolutionary and global impulses witnessed in the 20th century, I fail to see how the aristocratic or thymotic stance he advocates is compatible with the current state of Western capitalism, driven by ever greater and more crippling levels of debt, deficit, and lack. In fact, one might want to go as far as to argue that if it is true that we might be hard-pressed to identify one universal discourseor “bank”, in which we could invest our anger, with the hope of seeing it grow in the future, we could be equally, if not more, hard-pressed to find any promise of a future that would not already be spent, already mortgaged. At the economic level, it is through consumption that we seek to alleviate ourselves form our sense of lack, our fear, and our decadent eroticism. But this is not an investment. In fact, it leads to a greater sense of lack, and a greater desire. It forces one to borrow from one’sown future, to live one’s future before it has been actually lived. The truth is, we’re not saving or storing anything, not even anger. In many ways, we’ve already spent our future, and chained ourselves to this loss.We’ve given away something that we have not yet lived, and can never be ours, namely, time. We don’t even own ourselves anymore. No wonder we’re afraid. No wonder we’re angry.

There is almost something poetic to this, we have exhausted ourselves, spent all our notes of promise, and there is no bank or discourse to redeem our expenditures, nor even internal resources to drawn on again. I think the answer of course is that we are in our state an Agamemnon, and it is our recourse to grant respect to the Achilleses of the world. If we of the West have outspent ourselves, clearly there is menis enough in the world, lament enough in the world, to see where we have deposited our investments and actions. It is perhaps at most that outside ofour realm, more than ever, as learned by Achilles with his Priam, that we must look for the possibilities of the thymotic economy. To take two examples, we in the West often confuse ourselves over the dramatic mournings of those in Islam, paralyze ourselves over the numerical vastness of rape, disease and war in Africa in tumults. These, I suspect, are Achilles laments of thymos. Something to be acknowledged at a very deep and symbolic (and not instrumental) level. There is no dearth of soul in the world.

Infinite Debt or Bodies in Composition

Lastly, critically brings the very technological attachments between persons that now inhabit and construct our world, attachments of such speed and transfer that events as images seem to defy any human growth, as centered on the human:

If we are to consider the question of time, or the question of our time, in relation to a specific attunement, or a set of attunements, we need to take into consideration the way in which, not human beings, but machines, and information systems in particular, act as decisive mediators and formidable accelerators and amplifiers. They are the bank, or the automatic growth vehicles, through which those affects are processed, and to a large extent produced. The current financial crisis, in which the banking system is at issue, as well as the terrorist attacks on the US of 9/11, illustrate this new dimension of a bank of affects that can be mobilised at a moment’s notice, and turned into global catastrophes. At no point, therefore, would I suggest that those affects bring us any closer to the ideal that Sloterdijk evokes in his book. In fact, inasmuch as they stem from the most negative of affects, namely, fear, and lock us into a climate of suspicion and depression, they disallow the spirit of self-esteem and self recognition which Sloterdijk wants to revive. They do not allow us to grow and flourish as free spirits. Rather, they continue to capitalise on the negative eroticism which Sloterdijk so adequately describes.

I do not fully accept Sloterdijk’s division between eroticism and the thymotic, though I can certainly see the value of the distinction. Achilles most certainly had an eros for Protroklus that was born of his thymos, as he did for Briseis. And there are distinct object-concerns for Achilles, not in the economy of abstract exchange, but in terms of passage. He holds onto both Patroklus and Hector, the one as a soul-ghost, the other as a brute materiality. His abuse of the body is a product of the circulation of his thymotic rage, quieted, and brought into incantational repetition. When de Beistegui emphasizes that the attunements of our day are of machines and informations systems, and not of human beings I think he is actually pointing the way forward, towards a post-human Achillean Age. This is the difference between the aristocratic gift giving economy that may perhaps be suggested by a Bill Gates and Warren Buffett of efficacy of philanthropy. The gifts and growths are not strictly of human beings, as centered subjects. The growth is of immanence itself, the immanence of recognition across subjectivities, in the answer to affects in communication.

Yes, technological affect transfers indeed employ intersubjective projections. Britney Spears’s face on the screen allows for the conduit of affect bleeds across space and time with incredible motion. Instantly we can coalesce. And yes, we want to move away from object-orientation and concerns with lack. But the destablization of the human subject brought on through technologies is the very path forward to thymotic economies, for identifications in individual powers allows us not only depressions and fears, but polyversal bodies, bodies capable of ornate action. Key is that the thymotic is recognizable as source and determination. Hatred needs to be pushed back, ciphoned back, into its river mouth ofanger and pride, a well-spring for a community of values and generosity of mutal recognition. Not sub-jects, or ob-jects, but syn-jects.

Lastly, Klauser tells us something that Spinoza balanced his entire Ethics upon, that the logic of love and hatred are the same. Those concerned primarily with objectsarethose who must bear the burden of this truth.

`Based on its erotodynamic approach, psychoanalysis has shed much light on hate as the dark side of love. This approach has shown that hate and love rely on a similar logic, with projection and recidivism being in command in both cases. Yet, psychoanalysis has remained silent in view of anger, which originates from successful or failed aspirations to success, reputation and self-respect” (page 27)

Anyone who knows why the artist casts the bell to be rung in the village square, or why the horse rolls in the grass, knows that it is not a question of objects, nor their accounting.


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