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The Transvestive Signifier and the Antigone Complex

Ismene: Linguistic Duplicity vs. Linguistic Transvestism

Following up the line of thought begun in recent attempts to sketch out the possibilities for a postoedipal Antigone Complex subjectivity [What is the “Antigone Complex”? Posthuman Tensored Agency, More on the Antigone Complex], it is good I think to put our attention to the other sister, if only as a point distinction. If one sharpens the eyes to the language use in the argument between the two sisters that opens the play, we can perceive two postoedipal language strategies (before social power). Contrary to the usual reading that Ismene is merely the conservative, unrebellious, passive female, a kind of wooden literary foil to the outrage that would become Antigone, Ismene’s rhetorical strategies reveal the fundamental power of duplicity of meaning in the face of authority. This means that Ismene’s postoedipal political/subjective position is one in which one acts as the modest, demur woman, but harbors residual power which works behind the scenes, threatening with dark, chthonic force. The art of Ismene’s suggested ambi-guity is exemplified throughout  in a maze of negations and wordplay slippages, and can be seen reflected in Antigone’s infuriating severance from the game (and Ismene) after having played it for a bit, but perhaps the Isemene strategy can be iconically show in the passage (roughly lines 60-66)…

ἀλλ’ ἐννοεῖν χρῆ τοῦτο μὲν γυναῖχ’ ὄτι

But one must think that tho’ this a woman-pair we

ἔφυμεν, ὡς πρὸς ἄνδρας οὐ μαχουμένα·

Produced, so that against men we-two will not war,

ἔπειτα δ’ οὕνεκ’ ἀρχόμεσθ’ ἐκ κρεισσόνων

On that account we’re ruled by greater things,

καὶ ταῦτ’ ἀκούδειν κἄτι τῶνδ’ ἀλγίονα.

These to heed, and still the more grievous of these.

ἐγὼ μὲν οὖν αἰτοῦσα, τοὺς ὑπὸ χθονὸς

For me I call on they belów the earth

ξύγγνοιαν ἴσχειν, ὡς βιάζομαι τάδε,

To (with-) hold forgiveness, just as I’m forced here;

This is typically translated to mean something like, we are mere women, we cannot fight, and as such must listen to men who are more powerful. This is the supertext. But Ismene is double-talking, and her appeal to the chthonic deities shows it. She is ALSO saying, we have produced ourselves as a woman-pair fate, and as such we are ruled by things greater, more powerful than mere men; these dark, grievous powers we must heed (not men with whom we do not outwardly fight). The double meaning is there again in the final part, wherein she seems to be asking for the dead to “hold forgiveness” for her, given her paralysis, but alternately, to “withhold”, to keep to themselves and not dole out the forgiveness, just as she herself is imprisoned by the political situation. Ismene’s tact is that of stored vengeance under a placid face, woman heeds (and embodies) the most grievous of the most powerful, drawing on the immanent and repressed powers of the dead, using the duplicity of meaning that is possible within language itself. We can see this for instance as a regular and powerful postmodern feminist (and suppressed minority) strategy, a kind of chthonic duplicity.

Antigone’s Transvestism:  No Presumption of Essential Family Violence

Antigone though refuses linguistic ambi-guity, two-facedness as a tool of power (or subjectivity). Instead she wishes to exact the linguistic power inherent in the very filial organizational body out of which she has come, a process of investism…

Taking her perspective as one in contrast with Oedipalism, rather than Isemene (which is a separate issue):

No more exoteric appropriations upon projections of intra-family violence. Instead the family, if anything, forms a nearly equivocal though structured plane within which the exoteric is ever qualified. There is no essential family violence the resolution of which requires the import of foreign and symbolic forms. One does not kill and replace the father by becoming the father of another girl, who loses her father to a kind of death. Rather, if anything, the father is expropriated into an outer form of action, something like an armor to be put on in the name of the family plane, because there is no kerneled subjectivity that is born into reflection through a struggle within the whole. Instead, semiotic elements, signifiers, become vehicles for circuited travel within the larger locality of a kinship philia of eros  bonds and an imbrication of functional role over determinations. Like within dreamwork, one can simultaneously be (play the functional role of) father, daughter or brother. families become portal and self-defining alliances which borrow from their own appropriative use of social forms (gendered and hierarchical/stereotypical), and entire vocabulary of transvestive public positions. The intra-family powers of filial in-netting (and a family can be any kind of historical mutual dependence and nuturing, structuring) provide an affect steeping re-animation of otherwise stale social designations. One goes out in the world AS father, or AS child, or AS sibling perversely impowered by that incubation to which one is loyal, thereby capable of subversive or only creative repositioning oneself within the social sphere, reappropriative of the restrictions of social expectation for new and redemptive use.

Instead of an Oedipal exogamous process of external appropriation which assumes an internal family violence which gives rise to a spliting of the (pure) subject, in which the female aspect plays a kind of material ground for male subjective severings, and the ultimate murder of the father accomplished through the replacement of a father for the daughter from another family, the family is already understood as a coherent, immanent plane that has already appropriated the semiotic elements of society under their own affective structured imbument which transforms the very possibility of their deploy, the capacity to wear the signifier dress (for Antigone to be BE the man) with a certain libidnal fluidity/intensity, subversive of the social order from which the signifier elements were initially borrowed (opening up the possibility of other  families, other filial attachments to be made).  In this sense the family becomes the resource of the very apparition of the divine like force of the signifier itself (not as law-giver, but as radiant element). When Antigone, the young girl performatively stands before Kreon wearing the dress of the father, her father-brother Oedipus, richly steeped in the power of her filial experiences, Kreon stares right into the face of “the man”, and rightfully struggles to anchor it: either she is the man or I am the man. When Antigone sprinkles dirt upon her brother-nephew, she operates as sister-aunt-mother, condensing the figures into a single apparition which cannot be fully separated out from divine apparition itself (or natural processes), running right along the seam of language and nature, come from the incestuous affect-stew of what family is.

It is said that a herding dog as it runs about a flock of sheep, driving it forward, skirting the edges, jumping to the front to steer is actually enacting all the positions that would be taken if the pack was in tact. First this, then another, then another, building a geometry of their organizational synchrony in space. This is what Antigone does, the secret to her transvestism and the imbument of her public powers, come from the experiential bonds of the filia. She occupies each of the familial positions, in turn, the entire family, channeling the affective powers of each borrowed term, in the social sphere exhibiting the apparitional force of what she has appropriated.

The Surpass of the Binary Condition of the Subject

One can recognize in the strategy of Ismene the binary against which I have warned too deep a philosophical dependence. We can say that Ismene’s is a postoedipal position in the sense that she is born into the Oedipal historical situation, but really it is intra-Oedipal, in the sense that it attempt to harness the repressive end of the splitting binary force. This is a primary Freudian conception, a hydraulic model of the mind which finds on the other side of the (negation) barrier certain forces, shadows, that can bubble up from below and exact revenge. If you hold down the mulitiplicity or the primitive too much, it forces its way up to the surface. The duplicity of Ismene trades upon this dark-below, past, un-dead conception, using the ambiguous facility of language, of inside and outside, as a kind of internal power of resistance. Among these strategies related to the contest of Oedipal formations one can find those that appeal to the painful jouissance and attempts to release or celebrate/promote it, after at risk of being defined by the very frame they are somewhat in opposition to (and thereby unconsciously working to reproduce it).

In the Antigone complex one can see the dangers perhaps of a sterile circulation of recursive and relived semiotic elements if the family body is too threatened by a perceived external force. But one should be careful to read the difference in the construction of the subjective itself, the way in which subjectivity embodies itself within filial attachments of which there is no essentialfamilial violence (which is not to say that families do not contain violence, it is just that violence, or promotions to violence, are not essential to the subjective process). The Antigone Complex subjectivity is a positional subjectivity, appreciating the partial epistemic and deeply affective perception powers that involve actual families and siblings, etc, denying for instance any overt importance of something like the categorical “other” (Big or small “o”). Epistemic affective projection always works along prosthetic vectors. One feels an event through your brother’s arm, through your mother’s cheek and hair, not as partial objects, but as plane of world revelation. And the borrowed signifier terms that turn the constellation of trans- or intra-body  human memory into “brother” or “daughter” themselves become “cooked” in the sinewed, one-bodied attachments that are filial. This vectored subjectivity does not require a signifier resting place (a sister can BE a brother), but rather frees up the body to express itself transvestively, such that the wearing of the signifier, performing its function (within and without the family) becomes both an experimentation, and potentially a power toward freedoms (the ability to find new family without the murder of the father), understanding the atavistic nature of social appearance along the powers of bodily cybernetic, epistemic, affective combination, shifting alliances of what is felt and made most coherent.

It is important, I believe, to watch the line between Ismene hydraulic harnessing of the opposite (un)form, and Antigone Complex positioning. It is perhaps quite helpful to trace out the jouissance lead eruptions of bodily limits and the economies of pleasure that help constitute mutualities, taken to the limit perhaps in the G&D concept of the BwO, but one risks losing track of the specific investments, the specific/strategic transvestisms that constitute and condition an Antigonous  subjective expression. It is not just that some repressed thing is breaking free (either at this moment, or continually), but that a bodily contiguity inhabits a social designation/role imbued by the very historical experience of its intra-familia affective force. It is not just a breaking-free, one of the terms out pacing the other. It is specific acts of inhabitation with apparitial, political consequence.

This subjective transvestism is quite different than ornamentation vs. form. Antigone struggles to make the “god” appear in the substance of the signifier (a flash from the infinite), in the fabric of the social, loyal to composite filial memory and its poles of experienced alliance, but not to the signifier itself which is embodied, but also shifted and deployed.

A related line of thinking genealogical to this: Wasps, Orchids, Beetles and Crickets: A Menagerie of Change in Transgender Identification; and alternately The Necessary Intersections of the Human Body: Spinoza

More on the Antigone Complex

Ribbons of New Subjective Action

Yesterday I began thinking about the potentials of an Antigone Complex – how I would love to do an online, philosophical reading group on that play in the spirit of Mikhail’s Braver reading group, there is so much philosophical groudwork there, the play has been so conceptually influential its not even funny – thinking in particular about just how tempting and difficult defining a complex is. We want to think of a complex as a kind of double-bind that the subject finds herself in, in the classic sense that the supposedly Oedipal subject is confronted with a kind of inevitable loss (which – now he – then must either accept or deny with consequences). I am struck how Antigone has no such kind of difficulty. She is already inscribed within the matrix (and we use that word literally perhaps) of her powers, however involute that is. Hegel wants to find in her a kind of primative form of the law which the State must eventually sublate, and there is plenty of fodder for conceptions of opposition in the play, Sophocles just loves them, but there is something more happening here. She is a kind of ribbon-thread that runs up through all those oppositions, not joining them together, not holding, but rather transversing them. Kreon, the most fatherly of the fatherly, is not an opposition to her. She runs right through him. She is an apparition to him. The fatherly and the law is her natural order, the water to her fish. She is most dextrous there.

It must be kept in mind that Antigone is a child. Likely understood to be perhaps 13 or 14 by the Greek audience, her boldness, her transfigurative dress in male clothing (“I say now I am not a man, but this girl is a man!” line 484) is something well beneath opposition, something coming right out of the woodwork of the bones. And yes, there is a distinct aura of sterile opposition here, from the lexical facts of her name right on up, but I sense that history has mis-read even this. (I recall my idiosyncratic professor of Greek telling me that her name was commonly understood as “replacement child” the child named after the stillborn birth of another. She is the generation that comes after.)

When thinking hard about the play when retranslating it I came across a reading that claimed that the play should be named Kreon, in the manner in which the title denotes the figure that is going to go through the tragic anagnoresis. Antigone, though she comes to mourn her wedding to death, is not transformed, but transforming. What would a complex of the subject look like that held this capacity?  She is catalytic in the literal and Sapphic sense of the word. And seems to hold within her many of the Zuggtmonic drive principles that have recently been pondered here. I cannot help but think of the confusion that many miss, that there were TWO burials of her brother Polyneice’s body, the first having a very possible purely naturalized explanation – the sleeping guards awoke to find the body nearly invisible and disappeared, covered over by a dust storm. Antigone in this sense acts as a kind of overcoding of the supernatural/natural imaginary relation human beings necessarily have, a subject’s capacity to act right out of the nexus of the material and natural worlds: the subject as apparition (but not subjectivity as having-appeared).

Guattari and Deleuze have an insightful passage in a thousand plateaus  that invokes many of the capacities of Antigone; though she, the political girl, is not mentioned by name (Joan of Arc), she haunts the description:

The girl is like the block of becoming that remains contemporaneous to each opposable term, man, woman, child, adult. It is not the girl who becomes a woman; it is becoming-woman that produces the universal girl. Trost, a mysterious author, painted a portrait of the girl, to whom he linked the fate of the revolution: her speed, her freely mechanic body, her intensities, her abstract line or line of flight, her molecular production, her indifference to memory, her nonfigurative character – “the nonfiguration of desire.” Joan of Arc? The special role of the girl in Russian terrorism: the girl with the bomb, guardian of dynamite? It is certain that molecular politics proceeds via the girl and the child. But it is also certain that girls and children draw their strength neither from molar status that subdues them nor from the becoming-molecular they cause to pass between sexes and ages, the becoming-child of the adult as well as of the child, the becoming-woman of the man as well as of the woman. The girl and the child do not become; it is becoming itself that is a child or a girl. The child does not become an adult any more than the girl becomes a woman; the girl is the becoming-woman of each sex, just as the child is the becoming-young of every age. Knowing how to age does not mean remaining young: it means extracting from one’s age the particles, the speeds and slownesses, the flows that constitute the youth of that age. Knowing how to love does not mean remaining a man or a woman; it means extracting from one’s sex the particles, the speeds and slownesses, the flows, the n/ sexes that constitute the girl of that sexuality. It is Age itself that is becoming-child, just Sexuality, any sexuality, is a becoming-woman, in other words, a girl.

We see here the factor of the start that does not become (the girl does not become a woman), a kind of straition that cuts through and across sedimentations. There is tendency though in such a pure-becoming grasp to lose track of the materiality of Antigone, her history, if we are to find a complex of her, to instead turn her into something of a mathematical vector, which she certainly is not. She is a person, a subjectivity. A traveling body. Not simply a molecularization. And it is not true that the “girl” does not draw her power from the molar, for Antigone’s very invisibility, her capacity to stand before Kreon, to transpermeate straight to the tomb, is due to her place among the molar/Father, as “a child”. The girl in molar determination granted access. And though we understand what Guattari and Deleuze mean when they say that the becoming-girl does not become woman, it is most certainly only in juxtaposition to the capacity to pre-figure woman, to nacently BE woman, that a definite constitutional and apparitional power is achieved. Molecularity does not circulate merely on its own osmosis plane (something that I think both G and D would agree with).

So I resist the idea of making Antigone into a kind subjectivity of pure-becoming. It is much more attuned to her relationship to a pre-posited history of genealogical twisting (an incest of directives) into which she is born. She is not just thrown-into-the-world, but born-into a necessary and profane involution. It is the subjectivity of a pre-existing perversity. Is this twisting, this born-into twisting (a twisting that Sophocles calls αὐτοφώρων ἀμπλακημάτων – “a self-suspicion twist of blood” of the father and the mother) related to the semantic twisting of conflating explanations for the first burial of Polyneices? I think so. The material (natural) and the imaginary (affective projective) fold themselves into a twin-layered parallel construction, and as such the Antigone subjectivity is able to step in between, in the infintesmal crease, to persist, to stand and live in the gap, and then act, so as to appear. Perhaps what Nicola referred to as the “tiniest diety”. Indeed in the play Antigone performs as something like the tiniest deity. There is something there, including her polymorphous capacity to functionally perform under what Butler calls an equivocality of kinship (which really isn’t so much equivocal as dextrously polyvalent), one in which the sign carries a certain apparitional and inhabited vocability that renders Antigone the ability to seem to speak right out of Space, that needs to be developed and clarified.

 

[A related post in dialogue on Antigone and the possibilities of an Antigone Complex by Anodyne Lite: Two Versions of Antigone]

What is the “Antigone Complex”? Posthuman Tensored Agency

Psycho-dialysis

I came across something of the notion when reading Judith Butler’s Antigone Claim  that their conceivably could have been something other than the Oedipus Complex in history (despite its firm historical nestwork). That there could have been an Antigone Complex, with the implicit suggestion that perhaps it is time for us to recognize one as such. The thought came up again when responding to Eileen Joy’s post over at In The Middle, which elicited from me the need to declare that not EVERYBODY died in the Antigone, and that Ismene might very well represent a solution or answer to the Antigone Complex, itself a response to the Oedipus Complex into which she had been born (of that wrong sex). Just what is, or what could be the Antigone Complex?

[Digression]  A quick Google shows that indeed there is a book which aims to take up something of just this topic. The Antigone Complex: Ethics and the Invention of Feminine Desire, by Cecilia Sjöholm, which I have not read. The publishers description tells us that it is about feminine desire and the difference between ought and must. I perused it online and it does not seem to hit where I am going, nor really where I would hope an entire complex meant to supplant the great and determinative Oedipus Complex would go. (To be fair this is a cursory assessment.) And then there is a chapter written by Ronald Britton on the Athena-Antigone Complex which from the chapter title “Forever Father’s Daughter” also seems to miss the radical re-descriptive possibilities. It is a theme apparently taken up by Ellyn Kaschak who as also developed an Antigone Complex, now with sociological dimension:

Ellyn Kaschak uses the story of Antigone to draw a parallel with women in modern society. She points out that women are socialized to constantly put their loved ones’ welfare – especially that of the men in their lives – before their own. Furthermore, Kaschak theorizes that women internalize society’s narrow view of their identities and their usefulness, until their self image becomes aligned with society’s expectations. Therefore, a woman in Kaschak’s Antigone phase considers herself as an extension of the men in her life, often subordinating her own needs and desires in order to ensure that theirs are met. 

[Return]  These really seem to in one way or another run far afield from the kinds of capacites one could find in Judith Butler’s invocation of Steiner’s observations. I sense that there is something more, something posthuman(ist), something unrooting in the notion of an Antigone Complex, something that does not cheat Antigone herself who in narrative really supplanted and surpassed her father.

Retracing Sources

Its best I think to post the passages seminal to the question for me, first from Butler and then from Steiner whom she references:

In George Steiner’s of the historical appropriations of Antione, he poses a controversial question he does not pursue: What would happen if psychanalysis were to have taken Antigone rather than Oedipus as its point of departure? Oedipus clearly has his own tragic fate, but Antigone’s fate is decidedly postoedipal. Although her brothers are explicitly cursed by her father, does the curse also work on her and, if so, through what furtive and implicit means? The chorus remarks that something of Oedipus’ fate is surely working through her own, but what burden of history does she bear? Oedipus comes to know who his mother and father are but finds that his mother is also his wife. Antigone’s father is also her brother, since they both share a mother in Jocosta, and her brothers are her nephews, sons of her brother-father, Oedipus. The terms of kinship become irrevocably equivocal. Is this part of her tragedy? Does this equivocality of kinship lead to fatality?

Antigone is caught in a web of relations that produce no coherent position within kinship. She is not, strictly speaking, outside kinship or, indeed, unintelligible. Her situation can be understood, but only with a certain amount of horror. (57 Antigone’s Claim, Part III “Promiscuous Obedience”)

From Steiner’s incomparable Antigones:

Now we are at the nub of the dialectic. There is only one human relationship in which the ego can negate its solitude without departing from its authentic self. There is only one  mode of encounter in which the self meets the self in another, in which ego and non-ego, the Kantian, the Fictean, the Hegelian polarities are made one. It is a relation between man and woman, as it surely must be if primary rifts in being are to be knit. But it is a relation between man and woman which resolves the paradox of estrangement inherent in all sexuality (a paradox which incest would only enforce). It is the relation of brother and sister, of sister and brother. In the love, in the perfect understanding of brother and sister, there is eros and agape. But both are aufgehoben, “sublated”, in filia, to the transcendent absoluteness of relation itself. It is here, and here only, that the soul steps into and through the mirror to find a perfectly concordant but autonomous counterpart. The torment of Narcissus is stilled: the image is substance, it is the integral self in the twin presence of another. The sisterliness is ontologically privileged beyond any other human stance. In it, the homecomings of Idealism and Romanticism are given vital form. This form receives supreme, everlasting expression in Sophocles’ Antigone.

Between the 1790s and the start of the twentieth century, the radical lines of kinship run horizontally, as between brothers and sisters. In the Freudian construct they run verdically, as between children and parents. The Oedipus complex is one of inescapable verticality. The shift is momentous; with it Oedipus replaces Antigone. As we saw, it can be dated c. 1905…. (17-18).

I would very much enjoy hearing from others what an Antigone Complex would be, what essential relations it would consist of. Today I wrote down a few notes on the possibilities of the subject, perhaps as seeds for structures to follow. The way that I view a proposed complex would be one that would follow upon the ubiquity of the Oedipus one that may have characterized our conceptions of subjectivity in the modern, Industrial era, that would indicate what it means to have been born into Oedipus, but not strictly subjected to it. To be, in a sense, in excess of Oedipus. Posthuman.

- An inherited historical situation of involution.

- Positional nomological/functional diversity – the sliding of the signifier as a mode of agency; (polymorphy)

-  The Law of the Dead – inscription within the Law is always an under determination.

- Willingness to play the villain.

- Rite over substance – Supernatural Conflation.

- Marrow Thinking.

- Subjectivity is not the site of determination.

- The father is neither the one who enjoys or forbids, but the one who twists.

- Prosthetic combination – tensors of affect as imperative – the blindman’s hand.

I see as well, in looking at my copy of Antigone’s Claimthat I made a similar styled list, but one that juxtaposed the principles of Ismene and Antigone:

Ismene – Literal truth vs. duplicities of power | Antigone- Transvestism of power (surplus and deficit)

Ismene – Double meanings | Antigone- Symbolizing the unpresentable to produce disjunction

Ismene – Leveraging from within and double strategy | Antigone - Apparition of the god  – the “start” that does not become

And then the question: Is every symbolic act an affective univocal claim upon the Chthonic deities?

I do not know what this comes to, but I sense a focusing of powers into a concept of subjectivity that does not makes of the subject a split or a dilemma. Or, if there is a split, it is the splitting of powers, peeling off the historical layer from the political, using the affective flesh as something of a lathe. There is an apparitional force that exceeds any death or brothered conception, any simple reduction to Being/Non-Being or even filiation, that must be taken to. There is a performance of the transvestism, of reaching signifer autonomy, the way in which Antigone has a filion in the humorous and undecided guard – who comically performs what Antigone does in a deadly way – that resists any psychoanalytic recapture. Yes to an Antigone Complex.

Follow-up thoughts: More on the Antigone Complex

A Taxomomy of Evils and the Demoness Ontology of Powers in Vitalism

In my few past posts I have begun exploring the ideo-figural aspects of the mythological figure of Zuggtmoy, a reported Demoness Queen of Fungi (seemingly drawn from the common stock of the sexualized evil of the D&D world). First I sketched out a fictional Encyclopedia entryin the style of Borges to get a feel for the mixtures of knowledges, histories, myths and reference that make up our co-ordination upon mytho-poetic reality. Then I took her more seriously, and investigated both her ontological expansionas a principle and a kind of incarnational exemplification in the unique properties of slime molds.

To follow through though, the tug of evil, itself, remained. For in her representational quality for the powers and speech of matter (M), one cannot dismiss the host of erotic, desire-imbued machinations that such a feminine modern archetype seems to carry. If such a demoness has a message to philosophy, conceptual evil is inscribed in its flesh. Below is a diaried entry on what must only be an outline of what such a con-figuration signifies…sometimes I believe it pays to think figuratively like this, as my guidepost thoughts on Achilles (and Sloterdijk) and also Antigone might show.

Demon and Law

Under the question of Zuggtomoy, fungal darkness the issue of the “demonic” necessarily must be raised, for the very subversive, if hierarchical nature of any ontological claim of thisorder appeals to a kind of intentional and performative domain. In such a view the historical understanding of literal magic and demonology proves revelatory, seen in the West primarily in the syncretism of the Hellenic and Leventine world, eventually subsumed under a mono-ideational Orthodox whole, Judeo-Chrisitan completions of local deities, mechanisms, which really must be seen as techniques. For it is in the techniques, and thus the technologies of magus traditions that at least one strong root of the scientific laboratory can be found. In a sense, demonology in its historical form expresses scientific instrumental multiplicity (subjects, laws, means and device), a multiplicity that resists the singular moniker Science.

The Demonic as a Locality of Powers and Means

When one questions the demonological, one is ultimately questioning a locality of techniques, that is until the demon (or δαίμων) becomes elevated to the status of a god wherein it starts to operate with something of a law-universal, a universal yet still constrained and specific in its manifestation, by circumstance. So as we  approach the demonic figure of Zuggtmoy (however fantastical) and work from her the possibilities of an ontological truth, we must address her in both her local, perhaps cult-like incarnation – for instance the kinds of things we might learn  from the structures of slime molds – but also potentially law-like, and therefore god-like revelations, as we might understand her domain, her sphere of actions, so as it to be a continual and constitutive plane for the very condition of our existence and agency.

Invariably as well, the subject of evil must be taken up, for ultimately and historically the homogenization of belief under any normalization of formal practice involves, or has involved, the creation of an entire sphere into which their actions can be categorically confined. Which is to say that the supra-lunar and astral projections of a hierarchy of powers that mark the syncretization of Hellenized Egypt (PGM) upon the spread of Judaism and Christianity under the crush of Roman occupation (the destruction of the Temple at Jerusalem, and all the apocalyptic and liberation re-ordering of the universe that follows), wherein every demon or daimon – even ever dead person – exudes a kind of tiered capacity of force, this is disbanded in favor of  a great domain binary of Good/Evil, Heaven/Hell, Life/Death, eventually to be purified into Presence/Absence and Being/Non-Being. When one  recognizes the historiography of demonology one appreciates the ideological use of the objective binaries that end up calculating a mirror dimension, whether or not these two dimensions are ever in theory or theology ever reconcilable or made disjunctive.

The Legalism of Pure Affection

But if we are to take up evil we must do more that understand the historical struggle between local powers of belief and practice (expressed as technique), and the hegemonic orthodoxy of homogenization, one must also look at the very conceptual core of what seems to show itself in the Law alone. This is the way in which law determinations that regulate the bodily pleasures (and pains) of others in a register of normativity themselves necessarily embody a pleasure. That is, there is ever the pleasures of regulating pleasure, a sweetness of investment which is ever occluded in the very recursive (and body continuity) circuit of their circulation, the very “contentless” nature of their nature of their content, which for Kant is demarked by the absence of pathological self-interest, or reason. The subject reaches the intensive apogee of its pleasure capacity to the degree that it refuses pleasure, perhaps the greatest pleasure of all (theoretically at least).

We can see this of course in de Sade’s inversion of Kant (first exposed by Horkenheimer and Adorno in Dialectics of Enlightenment, and then by Lacan in “Kant avec Sade”), wherein ultimately the subject becomes the pure instrument of Nature by embodying as best one can the very disinterested destructive power of evil, accomplished through the buiding of bodily circuits of repetition and pleasure coursings that enact – but locally, as devices -the universal powers of Nature’s transformations: that is, the very neutral but intense for of the law itself. You can see this measured enforcement of depersonalized traverse in the in situ figure of the Red Wax sewing thread which characterizes the narrative and argumentative acme of Philosophy in the Bedroom (published the same year, 1795, as Kant’s “Perpetual Peace: A Philosophical Sketch”), wherein disease is “rationally”  and literally sewn into the very body of the mother, creating the picture of a supposed universe within the universe, a relation that ultimately shows itself as a perversity, a cruelty:

[The scene from Philosophy in the Bedroom, in which Eugenie (well-born) sews up and destroys her mother's own womb, in a kind of even further radicalized and profane Antigone (anti-birth), if that can be imagined; not only sewing but making of the mother's body a field of excruciating intensity, signifying the null-fruition of the act]

EUGENIE – Excellent idea! Quickly, quickly, fetch me needle and thread!… Spread your thighs, Mamma, so I can stitch you together-so that you’ll give me no more little brothers and sisters. (Madame de Saint-Ange gives Eugénie a large needle, through whose eye is threaded a heavy red waxed thread; Eugénie sews.)

EUGENIE, from time to time pricking the lips of the cunt, occasionally stabbing its interior and sometimes using her needle on her mother’s belly and mons veneris – Pay no attention to it, Mamma. I am simply testing the point…

LE CHEVALIER – The little whore wants to bleed her to death!

DOLMANCE, causing himself to be frigged by Madame de Saint-Ange, as he witnesses the operation – Ah, by God! how this extravagance stiffens me! Eugénie, multiply your stitches, so that the seam will be quite solid.

EUGENIE – I’ll take, if necessary, over two hundred of them… Chevalier, frig me while I work.

LE CHEVALIER, obeying – I’ve never seen a girl as vicious as this one!

EUGENIE, much inflamed – No invectives, Chevalier, or I’ll prick you! Confine yourself to tickling me in the correct manner. A little asshole, if you please, my friend; have you only one hand? I can seeno longer, my stitches go everywhere… Look at it I do you see how my needle wanders… to her thighs, her tits… Oh, fuck! what pleasure!…

So how do we reconcile these two aspects of evil, the historiographical understanding of demonology as local technique subsumed and normalized, and the localized device building between bodies which performs a machinic if cruel transformation (and transfiguration) of affects…of surplus?

If anything, as we grasp the possibilities of a Zuggtmonic drive in the auspice of the demonic image of Zuggtmoy herself, both the cruel inscription of affects upon bodies in evacuated regimes of formal legalism, localized historically specific machina of bodies joined, yoked, and the local power techniques that are ever under hegemonic universalization (and, it seems, binary polarization in abstraction). The Law as instantiationally and concretely cruel and effectively homogenizing.

Elevating Local Demons

Where does this leave us unto the cruelties of godlike elevation of demonic Zuggtmoy? What kind of transformations and seeing-throughs  are possible through her fungal if brutal consumptions at the border of death and decay? What is gained by the elevation of her local technique to a universalized though context-bound law is the capacity to see constructives as not strict inside/outside binary machines, but as material relations established with the radience that covers death and decay itself, ones that appreciate staged, cyclictic (and not categorical) transitions between individual and collective, ever within the halo of decay’s release of constitutive elements; but always with the risk that the identification with the demoness may take hold of your subjective boundary and transform you through decay, putrification and thereupon growth itself, creating new sites for radiance. Ever the risk if we are not to participate in totalitarian cognizance and its absolute pleasure economies.

Related comtemorary posts elsewhere: Naught Thought here, there and whence;  Complete Lies thence; The Whim thither; Eliminative Culinarism (6-11-09) wither.

“Let him prepare the soul…”: Disagreement as Amputation

“Let him prepare the soul as a ready sacrifice to the Lord by earnest prayers…For it is not small presumption to dismember the image of God”

- 17th century (?) surgeon’s handbook, on how to advise the patient on the coming amputation

The above quotation is found in the book The Island at the Center of the World, which in often somewhat overly enthused prose tells the compelling story of the Dutch Colony of New Netherland, centered on the island of Manhattan – a forgotten, non-Puritan ideological root, in the tree of American history. An early Capitalist wonderland.

This sentence just haunts in all that it prescribes, evokes and circumscribes. I see its truth echo back down through the history of philosophy, literature and politics. Perhaps to get the sense of it one requires the descriptions of amputation that precede it, the extraordinary experience and act of limb severing:

There were many techniques, all of them hideous. Typically, the patient, fully awake, was placed in a chair with two men holding him down. The doctor would use his hands to “pluck up the skinn and muscles” of the limb in question, then, as one wrote, “we cut the flesh with a razor or incising knife…to the bone, the said bone must be diligently rubbed and scraped with the back of the sayd knife, which back must be purposively made for that effect, to the end of the periost which convereth the bone, may be lesse painful in cutting of the bone. Otherwise it teareth and riveth with the same, so causeth great dolour…This being done, you must saw the bone with a sharpe saw…” Without anaesthetic or sedative the horror was often enough that the patient died before the saw finished its work.

Aside from the cringe-worthy description, I want to point back to the quote at the top of the page. We are told by people like Lacan that there is a Big Other which symbolically constructs our universe. While I don’t favor his theoretical reductions and the dominance of the signifier, I think something is to be said for the general equivalences that map from our experiences of rational coherence, and the coherence of our body as a whole: agreement between persons help constitute a kind of body, not in metaphor, but rather a REAL body which involves the transfer of affects across the boundaries of our limited selves. Experiences literally travel from flesh to flesh, in waves because the mutuality of our flesh makes of us a community. In this way I think often there is an anaesthetic when it comes to occasions of disagreement and dissent, one in which we seldom have an eye upon the living body where amputations are falling. And where there is personal commitment, we often cannot see the extended limbs of sense with which that person is expressing themselves. When the handbook tells “It is no small presumption to dismember the image of God” our eyes must turn to the images of god that populate our mutuality of perceptions. And when we amputate we must really grit our teeth with a sense of just what we are cutting and why.

Cutting At the Body Politic

Now this may lead to some who have great desire for transformation to simply want to grit their teeth for the sake of teeth gritting, and chopping for the sake of chopping, usually those that disassociate themselves from the limbs that they are cutting. The Body Politic is desireously seen as diseased and need of acute address. For these I suspect, aside from the eros of violence there is a dream-for union with a New Body, floating there in the future. So much more I would think that we should look at the bodies around us, trace the lines of affect confluence, the mutualities of perception, the living wholes that shadow through.

I have in mind the example of Antigone who I often return to under questions of morality. She just will not cut that limb of her family as it possesses its own health, and the State will sever her all too willingly. I have in mind the discussions we have had on Kant lately, over at Mikhail’s place [Metaphysics and It Ethical Consequences.; Running The Red Light, Being Late For A Poker Game. ] which seem to come down to not whether Kant’s ethical framing can be rigorously justified, but rather that Kant is saying to those that love him something like “Its no small presumption…” And with this I agree. One disrupts the body with a great weight of consciousness, and should know what it is that one cuts, like the chiseler with marble. Even the experimenters with the body should appreciate the range of their actions, the richness of what they contribute. I have in mind as well the difficult and interesting questions surrounding Apotemnophilia and realize that given this post, though I’ve been putting it off I should probably finally watch Quid pro Quo (I wish they made these kind of transitive movies with more depth): 

It is important to see that even as Apotemnophilics look to sever their bodies, they do so as to form other bodies, microbodies, cross-transfers of wholeness, a kind of reaching of the “image of God” through imperfection. It is notable perhaps that those with the so-called Body integrity identity disorder (BIID) are predominantly white, middle-aged males who form a kind of idealized and banalized core of middle class Western society. A hideous perversion put on us by the perversions of Capitalism as some might have it, or alternate forms of corporeal development, selves made obliquely.

What fascinates me is the search for already present “images of God” body wholes, the circuits of completion that are already operating upon which we bring together our greatest powers. These are the viabilities of rationality, though many of them are nascent to awareness.

As Hölderlin concludes in “Mnemosyne” that last hymn of his sanity:

Himmlische nemlich sind
Namely, the Heavenly are
Unwillig, wenn einer nicht
Unwilling when one does not
Die Seele schonend sich
Take care of their soul
Zusammengenommen, aber er muβ doch; dem
Summoning-it-all-together, but yet he must; for him
Gleich fehlet die Trauer.
Thus lacking is lament.

It is only that “the soul” is ever not something in one’s possession, bled across others in time and space as it must.

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.

Aggregates, Groups and Trans-semiotics

The Antinomy of Objects

Levi at Larval Subjects makes an very interesting post which seeks to point out the constitutive difference between “objects” (or “groups”) and assemblages, how a Unity can be seen to come into being out its “sub-assemblages”; and how this antinomy between an Object and its parts can be best described in a kind of Logical Binary. This is a significant point:

“In this respect I’m inclined to say that every object is a split-object written as A, such that it is divided between its elements and its unity or status as One in such a way that there is a tension between parts composing an ob-ject-al and the Unity or One of the ob-ject-al that constantly needs to be reproduced in time.”

Below is my response to this love of the Object as binary constitution. I post it here because it grew in concept from a mere objection to the sufficiency of such an object reduction, to a much richer idea which I think has to be put forth. There is a chance that I am misreading Levi’s reductive talk of Unity and Aggregate under a binary logic, but at the very least it’s emphasis brought out important distinctions:

There is one great difficulty I have for the love for the binary, The thing that is and is not what it is. It is not that the United States is just an A, and then all its bubbling assemblages (composing a neat pair, the unity and its negation). Far too neat and tidy giving one the impression that logic is somehow transcending the object, getting to the underbelly of its conditions, qua logical form. It is that the borders that make up the object A are cross sectioned by the borders that make up other objects constituted by parts of its elements. That is, the elements that make up an object are not simply part of a Set Theory Relation, but polyvalent participants in other Objects (I prefer “bodies”). To speak of the Group that is not reducible to its elements is only part of the potential for description, for members of that group are participating in, making up the bodies of other groups, so that the determination of any one group is overlapped with the forces at play in another. To be simple minded about it, the “group” of African Americans is affected by legislation passed in bias against women (unspecified as Black), because African American Women help compose the group “American Women”. This consequence has ramifications on the “group” African Americans. This is so much the obvious, but any binary reduction of the “group” to a fundamental relation of “a term and its crossed out term” (nicely Hegelian or Lacanian), obscures this very important interdependency and cross semiotics of bodies (the elements in one body can be semiotically, though now non-epistemically, altered through their role in another body, such that one does not know where the change is coming from). That is, the constitutive elements start coherently acting in the epistemic service of something other than the group, without entirely betraying it either, neither purely reflecting states of the group nor states of the world, but other relations.

Here, the simple inside/outside epistemic binary is shown. Events within the group help reflect what is going on outside of it.

That is why there is something dissatisfying about speaking of merely objects (or bodies) and assemblages. It is not just that objects cohere, having bubbled up through assemblages, from the molecular to the molar, but that the reason why the molar cannot be reduced to the molecular (so to speak) is not a point of logic or Set Theory, or even a question of levels, but that the elements of a molar body are already caught up in other molarities, playing out their informing, semiotic role in those groups, often to great invisibility.

In my opinion, (and this is a reason why I find something of Graham’s object-world difficult to swallow), the failure of Identity is not the existential crisis or tension, or the mere necessity of crossing out a term, but rather the already vital and historical investment of constituent parts in other bodies.

There is a kind of blind spot that any recursively organized group suffers. There is an inside/outside epistemic boundary. Events within the boundary are taken as semiotic to the internal workings, the stability or coherent dynamism of the group, but also are readable as reflectant of events outside the group. States within the group then in a general sense “reflect” states outside the group, or when in error lead to self-criticism of elements (something within is broken, and needs to be purged). But this primary epistemic dichotomy is traversed by the fact that the elements that semiotic ally make up the group (informing it of its own states, and the states of the world beyond it) are already, often in huge veins, participant in other groups which cross section it. In this way, the semiotic dichotomy of inside and outside becomes confused (overdetermined one might say). Corporate structures which help compose the elements of the political powers of the United States but also the International economic community are both “inside” and “outside” of the group. Events outside ripple through the informing elements in a way that is not merely that of “reflection”, but affect directly the internal semiotic states, at times with great power. The cognitive boundary that makes up the informing quality of the group, allows it to be classified, can become dissolute, or momentarily possessed. Or, the very fine person that I am, let us say as a religious ethicist, my elements, could suddenly start semiotic ally behaving in a way that is incoherent with that “person” if the body of “race” (in which many of those elements are shared) suddenly is moved. The coherence of my object as an ethicist has not simply broken down into its assembled parts, but rather some of its elements are now reporting as parts of other bodies in such a way that that Identity is very hard to coherently maintain. What the simply binary of Identity and Assemblage occludes is the fundamental powershift in semiotic polyvalence.

I think that the implicit reason why we turn to Deleuzian notions of flow and assemblage is not only to eroticize energies and present a bubbling world, but also to have key to this trans-semiotics, this overdetermination of informing elements that compose a cognitive body. The constitutive parts that make up a body, an inside and an outside of epistemic division, are doing double duty (not only double, but infinite duty) to any number of informing bodies. It is not just that the molecules that make of the functioning spleen are working at a difference of molecular and molar levels, but that due to their capacity to serve as semiotic elements (sub-assemblages, perhaps), they can be and already are  taken up as informing elements of other bodies (perhaps the “body” of the auto-immune system, or the “body” of virus populations in Kansas City) Events within the horizontal body which is ever reading the world are not just reading the world, or reflecting back internal states of that body, but are also already performing epistemic virtues in cross section. This polyvalence of report, this trans-semiotic overdetermination is I believe glossed over by any logical binary appeal of irreducible Identity and elements. What makes this significant is that the failure of Identity does not direct us to an essential negation (the reality of the negation), but to the plentitude of semiotic indications and the vast overlapping, and interwovenness of bodies. It is not just a question of the boundaries of objects matching up perfectly with the boundaries of other objects (a flat notion of pure objectivity), or a question of levels of description being reducible or irreducible to other levels, but really a question of how semiotic events internal to one body are necessarily internal to other bodies which intersect one’s own cognitive boundary, lying neither within or external to it.

 

I think that this inherent essentialization of “object” (whether it be of the species that Graham Harman puts forth, or the binary logic version that Levi leans to at times), is one founded upon a primary optical metaphorization of the world, one that hides not a “hidden” never reachable shadow, in the way that the Moon always has a darkside (or an inside), but that this very notion of “hidden” negation directs one’s eyes away from the primary trans-semiotic character of cognitive bodies in the first place. An object (or as I prefer “body”) is always in part, part of another body, not to mention the ways in which a body is in whole part of other bodies, like cells in an organ. In a sense, an object can always change dimensionality or vector, when taken up by an other (or many other) semiotic regimes, over determining its informing elements. 

Perhaps an example will help clarify my point. Levi provides an illumination of something what he means by Unity and aggregate:

The film The Mist can be read as depicting the morphogenesis of groups or as being a study of the process of groups-in-formation making the transition from the status of aggregates to the status of assemblages. At the beginning of the film you have people belonging to the same town but in such a way as to primarily be an aggregate. That is, any unity or One among these people is minimal and weak, consisting of being members of the same town without these members thinking of themselves as an assemblage or One. As the film progresses and the people trapped in the store encounter more and more of the creatures in the mist, polarities begin to form within the population. The process here could be analogized to one similar to the process an egg undergoes as the yoke gets progressively differentiated over the course of development. Eventually fairly well defined assemblages are produced, consisting of secularists on the one side and the religious on the other side, as well as racial divides. These identities did not pre-exist the formation of the assemblages- or if they did it was only with a low degree of intensity. The people that side with the ultra-fundamentalist religious woman were not themselves ultra-fundamentalist at the beginning of the film. Likewise, the people that form the secularist assemblage were not significantly related to one another in any particular way. Rather, the identity that forms the aggregates instead emerges from out of the Brownian motion of this nebulous population of the city and reinforces itself as a One or Unity as it comes into being.

Unfortunately I have not seem the film The Mist  so will have to speak at the level of generalites so described. One would have to say that instead of the town operating only as a loose aggregate, it already was operating as a cognitive unity without directed intention (no firm, pressing, inside/outside epistemic directionality). But it was still a cognitive unity, one that generally read itself in terms of inside and outside. Instead of imagining this aggregate as a soupy, rather interdeterminate mix, a yoked egg, one has to realize that its semiotic elements were already trans-semotically working in other constitutive bodies. Again, I have not seen the film so I cannot comment upon the exact differentiations that begin to occur within the town “group” but all of those differentiations are expressive of the semiotic role elements were already  playing in groups, objects, bodies that constituted the town in the first place, be they race, religion, gender, class, sexuality, family, legality, biology or really any number of other unnameable bodily vectors. The Town is not JUST an egg, but is rather already a functioning inside/outside entity, cross-sectioned by other dominant bodies. Semiotic elements are already semiotic and cohering (and not just traveling in Brownian randomness). The importance of this is that if one is to understand the nature of the polarities that Levi sees rising up in the “egg” of the aggregate, understand, explain and anticipate them, it is the pre-existing functionality of elements in already cognitive bodies that determines these faultlines…they don’t just bubble up. One may not be a “religious fundamentalist” person at time x, but one’s person is already shot through with semiotic polyvalence in bodies which given new circumstances will make you one in the future. Your “religous fundamentalist,” unity status is not merely a sharpening of a vague Brownian effervecence, although this is a beautiful image, but rather the expression of so many other embodied semiotic investments, intersecting your own religious fundamental identity.

“The Mist”- like experience, like the Red Scare, is the sense of invasion that comes from strongly trans-semiotic conditions. The threat comes out of no-where because it is coming both Outside our Identity and from Within it. What is within seems to have not just the possibility to produce error, but to work with a seeming (often) pernicious autonomy. (This autonomy can be revelatory as well.) The sense becomes that one is reacting from within to coherence which is to some degree unseen.

In this way, for instance, the Obama phenomenon is not only a sudden cohension upon the great Egg of the American scene (though poetic). Obamism is not just Brownian motion suddenly producing coherent direction (I don’t even think that Levi would say this, as much as a unity/aggregate analysis might put it forth). Rather, it is the growing cognitive, self-defining object come out of so many of its polyvalent elements, the intersection of so many other bodies sharing elements, or finding agreements (when not). The real interpretive key I believe to a notion of Hegelian negation is not just that some internal part is going to betray its whole, and not quite be subsumable (although this is no doubt a useful description of some experiences). It is rather than whole cloth of constitutent elements what for some time did a very good job of reporting back states of the world, and internal states of the group, will be shown to be  already serving  as semiotic parts for other cognitive bodies, so when there is a disturbance, a real cognitive disturbance from within, it cannot be coherently located inside (as error) or outside (as event), but rather seems to be both at the same time, creating the illusion of a perfectly invading influence, (and deep malfunction).  

(Digression: This is why Hegel’s progressional sense of the State gives  a rather pale reading of the Antigone. Antigone is not simply the failure of the State to incorporate all of the ancient familial organizations and the childbirthing roles of the female into its new boundary, but rather is the presence of living, cognitive relations, whole bodies, which are not simply anterior to the State, but cutting across it. When she is buried alive in the tomb, she is not heroically outside the Symbolic, as Lacan wants to say, but rather one could say heroically manifesting the polyvalence of an incestuous semiotic power, signifying in too many tongues at once, a tragedy for the State. This capacity is not merely a perculating potentiality in the soup, or an antiquarian haunt, as some like to have it, but rather vital, tidal semiotic investments in presently existing bodies)

It is not just that the object is ever erupting from within, like an egg, never reducible to its sub-assemblages and flows, but rather that the object is always torn semiotically across itself, its parts already making up the parts of other objects (bodies). At many times these cross investments work to produce an invisible sense of stability, as external objects and our agreements with others report with an incredible transparency, but when these semiotic responsibilities shift, when our elements start reporting the world with tidal inaccuracy (according to unseen bodily investments elsewhere), otherwise assumed cognitive wholes can undergo extreme revision, and self-critique, sharpening into unexpected re-organization, sometimes desperately breaking down altogether and becoming dissolute, sometimes making new bodies and alliances out of parts which unbeseemingly are already invested in so many other bodies, as such is the case when so many political and economic forces seemed to invisibily dovetail into an apparent Obama unification, a new fabric of inside/outside (and at many times an occluded intersection).

Spinoza’s Tomb and Sign: sêma

In a curious and revealing conflation of meanings, in Greek sêma, the word from which we get our “semiology” and “semantics” was generally a “sign” or a “mark” of significance, but also archaically it meant a “tomb,” a “burial mound,” a “cairn”. In the video above we encounter the “sign” of Spinoza, his tomb at The Hague. Perhaps we are to recall in contrast Hölderlin’s initial lines of his last poem of sanity, “Mnemosyne”…

A sign we are, without interpretation,

Without pain we are, & we have nearly 

Lost our Speech in the Foreign…

This is precisely the grip of the negation, absence, nothingness that Spinoza puts aside, as all signs point to something, that is, all ideas have a res  as their object. What is the sêma of Spinoza’s Grave? For those of us who have read him, struggling at times against the sheer texturelessness of his interlocked propositions, there is something, some-thing, an effect to seeing his grave, even in this video of it, what has become a monument to a National and historical figure (I have not been to it, but only read it off the aesthetic texture of the digital form). Spinoza has not lost his tongue. The foreign has not made him speechless, or in-sig-nificant. Instead, his death (and he had death all about him, living in a time of plague, his father perhaps dying of the tuberculosis that also struck Spinoza closely after his father’s death), brought him to construct a vast apparatus thought to aid the human mind and body, and articulate matrix of legs, arms and organs which extended man over the sea-bit abyss that would later fascinate the extentialisms of the German and French of modernity, and raft of Being.

I recall the makeshift tomb of Polyneikes from the Antigone, (actually the two graves)…the first driven by the Naturalized windstorm of the gods (in a thorough imaginary constitution ascended to through the fear of the guards watching over his body…the brother who was buried twice); the second by the poor hand of a pubescent girl, sister and kin, dust. The intentional sêma  of the latter a willful determination of the former. For the philosopher who seemed to mimimize the memory, the effects of the imagination, what purpose does his grave give to us? What constitutive effect? Is not it the sign of the preservation of the better part of a mind (and necessarily a body)? There is the unmistaken scent of eternity behind the sêma.

And what of the productivity of the skin of aesthetic capture, the de-sedimented layer of “film” and voice which crosses boundaries and unites in pixelation, and qualitative condensation? Is this not the “body” of Spinoza par excellence, the speed-driven arch of mind through constitutive, material effect?

Dust…Beware Fantasies of Being

For tho’ he had vanished, tho’ entombed not,

Thin, as if the awe of a fugative, was the dust.

Lines 255 and 256 of the Antigone stand in the way of any purely immanent, plentitudnal reading of the world’s ontology. A thin layer of dust has made the body of Polynikes “disappear”. In order to understand this one must see this naturalistically. A dust storm has billowed up in the night. At dawn, the body which could not be buried has literally become invisibile in the thinnest of layers. This layer is a co-incidence of the contingent into Fate, caught up in imaginary relations: the imagination of Lack.

So invisible it was that Hölderlin, Heidegger’s “prophet of future Being”, refused to, or mis-translated it into absence, in a parentheses of negatives:

Nichts feierlichs. Es war kein Grabmal nicht.

Nur zarter Staub, wie wenn man das Verbot

Gescheut. (265-67).

Teiresias and Sophocles resolve Non-Being

 

And I find it so curious, for those that follow Heidegger (and even those of a Phenomenological bent in general, descendents of Brentano’s intentionality thesis), how fully the optical metaphor of “appearance” is embraced, as if this were the only mode of doing, thinking, acting. While it is certain that we, as a species, are a visual creature, to be so dominated by just one trope, just one mode, is striking to me.It recalls something that blind Teiresias says in the Antigone (a play often over-read in terms of presence and exclusion, following Hegel’s appropriation), something I think that en-LIGHT-ens the limits of the optical trope.

Sophocles for Teiresias wrote:

…We came by a common road,

Two-out-of-one seeing. With the blind so

It is this path, out of the fore-leader it moves.

lines 988-991
 

In this way Sophocles unlocks the binary dynamics of non-being. For going forward as a human being is much more tactile, much more omni-sensical, and affective, than any over-riding metaphor of seeing and darkness demand. In this Teiresias talks of how as a blind man he must see through the eyes of the sighted boy who leads him [two out of one seeing], in a way that is combinatory. Thus for those who cannot see [all human beings] this is the only path that there is, a path that literally moves, goes, comes-out-of the one that goes before [ek proegetou]. The “path” literally moves by those that are ahead. Our contact with them is more polyvalent than simple binary being and non-being will allow.

Plotinus, notably, offers similiar combinatory, cybernetic understanding. The notion of vision as knowing leads to a physical synthesis of eyes:

Beholding (theöria) and the beheld (to theõêma) have no boundaries (peras)…For it is not spatially limited (perigegraptai). It is, of course not present in the same way in every soul, since it is not even in a like way in every part of the soul. That is why the charitoteer gives the horses a share of what he sees (myth of ambriosia and nectar, Phaedrus: 247E5-6); and they in taking it obviously would have desired what they saw, for they did not get it at all. And if in their longing they act, they act for the sake of what they long for; and that the beheld and that beholding (Enn. 3.8.5).

If they are two, the knower will be one thing, and the known the other, and contemplation (theõria) has not yet made this pair akin to each other (õieiõsen) (Enn. 3.8.8).

The non-spatial quality of presencing, is taken up in blind man talk of the ubiquity of voice:

…just as if there was a sound filling an empty space (katechousês epêmian), or with an empty space (meta tês erêmias), with men too, and by setting yourself to listen at any point in the empty space, you will recieve the whole sound, and yet not the whole. Enn. 3.8.9)

This does not mean that Being and Non-being should not be discussed, and teased out into the thinnest of their threads. For long as one follows the dominant metaphors of Sight, Appearance, Phenomena, there must be room for Non-Being in the discussion.

 

But any philosophy of presence, appearance and negation, has to take advise from Teiresias’ immanent “by a common road”, a material enfolding of perception, the path out of which grows from its lead and combination. The two-out-of-one seeing.

 

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