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Spinoza “Following the Traces of the Intellect”: Powers of Imagining

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How Far Can We Imagine the Sun to Be?

My discussions with Eric Schliesser on the issue of a skepticism towards mathematical (and empirical observation) knowledge have continued (my recent post). Between us has raised the subject of just what Imaginary Knowledge is for Spinoza. I think that this is an important point for anyone studying Spinoza’s epistemology, and it occurs to me that the fascinating letter to Peter Balling contains some very important distinctions on this front, at least some worth posting. As I expressed to Eric in private correspondence, I take as exemplary of Imaginaray knowledge Spinoza’s thought that we imagine the Sun to be much closer to us than it actually is:

Similarly, when we look at the sun, we imagine it about 200 ft. away from us, an error that does not consist simply in this imagining, but in the fact that while imagine it in this way, we are ignorant of its true distance and the cause of this imagining- E2p35sch

For Spinoza I think, imaginary knowledge is really phenomenological experience, that is something akin to what he calls “thinking in pictures”. It is the way that we “picture” the world. And when we picture the sun as being only about 200 ft away (I’m not sure who does picture it that way), we are in a state of confusion. Spinoza actually is borrowing this example from Descartes’ La Dioptrique, Sixth Discourse, where Descartes explains the phenomena as a product of the brightness of the Sun and the shrinking of the pupil. No doubt Spinoza has Descartes’ explanation in mind when he qualifies this imaginary knowledge via the combination of the sun’s essence and our own body’s essence, a causal relationship of which we can remain ignorant:

…For we imagine the sun so near, not because we do not know its true distance, but because an affection of our body involves the essence of the sun insofar as our body is affected by the sun (ibid.)

While I agree with Eric’s claim that Scientific/Mathematical knowledge cannot give us access to the essences of external things, I do think it a mistake to not see that such knowledge in fact works to increase our awareness of the causes of things, and thereby increase our agency in the world (a primary Spinoza aim). In fact in Spinoza’s example he relates what he takes to be a fact about the size of the Sun, giving it a diameter of 600 times that of the Earth. Clearly Spinoza regards the latter figure as more correct than the former (and the even more correct answer, apparently, is that the Sun is 109 earth diameters). Spinoza is contrasting these two knowledges of the sun. It makes little sense at all say that both knowledges of the sun are merely “imaginary”.

What we can say is that if we picture the sun 200 ft away, and we picture  the sun to be 600 earth diameters, both are forms of imaginary knowledge (as Spinoza’s incorrect diameter figure may attest). Imagining the world to be a certain way, phenomenologically, is key to our ability to find our way around in it. Imagining is a good thing.  But what must be accounted for is the difference between the powers of imagining it one way (200 ft away) and another (109 earth diameters). This is not just a difference in “usefulness” (which itself must be qualified and explained), but an increase in our ability to act in the world – knowing the size and distance of the sun actually allows us to do such things as send probes into space. In my view, any of these increases in the capacity to act, however they manifest themselves in imaginary or phenomenological experiences, must be understood as Ideational increases in adequacy (admitting with both Eric Schliesser and Micheal Della Rocca that we can never have completely adequate ideas about the external world).

Clues from Balling’s Prophetic Imagination

So, of what does this difference of pictures consist? An important clue to what Spinoza means by “imaginary” and its relationship to the intellect can be found in his letter to Peter Balling in 1664, a copy of the full text is included at the end of this past post: How Long was Peter Balling’s Son Dead?. I will address the usual reading of the letter in which Spinoza responds to his friend Peter Balling’s account of a premonition he hauntingly received of his very recent son’s death. A certain “rasping” he imagined, a difficulty in breathing apparently long before his son took mortally ill. This is really a striking letter for Spinoza theorizes about the different sources of imaginary experiences, retelling his own account of a waking dream; but also for our purposes how he in this letter reasons that the imaginary follows the intellect exposes why picturing the Sun one way is better than picturing it another way.

Spinoza suggests to Balling that there are two sources for imaginary experiences. There are dispositions of the body, for instance how a fever might compel a hallucination, and then there is the constitution of the soul [ab animae constitutione] which may produce imaginary experiences of a different power; a power even perhaps capable of foresaging the future. I think that there are some significant problems with such a dichotomy of sources as the parallel postulate and also the definition of the soul as the idea of the body pretty much make such split extremely difficult imagine or justify (a problem perhaps to be resolved with an appeal to levels of conscious awareness or to shared ideas); but we may by-pass that for the moment. What is key is that Spinoza tells Peter Balling that indeed, because his soul partook in the very essence of his son’s soul by virtue of his very powerful love, making them literally and ontologically One, he was able to imagine his son’s future, however confusedly. In short, the father’s confused premonition of his son’s breathing actually is born out of an ideal, for Spinoza, intellectual relationship. And as such his imaginary experience held or expressed a certain power.

However skeptical one might be of such an extreme example, in his explanation Spinoza provides the very framework by which we can consider what imaginary knowledge is. To put it briefly, the phenomenological picturing of the world, how we experience it to be, bears a dependent relationship to our ideational states and thus our relationships to others. Spinoza says that the imagination follows the traces of the Intellect:

We also see that the imagination is to a certain extent determined by the constitution of the soul [ab animae constitutione]; for, as we know by experience, in all things it follows the traces of the Intellect [vestigia in omnibus sequitur], and its images and words out of an order, just as the demonstrations of the Intellect, it organizes, so one after another it connects; so that I submit that there is hardly nothing to discern [intelligere] by which the imagination will not, from a trace [vestiglia], form some image.

Aside from the Balling issue, here we have a key connective between the images of the imagination and the ideas of the soul. The way that we phenomenologically experience (or even in fantasy dream up) the world follows the traces of the Intellect.  We can also read a certain parallel between the physiological sources of the illusion that the Sun is 200 ft away (as explained by Descartes) and the physiological sources of a fevered hallucination in the letter to Balling. In each there is an illusion which involves a certain ignorance of the causes of its production. In the case rather of the picturing of the Sun’s accurate size and the father’s premonition of a death, Spinoza reads the imaginary event as following the traces of the Intellect, the connections of our ideas. When we ideationally understand something about the world, there is almost nothing which we understand which will not produce a produced image.

Again I think Spinoza is a little inconsistent in his theory of two sources, but we have here the groundwork for understanding why one image of the sun is superior to another. The scientific calculation and observation of the sun and other celestial bodies, using the entia rationis which are maths, help composes a sequence of related and dependent ideas, upon the traces of which the imagination will form images. The real, rational processes of intellectual progression which composes scientific explanation of the sun and much else allow a more productive imagination of how the world is.

The Actions of Calculation

But in keeping with Eric Schliesser’s thesis that scientific observation or mathematical calculation can never produce the very essences of external things, and that Nature cannot be adequately rendered in, or reduced to, a mathematical language, Spinoza tells us that an ens rationis should not be confused with ens reale. That is to say in another way, the semiotic impact of a difference in thought which constitutes its ontological force, is not to be confused with whatever it is supposed to be describing or referring to. When I am rationally calculating as a mathematician or a Scientist I am changing my ontological lean towards the World (Substance, Nature), gaining or losing degrees of Being with the coherence of my thought which connects me to others and the world, providing traces for imaginings, but I am necessarily not describing the World precisely or absolutely adequately as it is. My actions as a finite being are always connective and collaborating, but not subsuming.

Put far less opaquely, the rational work that we do as we link our more clearly conceived thoughts to each other (in whatever field), is to construct an armature upon which we are better able to imagine or phenomenologically experience the world. The web of our more adequate ideas composes the traces upon which our more powerful imaginings are built. This can be said to be the case whether in terms of ideology or physical fact. It is not that we are to dismiss the imaginary or phenomenological, but rather to build the most far-reaching and connective imaginations/experiences possible. And it is here that we receive our explanation for what Spinoza likely meant in Letter 12 when he called Number an “aid [auxilia] to the imagination” all the while identifying it as an ens rationis. What is an aid to the imagination (which strives to imagine that which increases the body’s power of acting – E3p12), is that which allows its images to be related to the greatest number of causes. Because the imagination follows the traces of the intellect, the more adequate our ideas, the more powerful our imaginings. And in a very real sense, the imagination of the sun being 200 ft away is related to a greater number of, one might say, constituent causes than the image of the sun being 109 earth diameters.

More thoughts on the powers of Imagination in Spinoza’s framework: Spinoza and the Caliban Question and Spinoza and the Metaphoric Rise of the Imagination

“By mathematical attestation”: Spinoza’s Epiphantic Calculation

Just How Mathematical Was He?

I have been having an interesting conversation over time with Eric Schliesser at Leiden University who holds a minority position on the role mathematics plays in Spinoza’s position on what can be known. He strongly interprets Letter 12 towards a skepticism for just what mathematical calculation (and its attendant applied empirical observation) reveals. As Letter 12 attests, Spinoza regarded mathematics as a “product” of the imagination, come from our imaginary classifications of objects as wholly bound things – cut out from the cloth of Substance, if you will. I wrote on my agreement with this here Spinoza and Mechanical Infinities, but Eric really would like to push the interpretation so far as to restrict all of mathematical endeavours to the realm of the imaginary (the lowest forms of knowledge for Spinoza, the other two being the “rational” and the “intuitional”). This of course comes up against Spinoza’s rather obvious and profound use of mathematics as a model for philosophical investigation and even the higher forms of knowledge as both his method more geometico and his illustrations of higher knowledge both make use of mathematical forms as exemplary.

In large part I really am in agreement with Eric, in the most common Spinoza interpretations the mathematical has somehow risen far above the frame in which Spinoza intended it, but it makes very little sense for me to regard the “products” of imagination as imaginary itself – in the Emendation Spinoza speaks of the production of tools of intellection out of imaginary relations as a positive progression. Clearly mathematical description provides distinct causal understanding of the relations between things, and it is exactly in this vein that the empirical science observations of several centuries does provide a substantive remove from mere superstition, something that Spinoza firmly places himself against. It would seem that Spinoza’s true position lies somewhere in-between, not accepting Galileo’s thought that Nature is written in the language of mathematics, but also grasping that in mathematics (and observation, experiment) there are genuine increases in understanding, freedom, power, joy,  and ultimately for Spinoza, Being.

In this way mathematics is seen as:

1. Both a product of the imagination, and an aid to the imagination [Auxilia imaginationis] (Letter 12).

2. As such they are qualifiable as ens rationis which is what Spinoza calls them in letter 12 [eius modi Entibus rationis], something he is elsewise careful not to be blurred with ens imaginationis (E1App). 

3. It should be admitted that Spinoza does not help things by just prior to distinguishing “number” as a  “things of this reasoning” in letter 12 to Meyer he refers to it as  “nothing more than thinking’s, or better imagining’s, modes” [nihil esse praeter cogitandi, seu potius imaginandi, modos] – he wants to straddle the line here and a little confusedly so.  

4. But reading numbers as ens rationis (distinct from ens imaginationis), these, as Spinoza notes in the all important E2p49 asserting the collapse of volition into the concept of “idea”, are not ens reale (Cor. dem. [III. B (iii)], accept when the latter is understood as an operant, an affirmation and an action. 

5. The real and the rational abstraction that describes it are not to be confused. It is this final distinction that provides the skeptical element towards an ultimate mathematical reduction of Nature.

6. One has to live with the exegetical problem that while Spinoza in the Appendix of Ethics part I makes a strong distinction between things of the imagination, and things of reason, in letter 12 he oscillates, even within sentences, between things of (this) reason and something he undefinedly calls aids (auxilia) of the/to the imagination, never sure how he wants to describe Number.

Are Maths Only Imaginary? What Would that Mean?

By my understanding Eric places increases of power in mathematical description solely within the a “usefulness” category, all the while restricting them to the “imaginary realm”. While I really enjoy this outlier position, the very substantive nature of these increases in usefulness simply remains unexplained. And though this in part may be due to some inconsistency in how Spinoza treats the imagination (and the concept of order itself), I do think that Spinoza saw in mathematics (and scientific testing) genuine increases in the understanding of things, without acceding to the thought that mathematics genuinely reveals the eternal essences of things. For Spinoza we are, even the most scientific among us, like a “worm in blood”, not comprehending entirely the body and indeed the Universe we live in.

In this discussion there is an interesting, and indeed I think problematic sentence that at least provisionally I would like to retranslate. It is found in the Appendix of the first part of the Ethics, and in it Spinoza appeals to the very mathematical attestation by which we perceive or understand things of the world. He has just finished rebuffing two stages in thinking: addressed are those that feel that astronomically it is the motions of the heavenly bodies themselves that somehow compose [componere] a  harmony, a harmony that God delights in; and then those that from this notion of celestial harmony then find that it is the disposition of the brain alone from which human judgment comes, something which results in a skepticism of knowing in general. One is left with either a physiognomic theory of differences of perceptions (there are as many different kinds of brains as there are palates), or presumably on the other end the “veil of ideas” of proto-idealism.

In contrast to this physiognomic skepticism, Spinoza turns to the very discernment of things [res]:

Res enim si intellexissent, illae omnes teste mathesi, si non allicerent, ad minimum convincerent.

I translate this literally because there is some disagreement in the major English translators on the meaning of Spinoza’s sentence (and I think that both of them are somewhat wrong):

For if things they would have been able to discern, those all by mathematical attestation, if they were not allured, at minimum they would have been convinced.

The two counter translations I provide here. Curley in some rather convoluted restructuring, attempts to emphasize the “all” as an accusative. All these persons would be convinced if they merely discerned things correctly. The things themselves would convince everyone. While Shirley, I think more correctly, places emphasis upon both Spinoza’s mode of argumentation, and mathematical attestation. Here they are:

“For if men had understood them, the things would at least convinced them all, even if they did not attract them all, as the example of mathematics shows.” (Curley)

“For if men understood things, all that I have put forward would be found, if not attractive, at any rate convincing, as Mathematics attests.” (Shirley)

There really is no support for Curley’s inventive transformation of “omnes” into a universal emphasis of agreements, though that may be implied. Really what Spinoza is saying is that indeed contrary to merely the physionomic understanding of judgments (and also a celestial orderliness model), distinct discernments of things has come via the testament of mathematical treatments. While Shirley’s translation grasps the general thought of this, Curley captures the very epiphantic nature of such intellection, it through mathematical treatments that the very nature of “things” appears.

And the little caveat on the nature of how such men will be affected by such discernment is telling. Such fellows will be convinced, though they may be “attracted” to such an interpretation. Here Spinoza seems to be putting his thumb in the eye of those that disagree. There are it would seem libidinal investments in seeing the world other than the way in which it is most arguably so. There is also perhaps a commercial connotative association of liceo, “to buy, to put a price on, to value” which may not be far from Spinoza’s intention.

Teste Mathesi

So what are we to make of this “by mathematical attestation” [teste mathesi]. Clearly, it is by reason of mathematics that philosophers (and scientists) arrived at the notion of a harmony composed of celestial bodies in motion, a sense of harmony that for Spinoza ultimately lead to viewing the brain as the source of all human judgment; so it cannot be by mathematics alone that we come to discern things properly. And Spinoza has in turn used the geometic method in such a way that he seems to feel that he has, via such a mathematical attestation, produced a discernment of things. As Spinoza in Letter 12 strongly calls into question the ultimate knowledge available by mathematical measurement and calculation, there would seem to be only one more meaning remaining. Mathematical attestation is for Spinoza a revelatory one, one in which the coherence itself (what is calls elsewhere a different “standard of truth”) provides the conviction of discerment, but also one in which any mathematical description always remains merely an approximation, a rounding off of the edges. And these are edged through which the epiphany of perception itself shows through. This is in keeping with my general sense that in that all the propositions found in the Ethics are linguistic expressions, none of them actually are adequate ideas. It is rather that the interaction with the Ethics itself, its real, material and ideational body, is to provoke, is to cause, a real material and ideational change in the reader, one which cannot be reduced to the arguments themselves.

In a certain sense, Spinoza’s very intellectual and physical experiences as a craftsman, the precise use of calculation when applied to physical substances in the service of gaining the desired effects is the very thing that would preclude any minimization of mathematics or the testing of experimentation. Craftsmanship is after all where abstracted calculation and experiential rule of thumb come most closely together. And by all testament, Spinoza was a superb and devoted craftsman.

In a modern sense, we might want to say that for Spinoza the Universe is not a linear mathematical thing, but that the coherences of cognitions and communications between things is at best brought out by linear mathematical treatments (those only known of the day), treatments that in the end must also then be compared with man’s own finitude as a creature. As a craftsman perhaps he not only understood the way in which calculation and figure could be used to control and shape material, but also understood the often unexpected, unique and eruptive form of material itself, the way in which the glass, bubbled and fogged as it is, defies the curve of optical imprint of the lens grinding form. For Spinoza there are always non-linear magnitudes within magnitudes, beyond any one boundary-making, linear abstraction. But this does not prevent mathematics itself to produce reductive epiphanies unto the relationship between things.

Some follow-up thoughts: Spinoza “Following the Traces of the Intellect”: Powers of Imagining

The Transvestive Signifier and the Antigone Complex

Ismene: Linguistic Duplicity vs. Linguistic Transvestism

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

ἀλλ’ ἐννοεῖν χρῆ τοῦτο μὲν γυναῖχ’ ὄτι

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

ἔφυμεν, ὡς πρὸς ἄνδρας οὐ μαχουμένα·

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

ἔπειτα δ’ οὕνεκ’ ἀρχόμεσθ’ ἐκ κρεισσόνων

On that account we’re ruled by greater things,

καὶ ταῦτ’ ἀκούδειν κἄτι τῶνδ’ ἀλγίονα.

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

ἐγὼ μὲν οὖν αἰτοῦσα, τοὺς ὑπὸ χθονὸς

For me I call on they belów the earth

ξύγγνοιαν ἴσχειν, ὡς βιάζομαι τάδε,

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

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

Antigone’s Transvestism:  No Presumption of Essential Family Violence

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

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

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

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

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

The Surpass of the Binary Condition of the Subject

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

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

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

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

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

Desire/Wax Impressions of Dante’s Realism: Canto XVIII, lines 22-39 Purgatorio

 Dante’s beautiful lines which dicate the com-plexifications of cogntive judgment come to mind over the dicussion of Realism at Perverse Egalitarianism…

Vostra apprensiva da esser verace
Your perception from some real thing
tragge intenzione, e dentro a voi la spiega,
an impression takes, and in you it unfolds,
sì che l’animo ad essa volger face;
so thus the soul to turn it brings;

e se, rivolto, inver di lei si piega,
And if, so turned, toward it she molds,
quel piegare è amor, quell’è natura
that molding love, that nature ‘tis
che per piacer di novo in voi si lega.
which by pleasure fresh in you it binds.

Poi, come ‘l foco movesi in altura
Then how fire upward glides
per la sua forma ch’è nata a salire
by its form being born to climb
là dove più in sua matera dura,
t’where most within its matter it abides,

cosi l’animo preso entra in disire,
thus the soul so pressed enters in desire,
ch’è moto spiritale, e mai non posa
a spirit motion, that wilt not rest
fin che la cosa amata il fa gioire.
‘til the thing beloved makes it ‘joice.

Or ti puote apparer quant’è nascosa
Now should appear to thee how clouded
la veritate alla gente ch’avvera
be the truth with men who deem
ciascun amore in sè laudabil cosa,
every love itself a lauded thing,

però che forse appar la sua matera
perhaps because its matter seems
sempre esser buona; ma non ciascun segno
always to be good, but yet not every stamp
è buono, ancor che buona sia la cera.’
is good, even if be good the wax.’

It is really amazing, again and again, how Dante brings together still lasting philosophical issues, and then condensing in clarity them puts them into verse. (We tend to think that this makes the task all the so much harder, but has anyone thought that perhaps it makes it easier.)  If we trace the effect of the “impression” we have crystalization of a complex of inter-relations which perhaps helps us gain a foot-hold in Realism discussion.

1). Some real thing impresses itself upon us (the wax), but an impression that is in some sense “taken” by the material organization itself.

2). The impression “unfolds,” an unfolding that turns the soul (seen as passive).

3). And IF turned, she then herself does the molding, an activity which is a fresh and binding pleasure.

4). And this pleasure directs the action of the soul towards an extra-human course, towards a real coherence of things beyond/above it.

5). The movement is unresting until a state of Glorification is achieved (a passive completion, a flattening out).

6). But love itself, its very matter (which we could say is composed of the very relations between the thing loved and its turned-to pursuit), is not always “good”.

7). This intra-relation of bodily combination is ultimately judged by a discernment between which real, impressive things are ultimately good for the wax (soul) to combine with.

The result is a near Spinozist conception of knowledge and moral evil. Pleasure leads us towards self-affirmations which necessarily involve our real combinations with other real objects such that we are ever propelled toward a coherence that is extra-human. But such an epistemo-material sense of knowledge-discernment necessarily involves as well a sense in which not all combinations are in preserve of our conatus of being, something ever in transformation. In this way our appropriations of, and combination with other things (resources, techologies, beloveds) oscillate between that which will break us down (deterritorializations, as G&D call them), and that which preserve us (reterritorializations), in an expanse that is ever more incorporating and communicating. Muscially, one might say. And our value judgments, our aesthetic judgments, necessarily consist of bodily affirmations which have real ontological value, expressing real ontological relations, opening up the human domain to organizational powers beyond those of merely human Ideality.

Spinoza’s Substance and the Objects of Objection

Reid has an interesting discussion of what he calls Anthrophobia, a term he admits rhetorically made steer in the wrong direction of his criticism. It is the fear that those that reject so called Flat-Ontologies have of losing what is “human”. The discussion follows Larval Subject in the comments section of Ontophobia (a blog I do not participate in). I want to re-post here some of my comments offer to Reid because they bring up for me one of the more valuable offerings of Spinoza’s ontology, the ability negotiate the tension and desires of Flat Ontologies, and their attempted deepening.

Reid, when you say…

I think that you and Graham, specifically Graham on this point, should draw the full dehumanizing conclusions of flat ontology, which is that humans do not have a naturally privileged status. Rather, this privilege is an artificial effect of economic stratification. Moreover, while it may be virtuous compared with poverty, I don’t think it is so in itself. So in part, the call for dehumanization is one for a new ethic of life that does not depend on abstract opposition to poverty, and rather seeks to fully embrace its ‘unclean’ and ‘contaminating’ character (culturally, not biologically), the better to transform rich and poor….

…I want a unified approach to politics and ontology that suspends the sufficiency of their prescriptive claims, in order to make equivocal use of their components.”

I have to say that you are right on it. I just wonder why Spinoza’s example (if you want to filter it through a Deleuze ontology that is okay too), doesn’t satisfy just this kind of need? The natural kinds of sedimentation possess only the “dignity” (what Spinoza calls “right”) that they can manage. In this sense the essential dignity is not pre-existing, except in the most eternal/essence sense, but processual, ever determined and restricted. (See Althusser on Spinoza perhaps, to take apart the possibilities of such an analysis.)

The embrace of the unclean or contaminated is the embrace of the fact that there is no “human” per se, nothing to be contaminated in the first place, the flesh as expression.

When Dr. M [Graham Harman] tries to say to you…

“The problem is that Badiou’s real is not much of a real (if we’re speaking of inconsistent multiplicity here. It’s inarticulate, not carved into parts. Its only role is to haunt any count with an excess or residue that escapes the count.”

1). I can’t see how this differs any more from the (OOP) “haunting” of the object that is always in retreat (talk about a haunting), which as you point out has no identifiable attachment to its expression (nothing that makes it THAT object).

2). Badiou’s Real in my view is really very much like Plotinus’s Hen (the One/Expressed), which is beyond the Being/Non-Being determination. It does seem to haunt a bit, but really this leads to point three…

3). For reasons 1 and 2, it seems that Spinoza’s expressive Substance is the way out between the Scylla and Charybdis. Because objects are merely determined, modal expressions of Substance, a Substance which does not belong to any one particular object, we avoid the Aristotelian problem, and because Substance by its very nature expresses itself in determined fashion we end up on the better side of the ontological/epistemological divide, which is to say, we can be (asymptotically) equivocal about our descriptions. Prescriptions certainly remain, but they are only performatively sufficient. They help constitute our capacities to form mutual bodies of affect and thought, which are no less material bodies; and this is a prescription/epistemic which itself becomes re-inscribed, or understood as pre-positedly ontological: expressions of our powers to act, feel and be.

It seems that following Reid if we really want to theoretically grant, and then therefore work for in analysis and reason, the full dignity of extant human beings (and other things non-human), the full variety of Substanced expression must be embraced (with their sedimented values), we require a pre/post/human ontology (what Adrian called Prehistoric) that only Spinoza provided, one in which “objects” are ever transpierced by powers, knowing that “essence” projected onto some retreating screen/void, (or “singularity” bubbled up from morass, and stretched out onto a mathematical grid), is not the pragma foundation of the dignity of others. Ultimately dignity is composed of mutualities, mutualities which are bodies to be affectively and objectively made.

More on the Disavowal of Badiou – The Father Who Enjoys

 

I see that there are others noting the revolt against (or tiring of) Badiou. Complete Lies checks in with his non-believer transformative commitments toward Badiou as a possibility, Anodyne Lite counters with Laclau, and Larval Subjects (which I only now just read), finding that Badiou does not appreciate Levi’s mandatory (though inconsistent) application of epistemological and ontological distinctions (Levi at times makes this a most important distinction but then when faced with a Spinozist criticism that the epistemological must also be ontological, tends to retreat from the category). I post a nice passage here because it points up the problem with a fundamental epistemological/ontological divide. Discussing Badiou’s examination of Hubert Robert’s Bathing Pool:

Badiou claims that every object has an intensive degree that indexes its being-there or appearing in a world. To illustrate this thesis Badiou spends a tremendous amount of time analyzing Hubert Robert’s painting Bathing Pool (above). It is here, I think, that the difficulties of Badiou’s account of objects, from a realist standpoint, become clear. Badiou asserts, for example, that the columns to the left behind the foliage have a lower degree of intensity or being-there than those in the front. He makes similar observations about the women among the pillars compared to those bathing in the foreground and the statue to the right of the pool compared to the one on the left. These sorts of claims make me want to pull my hair out in frustration and ire. Such a thesis can only be epistemological and made from the standpoint of a viewing subject because the degree to which a being is or is not is an absolute binary such that it make not one bit of difference whether or not some appears intensely to us or not. From the realist standpoint something either is or is not, it is absolutely actual.

While I certainly agree with Levi’s notion that linking a degree-of-intensity (being there) to a perceiving subject carries with it all of the human-centric difficulties of a locked in Phenomenological world, one certainly cannot follow with the hair-pulling claim that Realism demands that “the degree to which a being is or is not is an absolute binary such that it make not one bit of difference whether or not some appears intensely to us or not”. I think I follow what this sentence means, yet indeed there is a long heritage of at least a kind of Realism that is founded upon things having degrees of Being (or degrees of Intensity) apart from any observer, and these degrees of Being are not “an absolute binary”. Starting from Plotinus (at the very least), and continuing on through a variety of panpsychic thinkers that culminate in Spinoza, there is a strong sense that things exist in their own right, in degrees of Being. A thinker like Spinoza wants to tell us what we ourselves fluctuate in our degrees of Being as our power to Act fluctuates (in a register of Pleasure). This the key to resolving the epistemic/ontological boundary that Levi has so much trouble orienting himself to. Things in themselves have degrees of Being which are measured by their capacity to affect or be affected, but also, our own degree of Being is expressed via our epistemic status, our ability to affect and be affected due to the adequacy of our ideas. Epistemology is Ontology.

Indeed the pillars in the back have a lower degree of Intensity/Being. But this reflects our own degree of Being, not necessarily theirs.

The Unmarked Font of Metaphysics and Truth: Helvetica and Belief

 

The Metaphysics of Fonts

My last post on the documentary Helvetica (2007) had me musing deeply today. Not only does one suddenly begin to notice fonts used in public signage, in omnipresent fashion that invokes thoughts of Ideology (a cultural perspective taken that must be taken for things to be seen clearly, coherently) – “No Parking” and “Please Clean Up After Your Dog” are two interpellative Helvetica commands I pleasingly read today, but one begins to think about metaphysics itself, the way in which metaphysics attempts lay hold of the very invisible, or largely unseen normative rules and restrictions which essentially condition our capacity to make sense of the world and others, as they are. In distinction from Ideology, Metaphysics is trans-historic, or aims to be. Can Helvetica and its largely ubiquitous, in-visible presence in Western Cultural centers of political command and commercial invitation, give us some clue or evidence towards bothMetaphysical aims, and Ideological functioning (with the understanding that Metaphysics and Ideology bear some relationship to each other)? And, in looking at the dominance of Helvetica, is there a metaphysical/epistemological position that may more coherently than others help us make sense just what is going on in Political imperative and Commercial invitation?

Now surely many others have written on Helvetica with far more erudition and historical knowledge, as the profound thoughts offered on the font by various designer/philosophers in the documentary reveal. These are merely the application of other thoughts I have thought in other contexts to the phenomena of Helvetica as social phenomena, as a point of musing. I have no special insight here, and would enjoy others bringing to my attention any studies/theories that would collaborate or counter my line of thinking.

What comes to mind though when one gazes at the clean, tailless, space-embraced lettering of Helvetica that in the 1950’s swept away so many inconcordant typefaces in both advertisements and eventually government documentation, is the fundamental distinction between the Marked and the Un-marked. An Un-marked element is one whose input or information passes relatively cleanly through it. It stands as clean of any distinction that would draw undue attention to its form (any sub-element that would be read as “marked” would direct the mind at least in part to the consideration of the making of the form itself, a looking into its own history which may or may not comment upon the substance of its report…to use an obvious example, drunken scrawl left from the night before might markedly direct one’s attention to suspicion about the accuracy (or alternately, inspiration) of the content.

The Marked and Un-Marked: Turning One’s Gaze

The concept of Marked and Un-Marked goes a very long way of giving us an epistemic, though non-essential, binary which may help explain why in Western Culture things like White and Non-White, or Male and Non-male, or Citizen and Non-citizen have such wide-spread and organizing determinations. The Un-marked allows information/content to pass rather cleanly through. The Marked causes us to pause, inspect and ultimately judge the worth of value of the report (and this rather inevitably seems to direct us to the bodily, affective realities of the Marked thing, ultimately viewing the report under an affective, imaginary register). Helvetica, as it’s cultural place has come to evolve and entrench itself in many modern, Political/Commercial, Western contexts, has become a near definitive Un-marked font. 

Now let me deviate for a moment so to pass back into metaphysics and an interesting disagreement that arose in succeeding generations in the mid 17th century, newly modern Dutch Republic. Descartes was all the rage, presenting to forward thinking persons of nearly every ilk, a remarkably clean, efficient, and decidedly mechanistic view of the world. As we all well know as inheritors of the Cartesian mindframe, the world was made up of two Substances, one of which was that of Extension, by which we could view everything as operating as a kind of machine of causes. The other was that of Soul, and the problem was in articulating how the one connected to the other. For Descartes, imbued with a Christian view of the world, a most required connective part was the Will (voluntas), a faculty of judgment with operated upon passive and effortless human perception and its ideas, actively assessing out from neutrality both those which were true, and those which were false. (In this neutrality, perhaps you get the first glimpse of where I am going as per the neutrality of Helvetica as a font.)

Descartes on the basic distinction between comprehension and assessment: 

“All that the intellect does is to enable me to perceive, without affirming or denying anything, the ideas which are subjects for possible judgments”

“That we have power.., to give or withhold our assent at will, is so evident that it must be counted among the first and most common notions that are innate in us”

But, perhaps the foremost Dutch commentator on Descartes in the next generation, the outcast Jew and microscope maker Baruch Spinoza, had a radically different correction to offer to Descartes’ idea of judgment.

The Elder, Truth

Though Truth and Falsehood bee Neare twins, yet Truth a little elder is.

–John Donne

Spinoza denied altogether the basic distinction between acts of comprehension and assessement, denying in fact the Cartesian freedom of Will. This is more than simply a perverse or subversive denial of free volitions as they seem to be to us most obviously. Rather it is part of a very different conception of Mind, and how it operates:

E2p49 – In the Mind there is no volition, or affirmation and negation, except that which the idea involves insofar as it is an idea.

Or, as James later will sum of Spinoza:

All propositions whether attributive or existential, are believed through the very fact of being conceived.

The above citations and framing of the question is drawn from one of the more interesting Spinoza-influenced articles I have read in my now growing years of reading Spinoza literature: “How Mental Systems Believe,” by Daniel T. Gilbert (Feb 1991, American Psychologist). [Click Here for Download]. The article covers the consequences of an elementary disagreement between Descartes and Spinoza, a forgotten disagreement. Gilbert argues that the loss of the disagreement has lead AI designers, who have largely inherited the Cartesian view of mind, to build cognitive models (at least up to the ’90s) on an unquestioned comprehension/assess distinction. This is how the author opens the essay, in the broadest of terms:

Everyone knows that understanding is one thing and believing is another, that people can consider ideas without considering them so, and that one must have an idea before one can determine its merit. “Everyone knows the difference… between supposing a proposition and acquiescing in its truth” (James, 1890, p. 283). Nonetheless, this article suggests that what everyone knows may be, at least in part, wrong. It will be argued that the comprehension and acceptance of ideas are not clearly separable psychological acts, but rather that comprehension includes acceptance of that which is comprehended.

The psychological tests the author appeals to in support of a Spinoza epistemology may very well have been superceded by others after it. I have not seen the direction of research that has followed. What is memorable about the article, and why I strongly recommend it, is that it helps to concretely explain a very fundamental difference in theory that may have quite lasting and rippling effects, not only across cognitive science, but also perhaps within social criticism, as I am attempting to draw forth in the example of the Helvetica font. It gives a sense how a rather arcane sounding distinction made in the 1600s may have a lasting effect on the powers of our present day descriptions.

The Library of Knowledges: Fiction and Non-Fiction

But let me press on. Gilbert by way of an expert analogy shows us just what the difference between a Cartesian and a Spinozist cognitive system is. He asks us to imagine a vast library into which new books are continually being introduced (generally, in the human mind perceptions and ideas). There are two main ways new books can be coded as fiction or non-fiction (true or false ideas), what he calls the “tagging system” of each…

Imagine a library of a few million volumes, of which only a small number are fiction. There are (at least) two reasonable methods by which one could tag the spines of books so that fiction could be distinguished from nonfiction at a glance. One method would be to paste a red tag on each volume of fiction and a blue tag on each volume of nonfiction. Another method would be to tag the fiction and leave the nonfiction untagged. Either of these systems would accomplish the goal of allowing a librarian to distinguish fiction from nonfiction without necessitating that he or she actually reread the book each time such a discrimination needed to be made.

It is only a mild oversimplification to say that Descartes considered the mind to be a library of ideas that used something akin to the red-blue tag system. A new book (new information) appeared in the library (was represented in the mind), its contents were read (assessed), and the book was then tagged (recoded or rerepresented)as either fiction (false) or nonfiction (true). New books unassessed ideas) lacked a tag, of course, and thus were not identifiable as either fiction or nonfiction until they had been read. Such new and unread books were “merely” represented in the library.

Spinoza, however, argued that the mind was more like a library that used a tagged-untagged system. In Spinoza’s view, books were represented before they were assessed; but because of the particular tagging system that was used to denote the outcome of that assessment, a new book that appeared without a tag looked exactly like a work of nonfiction. In a Spinozan library, a book’s spine always announced its contents; no book could be “merely” represented in the library, because the absence of a tag was itself informative (or misinformative) about the content of the book. Analogously, ideas whose truth had been ascertained through a rational assessment process were represented in the mind in precisely the same way as were ideas that had simply been comprehended; only ideas that were judged to be false were unaccepted, or given a special tag.

The author passes through a variety of comprehensive though anecdotal evidence that the Spinozistview is correct, credulity, initial correspondence of belief withcomprehension is supported by a child’s gullibility, which only latter grows discerning with experience and the suseptability to suggestion when persons are fatigued or purposivelytortured. (In fact it is with a view towards an economy of processing powers that Gilbert argues that the human mind evolved to believe first, and deny later.) Of interest for our examination of the font Helvetica is his solitation of marked and un-marked words, how the Un-marked term is conceptually more basic than its marked counterpart:

Unmarked terms are thought to describe operations that are more conceptually basic than their marked counterparts. The Spinozan hypothesis states that unacceptance is a more complex operation than is acceptance and, interestingly enough, the English words that indicate the acceptance of ideas are generally unmarked with respect to their antonyms. Thus, people speak of propositions as acceptable and unacceptable, but (unless one is a neologizing psychologist) not as rejectable and unrejectable. One’s statements may be true or untrue, but they may not be false and unfalse. People hope their ideas are correct, accurate, and credible rather than incorrect, inaccurate, and incredible, but they cannot grammatically wish to be unwrong. Indeed, people even speak of belief and disbelief more naturally than they speak of doubt and undoubt. To the extent that one’s words for mental processes do reveal something about the processes themselves, the structure of the English lexicon suggests (as did Spinoza, who wrote in Latin) that the rejection of false ideas is more complex than the acceptance of true ones.

For Gilbert, and I may well agree, there is an essential and operative binary here, in which initial embrace, belief-as-comprehension precedes the counterpart of negation. This allows him the conclusion that all sentences are coded as true until further critique is to be done on them. It is here that I want to depart from Gilbert’s paper which goes on to speak of experimental evidence for the Spinoza hypothesis (again, evidence that science may or may not have suprassed at this time). I want to turn to, in fact involve, this essential dichotomy of marked and unmarked to consider again the powers of the Helvetica font in our society.

 

The Powers of Helvetica

As I pointed out in my last post, there is much mystery about the lasting power of Helvetica, not to mention its strongly persuasive effects in both the political and the commercial realms. From the above description I feel it is safe to say that the sans-serif font Helvetica has come to be the Un-Marked font of both of these domains. And while it seems most likely that it would have been a sans-serif font that would become the un-marked term, there does seem something quite gridlike and balanced in the Helvetica that further enforces its unmarked status.

If we grasp Spinoza’s assertion plainly, we understand that the unmarked term/idea/concept/sentence is the one already believed in its very comprehension, a belief that might be equated to the powers or failings of children. When we read Helvetica, we partake not only in a certain kind of neutrality, but it is a neutrality of affirmation. What is printed in Helvetica by its very form is already a form of belief, we can say. And certainly there are other fonts in other conditions which are the unmarked form, for instance the serif Times New Roman is the glassy clear in textbooks or newspaper publications. Yet, Helvetica, as it stands towards all other fonts which we experience, perhaps because of its dominance of the most significant organizing spheres of our persons (political and commercial power), is Un-marked beyond all.

So, is Helveticaa kind of metaphysical font, a communication of the very weft and woof of perceptions, beliefs and truths? I think we can contingently go in this direction. Wittgenstein in his rejection of metaphysical speculation wanted to turn the most mysterious seeming statements like “All rods have a length” (withsome reference to Kant), into simple grammatical statements. The great truths of philosophy are just sentences which show how we use words, with nothing profound beneath them. For instance “All rods have length” just shows us how we use the words “rod” and “length” and no amount of experience withrods and length will give us evidence to falsify the claim. Grammatical statements are those which cannot be negated, not for mysterious reasons, but because negating them would end up producing nonsense.

As an appreciator of Spinoza you can tell that I cannot fully embrace Wittgenstein’s position, but it does do something to reveal the nature of Helvetica commands or invitations for purchase. In a sense, Helvetica has become the aesthetic manifestation of something close to the Grammatical Statement. Not only as an Un-marked form of a dominant sphere of social organization, and as such by default believed, the form itself induces a Grammatical Statement like bind wherein one can only deny the truth of the belief at some cost of coherence. The truth of the Helvetica-expressed idea, at least at this point in time, has a lasting, affective ballast, which I believe remains even after its negation or disbelief. Contingently a Helvetica expression may be false, but coherently it is true. In our society this is the two pronged force of the Law, and I believe it is Spinoza’s Marked and Un-marked conception of the Mind that points us to this realization.

It remains to be decided just how ideological and how metaphysical these effects are. That is to say, Do the powers of Helvetica participate in, not just historically contingent hegemonic organizations of persons and affects, but also within a more profound potentia  of belief? When Spinoza laid out his claim against the foremost philosopher of his Age, denying a fundamental freedom of the Will, grounding comprehension and perception itself in belief itself, he saw all belief to be an activity, an affirmation of one’s body in a very real and concrete sense. When we perceive we affirm our flesh under a certain degree of power. And we are only made more free through making more powerful affirmations of ourselves. If this is so, the very Un-marked clarity of Helvetica points a kind of absolute relation, a stream of power unto which we are forever orienting ourselves. And it is up to us to separate out our imaginary relations that for instance impell us to buy The Gap clothing out of its very Helvetic form, and the absolute value of the Un-marked itself. Or, to put it another way, we must see that Un-marked categories/terms/concepts/forms are not just devices of control, but also powers that derive their potency from a greater univocality. And it is the Marked term, in all of its developmental and expressive quality, that causes us to realize this.  

What we recall is that these issues and determinations are not those of armchair philosophies, of rare disciplines or their categories, but the very lived realities of experiential Marked and Un-marked Reals. Helvetica speaks metaphysical truths. And we daily read it. This makes room for both the grasp of and resisitance to, Helvetica.

Masciandaro’s Splendoring

Medievalist Nicola Masciandaro’s eclectic and thought-provoking weblog, The Whim, has a recent entry on the concept of “Splendering”, or Spectacular intimacy. His entry calls to mind both my thoughts on Plotinus’s analogies of light The Cone of Plotinus: Ontologies of Profusion and Particularization, as he tells us to look-with, sunorãn, the light, and not at the things lit, and also my current attempts in establishing a Spinozist/Davidsonian epistemological modeling of a panpsychist world: the way in which we necessarily, logically, biologically, turn to others to view the world. How can one resist evocations of Dante as guide? 

SPECTACULAR INTIMACY, or, the brightness of light becoming itself. Splendor is not a quality, but the condition of the overcoming of quality. It is not something seen, but the visible approach of the place where seeing becomes the seen. “In this state of absorbed contemplation there is no longer question of holding an object: the vision is continuous so that seeing and seen are one thing; object and act of vision have become identical; of all that until then filled the eye no memory remains. . . . the vision floods the eyes with light, but it is not a light showing some other object, the light is itself the vision.” Syntactically, the line temporalizes splendor, traces the becoming substantial of the relation between seeing and seen as a time delay within their distinction. Suspended in this light-filled air, can I say what splendor is? Luckily Dante, being one who breathes love back into philology (the exhale of his taking note when love inspires), is here to help.[iii]Commenting on the descent of divine power as sight (In lei discende la virtù divina / sì come face in angelo, che ‘l vede), he explains splendor via Avicenna as not only reflected light, but the visible/visual becoming of a thing toward the virtue shining on it. Seeing is not simply splendor’s external measuring tool, but the very efficiency of its cause. To see someone’s splendor, to experience how she shines, is to witness her becoming like what she sees and thus belong by parallel process to her being. (the rest, including footnotes…)

I have just begun looking at the blog, but look forward to future posts there.

Google Flu Diagnosis: Clustered atomization of Symptoms

“Ginsberg and Mohebbi explain that Google’s “model tries to filter out search queries that are more likely associated with topical searches rather than searches by those who may be experiencing symptoms.” Thus the spike shown in the graph [April 19 - 25] on the Experimental Flu Trends for Mexico Web page should correlate with actual flu activity rather than searches prompted by worry.”

Information Week

Google has made available “for the world” the search data that surrounds the outbreak of the dreaded, humanity-threatening Mexican Swine Flu (otherwise named), part of a contribution announced last November. This particular flu brings together the vast confluence of expressive connectivity which marks out our world village of intimacies. News programs post updates of great theatre, practically begging for a disaster so as to ensure rating spikes (symptoms = ratings), as the “conception” of the disease spreads like ideological wildfire; while the actually flu, yet very deadly, alerts us to how physically proximate we truly are, as transmissions body to body, leap borders, cross classes, and trace the planet. Despite its model filters, Google brings these two phenomena, the conception of “flu” and its symptomology, as “real time” data for related searches are expressed in mappings that seem to photograph both mind and body as “real” as silver halides suspended in gelatin catch the light from our loved ones. The idea is that Goggle has been able to in some sense literally see the flu spreading in the way that one might be able to see a frost spreading from space, as people becomes sick, become concerned and search for their symptoms on the internet.

Besides the connectivity issues – the laminates of activity layered in epistemological sedimentation that create our pictures of what IS – how does this new diagnostic, modeling tool of Google impinge upon or  free us? When we Google anything, it is intriguing to think that we are entering pixels of information into a vast reservoir of sociological data. Real time desires for information will be linked to public events with more precision that ever before, but as well, the neat pictures captured will likely in their very vividness obscure any number of excluding factors. The “picture” will shape who is represented, and policy towards them. Never before is it more important to Google, it seems. Of course, social monitoring, in particular under the metaphor of health concerns, carries its darkside.

The data-picture of the desire for information. What if we could “anonymously” record the time and place of every page turned in every book and pamphlet read in the Dutch Republic in the mid 1600’s? In France during the late 1700’s? What is this new picture of humanity? And, does not this mediation put mind and body into every greater proximity to each other (if we ever thought that that was possible), with greater speed than ever? As the notions of events, and events themselves race across braided to each other…

Davidson Fast and Loose With Conceptual Schemes?

 

Daniel over at SOH-Dan picks up on quote from an older post of mine, Spinoza, Davidson and Conceptual Dualism…Only Two?, and provides some interesting information. I had quoted from Davidson and Spinoza: Mind, Matter and Morality  (Floris van der Berg), an comment made by a Wittgensteinian:

Here I want to refer to my friend and former colleague at Warwick University Tim Thornton, a Wittgensteinian. He told me years ago that he never understood why Davidson was a conceptual dualist. Why stop at two conceptual spheres or modes of description? Why is the distinction between the mental and the physical so much more compelling than any other way that we can think of to describe the world? Would it not be sensible to say that all situations can, in some way, be described as moral? Tim Thornton thought that conceptual pluralism made more, Wittgensteinian, sense. (footnote, p. 27,)

This has bearing of course on any Davidson/Spinoza connection we might foster, so it is of interest that Daniel reports that in Stuart Hampshire “Davidson in Conversation” recordings, Davidson actually quite easily speaks of other conceptual, irreducible frameworks. And Daniel is even kind enough to provide us with an extensive quote from the hard to find material:

I certainly think that we have more than two ways of conceiving reality. I often sound as if I think there are just two, natural science and psychology or something, but, no, there are a lot of natural sciences, and they have different ways of describing things, perhaps irreducibly different…. I don’t know how you’d count potential conceptual schemes, so I don’t see that one should boggle at them [like Spinoza did].

There are some worthwhile exchanges in the comments section, and we certainly see that Davidson has different sense of conceptual scheme than Spinoza had of Attributes (hence where Spinoza “boggles”, Davidson merely muses). More compelling than this is that we touch on the morality issue. Thornton notably points out that all situations might be said to be described morally. Daniel and I both agree that there is a moral or ethical component already buried within Davidson’s notion of psychology. And this is precisely where I find the strongest Davidson/Spinoza connection, the way that mental states as coherent and epistemic expressions necessarily carry with them a triangulating and thus charitable force. My suspicion has been that Spinoza buries in the category of the conatus the traditional Augustinian third form of “amare” (esse, nosse, amare: natural, rational, moral) also expressed as “will”, a third Attribute. The implicate presence of the moral/ethical within Davidson’s and Spinoza’s monism is something that I think Thornton importantly, if accidentally, does touch on.

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