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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.

Harman Wants to Know: How Does Lovecraft “Get Away with Racism?”

Graham Harman posts a beautifully if excessively written passage wherein Lovecraft seems to “get away with racism” at least in Harman’s eyes. He is mystified it seems why Lovecraft can write such things and remain largely innocent of the charge, but if Heidegger had written something of the same rather than the comparatively tame remarks he made, just think how vilified he would be:

In this case I think it’s fairly easy to see why we let Lovecraft get away with it… It’s the same sort of viscerally cosmic disgust toward foreign creatures that made his life’s work possible. If he were a philosopher we would be shocked at these words. (Imagine if Heidegger had written them in a letter during his Rectoral period.) Even if he were a musician or actor writing these words I think we’d be shocked. And finally, we’d be far more shocked if he were a writer working in a different genre- imagine Henry James writing those words, for instance, or T.S. Eliot. The effect would be far more sinister. To say nothing of finding the same words in Mein Kampf. But when it’s Lovecraft we just feel like he’s gearing himself up for Cthulhu and the fungoid crabs from Pluto, and he more or less gets a free pass.

The very framing of the question at first blush seems odd, as if we would all like to “get away with racism” but only Lovecraft gets to enjoy the pleasure of it (I think that there is some truth to this). Was it that Heidegger nearly got away with it, (if only he had allowed his former professor Husserl his library privileges)? Did Nietzsche get away with it with his poeticisms and hyperboles, not to mention his intellectual couchings? And what of Swift? I do not think that it is simply a question of profession or even genre but I can see that context does play its part in interpretation. I do think though that there is something to Graham Harman’s take on Lovecraft’s freedom as a freedom; there is a very real sense in which Lovecraft’s writerly abstraction of the “-Italo-Semitico-Mongoloid-” New York immigrant allows a certain deterritorialization of affects, the way that we can participate in them out and beyond their specific historical target, as he is naming or invoking the very essence of immigrative forces, the excesses of the organic: as Harman quotes Lovecraft:

“The organic things -Italo-Semitico-Mongoloid- inhabiting that awful cesspool could not by any stretch of the imagination be call’d human. They were monstrous and nebulous adumbrations of the pithecanthropoid and amoebal; vaguely moulded from some stinking viscous slime of earth’s corruption, and slithering and oozing in and on the filthy streets or in and out of windows and doorways in a fashion suggestive of nothing but infesting worms or deep-sea unnamabilities. They -or the degenerate gelatinous fermentation of which they were composed- seem’d to ooze, seep and trickle thro’ the gaping cracks in the horrible houses… and I thought of some avenue of Cyclopean and unwholesome vats, crammed to the vomiting-point with gangrenous vileness, and about to burst and innundate the world in one leprous cataclysm of semi-fluid rottenness.”

Getting Away with Affect-Language

Through the profusion of words and images, perhaps indicative of genre, we are invited to indulge, to travel. That is how he does it. But there is something further. Graham suspects that this exception, the way that Lovecraft is allowed to do what we can’t regularly do, is linked to the subject of “ethics”, a theory of ethics that he limps towards.

I don’t have a fully worked-out theory of the “getting away with” ethics, but I’m limping toward it, and do believe that it’s fairly fundamental to ethics somehow. We’re all allowed to break the rules at a few key points and no others, and those points probably tell us more about who we are than any other information we might give about ourselves.

It seems to me that Zizek has a very fine point on the ethical nature of the exception, when he tells us that it is not the laws that all agree upon that unite a community, but rather the exception taken, and joined in, to those laws. Yes, Thou Shalt Not Kill, we all agree, but we must kill “him” or “them;” or as he also puts it at a maximum “Liberty for all” becomes “Death to the enemies of Liberty”. Zizek contends that it is through our binding and shared guilt in the transgression of what we otherwise all agree to be universal prohibition that works as the glue to a community. There is a strong sense, even in the way that Graham phrases his question, that Lovecraft can be seen as allowing his reader to participate in the horror or revile of others, a kind of shared indulgence.  His priviledge becomes our privilege (Graham even rephrases and re-prints Lovecraft’s words for a second time, now hypothetically directed at the very Egyptians he protects from Flaubert’s literary encroachments. I have written on how Graham’s own richly poetic orientalisms of the exotic, in a sense, carry forth colonialist binarism, something Graham takes great exception to). There is not only the pleasure the words themselves, but also, I suspect, the pleasure of their reterritorialization, the way in which the excess can fall upon others without incrimination. Of course such de- and re-terriotorializations are the expertise of racism, as we can see in the merely humorous recent comic of the shot chimpanzee. Whether one “gets away with it” or not is, I suspect, not ultimately a question of genre, but of sensitivity and the historical construction of intent. Is there an indulgence in reprinting it here? Perhaps a painful one. This is the thing about metaphors, tropes, jokes, affect-rich language. They open the involuntary comprehension and collapse of meanings into regions we might not otherwise allow. If you simply “get” the joke, you participate in it. What makes affect-language the gateway for creative new worlds, makes it also the means by which we can unjustly concretize our fears/pleasures in reactionary forms, confirming older modes of perception.

How Do the Molten Centers of Objects Touch?

Graham Harman’s Vicarious Causation

Here is a proposed solution, a critique in sympathy, to Graham Harman’s attempt to connect the cut-off but dynamic inner-cores of objects to one another.

I have just read Graham’s “On Vicarious Causation” a marvelous, twisting essay found at his weblog, loaded with original terminology and imaginative construction; not easy to read for its painted universe in which assumption after assumption follow upon each other in a fantastically stacked argument, one in which every page a reader wants to cry out, “But wait, what about…” and yet finally has to relent and just let it carry its somewhat unsatisfying course. And finally, I see what he is trying to say/construct about causation. Enchanting but perhaps absurd.

Despite my many reservations the composite of it comes into view exposing a topography not at all very foreign to my own, so as I pull back I feel that I can glimpse something of an answer to the “unicorn” that Graham seeks, and additionally how his deeply thought distinctions help guide my own attempted synthesis of Campanella toward Spinoza and then post-post-modernity.

If I were to be general about it, Graham, because he is deeply influenced and carries over along with the terms much of Husserl’s Cartesian Idealism, is concerned with the traditional problem of how the inside of our minds connects with real objects out there (just what Descartes thought on); but because he wants a de-centered, non-human ontology of effects, he is at pains to find terms which graft the poetically powerful descriptions of our internal experiences onto a concrete and real, outer-object consubstantiality. (There is also the traditional Idealist question of “other minds” haunting his project.) He wants to drive down into the vivid distinctions we can make about our internal sensuous worlds, and somehow come up on the other side in such a way that what he is saying about human beings can be said, objectively, about all things, down to the merest speck of dust.

The problem of this, the hard current he swims against as far as I can see it, is Representation (the Idol of Idealism). One gets the feeling that if he can work himself free, off from this coat-hook, he might really find a way down through the worm-hole to the inside of objects, making a poetically rich and rigorously dynamic philosophy for the world.

This difficulty of Representation, which I will return to below, is further encased by Graham in a wonderful binary which not only preserves the difficulty, but also gives it its greatest facility. Pictured above we have the two halves of an affinity, or really a complementarity between the kinds of objects that Heidegger played with (on the left) and the kinds of objects Husserl enjoyed (on the right). Deep down in the Ur-Spring of his study Graham realized that these two, Heidegger’s tool-object and Husserl’s Intentional object in a way mirrored each other (something I argued in critique of an essentialized optical centrality metaphor that they shared). What Graham faces in his prospective theory is how to reconcilethesetwo primary and incompatible world objects such that the every day sense of the causal world that we experience remains intact, but even more richly described (such that the underbelly of its relations becomes exposed, as metaphysics). What Graham realizes is that if indeed we are trapped with the still Cartesian sphere of the mental (intention), yet insideour bodies, how is it that we come in contact with the outside “real” world.

Instead of taking an approach that undercuts the very problem itself, as many lines of philosophy have arisen to deal with what has been perceived as the Cartesian problematic, we should do as Graham does, and burrow in, to the heart of the difficulty, attempting to take on as many of the assumptions and terms as possible, and see if we can come out on the other side. If we assume a Husserlian-like zebra (on the right), and a retreating Heideggerian zebra (on the left), how is it that we can drive deeply enough into the one so as to reach the other – and, to do so in a way that our description fits neatly with what non-human zoas, and inanimate objects alike all do the same thing?

I think though, the place to begin is Representation. I have written a few times recently on the question of Representation vs. Signification ( Spinoza’s Notion of Inside and Outside: What is a Passion?; The Problem with Spinoza’s Panpsychism; The “ens reale” and the “ens rationalis”: Spelling Out Differences), and much of my reading will come out of the fullness of this distinction. But I think it can be granted that fundamentally Graham’s take of causation is on based on a Representationalist conception of mental activity. This no doubt comes from his Husserlian heritage. Consciousness is defined by its capacity to form a mental “object”  (its intentionality), and this object in some sense is taken to be a representation, a Re-Presentation as some emphasize, of the external, real world. Graham is not far from this at all, and in fact seems to be at least from the start, right in the mainstream of this scheme of mind. And this representation for Graham is called a “vicar” or a “deputy” (with satisfying poetic license that nicely undercuts any pretension to a psuedo-scientific language), someone of course represents someone or something else. The mental object, what is called here also the “sensuous object” comes to be used as something of a representative in the political sense, and one cannot help but think of him as some kind of bejeweled intercessor, some decadent of the Church (or at least I cannot help it). Graham allows us to think that the external object is in some sense projected into, crossing the external boundary of the object that is “you” (or a rabbit or a tree), and enters into this rich inner realm in a specular way. The language he uses is inordinately suggestive, and I think that this is a strength of his philosophy on causation, and key to what he is driving after. He does not want simply to explain, but evoke.

So when I see a zebra (we must begin with the ideal human exemplars of consciousness, he tells us), the zebra somehow enters into our private, richly embued world, as a vicar-zebra, a representative. As such it/he is a fantastical kind of creature under Graham’s description. It shares the same “perceptual space” as the effects that seem to cover it, a shimmering “encrustation” of “accidents”, all of which could change and yet the vicar who has come to interact with us would remain the same (he gives the Husserilian example of the angles of a chair). These accidents frost over this representation, swirling in a delightful way, but due to their sharing of a “space” they do not retreat from the essence, but rather are almost magnetically attracted to it, clusting about its unique essential gravity (at least that is how I read the evocations Graham provides). These faceted accidents are to be distinguished from the vicar’s “qualities,” things that if they did change might threated the coherence of vicaras this vicar, so really we have a stabilized essential representation that has come to us, in our private inner universe, and there is a halo of effects which circulate about it at varying degrees of essentialization, until we get down to a bare sensuous core object which is composed of this interaction of satellites and encrustations.

Something should be said about the meeting of this vicar within us. It is not clear to me whether we met the vicar through the proxy of our own inner vicar (let us say, Freud’s Ego), face to face in some kind of virtual pow wow, or if it is simply a question of the vicar of the zebra interfacing with the totality of my real object. It seems to be the case of the latter for Graham, for he calls this relation an “assymetrical confrontation,” a kind of hybrid object consisting of the real object that is me, and the deputized zebra within me, but then again, he insists that there is something particular about how the zebra-duputy object and “me” remain distinct, segmented, which connotes a sensuous separation:

“For in a first sense, I clearly do not fuse with the tree in a single massive lump; it remains distinct from me in the perception. This give the strange result that in my intention of the tree, we both inhabit the interior of the total intentional relation.” 

 As far as I can tell, there is a strange conflation of the “real object” me and the “sensuous object” me in the relation that Graham proposes, or at least he does not fully discuss status of the mechanism of this interaction. In a kind of inside-outing of the glove the vicarious object and the real me are folded into a composite third object, “the intention as whole,” a whole that itself forms a real object:

“The pine tree and I are separate objects are residing on the interior of a third: the intention as a whole…we have a real intention whose core is inhabited by a real me and a sensuous pine tree.”

In this inversion there are several potential problems here, especially for a philosophy that is looking to decenter human importance. Graham seems to privilege (or at least not problemize at all) the human Subject (“me”) as an unified whole object (qualifed as”real”), residing on the inside of an asymmetrical object, also real. Why this “me” is qualified as “real” and not sensuous in its own right, I cannot tell, other than it allows Graham to construct a meeting ground of two realms he would otherwise like to think of as wholly distinct (thus this “real” status of the “me” plays something of the role that Descartes’ hallowed pineal gland, where the two symmetries of Idealism’s twin realms “touch”, albeit still locked within a third object, “the intention as a whole”). At the very least this unproblemized “me” as unified object, and then this status of “me” as real object create openings for strong critical currents for this model of the world. (A further and perhaps quite compelling consequence of this looping is that if the intention-as-a-whole is itself a real object, and every real object also can have an intentionality, what would it mean for an “intention-as-a-whole” object to itself have an intention? Perhaps I missed it, but I do not see this obvious consequence of the terms addressed.)

But if we grant Graham this apparatus of an “asymmetrical confrontation” with the real object of the intention we can go further to explore. The difficulty Graham has with his own account is the explain just how, even given the touching of two different kinds of objects (the proxy zebra and the real “me”), how is it that the real zebra actually effects the real me (a traditional problem of Idealism). That is, even if the intention is indeed an asymmetrical combination of a real “me” and a vicar zebra, how ever does the real me interact effectively with the real zebra? What is the mechanism, the means? In the political world when I interact with various deputies of power there are real channels which connect me to those that the deputies that represent real authorities. And there seems to be something of this that Graham has in mind. He does not say it but there is the sense that because I am a citizen and thus can act vicariously in that legal world of rights and procedures, my “me” can connect to things that are not of my nature, for instance, as a citizen I can vote and thus register effects on the political process. Or, I can, represented by an attorney in court sue the legal aspect another person or corporate entity. This connectivity through what-you-are-not, representatively, is what seems to be beneath how Graham is imagining  the way that “real objects” connect. And one cannot help but feel that as such he beautifully sees them as burrowing under, wormholing to the insides of each other, leaving their real object exteriors untouching. I sue you in court, legal entity to legal entity, but our real objects never come in contact, or so it goes.

I think the poetics of this are fructifying, but there are some substantial conceptual barriers. So let us go further. In order to understand this worm-holing causation, a reaching into the inside of another object, one has to see the complementary notion of real and sensuous objects that Graham assumes. Sensuous objects are rich in connections which multiply across each other on the interior, though they do not fuse into a huge blob of phenomenal effects, they are “buffered” even in their interaction we are told. Real objects though, taken from a Heideggerian notion that Graham has excavated from the German Existentialist, are marked by a failure to interact with other objects. Unlike the senuous vicars within us, clustered about with accidents and qualities, the real objects that we engage with in the world retreat ever from their qualities and accidents, tumbling away from us. As we reach for a thing, a marble, an ice cube, a woman’s hand, it falls away from whatever surface interactions we bring about with it, a blackhole of a sort. Thus, the only way that we do actually engage with it is in a subterranean fashion, from within our border. In his descriptions he is much not all that concerned with the other sideof the relationship, if indeed we do bubble up on the other “inside” of the object or not, for he is much more concerned with the problem of how our insideconnects to the outside itself, the real object, thus a question of causation and not communication (two issues I take to be inter-dependent), although he uses metaphors of communication (signals) to describe what happens in “contact”. Graham seems to have an investment in an essentially “cut off” existentialism which creates real islands of objects, each a poetic micro universe, something he would not even come out of if he didn’t have to explain something as pressingly elemental as “causation”.

For this reason he speaks of the problem of causation mostly in terms of how real objects pierce the veil of our sensous inner worlds, as he beautifully puts it:

“We must discover how real objects poke through into the phenomenal realm, the only place where one relates to another. The various eruptions of real objects into sensuality lie buffered from immediate interaction. Something must happen on the sensuous plane to allow them to make contact, just as corrosive chemicals lie side by side in a bomb – separated by a thin film eaten away over time, or ruptured by distant signals.” 

Or, drawing on the burrowing metaphor, but neglecting just what happens on the other (in)side, in the hermetic quarantine:

“There is a constant meeting of assymetrical partners on the interior of some unified object: a real one meeting the senuousvicaror deputy of another. Causation occurs when these obstacles are some how broken or suspended. In seventeenth century terms, the side-by-sideproximityof real and sensual objects is merely the occasion for a connection between a real object inside the intensionandanother real object lying outside it. In this way shaves or freight tunnels are constructed between objects that otherwise remained quarantined in private vacuums.”

One can see this one-way vision of the problem in Graham’s notion that causation can occur in simply one direction. For instance in his recent lecture on DeLanda he talks of what he imagines happens when a semi truck slams into a mosquito at high speed. Presumably the truck sends a rather powerful vicar into the internal universe of the insect, but the insect sends noneat all into the sensuous realm of the truck, for Graham. It is a one way communication. The problem as it is set forth in Vicarious Causation really seems to be: How do we get outsideofour locked in realm of richly endowed vicars and deputies, how do we get outside of the videogame of our inner worlds?

Vital to this path is the realization that there must be a bond between my inner sensuous experiences and some outer really, i.e., I am not just existing in a solipism of phenomenal affects, the swirling of frosted objects and their accidents. There must be a “connection” (one of the five kinds of relations proposed: containment, contiguity, sincerity, connection, and none), and it is this “connection” that Graham is having difficulty explaining:

4. CONNECTION. The intention as a whole must arise from a real connection of real objects, albeit an indirect connection. After all, the other possible combinations yield entirely different results. Two sensual objects merely sit side by  side. And my sincere absorption with trees or windmills is merely the interior of the intention, not the unified intention itself. Hence, a real object itself is born from the connection of other real objects, through unknown vicarious means.

At this point I’m going to try to work myself free from the imposed restrictions in order to solve this fundamental barrier, while at the same time trying to preserve as much as possible the poetics of Graham Harman’s worm-holed connections between objects. The first thing to say is that part of how we constitute mental objects is that we not only perceive them as essences under this apparition or that, but we also perceive that a real object is actively causing our “vicar” to take on one aspect or other. That is, the zebra in our mind takes on a substantive coherence due to the implicitly causal relation it has to us, in a shared world. Events that happen to the real zebra could also happen to us, the real us. If a lion leaps out at the zebra who is on the grass plain that we share, we cringe and duck not only because there is a sympathy between us, but because we also could be attacked, and we understand that. This organizational triangulation between the real object out there, and our real object out there is consubstial the core of what sensemaking is. In other words, the “connection” that Graham is trying to find in the “jigsaw puzzle” of his terms and realms is woven into the essential animal natures of nearly all living things, the understanding that “that thing out there” is reporting in an informing way about the world because it is in some vitally important way “like us” (if only capable of being attacked by a lion). This at least goes for human beings to rodents, and should form a cornerstone of any conceptual attempt to bridge the connections between inside and outside, not to mention human to lower forms of life as mutual actors in the world.

In answer to this a fundamental and imaginary perception of causation is put forth by Spinoza in his principle of the “imitations of the affects,” upon which the social realm is founded. This principle may go a ways to enrich just what causation means to us and other things:

“If we imagine a thing like us, toward which we have had no affect, to be affected with some affect, we are thereby affected with a like affect” (EIIIp27) 

To this effect and additionally, this same triangulation of report, the way that we confer importance and coherence upon objects in the world (and one would say in the Harmanian sense, their vicars in our molten, cavernous worlds), is also put forth in terms of human beliefs and the translatabilty of others in Donald Davidson’s Principle of Charity and Triangulation of Three Knowledges, something I will return to below. Objects means something to us largely because they report or reflect back significant forces in the world which pertain to us. We might allow that such objects might retreat from us ultimately in the Heideggerian sense (tool-analysis) in a vaccuum packed vertigo of essence as absence, but our attraction to them, the particular way in which they do “allure” us, is not simply that they sparkle, but that they sparkle and shine with determinations which point us to other significant aspects of the world (there is a lion in the grass with us).

This voluminous factor of just what does “matter” about an object or a situation is utterly absent from Graham Harman’s hunt for the connection between our inner worlds and real objects, the very thing that helps constitute us as real objects in the first place. I sense that this is largely due to the Idealist, binary assumptions of his starting point, one which imprisoningly conceives of knowledge as some form of representation or reflection of the world, and thus, the epistemic problematic as how to connect these two world, spirit/matter, mind/body, and now for Graham, sensuous-object/real-object. What is needed is to break out of these splitting binaries, give up the imaginative algebras that wish to balance out both sides of the equation so that we can cancel out enough of the variables and end up with what “x” is. And the first step of this is to realize that other objects appeal to us, matter to us, due to a primary assumption of connection through veritable report, as cause: events in the world (lion’s leap) co-ordinate between that object over there (zebra) and this object over here (my body). The connection is implicit and necessary (though ever under revisement and interpretation)

But this is not to say that Graham’s architecture of metaphysics does not have profound possibilities for development in my view. For one, I find his fusion of the sensuous object and real “me” into a new real object “the intention as a whole” an instructive one. While I have been perplexed why, under the categories imposed, within the intention as a whole the “me” is a “real object” and not a vicarious representation of me, creating the asynmetry that Graham wants, I believe that asserting the real object status of this “me” interaction is the right step (leaving behind any notion of the Subect though). The reason for this is that by virtue of our internal relations, the “sensuous” realm, we make real-object changes in ourselves which alter our dynamic relations with the world. The things we think are actually real material changes in our bodies, and then consubstantially change our connections to other objects (it is this connection of the connection that Graham is after).

Here I would like to bring in another Spinoza concept that is well-fitted to the question so to use it as a launch point for a possible Harmanian solution. Spinoza too asserts an entirely privatized world of inner experience and affect, one in which we do not really know objects in the world directly, but only know events within ourself, what he calls the ideas of the affections of our bodies. If I know the gentleman Peter, it is really only that I know my body as it is in various states, under certain affections, one might say, only the vicar of Peter (but not a picture of Peter). What guides us from this hermetic realm of vicar Peter to powerful action in the world? There are two things that form Spinoza’s answer. The first is Joy or Pleasure. That is, we imagine things, we form the vicar of things driven by a guideline of what feels best. The real pleasure we are feeling, as even the simplest of organisms, is that which pushes us towards the real connections with world, and in fact for Spinoza constitutes a change in these connections. There is very little of this discussed in Graham’s treatment, but there is one way in which he touches on this aspect of guiding pleasure in the vital concept of “allure”. Allure is the thing, the aspect, that erupts out on the vicar so encrusted with accidents which separates out an otherwise inseparatable “quality” from the essence of the object.

“The separation between a sensual object and its quality can be termed ‘allure.’ This term pinpoints the bewitching emotional effect that often accompanies this event for humans, and also suggests the related term ‘allusion,’ since allure merely alludes to the object without making its inner life directly present. In the sensual realm, we encounter objects encrusted with noisy accidents and relations. We may also be explicitly aware of some of their essential qualities, though any such list merely transforms the qualities into something accident-like, and fails to give us the unified bond that makes the sensual thing a single thing. Instead, we need an experience in which the sensual object is severed from its joint unified quality, since this will point for the first time to a real object lying beneath the single quality on the surface.”

Here Graham is playing with the two aspects of allure: to seduce, and to allude. We are asethetically seduced, thrown forward in pleasure toward the “real object” (we realize a disjunction, and we do so through a connection). But for Spinoza, it is not just that Pleasure and Joy push us towards the connection, but also that such experiences also form real changes in our bodies. We are given to think this thought after that thought, this rather than that because we are actively affirming aspects of our own bodies (General Defitions of the Affects), affirmations which directly confer alterations in our degrees of power, Latourian changes in degrees of Being. I have great affinity for the linking of our ability to act in the world and be constituted as objects through the power of metaphor, being allured and alluding to something beyond; but something more than this has to be at play (and the very tenousness of Graham’s solution testifies to this). For a thinker like Spinoza there are two kinds of improvements in the capacity to act. There are the moment to moment fluctuations of pleasure and pain, random increases and decreases in connection (which may fall to the feet of good and bad metaphors or jokes for Graham), a happenstance fortune, but then there are the comprehensive increases in the capacity to act which come from possessing more adequate ideas about oneself and other things in the world – connecting and building on our knowledge of those connections. The speculative imaginations and interplay between vicars and deputies all frosted over with gems or patinas of an inner world, a comes-and-goessea of rich affections, is also supplimented by a fabric of operative cohesion, the way in which we can systematically and bodily combine with other objects forming more powerful living wholes.

Containment: The Closed Loop of Mental Acts

In this way the principle of containment that Graham puts forth is an embodiment of Spinoza’s parallel postulate, that all our material constructions are also mental ones:

1. CONTAINMENT. The intention as a whole contains both the real me and the sensual tree.

As I pass from thought to thought, affirming one aspect of my body or another, giving me more or less reality than before, the “containment” of the sensuous vicar within me is simply the vectorization of the real ontological change that occurs by virtue of my intentional shiftings. And these, though enriched by metaphorical allusions to object states beyond my inadequate pictures of them, are re-anchored, are given traction by the very mutuality of world, and the power of causal explanation in the first place. The vicars of my world are vivified through their expression of the matrix of my real interactions with the world (they stand not only in the place of the real object they supposedly represent, like a local priest does the Pope, but also stand for the constitutional relations which make up that object, beyond that object). In this sense, it is not just the allure of the separation of the quality of the whole, destabilizing the vicar, that leads us forward, but also the powerful signification of accidents themselves. For as Graham states of the accidents of a sensuous object, they have a “dual status”:

“Accidents alone have the dual status of belonging and not belonging to an object, like streamers on a maypole, or jewels on a houka. Accidents are tempting hooks protruding from the sensual object, allowing it the chance to connect with others and thereby fuse two into one.”

But accidents do not simply happen, they point, they indicate. Their dual status directs us to connections and allows us to see that they are not accidents at all. The look of fear and tension that ripples across the body of the zebra is the vibrant, electric line which connects the lion mid-air to our own own selves, not to mention the vivacity of the grass plain. It is through the accident that we realize that we are already composed as a multi-object in which the accident was no accident at all, but an indication. So when Graham lays down the very reach of what his conclusion can provide, the suggestive depths of the object exposed by allure:

“The key to vicarious causation is that two objects must somehow touch without touching. In the case of the sensuous realm, this happens when I the intentional agent serve as vicarious cause for the fusion of multiple sensual objects: a fusion that remains only partial, encrusted with residue accidents. But in the case of real objects, the only way to touch a real one without touching it is through allure. Only here do we escape the deadlock of merely rolling in the perfumes of sensual things, and encounter qualities belonging to a distant signaling thing rather than a carnally present one. The only way to bring real objects into the sensuous sphere is to reconfigure sensual objects in such a way that they no longer fuse into a new one, as parts into a whole, but rather become animated by allusion to a deeper power lying beyond: a real object.”

what is not grasped hold of firlmly enough is the positive bodily assemblage of our bodies with other bodies that is continously going on through an essential perception of causation and reflectional report. If it is true that other real objects indeed retreat ever away from their qualities, and that allure and accidents to the essence of internal vicars constantly destablize our mental objects, this only provides a base ground of a much more conscienable construction of our bodies as affectively in combination. The retreat of other object/bodies provides the occasion for our mutual co-construction.

Campanella: To Know is to Be

It is here that I would like to introduce Campanella’s golden contribution to modern epistemology, a principle that has been long excluded from having influence. To know something, Campanella tells us, is to become it…literally  to become it. What is happy about Graham Harman’s reclamation of the word “essence,” rescued from its various deconstructions, is that it puts us back in touch which Late Renaissance and Late Scholastic thought which worked imaginatively and constructively with the concept. And although I have complained that Graham’s operation from pure Idealist and Representationalist assumptions, it is his embrace of the concept of “essence” that reanimates the possible importance of Campanella’s thought. In fact, his wonderfully designed “asymmetrical confrontation” between the sensuous object and the real me in a new “whole intentionality” comes very close to Campanella’s notion that we indeed, when we come to know something actually are transformed into it. In Graham’s version we are transformed into a hyper-object which is constituted of a real “me” and the sensuous vicar of another object. 

Let me present a few select quotations which include the presentation of the idea so as to give some occasion for a comparison:

“cognoscere est esse” – “Everything knows itself to be, is contrary to non-being, and loves itself. Therefore, everything knows itself through itself, and it knows other things not through itself, but inasmuch as it becomes similar to them. This similarity is so great that one thing perceives other things by perceiving itself changed into, and made, the other things, which are not what it is itself.”

- Del Senso pp. 83-4

So then with sensation [sensatio] would be assimilation, and all knowledge [cognition] is possible because of the fact that the knowing essence of a thing becomes [facio] the object to be known. Having become the object itself, it knows it perfectly, for it already is the object, therefore to know is to be; therefore anything that is multiple, the multiple knows, and what is few, few.

- Met., II, 6, 8, 1, p. 59a

“I admit that in all created things such a reflexive knowledge [of the soul], as well as the knowledge [that the soul has] of other beings, is only an accident. It comes from the outside, and the intellect understands them [i.e. other beings] insofaras it knows itself changed into, and made, them. But as far as the essential and original knowledge of one’s self is concerned, I firmly hold with Augustine that the intellect, in its act of understanding, does not differ in any way from the object of its understanding.”

- Met. II, 6, 6, 9, p. 36b

There are a few immediate challenges of vision to Graham Harman’s two-kinds-of-objectsworld, at least in terms of the direction of thought. The first is that Campanella’s process of assimilation seems to run at cross current to the Heideggerian idea of objects forever in retreat from their qualities. Instead of a world where real things tumble back into an infinite depth, human beings (and for Campanella all things) instead actively combine with and literally become the things that they come to know. Their entity is transformed into the entity of other things, thus in some sense their essence into those essences. But while this process of ontological transformation seems quite alien to Graham’s Heideggerian absences, there does seem some affinity to Graham’s inner-world sensuous/real object combinations through whole intention. At the very least we combine with and become in composite the vicars of other things, and thus to some degree with other things. In fact, I think that Graham and Campanella are saying very similar things when they talk about the creation of a change, a new intentional object. Like Graham, Campanella asserts a distinctness between oneself and what one has come to be (called by Campanella the difference between “innate” knowledge of one’s essence and “illate” knowledge of other things, including oneself reflexively), but this does not foreclose genuine transformation, the way that I combine through self-tranformation. But contrary to the difficulty of an unbridgable chasm between one’s own object and other object (how does the real touch the real), this new composite transformation, the assimilation, has genuine powers of awareness of its own, a new essence if you will. One has already become the object under contemplation and is already perceiving the world through its horizon. The separation between real objects thus in Campanella is lapped over.

Commentators have been confused by the seeming contradictions in Campanella’s metaphysics of assimulative becoming. How can one remain oneself, an essence with innate knowledge, and yet be transformed into a new thing, accidentally, forming illate knowledge, a transformation which itself has perfect knowledge. The answer to this contradiction I believe in part lies within just Graham’s own composite object he calls “the intention as a whole”. But also in part in the Spinoza advisement that such an intention-as-a-wholeis itself a real change in reality in relation to all other things. Its very affectures vectorize in real connections to other real things, and this vectorization expresseses itself in both the organisms experiences of Joy and Sadness, and in real world capacities to act. The reason why this is so is that the human boundary (or the human Subject) provides no priority of boundary in the world. It is always cross-cut and in combination with other bodies/objects with which it is in assimilation. Campanella’s view is one of expansive corporation, given the ground that each thing is already part of one great animal existence, the animal of the world.

An illustration may suffice. Instead of Heidegger’s hammer, let us speak of the surfer and his wave (the same dynamics occasion themselves). When surfing a wave to talk of the essence of the wave which is forever in retreat from its qualities is superfluous of the act. In the act, even to speak of the absolute separation of the surfer and the wave does not realy help, for, in a certain regard the surfer and the wave have become one thing, expressing mutually a series of dynamic forces. To put it in Harmanian terms, the real object of the surfer has combined through its intention with the vicar of the wave which is clustered with various accidents and qualities such that these deputized effects produce a new object real surfer/sensuous wave. I sugggest that the example shows what disservice the model does to actual human interfaces with the world. It is much more that the surfer has entered into and become the wave, been transformed into its entity to the degree that it is now reading the world beyond their combination through what Graham would otherwise call its accidents. In fact though the surfer does not likely have the object of the wave at all in his/her mind, but rather is concentrated solely on the patternings of these accidents, their readable, expressive rhythms and force which do not really constitute an object of their own. These “accidents” instead express the dynamic relations within the mutual object wave/surfer/board such that a relative stability and forward progressing vector is sought. They are internal to that kind of object, where the boundary of where one is, and through what one is reading (a limit of the board, one’s toes, one’s hamstring strength, a counter current tugging of the wave form, whitewater upsurge) is ever under negotiation, passing in and out.

This readability through other objects as also actively engaged in the world, and our ability to combine with them in telling, epistemic assemblages (harkening back to Spinoza’s notion of the imaginative imitation of the affects which grounds the social) points not only to the revelatory capacity of objects as they necessarily express their own interiors (making pale the significance of a Heideggerian retreat), but also points to the very insufficiency of the notion of “sensuous object” itself. Last night I was laying in the dark and listening to my cat purr in the dark. My mental activity was not composed of “listening to an accident of my cat’s essence” and the purr itself did not constitute own object (for it had no accidents or qualities that I held in juxtaposition), I simply was traveling along with the sound, riding out on its cadence. This turns our eye back to a criticism with which I opened this post, the idea of Representation as the exemplar of mental activity. As I have criticized elsewhere, this object-orientation of Graham’s grows from an Idealist rooting, Husserl’s outright Cartesianism, a philosophical assumption I call Central Clarity Consciousness [ Downunder: Central Clarity Consciousness (CCC) ]. Out of the presumption that intentionality is essentially the creation of a representing object comes Graham’s thinking of the vicar of some external, real thing. The true difficulty though comes in Graham’s ambition to work his metaphysical priniciples down out of the human world and end up with a world in which human actors, or even biotic actors are not the only things which have standing. If Graham would have stayed simply in the human realm he would perhaps be satisfied with something like Kant’s Idealism. But he does not:

Whereas Kant’s distinction is something endured by humans alone, I hold that one billiard ball hides from another no less than the ball-in-itself hides from humans. When a hailstorm smashes vineyards or sends waves through a pond, these relations are just as worthy of philosophy as the unceasing dispute over the chasm or non-chasm between being and thought.

The mental activity that cuts human beings off from all other objects is not to be something which only human beings are burdened with. All objects suffer from this original sin of “hiding essences”. The entire universe is alienated from all of its other parts, and the only problem is the problem of “caustion” (wherein clearly we see that the entire Universe is actually in some sense connected to the rest of itself). In this way has simply taken the chasm between human beings and all things and distributed it down through the layers of animation. And has set up for himself not only the difficulty of describing the connection between human beings and other objects (a connection which he can only allude to), but then takes this difficulty of connection down into the depths of all objects, inanimate or otherwise. How can we be generous enough notto say that Graham has begun with a simple problem, an essential conception of knowledge as representation, and then multiplied it to near infinity. Well, the answer seems lies in the obverse of Graham’s chasm, that things (and human beings) are already connected, and that the nature of this connection is key to understanding just what mental activity is. If we are to have a post-human, de-centered philosophy which does not privilege human “access” to the world, we really must let go of the notion that mental activity itself, even human mental activity, is not essentially a question of representation, and thus not certainly a question of “object”. What this does to Graham’s project I cannot tell, but if one does not make this move, one is forced to answer such questions as, “What does it mean for a oak desk to hold the ‘vicar’ of the fountain pen that lies upon it?” or, “How does a tree ‘represent’ the breeze to itself?” or “What composes the ‘accidents’ of the ‘deputy’ of my person in the rag doll I am holding?” As long as we confine ourselves to a primary notion of inner, senuous objects which either do or do not match up with external real objects we are forced to an incredible projection into depths of all kinds of inanimate materials in which there seems to be no means of giving them conceptual anchorage. Unless one pulls back into the Idealist human-centered world of Kant or Husserl or Hegel, it seems one has to give up the notion of object as representation altogether.

The Sincerity of Objects

Graham is not numb to this problem, and in his essay on vicarious causation seeks to overcome it. And he does so in an admirable way in the notion of “Sincerity”. Sincerity is the Harmanian word for Intentionality, and it is through sincerity that Graham hopes to sink the human experience of objects down into the animal world, and hopefully down into the abiotic world of material inanimate things. He defines sincerity variously, but generally as a kind of directed absorbtion, at the categorical minimum of the contact between a real object and a sensuous one (instantiating his own terms in a near defintional circle):

“For our purposes, intentionality means sincerity. My life is absorbed at any moment with a limited range of thoughts and perceptions. While it is tempting to confuse such absorption with ‘conscious
awareness,’ we need to focus on the most rudimentary meaning of sincerity: contact between a real object and a sensual one.”

I am not clear at all how “sincerity,” as it is defined as asymmetrical touching differs from “conscious awareness” for Graham, but perhaps this attempted distinction is an artifact of Graham’s resistance to panpsychism. Generally though, sincerity is a projection of human experience, marked by the expense of energy in some kind of directed attention:

 

3. SINCERITY. At this very moment I am absorbed or fascinated by the sensual tree, even if my attitude toward it is utterly cynical and manipulative. I do not contain the sensual tree, because this is the role of the unified intention that provides the theater of my sincerity without being identical to it. And I am not merely contiguous with the tree, because it does in fact touch me in such a way as to fill up my life. I expend my energy in taking the tree seriously, whereas the sensual tree cannot return the favor, since it is nothing real.

 

The question is, just how far down can the concept of sincerity go on the biotic and inanimate ladder. Is it robust and facile enough a concept to travel far enough so as to grant full nobility to (and thus also explain) the mechanism of causation of even the simplest actors in the world. In my “The Problem with Spinoza’s Panpsychism” I speak of the difficulties of reading the prospectively panpsychic actions within the most inert objects, and there seek to define these internal events semiotically, that is, as horizon-defined indications. So when there is a causal effect upon a body, events within that body perform a kind of double duty. They mutually signify actions within the horizon of the body, but also these events can be read as directed to (or the result of) external events. Do we have the barefaced minimum of Graham’s asymmetry of contact at the simplest level? Would a body defined by its horizon of closure (by Spinoza imagined to be either a ratio of motion and rest, or a pressed together layer of parts) constitute both a real object, and events within it also possess a “sincerity” of directed re-action, what Graham calls the sensuous object? There seems to be some traction here, but still the concept of internal object tugs against the grain.

This traction is not without consequence for when Graham considers the ultimate question of where or how the connection occurs, he idntifies it as sincerity, the directed expenditure of energy, that  must be the site of the answer:

This must be the site of change in the world. A real object resides in the core of an intention, pressed up
against numerous sensual ones. Somehow, it pierces their colored mists and connects with a real object already in the vicinity but buffered from direct contact. If light can be shed on this mechanism, the nature of the other four types of relation may be clarified as well.

But right here at the cusp of the inanimate Graham draws back from the potential sufficiency of this dynamic, for he finds in the human realm the allure of the aforementioned “allure,” turning to how metaphor breaks down the whole of senuous objects in a liberating sense, allowing the real object of the human being to “poke through” its senuous veil and reach the distant signals of other real things. This is a tremendously poetic and beautiful description and full of potential analysis of the relationship between metaphor, image and thought (reminding us of Nietzsche’s essay“On Truth and Lie in the Extramoral Sense”) But while we may make epistemic inroads to internal events of tennis balls, goldfish bowls and airport tarmacs using the widest notion of “sincerity” one finds it quite conceptually unlikely that the same could be said of some concept of “metaphor”.

The reason for this is obvious, and already mentioned. Mental activity, especially the breadth of which that Graham would like to populate the world, simply cannot be characterized by “objecthood,” certainly not sensuous objects of the kind that their “quality of being a whole” which metaphorical allure works to disrupt is an essential character. Here lies the poisoned pawn of Central Clarity Conciousness (CCC), an assumption which will drive Graham’s actor-theory ever back toward the realm of linguistically endowed human beings. Further complicating the issue is that Graham would like to link the disruptions of our essential objects via “allure” to the very mechanism of causation itself. As he describes them, such disruptions almost waken us from our dream of swirling, wind-blown, Lucy-In-The-Sky-of-Diamonds, accidents and strangely buffered objects, to the jutting through of the signals from afar which produce real causation. Just how does Graham see this happening? How do the metaphorical increases of connection between our own internal sensuous objects bring contact with other external objects?:

“….just as two sensual objects are vicariously linked by a real one, two real objects must be vicariously linked by a sensual one. I make contact with another  object, not through impossible contact with its interior life, but only by brushing its surface in such a manner as to bring its inner life into play. Just as only the opposite poles of magnets make contact, and just as the opposite sexes alone are fertile, it is also the case that two objects of the same type do not directly touch one another.”

By bringing about the linking of sensuous objects in our own mental life, we so to speak stir the inside of other objects so as to inspire (I can think of no better word) internal connections of other objects which would result in causation…real contact. How a bullet seduces  our bodies unto death only brushing our surface.

But what a fantastic theory. If we are to augment it to allow it to cover something more than even only a portion of human articulation we are going to have to unchain it from its object-hood bonds. When I chop at a piece of wood with my axe, I am not “brushing its surface” so as to nudge it into a metaphorizing  allurement action which then opens it up to the possibility to being cleaved in two. Even as lovely a conception this might be, there simply is not enough argumentative ligature to make it remotely hold as an explanation. If indeed we want to maintain the worm-hole conception of causation of inside of object to object, as suggestive as a metaphorical theory of causation is, we are going to have to turn to a much more polyvalent conception of internal senuous event.

First of all, in a bit of digression, we have to admit that aside from the mental object orientedness that drives Graham’s philosophical position, we are really  subject to an infinity of causations continuously. We are being radiated by solar activity, drawn to the earth in gravitous fields, struck by photons that allow us to see, soundwaves allowing us to hear, just to name a bare few of millions upon millions of forces and effects. Even in the confines of a strictly human realm, to view causation as a kind of eruption in the veil of sensuous closure, a special event of allurement, one would have to admit that this is a regular and continous process. Further so, all objects would be undergoing such sincerity driven allurements at such an enormous rate that our bodies (and all bodies) would be semiotically ripping open at the seams. Such a picture would do much to destablize any real “me” object that Graham imagines founds my causal connections to the world. The sites of “sincerity” are everywhere.

But I would like to take up another aspect of Graham’s use of Sincerity and its rather obvious psychological and ethical freight. To call a directionality of an object “sincere” is not just to distinguish it from insincerity, for how can a rose garden be “insincere,” or a dog, as Wittgenstein would like to tell us. It is also to allude to the way in which the directionality of others, and not just human others, allows us to make powerful sense of the world. Because we can see the directionality of the zebra as it reacts to the leap of a lion, the surface evidence of the expenditure of energy in orientation, we too can make ourselves directional towards an important external event. The sincerity of one object links our sincerity to the world, so that the lion, the zebra and I all are sincerely focused and in a certain kind of agreement. Interestingly the same kind of psychological/ethical frieght is carried by another philosopher’s analytical term, Charity. Donald Davidson in his theory of the radical interpreation of others (human beings), argues that we can only make sense of their behaviors if we charitably grant that they are making the most sense possible (and that they are in some way sincere). We must assume the coherence of their thought in order to be able to interpret it. [Here is a fantastically performed ten minute video explanation of the Principle of Charity, entertainingly argued if you have not seen it: Skeptism refuted in Under Ten Minutes]. I would argue that Graham has chosen just the right type of word when he is looking for what it is that reveals the mechanism of connection between sensuous and real objects. The coherent directedness of attention which marks sincerity is intimately related to the coherence of explanation which marks our charitable capacity to interpret others (even if others are lying, we locate their “lie” within a sincerely directed behavior of some kind, even if it be unconscious).

This leads us back to Campanella I believe, the way in which we literally become the things that we know. Our directed intentionality which for our purposes is not composed of objects, but merely of vectors of distinctions, directs us from within to the internal contact with other objects in such a way that we can literally feel because we are one new entity, their internal directedness. We have epistemically subsumed them, changing our own borders. In lived contact, as they are so directed, sincerely, by the order of their own internal coherence toward extra-horizon events, through our mutality of bodies we perceive through their sincerity with the world. In this way causation shoots through the entire assemblage and transformation, through the prosthetic becomings which extend our real bodies out to the furthest reaches of their terminus.

Descartes of all people (who may have been vastly misread as a Representationalist by the Idealist tradition that followed) gives us a very good example of such this kind of mutality of seeing in the figure of the blind man and his cane:

It sometimes doubtless happened to you, while walking in the night without a light through places which are a little difficult, that it became necessary to use a stick in order to guide yourself; and you have then been able to notice that you felt, through the medium of the stick, the diverse objects around you, and that you were even able to tell whether they were trees, or stones, or sand…(Treatise on Diotrics, first discourse)

…just as when the blind man of whom we have spoken above touches some object with his cane, it is certain that the objects do not transmit anything to him except that, by making his cane move in different ways according to their different inherent qualities, they likewise and in some way move the nerves of his hand, and then the places in his brain where the nerves originate. Thus his mind is caused to perceive as many different qualities in these bodies, as there are varieties in the movements that they cause in his brain…(fourth discourse)

Objects Without Sincerity

If we are to grant a sensuous relationship between a stick and its enviroment, then we must be able to say that the sincerity of a blind man’s directional attention is linked to, and signficantly knows the sincerity of the stick. In a very real sense the blind man has become his cane in knowing it. (Descartes uses this analogy to actually explain how vision works, as the rays of light which enter our eyes operate as a kind of prosthetic extension of the human body out into the world, something close in theory to a Semiotic Realism.) In this way, speaking of the cavernous retreat of the stick is a bit obscurant. Yes, the stick can break or fail and much of its reportability disabled, but because our perceptions are not object dominated, this can simply be read as a change of essence. In the end Graham’s essences of objects that fall back into vaccuums never reachable, hiding from every kind of eye, are simply objects without sincerity. And what are objects without sincerity? They are either the spectral creations of philosophers preoccupied with a CCC optical metaphor of what consciousness is, the sense that because what we think is primarily a visualization “parts” must hide, or it is merely the capacity of think of things as fundamentally distinct, made of difference, a groudwork for our own ability to make and distinguish differences.

What I propose, and I do realize that Graham could never accept this because the core inspiration of his philosophy is the matching inversion of objects accomplished by Husserl and Heidegger, one must keep sincerity by discarding the essentialization of mental activity into objects. Seeing them both as two kinds of objects, two sides of a coin, each locked away from each other simply exposes the fundamental problem of Idealism, a problem that Graham himself is locked within his philosophy when begining, rather creatively, with these ingredients. As mentioned above, if Graham were to remain within Idealism and its human-centric philosophy of access, there would be no problem with this at all. In fact he would have on his hands a beautiful, poetic ontology of animate metaphorization which would productively enrich human discriptions of themselves. The problem is that as we leave the capacities of human beings the very picture of mental activity as object representation with confined borders and bejeweling accidents breaks down (if it ever was sufficient in the first place, which I contend it was not). If we want to reach down into the authenticity of non-human and even abiotic actors and regard their own sincerities as actorly and also maintain a vigorous, vivid sense of what causation is, the illusive white shadow of un-sincere object essences as products of Representationalism must leave the stage. We can retain a strong sense of essence in the manner that Campanella and Spinoza discuss it, but this is under a process of self-transformation and assimilation (in terms of real contact, the assimilation goes both  ways!). We regularly and emphatically read the world through our embodiment of others, our prosthetic/cybernetic combination with others, divining the world, so to speak, through our sincere reading of their sincerities.

There is certainly more than enough room for Graham’s concept of Allure, the way that seeming accidents which are part of our patterned coherences and also not, the sparkle of something that catches our eye, the dark stain spreading inordinately. In fact I argue that our consciousness is not at all directed towards objects marked by their quality of wholeness, but rather is composed of the attention to allure itself. The pure center of attentive direction, of sincerity, is not an object, but a living line continually breaking open bringing the forces of coherence into play. Such allurement is not the condition for causation (for phsycial interactions is not mind-dependent), but rather the operation of dynamic coherence itself, that which makes a body a body, the way that it endures, seeking a homeostasis amid change. Thus I can embrace Graham’s praise for metaphor as means for productive connection; it is just not the only means for building the connection between objects or bodies [I discuss the possible place for metaphor in the otherwise taken to be unfriendly philosophy of Spinoza in these two posts: Spinoza’s Confusion of Ideas, and then, Metaphor ; Spinoza and the Metaphoric Rise of the Imagination ].  Metaphor, or detaching allurement, is simply not the only path to connection, and certainly not its precondition in the abiotic world. In this way we have to disagree with Graham’s ultimate conclusion that all causal events are founded upon an occasion of allurement, an allure that opens the door to causation:

The separation of a thing from its quality is no longer a local phenomenon of human experience, but instead is the root of all relations between real objects, including causal relations. In other words, allure belongs to ontology as a whole, not to the special metaphysics of animal perception. Relations between all real objects, including mindless chunks of dirt, occur only by means of some form of allusion.

We leave this conclusion as insufficient not because it is too poetic, but because it is not poetic enough, it does not touch at the heart and power of what poieõ, what “making”,  is. It does not go deep enough into the object nor the object’s composition, or the full embrace of sincerity driven down into the abiotic, non-representational levels.

Do I believe that in-animate objects can and do “read” the sincerity of other objects, and thus in some sense “become” them. I do. Air molecules that reverberate and carry a sound in some sense sincerely express their own directionality such that they read the sincerity of molecules near them. I do not include Graham’s notion that the outsides of these objects do not touch because really under these circumstances the borders of things is ever under dispute or change, and so the notion of “touching” or “contact” also is under revision. I do think though that his concept of asymmetry of intentionality, taken as a whole (I would simply prefer a horizoned direction) gives strong light to just what perplexing thing Campanella meant when he said “To know is to be” and that our entity is turned into the entity of another thing. What I would amend is that this assimilation is best seen as cybernetic/prosthetic, a communication of sincerities across bounds within new epistemic and still ontological horizons. It is not just that I am able to hear the distant signals of real objects through the veil of sensous ideas, poked through. Real power is simply not that isolative, not so pale. It is rather that my body is directly composed of such connections, the transferal of sense-making coherences, cause on cause, composed of in part my capacity to read the causal links and sincerities of others. And as a human being this consists of the very real ontological difference that causal explanation makes in my own person. If I know how something works, know it through its causes, my own capacity to act in the world  is also increased.

Related to this is something that Graham only slightly touches on in his essay, that there must be a real object on the other side of the connection otherwise it is not a connection at all. This is the important vector which distinguishes mere mental pro-fascinations from real changes in the capacity to act. If I were a racist I could be trapped in the various fantasies I generate about a particular person of color. What is it that disguishes these “sincerities” from genuine contact? This is vital distinction, one that cuts to the bone of real power in the world, but as far as I can tell it is not one that Graham wants to link to causation itself. This missing discernment is I believe related to Graham’s almost poetic notion that the real object of us is somehow always cut off from the effects of others, or that real connections are somehow mind-dependent. There is no sense from him that we are already causally bound to not only our environment and to others in such a way that our identification of the nature of these bounds is paramount in any path to greater activity or power. It is rather a philosophical picture, perhaps the picture of an artist, of how it is that I can get my isolated, cavernous, retreating self connected to the distant signals of other things. For this reason I suspect that the mechanisms for distingushing real contact from simple sincerity of attention is quite undeveloped in Graham’s theory of causation. Causation which in many normative descriptions of the world assumes a cornerstone placement if only as a barrier or limit one runs up against, in Graham’s approach becomes one of the very last things explained (and as yet remains so at least in terms of the inanimate). But this is important because we want to be able to distinguish between our mere fantasies about the world and others, and concrete possibilities of change. As such, in need  of such, we cannot simply turn to the allurement of accidents of essences, or a metaphorization of sensuous objects, for such imaginative creations on their own no more lead to an assured connection with the real objects we think we have before our Cartesian eyes.

If we are going to talk effectively about changes of power and activity in the world it is principally to the difference between a non-connective sincerity and a connective one, a difference which can only be thought of in terms of degree, for all sincerities  are connective to something I would contend (there are no brains in vats). I will leave the development of this aside, only to suggest that when we turn to what causation is, our approach to sincerity necessarily involves a charity which makes the sincerity of others readable, and if readable to any degree, inhabitable and transforming in the very real Campanella sense. Interpretation of others and the world is bodily assemblage in which what is internal to other things in some sense becomes internal to use, thus indeed, the molten centers of objects do touch.

[I want to say thank you to Graham Harman for providing one more latch-point for the thinking of Tommaso Campanella whose philosophy I seek to renew.]

The Súmbolon and the Gold Coin of Poetry

Súmbolon: A. tally, i.e. each of two halves or corresponding pieces of an ἀστράγαλος or other object, which two ξένοι, or any two contracting parties, broke between them, each party keeping one piece, in order to have proof of the identity of the presenter of the other (LSJ)

Some quotes from Nietzsche that I never tire of, and which work with the “eternal youth” of a metaphor. Written a year ago, but I nice follow up on yesterday’s musings on the wealth of philosophers.

“What is truth then? A mobile army of metaphors, metonomies, anthropomorphisms, in short a sum of human relations that are elevated, transmitted, beautified in a poetic or rhetoric manner, and that appear to the people after a long usage as fixed, canonical and binding: truths are illusions of which one has forgotten they are illusions, metaphors that are worn out and literally became powerless, coins that lost their images and are now metal and no longer coins.”

“On Truth and Lie in the Extramoral Sense,” Nietzsche

Once we realize that power is a function of assemblage, then the “reality” of the súmbolon, the breaking of the event into the cause and its effect in a particular way so as to constitute an individual identification, a particular kind of assemblage, then the objective “falseness” of that division becomes the articulation of a means of power, a power valued by the sphere that produced it. The cause and its effect become the fulcrum of the “real”, the hinge upon which material power is leveraged, but also becomes the “sign”, the signifier of the social bonds, the omen which marks what is “true”, and identifies the user of the “true” as authenticated. We see this when the bond between a particular cause its effect is questioned, – which is one of the primary focuses of philosophy – the entire world that can be equationed, exchanged between two, comes into doubt. The knucklebone halves no longer match up, we do not recognize each other, nor therefore the “realty” in which that recognition would take place. When possessed of the halves of bone that form the súmbolon, one either must find new ways in which the two halves fit together, so that the seamless whole appears to be restored, or if believing too heartily in the “fact” of one half, one must search for the other half that matches. What is lost perhaps is that the súmbolon  is negotiation, an agreed upon act, an entered into pact or game, depended upon the coherence of “facts” over time. It is the ground upon with all else becomes exchanged. The social dimension of the “explanation” makes of the súmbolon, the cause and its effect, a kind of coin, that at an established value is passed around in guarantee, which allows the formal production of power, in real, material means.

“What is a word? It is a copy in sound of a nerve stimulus”

“To begin with, a nerve stimulus is transferred into an image: first metaphor. The image, in turn, is imitated in a sound: second metaphor.”

“To begin with, a nerve stimulus is transferred into an image: first metaphor. The image, in turn, is imitated in a sound: second metaphor. And each time there is a complete overleaping of one sphere, right into the middle of an entirely new and different one.”

“On Truth and Lie in the Extra-moral Sense”

“[Valéry] contrasted the poetic word with the everyday use of language in a striking comparison that alludes to…the gold stanard: everyday language resembles small change which, like our own paper money, does not actually possess the power it symbolizes. The gold coins…on the other hand, actually possess as metal the value that was imprinted upon them. In a similar way, the language of poetry, is not a mere pointer that refers to something else, but like the gold coin, is what it represents”

“Philosophy and Poetry,” Gadamer

A related post, a theorization of Davidson and Vico: Davidson’s Razor, Vico’s Magnet

 

Spinoza on Admiratio (often translated as “Wonder”)

Is “Admiratio” the Wonder of Metaphors?

[Following on the last two posts which worked to establish a Spinozist favor for metaphor]

Below is a nice paper on some of the connections made in Spinoza’s renunciation of the centrality of “admiratio” and the inherent political consequences. Whereas Decartes made of wonder the first of the Affects, Spinoza refuses even to grant it Affect status, instead reading it as a kind of stalling of the mind. Any theoretical groundwork which would establish a Spinozist primacy for metaphor would have to wrestle with Spinoza’s politically-minded renunciation of “admiratio”. Indeed, metaphors make us wonder, they have a “look-to-ed-ness” that fixes the gaze, but I suspect that it can be argued fruitfully that the constitutive tension between the literally false and the figuratively powerful, by which metaphors achieve their effect, makes them largely immune from the kinds of warnings of and distance Spinoza takes from  “admiratio”.

Metaphors seem to already provide the split between the order of the affections and that of affects which allow the mind to enage their fixation power. They work to break the chain of affections and images by maintaining a gap between their power and literal truths, one that the mind then is freed to investigate. To be sure, metaphors in their power do have the capacity to bewitch the mind and become literalized pictures of the world, in the political sense that Spinoza fears, but this does not seem constitutively so the danger that Spinoza has in mind when he thinks about admiratio.

One should also keep in mind when thinking about admiratio that the Latin word is used with some dexterity to mean both “veneration or admiration” AND “suprise or wonder”. Despite the high standard of defintional clarity that Spinoza is famous for, he is not above using the rhetorical richness in a word, and here he is working with the conflation of surprise and admiration in the service of the political role the miraculous has played in the development of Nations. Thus what Spinoza primarly has in mind I imagine is the admirational dimension of this word, making the usual translation “wonder” can be seen as somewhat insufficient. Because the wonder or surprise of metaphor is only loosely connected to the powers of “admiration” (one may come to admire someone through their metaphorical descriptions – “Richard the Lionhearted”) the full epistemic virtues of metaphor, those that tap into Spinoza’s fifth part appraisal of the power of images that refer to a multiplicity of causes, are not really captured in his judgments on admiratio.

Here is Spinoza’ s Defintion of the “Affect” of Admiratio, for reference, Cook’s Comments on Rosenthal’s Spinoza follows:

IV. Admiratio [Wonder] is an imagination of a thing in which the Mind remains fixed because this singular imagination has no connection with the others. (See p52 and p52s.)

Exp: In 2p18s we showed the cause why the Mind, from considering one thing, immediately passes to the thought of another – because the images of these things are connected with one another, and so ordered that one follows the other. This, of course, cannot be conceived when the image of the thing is new. Rather the Mind will be detained in regarding the same thing until it is determined by other causes to think of other things.

So the imagination of the new thing, considered in itself, is of the same nature as the other [imaginations], and for this reason I do not number Admiratio among the affects. Nor do I see why I should, since this distraction of the Mind does not arise from any positive cause which distracts the Mind from other things, but only from the fact that there is no cause determining the Mind to pass from regarding one thing to thinking of others. 

I don’t have a link to the exact essay responded to below, but a related one making some similar points: “Spinoza, Miracles and Modern Judaism”,  M. A. Rosenthal

“Rosenthal on Spinoza on Wonder and Miracles”

J. Thomas Cook

The topic for today’s mini-conference is Spinoza’s psychology. And yet Michael Rosenthal tells a story that reaches from the rise of modernity to the disenchantment of the world, from the insidious power of the miraculous, to the need to overthrow despotic rulers and liberate ourselves from the tyranny of false Gods. This looks to be a far-flung and varied collection of topics, but there is a central conceptual thread that holds the pieces of this apparent patchwork together – and ties these pieces to the subject of our mini-conference. On Rosenthal’s account Spinoza sees all of these aforementioned phenomena as directly or indirectly related to that state of mind that Spinoza calls admiratio – usually translated as “wonder.” It’s a somewhat surprising thesis, but Rosenthal makes the case convincingly. He moves easily from the Ethics to the TTP and back, showing the conceptual connections and filling in the gaps in Spinoza’s armchair anthropological narrative. One train of thought leads from wonder to miracles, to a false conception of God and to the disastrously wrong-headed idea of free will. Another related path runs from wonder to veneration and thence to political domination.

Given the great value accorded to wonder in the writings of earlier philosophers as well as the positive valence that wonder generally has today, it is rather surprising to be reminded that in Spinoza’s view this state of mind is an indicator of — and is itself an instance of — cognitive deficiency. It’s not the good kind of deficiency – a privation that naturally leads one to try to fill the lack. Wonder is a dead end state of mind that goes nowhere, though it leaves one vulnerable to being led astray. And wonder is at the root of behavioral tendencies that perpetuate this cognitive deficiency and help to give rise to institutions, discourses and practices that only make it worse. On Rosenthal’s reading of Spinoza’s view, there is nothing wonderful about wonder, and nothing admirable about admiratio.

The thought of the object of wonder is, by definition, an idée fixe – and that is not a good thing. The mind comes to a stop – so suspended (Shirley translates suspensum as “paralyzed”) in considering it that it cannot think of other things. When I wonder at something, the idea of that thing is not connected, in my mind, to the ideas of its real causes, nor are there other imaginational ideas associated with it as a result of my past encounters with things in the “common order of nature.” Standing unconnected with other ideas my idea of the object of wonder is by definition inadequate in my mind – isolated from its natural nexus in the causal order of ideas that is identical with the causal order of extended nature, it is (in Bennett’s memorable phrase) a “bleeding chunk of the mental realm, hacked out” of its proper context. Lacking connection to other ideas at that moment, my mind lacks any natural path to move on, and so, in accordance with the laws of Spinoza’s version of associationistic psychology, my mind comes to a stand. When we stand in wonder, riveted by the unexpected character of some seemingly unique event, we are especially vulnerable to the prophet or the prince peddling a pseudo-explanation in terms of miracles and the wondrous will of God.

I find Rosenthal’s account of the centrality of wonder for Spinoza convincing. Additional steps and the cooperation of other causes are required, of course, to get from wonder to superstition or from wonder to tyranny, but that does not alter the fact that wonder, as defined by Spinoza, plays a key role. Rosenthal raises a number of interesting large points regarding the disenchantment of the world, modernity and the empowerment of the individual – points that deserve more attention than I can give them here in my brief comment. I will concentrate, instead, on a couple of smaller points, addressing more directly the interpretation of Spinoza’s views.

For example, Rosenthal rightly makes much of the fact that there is a kind of social dimension to wonder and to its contrary, disdain. This social dimension explains in part the importance of these affects for politics and religion. But there is a real — if somewhat technical — problem here, as I see it. The social dimension of these emotions depends upon the mechanism of the “imitation of the affects.” For example, if I notice that someone else whom I think to be like myself, wonders at some thing A, I too will be affected with wonder. The “imitation” can also go by way of seeming similarities between the objects (as opposed to similarities between the persons experiencing the emotions). So if I note that a certain thing (X) resembles some Y toward which I already experience wonder, I will also be affected with wonder for that X. This all follows nicely in accordance with basic principles of Spinoza’s psychology.

But if I understand Spinoza’s position correctly here, there is a problem in the doctrine. To the extent that I note a resemblance between X and some other Y (that, by hypothesis, I admire), I am making comparisons between X and Y, noting similarities. And to the extent that I am doing that, my mind is in motion, and I am not stuck in the mental staresis that is characteristic of (indeed, definitive of) wonder. Of course I do not have adequate ideas of the causes of the objects. Indeed, I very likely don’t even have inadequate ideas of the causes of the object of my wonder. But I have ideas of similarities between this object and another object – and that will provide my mind with somewhere to go. Precisely because of the tendency described by the psychological laws of association, my mind is moved from the idea of the one object to that of the other, and my mental/affective state is eo ipso no longer a state of wonder. My point here is that the putative similarity between the present object and the previously admired object – a similarity that helps to explain the infectious character of wonder – undermines the putative singularity and lack of associations that explain the wonder to begin with. To avoid this conclusion one finds oneself wanting to say that two objects resemble each other in that neither of them resembles anything else. But this amounts to saying that what these two things have in common is their uniqueness – and while that may not be formally paradoxical, it is at least problematic.

It might be thought that what is needed here is greater attention to the fact that we can regard an object under different aspects. So an object might be unique in one way, but share lots of other properties with other things. Spinoza’s example of veneration might seem to provide the kind of example that is needed. The property in another person that provokes wonder in me (Spinoza suggests) might be that other person’s remarkable prudence. I am of course familiar enough with prudence in general, and there are of course plenty of ideas associated with the idea of another person in my mind, but prudence to such a high degree is unprecedented in my experience, and hence, Spinoza suggests, it might be a singularity that holds my mind in thrall by virtue of its lack of associations. As Spinoza puts it, “[the mind] has nothing in itself which it is led to consider from considering that.” So singular is this idea of super-prudence that my mind is stuck for lack of associative connections to provide it anywhere to go.
Now it is certainly true that we can focus on one aspect or property of an individual and note how extraordinary is its possession of that property in such a high degree. And it is true that our minds can come to something like a standstill in the face of some extraordinary thing or event (or in this case, an extraordinary degree of prudence). Our ordinary folk-psychological ways of talking reflect this interesting psychological fact. We say that a person is “riveted” by the sight of something – “fixed” or “absorbed” in contemplation of some singularity. And Spinoza’s account of the origin of this “fixation” in terms of the lack of associations to provide tracks for the mind to move on is a typically brilliant move. But further reflection on the thought processes involved in recognizing an individual as possessing the characteristic of prudence reminds us that such recognition presupposes all kinds of simultaneously held additional ideas. Moreover, a comparative judgment is required to see an individual’s prudence as extraordinary. One does not have to be an Hegelian to have doubts about the story of a mind’s possessing an isolable and indeed thoroughly isolated idea of an individual’s extraordinary prudence. One does not have to be a thoroughgoing holist to think that ideas of comparative degrees of complex properties such as prudence do not happen as isolable units in the mind. And yet Spinoza’s account of my wonder at someone’s extraordinary prudence requires just that.

This is of course not an objection to Rosenthal’s clear and insightful exposition of Spinoza’s view, but a question about the view itself. A great virtue of Rosenthal’s paper is that it draws our attention to the central importance of Spinoza’s treatment of wonder and thus invites our more careful scrutiny of the plausibility of that account.
Before closing I would like to raise a question about one claim that Rosenthal makes that seems quite surprising to me. Perhaps I have misunderstood him, and he can clarify the point. I find the account of the relation between wonder, miracles and our erroneous belief in free quite convincing. And maybe it is true that the mystery of the human free will brings with it an aura of quasi-transcendence that vests our ostensibly free decisions with a kind of special status.

Rosenthal claims (if I’m understanding him correctly), that contract theories of the state, since they rest on a kind of free choice of the citizens, inherit some of the special status that accompanies the mystery of free will – a special status not entirely different from the special status accorded the state in earlier theories that explained the sovereign’s rule by reference to divine providence. This is an interesting claim, and it may even be true of some contract-based political theories and some of their defenders. But I find it extremely surprising that Rosenthal includes Hobbes and Spinoza among those theorists, for these two were, of course, vehement and consistent deniers of free will tout court. Maybe Rosenthal can clarify for us the claims that he is making in this part of his paper.

I agree with Cook’s contention that the fixedness of surprise is not as stalled and disconnected as at first blush it seems that Spinoza would like to make of it, especially when conflated with the social dimension of the other meaning of admiratio…veneration. There is much more to look-to-ed-ness than simple stalling, an entire field of ideas and affects which qualify something as unique by contrast. In fact, I have argued elsewhere that Spinoza’s concept of vision/perception, as found in his optics, is based on a field conception of coherence, driven by a holism of coherence and a centerpoint of what one may call “admiratio” sympathetic to perceptual theories of Cognitive Dissonance. But do not believe though that Spinoza’s view, even as interpreted by Rosenthal, is as sterile as Cook finds it, for aside from his narrow reading of admiratio as a disconnectiveness, within the Spinozist framework is room for argument that admiratio can work as a productive means for breaks from the order of the body’s affections, and an engagement of the mind through the resultant noticing of surprising similarities. In fact, Spinoza’s  3p52 concept of the “singularity” of attention, under which we find a scholium critique of admiratio, could be read as a cognitive dissonance principle of perception: If we have previously seen an object together with others, or we imagine it has nothing but what is common to many things, we shall not consider it so as one which we imagine to have something singular. Resolution of singularity is can be seen as the primary drive of perception.

Thus one can presume that at the center of perception is a suspension which can either work to a new chain of affection-based images, OR, given its nature, an engagement with the mind, as it looks for causes. A lightening strike can fill us with terror, it can lead us to understand electro-magnetism. In fact, as an artisan who produced telescopes and microscopes of the highest quality for the Age, and as an investigator who looked through magnifying glasses with no doubt “admiratio” in terms of wonder and surprise, it seems very unlikely that Spinoza had a poor view of investigative wonder, the tickle of the mind or eye that caused one to look for causes. It is rather the paralysis of the miraculous, the stunning incomprehensibility, which he must have read as a kind of confusion, that he had in mind when he minimized “admiratio”.  And in particular, it seems that metaphors above most imaginary ways of organizing the world, given their built-in tension with the literal truth, operate “surprise” with a specific orientation towards the mind and connectivity.

Spinoza and the Metaphoric Rise of the Imagination

Mind Without Metaphor?

Beginning from my last post which opened up a Vician affirmation of metaphor as a constitutive and creative force for the growth of knowledge, it seems a good idea to look closely at the Spinoza system to see if indeed there is room for such a productivity. Prima facie it certainly seems to be the case that Spinoza would hold low esteem for metaphorical use. His entire “mail and mask” more geometrico  seems in defiance of any positive role for metaphors, treating thoughts and feelings literally as if they were planes and lines (falling under the same causal laws). In philosophy there is hardly a systematic document that seems less friendly to the metaphorical than the Ethics. The vast perception is that categorically for Spinoza metaphors are bad (confused), literal truths good (clear and distinct). A wide ranging philosopher like Richard Rorty who professes much admiration for Spinoza except for the perceived antipathy for the metaphor, sums up the impression well:

Though the human body had been redeemed by Galileo’s discoveries of how matter worked, the imagination had not. The human body is redeemed only when seen under the aspect of eternity, as a feature on the face of the whole universe. But the divine mind-the counterpart, under the attribute of thought, of the face of the material universe– has no imagination. It is literal-minded. It has no occasion to speak in metaphors. So, Spinoza thought, the less we humans use metaphors, the greater our chances of blessedness….He says, for example, that when the Bible tells us that God opened the windows of the heavens, all it is really saying is that it rained very hard. (TPT, p. 44) For Spinoza, metaphor has no value. Like the imagination, metaphor is something to be overcome (“Spinoza’s Legacy”).

With respect to Rorty, there is a great difference between something that should be overcome, and something having no value; but it is easy to join Rorty in what seems to be an obviousness, metaphors are confusions and confusions are things that one should try to make clear, a clarity that leads to real, affective Joy. How is one to reconcile the predominant message in Spinoza’s writings with the possibility that metaphors are very real productive, and non-eliminatable modes of increased activity and Joy in the sense that Spinoza thinks of Joy. As to that Joy, even upon repetition the pleasures of metaphors endure, something Davidson calls it their “eternal youth” which he compares to the “surprise” in Hayden’s Symphony 94. The flash of realization moves us to see. Is there room for such revelation in Spinoza?

Perhaps one needs to start with the strict possibility that human beings cannot hold purely adequate ideas at all, but only in their finite minds may asymptotically approach increasing adequacy of ideas. The very path to adequacy it seems would be one in which the imagination has historically played an integral role in the increase in the adequacy of our ideas (like the first blacksmith hammer and tongs, they had to be made from something), and given the fundamental, one might say, existential passivity of the human mind, imagination likely would play a constitutive role in the increase in the adequacy of our ideas, no matter the stage of our development.

Joy: The Increase in the Adequacy of Ideas

In Della Rocca’s new book, and confirmed in generous private exchange, is found the interpretation that human beings are unable to hold completely adequate ideas in the full spectrum of the ways that Spinoza defined them. This is something I long had felt myself. They are likely best seen as a limit upon which we gauge our own knowledge (and Joy). If we accept this the door for a productive use of the imagination in general, and metaphors specifically, is opened up. Gatens and Lloyd wrote an excellent book on Spinoza’s undervalued relationship to the imagination, Collective Imaginings: Spinoza Past, Present and Future. But I would like to dwell on metaphor itself, the unique way that it stirs us with a kind of waxing pleasure, and how this is achieved through an intentional confusion. (As I mentioned in my last post, and then more at length in an earlier article on Donald Davidson and Giambattista Vico, this “confusion” is the cause of a reader or listener to affectively equate two or more objects, that is to feel about the one as one would feel about the other, taking each to be the cause of the same affection, such that one is brought to noticed an unspecified number of similarities between the objects or classes. And this is primarily accomplished through the strict falsehood of the metaphorical statement: “That man is a wolf” is false because wolves are not men.) The effects (affects) of two or more objects are confused so as to produce a pleasurable notification of what is shared.

There can be no doubt that metaphors are pleasurable, in fact, in contemplation, are Joyous. This also is a good place to start. For given Spinoza’s definition of Joy, his parallel postulate and his explicit assertion that activities of the mind ONLY arise from adequate ideas (3p3), one is forced to say that the Joy we feel when we encounter a wonderful metaphor is a Joy that comes from an increase in the adequacy of our ideas (as all Joy). I was happy to find that Professor Della Rocca consents to this understanding of mine as well. Something about good metaphors increases the adequacy of our ideas. What is it, in Spinozist terms, that this something is? It is more than the pleasure of a song or music.

Contrary to many philosophical intuitions, Spinoza is not mute on the benefits of the imagination. In fact, besides the way in which he grounds the social field in the imaginative “imitations of the affects,”  in the fifth part of the Ethics, a part concerned with the achievement of the Intuition of God, he presents a string of propositions on the powers of the image . Whereas earlier in part III he had spoken of the third kind of knowledge, Intuition, as a kind of extension of the Second kind of knowledge, Reason, invoking the example of how merchants can calculate with great speed without walking through the steps of a calculation, here he seems to set up the ultimate intuition of God along side qualifications of the positive effects of the imagination. And while intuitions of God/Substance/Nature are not our aim, these distinctions in terms of images seem ready-made to be applied to the benefits of metaphor use.

 From Memory to Metaphor

First there is a numerical qualification which helps us determine what gives us the strength of an emotion (I use the Shirley translation, but “emotion” should be read as “affect”). An affect’s strength comes from a simultaneous condensation of causes:

5p8 – The greater the number of causes that simultaneously concur in arousing an emotion, the greater the emotion.

This indeed does seem to conceptually orient us to the power of a metaphor. When Homer compares wounds to mouths, or when we are told, “the heavens wept” there is an intensity of simultaneity that seems very much to make up the nature of the effect. The ideas of each object or process are affectively fused, and their causes confluence in a way that no single idea, or its literal expression, would have. And when this is pleasurable, we in our strengthening condition we are able to arrange our mixing affections, undistracted by a Sadness:

5p10 - As long as we are not assailed by emotions that are contrary to our nature, we have the power to arrange and associate affections of the body according to the order of the intellect.

While the effect may be a condensation or confusion of affects, because it is Joyous, our affections are open to clarification. Our very agreement with the effect leads to the possibility of an unfolding of the consequences. The propositions that follow then switch from emotions to images themselves:

5p11 – In proportion as a mental image is related [refertur] to more things, the more frequently does it occur – i.e., the more often it springs to life – and the more it engages the mind.

Proof : In proportion as an image or emotion is related to more things, the more causes there are by which it can be aroused and fostered, all of which the mind, by hypothesis, regards simultaneously as a result of the emotion. And so the emotion thereby occurs more frequently – i.e., springs to life more often – and engages the mind more (5p8).

The very relatability of two or more images as we find in the apt or even beautiful metaphor (again, I solicit a favorite, “…that dolphin-torn, that gong-tormented sea”), bring together the genealogy of causes to a point where it is not just that the body is affected, but the mind itself. This is an important distinction, one that requires that we turn back to another section where Spinoza speaks of the powers of the imagination, in the second part where a very powerful function of the memory is discussed. Here, instead of the two or more con-fused ideas that are involved in metaphors, it is the images that are born of a contingent simultaneity when we are affected by objects at the same time…that is the trace the coincidence leaves on us:

2p18 – If the human body has once been affected by two or more bodies at the same time, and when the mind afterwards imagines one of them, it will straightaway remember the others too.

2p18, scholium – Hence we clearly understand what memory is. It is simply a linking of ideas involving the nature of things outside the human body, a linking which occurs in the mind parallel to the order and linking of the affections of the human body. I say, firstly, that it is only the linking of those ideas that involve the nature of things outside the human body, not of those that explicate the nature of the said things. For they are in fact (2p16) ideas of the affections of the human body which involve the nature both of the human body and of external bodies. Secondly, my purpose in saying that this linking occurs in accordance with the order and linking of the affections of the human body is to distinguish it from the linking of ideas in accordance with the order of the intellect whereby the mind perceives things through their first causes, and which is the same in all men.

Furthermore, from this we clearly understand why the mind, from thinking of one thing, should straightaway pass onto thinking of another thing which has no likeness to the first. For example, from thinking the word “pomum” [apple] a Roman will straightaway pass onto thinking of the fruit, which has no likeness to that articulate sound nor anything in common with it other than that the man’s body has often been affected by them both; that is, the man has often heard the word “pomum” while seeing the fruit. So everyone will pass on from one thought to another according as habit in each case has arranged the images in his body.

The way that the imaginative memory works, according to Spinoza, is that images are ordered associatively, occurring in correspondence to their coincidence in time, determined by the affections of the human body. The imaginative memory is a kind of ideational associative habit, to be distinguished from the way that the intellect orders thing through its understanding through explanation and cause. This habit contingently links even words and images, and the “linking” is the linking of the affections of the body, not the intellect. In contrast to the memory’s corporeal  “ordering and linking”, if we return to the relative properties of images found in 5p11 where the very numericity of relatedness produces an engagement with the mind, this seems to give the avenue by which metaphorical confusions specifically help to produce an increase in the adequacy of our ideas. The mind is engaged by the causal profusion that produces the strength of the metaphorical affect, aided by the fact that the affect is Joyous and in agreement with our natures, an engagement that is expressed in the very relatability of the two or more images (or ideas, one would assume) that compose the metaphor.

This mental (as 0pposed to a merely bodily) link is further delineated in the next proposition. The most relatable images are those of things which we already understand:

5p12 – Images are more readily associated with those images that are related to things which we clearly and distinctly understand than they are to others.

Proof: Things that are clearly and distinctly understood are either the common properties of things or deductions made from them (see 2p40s2, def of reason) and consequently they are more often before the mind (2p11proof). So it is more likely that we should regard other things in conjunction with these, and consequently (2p18) that they should be more readily associated with these than others.

Spinoza is building an argumentative case for the images which are relatable to our Intuitive understanding of God. Our clarity in a concept of God creates a substantial framework for the relatability of images in general. In a certain sense, far from being radically against the imagination, Reason actual works as its facilitator. Through our understanding of common properties of things, other imagined associations increase. Aside from Spinoza’s argumentative goal, in the case of metaphor production one can see how this also would be so. Metaphors are born atop our primary clarity of understanding. If I can say that the brain is the computer of a body, this metaphor trades upon knowing with some clarity what a brain is and what a computer is. And the metaphor through its illumination suddenly gives us to see certain (yet innumerable) common properties. These leap to life in an apparent increase in our adequacy of idea.

The Polyvalance of Image Relations

Lastly, it is this very associability founded upon numerical and causal connections with produces a temporal increase in the association. This may serve as a very broad framework in which to read the lateralization of metaphors, the way that mouths of rivers and bottle eventually move from unexpected, non-literal metaphor, to simply a new literal use of the word. The causal richness of the word used underwrites a pragmatic sublimation of our imaginary powers.

5p13 - The greater the number of other images which an image is associated, the more often it springs to life.

Proof: The greater the number of images which an image is associated, the more causes there are by which it can be aroused (2p18).

Given this tracing of a Spinozist space for the productive intellectual powers of metaphors, perhaps it is best to ground the favorability back upon the body, from whence it begins. The causal, associative power of metaphorical confusion, if it is to result in real-world empowerment must also be seen as a material gain, a turn toward the possible polyvalence of the body. Here the numerical duplicity of two objects affectively experienced as one is related to a generalized numerical increase in causal openness, the famous “..in more ways” definition of “advantage”:

4p38 – That which so disposes the human body that it can be affected in more ways [pluribus modis], or which renders it capable of affecting external bodies in more ways, is advantageous to man, and proportionately more advantageous as the body is thereby rendered more capable of being affected in more ways and of affecting other bodies in more ways. On the other hand, that which renders the body less capable in these respects is harmful.

Metaphors must be read, if we are to embrace them as Spinozist creations of Joy, as increases in the number of ways in which the body is capable of being affected and affecting others. This would be a groundwork assumption.
Let this post be a kind of reasoning-aloud about the conceptual space affordable for the products of the imagination, and in particular the benefits of metaphors. Under such reasoning, contra Rorty, there is indeed a value in the use of metaphor, in fact given our fundamental passivity of mind, an arguably prodigious value. Because more adequate ideas are not immediately available to us at any particular time on any particular subject or need, given the particular historical conditions we might find ourselves in, the creativity of associative thought, the affective conflations that metaphors achieve, can be seen to play a central role in illuminating new aspects of phenomenae of every kind, from objects, to ideas, to relations. It very well may be wanted for us to say, “The Heavens Weep” rather than “It is raining outside”, for the first condensationally draws together a wealth of causal relations, as Deleuze might say virtual relations, which the second would simply occlude in its distinctness. The first may bring us Joy, the second little. Metaphors cause us to notice, in the shimmering light of what is a revelation, what the Greeks thought of as an “uncovering”, what then  can be excavated by the intellect.

I have to say that despite the loose success of this picture, there is one aspect of Spinoza’s argument that troubles me, and I have found this distinction in other writings of his, (for instance his letter to Peter Balling regarding his prophetic imagination of his son). When Spinoza wants to qualify that something is linked only in the body, and not in the intellect, given his parallel postulate I can not rigorously understand the distinction of an ordo  of the body, since each linking in the body MUST be a linking in the mind of God. As events happen in they body, they are also following adequately in the mind. I can perhaps imagine that the ideational linkings of bodily affections read as coincident are perhaps too obtuse for the finite mind to immediately comprehend, and therefore as a shorthand bodily affection associations are to be distinguished from intellectual reference. But I cannot see in principle how these are divided, as the human Mind is nothing more than God thinking in a finite mode. The understandability that even allows affects to be intelligible at all confirs some mental order to them. Even the associations Spinoza regards as contingent, those between the sound of the word “apple” and the image of the apple that comes to your mind is intimately linked to the network of rationally organized beliefs about the world and language use which over and above habit provide the context for interpretability. In a sense, one sees an apple, as an apple, because one knows the word “apple” and understands its concept (how to use the word), and this was learned under causal conceptions with others in a shared world. To be sure, there is a free-flowing connection between images based on personal experiences, but these are shot through with inferential and deductive understandings of the world.

What is a metaphor if not a kind of pirouette

performed by an idea, enabling us to assemble its diverse names or images?

—Paul Valéry

Spinoza’s Confusion of Ideas, and then, Metaphor

Productive Confusion of Objects

Michael Della Rocca has an excellent section in his new book Spinoza (2008 ) in which he discusses Spinoza’s panpsychism in terms of two problems, th0se he calls the Pan and the Pancreas problem. These are the explanatory diffculties that arise in Spinoza’s panpsychic (there are a long of pans here) epistemology that seems to confer “mind” to every thing. If the object of our thoughts is our body, how is it that we are able to form perceptions of external objects, i.e. frying pans; and if our mind is the idea of our body, how is it that we are not readily aware of our most of the changing states of our pancreas? He comes upon a summation of the nature of our confusion, (remember confusion is con-/fusion), is a blurring together of ideas of both states in the world and states of our body. It is that the human condition is one in which any ideas of our body are tied up with (confused with) the ideas of the external bodies that affect them, and the same goes for the ideas of external bodies themselves, as he sums:

Spinoza’s general account of confusion seems to be the following. (This is apparent in his discussion in 2p40s1 of certain universal notions which for him are highly confused.) For Spinoza an idea is confused when it represents, or is about, two separate things and yet the mind is unable to distinguish these things by having an idea which is just of one of the objects and an idea which is just of the other of the objects. In a case where more than one thing is represented, the lack of confusion requires being able to to perceive the things separately. I think that this is a fairly plausible condition to place on being free of confusion…When the body is affected by an outside object and the mind perceives the bodily effect as well as the outside object, all the ingredients for confusion are in place (113).

This descriptive argument cast my eye in another direction – and it is interesting that Della Rocca founds it upon Spinoza’s dismissal of Universals as confused ideas. What comes to mind is something that Spinoza works as hard as possible to distance himself from in most cases, not withstanding his love of Terence and some pointed exceptions…metaphor. Metaphor is the deliberate, and creative perceptual con-fusion of two objects. In a metaphor a literal falsehood is uttered, “That man is a wolf” or one of my favorites, “the dolphin-torn, gong-tormented sea” such that something of an indistinguishability is achieved.  Vico theorized that metaphors were the primative, poetic creation of “imaginative universals”, a way of fusing multiple objects together in the imagination such as to be able to produce something new, an ontology of quality (I write about this in some detail here Davidson’s Razor, Vico’s Magnet ). This kind of collapse is part of what I am sensing. But one must turn to the Cartesian notion of  “clear and distinct” from which Spinoza is operating to get the full sense of what I am after. Clear and distinct is born of optics, a judgment of the quality of image in a lens. Whether one is straining to see a flea leg in a microscope, or the recently discovered fleck of the moon of Saturn, its “clarity” which was its brightness, and its distinctness, which was the ability to distinguish a form from what surrounded it, were as one can imagine braided aspects of a lens’ power. An image had to be bright and distinguishable, and it is was on this demand that Decartes, and then the even more optically practiced lens-maker Spinoza, rhetorically traded. (How interesting that the descriptive of adequate ideas itself begins as a metaphor.)

But as I argue elsewhere, metaphor give us to affectively feel the same about, to confuse, two (0r more) objects in their causal relationship to our internal lives. We are to feel the same way about this man (or if we follow Hobbes, all men) that we feel about wolves. Following Yeats, we are to feel about the sea, its surface, its waves, the same way we feel about things that are tormented, fabric and gongs. And in so doing, something else comes to the surface, something bright and distinguished from what it is not (but still not ideationally clear). It is the living, electric line of a similarity which remains to be delineated in a specific way. Both objects, let us stick with the “man” and the “wolf”, remain distinct as ideas, but these ideas fall back, like the rough, gray penumbra of the outer edge of the magnifying lense. It suddenly is the “wolfiness” of the man — and if we are in a situation where we would be threatened by it it can jut out crag-like at us. And dialectically, there comes to be the counter-infection, the maniness of wolves.

If the confusions of ideas of the body and external objects are indeed born of how Della Rocca argues that Spinoza conceives of them, such that we cannot have a clean idea of external objects that is not in some sense contaminated by our ideas of our bodies, and visa versa, our attempt to clarify our ideas through a separable understanding of objects through their causes that we read as clear and distinct can be seen to be fostered by another confusion, an intentional one, wherein it is not inside and outside that is confused, but two or more external objects are affectively and poetically fused within us, so as to give birth to a shimmering clarity of aspect unseen before. It is engagement with this line, brought up from the ground, that allows us to make greater clarity and distinctness of the ideas that will come to surround it, as we come to seek its causes.

To Hephaestus’ house came Thetis, silver-footed  (Iliad, xviii, 369)

Notes on Wittgenstein’s Notions of Illness and Therapy

Sick of the Truth, and the Truth of Sickness, Which Games Played are Pathological?

I have had an interesting exchange over at the pro-Wittgenstein website Methods of Projection, something worth posting over here. It has long been a concern of my to locate just were the normative and prescriptive authorities of Wittgenstein get their traction amid a generalized Language Game approach. The below encounters what I sometimes view as the dogmatic reading of Wittgenstein, especially by his particularly charmed followers. My discussion flowed from comments given by the site’s author, N.N. I find N.N., as far as Wittgensteinians go, a rather open-minded, self-critical thinker. [The following contains certain corrections for sense]:

N.N. : If we “chance” to speak the same language as Wittgenstein (e.g., German or English) or another language that employs similar concepts, then we (to the extent that we philosophize) are likely to become sick. We no more accept to play most of the langauage-games we do than we accept to speak our native tongue. Wittgenstein was himself sick, but his sickness was our sickness, and therefore, his cure is our cure.

Myself: as n.n. wrote: “Wittgenstein was himself sick, but his sickness was our sickness, and therefore, his cure is our cure.”

My goodness, I can certainly embrace one man seeing another man’s sickness as his own, and thus the cure the same, but when he wants start talking PROFOUNDLY of “us” and “we” and “our”, he has entered into the realm of DOGMA.

N.N.: Really? Any claim of community (in this case, linguistic community) is dogmatic?

Myself: In the context of Wittgenstein, any claim to prescriptive rhetoric in the name of “we” which determines against the consciousness of others THEIR illness I would say is dogmatic. Remember illness is a metaphor here, and is being used for rhetorical and normative effect. When you want to stop looking at individual cases (the good part of Wittgenstein, the side of him that wants to watch closely), and start talking about the abstract illness of others, you have waded into dogmatic waters.Just as is the case in most dogma, you are seeking to normatively define a communmity in terms of behavior and health. When you stop talking about your personal illness, and you start talking about “our” illness, this kind of rhetoric is straight out of Augustine and so many others.But it seems that you possess the knowledge that can save the entire linguistic community. Why should I stop you? Carry on…but this is dogma.

p.s. Its very simple. One is not just “claiming” community. One is normatively prescribing the behavior of a community, under the auspices of a so called “health”.Change “illness” to “sin” and you have the whole dogmatic ball of wax

 

N.N.: Of course ‘illness’ is a metaphor here. It’s a metaphor for conceptual confusion. If members of a linguistic community are prone to making certain concptually confused claims because different language games they play are deceptively similar in appearance, then the members of that community are all likely to fall into the same confusion (e.g., speaking of the mind as a kind of thing).And while the ‘cure’ is normative insofar as standards of meaningfulness are normative, there is nothing ethical involved. So talk of sin and (religious) dogmatism is misplaced.
 
Myself: One has to ask oneself, just why is is necessary to change “confusion” to “illness” or “sickness”. What is accomplished by this? And more interestingly, why is this question not asked by Wittgensteinians?There is a world of differnce between saying “Bertrand Russell was confused” and “Bertrand Russell was sick”; and let it be said, a world of difference between “Wittgenstein was himself sick, but his sickness was our sickness” and the same under the word “confusion”. Why “confuse” the issue by changing the word?
 
That is if we grant you that one is being metaphorical with the word “illness”. We know well that Wittgenstein was influenced by Freud, and Freud certainly was not being metaphorical when described mental illness. Unlike Wittgenstein though, Freud developed an entire nosology, a classification of symptoms and causes that individuated each “illness” and its purported cure. Freud thought of himself as a doctor, and a scientist.I have no doubt that Wittgenstein WAS ill, at least in the mentally disturbed sense. He was depressed to some degree, had difficulties with his sexuality perhaps, and that he to to degree did “cure” himself with his break from philosophy. But I find it highly unlikely that his “illness” was entirely due to making grammatical mistakes (though he found it to be symbolized as such), and also unlikely that “we” (all of us) should also cure ourselves in this way.
 
N.N. as I wrote, “We know very well that Wittgenstein was influenced by Freud.”
 
Far from knowing this very well, we know that there is scant mention of Freud in Wittgenstein’s writings, and that he explicitly and vehemently denied any such influence. The notion that Wittgenstein was, in some significant sense, a kind of Freudian therapist is a myth perpetuated by those (e.g., Gordon Baker) who want Wittgenstein to be something he is not. The myth is forcibly refuted by Peter Hacker in his article criticizing Baker’s interpretation of Wittgenstein (in Wittgenstein and His Interpreters). Here are some of the points that Hacker makes.
 
In a radio interview in the late 40s, A. J. Ayer remarked that Wittgenstein’s later writings (as practiced by one of Wittgenstein’s students, John Wisdom) made philosophy out to be a “department of psychoanalysis.” According to Ayer, Wittgenstein was “extremely vexed [by] my suggestion that John Wisdom’s view of philosophy could be taken as a pointer to his own. In particular, he did not admit any kinship between the practice of psychoanalysis and his own method of dealing with philosophical confusions.”
Of course, Wittgenstein had (on a few occasions; Hacker counts five in the entire Nachlass) compared his method to psychoanalysis, but the comparison is very limited, and therefore, easily misunderstood (i.e., taken too far).
 
Summarizing one of those occasions Hacker writes, “It is a main task of philosophy to warn against false comparisons, false similes that underlie our modes of expression without our being
conscious of them. ‘I believe’, Wittgenstein continues, ‘that our method is similar here to that of psychoanalysis that also makes the unconscious conscious and renders it thereby harmless, and I think that the similarity is not merely external’ (MS 109, 174).” So, we are unaware of certain conceptual confusions that underlie some uses of expressions, and Wittgenstein wants to make us aware of them. That’s it! That’s the comparison with psychoanalysis.
 
Similarly, Wittgenstein remarks in the Big Typescript, “One of the most important tasks is to express all false trains of thought so characteristically that the reader says, ‘Yes, that’s exactly the way I meant it.’ To trace the physiognomy of every error. Indeed we can only convict someone else of a mistake if he acknowledges that this really is the expression of his feeling. // . . . if he (really) acknowledges this expression as the correct expression of his feeling.// For only if he acknowledges it as such is it the correct expression. (Psychoanalysis.) What the other person acknowledges is the analogy I am proposing to him as the source of his thought.” Again, the point is an awareness that we are making the mistake in question.
 
Myself: as n.n. wrote: Of course, Wittgenstein had (on a few occasions; Hacker counts five in the entire Nachlass) compared his method to psychoanalysis, but the comparison is very limited, and therefore, easily misunderstood (i.e., taken too far).
 
Hmmm. He compared his “therapy” to psychoanalysis, but it has been “refuted” that he had been influenced by Freud. Interesting. The point is, while Freud actually had a thorough-going analysis of the illnesses that he proposed, to call Wittgenstein’s “cure” a cure of an illness is a serious dogmatic move. Either this is just a metaphor, and as such simply overstates and confuses the issue, i.e. where the word “illness” is, the word “confusion” should be used. Or, it is a literal illness, as such it requires us to say things like “Bertrand Russell was sick” and other nonsense, lacking any nosology or full declaration of symptoms.

The trouble is Wittgenstein was sick, I suggest, and others too might take an aptititude towards philosophy like he did, and might “cure” themselves of their obsessional mania (who in this world really would obsessively lower the ceiling of a room they had designed to be built, by one centimeter?). But Wittgenstein’s compulsions are not necessarily the compulsions of Philosophy, nor are they the products of the “grammatical confusions” he engaged in before his radical turn. That is, it is a vast over-statement to say “Wittgenstein’s illness is our illness”. The man was clearly both deeply disturbed and deeply brilliant, and it may the case that others who are similarly disturbed may find solace in his “cure”. But the “we” of such pathological disturbance is not the “we” of the linguistic community. That is, unless one has a passion to speak and prescribe dogmatically about a universal condition in such a way that is it nearly invariable from the way that the notion of “sin” has been dealt with.Now if you personally feel “cured” by his process, I wholly embrace this, and cheer you on. It it is only when you want so many others to be categorically ill, and imagine yourself to be in possession of the “cure”, this is where I draw the line. I do not believe that Wittgenstein’s teacher, Bertrand Russell was ill, either in the metaphorical sense, or in the literal sense, nor do I believe that Descartes or Bishop Berkeley was ill either.

As you quote Hacker: “Hacker writes, “It is a main task of philosophy to warn against false comparisons, false similes that underlie our modes of expression without our being conscious of them.”
I will tell you that calling “false comparisons” (actually comparisons are never true or false, but only more or less helpful), an “illness” is a very misleading comparison. One is tempted to say, it is a “false comparison”. It does not help us along the way, but rather inspires dogmatic views. If we are to veer away from what Hacker likes to call “false comparisons”, then we should also stop calling “grammatical confusions” “illnesses”.
Grammatical confusions, or let us say, certain kinds of comparisons like those that arose in the Cartesian view of the mind, arose for a reason. They serve purposes, they help explain things in certain situations, they help us organize ourselves in the world. These “comparisons”, like “there is a picture in my mind” for instance are not in themselves pathological. All one has to do is realize that there are boundary conditions for their usefulness, as is the case for ANY comparison.
I suggest that the comparison of certain kinds of confusions, or attempts to render rational explanations of affinities between things that resist them, to an illness is a deeply misleading one. So much of the language game of “illness” does not map onto the language game of “grammatical confusion”. Instead, to fill in the blanks in the dys-analogy, is a host of dogmatic insistence (much of which is anti-thetical to Wittgenstein’s own requirement of specific clarity), giving us to say things like “we, the linguistic community, are sick”. Instead, we, the linguistic community, can become confused, we can over extend our analogies.
Now when Wittgenstein tells us: “”…it is possible for the sickness [Krankheit] of philosophical problems to get cured only through a changed mode of thought and life – Remarks on the Foundations of Mathematics.”, I am unsure if I want to be told that the answer to the philosophical questions I am attempting to answer is that I must change my “mode of thought and life”. Perhaps, but the pursuit of philosophical answers, even metaphysical philosophical answers has not been LARGELY a pathological endeavor in the West. I do not find Spinoza pathological, nor Hegel, nor Hume or Kant, nor Husserl (maybe Nietzsche, but in a good way). In fact if these endeavors are all pathologies I suggest a great deal of good and sense have come from them. Philosophers are like painters I think. Yes, there have been some pathological painters, and some of these pathological ones very good. But painting itself is not pathological. The very act of sense-making, of thinking about thinking is both served and retarded by analogy and metaphor. Analogy and metaphor both illumine and obscure. If anything, Wittgenstein simply taught us to pay attention to our ps and qs, to notice when we are analogizing. I think this is a good thing. But there is also the creative advance that occurs when we mistakenly analogize, when we allow a metaphor to take us over, when the world suddenly appears differently under a new metaphor, and often when this is the case, a picture has bewitched us, not altogether a bad thing.
Wittgensteinians I suggest are bewitched by both the picture of language as a game played, and bewitched by the notion of confusion being like an illness. Further, they are bewitched by the figure of Wittgenstein, the disturbed, ill-fitting, brilliant oracle of truths. There is a certain advance that occurs when one takes a disciple-like relationship to the teachings of a philosopher (I find it so hilarious that editions of PI are in both German and English, as if Wittgenstein used language is such a subtle way that each and every word has to be measured precisely, as if the Dead Sea Scroll is being studied…as far as philosophers go, Wittgenstein is one of the most translatable, jargon free philosophers their is; such devotion to the letter of the word only reveals the RELATIONSHIP of Wittgenstein students to Wittgenstein’s “truths”. As I said, I will certainly grant that this bewitchment has its advantages. It is necessary to propagate the ideas of a thinker, to inseminate the essential picture-form of the thought across a variety of circumstances, but there comes a time when Wittgenstein’s advisements should be used against, in self-critique, against Wittgenstein himself, and more thoroughly, upon his disciples themselves, who can come to be even more bewitched than he was. 
Beware the “false comparisons” in Wittgenstein.

 

Davidson’s Razor, Vico’s Magnet

 


 

Ὁ ἄναξ οὗ τὸ μαντεῖόν ἐστι τὸ ἐν Δελφοῖς, οὔτε λέγει οὔτε κρύπτει, ἀλλὰ σημαίνει.

The lord whose oracle is at Delphi, neither tells nor conceals, but indicates.
– Heraclitus, fragment 93

 

 

This study takes as its basis the stark distinction made by philosopher Donald Davidson in his essay “What Metaphors Mean”: what metaphors mean is exactly what they say, literally, and that what they mean is patently false. Thus, “That man is a wolf” is false. Davidson, in an assertion that has caused much debate, denied that there is any other kind of meaning in a metaphor besides this literally false one. And in this way he confines both meaning and metaphorical truth to seemingly irreconcilable domains. It is not my contention that such a distinction need be true, but only useful in delineating formal, near context-free aspects of language use, and the seeming operational fluidity with which such meanings are produced.

A turn to the 18th century philosopher and historian Giambattista Vico’s work New Science is also made to possibly shed some light upon the nature of this chasm between the formal and the performed. It was Vico’s ambition to unlock through historical investigation the secret of the rational nature of human truth, the limits of what can be known. Key to his understanding of history as a progression of constructed truths, was his discovered belief that humans did not always think as modern people did. They did not categorize things by properties that they shared, as is exemplified by Aristotle’s logic, but had a primitive logic of their own, as they organized the world in pictures, figures and images. He called these classifications “Imaginative Universals”. And as Vico saw it, these universals exhibited themselves in literatures and institutions, as an expression of human needs. Following this theme of pragmatic need, the capacity to imagine identities in terms of images and figure, and the exemplification of such in institutions and texts, gave Vico a gateway into the minds and past cultures, and also the means for narrating the progression to contemporary times.

Because Vico’s concept of “Imaginative Universals” shares with Davidson’s concept of metaphor an alogical character, this makes for a readily available axis of comparison. I start with Davidson’s sharply drawn distinction between a metaphor’s literal meaning and its use, it is my tact to use such a polarity to clear theoretical ground which is particularly fertile to Vico’s conception of the “Imaginative Universal”. In focusing on the univocal character of identities asserted by such universals—the ability to state two or more things to be identical which no rational logic would support—I hope to bring forth both the affective and ideological character of metaphorical speech. Because figurative thinking in Vico was essential to human organization, as it is institutionally and textually expressed, so too may the identities asserted by such universals still be essential to that continued process. The affective nature of figurative identities, that that thing makes me affectively feel the same as that other thing makes me feel, may prove to both shed light on an archaic means of social organization, as Vico theorized, but also a contemporary means of language growth, as Davidson might suggest. As a modern, near-deflationary theory of truth comes is put in contact with the 18th century discovery of the historical foundation of truth, the product of the two puts metaphorical thought both at the forefront of discovery and invention, and at its root.

 

 

 

 

As our blood labours to beget
Spirits, as like souls as it can ;
Because such fingers need to knit
That subtle knot, which makes us man ;

So must pure lovers’ souls descend
To affections, and to faculties,
Which sense may reach and apprehend,
Else a great prince in prison lies.

“The Ecstasy”, John Donne

 

In the debate over metaphors, when Donald Davidson asks what metaphors mean, he is asking a particular question (α) . He is questioning the popular view of metaphorical truth, and controversially answers that there is no such thing as the truth of metaphorical sentences. Metaphors have long been used to communicate what is thought to be that which could not be said otherwise, and for that reason the commonsense view of metaphors is that they render clear, meanings that resist plain language statement. It is particularly upon this gap between the reported insight of metaphors and plain language statement that Davidson lays his focus. What ultimately comes into question is, Are there truths, is there meaning, beyond things that can be stated literally?

Davidson says that metaphors have no non-literal meaning. He does not equivocate: “The concept of metaphor as primarily a vehicle for conveying ideas, even unusual ones, seems to me as wrong as the parent idea that a metaphor has special meaning”; he continues on to link this restriction to the sense in which metaphors cannot be more plainly said, “I agree with the view that metaphors cannot be paraphrased, but I think this is not because metaphors say something too novel for literal expression but because there is nothing there to paraphrase” (246). Taking to task any attempt to explicate the meaning of a metaphor, he quotes Max Black’s making explicit what seems implicit:

When Schopenhauer called geometric proof a mousetrap, he was, according to such a view, saying (though not explicitly): ‘A geometrical proof is like a mousetrap, since both offer a delusive reward, entice their victims by degrees, lead to a disagreeable surprise, etc.’ (254)

Davidson argues that, Schopenhauer actually said none of these things that Black attributes to him. What he said was solely that geometric proof is a mousetrap. He points out that Max Black lists three similarities, but the list could go on forever (255).

Paraphrase restates what has already been stated. The inefficacy of metaphorical paraphrase for Davidson points directly to the fact that no meaning has been strictly been stated in the first place. He takes as an illustrative example the sentence ‘Tolstoy is a great moralizing infant’, a thought expressed by a literary critic (248). If metaphors call our attention to some likeness, what such a sentence tells us to do is picture a class of objects which includes all infants, plus Tolstoy. The temptation is to say that given enough time and intelligence we could come up with the right words to define what infantness is, the property which all these objects, infants and Tolstoy, share. Davidson’s claim is that no matter the perfection of the words one comes up with, one could never exhaust the implications of such a phrase. His conclusion will be that such an ambition is misguided.

I think, that we imagine that there is a content to be captured when all the while we are in fact focusing on what the metaphor makes us notice. If what the metaphor makes us notice were finite in scope and propositional in nature, this would not in itself make trouble; we would simply project the content the metaphor brought to mind onto the metaphor. But in fact there is no limit to what a metaphor calls to our attention, and much of what we are caused to notice is not propositional in character (262-63)

When we are caused to imagine Tolstoy as an infant, the qualities of infantness give rise to an endless stream of possible propositional statements. An unlimited flow of associations and images come to mind, but Davidson denies these cognitive status as meanings. In order to understand this denial one must first appreciate Davidson’s concept of the truth of sentences—that only propositions can be true—and therefore his restrictive understanding of what can qualify as meaning.

Digging into the idea that metaphors contain two kinds of meaning, a literal and a figurative one, he asks for the rule that connects the figurative to the literal, for otherwise the metaphor just slides into ambiguity (250). He tells us to imagine teaching a visitor from the planet Saturn the meaning of the word “floor.” Through various tappings, pointings and other ostensive gestures, coupled with our speaking of the word “floor”, pretty soon our Saturnian appears to get the idea of the word “floor.” Its use gives it its meaning. Davidson then asks us to imagine that our friend transports us to Saturn, and that “looking back remotely at the earth you say to him, nodding at the earth, ‘floor’…as you were remembering how Dante, from a similar place in the heavens, saw the inhabited earth as ‘the small round floor that makes us passionate’” (251). Davidson questions, how our Saturn friend is to know if you are teaching him a new use of the word “floor” (continuing your point-and-speak method), or teaching him something new about the world. It is a subtle distinction, but for Davidson an important and illustrative one. During the “lesson” the Saturnian was learning something about language, how it connects to the world; but in referring to the earth as ‘floor’ from Saturn, if this is to be understood metaphorically, he is no longer learning something about language, but about the world and one’s relationship to it. It is not simply a new literal use of an old word, but a use whose falseness invites invention. It is upon this differential that Davidson applies the full force of his interpretation of how metaphors work. They work through literal falsehood, by being propositionally untrue. Hence, metaphors cannot be said to have expanded, or even second-order meanings that reference the same thing that literal meanings reference: “That man is a wolf,” is distinctly different from “That man is very much like a wolf” (257), though they both call our attention to similar things. One states something literally false, the other something trivially true (258).

In keeping with the uniqueness of metaphorical play—and its resistance to literalization—Davidson stresses that unlike new literal uses of an old word, the novelty of a metaphor does not wear off. He calls it a “built-in aesthetic feature we can experience again and again, like the surprise in Haydn’s Symphony No. 94, or a familiar deceptive cadence” (253). So when Yeats writes, “That dolphin-torn, that gong-tormented sea,” the effect seems to re-enact itself no matter our explanation of its meaning or the repetition of it. This eternal youth of a metaphor, Davidson argues, is due to its patent falseness. Only fabric is literally torn, only living things can be literally tormented by gongs. So, specific to Davidson’s interpretative enterprise is his restrictive sense of what meaning means: truth is a property of propositions (not of ideas, intuitions or feelings) and as such, requires truth conditions (β) ; for a statement to be said to have meaning, for Davidson it must be a meaning free from immediate context, and be of a propositional nature.

Eva Kittay, while presenting an alternate theory of metaphor in her book Metaphor, usefully summarizes Davidson’s position in this way:

1). Meaning in language is context-free (γ).
2). Aspects of language which are not context-free are not questions of language meaning but of language use.
3). Metaphorical interpretation is context-bound hence it is not a question of meaning, but of use.
4). Therefore there is no meaning of metaphorical utterances beyond their literal meaning.
5). If there is only literal meaning of metaphorical utterances, then any cognitive content they possess must be expressible in a literal utterance.
6). Whatever is interesting about metaphor must therefore lie in a use of language and cannot be a question of an unparaphraseable cognitive content. (97)

She further adduces for Davidson the Tarski-like sentence limitation, “‘Man is a wolf’ is true if and only if man is a wolf.” One can see the conceptual base from which Davidson is denying the meaning of metaphors, and from which he is attributing their unique power in use (δ) . But more interestingly, Kittay recognizes that Davidson may be at a nexus of a change in his idea of rule-governed, formal linguistic meanings, and what will be made more evident in his not-yet-written 1986 essay “A Nice Derangement of Epitaphs,” where he moves from “truth-condition semantics” to a provocative concept of language as the convergence of “passing theories” sharing inferential methods (118). One is left with the impression that Davidson, while in theory explicitly restricting the realm of metaphor to literal falseness and linguistic use, in the gap between formal/literal meanings and linguistic performance, he has opened the door to a larger meaning-field, that in terms of a potentiality of meanings produced.

So as one comes to grapple with what “use” means in the world, and how metaphors may come to eventually “die” after long periods of a “figurative” life—in the way that bottles and rivers have come literally to have “mouths”—one might see how falsity can have a productive effect on the future use of words, and thus how something literally false may be taken as the causative basis of future literal truths. In this way the prospects of understanding language itself as an institutionalized limit of social capabilities, a formal grounds or horizon whose very broken formality, of which metaphor is a primary example, constitutes the possibility of its growth and capability through repair and inclusion. Between the formal truth of propositions, and the richness of linguistic performances, lies, one might claim: invention. This could be called the difference between Okham’s Razor and Vico’s magnet (ε) .

 

 

 

…it is naturally beyond our power to form the vast image of this mistress called “Sympathetic Nature.” Men shape the phrase with their lips but have nothing in their minds, for what they have in their mind is a falsehood, which is nothing; and their imagination no longer avails them to form a vast false image.

– Giambattista Vico, New Science §378

 

When considering the possibility and consequence of meanings that are not literally true in the Davidsonian sense—as we draw out from the narrowness of an academic debate, to the relevance of the social organization of the world that philosophy and sociology seek to describe—it may be instructive to look to the original concepts employed by Giambattista Vico in his Scienza Nuova. Vico’s work rests at the nexus when philosophy first came to realize the possibility of historically constructed truths. And while it is not necessary to take in the full scope of this remarkable and imaginative work, it will pay to unlock the novelty of his approach to history, truth and ideas, and examine the constitutive role given by him to kinds of human thinking in the concretization of events and institutions. For it was this role of kinds of thinking that he imagined he had discovered, and which he called “the master key” to a new science (New Science §34).

It is helpful to first retrace Vico’s epistemic turn from the world of Nature, to the world of man-made things. In this way his ideas of the imagination can best be situated in his discovery that what’s ‘true’ can be known through history (ζ) . Vico’s New Science (1730/1744) was aimed broadly at—yet beyond—his realization that “the true and the made are transposable,” (verum et factum convertuntur), or more simply put, “the true is the made,” a principle he first presented in Ancient Wisdom (1710). This was his radical break from Descartes’ claim to have internal knowledge which could be a foundation for the sciences. By the logic of this stated principle, Vico argued that God alone was given the possibility of a knowledge of the physical world, for only God had made it (Verene 37-40). Yet, though this verum-factum principle indeed cleaved man from scientifically knowing the intelligibles of the universe, it also placed mathematics and geometry within the purview of the knowable, because as he argued, points, lines and planes were in fact made by men. In this way, by analogy, as God had made the universe and so knows it, so men have made geometry and know it. It is intelligible to them. So this division between Nature and the things man has made was the first logical move that would allow Vico to turn his attention to other things understood also to be made by men.

This verum-factum principle had prepared the ground for a second seminal thought, first presented in Universal Law (1720), ten years later. “The certain is part of the true” (certum est pars veri), a necessary connection seen between the rationally true, and the historically known, between ideas and language, and between ratio and auctoritas (Fassò 4-6, Fisch 408, Verene 56). The emphasis had shifted from the distinction between the divine and the human, to two aspects of the humanly made: the true and the known. By the time of the New Science Vico’s distinction is such that, The true is still the intelligible; the certain now is the ascertainable. The intelligible is that which may be understood by reason, in terms of causes, universals, laws. The ascertainable is that which may be witnessed, or suffered, or known by testimony of witnesses or from competent authority (Fisch 412).

These two principles—that the objects of science are only things made, and then the realization that Nations are made by laws, languages and customs produced by human choice as the world is experienced and rationally conceived—allow Vico the full scientific shift from the natural world, to history itself, as accomplished in his New Science:

§138 Philosophy contemplates reason, whence comes knowledge of the true; philology observes that which human choice is author, whence comes consciousness of the certain [163, 325].

§140 This same axiom shows how philosophers failed by half in not giving certainty to their reasoning by appeal to the authority of the philologians, and likewise how the latter failed by half in not taking care to give their authority to the sanction truth by appeal to the reasoning of the philosophers. (η)

Vico conceives of a geometry “more real than just points lines, surfaces and figures,” a geometry of choice-made history, that brings reason and authority together in analysis (§349, §392), achieved through a verstehen (θ), or imaginary re-experience of the sensus communis of past Nations through the rational consideration of the historical evidence it has produced (Verene 55). Central to this analysis, and lastly more germane to our issue of metaphor, is his claim that humanity has gone through distinct historical stages, and that at each stage, as reflected in their laws, institutions and texts, human beings have thought, and even perceived, fundamentally differently. Strikingly, for Vico the abstractions that distinguish modern thought were not at all possible for the first kinds of humans, who were like beasts; (for example the classification of objects, for instance “lions,” by virtue of a property that can be attributed to them, “are four legged,” is not available to earliest humanity). The obvious and significant questions are: How would such kinds of humans organize their sensations; how would they see the world, if classification by properties was not part of their capacity? What kind of “thinking” were such primitives capable of if not the categorical thought that modern humans habitually seem to use? Giambattista Vico’s answer was that the first two stages of humanity, the Age of Gods and then the Age of Heroes, used “Imaginative Universals,” which he contrasted with “Intelligible Universals,” the kinds of thought genera clearly laid out by Aristotle. Earliest humans simply could not think like Aristotle, nor even perhaps like the average Greek of the agora of Aristotle’s day.

Vico had a variety of terms for “Imaginative Universals”: caratteri poetici, generi fantastici, and universali fantastici, (Verene 65-66), but these terms all coalesce around a fabulous use of language in which several particulars are condensed into the identity of a single ideal thing, a portrait, a picture, an image. What is core to this idea for our purposes is that though this condensation defies the modern logic of semantic meanings—in that particulars have a shared identity and not shared properties—such aboriginal universals would still be a mode of thinking, and so might give clue to the way contemporary metaphors work to organize meanings that when put into plain language can be read by Davidson as literally false (ι).

Vico makes his starting place the attempted difficult verstehen of the past, “…we can now scarcely understand and cannot at all imagine how the first men thought[,] who founded gentile humanity. For their minds were so limited to particulars that they regarded every change in facial expression as a new face” (NS §700). He glimpses how original humanity was dramatically charged with the need for separating out the instances of sensation, immediacy, without having the conceptual tools of modern abstractions. And though his fantasy of an infinity of faces in the same face betrays perhaps believability, the trope of its meaning is clear. The uniting of the dissimilar as One is the first metaphorical act of human understanding (κ). There is for Vico a bodily force of human need, of utility, which drives the archaic class of images in a pragmatism of making (λ); he is wrestling with proto-conceptual perception at the level of emotions, as passions bring needs to the world in situ, and order it pictorially, that is, make/invent it in terms of a poiesis that would come to be in history literally sung (μ). He extends the power of this originary clustering of the real in the sung, to the second Age of Heroes, and sees it exemplified in Homeric metaphorical language, and even seen in reason-deprived men of the modern age:

§227…natural speech was succeeded by the poetic locution of images, similes, comparisons, and natural properties.

§228. Mutes utter formless sounds by singing, and stammers by singing teach their tongues to pronounce.

§229 Men vent great passions by breaking into song, as we observe in the most grief-stricken and the most joyful.
§230 …it follows that the founders of the gentile nations, having wandered about in the dumb state of wild beasts and being therefore sluggish, were inexpressive save under the impulse of violent passions, and formed their first languages by singing.

To give sight into how Vico conceived that such metaphorical, indeed fabulous thinking might work, and remain focused on metaphor, one must examine the univocal character of that kind of thought, that is the ways in which it is able to assert a truth that is logically nonsensical.

If we consider the matter well, poetic truth is metaphysical truth, and physical truth which is not in conformity with it should be considered false. Thence springs this important consideration in poetic theory: the true war chief, for example, is the Godfrey that Torquato Tasso imagines; and all the chiefs who do not conform throughout to Godfrey are not true chiefs of war (New Science §205).

Donald Verene brings into bolder relief this univocal quality, pushing forward the kinds of alogical truths that fabulous thoughts present. Universali fantastici declare identities, not similarities:
The poetic mind can make assertions that are nonsense for the rational mind. It can assert meaningfully for or to itself that each member of the class of wise men is literally Ulysses, not that each individual is a Ulysses or is like Ulysses, but that each is identical with Ulysses. Each individual can be said to be Ulysses in the sense that Ulysses is their reality (77).

The very epistemic reality of a particular thing is found in its ideal pictorial form. A “wise” person actually has existence—that is, we at a fabulous and primitive time would be aware of his existence, our ability to assert it as a thing—only as Ulysses, a reality to which all physical truth must yield. Hillard Aronovitch rightly expresses the bodily source of this univocality, as coming out of the sensus communis of a people, “imaginative universals are sensed and felt, and so brought into being” (220-221) (ν). In the shadow of Davidson’s prohibition of attributing literal meaning to metaphorical statements, one can see that Vico’s universali fantastici potentially step in to fill the void where Davidson has permitted only linguistic use and not meaning. For it is through this vertical apparatus of imaginative identities that statements that are literally false in semantic terms, can be seen as assertively true.

The facticity of metaphorical truth can be followed as Vico makes the requisite bridge from the fantastic thinking of primitives to the literary use of the tropes and metaphor in particular:
All the first tropes [metaphor, metonymy, synecdoche and irony] are corollaries of this poetic logic. The most luminous and therefore the most necessary and frequent is metaphor. It is most praised when it give sense and passion to insensate things…by which the first poets attributed to bodies the being of animate substances, with capacities measured by their own, namely sense and passion, and in this way made fables of them. Thus every metaphor is a fable in brief (§404).

If one’s analytic gaze remains upon the construction of metaphorical meanings, upon their non-analogical nature, being clear that when fabulous identities are made, in that particularities are brought under a single ideal image, one sees that they are essentialized. It is metaphor’s “unity-in-difference”, and not analogy’s “combination of elements” (Verene 41) (ξ). Because this univocal nature is not the predication of properties by the minds of distant poets, but rather of identities themselves, Vico’s is not a euhemeristic theory of myth, that is, myths are not fabulous “embellishments” of events otherwise first perceived in a historical, “empirically ordered” way (Verene 70-71). Poets do not ornament but rather record. Fables are vera narratio, they tell us exactly how sensations are produced by perceiving minds, in real, literal histories. Again the strict believability of such an insistence will not prove necessary to feel the weight of Vico’s theory; it will not matter if in Homeric times the mind was only capable of organizing perceptions precisely as the poet “Homer” was able to express them—though it is Vico’ contention that the sensus communis of Greece wrote the Iliad and the Odyssey, and not a man named Homer (§780ff). What is pertinent is that fabulous language has a univocal effect upon perception itself, as it asserts and expresses essentializing identities through portraiture; it both shapes and enables the lens of epistemic witness. In this way, Vico’s is the possibility that primitive humanity—much as animals themselves might—organized sensation entirely through images, a process of which modern metaphorical language, and even contemporary arts, can be seen as a powerful remnant.

Vico turns this exploration into fabulous perceptions back onto the histories of peoples themselves. He sees in myth a reflection of the actual needs and their institutions, given the perceptual capacities of the humans of their time. This is his New Science,

It follows that the first science to be learned should be mythology or the interpretation of fables… By such a method the beginnings of the sciences as well as of nations are to be discovered, for they sprang from the nations and from no other source. It will be shown throughout this work that they had their beginnings in the public needs or utilities of the people and that they were later perfected as acute individuals applied their reflection to them [498] (§51 italics mine).

For Vico scientific thought can trace two ways: up to universaling truth of made rational principles, which is the pursuit of philosophy, or back down to the particular of the “certain,” which he calls the field of philology, but which we might call sociology, or historical ethnography. The relatedness of bodily sensations which are expressed in the earliest pictorial universali fantastici, is for Vico joined in a double progressive move to the concretized linguistic, legislative and institutional forms—all the civic things that humanity produces, what Cicero called the res publica—and as well to the reflective categorical abstractions of philosophical understanding. He describes the direction up from bodily metaphor and then down to rational reflection this way,

§208 Men at first feel without perceiving, then they percieve with a troubled and agitated spirit, finally they reflect with a clear mind.

§209 This axiom is the principle of poetic sentences [703f], which are formed by feelings of passion and emotion, whereas philosophic sentences are formed by reflection and reasoning. The more the latter rise toward universals, the closer they approach the truth; the more the former descend to particulars, the more certain they become.

What remains to be uncovered—if indeed Vico’s metaphorical “thought” fits into the aporia of use left by Davidson’s strict exclusions—is the way in which univerali fantastici become or co-exist with universali intelligibili; and if so connected, do the univocal operations of Vico’s fabulous language identities still function in present day? A baseline for a linking such interpretative imaginations of the past with contemporary meanings can perhaps be found in Cohen and Nagel’s discussion of the “logic of fictions,” from their book An Introduction to Logic and Scientific Method, as Donald Verene suggests,

Metaphors may thus be viewed as expressing the vague and confused by primal perception of identity, which subsequent processes of discrimination transform nto a conscious and expressed analogy between different things, and which further reflection transforms into the clear assertion of an identity or common element (or relation) which the two different things possess (qtd. in Verene 79).

Vico was under the view that he lived in the age of men, cut off from the poetry of past ages, a rational realm of ironic distance that lacked the ability to percieve somatically as ancient humanity once had. Yet if we are to consider the degree to which imaginative universals are not just past identities, but perhaps active consolidations of social meanings in language and figure that later become literalized, we might do well to distinguish just what these “subsequent processes of discrimination” are, and how, beyond the simple breakdown of pictures into categories, do such pictures become real? In this way the firm line that Davidson draws in metaphor might become a line of luminance, one that allows us to set into bold relief the factual, institutional, literal constituents of life, the things agreed upon in practice, and the affective unions that underwrite and give birth to them.

 

 

5.472 The description of the most general propositional form is the description of the one and only general primitive sign in logic.

7 Whereof one cannot speak, therefore one must remain silent.

- Ludwig Wittgenstein, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus

 

A Juxtaposition of the Two Views (ο)

1. A Vico-inspired sociological reading of Davidson’s dichotomy of literal meanings and use is aided by a return to his parable of the teaching of an alien visitor the meaning of the word ‘floor’. (Recall that this involved pointing at various floors, and speaking the word ‘floor’ aloud.) There is in this example something of what is involved in the use of use that metaphor is supposed to entail. Davidson writes:

Should we call this process learning something about the world or learning something about language? An odd question, since what is learned is that a bit of language refers to a bit of the world. Still it is easy to distinguish between the business of learning the meaning of a word and using the word once the meaning is learned. Comparing these two activities, it is natural to say that the first concerns learning something about language, while the second is typically learning something about the world. If your Saturnian friend has learned how to use the word ‘floor’, you may try telling him something new, that here is a floor. If he has mastered the word trick, you have told him something about the world. (251)

Note that he re-inflates the distinction that he momentarily collapses: “An odd question…” becomes “Still it is easy to distinguish…”. Learning that some bits refer to other bits indeed is important. When one has learned meaning, in particular how these bits are used, one can then learn something about the world, that is you can use them. What is missing from this dichotomy of the things you can learn about when learning language—and this is key to an ideological component of metaphors—is that when learning language you are learning something also about one’s relationship to the world.

2. When you turn to earth from the distance of Saturn, and metaphorically point saying ‘floor’, the reason why this is not simply a new use for an old word, a simple adding to its meaning and the things we know about language, is that one is telling our Saturn friend how we relate to earth, and inviting her to, at least empathetically, relate to it in the same way.

3. “Earth makes me feel the same way that floor makes me feel, it puts me in a similar state.”

4. This is not to say that this is the cognitive content of the metaphor, or meaning, but rather its effect. Body states are invited to be superimposed, and this effect is most efficiently accomplished through literal falsity. When a statement is literally false, but still presumed by situation to be of communicative value, the fuller affective status of figurative “meanings” can take place. The invitation is to affectively and non-systematically feel about this bit of the world in a non-literal fashion, to experience a sensus communis. Because of this socialization through affect, the viewer, reader, listener becomes ideologically fixed, affectively oriented.

5. The work of a metaphor is compared by Davidson to that of a joke, and this is a good point for comparison:

A metaphor does its work through other intermediaries—to suppose that it can be effective only by conveying a coded message is like thinking a joke or a dream makes some statement which a clever interpreter can restate in plain prose. Joke or dream or metaphor can, like a picture or a bump on the head, make us appreciate some fact—but not by standing for, or expressing, the fact. (262)

Upon the hearing of a politically incorrect joke, the simple occasion of “getting of it”, of finding the humor, puts one in an affective state that orients oneself to the world, completely without one’s choice. The “logic” of the joke comes through as true or real, implicating the listener however vociferously she or he might protest its factuality. Those that don’t “get” the joke are simply the ideologically uncoded, and those offended by it are the ideologically polarized, dissonantly recognizing the affective unity that it represents.

6. Because Davidson’s point about meaning and use is one of effect, one can see that there is no strict “logic” of the joke at all, nor of the metaphor or the dream. There is no propositional content—though the use of explanatory sentences could get one to “see” its point if one missed it; jokes can be explained, metaphors analogized, dreams interpreted.

7. Thus, the sensus communis produced by metaphors, jokes and pictures is an affective sociological move, a power move, the binding of bodies through sub-linguistic states. It is precisely because they are not literally true that they are so productive in their use. They foreground the use of meanings, but cannot justify them. Yet, what is the nature of this “finding it” or “getting it”, the seeing of the connection?

8. In looking to make clear the distinction between the literal and the figurative—to bring out both the formal and ideological-affective components—examine an illustrative story from my childhood. From a very young age, perhaps four of five, I learned chess by watching my father and his playing partner play for hours at the kitchen table. They would spend the entire day and night in contest. Some of my earliest memories are of being at the board and watching the pieces move. In the beginning my father was a bit like the Davidson’s earthling, teaching me between games what things were by pointing to them and pronouncing their names. Learning to set up the board in the starting position was perhaps my first formal achievement. At times I cannot remember, surely the rules were then explained to me: the way that pieces moved, the aims and restrictions involved, the literal limits of the game. Beyond this I would watch silently for hours, and learn more about the game, guessing at strategies and counter-strategies, discovering rules of thumb, recognizing opening patterns. It came to the point that I had a fairly literal sense of how the game was played: all the actions could be explained recursively within the vocabulary of the “game” (π).

9. Yet my father’s partner had a certain verve for life, an intensity with which he would move the pieces, the way he would say “Check!” with authority. And he had a particular anomalous habit. At times of game importance, when attacking the queen, instead of saying with customary etiquette “Queen check,” he would baritone “Guard your whore!”, snapping his piece down so it would rap. Putting aside the argument that the piece name ‘queen’ already has a figurative component, and also the convention of informing an opponent of a queen attack, in this proclamation one can see that “whore” ideologically codes the affective experience of the literal piece called the “queen”. The affective associations of attack, defense, honor, femininity, excess, lewdness, power, dignity all coalesce in a single literal move and pronouncement. The figurative force of the name ‘queen’ also is brought into play, yet all of the capabilities of the piece remain the same. No literal change has occurred (ρ). Yet participants are put into a sensus communis. As a child I am not sure how much I understood this then, but this example captures something of the invitation to see-as that metaphor brings about.

10. Such a move in chess accomplishes the two dimensions of “seeing” that Davidson uses to distinguish meaning from use: seeing-that and seeing-as. To illuminate these Davidson recalls Wittgenstein’s famous duck-rabbit, and writes:

[if I say] ‘It’s a duck’, then with luck you see it as a duck: if I say, ‘It’s a rabbit’, you see it as a rabbit. But no proposition expresses what I have lead you to see. Perhaps you have come to know this without ever seeing the drawing as a duck or as a rabbit. Seeing as is not seeing that. Metaphor makes us see one thing as another by making some literal statement that prompts or inspires insight (263, italics mine) (σ).

 

 (τ)

 

My father’s sailor-mouthed chess partner lead my father to see-that his queen was checked by the rules of chess, but also caused him—and to some degree me—to see the queen as a “whore”. To draw the comparison, Vico had ostensibly argued that earliest man lacked even the capacity to see-that, only engaging the world in the seeing-as of Imaginative Universals.

11. The distinction of seeing-as, when put up against the seeing-that categories of formal reasoning and literal truths, seems to require a theory that incorporates creative capacities into the very definition of what is human knowing. Only such a theory could serve to buttress this distinction, for there are no rules to follow in order to see something as something else.

12. With this need in mind let me turn to the discipline of Rhetoric. In his book Rhetoric as Philosophy Ernesto Grassi seeks to rehabilitate the Italian Humanist tradition. In doing so he reflects upon the aporia at the roots of deductive proof, a long standing rational approach to truth. In this way he addresses something of the formal characteristics of truth that Davidson is using to distinguish the meaning of metaphors from its use (υ). He contends that first-principles argument—the deduction of truth from originally true premises—can never be justified in the rational sense; one rather is forced in such occasions to rely upon a non-demonstrative (that is non-apodictic), non-deducible persistence of premise. Such premising is a principle glimpsing of similarity. He summarizes his seeing-as point in terms of indicative speech,

…indicative or allusive [semeinein] speech provides the framework within which the proof can come into existence. Furthermore, if rationality is identified with the process of clarification, we are forced to admit that the primary clarity of the principles is not rational and recognize that the corresponding language in its indicative structure has an ‘evangelic’ character, in the original Greek sense of this word, i.e., ‘noticing’. (20)

Such speech is immediately a ‘showing’—and for this reason ‘figurative’ or ‘imaginative,’ and thus in the original sense ‘theoretical’ [theorein—i.e., to see] It is metaphorical, i.e., it shows something which has a sense, and this means to that figure, to that which is shown, the speech transfers [metapherein] a signification: in this way the speech which realizes the showing ‘leads before the eyes’ [phainesthai] a signification. This speech is and must be an imaginative language. (65)

13. Grassi traces this capacity to “see” back to Aristotle, through the authors of Rhetoric Pico, Polizano, Quintilian and Cicero. There he comes to what Aristotle describes as a fundamental search for “topics” or topoi or common places, which are required when forming syllogisms and arguments (enthymemes) (φ); When approaching a topic one has to recognize relevant distinctions. There are no rules for this recognition. Or as a Wittgensteinian might say, there are no rules for how to follow a rule. The discovery of relations or commonplaces that are necessary for persuasion or proof requires a creative act. It requires a seeing-as; differences must be seen as the same. This creativity is what Cicero called ingenium (Grassi 8, 43, 96), and it was ingenium that Vico had in mind when picturing earliest humanity as primordial poets (χ).

14. With such a view of indicative language, an inventive, metaphorical act is not only at the root of philosophical proof and knowledge, but antecedent to social organization itself. Communal holdings of recognition, a fundamental seeing-as, appear to consolidate, and then later to develop, into a literal and institutional seeing-thats; in this way arguments from first principles, and arguments of persuasion fall back into a rhetorical domain, that of language and its uses.

15. A consequence of this emphasis on use and inventive finding is the unlikely, but possible pairing of latter-Wittgenstein and Cicero. Grassi puts the use/public aspect of Cicero’s thinking briefly in this way:

Since the essence of res (things) is revealed only in their ingenious utilization [usus] in the context of the social and political community, res proves to be res publica, and the state, in its concrete historical situation, turns out to be its original horizon. Only with his efforts on the res publica does man grasp the deep meaning of his labor (9).

By virtue of these homologies of use, it could be said that the Wittgensteinian formation of meaning as use—words of course are public things—is prefigured by Cicero to some degree; and one could also suggest that just as the historic State is seen as the original horizon of meaning for Cicero, so does Wittgenstein see the Lebensform (a Life-form produced by the practices of living) (ψ) as the horizon of meaning (ω). What for Wittgenstein is a form of shared language use, for Cicero is a shared political state.

16. And is not the realization that the “thing” is ultimately the “public thing”, exactly the means by which Wittgenstein denies the possibility of a Private Language—that is a language that one could only speak to oneself, impossible to translate (75-79; prop. 243-264)?

17. Because “first principles” argument cannot ground itself in anything other than the invention of a non-demonstrable, purely indicative source, can it really be that philosophy has found its way back to Cicero and rhetoric through Pragmatism, Wittgenstein, Holism and Davidson, with their combined emphasis on use and public meanings?

18. Because in Davidson’s rather technical point the use of metaphors is at stake, and not their meanings, disagreements over the possibility of the content of any figurative form of expression really fall into a sociological or psychological domains. Exiled from philosophy is a whole host of questions of meaning that long had been held in its purview. Such questions become questions of value and function; and insomuch as they become questions of value, they become questions of social justification and of politics. In that they are things held in common, they are res publica.

19. Consider Richard Rorty’s treatment of Davidson’s approach to metaphor. It is helpful, for he connects it to later developments in Davidson’s philosophy, opening its applicability to a more thorough vision of language as use. In order to get Davidson’s point Rorty asks us to understand language use as the philosopher W.V.O. Quine once expressed it in terms of meaning:
In Quine’s image, the realm of meaning is a relatively small ‘cleared’ area within the jungle of use, one whose boundaries are constantly being both extended and encroached upon. To say, as Davidson does, that ‘metaphor belongs exclusively to the domain of use’ is simply to say that, because metaphors (while still alive) are unparaphrasable, they fall outside the cleared area.” (Rorty 1991, 164)

By talking about language use in such spatial terms, incorporating ideas of domestication and institutional order—the kinds of agricultural and urban practices that delimit an actual jungle from what is not the jungle, the predictable from the unpredictable—Rorty is treading upon Vico-friendly ground; the “word” as it was used and institutionalized, in Vico’s view, is exactly what tames the jungle.

20. Rorty’s interpretation draws on the reasoning behind Davidson’s speculative essay, “A Nice Derangement of Epitaphs” (αα). In this essay Davidson is looking to explain language use in terms of communicative competence and coping strategies alone (ββ): Rorty summarizes Davidson’s attempt to radically describe how language could work without any formal rules in this way:

Davidson tries to undermine the notion of languages as entities by developing the notion of what he calls “a passing theory” about the noises and inscriptions presently being produced by a fellow human being. Think of such a theory as part of a larger “passing theory” about this person’s total behavior – a set of guesses about what she will do under conditions. Such a theory is “passing” because it must constantly be corrected to allow for mumbles, stumbles, malapropisms, metaphors, tics, seizures, psychotic symptoms, egregious stupidity, strokes of genius, and the like. To make things easier, imagine that I am forming a theory about the current behavior of a native of an exotic culture into which I have unexpectedly parachuted. This strange person, who presumably finds me equally strange, will simultaneously be busy forming a theory about my behavior. If we ever succeed in communicating easily and happily, it will be because her guesses about what I am going to do next, including what noises I’m going to make next, and my own expectations about what I shall do or say under certain circumstances, come more or less to coincide, and because the converse is also true. She and I are coping with each other as we might cope with mangoes or boa constrictors – we are not trying to be taken by surprise. (1989, 14)

21. This reprise of Davidson places us in a situation similar to the one Vico’s fantasizes about when picturing how human ur-speech developed, a realm of universali fantastici and invention. Questions of coping, ordering and prediction are paramount. The domain of literal truths insisted upon by Davidson in “What Metaphors Mean” has vanished such that only pure use remains, and no formal “meaning”. This apogee of sense is important, not for its literal value—whether we really are only making passing guesses at each other’s meanings, left and right—but as an aid to understand the nature of the distinction that Davidson draws regarding metaphors in his earlier essay. The cleared away ground within the jungle of use, is a particular way of using language under specific conditions. What Rorty sees Davidson arguing against, when depriving metaphors of any meaning other than their literal falsity, is the possibility for the hidden content of metaphors and figurative language to serve as justification for, that is the reason behind, beliefs.

22. Thus, the effects of metaphors are causal. They lie in the jungle of linguistic events like phenomena of the world, outside of explanatory reasons and cleared-away meanings (γγ).

23. A turn to Vico’s conception of the first word, the first universali fantastici may perhaps serve to subsidize this phenomenalization of metaphorical speech. Before abstract rational thought, it may be reasoned, Imaginative Universals operated more like causes rather than reasons. The first Imaginative Universal was, according to Vico, “JOVE” (§193), an onomatopoeic representation of a thunderclap—which Joyce on the first page his of Finnegan’s Wake, in homage to Vico, rendered as a hundred-letter word:

 “bababadalgharaghtakamminarronnkonnbronntonnerronntuonnthuntrovarrhounawwntoohoordenenthurnuk”—and for the Greeks it was DSUES, the sound of its lightening strike (Verene 83-84).

24. Apart from the fantastic and projective aspects of these re-imaginations, what is significant is the affective nature of this condensation into an image and word. As Vico saw it, when thunder and its lightening happened, there was an affective, that is bodily reaction among the giants of earliest humanity, and it was this sensus communis (δδ); this shared-body state that produced the ability to project such a thing upon the sky, came to signify the power that bound them. From this primordial condensation of human fear, the gradual literalization and institutionalization of that Universal produced human organization itself. Pervasive JOVE became Jove became law (§398), as theocracies and priests-poets, and then aristocracies and heroes, and then senates and scientists, came into existence to facilitate and interpret the socially constructed signs of the divine. Upon this fundamental trope of an affective sensus communis projected into forms of increasing abstraction, articulation, and institutionality, Vico builds a conception of a history of man.

25. Taken in this way, present-day metaphors—because they are literally false in the Davidsonian formal sense—could be seen as new Vichian affective identities, a breaking of the laws of strict meaning, the figurative intrusion of seeing-as that works to inform the seeing-that of institutional and literal discourse that establishes an inter-objective world. They are the creation of affective possibilities through the very things they cause us to notice. In their causal nature, they are much more like man-made happenings, and as such would have no more a secondary or systematic meaning than thunderclaps or dreams would (εε).

26. As metaphors and other univocal affective identities become actualized in literal and institutional uses, as things one has been brought to notice in sensus communis are formulated in factualizations and legal acts of endowment, they participate in a process by which such identities become effective, dependable means of communication and social organization.

27. When a literal falsity in even the simplest metaphor is put forth in situations of presumed communication about the world, the rationality of the discourse grants weight to that utterance. Thus…

 

28. “Man is a wolf,” (for instance homo homini lupus est), invites us to form an Imaginative Universal, to project the affective state we feel in regard to wolves, upon what we should feel in regards to “man”. Man literally is a wolf, for all affective intents and purposes, in the brevity of that consideration. This identity allows “knowledge” to grow, as one is called to notice wolfish things about man (producing an attribution of shared properties perhaps), to imagine that others see them as well, and as these things noticed add to our ability to socially organize the “truth” of such a metaphor, it becomes more real. It gives us a sense that the metaphor had a meaning in the first place.

29. This “reality” of the metaphor can exhibit itself in models of how the universe analogically might work, such as in the phrases “the brain is a computer,” or “the heart is a pump,” causing us to notice things that lead to pragmatic pursuits of operational knowledge…or it can show itself through social organization alone, such as the affective Universal identities, “that man is black”, or “she is a whore” wherein we are invited to experience one thing under the affective state of another (that one thing makes me feel the way that other thing makes me feel), and literalize that “truth,”—for instance in legal actualizations such as the Octoroon or Indecency which instantiate and codify, literalizing univocal identities. It is the foundational status of this power that is at stake in the seemingly benign question as to whether metaphors have meaning.

30. Davidson’s deflation of metaphorical meaning can be seen in the context of a larger project of the deflation of philosophy itself, in the way that what is called “true” becomes much more an expression of our human ends, and not the metaphysical authority of “the nature of things,” or “how things really are,” to which philosophers or even scientists are special attendants (ζζ). In this way Davidson can be seen in harmony with Vico’s view of human truths, in that the institutional manifestations of human needs, the constant invention and imposed rationality of social organizations, serve as a limit of what we can know. What we know, is a product of what we value. Prescription precedes description. And the true is the made.

31. Primordial affective universals that Vico theorized had once dominated earliest human beings—so that they thought in ways which he said we could hardly imagine—still are prevalent and bind us today. Perhaps only the complexity of our interrelation, (the resonant changes of connection in fields of linguistic abstraction, technology and law) has changed, as the ways in which two or more bodies can be linked have been multiplied.

32. The some form of concept universali fantastici perhaps belongs within philosophical circulation and debate, in recognition of non-justified univocal identities that are occasions of seeing-as that take on importance in a post-Wittgensteinian era when meaning is defined as use, and use is a public affair. Those seeing-as universals, in the figures of metaphor, depiction and visual portraiture, in condensations of bodily states that become literalized and formalized in institutional uses, can be said to still guide us. They may be the fount of our capacities and the limits of their domain. And this sensus communis such that it readily appears, there, eventually and literally true, is both the means, and the barrier, for achieving change.

33. “…it neither tells nor conceals, but indicates…οὔτε λέγει οὔτε κρύπτει, ἀλλὰ σημαίνει” Heraclitus, fragment 93.

 

 

 

Endnotes

α. Davidson is responding to the view forwarded by Max Black in his influential essay “Metaphor,” in which Black seeks to resolve the unsatisfying vagueness of simply calling metaphors “comparisons”. Black put forth an “interaction theory of metaphor”, giving metaphors “irreducible meaning” and “cognitive content” (following Kittay’s summation, 6). By breaking down metaphorical meaning into “principle” and “subsidiary” subjects, and theorizing a cognitive interaction between them, Black is asserting that there are “systems of implication,” (181), and it is against this systemic claim, with a deflationary concept of the kinds of things that can be claimed, that Davidson is staking out his ground.

β. A distinction is set forth in Davidson’s “Radical Interpretation”:

The first step identifies predicates, singular terms, quantifiers, connectives, and identity; in theory it settles matters of logical form. The second step concentrates on sentences with indexicals; those sentences sometimes held true and sometimes false according to discoverable changes in the world. This step in conjunction with the first limits the possibilities for interpreting individual predicates. The last step deals with remaining sentences, those of which there is not uniform agreement, or those whose truth value does not depend systematically on changes in the environment (136).

By knowing only under the conditions under which speakers hold sentences true, we can come out, given a satisfactory theory, with an interpretation of each sentence. It remains to make good on this last claim. The theory itself at best gives truth conditions (137).

γ. This is a contentious description. Stout, Godlove, Rorty and Penner all dispute this claim (177 Frankenberry).

δ. Alfred Tarski put forward a deflationary theory of truth that has been credited with making clear the “disquotational property” of truth. This is a theory of truth in formal languages such that ‘P’ is True if and only if p. It is upon this formal definition of truth, that a measure of Davidson’s theory rests, in that the disquotation of a metaphorical sentence does not satisfactorily seem to result in its factuality. There is between the disquotation effects of translation for instance: “‘Snow is white’ if and only if la nieve es blanca” seems to provide a basis for truth that “‘He has a heart of ice’ if and only if he has a heart of ice” does not.

ε. Citation unknown.

ζ. This is a larger issue point for Rorty with which I am in agreement. “If one holds a different conception of the limits of semantics and of philosophical explanation, as Black and Hesse do, one has a different conception of the reach of philosophy. Davidson’s metaphilosophical approach differs from theirs, as Newton’s metascientific approach to dynamics differs from Leibniz’s” (Rorty 1991 164).

η. Guido Fassò argues that Vico’s preoccupation with this differential goes as far back as 1708, in his study of Roman Law, (De nostril temporis studiorum ratione): “Here Vico insists above all on the contrast between Roman ius civile, based on authority alone, and the ius honorarium, based on equity or reason: on the contrast in other words, between the certain and the true in law (10). Indeed, when extended to the scientific study of the world, this is nothing other than history, instead of merely law, read as it is both synchronically ideal and as it is diachronically produced.

θ. Aronovitch questions the capacity of an imaginary, that is empathetic, re-making put forth by Donald Verene, as well as the space/time transcendence of the imagination espoused by Sir Isiah Berlin in Vico and Herder (Viking Press, 1976), “…that really to think with or like the primitive mind we should have to treat metaphorical truth as literal truth, signs and symbols of things themselves, and personified types as actual existences, whereas the interpretive understanding depicted above depends on employing these very distinctions to show how the first men apprehended differently from us in not keeping to them (221).” I will propose that the literalization of the metaphor is precisely the process that bifurcates our understanding, and allows historical knowledge. By reading metaphors as bodily effects, the univocality of their reality is re-experienced, but in the context of present day meanings. Though we will lack the complete collapse of distance to our subject that a Homeric man might have had when seeing an army move like flies over a bucket of milk, or Athena implanting a flame in one’s brow, it is that bodily re-experiencing of the literal via the imagination, that leads to the explanatory forces felt in a commonality of senses. It is the very immanence of those affects, which were literalized in language and custom (§313), that poetic thought creates, and hence that provide historical reflection. Even when recollecting the past of one’s own life, the affects of experience are repeated, and reimagined, but in new rational contexts; they carry with them the immance of the rationalities of the past as real and affective, but that immanence need not eclipse the rationality of our own comprehension. One feels in part what the past felt in whole. Or perhaps prospectively put in Vician terms, one experiences the certum of the past in the verum of the present.

ι. In this way metaphorical sentences can prospectively be read as sentences of identity, identity expressed through affective experience, and not literal, or even figurative truths of shared properties.

κ. Nietzsche makes a similar point regarding metaphor and the use of any word or idea, primitivizing rationality: “A nerve stimulus, first transformed into a percept! First metaphor! The percept again copied into a sound! Second metaphor! And each time he leaps completely out of one sphere right into the midst of an entirely different one” (178), and “As certainly as no one leaf is exactly similar to any other, so certain is it that the idea “leaf” has been formed through an arbitrary omission of these individual differences” (179).

μ. Ernesto Grassi sees that for Vico, the originality of the imagination, the ingenium, occurs in a fundamental and creative nexus between human needs and the sensed, which are joined through the invention of similarities: “The ingenious act of imagination is original because the capacity to lend meanings (meta-phe-rein) – the imaginative activity – itself presupposes seeing similarities (similitudines) between that which the senses reveal and human needs that must be satisfied: ‘Ingenium enables man to recognize similar things and to create them.’ ‘Imagination is the eye of the ingenium’.” (Ernesto Grassi, “Vico Versus Freud: Creativity and the Unconscious” p.147. Grassi’s quoted material is from: De antiquissma Italorum sapient, in Opera di Giambattista Vico, ed. Fausto Nicolini. Milan and Naples: Ricciardi, 1953, p.300 and 303).

ν. Grassi expresses the “musical” core of the fashioning of communal awareness: “Musike-not musi, but the organizing power of the muses and poets-creates the measure for everything that is not merely ‘outside’ of man in the form of ‘external nature,’ but which also manifests itself in him, in his drives and passions. Poetic, figurative, and hence ‘metaphorical’ activities provide the possibility of mankind liberating himself from the immediate strictures of nature. This possibility proves itself in the ‘festival'; humanity is celebrated in the freedom that is attained in the power of the metaphor” (1980, 75).

ξ. I shall leave behind for the moment the apparent ideological component buried in this example of Ulysses, only to return to it later (for as unrealistic as this kind of perceptive mode may sound at first blush, it does bear notable resemblance to ideological thinking on race, gender and class).

ο. Vico makes this distinction explicit when he compares mythologies, of which metaphors are of but an example, to allegories which in the modern mind are based on the attribution of predicates:

“…the mythologies must have been the allegories corresponding to them. Allegory is defined as diversiloquium [210], insofar as, by identity not of proportion but (to speak scholastically) of predicablity…So that they must have a univocal signification connoting a quality common to all their species and individuals (as Achilles connotes an idea of valor common to all strong men)” (§403). In that mythologies do not share properties in the abstract, as their imposed allegorical interpretations do (First New Science §23), poetic identities carry a vertical, essentializing truth.

π. It should be noted from the start that Davidson’s position would deny Vico’s universali fantasitici any cognitive status. While this would be central in terms of the justification of beliefs, the universali fantasitici are here considered as univocal awarenesses of “same” which help socially organize behaviors which fall into Davidson’s category of “use”.

ρ. Consider Wittgenstein’s musing: “The question ‘What is a word really?’ is analogous to ‘What is a piece in chess?'” (40, prop. 10eight)

σ. One is reminded of Wittgenstein’s observation of the “meaning” of a word that changes with emphasis, “When I pronounce this word while reading with expression it is completely filled with meaning.–“How can this be, if meaning is the use of the word?” Well, what I said was intended figuratively. Not that I chose the figure: it forced itself on me.–But the figurative employment of the word can’t get into conflict with the original one” (183).

τ. (166).

υ. This is what Wittgenstein calls “noticing an aspect” (165):

“I suddenly see the solution of a puzzle-picture. Before, there were branches there; now there is a human shape. [or a rabbit when one had only seen a duck]–My visual impression has changed;–what was it like before and what is it like now?-If I represent it by means of an exact copy-and isn’t that a good representation of it?-no change is shown.
And above all I do not say “After all my visual impression isn’t the drawing; it is this-which I can’t shew to anyone.”-Of course it is not the drawing, but neither is it anything of the same category, which I carry within myself. (167)”

φ. What in Davidson can be characterized as a literal semantics of truth-conditions, in Grassi would be the indicative assertion of premises from which deduction can be performed.

χ. Yarbrough summing and quoting Jacques Brunschwig, “. In the Topics , topoi “are not retrospectively related to a number of already produced syllogisms, but prospectively related to a number of syllogisms still to be produced out of them” (1996, 41). Whereas in the Rhetoric the focus is upon finding the appropriate, because habitually used, topoi for a given problem…(1996. “Aristotle’s Rhetoric as a ‘Counterpart’ to Dialectic.” In Essays on Aristotle’s Rhetoric , ed. Améle Oksenberg Rorty, 34-55. Berkeley: U of California P.); (81-82).

ψ. Providence has well arranged human things by awakening in the human mind first topics, and then critique, just as cognition of things precedes judgment about them. For topics is the faculty which makes minds ‘ingenious’, just as critique makes them precise; and in early times the question was, above all, to find those things that are necessary for human life, and finding is a property of ingenium (Vico, Scienza nuova, qtd. in Grassi 45).

ω. Wittgenstein writes: “Proposition 241-‘So you are saying that human agreement decides what is true and what is false?’-It is what human beings say that is true or false; and they agree in the language they use. That is not agreement in opinions but in Lebensform” (75); compare this to Cicero’s proto-Holism put in the mouth of Crassus: “…there exists no class of things which can stand by itself, severed from the rest, or which the rest can dispense with and yet be able to preserve their own force and everlasting existence” (de Oratore III, 19).

αα. Grassi brings out Cicero’s redress of the Greek philosophical interest first principles argument, and the consequential devotion to the “res obscurae” and “non necessariae”. This produces a dichotomy between the “knower” and the one “capable of speaking” [“alii nos sapere, allii dicere docerent,” Cicero De oratore 3.61] (9). It is precisely this division between the knower and the rhetor that Wittgenstein works to dissolve.

ββ. Note that this is the very place Eva Kittay had argued Davidson was eventually heading towards, but had not yet reached in his formulations on metaphor (118).

γγ. Stephen R. Yarbrough in “Passing Theories through Topical Heuristics” takes up the same essay, forming a connection between Davidson and Aristotle, using Aristotle’s concept of topoi as a nexus point (the very same topoi which Grassi had independently stressed in his interpretation of Vico). He explains that what Davidson calls the “mysterious process” of a shared inferential method between language users is actually the recognition and use of such topoi, allowing speakers to form passing yet converging theories on the fly, that is, “communicate”. Thus, the constant invention of solutions to pragmatic questions of everyday communication, through the inferential grasp of topical relations, places ingenium at the core of linguistic competence.

Davidson will claim that communicative competence “cannot be taught.” By “cannot be taught,” it should now be clear, Davidson means that the process cannot be conveyed merely formally in the way one can convey, say, mathematics. Discourse, like all intercourse, is a skill that can be developed not through “book learning” but through a process of interaction with things and people. We may learn in abstraction what a topical relation is formally, but we can learn what it means pragmatically only through discursive interaction, through the back and forth of anticipation and revision of our words’ effects. The chef ephebe must learn through trial and error, through attempt and correction, through question and answer with the master how and to what degree each ingredient, temperature alteration, and so on, affects the balance of tastes, the consistency, and the texture of a base and so the very meaning of “First you make a roux.” A recipe hardly conveys this knowledge, this skill of adjustment and interaction, and the recipe alone means little if anything to anyone who does not already understand the topical relations the recipe implies. The beginner cook cannot really understand the language of the recipe, the intention of the writer, until he has made the étouffée, and made it properly (88-89).

That Grassi finds Aristotelian topoi at the center of metaphor use, and Yarbrough finds it integral to Davidson’s evolved emphasis on discourse competence, suggests that that it is a productive conceptual link between the two aspects of Davidson’s thinking.

δδ. “Metaphors often make us notice aspects of things we did not notice before; no doubt they bring surprising analogies and similarities to our attention…’ But notice that the same can be said about anomalous non-linguistic phenomena like platypuses and pulsars. The latter do not (literally) tell us anything, but they make us notice things and start looking for analogies and similarities” (Rorty 1991, 167).

εε. Heraclitus’,”The thunderbolt steers the totality of things,” (fragment 64), now points toward both an affective community of bodily states, and the institutional practices of authority set up to interpret and literalize these states.

ζζ. “Davidson lets us see metaphors on the model of unfamiliar events in the natural world-causes of changing beliefs and desires-rather than on the model or representations of unfamiliar worlds, worlds which are ‘symbolic’ rather than ‘natural’. He lets us see the metaphors which make possible novel scientific theories as causes of our ability to know more about the world, rather than expressions of such knowledge” (Rorty 1991, 163).

ηη. This is a larger issue point for Rorty with which I am in agreement. “If one holds a different conception of the limits of semantics and of philosophical explanation, as Black and Hesse do, one has a different conception of the reach of philosophy. Davidson’s metaphilosophical approach differs from theirs, as Newton’s metascientific approach to dynamics differs from Leibniz’s” (Rorty 1991 164).

 

Works Cited

Aronovitch, Hillard. “Vico and Verstehen.” Vico Past and Present. Ed. by Giorgio Tagliacozzo. Atlantic Highlands: Humanities Press, 1981.

Black, Max. “Metaphor.” in Models and Metaphors, Ithica, NY: Cornell University Press, 1962; originally published in Proceedings from the Aristotle Society, 55, 1954.

Davidson, Donald. “What Metaphors Mean.” Inquiries into Truth and Interpretation. New York: Oxford University Press, 1984.
–. “Radical Interpretation.” Inquiries into Truth and Interpretation. New York: Oxford University Press, 1984.

Fassò, Guido. “The Problem of Law and the Historical Origin of the New Science.” Giambattista Vico’s Science of Humanity. Ed. Giorgio Tagliacozzo and Donald Phillip Verene. Baltimore: The John Hopkins University Press, 1976.

Fisch, Max Harold. “Vico and Pragmatism.” Giambattista Vico: An International Symposium, Ed. Giorgio Tagliacozzo and Hayden V. White. Baltimore: The John Hopkins University Press, 1969.

Frankenberry, Nancy K.. Religion as a “mobile army of metaphors.” Radical Interpretation of Religion.
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002.

Grassi, Ernesto. “Vico Versus Freud: Creativity and the Unconscious.” Vico Past and Present. Ed. Giorgio Tagliacozzo. Atlantic Highlands: Humanities Press, 1981.
–. Rhetoric as Philosophy. University Park and London: The Pennsylvania State University Press, 1980.

Kittay, Eva. Metaphor. New York: Oxford University Press, 1987.

Nietzsche, Friedrich. “On Truth and Falsity In An Extramoral Sense”. Early Greek Philosophy & Other Essays. Trans. Maximlian A Mügge. New York: Russell & Russell, Inc., 1964.

Rorty, Richard. Contingency, irony, and solidarity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989.
–. “Unfamiliar noises: Hesse and Davidson on metaphor.” Objectivity, relativism and truth: Philosophical papers, volume I. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991.

Verene, Donald Phillip. Vico’s Science of Imagination. Ithica: Cornell University Press, 1991.

Vico, Giambattista. The New Science of Giambattista Vico. 1744. Trans. Thomas Goddard Bergin and Max Harold Fisch. Ithica: The John Hopkins University Press, 1976.

Wittgenstein, Ludwig. Philosophical Investigations. Trans. G. E. M. Anscombe. Third edition, revised. Malden: Blackwell Publishing Ltd, 2004.

Yarbrough, Stephen R.. “Passing Theories through Topical Heuristics: Donald Davidson, Aristotle, and the Conditions of Discursive Competence.” Philosophy and Rhetoric. Volume 37, Number 1, 2004.

[written May 6, 2006]

Spinoza’s Rose

Spinoza would sign his letters with the above image of a rose and the word “caute” (Latin for caution, carefully, beware). It was a ring that he wore.

What I find of note here is that in resorting to, and seemingly having some enjoyment in, an iconic communication of an idea, he is communicating in a way quite distinct from his geometric style of so much fame. Instead we have a double movement. You have an image and its word below it, a veritable thing (extension) and its idea. Af first glance it seems to hold a fairly conservative and moral meaning. Sensuous images, attractive things, emotions are things one should Beware. But there is more to this image and word. Firstly, the rose was not just the image of the sensuous, but also that of secrecy. The Rosicrucian movement was in full swing at this time (and there is even some evidence that Descartes was a member or adherent early in his life), an esoteric vision of the world in which mathematics played an interesting part.

This is not to say that Spinoza’s Rose was Rosicrucian, but that the image holds something of the occult in the literal sense, that every physical thing keeps in its heart causal consequences which are hidden, a secrecy of effects. Further, the Rose is an image pun, in that Spinoza’s name holds the Portuguese word for “thorn” espinoza. And he was of Portuguese descent. (The ring has not only the image and word “caute” but also his initials.) It reads something along the lines of “I am a rose, beware the thorns”. Interestingly to me, this departs somewhat from the cool, rational picture we have of Spinoza, and contributes something to how he saw the world, and himself. In a sense, caute is the idea which lies behind every appearance for Spinoza. But this caution cannot be read merely as a moral conservatism, a simple, “don’t indulge”, but rather as expressing the idea that all things have edges and complex consequences.

By signing his letters and wearing his ring in such a personal way, Spinoza expressed something of himself that we miss. He was a very thorny person. He was excommunicated from the Jewish Community as a young man, no light event. His ideas would unleash any number of accusations and consequences over the next 150 years. He was a particular kind of rose. There is also the sense that by so suitably carrying his message in a pictorial form, he seems to be embracing the very thing which Idealism would diminish, the real Image, the physical rose. We can see the difference between his Rose and the word “caute” and a similar combination of the Image and the word “rose”. He is not making a Saussurian point between the signifer and the signified, but between a thing and its real consequences to us. He says, I appear to you as a rose, beware.

What is one to make of Spinoza’s play with puns and pictures?

What happens when we take even words as roses?

[written September 23, 2008]

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