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The Becoming-woman of Machine in Avatar

A Comparison With The Fist of the White Lotus

[Early concept art for Cameron's Avatar]

In following up this rhizome series on Cameron’s Avatar, which involves this series of posts:

1. Avatar: The Density of Being, 2. Avatarship and the New Man: Reading Ideology, Technology and Hope, 3.Two Vectors of Avatar’s Cinematic Achievement: Affect and Space Interface, 4.Is the Medium the Message? Avatar’s Avatar, 5. Peking Opera and the Aesthetic Freedoms of Avatar.

I want to pick up on the last Peking Opera/Hong Kong Action reference, and open up a comparison I’ve suggested, between Avatar and the Kung Fu classic Fist of the White Lotus (1980, originally title among others Clan of the White Lotus). In each the process of education involves an implicit feminization of the more masculine powers, something that may have bearing upon both philosophical vitalism and the general fears about left, liberal, Hollywood pantheism. In Fist of the White Lotus the hero Hong Wending, played by the incomparable Gordon Liu (Liu Jiahui, forget Tarantino’s souless homage the character and actor in Kill Bill 2) seeks revenge against an evil martial arts master who has murdered nearly all of the hero’s Shaolin brethren. To be sure one has to be rather thoroughly steeped in the Hong Kong aesthetic to appreciate how the seemingly stilted plots, characters and actions of this film transcend into graced expression and very significant matters (or correspond to perceived weaknesses in Avatar), but it is enough to see that gender is under transformation in the film.

To give a sense of the storyline, Pai Mei “white eyebrows”, the evil villain high priest, has achieved a nearly undefeatable level of martial arts that required a highly choreographed combined attack of two persons, an attack used to defeat his twin brother. With the hero now a sole survivor after a White Lotus Clan ambush, having lost his martial arts compatriot, he has no way to fight this arch enemy and avenge his close friend’s death. The movie consists in Gordion Lui trying to perfect new forms of attack, and repeated showdowns that fail. The principle unusual powers that Pai Mei possesses are the bizarre defensive capacity to withdraw his genitals back into his body to protect them, and the ability to become so weightless that the force of any blow thrown just floats him back as if he were made of paper. 

At one stage in the hero’s development he comes into the tutelage of the wife of his fallen comrade, whose child she has now born. He believes that if he learns her “woman’s style” he may be able to combine it with his aggressive Crane and Tiger and finally be able to get close enough to strike his opponent. But first he must learn women’s work, he is told. This is the sequence of his feminization (the whole film is posted in parts on Youtube):

As the plot goes, this woman’s style is not sufficient to defeat the great Pai Mei, but it is componented to the skills that in the end prove necessary. The character must go through a feminization in order to draw up the powers of the feminine into his eventual expression of righteous force. Many of the social fears over the liberal creep of pantheism are no doubt linked to deeply entrenched gender notions, bodily configurations, cultural identifications with what is appropriate. One can see this in the conflict between the two kinds of technology in Avatar, the masculine puppetry and instrumental expression, machines operating in a kind of robotic Kung Fu like Hong Kong Tiger or Crane Style, and the limpid, synthetic and lithe Pandoran DNA lightness, which involved a distinct feminization of Sully’s body (the lengthening of his features and limbs, the corsetting of his waist, a general feline framing of his person). Sully learns, and becomes a mutuality of gender expressions, recovering a brute, warlike masculinity on the other side of woman. The mushy, spiritual New Ageism that makes much of the American Right recoil goes in two powerful directions. There are the strong gender (and sexuality) political questions that can at times dominate social discussion (for instance the question of Gay Marriage which rears its head and subsides with great tidal force), but these are intimately linked I believe to questions of technological synthesis, the way in which we feel the world through our technologies in such a way that they engender us, and steer us away from a much more (symbolically) masculine instrumental relationship to our capacities. The entire Gaia feminization of the world which some protest, and which marks something of the vitalisms of contemporary philosophy, are questions of immersion, how deeply should our body sink into our capacities, and feel our way forward through what is modern. The contest between instrument and embodiment is an aesthetic contest between distance and speed, something mediated by affect and our control of affects (most regularly codified and regimented in the register of gender). In this sense, the battleground of gender, in politics, and the seemingly reactionary political entrenchment on the issue of sexual rights and actions is to be expected, and in fact, respected, as the entire social body seeking equilibrium amid vast change in capacity to feel and do.

Animal, Woman, Child: Vitalism and Technology

To give some context to what is as stake, here is a selection from Deleuze and Guattari’s a thousand plateaus which I juxtapose to the gender, technological and conscience transformations of Avatar’s Sully:

What is a girl, what is a group of girls? Proust at least has shown us once and for all that their individuation, collective or singular, proceeds not by subjectivity but by haecceity, pure haecceity. “Fugitive beings.” They are pure relations of speeds and slownesses, and nothing else. A girl is late on account of her speed: she did too many things, crossed too many spaces in relation to the relative time of the person waiting for her. Thus her apparent slowness is transformed into the breakneck speed of our waiting. (292)

The girl’s becoming is stolen first, in order to impose a history, or prehistory, upon her. The boy’s turn comes next, but it is by using the girl as an example, by pointing to the girl as the object of his desire, that an opposed organism, a dominant history is fabricated for him too. The girl is the first victim, but she must also serve as an example and a trap. That is why, conversely, the reconstruction of the body as a Body without Organs, the anorganism of the body, is inseparable from a becoming-woman, or the production of a molecular woman. Doubtless, the girl becomes a woman in the molar or organic sense. But conversely, becoming-woman or the molecular woman is the girl herself. The girl is certainly not defined by virginity; she is defined by a relation of movement and rest, speed and slowness, by a combination of atoms, an emission of particles: haecceity. She never ceases to roam upon a body without organs. She is an abstract line, or a line of flight. Thus girls do not belong to an age group, sex, order, or kingdom: they slip in everywhere, between orders, acts, ages, sexes; they produce n molecular sexes on the line of flight in relation to the dualism machines they cross right through. (297-8)

Although all becomings are already molecular, including becoming woman, it must be said that all becomings begin with and pass through becoming-woman. It is the key to all the other becomings. When the man of war disguises himself as a woman, flees disguised as a girl, hides as a girl, it is not a shameful, transitory incident in his life. To hide, to camouflage oneself, is a warrior function, and the line of flight attracts the enemy, traverses something and puts what it traverses to flight; the warrior arises in the infinity of a line of flight. Although the femininity of the man of war is not accidental, it should not be thought of as structural, or regulated by a correspondence of relations. It is difficult to see how the correspondence between the two relations “man-war” and “woman-marriage” could entail an equivalence between the warrior and the girl as a woman who refuses to marry.61 It is just as difficult to see how the general bisexuality, or even homosexuality, of military societies could explain this phenomenon, which is no more imitative than it is structural, representing instead an essential anomie of the man of war. This phenomenon can only be understood in terms of becoming. We have seen how the man of war, by virtue of his furor and celerity, was swept up in irresistible becomings-animal. These are becomings that have as their necessary condition the becoming-woman of the warrior, or his alliance with the girl, his contagion with her. The man of war is inseparable from the Amazons. The union of the girl and the man of war does not produce animals, but simultaneously produces the becoming-woman of the latter and the becoming-animal of the former, in a single “block” in which the warrior in turn becomes animal by contagion with the girl at the same time as the girl becomes warrior by contagion with the animal. Everything ties together in an asymmetrical block of becoming, an instantaneous zigzag. It is in the vestiges of a double war machine— that of the Greeks, soon to be supplanted by the State, and that of the Amazons, soon to be dissolved—that Achilles and Penthesilea, the last man of war and the last queen of the girls, choose one another, Achilles in a becoming-woman, Penthesilea in a becoming-dog.

The rites of transvestism or female impersonation in primitive societies in which a man becomes a woman are not explainable by a social organization that places the given relations in correspondence, or by a psychic organization that makes the woman desire to become a man just as the man desires to become a woman.62 Social structure and psychic identification leave too many special factors unaccounted for: the linkage, unleashing, and communication of the becomings triggered by the transvestite; the power (puissance) of the resultant becoming-animal; and above all the participation of these becomings in a specific war machine. The same applies for sexuality: it is badly explained by the binary organization of the sexes, and just as badly by a bisexual organization within each sex. Sexuality brings into play too great a diversity of conjugated becomings; these are like n sexes, an entire war machine through which love passes. This is not a return to those appalling metaphors of love and war, seduction and conquest, the battle of the sexes and the domestic squabble, or even the Strindberg-war: it is only after love is done with and sexuality has dried up that things appear this way. What counts is that love itself is a war machine endowed with strange and somewhat terrifying powers. Sexuality is the production of a thousand sexes, which are so many uncontrollable becomings. Sexuality proceeds by way of the becoming-woman of the man and the becoming-animal of the human: an emission of particles. (299-300)

In a strong and distinct sense, every technological evolution requires a becoming-woman, a becoming-animal, a becoming-child, which necessarily must also involve distinct political reterritorialization of categories, a reaction, at the social-political level. Techologies are micro- molecular invasions of affect upon the body politic, one might say, and involve necessary immunological response.

As Energy Is to Matter: Massumi on Indeterminancy

Massumi troubling on how to characterize the body such that it is dynamic enough, and roots itself in Deleuze’s concrete abstract:

The charge of indeterminancy is inseparable from it. It strictly coincides with it, to the extent that the body is in passage or in process (to the extent that it is dynamic and alive). But the charge itself is not corporeal…Real, material, but incorporeal. Inseparable, coincident, but disjunct…

One way of starting to get a grasp of the real-material-but-incorporeal is to say that it is to the body, as a positioned thing, as energy is to matter. Energy and matter are mutually convertable modes of the same reality. This would make the incorporeal thing a phase-shift of the body in the usual sense, but not one that comes after it it in time. It would be a conversion or an unfolding of the body contemporary to its every move.

Parables of the Virtual, 5

This is the thing. There is a preoccupation with the body, per se, which wants to take IT as the locus of something vital and non-reductive. This reads as a mythologization of the social entity “a person”. If we adequately re-describe bodies abstractly and powerfully enough, and locate enough metaphysical/ontological powers within a “body”, then we trace out a storyboard of how each and every “person” (who is only a  concrete actualization of the “plan” of bodies in general), can erupt with differences that are meaningful. Because this mythology involves the trappings of binary logics, the border of the body has to be taken as a logical toggle-point. The struggle of origin, located in this mythological, person-redeeming way, compression cosmological arguments into what is otherwise given freedom under the much wider nomenclature of “the flesh”. The abstract floats under the flesh, like a magnetic carbomb, waiting to unfurl its political (sensory) change. The localization of “body” frustrates me. It carries too much baggage.

Also note Massumi’s analogy of matter to energy. Matter is a kind of colder calcification of freer floating intensity or fluidity. Solid to its liquid. But what is strikingly missing (at least at this point) is “information” the third term. I’ve talked about the metaphysical value of Information before: Information, Spinoza’s “Idea” and The Structure of the Universe. What does information as the third term to Massumi’s incorporeal-concrete do? It opens out every body across its boundaries, transversely. We do not get the doublet of the actual and its ghost beneath it, and the attendant mythology of personhood. Instead the body itself tears across its sinews and bone, into a different matrix. Instead of locating a Same/Difference autonomy of “movement” and its animation cell analogy (where does difference come from? as quaesta), the infinities within a body strain against the infinities outside it. The “phase-shift” decenters every object not just from itself (boring), but from every other existence. A change in information elsewhere touches the informational state of this body. Massumi’s vortex seems to be missing an axis of imaging, at least at this point. Too much internalization of change, too much Hegel thrown forward:

This self-disjunctive coinciding sinks an ontological difference into the heart of the body.

It is precisely this sinking into, like an anchor’s line into the aeons of coral reef, that is a needless or occluding mythology of the self.

Žižek Asks “What is Spinoza?”: Tarrying With a Negative

Where Spinoza Diverts From History

Through some recent cursory discussion in which arose the comparison between Lacan’s analytic three realms of Imaginary, Symbolic, Real and Spinoza three knowledges (Imaginary, Rational and Intutional) a very important homology upon which their differences are perhaps best spelled out, the subject of Žižek’s take on Spinoza reoccurred to me. I had encountered it a few times before, and as always with his subversive simplifications I took pleasure in what he had to say…but lasting with a kernel of firm resistance. Instead of exploring the genetic relationship between Lacan and Spinoza there is the sense that Žižek is performing a landscape of historical necessity, contorting Spinoza’s theory in a kind of Procrustean vision which reduces him to what history made of him in the developments of German Idealism, in particular under the controversy of Panthesism of that Age. What is lost to us in such a movement of Spirit is both the social-political determinations which fueled the German Ideal reformulation of Spinoza – perhaps penult in the figure of Schelling (including our loss of Heine) – but more importantly Spinoza himself. And with the loss of Spinoza, is lost the potentiality of his claims and their own historical expressions of proto-modern forms of the Dutch Republic. Žižek ensures that Spinoza cannot come to us without the mediation of German Idealism. It is impossible. There can be no importation of the past along another nexus.

This made me wish I had engaged Žižek’s thoughts on Spinoza before, so I take this chance to take up some aspects of his inscription upon Spinoza, in a kind of running commentary. Hopefully this will direct others to his succinct and interesting exposition, but also will expand Spinoza out from such a titan’s bed. My mode of engagement is not academic. I simply pass to his excellent essay and extract the relevant and interesting passages, quote whole from them, breaking them into points that mostly flow into each other, and comment with some length in much the same way I would as my mind runs when I read them. You can simply skip my comments and read the numbered points and get a pretty good sense of where Žižek is coming from (and one can always return to the essay itself). I interpose several linked reference to past posts in case others would like to hyperlink around these arguments, changing frames as they wish.

The Denial of the Mediator

From Spinoza, Kant, Hegel and… Badiou!

1. So what is Spinoza? He is effectively the philosopher of Substance, and at a precise historical moment: AFTER Descartes. For that reason, he is able to draw all (unexpected, for most of us) consequences from it.

I certainly agree with Žižek that historically configuring Spinoza as AFTER Descartes is quite significant, I make something of a sociologically argument for the importance of Spinoza leveraged precisely on this fact, but Žižek has something important also in mind here. Spinoza is not only after Descartes, he is BEFORE Kant and then Hegel. He forms part of a progression, a series, which terminates in Hegel. Whereas I would argue that Spinoza’s Non-Representational, degree-of-Being view of knowledge was the path not taken (exposing the raw intellect of potential in early Dutch experimentation with Capitalism, Democracy and Mechanism), Žižek necessarily reads him as part of a march towards an ultimate totalization which finds its completion in Hegel. Following this trajectory requires that we take the Idealist’s approach which moves from Spinoza to Kant to Schelling and then Hegel, and reduce Spinoza’s philosophy to merely being a philosophy of Substance. There is something to Spinoza’s Substance, but it is not what German Idealism would like to make of it.

2. Substance means, first of all, that there is no mediation between the attributes: each attribute (thoughts, bodies…) is infinite in itself, it has no outer limit where it would touch another attribute – “substance” is the very name for this absolutely neutral medium of the multitude of attributes. This lack of mediation is the same as the lack of subjectivity, because subject IS such a mediation: it ex-sists in/through what Deleuze, in The Logic of Sense, called the “dark precursor,” the mediator between the two different series, the point of suture between them. So what is missing in Spinoza is the elementary “twist” of dialectical inversion which characterizes negativity, the inversion by means of which the very renunciation to desire turns into desire of renunciation, etc.

I do not think that Deleuze’s dark precursor is identical to the “subject”. In fact there are two levels at which I would resist Žižek’s easy slide. Firstly there is the conflation between “subject” and “subjectivity” and this is unwarranted. Caroline Williams delivered a nice Althusserian-Spinozist paper that can be accessed here: Subjectless Subjectivity, A Geography of Subject: Beyond Objectology. As Williams forwards, it should be argued indeed that there is subjectivity in Spinoza, without the “subject” proper. Secondly, Deleuze’s dark precursor is not in any sense a negation. Rhetorically it does invoke something of Schelling’s Dark God ungrund of the coming subjective reflexivity, but it is itself a surplus without reflection:

“In fact, it is not by poverty of its vocabulary that language invents the form in which it plays the role of dark precursor, but by its excess, by its most positive syntactic and semantic power. In playing this role it differentiates the differences between different things spoken of, relating these immediately to one another in a series which it causes to resonate.”

Difference and Repetition

Žižek is trying to wedge in the truth of his dialectical inversion, and where it does not fit it is merely coming (if history gives it enough time). Who can blame him, but we must keep track of such wedgings. Not every meditation is an inversion (it might very well be a “fold”) and not every mediation is a negation. In any case though, I would be glad to accept that Spinoza contains neither “Subject” nor “dark precursor”(or its Schelling imposition), and this is due to the unmediated nature of Substance’s expression. Substance both exists and acts via the modes (E3p6dem).

3. What is unthinkable for him is what Freud called “death drive”: the idea that conatus is based on a fundamental act of self-sabotaging. Spinoza, with his assertion of conatus, of every entity’s striving to persist and strengthen its being and, in this way, striving for happiness, remains within the Aristotelian frame of what a good life is – what is outside his scope is the what Kant calls “categorical imperative,” an unconditional thrust that parasitizes upon a human subject without any regard for its well-being, “beyond the pleasure-principle,” and that, for Lacan, is the name of desire at its purest.

This also is something I affirm, and have written on. There is a primary if not absolute tension between Freud’s Death Drive or his splitting of the drives, and Spinoza’s unitary Pleasure Principle conatus (Spinoza performs the differentiation of destruction on another, and in fact multiple levels). I entertain the differences between Freud and Spinoza here, in the latter part of the article: The Zuggtmonic Drive: (Dark) Intelligence Without Center. As I try to point out, there is a conflation between two things in Freud’s pursuit of this drive: the search for an explanation for the repetition of trauma (recursive unhappy behavior), and the presence of conscious/unconscious morbid thoughts such as “I want to die”, neither of which require the positing of an entirely different metaphysical drive.

It is good as well that Žižek organizes the contrast between Spinoza’s conatus and Freud’s Death Drive as the problem of self-sabotage. This is because it allows us to potentially trace how Spinoza unhinges the explanatory need for such drive in his subversion of the “self” as it assumed. This is to say, ultimately Spinoza deprives any self of ontological ground upon which any then “sabotage” can be grafted or posited. There indeed are selves, just as there are objects (in fact there are just as many one could say), but these selves are ever in boundary-smearing expansions and contractions, pulled in tides across their horizons. And pleasure/power is the mode by which these permutations appear to accrue and disperse.

Where is the Center of the Affects?

4. What the “imitation of affects” introduces is the notion of trans-individual circulation and communication: as Deleuze later developed in a Spinozian vein, affects are not something that belongs to a subject and is then passed over to another subject; affects function at the pre-individual level, as free-floating intensities which belong to no one and circulate at a level “beneath” intersubjectivity. This is what is so new about imitatio afecti: the idea that affects circulate DIRECTLY, as what psychoanalysis calls “partial objects.”

Here Žižek brings to the fore a very important feature of Spinoza. It is in fact the one feature that will undermine the singular framing he is trying to provide, how Substance has to be mediated by a negating Subject. Because Spinoza’s is a subjectivity without a subject, and because his ontology of modes is cross-tidal, the looked-for subject never appears. This not to say that it is denied, rather, it simply makes no appearance because it is unnecessary in the surplus of Spinoza’s model. Without the Subject Žižek’s progression through to German Idealism’s preoccupation with an optics of reflection or construction falls off its rails…reifying as they in their variety are want to do, imaginary reflections of images in mirrors, in camera obscura devices, in paintings of linear perspective, unto a logic of binary negating ab-straction. Indeed it is through the “trans-individual” communication of affects, the autonomy of affects we want to say, that we trace out the cross-currents that both work to vectorially focus themselves in persons, selves, identities, bodies of coherence, but also tear at these the same, communicating across their parts in such a way that there are gravities which pull at the joints of any anatomy. This implicit cross-directionality in Spinoza I have written on under the conceptual auspice of “Conjoined Semiosis”: Spinoza’s Notion of Inside and Outside: What is a Passion?, The Necessary Intersections of the Human Body: Spinoza, Conjoined Semiosis: A “Nerve Language” of Bodies and The “ens reale” and the “ens rationis”: Spelling Out Differences. But aside from the details of an argument of Conjoined Semiosis, it is in the general sense the veritably the trans-individual nature of the imitation of the affects which undercuts the centrality of the subject itself, and eventually atrophies its need. Interestingly, and with some connection to Lacan’s imaginary stage of identification, the imitatio affecti are the congealing of essential rational presuppositions (we must see the world as reflected by others who are both like us, and are in the same world) which help center our experiences along specific gravities; but these condensations are not reducible to strict abstract binaries  of terms Same and Different,  as they inhabit and inform the co-ordination of the entire animal and biotic world where no Symbolic “subject” gains any footing even for the staunchest Idealist. (On the extrapolations of the imitation of the affects and it rational centering: The Trick of Dogs: Etiologic, Affection and Triangulation, Part I of IV and the concept of an Exowelt.) Yet the autonomy of these affects, the way that non-human effects communicate themselves across those similarities, is the very thing that fuses the human and the non-human together, smearing out the anthropocentric center of human-oriented, Idealist preoccupation. As Žižek rightly stresses, these forces are beneath subjectivity. What he does not fully recognize is the sufficiency of this “beneath” in terms of explanation. One should add, these effects are not “partial objects” as they pervade the biotic world and inhabit a great variety of non-representational states, at best they are semiotic pieces.

5. The next philosophical consequence is the thorough rejection of negativity: each entity strives towards its full actualization – every obstacle comes from outside. In short, since every entity endeavors to persist in its own being, nothing can be destroyed from within, for all change must come from without.

Inside/Outside and the Vectors of Determination

This is an important point, and one can certainly see how Žižek arrives at this interpretation. Spinoza is quite forceful at times that there is only a physics in which things are composed in strict inside/outside determinations. And objects persists through some sort of momentum or conatus – like a baseball thrown through a vacuum in space – striving until some External event violently interacts with its internal circulation, eventually breaking apart its communications of parts which had existed in an otherwise harmonious relation. This is certainly in some sense the picture in Spinoza, and from it we gain his very strong cybernetic interpretation of the improvements of human knowledge and autonomy. We are to look within and order our informational house in much the same way that in cybernetic theory a system works back towards a homeostasis, and does so through the filtering of external (and thus threatening) noise. But Spinoza’s view is not comprehensively cybernetic. (I discuss the relationship between Spinoza’s Cybernetic and Chaoplexic features in Is Spinoza a Cyberneticist, or a Chaocomplexicist?.) One of the reasons for this is that ultimately any cognitive inside/outside boundary – and thus any ontological grounding of the “subject” proper – is illusionary, or a kind of perspective for Spinoza. Spinoza’s readings of inside persistence and external obstacle are meant to be understood as something like: “insofar as something is taken in abstraction to be apart from its environment, and insofar as it is abstracted in an act of imagination from Substance and pictured as a thing unto itself, then…”. But this inside/outside dichotomy of external destruction is not the foundation upon which the negative is foreclosed. Instead really the negation which draws a boundary between one interiority and an external force (an imaginary exclusion), is not just a distinctness which separates, but a distinctness which joins the inside and outside in a mutuality. Ultimately because all interactions participate in each other, both at the level of Substance’s expression, but also at the epistemic mutuality of essence in a shared course, inside and outside are not final determinants. (An provisional development of this line of thinking is found here, in a study of the metaphysical consequences of Spinoza’s letter to Balling: Spinoza’s Scheme of the Prophetic Imagination ; Omens of the Future: Intellection and Imagination.)

This brings Žižek’s invocation of a fairly common reading of Spinoza that “all change must come from without” under some radical revision. Where the change comes from ultimately is Substance’s own expression under which inside and outside attribution has no final anchor. Further, a study of Spinoza’s theory of affects, specifically his General Definition of the Affects, we see that inside and outside is no longer the focus of the diagnosis. All passions are indeed causal relations of passivity to events external to the object, registered as a lack of self-determination (which all things but Substance share), but these are auto-affirmations of its own power to exist, expressed in the degree of adequacy of one’s own ideas. This is central to Spinoza’s idea of freedom. The change in power, a loss of a degree of being, is constituted by a kind, a quality of self-affirmation which is not a reflexivity, a mental (or I would say informational, organizational) affirmation of the physical capacity to be. Locating this change strictly outside of the internal closure of affirmation simply doesn’t hold, and this is because the inside/outside boundary is not determinative. I do not blame Žižek for simplifying the Spinoza model in the way that he does, because Spinoza at times truly speaks in that way and it is common to read in him this fashion, but his physics of preservation is part of a larger metaphysical organization in which internal ordering and external participation preside.

6. What Spinoza excludes with his rejection of negativity is the very symbolic order, since, as we have learned already from Saussure, the minimal definition of the symbolic order is that every identity is reducible to a bundle (faisceau – the same root as in Fascism!) of differences: the identity of signifier resides solely in its difference(s) from other signifier(s).

This is interesting. Žižek appeals to Saussure’s binding of signifiers (upon which he wishes to leverage his Master Signifier) to show how any ultimate inside/outside diagnosis of change requires a negating Symbolic Realm, the realm in which the “subject” finds its proper place. Žižek’s reasoning is a little circular and shifting here. Identify requires a “bundle” and a “bundle” requires a negation. Spinoza refuses a negation, therefore he refuses a “bundle” view of differences. What he does not consider is the way in which Spinoza indeed allows a bundles of differences that make an “internal” difference, but then mitigates any such reading through internal transformations of being (General Definition of Affects) and a mutuality of inside/outside participations. Bundles are transpierced by other bundles, so to speak. It certainly is true that there is no “symbolic order” as Žižek conceives it in Spinoza, but there are semiotic powers of organization in its stead. It is perhaps symptomatic that Žižek has moved from one simplified notion of Inside and Outside (Spinoza’s proposed physics) to another (Saussure’s linguistics).

7. What this amounts to is that the absence can exert a positive causality – only within a symbolic universe is- the fact that the dog did not bark an event… This is what Spinoza wants to dispense with – all that he admits is a purely positive network of causes-effects in which by definition an absence cannot play any positive role.

Here is where we can really almost leave philosophy behind and simply think about the world itself. Unless we are speaking of a highly refined, and circularly defined concept of “event”, it simply is not true that the absence of some event can only have a positive (and here I read positive as promotional and determinative) role in making sense of the world. Žižek simply wants this to be the case, that “subject” and “absence” and “negation” and “symbolic” and “signifier” all interlock to provide a framework for reading the world and others. Unless you already assume the sufficiency of such a framework, one has to even ask how does such a view get off the ground? The way that it gets off the ground is from starting one’s analysis with the Idealist binary abstractions of Being and Non-Being or Subject and Object. But the world does not start there. One need only begin with another model, perhaps that of music, to grasp how significantly an “absence” can be a presence without dissolving into abstractions of Being and its negation. Even a child’s tune played on the piano can show how an anticipated note, when not played, produces a determinative effect (pleasure, discordance, etc), without its resolution into a full “subject” operation. A semiotic contrapuntal view of the world as inter-rhythmed, for instance such as that offered by Biosemiosis,  is one in which anticipated absences play a heavy, constitutive role. As I have pointed out before under the question of Spinoza’s supervention of the Death Drive, experiments with Slime Mold intelligence show that the presence or absence of stimulate become determinants of intellect action, such that absences work as much as “events” as presences do (The Zuggtmonic Drive: (Dark) Intelligence Without Center). Unless one wants to confer to Slime Mold’s “subject” status, the theory and our world conflict. I might add, as a moment of obvious recognition, my dog quite easily reads my failure to feed her at the right time of the day as an “event”, as well as my failure to become alarmed at a sound outside the house.

8. Or, to put it in yet another way: Spinoza is not ready to admit into the order of ontology what he himself, in his critique of the anthropomorphic notion of god, describes as a false notion which just fills in the lacunae in our knowledge – say, an object which, in its very positive existence, just gives body to a lack. For him, any negativity is “imaginary,” the result of our anthropomorphic limited false knowledge which fails to grasp the actual causal chain – what remains outside his scope is a notion of negativity which would be precisely obfuscated by our imaginary (mis)cognition. While the imaginary (mis)cognition is, of course, focused on lacks, these are always lacks with regard to some positive measure (from our imperfection with regard to god, to our incomplete knowledge of nature); what eludes it is a POSITIVE notion of lack, a “generative” absence.

This is a nice final point, and we see where Žižek and Spinoza are at greatest friction. Žižek needs the negation to be the foundation of the ethical itself, whereas Spinoza writes an entire Ethics which requires nothing of the negation as an ontological force. What Žižek finds as contradictory in Spinoza is that the imaginary projections of anthropomorphic imaginary relations which are supposed to plug-up in the gap of our knowledge are not appreciated for what they are, fill-ins for a gash in the ontological itself. Indeed the heart-felt link between the subject and negation that Žižek requires so as to ladder himself up onto Kantian grounds, is one that cannot imagine an ethical position without the gash in the world. It is telling that the musicality of life, the contrapuntal semiotic cohesion between the biotic and the abiotic, the role of tempo and constructive absences, cannot be grasped by Žižek’s Lacanian hands. Žižek must lead us to what Spinoza called and denied “a kingdom within a kingdom”. The reason why imaginary relations are not simply stucco for the hole in the humanist wall, meant to seal out the traumatizing Real that leaks in, is that the human itself is already participant and not cut off. To put it one way, in the failure to grasp “the actual causal chain” (imagined by Žižek as a failure of Representation) mis-cognitions through both the pursuits of pleasure and affirmation of power, participate in a mutuality of causal connection. Even the most imaginary relation in Spinoza is already a partially true one. There is no cut-off from the thing-in-itself. It is not a case of vats and brains. To use an example Spinoza takes from Descartes, we may imagine that the Sun is 200 ft away (and represent it as such), but this expresses a true relation of participation involving both the Sun and our Body, and this is to some degree participant in the true. The problematic is not how to connect the cut-off interior to an Ideal exterior, but how to improve these already existing connections and participations. Imaginary effects as powers of connection are an ethical connection in which we are already participant. Ethics runs itself right down to the fibers of existence. The lacks of mis-cognition are relatives of power and action, degrees of possible performance, and not categorical negations and their completion. And key to this is appreciating the contrapuntal nature of absences. I discuss this in the context of Hoffmeyer’s Code Duality in Bioethics, Defining the Moral Subject and Spinoza. I owe Hoffmeyer’s theory a proper critique which I have worked on but not presented, but truly it is that Spinoza’s ethical subjectivity is woven out of the very semiotic material of both the biotic and abiotic world. It requires no subject proper. Žižek is correct in centering Spinoza against any Kantian subject commandment, but he is incorrect (or deficient) in reducing Spinoza’s position to this lack of Kantianism, something he accomplishes by amputating the inside/outside diagnostic from the living body of Spinoza’s full metaphysical position, and then importing the inside/outside distinction to his own Saussurian conclusion.

A Dynasty of Kings: The Insertion of Negation

Largely the progression that Žižek wants to enable is one founded upon the Idealist Representational view of knowledge, coupled with the Christianized centrality of the “subject” (as both soul and legal figure). Žižek wants there to be a holy trinity of Spinoza-Kant-Hegel upon which he can graft a further Idealist trinity of Deleuze-Derrida-Lacan. Aside from the logic of a kind of royal dynasty, subsumption of all philosophical enterprises under the notion that a trio of Kings must mythically occupy the throne in their seasonal turn, we recognize that this genealogy of Kings is accomplished with a severe descriptive restriction upon what Spinoza claimed. Indeed Žižek is right to demarcate all the ways in which Spinoza is not Kant and not Hegel, but pared from Spinoza are all the complex explanatory frameworks that enable him to stake out his non-Idealist alterity. In a sense we cannot begrudge Žižek’s attempted synthesis of the alien Spinoza to his own philosophical position (perhaps not unlike Kreon’s desire to subsume the house of Oedipus unto the State). Repeating the traumas of a State performance of course does not do the job any better.

There is another order in which I don’t understand the Lacanian-Marxist preoccupation with the negation. The fundamental and ontological structuring of the “object” and lack as the condition of desire and subject itself is an instantiation of a logic of Capitalism. It is the proposition that metaphysically our relations to the world can be none other than that of a kind of gap-chasing and fundamental alienation, an alienation which one could argue is has been historically produced. I simply do not understand how those politically minded against alienation would take as firm a hold as possible to a metaphysics of alienation, except in the most masochistic of senses.

Laruelle, the Non-Euclidean and Spinoza

 

Tracing Out Laruelle’s Kantian Reduction of Spinoza

I’ve been having a (very loose) discussion of the relationship between Laruelle and Spinoza over at An und für sich, where Anthony P. Smith is helping me understand where Spinoza and Laruelle diverge. In the last day I’ve been reading up on this nexus, combing through Laruelle’s Response to Deleuze where most of the resistance to Spinoza is spelled out, as well as attempting to get a grasp of Laruelle’s rather vocabulary-entrenched argumentative conception of “decision” within all of philosophy, much of which I draw from Brassier’s treatment. Not an easy task. So this post operates only as a touching point of intuitive difficulties I have with Laruelle’s treatment of Spinoza, and not a rigorously explication of them. I sense that part of the problem is the global approach that Laruelle attempts to bring out of what is really much more an analysis of Kant and Kant-related philosophies. That is to say, the “Dyad” of Laruelle, which is supposed to find its source in an orginary “decision” between Idealism and Materialism fits quite well in the Scheme/Content form of Kantian and perhaps most post-Kantian philosophy, but this “science” of philosophy may not really be as well suited to pre-Kantian, or at least Spinozist positioning.

I think part of the problem may be genetic, which is to say, Laruelle isolates the first act of his non-philosophy to be an explicit Plotinean/Kantian duplicity. He frames the orientation of his problematic in terms of Plotinian One and Kantian transcendence:

… Non-philosophy does not effectively or successfully begin until Une biographie de lhomme ordinaire [A Biography of the Ordinary Man (1985)], because it is there that the problem of how to bind the four sides together is thematized and basically formulated –albeit not without difficulties– through the notion of unilaterality. The conditions for this solution are that the One acquire a radical autonomy with regard to philosophy, that it stop being a philosophical object, and that the latter is revealed to be a transcendental appearance. It is as though an over-neoplatonization of the One was accompanied by a corresponding over-kantianization of philosophy as appearance…

“A New Presentation of Non-Philosophy”

Though in this very interesting essay Laruelle traces out the various stages of non-philosophy as its stemmed from this original “dyad” (we want to say), one has to wonder at the full-wealth of a proposed science of philosophy that necessarily drags with it an inherently Kantian partner. As a Spinozist there is a very real, non-representational sense in which Spinoza precludes or forecloses the path that Kant and Kantianism took, and took hold of the Plotinean One in more or less Plotnean terms (a degree-of-being resolution), so much so that a science derived from Kant as a constitutive part simply misses the analytical mark. One cannot read Kant back into Spinoza (unless of course a Spinozist, such as Deleuze, has been busy putting Kant into Spinoza as an expansive permutation of his thought). This leaves us with the sense that Laruelle’s science of philosophies is perhaps best conceived as aimed towards post-Kantian appropriations of Spinoza, which one intuits perhaps really is the historical case.

In a certain way, admittedly from the beginning, Kant helped form the very conception of the originary “decision” which is said to characerize ALL philosophy, giving one to wonder if once we carefully pair away Laruelle’s Kantianism (assumed in the characterization of decision) a space opens up, historically, for a communication between Spinoza and Laruelle (one which Laruelle himself may not have been able to grasp due to the global nature of the claims of his science).

Part of my problem in reading Laruelle on Spinoza is attempting to locate the all important “decisional” dyad. Brassier in his dissertation on non-philosophy does a very good job of characterizing it in particular Kantian terms, terms otherwise recognized as scheme vs. content (Davidson). Philosophy is said to make a core, axiomatic choice which divides the Real into some “transcendent” a priori “faktum” (scheme) and some “immanent” empirical “datum”:

“Alien Theory” [click for larger image]

We can certainly see the strong Kantian nature of the decision in this telling by Brassier, but with the equations of immanence = empirical datum and transcendence = a priori faktum *at the simplest level), there really is no correspondence that I can see between the nature of this “distinction” (or Dyad) and the various distinctions we read in Spinoza. We feel like we are swimming in really the Kantian half of the originary Plotinus/Kant dyad.

Brassier opens up the distinction into its simplest form, that of the knower and the known, the perceiver and the perceived, but I still cannot find the traction point in Spinozist philosophy, largely because these elemental dyads are refused in a great number of ways which generally foreclose an essential materialist/idealist reading.

“Thus for any philosophical distinction between two terms (or Dyad), as such, in the…”

Curiously Laruelle has found a kind of incipient “ego” in Spinoza’s philosophy (in his Response to Deleuze, cited further down), which he links to concepts of Oneness, and perhaps his reading of Spinoza is leveraged in accepting this, but many actually find the opposite of this as Spinoza’s explanation of perceptions, thoughts, knowing are radically against any isolated ego or self, continually de-centering any supposed knower/known dyad. It could be that Laruelle’s need for an “ego” to be found in Spinoza is based upon the desire to graft Kantian distinctions/decisions back onto him, but thus far I cannot quite grasp where he locates this and rather suspect a deficiency in his reading (driven by both a desire for global description and his contest with Deleuze). For thoughts on Spinoza’s subversion of the “subject”: Subjectless Subjectivity, A Geography of Subject: Beyond Objectology, where Williams’s “Reconfiguring Body and Mind: Thinking Beyond the Subject with/through Spinoza” is discussed.

Where Lies the Decisional Dyad In Spinoza?

Anthony Paul Smith has been helping me uncover just where the decisional dyad occurs in Spinoza, and in the comments linked above you can find the context of the causal discussion. There he locates the decision not within a faktum/datum, but within a One/All division, and then further in the natura naturans/natura naturata specification:

The problem in Spinoza is the convertibility of the One with the All, for Laruelle. This leads to all sorts of amphibologies and melanges, rather than any kind of identity. The split is then between the natura naturans and the natura natuarta, in Spinoza. I do think this leads to a kind of slippage in Spinozist thought, but one that can be recast non-philosophically and still Spinozistic.

Connecting all the dots between the naturans/naturata distinction in Spinoza, and the Kantianish transcendent faktum/immanent datum seems very difficult to do. In fact, I can’t do it. IF there is a transcendent part of the dyad, it is the naturans which certainly doesn’t fall into any easy empirical/immanent category. In fact if this is an orginary decision in Spinoza it certainly doesn’t seem to operate in the transcendent/immanent manner Laruelle’s Kant-derived essentialization of philosophy finds important. Instead, in the cognitive plane, acts of perception are naturans actions (affirmations) which concretize themselves into naturata states of relative being, degrees-of-power, in which “knowing” refuses the distinction between knower and known. They are not parsed in order to be reglued, and certainly not via the naturans/naturata distinction. To put it another way, the naturata do not make up a datum that is the conditioned. Nothing is “given”, so to speak.

Anthony Paul Smith also mentions the reversibility of the One and the All in Spinoza, and there is good evidence that Laruelle does hold this as central to his analysis. He makes this point clear in his Response to Deleuze where he objects to Deleuze’s drawing comparisons between Laruelle’s One and Spinoza’s One:

(1) To the first objection: The One in question, the radical immanence through which it is defined, is not above all the One-All, whether ‘close’ or not to Spinoza, but instead a One-without-All, and even a Onewithout- Being, which we call the One-in-the-last-instance in order to oppose it to the convertibility which it refuses of the One and of Being, similar to the Spinozist reversibility of the One and the All. Certain contemporary philosophers abhor the One—and with good reason. We do as well: however, on the condition of specifying that it is then a question of the One correlative to the Multiple under any title or relation, and convertible through an inversion—whether close or not—with Being. Because the One prevails over Being or the Multiple, or the Multiple over the One, or because they alternately prevail over one another, these are clearly possible solutions which must be explored, but this is precisely not our problem. A real critique of immanence according to Deleuze is now possible; and among other possibilities, it can be constructed on behalf of a form of immanence still more radical, excluding all transcendence outside of it: not only theological objects and entities, but also the ultimate form of transcendence, auto-position or survey, the fold or doublet, etc. The One-in-the-last-instance is the true suspension of this One-All and, in a general way, of all reciprocity, in other words, of all relation without possible exception, essentially ‘without relation’ to Being.

Because Laruelle is responding to a “Spinozist reversibility of the One and the All” we are not sure if he is taking Spinoza on directly or not. And this is a problem we’ve already mentioned, as Laruelle has Deleuze specifically in mind here. The situation is further problemized because characterizing Spinoza’s philosophy as a One and All explication actually stems from the German Idealist reinvigoration of him in the 18th century, leading to the Pantheism Controversy. It was Lessing’s recasting of Spinoza Substance into questions of the One and All (Hen kai pan) that eventually lead to Schellings’s Idealist insertion of “negation”  into the Spinoza program, all in the name of rectifying it with, yes, Kantianism, ultimately culminating in Hegel’s ontological negation. The entire matrix of the One and All re-characterization of Spinoza, in attempts to avoid a percieved threat of radical Nihilism and Atheism, not to mention the dissolution of the “subject” and anthropocentrism, has to be considered as historically driven (ideologically so), well within the aims of domesticating Spinoza. So, in a certain sense, Laruelle’s acceptance of a One and All Spinoza (under the auspices of a Kantian diagnosis of “decision”) is quite in line with the philosophical attempts to domesticate him in synthesis with Kant (via the subject). Indeed, the question of the “I” (in Schelling with Kant and Fichte), which Laruelle discovers as implicit in Spinoza, haunts this fundamental mis-reading of his position. Kant should not be brought to Spinoza.

Substance As Ego?

I’ve mentioned it a couple of times, I suppose I should include it, here is the passage where Laruelle imagines that the very unity of Substance becomes an originary projection of a “ego”.:

In reality, Spinoza has always been invoked for two contradictory reasons: for the immanence characteristic of causality, no doubt, but also for the transcendence all too characteristic of the unity of substance in relation to the so-called ‘human subject’ as the supposed or site of immanence. The formula of the ‘human subject’ is kept here, but it is obviously ambiguous (which subject? which man?). This double enlistment is significant: Spinoza, this is justifiably immanence in effect, but immanence as it is lived or received as transcendent by the human subject, external to it and too great for it—let us retain this formula—and thus Deleuze recognizes and lays claim to it, rejecting man as the third and final moment of the triad, as a piece adjacent to machines, as a persona adjacent to concepts. Here there is no essence or absolutely autonomous form of man: the latter is a system of effects and is composed beginning from its content, affections and perceptions. The argument given is this: immanence is not to something else which is always transcendent; it is thus not to the cogito or to the ego; it is to self but not ‘to itself’ (emphasized p. 208, understood consequently: the ego is a preliminary form, transcendent to the immanence of the One- All). What does this argument mean? It begs the question: if immanence is that of the Spinozist substance, then in fact it is the ego which is now a transcendent form; but this is to be given what is necessary to demonstrate. The recent interpretations of the Cogito (Michel Henry and Jean-Luc Marion) are more subtle and show that radical immanence, without representation, is the essence of the Cogito.

“Response to Deleuze”

One can certainly see the lasting residue of the Idealist reappropriations of Spinoza in this reading, that any unity must be a cogito unity. While I am not familiar with the proofs of Henry and Marion, on any number of fronts one can argue that in fact Spinoza’s philosophy subverts not only the human cogito (and “ego”) to such a radical degree, but also does so at the level of Substance itself. The human subject is torn asunder from within, in a necessary Conjoined Semiosis (as I argue in these three posts: Aggregates, Groups and Trans-semiotics; Conjoined Semiosis: A “Nerve Language” of Bodies ; The Necessary Intersections of the Human Body: Spinoza ), but as well, that Substance is unity in no way correspondent to human cognition. In fact only a strong Idealist commitment (and one might say implicit Kantian commitment) would drive the preoccupation with a One and All reading of Spinoza. Spinoza himself really does not make this sort of distinction in his philosophy (far from it being the essential dyad), chosing other determinations upon which to organize his thinking. As such, perhaps Laruelle’s critique falls more heavily upon “Spinozists” and much less so than on Spinoza himself. This leaves us right back where we started, attempting to locate the initial decision of Spinoza’s philosophy.

The non-Euclidean: A Change of Axioms

Because this is not a thorough investigation but only a report on my followings of an intuition, it is perhaps better to change tact and find a certain strange correspondence between Spinoza and Laruelle, a correspondence of analogy. The attempt to locate the Kantianish “decision” in Spinoza seems to ground itself upon the reef of German Idealism’s appropriation of (and inoculation of itself against) Spinoza. It could be that an approach of the problem rhetorically would yield unexpected results.

Key to understanding Laruelle’s non-philosophy, perhaps more key than any other factor, is appreciating the “non” in non-philosophy. It is not a negation in the least, but rather a kind of expansion, or alteration. Laruelle tells us that it must be seen in the light of the “non” in non-Euclidean geometry. Brassier in Alien Theory puts it this way:

[click for larger image]

And Laruelle expands on the nearly literal connection between Non-Euclidean geometry and his change of axioms. It achieves a science status by breaking the internal logic of the (Kantian) decision (comparable to the changing of the 5th axiom of Euclid).   

Non-philosophy is obviously not a theory of knowledge or a system in general. It is a real-transcendental science of the world. The only way of discovering it is by relativizing the exclusive primacy of the logic that hides it and prevents one noticing it in philosophy, even of the non-analytical kind. We could say, in our customary style, that it is a transcendental logic that is real-and-nothing-but rather than logical; one that is without-logic or non formal, so to speak. Contrary to the logicist reduction of philosophy, which leaves the hidden prerogatives of philosophical sufficiency intact, specifically in the form of positivity and hence of a kind of dogmatism, this non-philosophical reduction of philosophy is at once real-transcendental and capable of a wide variety of realizations, not only in terms of logic but in terms of the sciences in general. There is an instance that is more radical than logic, and this is the real. Not that it is possible to replace logic by just any science while maintaining the same privileges for the latter. It is the universal posture of science that must take the place which in philosophy is held by the restricted universality of logic. Non-philosophy shatters the strictures of logic and analytical reduction, just as it dissolves the residues of a compulsory, exclusive and primary logic in the transcendental logic of philosophers, granting the transcendental the sole support of the radical real, and hence the possibility of entering into combination with each of the sciences. Non-philosophy is unified theory: a radical extension of philosophy beyond transcendental logic, but one that deprives it of its traditional pretensions. As a result, it is philosophy and its logical organon that lose their prerogatives by being turned into a simply real-transcendental organon. Thus, it is necessary to take the expression ‘non-philosophy quite literally, so to speak. It is not just a metaphorical reference to ‘non-Euclidean…

“A New Presentation of Non-Philosophy”

Now Brassier’s footnote references over 30 pages of text, so perhaps Laruelle works out a rigorous comparison between his non-philosophy and philosophy itself (all of them making the same sort of “decision”), different than that expressed in Laruelle passage cited which explicates the non-Euclidean analogy. This I cannot say. At first blush though we can read a very rough equivalence. Euclidean geometry possesses one group of axioms, and non-Euclidean geometry constitutes a change in these axioms. Pointedly, the fundamental decision of philosophy is avoided in favor of a radical Immanence. Okay, we can see that. But more is at stake in the literalized analogy, the movement from a “geometry” to a “science” and Laruelle’s expansion brings most of this out. In no-way does the non-Euclidean refusal of the parallel-postulate (related to Euclid’s fifth) give non-Euclidean geometry a position of taking the products of Euclidean geometry as its empirical objects, so the comparison holds within itself a slight of hand. This meta-like positioning of non-philosophy via non-Euclidean reference actually reads a kind of perverse disassociation.

This is what I find buried in the provocative metaphor. Primary among the interest in non-Euclidean geometry is the curious features of elliptic geometry. What we have in the globalization of space in such a geometry (which denies the parallel postulate of Euclid), is the kind of hermetic space that Laruelle finds problematic in Kantian philosophy (and by extension, philosophy in general), that is to say, the a priori conditioning creates the empirical conditioned, folding the “decision” back into the whole coherence, obscuring in a way its transcendence. The sphere of non-Euclidean geometry, invoked, a world where parallel lines SEEM like they would go on forever, in the seclusions of philosophical axioms, are shown to be recursively closed, intersecting at antipodes. In a way, Laruelle’s non-philosophy actually claims to expose the non-Euclidean (elliptic) nature of Kantian inspired analysis of “decision”. From the point of view of earth, when we draw two parallel lines on the ground, they appear actually Euclidean, transcendent, whereas in almost a Lacanian Symbolic fashion, our space is curved. They will intersect.

So when Laruelle invokes the non-Euclidean nature of his non-philosophy, I believe he is rather exposing both the illusion of an infinite Euclidean space (within a philosophy), and it’s actually curved, hermetic isolation of the Real (when seen from without). Kant’s logical necessity of Euclidean space further orients this reference to fifth postulate differences in geometry, and the kind of critical and axiomatic break that Laruelle is attempting to make.

The invocation of Euclid’s geometry, apart from Kant’s love for it, also has something of a reverbative affect back through the history of philosophy to the Ur-philosopher of Euclidean clarity, Spinoza himself. How can one rigorously (or literally) compare your radical approach to non-Euclidean geometry and not call to mind Spinoza’s famous more geometrico, and his desire to treat human emotions as if they were lines and points? In fact, at the face value of rhetorical forms, Laruelle’s non-Euclidean non-philosophy stands in strict opposition (I know, Laruelle refuses “non” as opposition, but I am speaking of the rhetorical form here) to Spinoza’s Euclidean Philosophy. As I’ve tried to point out in the above, it is hard though, given Laruelle’s Kantian framework of dyad, to locate exactly where the decisional diagnosis will fall. Instead they stand apart, perhaps as pictures. Or, as different sorts of Space, just as the original analogy might most strongly suspect.

Now this is the interesting thing. Non-Euclidean geometry largely developed over the contest of Euclid’s 5th axiom, what came to be described as the parallel postulate. And elliptic geometry (among others) arises with the change of this postulate, that parallel lines will not meet ad infintum. The appeal to the Non-Euclidean is an appeal to the challenge of the parallel postulate. Perhaps this is only a contingent jewel of historic happenstance, or perhaps Spinoza’s Euclideanism somehow floats behind Laruelle’s invocation, but Spinoza’s philosophy possesses its own much debated “parallel postulate”. In fact his gnomic parallel postulate can be said to be fulcrum upon which he balances the entire materialism vs. idealism quaesta.

With some homology to Euclid’s unmeeting parallel lines Spinoza asserts that “E2P7: The order and connection of ideas is the same as the order and connection of things.” In fact upon this parallelism of infinitely extending parallel lines of causes seems to create the entire woof and weft of Spinoza’s seeming Euclidean space. It is the fiber of an abstract rejection any form of Idealism, a placing of the material on equal footing with the ideal (positioned within, one supposes, an infinity of other order and connection expressions of other unknown Attributes). Spinoza accomplishes a flattening of space required for his analysis, but in doing so in just this way refuses any scheme/content, conditioning/conditioned binary. What can we make of this?

Let us take up our provisional reading of the implicit Euclidean and non-Euclidean reversals in Laruelle’s rejection of the Kantian decision. The internal (spherical) realm of Kantianish decision creates an appearance of phenomena which are quite Euclidean in appearance (flat). The decision producing a philosophical coherence of the world in terms of material and idea, in a sense, bends the Real creating the very Kantian restricted access to Real, through an illusion of Euclidean infinity. The decision performs the very structure of Kantian philosophy itself (no matter which axiomatic dyad one makes). It appears straight because it is curved. Okay, let’s accept this doubling.

But because we are hard pressed to locate the original dyad in Spinoza – Is it between Substance and Attribute, as Laruelle suggests late in his Response to Deleuze, is it between Attribute and mode, between Substance and mode as in naturans/naturata, or Between Attributes themselves for instance in the parallel postulate itself? – we might want to take up the very case of Euclidean Space itself, the Space of the Ethics. This assessment of space is further complicated by Spinoza’s famous dismissal of geometry itself in Letter 12, wherein figures and shapes (as well as numbers and maths) are given to being mere imaginary products. Clearly, Euclidean geometry is taken up as a form of argument not because it presents a fundamental truth about Substance. Nature does not speak mathematics. All the same, Spinoza flattening of the ground through his own parallel postulate does well to be compared to Kant’s flattening through the bending of Space. Could it be that Spinoza’s Euclidean geometry presentation is actually the inverse of Kant’s, exoterically flat, esoterically elliptic? That is, despite the parallelism of thing and idea, is it not that parallel lines do in fact intersect, and that these intersections are regularly performed in the foreclosure of any knower known dyad as well as the remarked absence of any “subject”?

Spinoza tells us rather radically that any idea we have of something in the world is actually an idea we have of the state our body is in, so that when I phenomenologically look at my dog and perceive it, this is nothing more than imaginary relationship I have to the world (and myself), and that my idea of my dog is actually the idea (I prefer the concept “information”) of my body being a certain state. The reference is entirely cybernetic and recursively defined, and this is due to his parallel postulate. Friends of a neurological, brain-science view of the body and consciousness like this internal reference. All our thoughts about the world are our bodies coming into certain states of combination. What Spinoza tells us is that certain states of combination are more powerful, more active, more free, that others. Another way of stating this that our informational distribution and organization can become more or less self-determining.  We can see here a non-Euclidean bending of space buried within the flatness of the parallel postulate itself. Each human being makes a kind of self-referential sphere. But this is really not so either, for even though our ideas are merely ideas of our body being in certain states, we can have better ideas than others, and because we and the external things of the world are both expressions of the One Substance, occasions of us actually coming to know things external to us are necessarily participatory occasions, occasions which not only defy any restrictive notion of “subject” and “object”, but also cross out any ultimate boundary between one’s own body and that of another thing.

As I have argued in my treatment of the Prophetic Imagination, Spinoza’s Scheme of the Prophetic Imagination ; Omens of the Future: Intellection and Imagination, Spinoza ensures the possibility of a sharing of essences even at the level of the imagination. In addition to this, Spinoza’s definitions of body and individual as communications of parts and the causes of unitary effects all promote a variable negotiation of boundary which undermines any self/other essentialization, and in fact runs this mutuality right down to a panpsychic core which is neither materialist nor idealist. What one might propose with non-Euclidean, elliptic Geometry floating in the air, is that the knower and the known (in the Idealist sense) form the antipodes of a spherical mutuality of real communication of parts, such that the identity between each is blurred if not collapsed. And this antipodal notion actually expresses itself in an ignorance which takes the podes to be opposed because the spherical space is forgotten in an ignorance. This is to say that there are a spherical space of causes which have colluded to bring about the relations almost all of which is invisible. But not only this, the spherical space is filled with its own infinity of antipodes, and the space itself can be, and is perpetually redrawn in other spheres, all of which end upon the Immanence of Substance itself. This is to say, the Sciences are in the business of identifying antipodes (objects and knowings) and reconstructing the spheres of their collaboration, ultimately in the face of a necessary distortion (not of flatness or parallelism, but of infinities). And the monism of Substance, along with parallel postulate flattenings of our own thoughts, serve as tools for correcting the dislocations of our self-oriented and imaginary Euclideanism.

It seems to me that because the Ethics has to be read as a material thing with which our bodies are meant to interact and combine with, something upon which to grind our body lenses, so to speak, and not merely a mental, Ideational world to drift into, and because the philosopher is to conceive of his/her thoughts of the world (even the most transcendental thoughts) as thoughts of his/her body being in a certain state, forming a kind of combinative, material power, precisely the non-Euclidean dislocation of philosophical truth of Laruelle occurs buried within the implicit fractal and non-linear relations bound within the Euclidean exoteric form of Spinoza’s Euclidean presentation. In all, Spinoza’s coherence of argument is meant to provoke the intuition of connection, and thus to alert the mind to its own distortions of space, in particular how it reads its causal relationship to the world. Spinoza’s is a non-philosophy in the sense that it is meant as a philosophy meant to be left behind, once used.

The Integrity of the Future

Some more musings on the difficult and perhaps absurd ideas of the last post…it kept me up last night, tossing and put me in a funk today.

Spinoza’s Letter to Balling feels like it has some clues for how I want to think on this. In the Spinoza example we have the story of a father who seemed to have heard the death sighs of his son before the boy had taken sick (presumably with the plague). It is unsure if Spinoza was only soothing a mournful father, but he in letter tells the friend that his imaginary hallucination may have come to through he and his son sharing an essence out of love (instead of being merely a product of the body). What Spinoza does not address is the interesting change of events that might have included the father recognizing the prophetic event for what it was, and whisking his son out of plague struck Europe. One wonders, would this chain of events have fit within Spinoza’s framework of essences?

Or, as I was thinking last night, could we conceive that a song, as it is being played is retroactively effected by the disastrous, atonal possibilities that exist in its possible future such that those atonalities  reach rippling back into the present selection of notes, a kind of chiaroscuro of reverberative possibilities. Does a song play itself in one direction? Deleuze and Guattari like to think of a melody as a line of flight, what if we took it to be a sphere of orbed becoming, a bubbling out of cogent line-walking at the edge of chaos and stability whose boundary reaches backward and forth beyond the present bifurcation (where we dream “choice” remains).

I want to say that there is a possible integrity of the future, that if with Spinoza we imagine an partaking essence-based concept of cohesive action, the conception that our demarcated and individualized directions are made in the process of a body-making, cognitive boundary laden whole, then where is it that we find the standpoint at which we deny that the future states of that whole do not through their very integrated character reverberate back, causally, upon states in the present (or even the past)? If one is going to subtend a specie aeterintatis in your thinking, do not the past and future necessarily fail and firm boundaries? Are not disasters forming the very wake of the bow of that boat?

Of course this is silly, there is a direction of the arrow of time, and even if entropy could be considered something of an illusion of Chaotic progression, where would the location of this ballast of the future recursively organized find a place to reside? But there is gravity here that does not seem to entirely be explained by psychology, or even the general teleological functionality of life forms, something that tugs at the idea…something that perhaps inverted itself in all sorts of eschatological waking dreams of prophets, and hand-of-God imaginings. It resides in the sense of the integrity of the future (which answers not to concepts of pure becoming, concepts of pure difference, concepts of continual creation), the way that we all orb ourselves into the future, the bow of us pre-existing what we are. How the water has been cut before we have arrived.

Anyways, some thoughts without discipline. I think this has something to do with Duchamp’s attraction to n-dimensional analysis which had interested me some time ago, perhaps more than a decade.

Spinoza and State Torture and Other Unfeeling Things

Eric asked a very important question in response to my post on Spinoza, Cybernetics and Chaoplexity. I repost my answer if for no other reasons that it sketches out in its links significant ramifications of the theoretical interpretation of what an affect is, and the role of empathy in social consciousness. Additionally, the idea of a hidden imitation of God prescription of State Torture by Spinoza of course would be highly provocative. The post is a little scatter shot, but is meant as a resource nexus, perhaps as a knot for further discussion.

Eric asks of Spinoza’s theory:

“So as an ideal, we would feel neither pleasure or pain connected with an idea of an external cause?

Wouldn’t, then, our capacity for empathetic relations be eliminated?”

There are several ways I can think to answer this question, and unfortunately I don’t have the time to really sink into this with the respect that it deserves and will have to rely upon past posts for explanation (feel free to question more deeply if you would like).

The Reality of the Affects: Della Rocca and Deleuze

First of all, there is debate among Spinozists whether in fact affects exist at all for Spinoza. M. Della Rocca, one of my favorite writers on Spinoza thinks that they do not (while Deleuze thinks that they do). I wrote on Della Rocca’s position in this post, Della Rocca’s Spinoza: Do Affects “represent” Anything?

And here is Deleuze on What an Affect is, some of the clearest explication he ever produced on Spinoza, lecture Cours Vincennes – 24/01/1978.

Here is Lilly Alanen’s rebuttal to Della Rocca: Spinoza’s Reason and the Reality of the Affects

I personally feel that both Deleuze and Della Rocca have it wrong on the question of “representation”, each in different ways, and I am not convinced by Alanen’s rebuttal. I questioned Della Rocca about both Deleuze’s position and the role of representation in his explantions. If I recall correctly he told me that he regards Deleuze as fundamentally wrong on the question of the reality of the affects, and that he is not as commited to the idea that ideas “represent” as he once had been.

Two Paths to the Social

Second of all, and pointed towards the question of empathy, Spinoza argues that there are two paths towards social order. The first is imaginary and based upon the empathy (and valuation) that binds, producing both affinity bonds between persons and emnities (which are also bonds). The second is a path of reason, which which does not rely explicitly on feeling the same as others, but rather in realizing the mutuality of benefits and uses that holds persons together in support.

Balibar remains unsurpassed in explicating these two braids of social reasoning, and I provide both a brief summation and a PDF copy of the argument that Balibar puts forth here:

Balibar’s Spinoza and Politics: The Braids of Reason and Passion

Spinoza and Unfeeling State Torture

Thirdly, the issue of empathy does have some extra-theoretical consequences for Spinoza I believe, in particular that Spinoza prescribes a be-like-God path to freedom, wherein God is a being that has no affects of any kind.

I have argued before that Spinoza actually provides something of a template for State Torture, in that a Totalitarian State manifests something of the same relationship to its enunciative citizenry as Substance does it its living modes (at least one can find homologies):

Spinoza’s Logic of Affects and an Ontology of Torture

I find this quite interesting, as far as I know, no one has argued this point before. (I would love to hear if others have come across it.)

Pure Affective Production and Social Making

Lastly though, as I tried to express in the post on Cybernetics and Chaoplexity, affects in Spinoza are to be read as transitions in power, bodily juxtapositions between thresholds. As such, the social world (including human and non-human actors) are ever in affective communication. And if indeed Spinoza is arguing against empathy, it is the common empathy of valuation, whereby one projects essential good/evil ascriptions to objects or events based upon our empathetic investments in others.

What Spinoza is calling for, at least in the Chaoplexic framework of the answer, is the severing of the physical affectio/feeling affectus from the additional idea of external causes (as essentialized), such that the affect itself provides a material progressive path when combined with our other breadth thinking.

The path is not all that different than that advocated by Buddhism. There is indeed a causal chain of effects, but the mind’s inordinate ascription of the power of cause to external events such that the mind is forced to hop here and there in reactive, ping-pong ball fashion, is the very thing that causes suffering. It is just that Spinoza’s argument extends more deeply into the social fabric, into the weavings of our mutual investments.

It seems to me that if we allow the intra-threshold pursuit as central to Spinoza’s vision, what he is prescribing is not a path of empathy (though certainly imagining others as ourselves is core to social reality), but of affective construction, of learning how to let affects speak without their simplified and attendant explanations, such that as streams between fixity and turbulance, they braid into each other.

Is Spinoza a Cyberneticist, or a Chaocomplexicist?

In reading through Bousquet’s The Scientific Way of Warefare (aspects of which I have already engaged, here), there are pockets of useful summation that one runs into in his narrative that simply call for investigation. I’m going to have to pass on an elaborate presentation of the ideas of Cybernetics and Complexity, but Bousquet provides excellent, essential cartography. In particular is his emphasis that Cybernetic thinking from the 40s, 50s and 60s concerned itself with a borrowing of the concept of “entropy” from thermodynamics, organization processes of “negative feedback” in pursuit of system homeostasis, with a concentration upon system “control”. Systems were seen as hermetically closed loops which worked inwardly to organize themselves to fight off entropy, noise, confusion, and establish an unending homeostasis which required no fundamental change in their own internal structure. The most basic form of the system was one that was able to note internal deviations from system “norm” which promoted external actions which would affect either a change in the environment or within, which then directed the system back to where it was before disturbed.

For some concerned with the philosophy of Spinoza there are immediate prima facie correspondences here, enough to suggest that Spinoza seems something of a proto-cyberneticist. Spinoza’s stoic-like internal regulation of one’s own thinking processes, especially on the order of the avoidance of “confused” ideas, along with his doctrine that the conatus (essential striving) of a person or a thing was a driving force to preserve itself against outside destruction, seem to hold true to a cybernetic framing of the question of epistemology and power/control. Add to this that cybernetic models were of a distinctly linear mathematical nature (marked by the additive property of cause), and that at times Spinoza seems to treat causes in the same linear fashion (for instance the idealized assertion that two men of the same nature, when combined produce a new body twice as powerful), suggests deep conceptual ties been Spinoza’s self-regulating bodies of conatus continuation and early information theory, cybernetic concepts of the control of “noise” and pursuant homeostasis. (There is of course the signficant difference in the concept of entropy itself, as Spinoza reads all degradation as caused by external influence, and not natural to any system itself.)

To this comparison of affinities we also have to add a significant metaphysical homology, something that struck me as rather surprising. I have long emphasized that Spinoza’s onto-epistemology partakes in an unusual though very distinct way in the Neoplatonic model of Being as read in degrees. This is to say, things do not simply have Being or not, but rather have degrees of Being. And, as I also emphasized, Augustine was probably the greatest purveyor of this Neoplatonic doctrine, taken from Plotinus, through the Christian Middle Ages to post Renaissance thinking. In such a view, “evil” is under a non-Manichean, and one wants to stress, non-Dualistic definition. Evil was simply the absence of good (and not a force in its own right).

Historical Digression: Handled briefly so as to give a sketch of the historical ground we are covering, the Augustianian, Neoplatonic position is perhaps best expressed in his Enchiridion. There  the ontology of the Good is equated with Being (an argument also found in the City of God  XI, chap. 9, where the relative non-Being of evil is also briefly stated. As with Spinoza so many centuries later, the question of the Being of evil becomes one merely one of privation:

CHAPTER IV. The Problem of Evil

12. All of nature, therefore, is good, since the Creator of all nature is supremely good. But nature is not supremely and immutably good as is the Creator of it. Thus the good in created things can be diminished and augmented. For good to be diminished is evil; still, however much it is diminished, something must remain of its original nature as long as it exists at all. For no matter what kind or however insignificant a thing may be, the good which is its “nature” cannot be destroyed without the thing itself being destroyed. There is good reason, therefore, to praise an uncorrupted thing, and if it were indeed an incorruptible thing which could not be destroyed, it would doubtless be all the more worthy of praise. When, however, a thing is corrupted, its corruption is an evil because it is, by just so much, a privation of the good. Where there is no privation of the good, there is no evil. Where there is evil, there is a corresponding diminution of the good.

One can see the correspondence between Augustine’s Ne0platonic “privation” and Spinoza’s theorizing on falsity, wherein the “Good” has been transposed into issues of truth; in the Ethics the gradated Being resolution of traditional dualisms has taken on its most systematic character. As Spinoza writes, ultimately echoing Plotinus’ radiating conception of Being (Enn. 3.2,5; 4.5,7):

E2p33 There is nothing positive in ideas whereby they can be said to be false.

Proof: If this can be denied, conceive, if possible, a positive mode of thinking which constitutes the form [forma] of error or falsity. This mode of thinking cannot be in God [E2p32], but neither can it be conceived externally to God [E1p15]. Thus there can be noting positive in ideas whereby they can be called false.

E2p35 Falsity consists in the privation of knowledge which inadequate ideas, that is, fragmentary and confused ideas, involve.

Return to Our Main Point: What is interesting is that Bousquet brings to our attention that Norbert Wiener, the father of cybernetics, actually subscribed to an Augustinian concept of evil as well. That is to say, he regarded informational “noise” as that which a cybernetic system fought to overcome, understood as the absence, or non-recognition of order (pattern). When a cybernetic system fails it is due to a confusion resultant from an inability to read clearly the pattern of the events outside of it. And Wiener felt that cybernetic systems not only described thermostats and computer negative feedback loops, but also human beings and social systems.

The passage Bousquet evocatively cites is this:

I have already pointed out that the devil whom the scientist is fighting is the devil of confusion, not of willful malice. The view that nature reveals an entropic tendency is Augustinian, not Manichaean. Its inability to undertake an aggressive policy, deliberately to defeat the scientist, means that its evil doing is the result of a weakness in his nature rather than of a specifically evil power that it may have, equal or inferior to the principles of order in the universe which, local and temporary as they might be, still are probably not to unlike what the religious man means by God. In Augustinianism, the black of the world is negative and is the mere absence of white. (190)

The human use of human beings: cybernetics and society

One can see an immediate base similarity of project, in which the scientist looks to make clear and distinct the noise of the world, presumably by ordering his/her own ideas and internal organization as best that he/she; this, coupled with Spinoza’s own significant ontological tie of ordered and clear ideas with self-affirmations which render real changes in power in the world seems to place both Wiener and Spinoza within a world of potentiating noise and confusions, in which systems of every sort create islands of relatively more self-acting, clearer idea’d, internally coherent workings. The internal patterns of recursive coherence are those which recognize and order themselves amid a general pattern producing world. And there is ever the sense that the patterns, the coherence, the rationality is already out there. In Bateson, this is the “pattern that connects”.

But There Are Other Aspects of Spinoza

This is the way that Spinoza is often read, as the devoted, internally turned Rationalist. Neglected though is an entirely countervailing second aspect of Spinoza’s thinking. His Letter 12 skepticism towards mathematics, which he relates to products of the imagination (often overlooked), exposes a general distrust of ANY finite, localized expression of the universe, especially on the aspect of “control”. This is to say, Spinoza is ever suspect of the human mind/body’s ability to direct itself in the world, and as such, this skepticism yields to distinctly non-linear, non-equilibrium prescriptions which go far beyond Cybernetic science presumptions.

As Bousquet tells it, it is the realization that negative feedback isn’t the only primary organizing principle in systems. Indeed if a system is ever going to be able to adopt to environments which themselves are changing, it must have the ability to rewrite and change its own internal interpretative relations. And in order to do so they must be able to move from equilibrium pursuit (that ordered Good), to other equilibrium states. In fact in a certain sense the more semi-stable states a system is able to move into, the greater the chance it will have the flexibility to adapt to expected (unwritten yet) events. In short, one might want to say in a dangerously rhetorical way, a bit of “chaos” has to be introduced into the system. It is here where the conservation oriented, evil noise fighting cybernetic model gives way to Chaos theory and Complexity theory, fused into what has been called Chaoplexic thinking.

Positive feedback loops are those of a kind that do not push the system backdown to a homeostatic state, negating the effects of some outside perturbation. Instead they excite the system and work to produce more external events which, in what could be a vicious cycle, stimulate the system into further action. Positive feedback loops are those which can be self-extinguishing, as they throw the system forward into states from which it might not ever be able to return.

Now one can definitively say that just such mad chases are what Spinoza most often theorizes against. The burn-out amplifications of the imagination are just the kind that produce violence and hatred among peoples, and, as Spinoza artfully worked to show, these hatreds are logically linked to loves as well. Love and hate each can produces amplified destructions of reverberation. But if we look closer, is it not the case that negative feedback closure is also what Spinoza sees as insufficient? And, can we not agree with some systems theorists, that it takes a combination of negative-feedback groundings, and positive feedback exposures, flights, in order to produce a viable and self-preserving system? And, at the most fundamental level must we not also admit that for Spinoza behaviors and conditions of rationality are themselves positive feedback in their nature: rationality and clear understanding tends to produce more rationality and clear understanding (however contingently contextualized). What I suggest is that Spinoza’s cybernetic model of clearer self-organization amid a potentially threatening environment of noise is tempered (or one should say spiked) with an alternate Chaoplexic embrace of positive feedback amplifications, and that these amplifications help us read out some of core prescriptions in Spinoza’s advisement.

I feel a turn to an excellent diagram offered in Linda Beckerman’s informative essay “The Non-Linear Dynamics of War” will be of some help in uncovering the non-linear thinking of Spinoza. The diagram along with some of her explication hopefully will show the numerical, as well as still determinative aspects of chaoplexic organization, such that Spinoza skepticism of finite systems/expressions may dovetail with such thinking.

In explanation of the diagram Beckerman writes in a passage so clear it is worth quoting at length…

3. Bifurcation

3.1  Non-linear systems have the capacity to exhibit multiple stable states. This is illustrated in Figure 1 in what is termed a bifurcation diagram. The far left hand side of the diagram represents systems that are mono-stable and upon perturbation will eventually settle down to a single static or steady state condition. Just to the right of this region, the system “bifurcates”. This merely means that there are two states available to the system. For one range of perturbations and conditions, the system will settle down to one state and for another range of perturbations and conditions, it will settle down to another state. As we progress towards the right, each branch splits, and then each branch further splits resulting in a rapid increase the number of stable states. On the far right hand side are those that are Chaotic. Chaotic systems appear to have an infinite number of potentially stable states. But they never settle down to any of these for long and are therefore considered to be unstable…

3.3 Systems that are mono-stable or in steady state are so stable that any perturbation causes them to snap back to their stable state, leaving no opportunity for adaptation. Change requires “surgery”. An example of this would be a nation that solely uses attrition warfare to achieve its aims, regardless of the perturbation and underlying conditions (e.g. nature of adversary) causing them to go to war.

3.4 Figure 1 also shows an opportunistic region for adaptation. It is opportunistic precisely because there are so many states available. Many non-linear systems can be caused to bifurcate repeatedly merely by increasing the magnitude of the control parameters (see section 4). The most opportunistic portion is that immediately preceding the chaotic region (referred to as the “Edge of Chaos). The difficulty is the danger that a high amplitude perturbation (input) or change in system configuration (number of interconnections) could push the system into the chaotic region.

What I would like to put into immediate juxtaposition to such a Chaos-oriented framework is Spinoza’s famously suggestive numerical, and physical equation of “the Good”, where the Good is understood as “useful”…

E4p38Whatever so disposes the human Body that it can be affected in a great many ways, or renders it capable of affecting external Bodies in a great number of ways, is useful to man; the more it renders the Body capable of being affected in a great many ways, or of affecting other bodies, the more useful it is: on the other hand, what renders the Body less capable of these things is harmful.

Hopefully you can see clearly how deviant this axiom of use is to the perturbation-shrinking model of negative feedback elimination. Indeed, much more suitably does Spinoza view of the enhanced body seem to reside – not in some fixed, closed off organization – but actually in the twilight region so described above in the diagram, the place between rigid stable states and pure chaos. Once in such a mathematical and determinative sweet-spot too much a deviation, either towards stability or toward turbulence, reduces the number of ways a body can effect and be affected. Only in the wave-line is this ideational maximality found, and one could say that for Spinoza it is this aesthetic line – caught between a hubris of excessive control and a reckless amplitude of destruction – that constitutes the proper, which is to say living, positive feedback loop.

It is Spinoza’s skepticism both towards finite expressions of knowledge, and also towards the human being’s capacity to become self-determined, that ever directs any individual outward, towards the surface of its interactions. But not only outward, where the border between self and world, self and other is ultimately broken down and reconfigured, but so breadthwise, across the horizontal of explanations. It is Spinoza’s pursuit of the maximization of interactive powers that undermines any primary subject/object, or subject/world concerns. Instead, it would seem, that all our interally directed, cybernetic-like orderings, all our reductions of informational “noise” must also then turn back towards the very interface that composes them, to the living line of a multiplicity of possible states.

Valuably Bousquet notes that the passage from Cybernetics to Chaoplexic thinking has been characterized as the move from concerns of “control” to those of “coordination”, what has been called the “coordination revolution”. Bousquet cites Arquilla and Ronfelt who put the case in the context of military theorization. No longer is the ultimate thought for the control of all events internal to a network or system, but rather in terms of the loosely configured relatability of elements:

In these and related writings, we see a trend among theorists to equate information with “organization,” “order,” and “structure”—to argue that embedded information is what makes an object have an orderly structure. As this trend has developed, its emphasis has shifted. At first, in the 1940s and 1950s, information theorists emphasized the concept of “entropy”—and were thus concerned with exploiting feedback to improve “control.” Now, the emphasis has shifted to the concept of “complexity”—and this has led to a new concern with the “coordination” of complex systems. Control and coordination are different, sometimes contrary processes; indeed, the exertion of excessive control in order to avoid entropy may inhibit the looser, decentralized types of coordination that often characterize advanced forms of complex systems. What James Beniger called the “control revolution” is now turning into what might be better termed a “coordination revolution.” Entropy and complexity look like opposing sides of the same coin of order. About the worst that can happen to embedded information is that it gives way to entropy, i.e., the tendency to become disorganized. The best is that it enables an object to grow in efficiency, versatility, and adaptability (148)

In Athena’s camp: preparing for conflict in the information age John Arquilla, David F. Ronfeldt

The reason for this is that, in perhaps a rediscovery of many rule-of-thumb warnings against excessively directed control, if one too strictly links internal elements within a finite system, the very improvements of the system when under stress might actually lead to the catastrophic collapse of it. Instead of tightly organized linkages, loosely based, more chaotic and therefore flexible relations are desired. Bousquet citing John Urry:

In loosely coupled systems by contrast there is plenty of slack in terms of time, resources and organizational capacity. They are much less likely to produce normal accidents since incidents can be coped with, so avoiding the interactive complexity found within tightly coupled systems. In the latter, moreover, the effects are non-linear. Up to a point, tightening the connections between elements in the system will increase efficiency when everything works smoothly. But, if one small item goes wrong, then that can have a catastrophic knock-on effect throughout the system. The system literally switches over, from smooth functioning to interactively complex disaster. And sometimes this results from a supposed improvement in the system.

Global complexity  John Urry

At the risk of having steered too far from our course, the genuine skepticism over finite, linear, rationalistic, internally directed and corrective, often hierarchical organizations, shows itself in the truism of how such linearity can switch into non-linear collapse, blindside to the episteme of the system itself. Instead a skepticism towards rational systems in general directs our attention between towards horizon creating interactions themselves, towards the notion of co0rdination and agreements, out towards an aesthetic of mutual bodies forming a crest of living, self-producing edge-of chaos complexification.

If it is so that Spinoza possesses such a non-equilibrium appeal, where is it to be found? Is it enough to invoke his defintional awareness of the usefulness of numerical interactions? Does his skepticism towards mathematics and any finite division of magnitudes establish a non-linear bent, enough to quell the dominant linearity of his age with Newton just around the corner? Is there a radical non-equilibrium pursuit that balances out the conservatism of his conatus doctrine? I think there is. And it falls to the entire directionality of the Ethics, in particular the acme psychologies of the fourth book, and at last the passing into Intuition of the fifth book.

This is the determinative passage I feel. Spinoza is an interesting writer, for as he is often times at such pains to draw out and weave concepts into an extensive web of taken-to-be luminous clarity, pages and pages of definition, proof, axiom, proposition, all interlinked. His very best stuff can be expressed gnomically, small statements whose interpretation is that upon which everything else turns:

E5p2 If we separate out aggitations (commotiones) or affects (affectus) from the cognition (cogitatione) of an external cause, and we join them to other cognitions, then Love and Hate, toward the external cause, as are the vacillations of the soul (animi fluctuationes) arising from affects, are destroyed (destruuntur).

Carefully consider this proposition in the context of the Cybernetic/Complexity dichotomy. It subsumes the whole of Spinoza’s quantifiable psychology of the preceding fourth book. It is the very cognitive temptation to give wholesale systemic valuation (“good”/”bad”) to external events that Spinoza has called into question. To put it into cybernetic terms, when the human body/mind system passes away from a state of equilibrium (moves to a condition of greater or lesser power), the credit is inordinately attributed to an external event. That external “cause” is given the valuation of good or bad given the changes in the system. When the experience is negative, that is, a breakdown of the internal coherence of the system experienced as Sadness, the system steers itself away from such events, back to equilibrium (risking a fixed, conservative stasis induced by fear). But when it is experienced as positive, that is, an increase in the internal coherence of the system experienced as happiness, then a positive feedback loop ensues, and the system steers towards the amplification of such events, promoting their increase (risking runaway dissolution).

Spinoza’s psychology is based upon moving clear from either of these determinatives, each of which are governed from an inordinate assessment of the power of an external cause. He at first directs the eye inwards, in a cybernetic-like valuation. It is not in the nature of the external event (alone) that the passage from one desired or undesired state has occurred, but rather in the very orders of our bodies and minds. We were predisposed to be affected a certain way, but it is our cognitive tendency to attribute the cause of these changes to some external thing that ultimate weakens our self-determination and freedom.

Compellingly, once this internal self-check is conducted separating out the affect from any one-to-one dichotomization of some state of our bodies/mind and some state of the world, the affect itself, the very feeling of the body in change is to be joined to other cognitions besides those of the thought of some overt external cause. I find this fascinating because Spinoza is advocating a kind of turning the body and its feelings over to the very interface with the world, wherein the world is seen as a great screen of causal effects. This is to say, our affects continue to distribute themselves across our bodies (minds), but they do so in a broad-spectrum fashion that invokes the edge chaos sweet-spot of Beckerman’s diagram. One can see this I believe in Spinoza claim that the fluctuations of the soul are “destroyed” in this process of opening up and cognitive awareness. This is not for him a passage into a conservation of the Self, so defined apart from the world, a falling back into an equilibrium of maintanence, but rather an expansion. The oscillations he has in mind are the oscillations of Love and Hate, the way in which loves generate fears and conservative retrenchments of the self against the world. And hates open up into flights that can disintegrate into turbulent chaotic flow. Instead there is an aesthetic place, between the two. It is a kind of equilibrium of perpetual growth, or the openness to a complexity of states that defies the equilibriums of the past, a literal opening up of the finite to the Infinite. A rift of becoming. Because the affect itself becomes separated out from its distinct (and false because partial) conscious interpretation, the affect exists almost as pure bodily thinking, or put another way, thinking purely through Joy (transitions towards perfection, power, freedom).

Thoughts Tending Towards Deleuze and Guattari

This is I think what Guattari and Deleuze called the Body Without Organs. And while for some it makes difficult sense to see where Guattari and Deleuze can find common ground with the sobriety of Spinoza, I believe it is here, in the intermediate, where the BwO meets Chaoplexic edge that the two/three find their home. And while Spinoza’s aesthetic setting seems closer to “stable” and D&Gs closer to chaos, they are operating in the bandwidth, in proximity, as each takes Joy as its compass heading. What Spinoza provides is a careful analytic of the powers of Cybernetic organization, at the level of epistemology and psychology. Indeed the rewriting of internal codes, the reorientation of cognitions toward each other, within the understanding that the affects of our body serve as material guide, is essential to seeing that Spinoza’s Rationalism is ever an A-Rational theory of growth, a search for the line of complexity that is ever re-inscribing anew the boundary between self and world.

A Book that Explodes All Books in the World – Ethica

…if a man could write a book on Ethics…

In my recent post, Wittgenstein’s Mysticism: One World or Two?, I wrote on Russell Nieli’s review of James Atkinson’s The Mystical in Wittgenstein’s Early Writings. There Nieli makes the determinative point that Wittgenstein’s so called “Lecture on Ethics” is central to understanding early Wittgenstein’s commitment to a two-world mystical view. The lecture is available here or can be downloaded as a Word.doc here: Lecture on Ethics). This is certainly an interesting claim, and it lead me to read the lecture which I had not considered before. While I am unsure of how much of the ethical position remains in the latter-day Wittgensteinian language game depictions, I presume a great deal of it is intact, since the very same Humean dichotomy between “the relation of ideas” and the “relation of facts” presents itself in Wittgenstein’s Grammatical and Empirical categorization. I write on the problems of such a “fork” and the related is/ought distinction here: A Spoonful of Ought.

The Explosive Book

But what really drew my focus was the way in which Wittgenstein seemed be addressing Spinoza’s Ethics directly in his essay. In fact he appears to bring the full force of Hume’s dichotomy directly down upon Spinoza’s text, but, as Wittgenstein is so able to do, in such a way that it has only oblique effect. Look at how he characterizes the possibilities of writing a book that would make a science of Ethics, that is, a book which would make of Ethical truths an objective study and explication.

And now I must say that if I contemplate what Ethics really would have to be if there were such a science, this result seems to me quite obvious. It seems to me obvious that nothing we could ever think or say should be the thing. That we cannot write a scientific book, the subject matter of which could be intrinsically sublime and above all other subject matters. I can only describe my feeling by the metaphor, that, if a man could write a book on Ethics which really was a book on Ethics, this book would, with an explosion, destroy all the other books in the world. Our words used as we use them in science, are vessels capable only of containing and conveying meaning and sense, natural meaning and sense. Ethics, if it is anything, is supernatural and our words will only express facts; as a teacup will only hold a teacup full of water and if I were to pour out a gallon over it.

Its hard for me to deny that Wittgenstein is considering Spinoza at his purest. For while Wittgenstein by virtue of his Hume Doctrine of ideas vs. facts claims that ethical matters can only be approached metaphorically, an echo of his famous tractarian proposition “Where (or of what) one cannot speak, one must pass over in silence”, Spinoza’s book Ethica distinctly avoids almost ALL metaphors and similes, and attempts to speak of Ethics entirely of literal terms. If there was such a book (and there certainly is an attempt by Spinoza to have written one), Wittgenstein tells us that it would “destroy all books”.

Amazing.

The Cold Wind Between Is and Ought

Wittgenstein positions Spinoza’s Ethics as either one great confusion (treating things that can only be approached metaphorically, literally, objectively), or as a book that can and has detonated all other books ever written. What is remarkable about this that that in this metaphor Wittgenstein seems to capture something of the excitment that Spinoza enthusiasts feel for the book the Ethics. There is a certain sense in which the Ethics achieves just this, like some logically labyrinthian Borges library, the recursive, interlaced networks of propositions, proofs and scholia works as a time bomb to all other texts. This is the “cold wind” that Deleuze tells us blows through the book, unweaving everything that is woven, so that it can be woven again.

Wittgenstein stakes the impossibility of such a book as the Ethics upon the well-known, but by him uncited Humean Is/Ought distinction. Questions of “is” (what Wittgenstein calls questions of fact, or questions of “relative value”) can never bring you to questions of “ought” (what Wittgenstein calls “absolute value”). The “good” or “right” in relative terms is always specifiable:

The essence of this difference seems to be obviously this: Every judgment of relative value is a mere statement of facts and can therefore be put in such a form that it loses all the appearance of a judgment of value: Instead of saying “This is the right way to Granchester,” I could equally well have said, “This is the right way you have to go if you want to get to Granchester in the shortest time”; “This man is a good runner” simply means that he runs a certain number of miles in a certain number of minutes, etc.

Now what I wish to contend is that, although all judgments of relative value can be shown to be mere statement of facts, no statement of fact can ever be, or imply, a judgment of absolute value.

What Wittgenstein has in mind is that there can always be a reference to criteria, and that if we get outselves to criteria we can agree upon, we can then get down to the goodness or rightness of a thing or situation, (or at least the very nature of our disagreement). As I have argued in the above referenced article, there is no pure Is/Ought distinction, and there is always an “ought” that underwrites any descriptive claim. But it is more than this which give Spinoza’s thinking a life over and above the quiet distinctions Wittgenstein is trying to put forth, or rather, the very nexus of the Is and the Ought gives clue to the way that criteria are organized and distributed, the ways in which we come to agree upon criteria in the first place.

The first point is that Spinoza wholly grants the relative value of things to purposes. In fact any sense of good and bad has to be brought down to the goodness or badness of things to “us” or “me”. In this way anything that is ethically good is pursued entirely out of selfishness itself, the impetus to preserve oneself and increase one’s power and joy. If a kind of action or a kind of thinking is not “good” it means that it is destructive to or weakening to me. And Wittgenstein’s entire matrix of the facts of benefit or harm, and their criteria come into play here. But, there is both an imaginary and a rational dimension upon which the interpretation and communication of these facts rests. And this is: 1). In order to objectively read the world as sense-making we regularly have to take others to be like ourselves, and that because of this there is an imaginary affective bed of mutualities which promote a criteria-less (or at least non-criteria referencing) understanding of “good” and “bad” such that a good thing to another is understood to be a good thing to me based on a primary assumption of sameness. In this way, “This is a good road” may indeed be qualified by reference to all sorts of criteria, but the experience and effect of which is not reducible to such criteria referencing (which does not make it metaphorically good, but only affectively performed and imaginarily understood). And 2). There is a ratio-pramatic consequence of human beings sharing a similar nature and interdepency such that the liberation of another human being possesses an absolute value (non-criteria referencing) of benefit such that liberation is a “good” without qualification (Balibar outlines this expertly, here). Because “man is a god to man” as Spinoza puts it, our selfishness leads us rationally to the realization that when I am helping other person or thing, or environment, I am helping myself – myself under a radical defition. In this way, both on the imaginary level and on the rational level, Wittgenstein’s exclusionary Is/Ought is effectively collapsed at least as an absolute categorial distinction.

In fact the scientific or at least objective way in which Spinoza presents his edifice of the Ethica contains in terms of content nothing of the book that Wittgenstein imagines (a book wherein is written every single fact in the world), but it does refer to a kind of ontological dimension of such a book. Spinoza’s Substance, God, Nature is very much like the ominscience that Wittgenstein conjures up (without the reflexive anthropomophism):

Let me explain this: Suppose one of you were an omniscient person and therefore knew all the movements of all the bodies in the world dead or alive and that he also knew all the states of mind of all human beings that ever lived, and suppose this man wrote all he knew in a big book, then this book would contain the whole description of the world; and what I want to say is, that this book would contain nothing that we would call an ethical judgment or anything that would logically imply such a judgment. It would of course contain all relative judgments of value and all true scientific propositions and in fact all true propositions that can be made. But all the facts described would, as it were, stand on the same level and in the same way all propositions stand on the same level. There are no propositions which, in any absolute sense, are sublime, important, or trivial.

But instead of propositions that have been written down, there are only expressive states, along the extensional and ideational attributes. This totality of Substance in a sense “knows” all things because all things are an expression of it. But the question is, do any of the absolute value propositions contained in the Ethica stand in relation to, or “on the same level” as, all the statements of fact in the world? To answer this one would have to assess whether any of the propositions of the Ethica qualify as absolutely adequate ideas? There is some evidence to suggest that strictly so, even though the propositions of the Ethica are certainly more adequate than others, marked by their very inter-dependent, logical relations, none of them are wholly adequate ideas due to their finite, linguistic expression. But this does not make them metaphorical either. Instead they participate in and are an expression of the very power of rational, material and imaginary combination that makes up both our factual and ethical world, meant as devices of provoked Intuitional knowledge, the knowledge by which all of us know things. The criteria of their goodness is the very capacity for power, joy and coherence in the first place. Which is to say that they are properly metaphysical. Because the Humean severance between idea and fact is refused at the ontological level, so is the ultimate barring of the Is and the Ought. As such Spinoza’s Ethica indeed could be seen as working to explode all other books ever written, or better yet, all other thoughts ever thought. But because of the limited nature of human knowledge, and the necessarily finite expression of our knowledge (even Spinoza’s knowledge), it acts as an incendiary device with a time-delay fuse.

As an amusement, one wonders of course whether Wittgenstein’s criteria for a book that would be explode all books in the world itself would be written in the book of omniscience that contains all propositions of fact.

The Bear with the Rapier: Kleist on Leibniz and Microscopic Infinities

Dancing Bears Passing Through Infinities

More on Corry Shore’s “Deleuze and Dance…” post. In the comments section of my last post an exchange lead me to recall von Kleist’s wonderful “On the Marionette Theatre”.  – There is some debate as to how much irony is in the story, if there is a kind of Kierkegaardian reverse or distance, but I suspect that given the power of the von Kleist oeuvre and the place that he gives to the power of the sudden and the supernatural communication, any irony is subsumed by a certain belief, or trust – but what struck me was the kind of (unconscious) parallel between a point Corry was making in calling up Leibniz’s triangle of differentials, appealed to by Deleuze, and Kleist’s own striking analogy of passing through infinities.

First though, Kleist presents the figure of a bear that is able to fence with extraordinary deftness, such that man cannot even approach:

They urged me to attack. “See if you can hit him!” they shouted. As I had now recovered somewhat from my astonishment I fell on him with my rapier. The bear made a slight movement with his paw and parried my thrust. I feinted, to deceive him. The bear did not move. I attacked again, this time with all the skill I could muster. I know I would certainly have thrust my way through to a human breast, but the bear made a slight movement with his paw and parried my thrust. By now I was almost in the same state as the elder brother had been: the bear’s utter seriousness robbed me of my composure. Thrusts and feints followed thick and fast, the sweat poured off me, but in vain. It wasn’t merely that he parried my thrusts like the finest fencer in the world; when I feinted to deceive him he made no move at all. No human fencer could equal his perception in this respect. He stood upright, his paw raised ready for battle, his eye fixed on mine as if he could read my soul there, and when my thrusts were not meant seriously he did not move…

The Microscopy Beneath Human Sagacity

We are returned to Spinoza’s “we do not even know what a body can do”, the sense in which there are powers within our body which cannot be completely absorbed, understood or even anticipated. (Corry makes use of this to speak of the kind of apparitional capacties of Michael Jackson, for instance his introduction of the moonwalk.) We are like fantastic sleepwalkers…

However, no one has hitherto laid down the limits to the powers of the body, that is, no one has as yet been taught by experience what the body can accomplish solely by the laws of nature, in so far as she is regarded as extension. No one hitherto has gained such an accurate knowledge of the bodily mechanism, that he can explain all its functions; nor need I call attention to the fact that many actions are observed in the lower animals, which far transcend human sagacity, and that somnambulists do many things in their sleep, which they would not venture to do when awake: these instances are enough to show, that the body can by the sole laws of its nature do many things which the mind wonders at. (E3p2s).

But I want to return to Corry’s Deleuzian citation of the Leibnizian triangle of differentials, and the sense that Spinoza has in mind a kind of bound infinity of parts that grow infinitely smaller within any one delimitation, almost combustable (at least combustable to knowledge) bodies within bodies, growing infinitely minute:

Deleuze characterizes these smallest bodies as being inextensive; they are like calculus limits, or Newton’s “vanishing” (“évanouissants“) quantities. So these infinitely small bodies are not themselves “things” but are more like the differential relations of calculus. (Deleuze, Cours Vincennes: 10/03/1981)

 To better grasp what Deleuze will say about these differential relations, we should take his advice(Cours Vincennes – 22/04/1980) and briefly examine Leibniz’ simple triangle explanation of the differential ratios. [Click on images to enlarge].

The image is of an infinitely diminishing triangle as the intersection of lines near an vertex descrease:

Kleist has something of the very same kind of thought, he may even have Leibniz in mind, but he complicates it, implicates it, as to the very process of coming through or passing through those miniscule infinities.

..We see that in the organic world, as thought grows dimmer and weaker, grace emerges more brilliantly and decisively. But just as a section drawn through two lines suddenly reappears on the other side after passing through infinity, or as the image in a concave mirror turns up again right in front of us after dwindling into the distance, so grace itself returns when knowledge has as it were gone through an infinity. Grace appears most purely in that human form which either has no consciousness or an infinite consciousness. That is, in the puppet or in the god.

The human being passes through the infinitely small point, entering into the “looking glass” so to speak, but it is not a reversal in the Hegelian sense of reflective consciousness, or a transcedence, so much as an actual process of engagment, something I think Spinoza also might have in mind.

Corry does well to cite the possible Spinozist Theodore Kerckring’s thoughts that were induced by the looking through human anatomy by virtue of the powers of the an early microscope made by Spinoza. The human being as it swims down into the smaller and smaller bodies has a literal encounter with the limits of the mechanical infinite:

Marvelous is nature in her arts, and more marvelous still is Nature’s Lord, how as he brought forth bodies, thus to the infinite itself one after another by magnitude they having withdrawn so that no intellect is able to follow whether it is, which it is, or where is the end of their magnitude; thus if in diminishments you would descend, never will you discover where you would be able to stand.

Spicilegium Anatomicum 1670

[Discussed also here: Spinoza and Mechanical Infinities ]

Much as Kleist speak of the passing through concavity, of knowledge passing through an infinity, Kerckring finds that microscopy will only induct us to an infinity that resists us, or at least our eyes. There is a certain regard in which the delimiting mind must release its apprehension to a kind of apogogic comprehension, letting itself be comprehended, so to speak, with a sewn-in result that it is ever and always the body through which powers are channeled and therefore expressed.

Whence Salvation?

Somewhere between the first photo of an imprisonment of powers (the bear chained to perform out of its reservoir of powers), and Leibniz’s evocative minuscule infinities of abstract mathematical division is located Spinoza point about what Infinities are, and perhaps just as importantly how they are to be unlocked, or tapped into. Freedoms are and must be material engagements, combinations, things of which our own bodies are composed, and must be achieved through the soterial collection of that which appears not to think (feel, and act) as much as it can.

Die and Dance in Spinozist Terms

Corry Shores has done a beautiful rumination spurred by my last short post on Deaththat really for some reason stirs me. In serpentine fashion he takes us through the infinimicules of existences, early views in microscopy (citing my favorite, under-read Spinoza document, Kerckring’s testament of animalcules), Deleuze’s conception of bodies in variation and thoughts about Michael Jackson (of whom I have been a little media’d out, but here I enjoyed contemplating). I like very much the thought that we have to ask ourselves, What has our body done in this life? And I love the thought that in living longer we simply expose our bodies to greater variation of expression (and experience), no matter how hard we strain to maintain the border of the same. We should say, What are our bodies enfolding (in dance), what are they expressing? We do not own them. One thinks of as well Spinoza’s Spanish poet (E4p39s), who no longer could recognize his own poetry, and so was no longer “himself”. Reminding us that there are many kinds of death, and thus many kinds of openings.

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