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Tag Archives: Metaphysics

The/An Importance of Metaphysics

The Science Fiction of Philosophy

This conversation over at Dead Voles has been winding, snake-back, but in this bend in the road some interesting things were being discussed.

Carl gives his rendition of what he believes my position on the importance of philosophical argument, something with which I agree in part. Carl’s general sense is that philosophy (or perhaps metaphysics) isn’t really of any historical importance, both in terms of social justice, but also simply in terms of historical causation:

Carl: “If I understand correctly, Kevin agrees with this as a description of how philosophy usually works, but has a more activist commitment to the potential of philosophy to break the materialist circle and become a guide to better living. If he’s right that philosophical activism can actually have an effect on the world, and not just be an effect of the world, the stakes in philosophizing get very high, conflict is warranted (even mandatory) and withdrawal is not an option. Therefore I would expect Kevin to think that an unwillingness to fight over philosophy is in effect a cover for conservatism; so he would in principle reject the separation of affect and commitment I have made.”

Kvond: I’ve never heard my position towards philosophy summarized by another so this is interesting.

First of all I am equally, if not more passionate about art (plastic, film, poetry, fiction, etc), I just happen to blog about philosophy because this is what feeds my artistic process. And yes, to take of your thought, what we paint, film and narrate indeed expresses our historical, material, economic circumstances, but it does not ONLY do so like a dumb image floating in a mirror, it ALSO helps determine them. So everything that is at stake in philosophy is also at stake in the arts. It is only that the mode of criticism of both is different. The need for criticism of each is acute. (Part of the problem I have tried to put forth in regards to Graham Harman under the question of his Orientalism is the way in which he evades criticism of both. When criticized as philosophy, is merely being poetic, when criticized as poet, is being a philosopher, in the end taking refuge merely as a non-author.) I do also believe that the arts can be critiqued through a mode of truth, and philosophies as modes of the social, but these are not their primary traction points in the world, the force they exert.

As of the secondary question of conservatism I am not so high on this, as if buried conservatism is an inherent and ever lurking evil. I think that conservativism plays its own social role in the world, it is meant to conserve (perhaps Deleuze would say re-territorialize) aspects or relations in the face of radical change or dissonance. I am concerned about conservativism in two areas though. For one, I find the the Neoliberal (and really Fascist) elements in Levi Bryant’s Latourian objectology to be a vast case of political hypocrisy, and when someone bandies about the big rhetorical guns, blasting them this way and that, as he does, one better have one’s ps and qs straight in the positions you advocate. I find Levi’s metaphysics indeed to be Neoliberalesque, and his behavior as a person (for instance his call for uncloaking blogger identities, among many others) Fascist. When in the arena of political ideals, most important is that we don’t drag with us the very thing we are claiming to oppose. This leads to the secondary sense in which I find conservatism worth tracking. That is, because it is a social force, and has a social role, it is best if we identify it wherein it lies, so we can take it’s import into account, and look to just what it is that we are opposing. I made this point with Harman’s Orientialism as well. It is not that Orientalism is inherently “bad”, but that it contains dangers, possible negative side-effects which have a greater opportunity to manifest themselves when we are less conscious of what is going on, what is being expressed.

Perhaps this answer of mine clears up why I have bothered to tarry over Harman’s theory of causation in particular and his metaphysics in general. In the next line of our exchange I try to point out to Carl why the difference between Science Fiction and Science (by analogy) is important to philosophy’s own power to contribute to the discovery (or invention) of the world:

Carl once wrote: “…even in this ghetto philosophy has spun off useful new disciplines like Sociology, Anthropology, Political Science and so on that do much of the work philosophers used to do.”

Carl writes: “I actually agree with this ethic of getting it right and knowing where you stand, and I think it’s therefore of value to read closely and criticize when it’s warranted. I just don’t think philosophy, in particular metaphysics, is an area where there’s any useful standard of getting it right. It’s all science fiction.”

Kvond: This is the thing. I know you would like to treat philosophy as the latter, but the reason why philosophy WAS able and is STILL able to make these “spin-off” contributions to the social sciences is precisely because it recognizes the difference (within itself) between (Science Fiction) Pulp-Philosophy, and (Science) Philosophy. The internal coherence driven by the latter (and not the former) is what gave the force to descriptive systems that then power the descriptions of (some) social sciences. There is no EXTERNAL standard in the sense of a one-to-one correspondence, but indeed there is the standard of internal coherence amid systematic descriptions of the world which forces rigor within a theory that attempts to describe the world as it REALLY is. And it is this rigor that is missing from the Science Fiction aspects of philosophy.

This is one of the good things that blogs can do, just alert people to things being discussed, so that others may take the discussion in other directions or elsewhere. The arguments have the disadvantage of being rough-edged, but the advantage of being living cultures.

The Unmarked Font of Metaphysics and Truth: Helvetica and Belief

 

The Metaphysics of Fonts

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

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

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

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

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

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

Descartes on the basic distinction between comprehension and assessment: 

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

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

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

The Elder, Truth

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

–John Donne

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

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

Or, as James later will sum of Spinoza:

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

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

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

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

The Library of Knowledges: Fiction and Non-Fiction

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

The Powers of Helvetica

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

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

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

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

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

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

Binaries, Orientalism and Harman on the Exotic

The Gleam of Gold and the Pasha of Causation

Graham was generous enough a spirit to take my cultural criticism of his metaphysics at a distance, and to allow my commentary to largely remain at the level of theory. In my last two posts, The White and the Colored In Heidegger (and Harman), and then The Allure of Graham Harman’s Orientalism and Flaubert I attempted to lay out the bare bones theoretical framework for such a critique, along lines of an essential “invisible but working” and “visible but broken” dichotomy, buried at the heart of Heidegger; and then, stretching into example, to show that the very words, metaphors and topics of Graham’s characterizations of the realm of “sensuous objects” bore a significant resemblance to the Orientalizing descriptions of North Africa, offered by Gustave Flaubert, an author that Graham has strong resistence to, due to his Orientalization of the land of Egypt. My point was that Graham’s Heideggerian and Husserlian essentializations, and in particular his use of them, carry with them a, perhaps historically unconscious, colonialist white/colored dichotomy which operates through much of our social stereotypes of the East and the Exotic, positioning these sensuous “essences” in a problematic role opposite necessarily retreating invisible essences (especially when one buries them in the heart of a universal theory of causation).

This was his response to the offered critique. He at first dismisses it, bluntly, and honestly, but then makes some important and debatable points:

I don’t think much of the connection, to be blunt. But there’s a certain beauty to the post, with its commentary on hilarious phrases that I’d forgotten I’d even written (“like streamers on a maypole or jewels on a houka”) and the always stunning wealth of illustration that is part of Kevin’s package in every post.

But no, I don’t see why binaries or hiddenness lead to orientalism in the bad sense. They do lead to orientalism in the sense of exoticism, and I do love the exotic. But you have to remember that I don’t think you need to be around non-white peoples to get the exotic. You can already get it from a cheap hammer withdrawing into its subterranean tool-effect in places like Logan, Utah and Waterloo, Iowa. I didn’t have to come to Egypt to get that sort of concealment.

Incidentally, I am made very suspicious by the fact that it’s almost always Westerners who accuse people of Orientalism. I’ve never been accused of this by an Egyptian (nor even a Westerner before Kevin). The West loves to accuse itself of horrible, apocalyptic crimes, but isn’t it clear that this is just the flip side of patriotic hubris? It’s a way of making the West a privileged term by saying “if we’re not the best, then we must be the worst.” And when people call themselves the worst at anything, it’s usually a way of fishing for compliments. (source here)

I have to say first off that I cherish the way that Graham is able to laugh at himself, especially when aspects of his old writing are brought back to haunt him. This is a golden capacity. Graham’s prodigious use of metaphor in his metaphysics is something that he savors. I recall him in a recent post being resolutely unapologetic for his metaphors, saying something of the sort, “Should I apologize for writing well?” (it made me genuinely smile). So to have your own metaphors turned against you, or exposed as a kind of “bad writing” (which I don’t really see them as), can’t be all that pleasant. But it is exactly to his metaphors that one is forced to turn. In part, because he uses them profusely, and in part because he leverages his entire theory upon metaphorization itself, folding his style into his content. If the strength of his theory is metaphorical, so there it must be tested.

And it was exactly his metaphorically charged synthesis of the objects of Husserl and Heidegger which exposed for me that hidden cultural, colonialist dichotomy to be found in Heidegger’s invisible-white/colored, working/broken, sense of the world. It wasn’t until Graham started talking about the sensuousness of the Intentional Object world in terms that were to my ear quite tribal and orientializing that the full picture came into view. There remains the larger question of whether Heidegger or Husserl fall to this critique (I believe that in the very least Heidegger does), but Graham Harman’s unique product from the thinking of these two seems specifically organized around a orientalizing projection. One might say that it makes up its allure.

“Good” Orientalism and the Money Changer

But I’d like to take up, anew, his appeal to the exotic through binarism. (I did post a response to his commentary which I will follow to some degree, found again here). He says, quoting from above,

“I don’t see why binaries or hiddenness lead to orientalism in the bad sense. They do lead to orientalism in the sense of exoticism, and I do love the exotic.”

It strikes me that though he explicitly denies my point in the first part, not seeing the “connection” I am making, he apparently does see that there is a connection. Binaries which emphasize hiddenness do  lead to orientalism, just not the “bad” kind of orientalism. This confuses me a bit for a variety of reasons. The first is the seeming outright contradiction (I see no connection, then I see a connection), but secondly as I pointed out in my response, he feels that there is a good kind of orientialism, ignoring the obvious tendency of “good” essentializations of peoples to flip themselves into “bad” essentialization. As I wrote in response, I am forced to state some rather obvious social facts, how a positive “exotic” quickly becomes the basis for a negative “exotic”:

One may eroticize the American Indian, and see them as spiritually attuned to Nature, but this too can animalize them, and make them unfit for self-determination, or in need of Salvation. One can see how great the American Black dances, how much rhythm they have and “cool” they are, and also realize by virtue of this, you really wouldn’t want them in charge of your money market fund.

Is this fair? Is Graham really stating that there are positive exoticizations of persons and cultures but remaining blind to the shadow of such a process? To take a historical example, does he not see that the exoticness of the Jew allowed him to historically stand outside of Christian law in a nether world, and make money through the otherwise un-Christian charging of interest? Is not the “Jew” (and there are so many other kinds of historical examples), an ideal model for Graham’s internalized, mediating Orientalization, becoming in the 16th and 17th centuries the very exo-teric mediating form for Capitalized growth? There is that spectacular story of how in Spinoza’s lifetime English royalty – I’ve forgotten which – had to literally come to the Jewish Ghetto in Amsterdam to secure funds to continue the war. How ex-otic. Talk about Vicarious Causation. And where does the “positive” of this binarization of the exotic stop? When does “they are so good at communications, calculations, accumulations” becomes “they want to rape our women, blaspheme our God, overturn our government”? These are obvious inversions, but I have to raise them if only to understand just how Graham imagines the fully positive role the exotic plays in the world (and I do believe that it does have a positive role). I love the exotic too. One just must realize something of the freight that gets carried with exotic, what processes are involved.

Veiled Whiteness and the Working Tool

Graham rightfully stresses that his notion of the exotic necessarily must be found not only in Bejing, but also in Logan, Utah:

You can already get it from a cheap hammer withdrawing into its subterranean tool-effect in places like Logan, Utah and Waterloo, Iowa. I didn’t have to come to Egypt to get that sort of concealment.

This is certainly an important aspect of his theory (but notably he spends little rhetorical time speaking in such terms to put forth the power of his descriptions). He, even more than his predecessor, wants to get away from actual tools and actual craftsman as fast as possible. Tool use is much more a launchpad for a great binarizing abstraction. And as I argued in Checking Heidegger’s Hammer: The Pleasure and Direction of the Whirr, if one paid attention to actually tool and instrument use, and were not governed by such optical metaphors as “hidden” and “veiled” and “invisible” one might end up with a very different metaphysical sense of the world. Rather, because Graham starts with Heidegger’s optically driven rhetoric of objects, he is already caught up in an invisible/colored dynamic, one which provides a near magnetic attraction for colonialist projections of “other” peoples. As I have tried to put forth, the very characterizations of sensuous objects, their properties and difficulties, are racially conditioned. This does not make them unvaluable, but it can make them entreching of binaries better left aside, something to be watched and tested. (And it does put political critique high on the agenda of such an otherwise to be assumed, apolitical ontology).

Because Graham’s comments were no doubt off-hand, I do not have a clear sense of the full grounding of the positive binarization which produces the exotic as solely “good”. Nor can I separate out his own writing, rich with orientializing rhetoric and conception, from that of Flaubert’s Salammbo, to which I draw explicit comparison? Is not Flaubert engaging in the very same “positive” orientalizations of the exotic as Graham suggests result from binarization? Is there a way to separate these out? I am unsure if Graham is denying that his theory is an Orientalizing one, or if he is simply saying that it is Orientalizing, but only in the Good Sense.

The inevitable question of Graham’s biography comes forward. There is the sense that if Graham’s theory orientalizes, then he is an orientalizer? He lives and teaches in a country he truly loves, Egypt. And has come to find his homeland of America more exotic than he does Cairo. I think it important to parse the man from the theory, in part because it is very hard, and actually unfair to critique a man, though much easier and fair to do so to a theory. (Not to mention, Graham seems like the more integrity-laden and intellectually generous of fellows.) Additionally though, I believe we all carry with us into our thinking the opposite for which we might otherwise stand, an importation that actually drives the creative process forward, such that work then allows the occasion to (perhaps unconsciously) engage with the material one objects to, to a give it a place. And as I have said, the importation of the orientalizing exotic in Graham’s theory actually may give us too a means for processing and forwarding the appeal of these rhetorical terms, the very “stuff” of his theory. Personally  I would rather work from different metaphors than those of visual color and hiddenness, especially when we are trying to describe a world beyond merely human conception such as Graham is attempting to do. But if one does engage in the exotic as a means of metaphysics, metaphors of color, wealth, vicars and all the jewels of perception, one should do so consciously, in full critique.

In answer to that path, I believe that when Heidegger begins with a principle trope of invisibility he is partaking in a cultural sense of Whiteness (one that he traces to a perceived whiteness of Greece). And when presencing works to coloredly veil the real being of something, this coloredness inevitably is caught up in the cultural dynamics of skin color and projections of the exotic. It is by the virtue of a primary optical conception of the mind and being that questions of color and visibility occur, and one cannot really separate out questions of color from cultural projections of color. In the 17th century these indeed occurred in a variety of shades and stereotypical fashions. The shade of one’s skin gave it a certain sensuous inner character, and the Asian, the Semite, the Moor, the New World Indian, all had their own internal and exotic qualities. But we also have to stay aware that these shadings which obscured pure and transparent white became entirely polarized by the enslavement of the “black”, particularly for the American consciousness, which re-inscribed the existing invisible/colored binary with an entrenching human limit. “Black” the opposite of “white” became the touchstone of what shading meant. In my opinion all optical metaphors of consciousness have to pass through the historical sieve of how color has been conceived in human beings. And any metaphysics that simply ignores this risks simply re-establishing the radical means by which it is carried out. Part of the satisfactions of the Continental school flat ontologies, ones that refuse a hidden and transparent essence, those of the kind that Graham and I both have some dissatisfaction, is that they have freed themselves to some degree from this white/colored optical projection, and have turned to new metaphors that do not carry so much unconscious and historically brutalizing baggage. Instead of invisible/colored, there are mechanisms, structures, genetic virtuals, networks, intensiities, layers, molarities, planes, etc., etc, etc. 

I do not feel that the recognition of severe cultural mistakes, the way that we have violated some of our most cherished values, is necessarily a kind of “patriotic hubris” as Graham puts it, or even the “fishing for compliments”, though I can see that this is a possibility. It is much more a question of learning from the past, and recognizing where we went wrong, where we have done things we would all be better off not repeating. And part of this recognition is realizing that otherwise seemingly benign conceptions even in the greatest abstraction helped forward certain social judgments to which they did not seem to be immediately connected. The result of a sensitivity to just this kind of connection is not the humorously self-contradictory slogan “Binaries are Bad”, but rather the idea that binaries, fundamental binaries, should be dug into, thought about, and checked.

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.]

Graham Harman’s “essence” contra DeLanda, à la Campanella

Listening From Afar

Just finished listening to Graham Harman’s lecture “Assemblages According to Manuel DeLanda” [mp3] (given at the London School of Economics and Political Science, on 27 November 2008), as part of my attempt come to grips with just what Graham is saying about causation, and much comes clear as he tries to applaud and criticize DeLanda, forming a critical triangle between himself, DeLanda and Latour.

And there is much that is substantive on cause in this lecture, though it passes in and out as a subject. Graham tries to position himself just right, a Goldilocks between DeLanda’s rather fusing, if genetic, depths hiding beneath actualizing expressions and Latour’s satisfying emphasis upon real, though occasionally isolated, and far too-shallow actors in networks. The lecture is not long, and there is a lengthy thought-experiment driven discussion that follows.

It is here, in the discussion where Graham brings up the reality of the essence of the “McCain Victory Coalition” a very real thing that simply did not come about, was not actualized. I had run into this initially in one of his comments on a blogged post and certainly had trouble with it, in concept, conjuring up far too much reality for a science fiction of “possible worlds”. But Graham’s consistent emphasis on essence got me thinking (he makes a very good point that much of the postmodern baby-with-the-bathwater  treatment of essence is due to a conflationary reading of essence, in particular carried out by Derrida).

The “Neapolitan Volcano”

What really came to mind was the philosophy of Tommaso Campanella and his own treatment of essence. There struck me to be great affinity between Graham’s idealization of essence in a notion of retreating objects, split off from their qualities, and the thinking of the late-Renaissance heretic. So while I have spent too much time attacking Graham’s OOP from the perspective of Spinoza (who admittedly is fashionable these days), it seemed right to come to Graham’s support from an extremely unfashionable thinker, one who had almost vanished from the philosophical canon. At the very least it gives me an chance to put forth some more of Campanella’s thought, and perhaps drawn one more line of affinity between Graham’s OOP and late-Scholastic/Renaissance thought.

Here I post without much comment a summation of Campanella’s treatment of essence and existence, taken from Bonansea’s excellent book, Tommaso Campanella: Renaissance Pioneer of Modern Thought. It begins with a quotation from Campanella  himself, followed by Bonansea’s commentary:

To [Scotus’s] second and third arguments we answer that existence is the limit of essence. Since it cannot be distinguished from what is limited and modified, any more than the extreme end of a line that can be distinguished from the line itself, it follows that existence belongs to the same predicament of essence, or better, to the predicament of quantity which is the measure of substance. I mean transcendental quantity; for the angel too, has a limited quanitity of power, and this limit is from his own existence. However, if one considers the extrinsic terminal factors, existence must be said to be an accident. Indeed, although time, place, and all the surrounding beings are also essences, yet they do not belong to the quiddity of a thing that is thereby circumscribed and located in a particular place and time. They are but accidents which contract a thing into such and such an existence.

Met. II, 6, 2, 4, p. 10a

“Existence is, therefore, neither matter, nor form, nor their composite, but their extreme and ultimate mode. It is a transcendental measure that implies a real relationship to external things. It is the end of being and the beginning of nonbeing; or rather, the connecting link between being and nonbeing. Insofar as it has being, it belongs to essence; insofar as it has nonbeing, it belongs to nothingness.

In these statements we have, we believe, the exact meaning of Campanella’s notion of extrinsic existence as something distinct from intrinsic existence. This notion enables us to understand why the existence of a finite being can be said to be identical with essence and at the same time really distinct from it. In the first case, existence stands for the actual intrinsic entity of a thing; in the second case, it stands for the beings outside of an individual essence which is thereby limited by its own nonbeing. For, it should be noted, although in Campanella’s philosophy existence limits essence no less than essence limits existence, the actual limitation or contraction of both essence and existence is from nonbeing.

…The difference between a thing as it is in the mind of God and the same thing as it is in its actuality consists in this, that the latter case its being is contracted to a definite concrete existence. This amounts to saying that by its creation a thing does not acquire a better existence, but only an existence that contracts to a particular and concrete essence the essence that exists in the mind of God in the form of a universal and nobler idea. Since existence is in turn also contracted to a certain particular essence, no distinction can be admitted between essence and intrinsic existence in finite things, just as no distinction is to be admitted between them as they are in the mind of God. (Theol. I, 3, 9)”

Tommaso Campanella: Renaissance Pioneer of Modern Thought  (180-181)

I find this synthesis interesting, and in keeping with much of Graham’s retreating object essences. Campanella grants a full nobility of object essence outside of causes extrinsic to its concrete existence, and uses the suggestive metaphor of the reaching of concrete existence as the reaching of a limit, like the very end or terminus of a line. The accidents of its concrete existence (what Graham calls its qualities) are actually for Campanella the intersection of Being with Nonbeing, into what he calls a contraction. Concrete existence forms a horizon of this intersection, a particularization, to which the essence of something is not reduced. It is in terms that would be satisfying to Graham, in surplus to this horizon. The intrinsic essence of a man as it becomes concretized through the external causes on which it depends comes into contact with what it is not (not-man), is actually coming into contact with Nonbeing itself. And it is not just the essence that is particularized, but so is existence itself. There are almost three layers coming into contraction.

Aside from simply seeing some homologies in thought (many of these simply being a product of Campanella’s attempted synthesis of Scholastic debates), Graham’s surplus object essences and Campanella’s collision of Being with particularizing NonBeing, it was also his claim that there is such an object as the McCain Victory Coalition (something I still have problems with). But I wanted to investigate the degree to which Campanella would grant just such an object. Here I post Bonansea’s commentary on the status of contingent objects in Campanella’s thought (found in a chapter on the Primality of Potentia (power/capactity), something that Campanella reads as co-constitutive of all Being):

“Just as power is needed for acting, so it is needed for being (Met. II, 6, 5, 1). A being that always is has its power to be ab intrinseco, or else it would have to depend on another being for its existence. Such is the first being, whose power to be is its own esse. Beings that now are but at one time were not, i.e., contingent beings, have their power to be ab extrinseco. They are called possible insofar as they can be made through their causes, and actual inasmuch as they actually exist outside their causes. In the first case they have only an imperfect power to be, since this power rests with a cause outside of themselves; in the second case they have a perfect power to be within themselves, because they already exist (Met. II, 6, 5, 3).

One might think that in contingent beings the power to be precedes their own existence; in fact, many things are possible that do not exist yet. However, this is not true, for what is possible already has some sort of existence. It exists causally in its cause, virtually in the agent, potentially in its power, and really, existentially, in the thing itself when it is out of its own cause. No matter how a thing can be, somehow or other it already is. If it can be perfectly, it is perfect; if it can only be in an imperfect way, it is imperfect (Met. p.21a-21b). To state the something has the power to be and not assign to it any sort of being or existence is highly inconsistent. Power to be is therefore an “essentiaity” of being (Met. p. 21b). It is being itself insofar as it is or will be (Met. II, 6, 6, 7).

Tommaso Campanella: Renaissance Pioneer of Modern Thought (150) 

Not addressed are contingent objects which have not, and this will not now come into existence, such as the one Graham preposes (unless one imagines that McCain’s Victory Coalition could come into play in a next election). But this notion of the potentia/power of a thing that already exists in its causes (ab extrinseco), and in its intrinsic essence yet concretized, seems to be the very concepts that Graham is capitalizing on when asserting that such an object must in some sense exist. I offer from this excentric but beautiful thinker a pillar of conceptual support from across the centuries for Graham’s claim for the existence of non-concretized potential objects, at least as a rough point of affinity.

Inhuman Causation

To turn to a different question, in terms of my discoveries within the lecture on the subject of causation, Graham admits what to me is the rather profound difficulty to explain what causation is at the very level of the inanimate (where we assume the preponderance of causation in the Universe occurs). He is quite fair with this, never hiding this fault. But this is huge. I quote from the discussion that followed:

“It is not exactly clear to me how it happens in the case of inanimate objects. We can it better in the case of human things. We can ask ourselves why some metaphors work and others don’t. Um, why some jokes work and some others don’t. Um, its not entirely clear to me why in the case of certain physical interactions sometimes there is a causal effect, sometimes there is no causal effect when two things meet at all. Sometimes it goes in only one direction….I think what we do methodologically is that we first have to look at the human cases and see why the object is severed from it traits, first, and then we kind of retroactively try to think down to the inanimate level and see how it might work there. That’s why you have to start with aesthetics to get at causation.”

There are two problems that I see with this problem. It is good that Graham excavates the problem itself, trying to point out that for a Realist other supposed solutions to this problem, (how do the buried essences of things touch each other), may not really be solutions at all; something of the problem of cause may have been swept under the philosophical rug (and he provides an excellent critique of DeLanda’s dismissal of determination). Yet to offer a metaphysics of the world which does not even posses a strong, rough-sketch approach to animate interactions, while seeking to undermine the common materialist notions of causation seems to me to point to the insufficiency of one’s essential theory. Graham appears to be saying something like, If you are going to be a Realist of the sort that I claim you should be you cannot accept the generally accepted materialist notions of causation, but…I cannot really give you a coherent replacement description in its stead. One gets the sense that the appeal of the theory in poetic or narrow sense (as opposed to a systematic metaphysics of the world), is supposed to override the requirements of a robust explanatory power. It is something like, if you are going to be a Realist, causation between inanimate objects cannot at all happen like that, but I cannot really tell you how it does happen. This can be the beginning of a tremendous effort of new and creative thought (how to fashion a theory-coherent explanation for a huge portion of reality already well-described by other historical assumptions), or, as in often the case, when so much phenomena and event fall outside of a descriptive theory this is the sign of the death-throes of a theory, an Idealist inspired theory so strained one or more of its basic assumptions much be changed.

But more challenging that this is that the primary focus for Graham’s OOP is objects themselves, that is, objects without human beings. The inability to coherently and powerfully describe the conditions of interactions between two objects without any human beings around is at the very least highly problematic, if not fatally self-contradictory. The very methodology that Graham prescribes, and he is again a very forthright, is that we must start from the human and extrapolate down further and further as far as we can go. What would not make the conclusions we arrive at through such an extrapolation not  a completely human-centered, perhaps outright Idealist creation, I can’t tell. The entire construct is woven out of human experience as exemplar and ideal (hence his projection of rather psychological terms such as “allure” to describe what happens in causation). The consequence of this, and this is just my feeling, the only thing tha would save a non-human centered project result spun from human extrapolation is panpsychism itself, that is, the processes we human beings are carrying out when we actually make such a theory are fundamentally part of the processes that all things carry out (we are not fundamentally a kingdom within a kingdom).  Such a conclusion though would I think require a non-psychological, non-affectuating, non-quality ridden projection, a re-essentialization of just what it is that we are doing when forming this theory and all other things (which would unfortunately require that Graham abandon his otherwise worthy Husserlian/Cartesian/Idealist influence…it would not leave his theory standing).

All this being said, both the affinity of thought come from Tommaso Campanella’s home in a Naples prison, to the apparent road-block of a non-humanizing, human-originated theory of the object and causation, lead me to the anticipation of what Graham will come up with. This is the funny thing about metaphysics. The inherent contradictions in attempts to totalize, explain and describe everything are not simply the sign of its fundamental mistep as an activity, a kind of category error as Wittgenstein or Ryle might have it, but rather work much as the net in tennis, as an obstical to be artfully and gracefully overcome, like the imposed meter in a Alexandrian sonnet. If the obstical is not too steep, and the lines coherent enough, we gaze in wonder at the play.

The Necessary Intersections of the Human Body: Spinoza

Radical Experiments With Spinoza’s Metaphysics of Body

There has always tugged at me a kind of vast and unexplored consequence of Spinoza’s defintion of a single “body” or “individual,” especially when seen in context with his general expressionist ontology. It is that Spinoza defines a body so simply, given in a matrix of the world understood to be one great co-relational thing (modes transitively determined by each other, modes immanently determined by God/Substance). I want to draw out some of the implications of Spinoza’s defintions of a body (none of which have I ever seen talked of), implications that in part lead me to the notion of Conjoined Semiosis which I have forwarded in my last two posts.

Spinoza defines a body most clearly in the Ethics at 2p13a2d

Definition: When a number of bodies of the same or different magnitude form close contact with one another through the pressure of other bodies upon them, or if they are moving at the same or different rates of speed so as to preserve an unvarying relation of movement among themselves, these bodies are said to be united with one another and all together to form one body or individual thing, which is distinguished from other things through this union of bodies.

 It is nearly an elegant defition and the second portion of it has really three operative parts. Bodies are moving “so as to preserve unvarying relation of movement among themselves”. In the Latin edition the phrase is ut motus suos invicem certa quadam ratione communicent, and is translated by Curley as “that they communicate their motion to each other in a fixed manner” which is quite a bit better. There is,

1). a communication of motion

2). a recursive, or at least horizoned, reflexive closure (communicating to themselves)

3). a fixed ratio

In his earlier Short Treatise  he says it even more succinctly:

Every particular corporeal thing [lichaamelijk ding] is nothing other than a certain ratio [zeekere proportie] of motion and rest.

[I discussed some of the other implications of this defintion here: The “Corporeal Equation” of 1:3: What Makes A Body for Spinoza? ] Now though I would like to draw out a particualr thread of thought. What immediately comes to mind is perhaps what Spinoza envisioned, so many billiard balls moving in motion in the world, bouncing all about, and when any number of them seem to fall into a fixed ratio of movement such that their communications upon each other seem to perpetuate this ratio of movement, this becomes an “individual”, a “body” proper. We can see it, and perhaps it is not far from how we roughly think about bodies that perserve themselves over time, a certain kind of continuity and closure of movement.

When Ratios Transpierce

But there are several aspects to this definition which expand it beyond what we might regularly take to be its described. Firstly so, the entire Extensional expression of Substance, in all of its modes at any one selection of time already seems to meet the definition. That is, the entirety of modal expressions in some transitive way communicate their motions to each other in a fixed manner…the ratio of motion and rest does not change on the whole. From the point of view of the entirety, any one “fixed ratio” is only an expression of the greater ratio of expression. Further, any parts which do not seem to be communicating their ratios to each other, is only a matter of perspective, thus, there is ever a perspective from which any combination of bodies, however disparate, are in communication with each other, if only from the point of view of the whole. In a rather Taoist-like sense, all things are connected to all other things.

When thinking about the human body there is a natural tendency to give it priority, though in Spinoza’s ontology this is not granted in any strict sense. So we must apply this notion of “individual” to our body as well. Part of this tendency of priority is to read the human body in the context of the whole expressive body of Spinoza in a kind of nesting, Russian Doll sort of way. The ratio of motion and rest which is preserved recursively in the human organism is simply an expression of the higher order whole, which has a subsuming ratio. The fixed ratio of our bodies is real, but attached to, or part of an entirety. It is not so much that that this is an alien concept to us, for instance any equlibrium of energy that our bodies maintain, swimming against entropy, might be said to reflect a general law of a conservation of energy in the universe.

But in theme of Conjoined Semiosis this is what I want to point out. The notion bodies defined as a communication of ratio preservation does not only function in a lower to higher order wherein our human body maintains its ratio in the shadow of the great, over-arching ratio of physical expression. And it is not only that our ratios of physical preservation then causally bump, skin to skin, into other ratios in preservation, whether they be bowling balls or puppies. It is that the ratios of preservation, as identified, are perspective dependent (under the idea that what separates out my ratio from yours is a delination which can be changed). More importantly, the border of my body (which is a real, modally expressed border for Spinoza) holds no priority over reading where a ratio begins and ends. And lastly, this “dissolve” of boundary does not simply function from part to whole, but also must exist in intersections across the borders of our bodies. It is not the case that our bodies only participate as wholes in larger groups of bodies, but also that the bodies of which our own bodies are composed, must participate in communications across our own boundaries. Again, the illustration from the last two posts:

There are two conceptual allowances for this in Spinoza’s philosophy. The first is that the human body ratio has no priorty over the communications of its parts. That is, parts of the human body can logically of course participate, while still maintaining their role in the human body fixed ratio, in still other ratios which intersect it (a subset of its parts can also be part of a set of another ratio in communication). The behaviors of a benign parasite for instance can participate in the ratio of my own body parts, have its motions and rest be subsumed in that ratio, and still participate in the fixed ratio of motions of the parasite gene population in the County I live in. This would make them in my view Semiotically Conjoined. The second of these is, due to the non-priority of the boundary of the human body, determinative effects upon the body cannot be reduced to surface to surface contacts. Because the human body is immaent to the field which expresses it, all parts that lie adjacent to it’s surface, are also produced by that field, and there is no reason why the events that occur within the human body are expressed only in the vector of its ratio. It is much more likely that because the identification of the ratio itself is contingent to perspectively, events within the human body can be equally measured by another trans-piercesive boundary (a benign parasite might turn destructive, the other parts of the human body being merely part of the environment of the population of parasite genetic expression).

I would say as well that something in Spinoza’s treatment of essence, in particular human essence, might demand just such a Conjoined Semiosis as per normal, for instance his thought,

For if, for example, two individualsof entirely the same nature are joined are joined to one another, they compose an individual twice as powerful as each one. To man then, there is nothing more useful than man E4p18siii

It is not at all clear how two men could share exactly the same nature, or whether this sameness 0f nature acts as an asymptotic limit (suggesting that their connection is somehow a Conjoined Semiosis, or that the new individual that they compose is possibly an overlap of their two natures). When two men agree and work together (heaven forbid they be a man and a woman), no matter how powerful their agreement, there is the sense that merely the divergences of their histories provide a separation of their natures (essences). One could see that the two men could form one new body or individual, for whatever length of time, if their motions remain in co-relative communication across their boundaries, but insofar as each man experienced himself separately (perhaps only flittingly as they joined together to row a boat), their two bodies would mostly be more of overlapping natures.

And then there is Spinoza’s letter to Peter Balling, wherein he comforts his friend, a father who had had a premontion halucination of his child’s death. There he explictly speaks of the soul as merely participating in the essence of another human being:

And since (like that which I demonstrated on another occasion) there must necessarily exist in thought the idea of the essence of the child’s states and their results, and since the father, through his union with his child, is a part of the said child, the soul of the father must necessarily participate in the ideal essence of the child and his states, and in their results, as I have shown at greater length elsewhere.

A father and son are not it would seem of exactly the same nature, but the deep entrenchment of their attachment has lead in Spinoza’s mind to a kind of intermingling of essences, such that through the power of the father’s love something of the son’s future might be involuntarily imagined. I would say that each of these descriptions provide that Spinoza may have held the thought of Conjoined participation between two material bodies, at least as an aspect of what it means for two bodies to combine together.

The Endurance and yet Vectorization of “Body”

But I want to draw this out even further. If any bodies in a fixed ratio of a communication of parts is an individual, why would not the select neurons of our brains, when we are in a discussion, (perhaps in combination with our other transmitive body parts and the air molecules that carry our words) constitute a single body? (What of all the extensional manifestions of classes of race or gender, which form assemblages with parts human and parts non-human alike?) It is not for Spinoza that the bodies themseleves must be perserved, but only the ratio [in concordance with a theory like Autopoiesis]:

If from a body, or an individual thing composed of a number of bodies, certain bodies are separated, and at the same time a like number of other bodies of the same nature take their place, the individual thing will retain its nature as before, without any change in its form [forma]. (E2p13, Lemma 4, axiom 3)

or;

The human Body, to be preserved, requires a great many other bodies, by which it is, as it were, continually regenerated (E2p13, post4)

Necessarily it seems that out of the plethora of possibly found “fixed ratios” of communication that can be found, no matter how brief in existences, (or disparately spread) our bodies must be shot through across our otherwise considered to be natural boundaries. In fact, on the question of temporal endurance, the “fixed ratio” [certa ratione] can also mean “a certain” or “a particular” ratio, making an occasionalist dream-world of any number of vectorial objects, cutting through the boundaries of other objects. One need only find a ratio of commuications and no otherwise assumed boundary would preside. Such an approach of course would only be of a limited perspective, but Spinoza’s metaphysics makes of any modal expression a fully concrete determination of effects, and this would include the determinations which flow from any discovered trans-piercing corporeal ratio. Any inside/outside delineation must I would think be cut across by other inside/outside delineations. 

The second important conceptual opening in Spinoza’s treatment of bodies, in particular the human body, is that what a body knows is only a product of its interior, recursive movements.

The human Mind does not know [cognosit] the human Body itself, nor does it know that it exists, accept through Ideas of affections by which the Body is affected, E2p19

This flows from,

The object of the idea constituting the human Mind is the Body,  or a certain mode [certus modus] of Extension which actually exists, and nothing else, E2p13

One presumes that what holds for the human Mind and Body, holds for all bodies, since all bodies are an expression in parallel with ideas, the object of these ideas being the states of extension. What follows from this is that any body which preserves a ratio in a communication in parts, to some degree has Mind (an ideational ratio coherence), and that this Mind, following 2p19 above, only “knows” of its Body through the ideational expressions of the affections of its parts. Which is to say, the Mind of any corporeal ratio (however primative) only knows of the world outside of it through the affections of its material expression, and only knows of its own material state through the ideas of that expression. There is a fundamental cognitive closure to any hypostated ratio’ed communication.

The consequences of this are that if some of the semiotic elements that make up the human body are themselves elements in other cogntive bodies, the states of these elements (in Spinoza’s terms, affections) are read in at least two different cogntive orderings. That is to say, the other elements which make up the rest of a semiotic relation of parts in the human body, serve as part of the environment for the transpiercing body. This perhaps goes some way to explain the illusionary status of the affections from the perspective of God or Substance (somthing that vexes many interpreters of Spinoza). Though certainly Spinoza did not imagine his metaphysics put to this bent, what Conjoined Semiosis shows is that the meaning of an affection of semiotic elements in one body, the very same events, will have a different meaning in the transpiering body, given a different compositional whole. It is not just a change in the adequacy of ideas in a particular human mind that changes the ontological status of the affections of its body, but the affections themselves are likely, perhaps necessarily, according to the structures that Spinoza offers, already invested in Conjoined fashion to other bodies which run across its form.

Internal-External

There can be no doubt that Spinoza did not picture his metaphysics of objects in this way, for instance his proposition seems to rule out any conceptual invariance of inside and outside. There are many examples of this, but perhaps this is the most precise and consequential:

No thing can be destroyed except through an external cause, E3p4

But I can find no logical preclusion of a pervasive and rather animate Coinjoined Semiosis by which any body, including our own, is semiotical invested in the closed networks of other sense-making cognitive wholes, some of them quite vast and enduring, some of them quite local and ephemeral. In any case, this additional, vectorial analysis the otherwise assumed Natural borders of our bodies, speaks to the richness of what it means to be affected. It might as well add to the existential restriction upon the adequacy of human ideas, for it would not just the case that we cannot hold adequate ideas because we are restricted to a small experiential speck of the Universe, forever in our nature dependent upon things we do not fully understand, or even that what does causally affect us is somehow ultimately hidden from us by a kind of outside, external shadow, but also that many of our internal experiences of disturbed cohension come neither from “outside” or “inside”, but across the two, as what appear beyond us has tidal effects on our sense making parts, pulling us as if from within (both to greater epiphanic openness and conjunction, and toward paranoid self-purgings and external projections of hatred).

And would it be too far to go to say that this Conjoined Semiosis is what is logically behind the otherwise troubling, seemingly Parallel-postulate-defying distinction that Spinoza makes, that there are effects of the imagination that come from the Body, and those that come from the Mind, one of which can be prophetic [all events that occur in the body necessarily must also occur somehow in the mind, should they not]?

Effects of imagination either from the constitution of a body or of a mind, originate (translation own).

Effectus imaginationis ex constitutione vel coporis vel mentis oriuntur (letter to Peter Balling).

Are effects of the imagination which come from the constitution of the body to be explained as the disturbance of the body’s own semiotic elements under the mind (the cognitive whole) of another, which we experience as tearing, a lessoning of powers and coherence (Sadness); and imaginative effects that come from the mind, are come from the mind of a greater participation, or at least are formed in a cybernetic union of parts and bodies, bringing together what is so conjoined?

 

A related line of thinking: Wasps, Orchids, Beetles and Crickets: A Menagerie of Change in Transgender Identification

The Analogy of Philosophical Wealth

Graham Harman makes an interesting analogy by which the philosophical Zizeks and Derridas of the philosophy world are like the Warren Buffetts of the economy. Unlike the somewhat rather weathy Republicans, the ultra-rich are actually liberal minded and generous, not sweating the small stuff, like the 80 million they lost in the market yesterday. These philosophers are prolific because they are asked to do books are the time. Their very name is a brand that sells ideas. But so many other philosophers are locked in mere Dukedoms and Principalities, where they exact the small pleasures of dominance:

If you’re one of the world’s most exciting philosophers (such as those mentioned in the previous post), then you have a lot of work to do, and no one writing a letter out of the blue needs to be put in their place. But those who might feel like they’re not getting their due will need to enact a number of micro-dominance rituals when you meet them, just to leave no doubt as to who is boss. These are all among the worst memories of a lifetime, but it will pay off in the end if I can eventually write a scathing article classifying the various types of such rituals.

Everyone who has suffered in the “office” knows of which Graham speaks, but what came to mind for me immediately was the rather universal complaint that someone like Zizek isn’t really doing any more real work. While making his stamp upon society, so to speak, he himself finds deep dissatisfaction with his book. And attentive readers tire of his retread of the same five ideas brought to ever varying subject matters. K-punk, who apparently has slipped into a lethargy of repeat-social-comment, put it beautifully, comparing Zizek’s intellectual output to a DJ who just keeps putting remix after remix of the same old song. The banality of it is painful.

Graham’s work seems centered on breaking through the fiefdom paralysis of local university and college powers, a dullness of thinking which is rather by-and-large blamed on either the tenure system, or the journal system. If we could just change the politics/economics of ideas, then all these brilliant minds could be set free, one feels. But, if one of the Warren Buffetts of philosophy, Zizek, a man who has escapes this emprisonment of minor cruelties, himself feels deep dissatisfied with what he is making (as do many of his readers), the question is not perhaps that of escape, or radical transformation. To-be-like-Zizek (only more happy), cannot be a philosophical aim.

Could it be that the kinds of minds/characters that excel in academic settings, those selected by those Darwinian environment, are simply less brilliant, less significantly profound, than they are supposed to be by the societal statis of the texts that they teach? To be sure, there are the amphibious types, minds that can perform outside of the bounds of their narrow selection (we read that enviroments do not so much select what is there, but rather what is not; and then, not even that, that organisms feedback); but what is selected for is not brilliance. That is, the “dominance rituals” are not an accidental by-product of the system(s), but its very acme.

There is the sense that the creativity of teaching minds is somehow squeezed out, and in turn squeezes out the creativity of the minds below them, in a mad kind of inverted Aristotlean habitus  and imitation toward ideal, but I find it notable that Graham in a certain sense weighs freedom in a register of productivity. The super-rich are more productive than the Associate Professor because they are asked to write books, to spin out an article. They are not fundamentally different, their position is different. But is this not an odd register for the philosophic? Have we not already acceded to the brute fact that the aim of contemporary philosophy is text production? Brilliant ideas succeed, when they do, because they produce more texts in response. They are virtual text fountains.

In some way thinking about the philosophy that gets produced in academia is like thinking about the philosophy that got produced in monestaries on the Middle Ages (I know, not an original comparison, “nook dwellers”). The point of the monestary is not that of idea. The idea is there only to restablize the function of the network, so to speak. The brutalities of soured, or embittered professorial corners of the world, the violences of the bureau, are not accidental to text and text producer’s factories, they are the point. Only the tortured flesh of the professor/student can produce a text so indifferent so as to rise to the level of the Beautiful.

Alternately, when I have encountered a wise academic philosopher (rarely; I have not had the privilege to mix with the heavy weights, perhaps they are different), it is not the case that I get the sense that their wisdom flows out of their brilliant ideas, that is, it is n0t what they have seen by virtue of their ideas, but comes out of their character. It is their character, in superabundance of, and engagment with, their environments, that saw them through. One gets the sense that they would have been wise if they had become a plumber, or a waitress. One could no more gain wisdom by adopting their positional philosophy, than by driving their car. This seems quite far from the ethical aim of philosophical origins.

All in all, it seems that it is not only creativity, but the purposive witness of the idea, its transformative effect, that is missing from what can be done with Philosophy. Graham Harman is committed to a change in this mould, to creating spaces where the “intellectual gambler” is given a more rightful place, where metaphysics can become properly speculative and inspiring. I deeply applaud this, but suggest that in the change of space we cannot simply think of an army of brilliant minds which have been put in bondage by an uncaring system. Professors excel at professing. Its a bit, but not exactly like, asking literature professors to write the great American or Parisian novel. Not impossible, but perhaps sometimes a question of genus.

If we are to return to the analogy if wealth, its not just that we could turn all of those conservative Republicans into loving liberals if we just found a way to make them all super rich like Warren Buffett, there would be no economy to thought. And it doesn’t even work to suggest to individual Republicans, “take it easy, one day you might be like Warren Buffett,” publishing books and articles left and right, with ease. I think one really has to uncover that essential, transformative brilliance does not occur at University, any more than essential, transformative faith occurs at seminary. The “stuff” of brilliance, in a Harmanian sense, is forever in retreat from is qualities, in those houses. But the world is not a university. The stuff of brilliance is more an artifact of nature, like a stone that you find when walking and paying attention in a way you don’t often, at the side of the path. It winks at you…or gets stuck in the shoe.

Tommaso Campanella et Benedict Spinoza

…this unity [of knower and known] is only possible if the subject and object, the knower and the known, are of the same nature; they must be members and parts of one and the same vital complex. Every sensory perception is an act of fusion and reunification. We perceive the object, we grasp it in its proper, genuine being only when we feel in it the same life, the same kind of movement and animation that is immediately given and present to us in the experience of our same Ego. From this, Panpsychism emerges as a simple corollary to [Campanella’s] theory of knowledge.

Cassirer, The Individual and the Cosmos in Renaissance Philosophy

When a number of bodies of the same or different magnitude form close contact with one another through the pressure of other bodies upon them, or if they are moving at the same or different rates of speed so as to preserve an unvarying relation of movement among themselves, these bodies are said to be united with one another and all together to form one body or individual thing, which is distinguished from other things through this union of bodies

Spinoza, Ethics 2 p13 a2 d)

 A Comparison of Seldolm Considered Affinities

Spinoza

 

Campanella

Panpsychism

Panpsychism
Two Attributes of Extension and Thought which are expressed modally, the essence each is a conatus

Three Primalities of Potentia, Sapientia, Amor
All determination is negation: (letter 50)

All limitation is non-being
Ideas participate in otherness; the affective imagination

To know is to be: cognoscere est esse
Universals are confused knowledge

Universals are confused knowledge
The power to act is a degree of Being (the General Definition of the Affects)

A Plotinian Aristotelianism, degree of Being
Passions involve a confused idea of external cause Illate knowledge (of other things) confuses the soul’s innate knowledge

Falsity as privation; Theory of Affects; affectuum imitatio

Cognoscere est esse; Amor est esse; Operari est esse
Perception is belief; Intellect and Will are one action

Sensation is both a perception and a judgment of a passion
Aristotle’s potency and act collapsed into vector of Being

The principle of Being and the principle of operation collapsed
Use of Scotus’s formal distinction to delineate the Attributes

 

Use of Scotus’s formal distinction to delineate the Primalities
Potientia means power, not just capacity

Potentia means power, not just capacity
Substance’s essence includes existence, modal essences do not

God’s essence includes existence, modal essences exist ab extrinseco
The immanent/transitive causal distinction: God and the modes

Immanent/transitive causal distinction; self vs. other
Power understood as both the capacity to affect and be affected

Potentia activa, potentia passiva/receptiva
The perfection/imperfect distinction essendi

Potentia essendi
All things expressed in Thought and Extension The difference of sensation is not one of essence, but by mode

To love is the increase in perfection accompanied by the idea of an external cause

To love is to be: amor est esse
Object of the mind vs. external determination

   

The mind does not measure but is measured
Self-knowledge is expressive in ideas of varying adequacy, all which have the body as their object

Self-knowledge is the nature of Being and Truth (Augustine)
The object of the mind is the body; a body is a communication ratio of parts; self and the other (must) form a ratio, and thus share an essence/conatus

In knowing, the knower becomes the known through the sharing of an essence
The world is determined

No contingency of accidents to substance
The false is privation

Evil is privation (Augustine)
All ideas true in the mind of God All ideas true in the mind of God
   
   
   

The above is a brief conceptual juxtaposition of some of the features of the thought of Campanella and Spinoza, meant as points of departure for an eventual theorization (some preliminary thoughts toward which put forward here and here). I do not find all of these points of convergence equally fruitful. Some of them reach back into a shared reference to Scholasticism (the divisins in which both thinkers attempted to synthesize), and some extend into the roots of a Augustinian/Plotinian Neoplatonism of Being. The crossbeams of the crux of Campanella’s potential contribution to the analysis of Spinoza’s thought are, a.) A comparison of Campanella’s Three Primalities and Spinoza Two Attributes and conatus, and b.) the application of Campanella’s assimulative cognoscere est esse  to Spinoza’s affectuum imitatio and his communitarian, bodily assemblage concept of knowledge. If to know something is to become that something, and sociability is grounded in the experiential, shared affectio  of “a thing like us” and the forming of composite, affective bodies, Campanella’s sapientia transformations are Spinoza’s epistemic increases in power.

Campanella’s Three Primalities – Potentia, Sapientia, Amor

I would like to post here some commentary text on an almost entirely forgotten metaphysician, one whom in the longest of runs I would like to rehabilitate. He is forgotten, one might say, partly because he was drawfed by the memory of his contemporary Giordano Bruno, who had the historical good fortune to be burned at the stake in the year 1600, marking for many the end of the Renaissance and the beginning of modernity; and even Bruno has nearly been forgotten. Campanella’s thought lies wedged in the twighlight of the proto-modern, embarassingly marred by primatives  of a belief in Natural Magic and an adherance to the authority of the Bible (two fatal sins), yet not systematically Medieval enough to be considered for serious classical study. In the story of modernity as advance, Campanella’s metaphysics and epistemology had fallen into an aporia as deep as the pit of Castel Nuovo. [ A sign that this is quietly changing is perhaps the inclusion of five pages on Campanella’s metaphysics in David Skrbia’s recent Panpsychism in the West (2005)]

Campanella et Spinoza

I post these in part because there is next to nothing available on Campanella’s metaphysics in all of the Internet, a few summations, a critical outline, and little more. What spare literature there is often concentrates on his remarkable biography of imprisonment and torture, or his influential science-fiction political treatise The City of the Sun (even the worthy Stanford Encyclopedia’s entry has but a half paragraph on his opus Metaphysics and its theory of the Primalities). If nothing else, there should be more. But I post them as well because I believe that Campanella has a specific importance for the light he can shed upon the thought of Spinoza, in particular for the contemporary application of Spinoza’s thought. The detailed reasons for these I will not specify here, other than to draw a few comparisons. Both thinkers worked out a synthesis of the divisions that had plagued Scholastic thought, in the end producing a panpsychic view of the world. Both thinkers employed Duns Scotus’s Formal Distinction to a powerful ends. Both thinkers can be positioned unto Descartes’s Cogito ergo sum, bracketing it: Campanella’s Cognoscere est esse, Spinoza’s “the object of the mind is the body as it actually exists”. And both thinkers employed metaphysics that trades upon reading the world in terms of what might be called a degree-of-Being vectorization of power and knowing, understood in utopian terms. It is my view that Campanella’s metaphysics in some sense brings out the unspoken, or rather unemphasized consequences of Spinoza’s thought, in particualr its cybernetic, post-human, assemblage oriented ideas about knowing, sensing, imagining and acting in the world. In short, Campanella’s panpsychism casts a cross-light upon Spinoza’s panpsychism, making more full what the latter is capable of in modern, and post modern times.

The text I quote form is Bernadino Bonansea’s Tommaso Campanella: Renaissance Pioneer of Modern Thought (1969), which is the only rich treatment of Campanella’s philosophy I know of in English. (Campanella’s most significant texts remain untranslated in this tongue.) The subject is Campanella’s notion of the Three Primalities of Being, which he distinguishes formally, just as Spinoza does his two Attributes of Substance. Between these Primalities and Augustine’s posse, nosse, amare  strong parallels can be drawn, parallels that work to an inheritance of a Plotinian conception of the Emanance which understands Being under the analogy of light spreading out through darkness (non-Being), something of which Spinoza himself takes up in the register of the epistemological as he defines falsity as privation. At the very least this affords you to get aquainted with the mind of a philosopher come from a pivotal time in Western thinking.

“Since the constitution of every being can ultimately be reduced to these principles [power, sense, love], which are constantly found in all things prior to any other principles, it follows that power, knowledge [sapientia], and love are truly the proprinciples of being and may be called primalities, first entities (primordia), and pre-eminences of being. Although our knowledge and love are only accidental and transitory, Campanella insists that the primalities are not mere accidents. In effect, not all love, knowledge, and power are said to belong to the essence of things, but only those which are innate and hidden, as it were, in being itself [Metaphysics II 6, 11, 3]. Nor are the primalities physical principles which can be separated from their own effect. On the contrary, they are metaphysical principles inherent in the very effects which they produce. In short, a primality is that by which a being is primarily “essentiated”.…They are not essences, but entities, or “essentialities” of the same essence. Their identity results in a supreme unity: were they not one, they would not have one and the same essence. They might well be called “unalities” of one and the same thing. That the primalities are essentially the same is manifest from the double consideration that they cannot be outside of the essence of things and that the essence of things cannot be without them. For no essence can exist, unless it has the power to be, and also knows and wills its own being [Ibid]…

…Such a process is not one of participation, whereby one primality is shared partially by another, but one of toticipation and coessentialization, so that one primality is totally and essentially communicated into other. To give a concrete example, love proceeds from wisdom [sapientia] and power [potentia], for what is unknown and incapable of being loved cannot be loved. At the same time love already is in wisdom andn power, otherwise it could not proceed from them; for nothing can come from nothing in act, and no being can give to others what it itself does not have. Furthermore, in proceeding from power and wisdom, love does not recede from them. That is to say, even though love proceeds from power and wisdom, these latter do not cease to be essentially love, any more than love is essentially power and wisdom.

[Campanella:] “How it is possible, it may be asked, that they [the coprinciples of being] exist together at one and the same time, and that they proceed one from another? If power is both wisdom and will, how will it be able to produce wisdom and will? My answer is that it produces then because it already has them. If it did not have them within itself, it would be able to produce them. But if it already has them, why should it give what it already has? To this I reply that it does not give it to others, but to itself. But why and how does it give to itself what it already possesses within itself? My answer is that it does not give to itself in order to be what it is giving, but in order to be what it is given.

Yes, [one may insist], if it itself already was that which is given, why would it still have to be produced? I reply to this by saying that just as it always was, so it always was being produced. For this is exactly [the kind of] being that proceeds from another being: because it is not by itself, it is necessary that it also be given and produced by the producing subject.

But what is the reason for not being by itself? My answer is: it is not because of any external being, but because being as such a nature that it contains both that which proceeds and that from which it proceeds without receding. It is thus that being is integrated as a whole.

Metaphysics II, 6, 11, 9

“A…second difference among the primalities involves their specific entity [a first difference, is a difference of origin from each other], since the ratio of one primality is different than the ratio of the other two. This difference, Campanella remarks, is not great enough to justify a real distinction, but on the other hand it is not so negligible that it can be accounted for by a mere distinction of reason. The only type of distinction that would account for such a difference among the primalities is Scotus’s formal distincdtion ex natura rei, in as much as they are not three different things but three different realities of the same thing. This distinction, while providing an objective basis for our concepts of the primalities as distinct entities, does not distroy the essential unity of being. It is precisely to save the objectivity of the primalities and the unity of being that Campanella the Scotus formal distinction.

In closing the discussion of the nature and mutual relationship of the primalities, Campanella seizes the opportunity to make an earnest appeal, both to Scotists and Thomists, to desist from their centuries old dispute about the primacy of intellect or will. For just as radical will [amor?] is not superior to radical intellect [sapientia], so intellect is superior to will, nor will to power, the three primalities of being.

Beings exist not only because they have the power to be and know that they are, but also because they love [their own] being. Did they not love their own being, they would not be so anxious to defend it, but would allow it to be destroyed immediately by their opponent [i.e. non-being]. They would not seek the friendship of beings helping to keep themselves in existence, nor would they distain their enemies or generate a being similar to themselves in which to be preserved. All things would either be chaos or they would be utterly destroyed. Therefore love, not otherwise than power and wisdom, seems to be a principle of being as well as of its preservation, operation and action. (Metaphysics II, 6, 10, 1)

(Tommaso Campanella: Renaissance Power of Modern Thought, Bonansea, 147-149)

I hope in the future to develop the wider conceptual bridgings between this last pre-Cartesian thinker, and the first post-Cartesian one, hinted at above. As a starter though I would like to put forth the unargumentative suggestion that Campanella in his three Primalities divided up the same thing that Spinoza divided up in his two Attributes, and the conatus. In a purely homological fashion, Campanella’s Power, Sense and Love can be compared to Spinoza’s real world Power, Adequate Ideas and Joy; or, to make another point of interpretation, the standing of the conatus which is the essence of a modal expression for Spinoza, achieves a certain coherent relevance, as essence, when the two Attributes (themselves the essence of Substance) and the conatus third is put in juxtaposition to the Three Primalities, a comparison which brings forth the affective capacities of bodily knowing, what we call sensing: ideational things not only think, they sense, a necessary tenet of panpsychism.

Key to this may fall to Campanella’s claim “Action is the act of the agent insofar as it extends itself into the recipient” (Real. phil. epi. p.30) Actusque extensus in patiens est actio.

Some Nonsense Thoughts: Wittgenstein’s Nonsense

For those worn thin by my constant investigation into Spinoza’s lens-grinding, a discussion developed over at Methods of Projectiona Wittgenstein weblog, some of it is perhaps worth repeating. There are more complex ways of talking about this, but these were some of my general thoughts off the top of my head (a few edits here and there). Here is my response to Quirinus Quine from Philosophical Pontifications.

Q.Q: “Something I’ve wondered about for a while is why Wittgenstein doesn’t consider metaphysics, or at least certain parts of it, to be a language game of its of its own on a par with others.”

This is really the key, I believe. The reason I suspect that certain uses of language are denied PROPER language game status [technically, “language games” are much more simple than what we are talking about, but any conceptual construction must rest upon a complex of its games one supposes] is that Wittgenstein has a slightly hidden Puritanism in his approach. He, out from his engineer’s background, wants to take language off holiday, and put it back to work doing what it is supposed to be doing. Buried in this play vs. work conception is that real games are mechanistic and rule-following (that is what gives them traction, connecting them to solid ground and keeping them off the ice).

It just so happens that historically in the fields of philosophy, when you spend time thinking about thinking, this isn’t really how things work. There is something about metaphysical conception (those kind of games) that is between Language being at Work (like the Slab Language), getting things done, and Wittgenstein’s alternate, language being like gears turning emptily without connection to the rest of the mechanism (the world), as if pure unadulterated ritual [rituals have purposes too!]. There simply are not only two positions, that of pure sense and that of pure nonsense, which Wittgenstein would like to propose. Metaphysical conceptions, arguments, debates, even if we grant them the status of complete and utter grammatical nonsense and confusion, end up producing empirical observations about the world and ourselves, for instance how Hegelian nonsense spinnings about the negation and the sublimation lead to all kinds of sociological descriptions which are definitively measurable. The conceptual refinement leads to research and focus. As such, metaphysical debate helps to organize communally shared perceptions, (which is not to say that metaphysical truths have authority over perceptions). To imagine that a game of words has only one kind of use, a use which grammatical confusions supposedly radically undermine, simply turns a huge blind eye to the actual historical processes that have employed metaphysical language games, all the while. In a sense, Wittgenstein’s empirical/grammatical distinctions is as cut off from solid ground (the path of history, concrete analysis of language use and its products), as any metaphysical word game.

In the end it is just that Wittgenstein (really more his followers than he himself, for he remained more playful than most of his adherents), neglected to apply the word game analysis to his own language use, hoping I suspect, to be able to achieve a vantage point where he could judge as good or bad, by category, some games (sense makers) as better than others (nonsense makers). One may of course take such a distinction as informative, even revealing, but it too rests on analogy, metaphor and perspective, all of which can be called into question.

 

Two worthwhile essays on the issue of Wittgenstein Nonsense are: “Wittgenstein’s Exclusion of Metaphysical Nonsense” and “Wittgenstein’s Grammatical-Empirical Distinction” each by Philip P. Hallie

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