Tag Archives: Nietzsche
Eric in our discussion of Spinoza under the post of Is Spinoza a Cyberneticist, or a Chaocomplexicist? ends with something that made my mind turn a bit…
…I think something that has been confusing about my reading of the Ethics is that I came to it without having ever really thought of eliminating representationalism and binarisms so completely. His thought is so much different from that of Bergson, Hegel, Heidegger, Kant, Levinas, Hobbes etc. who are often used to critique it. Spinoza is so much more interesting than they are.
It seems to me that Spinoza has been cocooned in history in ways we cannot fully appreciate the force of. The accusation and stain of a purported atheism in effect hermetically sealed his philosophy for more than a century from common investigation. Apart from any otherwise atheistic tracks, people suspected the very clean piousness of Spinoza’s vision as importing the most dangerous of things, the subtle atheism of a Jew. Further, what Nietzsche called Spinoza’s armor, the great interwoven more geometico chainmail of propositions, rather than warrior’s defense served as more a historical chrysalis, in their very form locking in something of a revelatory core, the causal result of their reading. If you search for the truth Spinoza is presenting at the level of the proposition, you cannot find it really there. What happened, I suspect, is that once Scientific materialism came into social power, both the chrysalis form of logical truths and the purported atheism fit quite nicely in which the new doctrines of what was true, and to a certain degree Spinoza was reborn…but outside of the purview of his own meanings. The failure of the literalism of stated truths (Analytic philosophy) and a re-enchantment of the Natural (Nature is not a bunch of dead stuff moved around by abstract Laws), has release Spinoza from his resuscitators to a great degree, placing him back within the milieu from which he came, a kind of proto-soup of modernist elements within which we are struggling anew.
An Organic Demoness Ontology
Naught Thought raises the image of Dark Vitalism and first associates it with the Demoness Zuggtmoy of fantasy lore, suggesting that if we allow an ontology of powers that bubble up from below, from the very matter of matter, we are faced with a world primordially chaotic of its intents. Any intelligence is swarming, polyvalent but still planal, or vectored, like so much threatening mold and fungi that at most grow up from and adhere to an omni-present death process:
Park of of the work of a dark vitalism is the sickening realization of such an image [Zuggtmoy, Queen of Fungus]. Steven Johnson’s Emergence begins with Toshiyuki Nakagaki’s work on slime molds in which he made one of the amoeba like creatures find a path through a maze towards a food. The mindless functioning of life, of life moving towards goals without any form of intelligence – creatures that function in a completely bottom up fashion (the rest).
And Eliminative Culinarism also turns to what he calls a thantropic regression (drive) when separating out the consequences of the philosophy of Brassier, a separation that ultimately finds its dark vitalism home in Freud’s Death Drive and its umwege:
If Brassier unbinds and cosmically reinscribes Freud’s theory of thanatropic regression in order to extend the eliminativist vector all the way to the cosmic exteriority, then he must also unbind the theory of umwege beyond the organic life or bios. Because as Freud has explicitly argued and as Brassier has implicitly indicated, the thanatropic regression or the vectorial move toward the precursor exteriority is inextricable from the increasing convolution of the umwege. Here the convolution of umwegeor the increasing twist in the roundabout regression to the precursor exteriority must not be confused with the complexification of life as an opportunity for posthumanist scenarios, because it suggests the differential decomposition of all interiorities via nested deployment or intrusion of cosmic exteriority. After all, the emergence or determination of an index of interiority from a precursor exteriority does not mean the complete envelopment of that exteriority and its reintegration according to the laws of the interiorized horizon. There is always a part of enveloped exteriority that refuses to be assimilated within the index of interiority, thus extending the intrusion of the precursor exteriority into the emerged nested horizons of interiority (the rest June 11, 2009).
The Death Drive and Zuggtmoy
I want to take up this promotion of the Death Drive, and the image of the fungus Queen Zuggtmoy, so as to explore the fuller consequences of so called Dark Vitalism. Mostly I want to bring out how the figure – and we can think through a figure – of Zuggtmoy enables us to see an edge to the Death Drive that previously had been obscured, as if the side of the well-used coin.
The approach towards zero (and by zero we must be careful, since there are heterogenies in this analogy, absolute zero…cold, quantity zero…nothing, and zero which lies between negative and positive numbers…placeholder) that under a Freudian conception typifies all the aim of the very complexities of life itself, life’s winding pattern, a maze, a rambling circuit that is simply trying to get back to the originary state: Death, Inorganic, Abiotic Stillness. This is how Freud presents it in Beyond the Pleasure Principle:
It would be in contadiction to the conservative nature of the drives if the goal of life were a state of things which had never yet been attained. On the contrary, it must be an oldstate of things, an initial state from which the living entity has at one time or another departed and to which it is striving to return by the mazings [Umwege] along which its development leads…For a long time, perhaps, living substance was thus being constantly created afresh and easily dying, till decisive external influences altered in such a way as to make ever more complicated mazings [immer komplizierteren Umwegen] before reaching its aim of death. These mazings [Umwege] to death, faithfully kept by the conservative drives, would thus present us today with the picture of the phenomena of life [F III 248]
Nick Land in his book Thirst For Annihilation presents something of the conclusion all here seem to be following, and we can readily see the fungal layer (crust), as it merely bubbles up in a roundabout way of only returning, an opposite form of simply the Christian soul returning to the arms of its Absolute and loving God. We can glimpse a kind of constitutive power of Zuggtmoy here, yet here she is merely passive, a result:
Life is ejected from the energy-blank and smeared as a crust upon chaotic zero, a mould upon death. This crust is also a maze – a complex exit back to the energy base-line – and the complexity of the maze is life trying to escape from out of itself, being nothing but escape from itself, from which it tries to escape: maze-wanderer. That is to say, life is itself the maze of its route to death; a tangle of mazings [Umwege] which trace a unilateral deviation from blank.
Death and Hegelian Reversals: Nature is Immediate, But…
Now it must be stated that an ontology of Death Drive, at least from a Freudian foundation, is one that already assumes a non-vital basis for Substance (or totality), for if Substance itself is living, a return to it would not be a death. This is a difficult thing, for in an Ontology of someone like Spinoza, indeed Substance presents a kind of zero in a near Plotinian sense, but life itself and its weavings are constituted by its very force, and one is never separated out from it (being its expression). A strict dichotomy between Life (Pleasure/Joy), and Death (nil, an inorganic realm), while not conceivable for Spinoza, for Freud seems determined by the very centricity of vision, an absolute focus upon the biological organism itself as a complete boundary (from which life is attempting escape, or at least unweave itself). I have argued elsewhere (in Conjoined Semiosis and The Problem with Spinoza’s Panpsychism) why organisms cannot form an absolute limit, the kind of which would then be dichotomized toward death. It is because Freud is organism centered in really a Hegelian sense, that he is forced to account for an apparent returning difference that is driven by the very acts of consciousness/life itself. Freud performs, in inverse, the very postulation of an illusion of a nil which is posited by Consciousness itself:
True, Nature is the immediate – but even so, as the other of Spirit, its existence is the immediate – but even so, as the other of Spirit, its existence is a relativity: and so, as the negative, is only posited, derivative [nur ein Gesetztes]…Spirit, because it is the goal of Nature, is prior to it, Nature has proceeded from Spirit [aus ihn hervorgegangen]. Spirit, therefore, itself proceeding, in the first instance, from the immediate, but then abstractly apprehending itself, wills to achieve its own liberation by fashioning [herausbildend] Nature out of itself; this action of Spirit is philosophy. (Philosophy of Nature 444)
Nature is both immediate, but then necessarily post to Spirit, come out of Spirit’s very apprehension. We can see if we undo this original preoccupation with (and centrality of) consciousness as a form of negation, we can see that Freud’s own dialectic unspools. The umwege that Freud says are the “ever more complicated mazings” that are the complexifications of life, no longer are made against a background of death and zero, but come out of it, just as we have prime images of fungi and moulds that seemed by traditional lights to grow right out of putrescence and decay. In an ontological domain quite far from Hegelian negativity, matter itself thinks. There is nothing to return to, (but not “nothing” to return to), and the weavings of umwege organization are expressive powers of tendril-like freedoms.
[A fantasy illustration of the Fungal Queen from the gameplay world]
The One and the Many: Parmenides and Molds
It is here that I want to return to the powers of Zuggtmoy, in particular as they are manifested by the class of organisms slime mold. Naught Thought already directed us this way, pointing to Toshiyuki Nakagaki famed experiments with slime molds that seemed to demonstrate intelligence (referenced in Steven Johnson’s 2001 book Emergence). This is an intelligence I would like to think hard about because it defies some of our most common assumptions of the kind of forms intelligence must take.
Slime molds are a curious limnal organism, that not only lives between realms that seem conceptual opposed, Life and Decay, but also taxonomically between our easy and dominate ideas of independent Individual vs. controling Group, not to mention what is plant and what is animal (once thought a fungus, now Protista).
First let us engage the fascinating and seemingly conceptually contradictory lifecycle of slime molds, for they are neither individuals, nor colony, but participate in modes and versions of both. I propose that these examples serve as figures of philosophical analogy in particular for those brands of philosophy which like to juxtapose conceptual oppositions to be projected upon forms of life and the world. We are not going to be so forward as to assert that all things have the form of slime molds – though it does form an interesting counterbalance to explicit and implicitassumptions that ”it” is like the human (or phenonemological consciousness, etc). What we are to hope is that the example of slime molds might help us overcome some of our more unconscious prejudices, especially when we engae in ontological imaginations.
As eluded to, Slime molds are remarkable creatures as they spend part of their lives in seemingly independent Individual states, and part of the time in collectives (some of which threaten our idea of what constitutes an Individual).
As you can see from the above, a lifecycle of a Plasmodial slime mold, in the haploid (single copy of a chromosome) form at the left the slime mold is either a spore or an individual cell; but, after syngamy, it begins to divide, not itself, but only its nucleus. It does this again and again until it has become one huge cell with thousands of nuclei, giving pause to the Platonic/Paramedian problem of the One and the Many, here the One being a coagulate of the nucleic many. In the Plasmodial stage the huge single cell creeps along in search for food until it eventually forms a sporangium, fructifying stalk, very much like a mushroom, which eventually will put forth the multitude of haploid spores.
To make this clearer, here below is the Plasmodial stage wherein all the individual amoeba-like cells have shed their cell walls, and the single form crawls across a supposedly “dead” territory. One can practically see the Fruedian encrustation of life, the umwege wending its way back toward Death.
And here below is the spore producing stalk structure that culminates out of the great aggregate form:
And there is a second kind of slime mold (and a third not to be discussed) which begins in an amoeboid form, a single cell that instead of following a path of nuclei division and expansion, expends its life in solitary fashion until food becomes scarce, and emitting a aggregating chemical signal to be read by other isolated slime mold cells. Once a density threshold is crossed the mold cells cluster together to form one great colony which acts as a singular organism again confusing some of our more easy categories of self and group.
Here is a concise description of the two different kind of slime mold processes of aggregation and reproduction:
All slime molds start life as a single, microscopic cell, and eventually end up as that puddle of goo. A plasmodial slime mold, like the one that researcher Toshiyuki Nakagaki coaxed through a maze (see article), constantly grows and divides. But instead of breaking itself into two new cells, it divides only its nucleus, becoming one larger cell with two nuclei. This process repeats until the plasmodium is a giant cell, like a sac of jelly, filled with thousands of nuclei. Ever so slowly, the plasmodium creeps across the forest floor, eating the tiny bacteria and yeast it finds there.
A different group, called the cellular slime molds, stay microscopic for most of their lives. They, too, live and feed in damp soil. When food gets scarce, though, these slime molds have an amazing trick for survival. Each individual sends out a chemical signal, allowing the slime mold cells to find each other. Then they aggregate, or stick together, until they have formed a giant roaming blob. This blob looks and acts like one creature, even though it is really thousands of individuals oozing along together.
Despite these differences, both kinds of slime molds complete their lives with an amazing final transformation. Either slime mold (plasmodial or cellular) keeps crawling along until it reaches a drier spot. There, it stops and metamorphoses into a sporangium: a tall, thin stalk with a sac on top, similar to a mushroom. The slime mold cells turn into stalk cells, or sac cells [about 20%], or spores [about 80%]. Finally, the cells that have become spores burst out of the top of the sporangium and are blown away by the wind. Where they land, they will start their life cycle over, invisible-and individual-once again.
[above: individual to aggregate lifecycle of cellular slime molds]
In thinking about the cellar slime molds and their ability to signal to each other their respective states, one has to consider their communitarian capacities, how they are able to respond to the very threshold field of signally others, such that the way that we identify the boundary level of the organism itself must include the very semiotic field of the cAMP itself. Here is information on a computer simulation of the cAMP (intracelluar messenger) effects between individual cells under aggregation, which offers signficant thoughts on patterns of formation, just how the chemical signal in chemotaxis expresses itself:
The slime mold aggregation is controlled by chemotaxis toward higher concentrations of cyclic adenosine monophosphate (cAMP). (cAMP is a common intracellular messenger in higher organisms.) The onset of starvation causes some cells to produce and secrete cAMP. Extracellular cAMP binds to receptors on cells and initiates two processes. The first, and faster, process activates the adenylate cyclase enzyme which causes production of cAMP. This cAMP is secreted; it can then bind to the same cell, further stimulating cAMP production, and to other cells. The second slower process leads to inhibition of adenylate cyclase. This second process stops the autocatalysis. The extracellular cAMP diffuses away and is degraded by phosphodiesterase, which is secreted by the slime mold cells. Once the level of cAMP has fallen the cells begin to regain the ability to synthesize cAMP.
And here is a Florescence microscopy film of the aggregation which distinctly allows one to see the visual rhythm:
No doubt this leaves us laymen with a sense that we are dealing with the bizzare and transmogrifying edge of animal/plant, and extra-somatic behaviors, ones that allow us to detach ourselves from common notions of when and where the body ends. Cellar slime molds in particular seem to have an intensified sense of Individual and swarm, wherein the field of organization is almost forced to include a semiotic dispersion of the signal itself, with great fineness to the pattern by which they are clustered into a new, single acting entity. If Zuggtmoy powers exist here, they seem exemplified by questions of division, dispersion, unification and semiotic binding.
The Brain without A Brain
Now I would like to turn to the more pronounced “intelligence” features that seem to have been discovered within slime molds. What seems at first blush the very least discerning of vegetable/animal matter, has shown remarkable capacities for behaviors which only “higher” animals could accomplish.
The most well-known of these were Nakagaki’s evocative tests that suggested that slime molds could solve mazes:
Toshiyuki Nakagaki of the Bio-Mimetic Control Research Centre, Nagoya, Japan, placed pieces of Physarum polycephalum in an agar gel maze comprising four possible routes. Normally, the slime spreads out its network of tube-like legs, or pseudopodia, to fill all the available space. But when two pieces of food were placed at separate exit points in the labyrinth, the organism squeezed its entire body between the two nutrients. It adopted the shortest possible route, effectively solving the puzzle.
The organism changed its shape, according to the researchers, to maximize its foraging efficiency and therefore its chances of survival. The meal of ground oat flakes led to a local increase in contraction of the organism’s tube-like structures, propelling it towards the food (from this summation).
The maze was created by laying a maze template down onto a plate of agar. In the first part of the experiment, pieces of slime mould Physarum polycephalum were placed throughout the 3 x 3cm maze. To grow, the slime mould throws out tube-like structures called pseudopodia, and it soon filled the entire maze.
The maze had four routes through, to get from one exit to the other. Food was placed at both exits, and after eight hours, the slime mould had shrunk back so that its ‘body’ filled only the parts of the maze that were the shortest route from one piece of food to the other.
The researchers suggest that as the parts of the plasmodium come into contact with food, they start to contract more frequently. This sends out waves to other parts of its body which tell give feedback signals as to whether to grow further or contract. Ultimately, to maximise foraging efficiency, the plasmodium contracts into one thick tube, running through the maze.
Surely the visual aspect of the maze gives us an impressional sense of “intelligence” whereas the description allows something more like a directed motility, but really, is there a difference between the two? In a certain way the slime mold has “represented” the territory space, not pictorially, but semiotically, instilled differences within itself which spell differences in the world such that a certain economy, a judicious precision, is achieved.
But slime molds seemingly are capable of more than spatial genius. They have also a primordial memory, a manner by which they can space out time in regulative and anticipatory rhythms, having learned what tends to happen. Last year Nakagaki released a paper detailing the new co-ordinated and seemingly mental capacities.
When the amoeba Physarum polycephalum [a slime mold] is subjected to a series of shocks [burst of dry air] at regular intervals, it learns the pattern and changes its behaviour in anticipation of the next one to come, according to a team of researchers in Japan. Remarkably, this memory stays in the slime mould for hours, even when the shocks themselves stop. A single renewed shock after a ‘silent’ period will leave the mould expecting another to follow in the rhythm it learned previously. Toshiyuki Nakagaki of Hokkaido University in Sapporo and his colleagues say that their findings “hint at the cellular origins of primitive intelligence” (in Biology News)
It is reasoned that propagation pathways change with experiences, and thus retain under rhythmed cycles the form of temporally governed action. The pattern without changes the pattern/paths within, such that even the dumbest of cellular life is musically oriented towards states it seems it could never proximately sense.
The Beauty Dark of Zuggtmoy
So what has this rumination over the biological and bio-mental capacities of slime molds given us in regards to the original philosophical question, other than reminding us that there are some remarkable and probably as yet undiscovered characteristics of even what we take to be the simplest forms of living things? I offer, let us reimagine the demoness as a primordial power, one iconically represented by slime mold organism over which she is thought to rule. What would Zuggtmoy’s relationship be to “death” and the Death Drive. Slime molds we know are fundamentally oriented towards decay. Ammonia presents a near universal signal for the presence of putrification such that the entire feeding action could be said to oriented towards its presence (like Jakob von Uexküll’s tick). In this way the slime mold is determinatively and semiotically oriented towards death.
But it does not feed on death. It does not decompose. In fact it feeds on bacteria which perform the decomposition of organic matter. It feeds upon the thin layer of life which itself depends upon death. In this way its preoccupation with death is merely directed toward the very life/death shoreline. One could say that Zuggtmoy lives on the radiance of Death. And this is far from a Death Instinct. (It is easy to confuse the two.)
I want to perhaps poetically concentrate upon this very thin radiance of life that exudes from decay and ultimately death. One can see it with the very ocular and stunning effect the grotesque has upon the eye, the way that objects such as those that one might find in Joel-Peter Witkin’s gallery, shimmer with an odd kind of microbial sheen, the way the eye is forced to traverse the object as if it were covered with serpentine forms or trajectories.
I suggest that there are two things going on under the conflation of the Death Drive. There is first of all a needed explanation of the supposed Repetition Compulsion, the way in which a person (organism) inordinately repeats past trauma undermining pleasure pursuits. The apparent contradiction when placed within a Hegelian like concept of negating consciousness necessarily pressed Freud to conceive of a drive with a very different kind of aim, the aim of a return to a Death State. In typical mytho-anecdotal Freudian fashion, Freud watched a small boy toss and retrieve a spool in Fort/Da binaries only to be conflated into Being and Non-Being manipulations in philosophies of (ocular) presence. Yet, do we not see an elemental mode of the Repetition Compulsion in the most recent Nakagaki experiments on slime mold? As the slime mold slows its movements in anticipation of a cyclictic gust of dry air, are we really to say that we are finding the roots of a Being/Non-Being pre-occupation? Further, are we to deny that the slime mold has no pleasure principle circulations of its own coherence amid the anticipation? And if we were to grant a capacity to actually affect the environment in such a way that the trauma could be influenced to be repeated, would such an investment really be a Death Drive, or rather the celebration of internal coherences and environmental contrapuntal interweave. The pleasures of internal coherence, even amid outcomes of pain, are Pleasure Principle pursuits, and we might agree with Spinoza that it is our direction towards such coherences which gives us our Identification with what is beyond us, for the philosopher ultimately with Substance. There is no essential contradiction between Pleasure and Repetition, though most certainly Repetitions ever are expressionally in need for their expansions, their umwege into greater complexity and less triviality.
The second thing that is happening in notions of the Death Drive is quite apart from the Fort/Da Hegelian origins of the concept. The name itself gave associative rise to death objects or conditions which then are taken to be mesmerizing, attractive, seductive to the soul, apparently again in some sort of opposition to life and pleasure. Oddly enough these gothic preoccupations actually seem to be imbued with pleasures and perverse associations. They are kind of super-charged pleasure pursuits. And somehow these ideational objects are supposed to fit in with the Fort/Da, presence and absence drive to repeat. I don’t think that this is the case at all, and I would like to turn to the figure of Zuggtmoy to illustrate it.
It is not to Death itself that we are drawn, but rather to its sheen, its coverage by infintesmal molecules of light, perhaps we want to see Leibniz’s windowless monads here, or the first phosphorescence that feed on monad window elements loosened. It is the way in which disturbances in coherence (in proportion, form, rhythm, expectation) causes us to narrow ourselves and detect the living things, the forces, that cover that rift or disintegration. Just as Zuggtmoy’s slime molds scent themselves toward the bacteria that thrive upon decay, so too there is a primordeal force which feeds on the life that feeds on death.
But we must pause for a moment to consider what Death is. Is it really a zero-place, a return to nil as we sometimes are inclined to believe? Is it not simply (and factually) the dis-in-tegration of composed elements? The return of nutrient richness back to a matrix of further involvement. (I am reluctantly inclined to the joke Mozart was to be found in his coffin after his death, erasing all his musical works.) A living preoccupation with Death is really a preoccupation with wholesale constitutive elements, things that must be returned to the biome in order for it to function. There is a sense that the way in which material Life feeds itself with growing complexity is by attending to the very abiotic shoreline, the biocline, at which elements become first incorporated into bodies. And Zuggtmoy, the blue-skined Abysmal queen of fungi and their kind, tells us that there is ever a ribboning and forceful consumption which preoccupies itself upon this singular and pervasive riverbed, which pours itself along every vector.
The First View From a Microscope: Finding the Finite
There is an interesting if not compelling anecdote from the history of Science (and philosophy) come from the time when they were perhaps just diverging. Theodore Kerckring was a physician of the mid 17th century and participant in the running dispute of the exact nature of the things of human anatomy that the newly invented microscopes were revealing. The biggest debate was whether the human body was a system of veins or glands (no one seemed to think it could be made of both), as until one had a conception of just what one was looking at through the clouded glass, one really could not be sure what it was, counter to our intution that one need only look at something to be able to roughly tell what you were seeing. In 1670 he published his “Spicilegium Anatomicum” a work of anatomical illustration, physician diagnoses, and also microscopic observation. Among these curiosities and position takings is found the only extant first hand testiment of what could be seen in a Spinoza designed microscope. Kerckring held a once intimate relationship with Spinoza, as they both were members of Van den Enden’s Latin school when young men, though Theodore was Spinoza’s senior by six years. He even married Van den Enden’s daughter Clara Maria with whom one biographical source reports Spinoza may have fallen in love. In any case, Kerckring reports that he is in the possession of a remarkably powerful microscope, designed by the great philosopher, and after he describes the granular forms it reveals, he then passes onto a most perplexing passage where in he describes the tiny animalcules that cover the exposed organs of the cadaver he is examining:
On that account, that which is by my wondrous instrument’s clear power detected, what is seen is wondrous: the intestines plainly, the liver, and other organs of the viscera, swarm with infinitely minute animalcules, which whether by their perpetual motion they corrupt, or preserve, it would be in doubt, oh, for something is considered to flourish and shine as a home while it is lived in, all the same though, a habitation is worn away by continuous cultivation. Marvelous is nature in her arts, and more marvelous still is Nature’s Lord, how he brought forth bodies, thus up to the infinite itself reciprocally in his size having withdrawn, that no understanding may be attained, if it be, if one be, or when it would be of some finite size; thus if by diminishing you would descend, never will you discover where you would be able to stand…(tentative translation).
It is not decided what Kerckring saw, but it is possible under some estimates of the magnification of Spinoza’s microscope (based on Kerckring’s other observations and capacites of the day), that these may have been the first human observation of bacteria, more than a decade before those made by the expert microscopist Van Leeuenhoek more than a decade later. But more than this, in Kerckrings speculative observation, something akin perhaps to early travel to the moon, we have nexus of the human with the miniscule of the world, the tiniest places, come from the glass of the great ontologist, Spinoza. And better his own difficulty in assessing if the small animals that cover the dead flesh were part of it maintainance or its destruction, with comparison to a home. To repeat the valued line,
…for something is considered to flourish and shine as a home while it is lived in, all the same though, a habitation is worn away by continuous cultivation.
As we contemplate the Death Instinct and the biocline shore between biotic and abiotic, it would be good to follow Kerckring first-sight inconclusion. We ultimately cannot say which processes of Life, and those of Death (though certainly which are proximately of this one life and this one death). There is an ecosystem, an economy of parts in organization that was glimpsed from the first history of it.
May we suggest that the demoness Zuggtmoy embodies the power of an alien, largely unseen aspect of our pre-occupation with Death. Not a drive to zero, but to the very sheen and radiance upon the decomposed, the falling to the inert, where bonds are loosened.
How Dark is Dark? The Zuggtmonic Drive
Naught Thought tells us that Dark Vitalism is the force of forces, something akin to the One…
Dark vitalism, while not my own coinage, names the force of forces (or the One) not as a pure unification but the possibility of ‘isness’ itself as well as the resulting emanations, immanences, emergences and transcendences. The ontological cascade moves from the Real, to Immanence, to Sense and finally to Transcendence. Or from existence as only possibility, to the configurations of matter and energy, to the interaction of stimulus and sense, ending with the extension of ontic being via symbols, structures, technologies et cetera.
And that this vitalism is marked by its very chemical machinic nil, something that must be ajoined to the biological preoccupations of D&G…
The recently coined dark vitalism or mechanistic vitalism (dark as in nihilistic but also as attached to the chemical darkness of Schelling’s unground and mechanistic in that it is deterministic) must be articulated in response to Deleuze and Guattari.
If Zuggtmonic forces are driven by the chemical, proto-semiotic, machinic processes that serve a layer of un-brained intelligence which underwrites all “higher” forms of life, a celluar and contrapuntal, inter-rhythmed consumptive incorporation of elements and their living nexus radiance, then is this really a Nihilism at all? Is it not simply the de-centering of the human (and its emblem, consciousness) in such a way that we come to understand “individual” and “corporation” in very different terms. Pre-occupations with Death and Decay rather are turning to the incandesence that surrounds unloosening itself, the core operation of Eros.
Is it merely a revelatory coincidence that Zuggtmoy appears from the roots of Greek for yoking together (ζυγόν; LSJ) and cutting apart (τμῆμα; LSJ)? The Zuggtmonic drive is merely the machinic intelligence of dictative weaving together of initial consumption and incorporation, the feeding of Life upon the Life that feeds on Death, yoking what has been severed in a mat of constitutive grounding, in which the abiotic is sedimentally and musically re-interwove.
And lastly with this in mind, let us consider Eric Deschamps illustration of the seductive and puppeteering demoness. Is there something to say from the point of view of consciousness, the traditions that wish to think in terms of binaries and negations? What does it mean to see as Zuggtmonic a sexualized form of organic fungal-animal, self-directed in a self-organized realm, making the white bones of Centered Consciousness dance or hang? How close are we to Hegel’s greatest nightmare, that matter itself thinks. That instead of the bifurcation of reflective Male consciousness, as Irigaray tells us,
…[feminity in Hegel is] aware of no difference between itself and the maternal, or even the masculine, except that one is mediated by the abstract immediacy of the being (as) or by the rejection of one (as) being. The female lacks the operation of affirming its singular and universal link to one as self (Speculum, 224)
There is an operative consciousness of elemental contrapuntal pervasion, of female determination. Not one marked by severance and absence (however mediated) but by weave and subsumption through affective incorporation. A truly material thought. That desire, in its own realm, dances the white bones. Nicola talks of the Tiniest Diety and we questioned whether Zuggtmoy could be she.
Nietzsche has a beautiful thought about fungus that we should attend to…
Gardener and garden – Out of damp and gloomy days, out of solitude, out of loveless words directed at us, conclusions grow up in us like fungus, one morning they are there, we know not how, and they gaze upon us, morose and grey. Woe to the thinker who is not the gardener but only the soil of the plants that grow in him!
We can see where the fungal growth is relagated to an unbecoming lifeform of the worst association, but there is something brilliant here which is more than Nietzsche had in mind. Our conscious conclusion, not just our morbid ones which might pre-occupy with death, but ALL of our conscious conclusions can seem to come up out of no-where in the morning. Both our joys and our fears. And yes, though we must garden our soil, I suggest that we must also make a garden of slime molds and fungi (and not just neat English or German perfections). There is a system below, in our soil. A music in it, and our conscious thoughts spring up in radial circles, and inching surface travels that are far richer than the molar appearances that stir and consolidate us. Zuggtmoy affectively communicates to the plant and animal realm that is within us. I think that there is more to be said of her, her powers in political status and in ontological distaff, but this is a beginning.
Jon Cogburn’s list in the comments section over at Perverse Egalitarianism it seems has forced/spurred me onto my own list, as absurd as it may be, (but processes of organization are creative). It is a conflation of “greatest influence,” upon me, but also as I read it, “greatest influence” upon the best solution for the pressing questions of our historical moment, a solution which must resonate down to the root/earth of the Western Philosophical tree. In a sense the list represents the authors from whom – if I was on a desert island and had to compose a philosophical theoretical perspective for our Age, and could be given the entire oeuvre of each — I would compose my island library; where there are two, I get two for the price of one. I include a small note on what seems the most germane contribution, though effects are radial.
1. Spinoza (parallel postulate under a register of power)
2. Plato (formulating the Orphic)
3. Augustine (Immanent Semiotics of truth)
4. Plotinus (Degree of Being transformation of Plato)
5. Davidson (Triangulation and Objectivity)
6. Guattari and Deleuze (Ontology of Affects)
7. Wittgenstein (Language Game)
8. Nietzsche (Ascent of Metaphor)
9. Sophocles (The Surpass of Tragedy)
10. Maturana and Varela (Operational Closure)
A large measure of this ranking can be seen as an after-image of an entire branch of thinking stemming from Descartes’ Central Clarity Consciousness conception, which had its reverberations and mal-interpretations running through both the Continental and Analytic sides, a branch that is best left behind for now.
The actual numbers are only as they came to me without very much juggling. Tons of beautiful philosophers left off, some of my most favorite ones with whom I agree much more, and more inspire me, than some on the list…but that is the beauty of lists they force a composition, a constellation. Of course I would love to hear any of your own lists under something of the same criteria (or whatever).
(On another para-frivolous note, I would love to do a NCAA like bracket “playoff” of the 64 greatest philosophers, a competition/comparison which could have serious conceptual implications about truth and correction.)
Here a BBC Greatest Philosopher List
What is Greek Thymos?
The above is a signature clip from Andrei Tarkovsky’s hauntful meditation on the role of the artist in society, not to mention amid Soviet Society. There may be no greater film made on the subject of the artist than Andrei Rublev. The final chapter of the bell casting is so redounding on the issue of tradition and making, it to this day stirs and moves me. (It was a film that actually put me to sleep in the first three attempted DVD viewings. Like Freud’s the-father-who awoke-from-the-dream-of-his-son-burning, I dove into my dream rather than endure its somnambulant truth, it would seem.)
But the horse of above, for those who do not know the film, can be seen as a certain effervescence of life, a kind of natural expression that society can work to suppress. The horse, an animal of pride and tremendous strength, of the herd and a social order that is beyond the wisdom of the bit, here frolics in a way that seems to criticize the human order of the film’s brutal wars and stern, religious transcendental ambitions/isolations/silences. The horse expresses itself upon and within the field.
Why do I bring up Tarkovsky’s colt here? In recent posts, after my raising the possibility of an informative critique of Western philosophy following the Attic Greek contrast between the Ages of Achilles and Odysseus, attempting to reposition Achillean Immanence against modernist Odysseusean Instrumentality and Wanderlust, Mark Crosby was good enough to point out a rather thorough comparison between my thoughts and those presented by Peter Sloterdijk in his yet to be translated Zorn und Zeit (Anger and Time). I have to say, I just love when I find strong parallels between my own prospective thinking and the cross weft of someone else. It is as if we have fallen upon a great store of possibilities. So this post is an attempt to come to grips with some of the confluences.
“The menis (wrath), do godess sing, of the Peleusian Achilles,/destructive” (Iliad’s first line)
I will go into Sloterdijk’s thoughts more deeply in a moment, but for now it is enough to say that he, like me, returns to the epic of the Iliad, and the figure of Achilles’s anger, as a starting point for an ideal to be followed in human relations. He proposes that the menis/wrathof the poem’s initial line is not a personal wrath, but in a sense civic and divine wrath, a natural product of the thymos (heart, spirit, passion, force) of a person before the failings of the political. Instead of an economy of lack, eros, object-oriented projections, such as that which Western civilization has evolved and Continental philosophy has often emphasized, a economy of thymos, of gift, and righteous anger is preferred. The reason why I have brought up the horse of Tarkovsky is that I believe it helps us understand something of the Greek conception of what Thymos is. When I think of thymos, I think of horses.. When reading a Greek characteristic, it is often advisable to turn to the hyperbolic form of it, as is the case with the thymotic (LSJ):
Hyperthumos, on,A. high-spirited, high-minded, daring, freq. in Hom., in good sense, Il.2.746, 5.376, al., cf. Hes.Th.937, Pi.P.4.13, B.12.103, etc.: irreg. Sup., “huperthume statos andron” Stesich.95.II. in bad sense, overweening, Od.7.59, Hes.Th.719, AP6.332 (Hadr.); over-spirited, of a horse, X.Eq.3.12.III. vehemently angry, Poll.6.124. Adv., “hyperthumosagan” in over-vehement wrath, A.Eu. 824.IV. in Adv. also, eagerly, readily, IGRom.4.1302.12(Cyme, i B. C./i A. D.).
To sum up: the horse that is sound in his feet, gentle and fairly speedy, has the will and the strength to stand work, and, above all, is obedient, is the horse that will, as a matter of course, give least trouble and the greatest measure of safety to his rider in warfare. But those that want a lot of driving on account of their laziness, or a lot of coaxing and attention on account of their high spirit, make constant demands on the rider’s hands and rob him of confidence in moments of danger.
We recall the figure of the “horse-trainer” from Socrates of the Apology (25b). The over-thymotic man, someone like Achilles, is in a sense the unbroken man, the one that will not take the bit, the one withtoo much soul. How is society to deal with the thymos, and eventually the menis-wrath of the over-souled person or peoples? Is the only rapidly expandable economy that of Capitalism’s desire and lack-driven instrumentalities, vanishing petite object a’s, economies that work by ”sublimating” into atomized individual of guilt and pleasure, or worse and alternately as Sloterdijkwill tell us, the vast “banking” of thymotic anger within a social collective, resenting Revolutionary Left?
Sloterdijk’s Zorn und Zeit
I have not read Anger and Time, and am not overly familiar with Sloterdijk’s philosophy so I will have to rely upon the two English reviews linked by Mark, and use extensive quotation so as to build something of a dialogue in thought with the book. At the very least the quotations here might give a context to arguments I am presenting.
“Anger and Time: a critical assessment” [click here] , Miguel de Beistegui
“Zorn und Zeit” [click here], Fransisco R. Klauser
Klauser sets us in the right place, positioning the divinity of Achillean anger as part of a wide, historical immanence of rightful, citizened, defense against political injustice. In this telling Achilles is the power which will not submit to opportunism and legal or customary usurpation. It is the feeling in the breast that grows almost without object, but merely as an objection.
Sloterdijk’s reading of the Greek heroic epos, the imaginary space of gods, half-gods, and divinely chosen angry heroes, underlines that in ancient Hellenistic mythology the origins of anger are neither located in the earthly world, nor attributed to individuals’ personalities. Anger is rather understood as a possessed, divine capacity, a god-favoured eruption of power. Hence the birth of the hero as a prophet, whose task is to make the message of his god-given anger an immediate reality (pages 23 , 24). For Homer, to sing the praises of Achilles’ heroism also and ultimately means to celebrate the existence of divine forces, which are releasing society from its vegetative daze, through the mediation of the godly chosen `bringer of anger and revenge’.
It is from the Greek mythological relationship with anger that Sloterdijk derives his own conceptualisation of anger through the figure of Thymos. Originally denominating both the Greek hero’s specific organ for the reception of god-given anger and the bodily location of his proud self, Thymoslater with Plato, and following the generaltransformationof the Greek psyche from heroic belligerent to more civic virtues, stands for the righteous anger of the Greek citizen as a means of defence from insults and unreasonable attacks (page 42).With the figure of Thymos set against the psycho-analytical focus on Eros, anger, for Sloterdijk, is not only a vent for frustrated desires, but also, and rather, a reactive manifestation of offended pride. (Klauser)
As we can see from this paragraph’s end, the economics of Thymos, of soul and anger, vary withthose of Eros diagnosed and thus developed by psychoanalysis. In the notion and confirmation of pride, no longer is this a question of objects, or payments, but of relations. Achilles puts this very pricelessness forth, in defiance of what is hidden, in his ninth book refusal to be bought off by Agamemnon and Odysseus.
Neither counsel will I devise with him nor any work,  for utterly hath he deceived me and sinned against me. Never again shall he beguile me with words; the past is enough for him. Nay, let him go to his ruin in comfort, seeing that Zeus the counsellor hathutterlyrobbedhim of his wits. Hateful in my eyes are his gifts, I count them at a hair’s1 worth. Not though he gave me ten times, aye twenty times all that now he hath,  and if yet other should be added thereto I care not whence, not though it were all the wealth that goeth in to Orchomenus, or to Thebes of Egypt, where treasures in greatest store are laid up in men’s houses,-Thebes which is a city of an hundred gates where from sally forth through each two hundred warriors with horses and cars;  -nay, not though he gave gifts in number as sand and dust; not even so shall Agamemnon any more persuade my soul, until he hath paid the full price of all the despite that stings my heart. (A. T. Murray translation)
One also recalls the Achillean novella Michael Kohlhaas by Heinrich von Kleist, wherein the hero refuses all possibility of payment or retribution, aside from the restoration of his one horse once illegitimately taken, setting the entire land to war. Righteous indignation allows no translated payment, no abstraction of a wrong. No amount of instrumental increase can restore the injury to the heart.
Miguel de Beistegui continues on with the theme, developing the historical critique that Sloterdijk brings to libidnal organizations. Once anger is internalized, and begins to be “banked”, or better, “stored up” (in just the kind of hydraulic metaphors psychoanalysis enjoys), it enters into a different economy: an economy of objects, an economy of hatred, instead of thymos or menis. Interestingly, Sloterdijk characterizes this real banking of anger not so much of the Christianized soul (which begins this internalization), but of the Revolutionary Left (which of course has its distinct history of brutal and collective abuses).
So, beginning with the fact and facticity of anger, Zorn und Zeit describes its economy or, more precisely still, its two possible economies, that is, the way it is and has been managed collectively in European history. The first type of economy is connected with a certain Greek, and specifically Homeric stance, the contemporary equivalent of which Peter Sloterdijk seeks to identify in a renewed concept of pride partakes of a healthy “thymotics”. It originates from the thymos, or the part of the soul that, according to the early Greeks, and up until Plato, was thought to be the site of the noblest affects. The second type of economy, on the other hand, is associated with the main processes of collection or gathering of anger, namely, Judeo-Christian metaphysics, and revolutionary politics. It originates from the erotic part of the soul, which defines the envious, libidinal partof the human psyche. If one can speak of anger in both instances, one also needs to emphasise the fact that they do not originate in the same part of the soul. As soon as anger is conserved, preserved, or interiorised, as soon as it is allowed, or worse still, encouraged, to accumulate, as soon as its externalisation is deferred, it enters into a different kind of economy in fact, it enters what has come to be associated with economy as such, and by that we mean the economy of accumulation, growth, and interest. Like monetary economy, the economy of anger crosses its critical threshold when anger rises and moves from a state of local accumulation and punctual expenditure [revenge to] that of a systematic investment and cyclical growth most notably, revolution, especially in its global ambition.
Paradoxically, then, and almost perversely, Sloterdijk argues that the revolutionary movements of the last two centuries, and the communist revolutions in particular, partake of an essentially capitalistic economy of anger that contradicts and undermines the very politicaleconomy it seeks to promote. In other words, and from the point of view of its dominant affect, communism would be driven by the very economy that it seeks to overturn. It would itself be an expression of the drive to accumulate, invest, and live off its capital. It would itself operate like a gigantic bank, in which the world reserve of anger would be deposited, and would grow, with a view to its final and total mobilisation in the name of a global revolution.
Under Sloterdijk’s review, Communist projects partake in the very anger-banking processes that drive the Capitalist machine that it seeks to overthrow. The resentment attributed to the priest of Christianity by Nietzsche is accumulated into a great reservoir of assembled power, a power directly attributed to libidinal organizations of psychoanalysis and beyond. And this organization is distinctly that of object-orientation, the internalization and projection upon, control over objects in the world:
The catastrophic effect of psychoanalysis, according to Sloterdijk, lies in its analysis of the conditio humana as a whole on the basis of the dynamic of the libido, and thus on the basis of erotism. This approach would not have been problematic, had it not been developed at the expense of the pole of thymotic energies (page 27). Yet such a one-sided view was no coincidence: the thymotic had long ceased to be valued and analysed as the site of possible values and virtues, with a few notable exceptions, such as Nietzsche and, more recently, Bataille. Psychoanalysis was and remains (for instance, in its Lacanian version) an economy of compensation and sublimation, born of an original and irreducible experience of lack: “Whereas erotism indicates ways towards the `objects’ that we lack and in the possession or proximity of which we feel fulfilled, thymotics opens up ways for the human being to value what it has, what it can be, what it is, and what it wants to be” (page 30). In other words, the shift from erotism to thymotics, which Zorn und Zeit hopes to facilitate, is a shift from an economy of possession and lack to an economy of being, power, and plenitude. Throughout history, anger has been eroticised, that is, reduced to libidinal impulses defined by their lack and their weakness. Whenever the human condition is defined by a constitutive lack, also known as sin, the “ethics of indignity” prevail.
Here is where I find my greatest affinity with Sloterdijk’s ideas, for it was specifically the contrast between the ever-devising, instrumentalist Odysseus who has come in some modern philosophy quarters to essentialize the existential crisis of modern human beings, bothblessed and cursed by their technological powers, that the Greeks of Athens and even long before positioned Achillean immanence of rightful anger and immanent, eruptive power. It is precisely in terms of what is “hidden” (a favorite of such objectologists as Heidegger) and the character of device users that Achilles forms his objection to Odysseus’s very machinationed mind at the start of his book nine speech:
Zeus-born, Laertean, poly-machinationed, Odysseus, it must be now that the telling – spoken outright – it is declared, even as I have the sense, accomplished it shall be, so not with me you’ll murmur seated near another to another. For an enemy to me is that man – equal to Hades’ gates – who a different thing he hides in his chest, yet another thing he would have said. Nay, I will say what appears to me to be best.
For the Achillean, one does not hide what is other in one’s breast but speaks forthrightly, expressionally. The nothingness of hidden thoughts is hated just as the gates of Hades are hated. They are of the same stuff so to speak. I do not believe that the exception is to any dissemblance, but to dissemblance and hiddenness as proper modes of conduct, ideals to be achieved. There is in Odysseus the exemplar of the negotiator, not only of persons, but of circumstances. His is a world of objects which must be positioned. For Achilles, the world is a world of forces, and his is a immanence within them, one in which the alliance with others is a bodily constituted bond. The thymos of Achilles is the very substance that is shared between persons. His taken Briseis is his “thumares” (female form of his thymos 9.336). He thymos is poured into by the grieving of those he loves (9.612). Words matter. Riches are not worth a soul (9.401). The weapons at his disposal are merely withdrawal and action, and the power of those he is allied with. The very object-orientation of his counterpart Odysseus is misplaced. Words and weapons are the very stuff of a life.
These are very noble characteristics, at least we might get a few to agree. But in what sense do these two manners about the world form valid and alternate perspectives? Is there a way in which the Odysseusean West can become more Achillean, more immanent, more bonded, more respectful of the Menis of the wronged, such that its very economy of interactions and concepts were to be organized around notions of dignity and anger? Has history reached a point where the magnanimus, great-heart has gained a substance out-reaching the arms of the instrumental opportunism of assumed object control and prediction? Has an economics and ontology of lack and absence, via the projections of the missing object come to a limit? De Beistegui does not see himself through to a Thymotics of Anger, questioning whether we need a modulated anger, a rationalized anger:
Despite Sloterdijk’s claim, I wonder whether anger cannot be seen to have played, and to continue to play, a positive and active role in public life, especially in the face of social injustice not as “simple explosion”, “revenge”, or “evolution”, which Sloterdijkrecognises as the three fundamental forms of anger in Western history (pages 95 , 103), but as yet another form, which can be described as revolt, or rebellion. It is not merely explosive and immediate, for it presupposes a degree of organisation and mobilisation. It is not motivated by revenge, but by a deep sense of injustice and indignity…The anger in question is one that presupposes a sense of outrage, empathy, and therefore something like a social instinct (which Aristotle would call philia, or friendship), but one which, in order to be effective, needs to be mediated and processed rationally.
Bringing Forth an Achillean Spinoza?
I think this an important point, and one which Spinoza could help us out on, for he is expert on the dovetailing of the affects of the mind and rational propositions (and not allowing them to collapse into dual distinctions). Much like a critique of object orientation, Spinoza tells us that affects of love and hatred are mistaken or confused ideas which in a sense blame our weakened states upon external objects. It is the idea of an externalcausethat makes up a mental affect. I would offer that it is precisely in the projection of our pains and sadnesses upon objects that the difference between Immanence and Instrumentality lies. While de Beistegui sees a distinction between an Aristotlean rationality of anger, and the three modes that Sloterdijk prescribes, I do not accept this difference, for within “evolution” I would includetherationalization itself of anger, with the primary Spinozist understanding that the affect of anger (and not hatred) is not counter to the rational. In fact, the menis of Achilles, his thymos by poem’s end, is no longer cholos anger, or even named mēnis wrath, now, but has become meneainō which is sheer purposive force, determination, might, strength, power (24.23-54), very close to Spinoza’s conatus and potentia. Achilles has moved to through extreme affective determinations to reach this point, but we cannot discount its end. Indeed though Spinoza often frames his advisementsin terms of utility, for instance that nothing is more useful to man, than man, this is always within the bodily, affective combinations of persons withothers and withthe world, in a view towards ultimate and mutualimmanence. The external object is part of the same expressive field. And it would strike me that the very thymotic evolutions are more greatly enhanced the affects of mind as well.
To bring up a specific historical example, the anger of the ”barbaric” crowd against the De Witts, savagely murdered as they were leaving prison in August 1672, was a complex venting of political forces. Johan de Witt had guided the Dutch Republic on a course of a uniquely modernist ends, a state of freedoms of expressions, the enhancement of new capitalist forces; yet he had utterly failed to protect the Dutch from the Catholic armies of Louis XIV which were set to eclipse the entire land. His failure as a leader cannot be dismissed from the reasons for his lynched execution. It is too easy to see him solely as the victim of reactionary, dull-minded hoi polloi who simply did not understand his Enlightened genius (and surely he was genius). It was also the uprising of the populace, farmers, women, that had perhaps saved the Republic up to this point (as deWitt was being forced into very poor positions of negotiation for defeat). The savagery with which he and his brother was killed has interesting parallels to the inhuman treatment Achilles gave Hectors corpse (there were eye witness reports of cannibalism). When Spinoza cried “Ultima barbarorum!” he was staring right into the heart of the democratic powers he hoped to enlist, but savagely so; he felt that these were not the thymotic angerof indignity and pride, but that of banked hatred and projection upon objects. I think that this is partly true. Yes, imaginary relations helped organize the riot, but the actual brutality, the excessive object concern, the rending of the flesh, likely stemmed from real thymotic incursion into the social field, the eruption of the offended beast:
For days an angry crowd had been gathering in front of the Gevangenpoort, and they wanted to see blood. Tichelaer [a likely false accuser of an attempt assinate the Prince] was given every opportunity to whip up emotions. Cornelis, in not fit state after the torture he had been subjected to, had asked his brother to send a carriage. Johan arrived in person at half past nine, apparently in the naive belief that he could calm the crowd. He could not have been more mistaken. The soldiers and civic militiamen, who had mounted guard aroundthe entrance to the prison, were becoming just as agitated as the crowd. Shops started closing in nearby neighborhoods as people began to sense trouble. Wild rumors were making the rounds, one of which maintained that peasants from the surrounding countryside were on their way to plunder The Hague. After endless waiting, at four o’clock the militia men forced the brothers outside (The Dutch Republic in the Seventeeth Century, 53-54)
The confluence of Voetian and Orangist alliance had been grafted onto I suspect, a much larger force of fear and dignity come from the country side and the lower classes, the dispersion of forces that had held the Dutch Republic intact from the assaults of the Catholic French. The bodies of the brothers deWitt eventually became inscribed with the very conatus of Dutch persistence, and in no small respect did the vicissitudes of Enlightenment capitalism and Burgerism, the mobilization of a merchant class at the expense of industry stability (such were the sea lanes and identities of nobility), incur this ignorant protest that built itself through the streets. The mark of the brutality of their murders, was I suspect less the mark of the imaginary, and more the mark of Achillean protest, pure and simple, upon the very matter that confined them, held to the surface and organs of the body.
What Is The Locus of Protest?
Further on the issue of the rational at its relationship to the affect of menis, or thymos, and I don’t know if Sloterdijk follows this at all, but Achilles’s thymotic response in one of at first petition (to his mother goddess) and then strategic withdrawl and inaction. The menis wrath is thus also a quietude of reflection. I find Achilles to be much more of a Spinozist hero than many might suppose.
De Beisteguiraises the very interesting point that if there is to be a thymotic transformation of social economies, they would have to occur within the libidnally based structure of Capitalism itself, within the very erotic realm of object-pursuit. Our very states of infinite debt seem to be too married to the deep investments of personal sublimation which constitute the very meaning of our lives. There strikes him to be a very incompatibility between the deep dept of our economic system, and the debts of our lives.
For isn’t capitalism, especially in its current form, based on the systematic appeal to the erotic, and to our ability to desire what we perceive to be lacking, and in the possession and consumption of which we hope to find satisfaction? In itself impossible to ever satisfy completely, this desire is partially fulfilled through consumption, yet at the cost of a mounting debt, and the dependence on a system to which we find ourselves ever more riveted, ever more enslaved.
In short, whilst I see how the ethics of dignity that Sloterdijk promotes is incompatible with, and in fact radically opposed to, the revolutionary and global impulses witnessed in the 20th century, I fail to see how the aristocratic or thymotic stance he advocates is compatible with the current state of Western capitalism, driven by ever greater and more crippling levels of debt, deficit, and lack. In fact, one might want to go as far as to argue that if it is true that we might be hard-pressed to identify one universal discourseor “bank”, in which we could invest our anger, with the hope of seeing it grow in the future, we could be equally, if not more, hard-pressed to find any promise of a future that would not already be spent, already mortgaged. At the economic level, it is through consumption that we seek to alleviate ourselves form our sense of lack, our fear, and our decadent eroticism. But this is not an investment. In fact, it leads to a greater sense of lack, and a greater desire. It forces one to borrow from one’sown future, to live one’s future before it has been actually lived. The truth is, we’re not saving or storing anything, not even anger. In many ways, we’ve already spent our future, and chained ourselves to this loss.We’ve given away something that we have not yet lived, and can never be ours, namely, time. We don’t even own ourselves anymore. No wonder we’re afraid. No wonder we’re angry.
There is almost something poetic to this, we have exhausted ourselves, spent all our notes of promise, and there is no bank or discourse to redeem our expenditures, nor even internal resources to drawn on again. I think the answer of course is that we are in our state an Agamemnon, and it is our recourse to grant respect to the Achilleses of the world. If we of the West have outspent ourselves, clearly there is menis enough in the world, lament enough in the world, to see where we have deposited our investments and actions. It is perhaps at most that outside ofour realm, more than ever, as learned by Achilles with his Priam, that we must look for the possibilities of the thymotic economy. To take two examples, we in the West often confuse ourselves over the dramatic mournings of those in Islam, paralyze ourselves over the numerical vastness of rape, disease and war in Africa in tumults. These, I suspect, are Achilles laments of thymos. Something to be acknowledged at a very deep and symbolic (and not instrumental) level. There is no dearth of soul in the world.
Infinite Debt or Bodies in Composition
Lastly, critically brings the very technological attachments between persons that now inhabit and construct our world, attachments of such speed and transfer that events as images seem to defy any human growth, as centered on the human:
If we are to consider the question of time, or the question of our time, in relation to a specific attunement, or a set of attunements, we need to take into consideration the way in which, not human beings, but machines, and information systems in particular, act as decisive mediators and formidable accelerators and amplifiers. They are the bank, or the automatic growth vehicles, through which those affects are processed, and to a large extent produced. The current financial crisis, in which the banking system is at issue, as well as the terrorist attacks on the US of 9/11, illustrate this new dimension of a bank of affects that can be mobilised at a moment’s notice, and turned into global catastrophes. At no point, therefore, would I suggest that those affects bring us any closer to the ideal that Sloterdijk evokes in his book. In fact, inasmuch as they stem from the most negative of affects, namely, fear, and lock us into a climate of suspicion and depression, they disallow the spirit of self-esteem and self recognition which Sloterdijk wants to revive. They do not allow us to grow and flourish as free spirits. Rather, they continue to capitalise on the negative eroticism which Sloterdijk so adequately describes.
I do not fully accept Sloterdijk’s division between eroticism and the thymotic, though I can certainly see the value of the distinction. Achilles most certainly had an eros for Protroklus that was born of his thymos, as he did for Briseis. And there are distinct object-concerns for Achilles, not in the economy of abstract exchange, but in terms of passage. He holds onto both Patroklus and Hector, the one as a soul-ghost, the other as a brute materiality. His abuse of the body is a product of the circulation of his thymotic rage, quieted, and brought into incantational repetition. When de Beistegui emphasizes that the attunements of our day are of machines and informations systems, and not of human beings I think he is actually pointing the way forward, towards a post-human Achillean Age. This is the difference between the aristocratic gift giving economy that may perhaps be suggested by a Bill Gates and Warren Buffett of efficacy of philanthropy. The gifts and growths are not strictly of human beings, as centered subjects. The growth is of immanence itself, the immanence of recognition across subjectivities, in the answer to affects in communication.
Yes, technological affect transfers indeed employ intersubjective projections. Britney Spears’s face on the screen allows for the conduit of affect bleeds across space and time with incredible motion. Instantly we can coalesce. And yes, we want to move away from object-orientation and concerns with lack. But the destablization of the human subject brought on through technologies is the very path forward to thymotic economies, for identifications in individual powers allows us not only depressions and fears, but polyversal bodies, bodies capable of ornate action. Key is that the thymotic is recognizable as source and determination. Hatred needs to be pushed back, ciphoned back, into its river mouth ofanger and pride, a well-spring for a community of values and generosity of mutal recognition. Not sub-jects, or ob-jects, but syn-jects.
Lastly, Klauser tells us something that Spinoza balanced his entire Ethics upon, that the logic of love and hatred are the same. Those concerned primarily with objectsarethose who must bear the burden of this truth.
`Based on its erotodynamic approach, psychoanalysis has shed much light on hate as the dark side of love. This approach has shown that hate and love rely on a similar logic, with projection and recidivism being in command in both cases. Yet, psychoanalysis has remained silent in view of anger, which originates from successful or failed aspirations to success, reputation and self-respect” (page 27)
Anyone who knows why the artist casts the bell to be rung in the village square, or why the horse rolls in the grass, knows that it is not a question of objects, nor their accounting.
“When he happen’d to be tired by having applyed himself too much to his Philosophical Meditations, he went down Stairs to refresh himself, and discoursed with the people of the House about any thing, that might afford Matter for an ordinary Conversation, and even about trifles. He also took Pleasure in smoaking a Pipe of Tobacco.”
Colerus, The Life of Spinoza
Graham’s Resistance to Cold
Reading over at Graham’s site, again I encounter his resistance to Spinoza’s Stoicism, the sense that Spinoza’s rationality of affectation, understanding things through causes, is somehow anti-life, or anti-emotion. This is a very common take on the man, in particular the way that he has become encrusted with various essentializations and hagiographies. But it troubles me for a man as sensitive a thinker as Graham Harman (and one that strikes me in person to be rather Spinoza-like, as least as far as I have come to picture Spinoza, and encounter Graham), would fall into this loose-fitting caricature of historical Spinoza or his philosophy.
I posted a response which can be found in the comments section above, which I repost here typos corrected and some bit thoughts added:
I wonder if this is an abstract understanding (reasoned), or a lived one (emotional). That is, is it that you feel the person of Spinoza, the actual person, harbored a great weakness, buried within him? A craftsman of instruments, a political dissident, a faithful correspondent (his friends, and not just admirers) always speak of his person in glowing terms, tales of how easy conversation with him was, showing an incredible personal loyalty. A great lover of the theatre, an amateur draftsman who loved drawing the portraits of visitors, someone who struggled with tuberculosis, but never let it weaken him.
I’m not saying all of this merely to praise him, but rather to position his philosophy within a life to sharpen the meaning of his position. Spinoza’s was not really a Spock-life at all. There is no real sign of that I feel. What he really hoped for (like Nietzsche some years after), as a more active rather than re-active life. Now which man, Spinoza or Nietzsche, lived more joyfully more actively, I would leave it up to you and others to decide. But I sense that there is a deep historical remove from the actual man, the life that generated the philosophy in the case of Spinoza. And in the case of Nietzsche there is a tendency to brush under a rug what is being, as you say, “concealed”.
I think that in general, when discussing the various Stoic-like positions and their authenticity, it is a danger to use abstract categorization to find dissatisfaction with their aims.
I don’t know, I”m not sure that as much as I admire the writing styles of Nietzsche, if I would want to have lead his life. In the end, Spinoza seems quite a bit happier, engaged, fullfilled (not in the abstract, but in the very fact of the living). Both men were stricken in body, and outcasts of a kind. One railed beautifully. One built as many bridges as he could (in life and in theory).
We are not in the habit of using the lives of philosophers to examine the substance of their positions, but in the case of great ones, I think that this is something one really should not fail to do. And those Logos-defying philosophers like Nietzsche are the ones who should have used the life lived more than any other as a measure. On the other hand, Spinoza, like Socrates, lived his philosophy, considered philosophy as a path, and so his life serves as an example of its worth, just as much the coherence of the arguments.
I would be interested in hear just what you feel, what weakness that Spinoza was harboring deep within, as a person. What is it about Spinoza that you feel is a cold sadism, or is this just an abstraction drawn from an abstraction?
This is not a full defense of Spinoza’s philosophy, for there are aporias in it that trouble me, but I have to say that in looking at the life of the man, I was struck by something quite different than the caricature image that haunts history.
Which philosophers do you feel had greater, non-illusionary, Self-mastery than Spinoza?
Graham’s Resistance to Philosophical Bling
Graham responded with an interesting kind of detachment, as if the substance of his point against Spinoza’s Stoic-like love of the activity of mind really didn’t matter. Objecting instead to the very popularity of Spinoza (I quote only a very brief selection).
Graham: “No aspersions against Spinoza the person, who seems admirable to me. My objection is to the general feel still in the air that if Spinoza anticipated your position, that’s cause for rejoicing, and if you disagree with Spinoza about something, you simply haven’t understood him properly. Zizek was right- he’s “in”.”
To this generalized repulsion from the “fashion” of a thinker, at least this thinker, (quoting the very à la mode Zizek on this subject is more than a bit ironic), I suggest:
There are two issues here, but I’d like to keep track of the more important one, the question of Spinoza’s Spock-like Stocism. First though, the interpretive assumption that Spinoza was right (and anticipated you), is nothing more than assuming (charitably) maximum coherence in a thinker, and this is nothing special about Spinoza. Any Kantian thinks this way, any Heideggerian, any Nietzschean. One looks within someone’s thought for the answer to objections, and strains the capacity of the thought first, in order to most substantially make use of it. It is a matter of seeing the world as best that one can through the “eyes” of that systematic philosopher. As I mentioned though, there seem some rather deep aporias in Spinoza’s approach. As a Spinoza enthusiast I have found problematic his diminishment of metaphor. This troubled me because I knew him to be an lover of Classical Drama. How to reconcile these two? Well, instead of assuming that Spinoza is stricken by a tremendous blind spot, one sees if one can build a theory of the powers of metaphor from within his philosophy. This does not mean that Spinoza objected to my question in advance, but rather that the powers of his philosophy are such that they can be used as a grammar to address a great diversity of problematics. This, to me, is productive thinking.
But back to your essential point, that you are annoyed that he is so popular. I can understand this. But this strikes me as a very odd response to my questioning of your take on Spinoza’s Stoicism. As I tried to suggest, perhaps you are misreading his Stoicism, the vitality and life of it. The man lived powerfully (not saintly), forming significant friendships of deep loyalty at a time of plague, persecution and international wars, and with no personal enmity that I know of. He was deeply engaged in this world, an artist and inventor. What I am saying is that perhaps your understanding of his empowerment through the understanding of causes as Spock-like, or anti-emotional (a very common one), is mistaken.
But your response seems to be something like, “Well, I object to Spinoza’s Stoicism, because I find it annoying that he is so damn popular these days”. What I’m putting forward is, sure, let’s bring measures of objection against him, but let’s do so consistently, across the board. If you feel that Spinoza advocated a Spock-like detachment from life, would you say that the fullness of his life, the admirability of his engagements were entirely a product of his failure to live up to his philosophy? This would be an interesting thing to argue, but I don’t know where you would get this sense.
Or, if one wants to pair him up with Nietzsche, who holds a great number of theoretical positions in common with Spinoza, and accept as shared between them the valuation of Active vs. Re-active, which of these thinker’s lives do you feel best exhibited the freedom they called for? Who was reacting, and who was not?
I guess, if you approve of Spinoza’s life, his person, and his philosophy is meant as a prescriptive to the life lived, an Ethica, there is a disjunction between your rejection of the significance of his prescription, and your acceptance of his life. One is left only imagining that he failed to do anything he hoped to do. If one says that the Stoic can only be a Stoic by harboring great weakness within (and Nietzsche himself attempts this diagnosis of Spinoza), I think one should at least point to where in Spinoza’s life the dark shadow of this symptom shows itself. Rather it seems, in championing an emotionally charged life one ironically uses abstraction to disqualify the lived life of Spinoza’s philosophy, instead of considering it on its lived-life grounds.
Graham’s Judo Throws of the Past
Graham also then posits a thought experiment used to discover if a thinker is in his standard “too fashionable”. You imagine a lecture series ”X must be reversed”. If I read him right, he thinks that if the lecture series goes over poorly, the thinker is in too good a standing in the world. There are a number of levels upon which I object to this approach (again, not even sure that I read his point correctly). First of all, it is deeply REactive. That is, it swallows whole the Hegelian and then Nietzschean vision that the business of philosophy is that of Reversing something or someone. What a desolate vision of the pursuit of agreement. (It seemed that Graham thought I was “reversing” him when I mentioned that he appeared to be more interested in Qualities rather than objects, and I tried to explain to him that it is not about reversal, but finding common valuations and paths toward agreement.) Instead, Graham seems to think that reversals are essential to philosophical work. Aside from the sterility of this inversion notion, I think it leads to deep misconceptions of past philosophers. For instance, people want to stake out Spinoza as somehow “reversing” Descartes on the issue of Substance and Representation. The careless cartoon of it obscures some rather significant parallels between the two thinkers, (for instance the possibility that for Descartes and Spinoza ideas were not representations so much as actions), hazing over the mutuality of influence of Scholasticism on both thinkers, not to mention the fact that Spinoza was one of the most respected Descartes scholars of his time, gathering about him a rather distinguished set of Cartesian Collegiants. By throwing the history of philosophy into binaries of complimentary upside-downs, the powers of philosophy are severely restricted. In particular, the genetic connection between historical paths in thinking become abstracted and obscured in a kind of Three-Card-Monte Idealism, trying to keep your eye on just what is being reversed. It is not that philosophers need to be Reversed, a silly idea to me. But simply shown to be insufficient. One simply stretches their ideas as far as they can go, and then when unable, creates something new. The automobile did not “reverse” the horse and carriage. The photograph did not reverse the painting. Or if in any way that they did, to reduce their transformations to such is a vast over-simplification that hides what is most productive, and I might say, interesting.
If Spinoza, or some other philosopher, is quite popular now, it is because the diagrammatics of the system speak to the requirements of the Age. Plato’s rediscovery in the Renaissance was part of the productivity of the Renaissance. Ficino’s Plato, newly in translation, spoke to the political and ideational needs of the time, much as Arabic Aristotle did in the Middle Ages. When one looks to a philosopher who spreads epidemic across schools of thought, instead of rebelling out of sheer rejection of the “fashion”, if one truly objects, one should look to the reasons why the philosopher has such traction in that Age (why Spinoza now?), and then go about addressing that traction in even better ways.
And lastly, if one is going to say something like, “Spinoza needs to be reversed!,” I’m unsure that it would be the case that such a lecture ”doesn’t go over well” in the way that Graham seems to be suggesting. The “reversal” that he did suggest struck me as a rather over-simplicistic one. Instead of Spock we need passion (or a synthesis). Hmmm. As I’ved tried to point out, the life of Spinoza was not an unenriched life, one which in anyway seems to correspond to just what it is that Graham is attempting to reverse. It is rather an imcomprension on my part as to what it would mean to “reverse” Spinoza. One wonders, is Spinoza reversed if quantum mechanics are shown to be undetermined in the sense that he meant universal determination? I can’t say that this is the case. One could say that the deepest “reversal” of Spinoza occurred through Deleuze’s affect-rich, emotionally charged appr0priation of him (some people find not a hint of Spinoza remaining). Far from Canonizing Spinoza, Deleuze ripped him right off the alterpiece where he had been gathering much dust).
Aside from all this, I do believe that there is a Coldness in Spinoza, but I don’t think it is the Coldness of a life lived coldly, detachedly. It is, as Deleuze I believed, a Cold Wind. A Cold Wind is tremendously affective, it is bracing. If you are to “reverse” Spinoza, one would have to reverse his Cold Wind, the effect of reading him. And I’m not quite sure what that would fully mean. Is Antarctica really the reverse of a desert? Or the reverse of the Artic? Or the reverse of a well-stocked, leather-chaired library, a cozy fire, and a pipe? Thinking too much in binaries is the plague of philosophy (perhaps something we should reverse).
Graham Harman’s embrace of what he takes to be a coin-flip reading of his project begins,
No one can jump over their own shadow, but it’s a feasible reading of me as my own “evil twin” (without the value judgment, of course).
I say, this impossibilty of jumping over one’s shadow notion may point the way forward, for one really can jump over one’s shadow if one simply moves in relation to a new light source (vocabulary set). One may then have a differently oriented shadow, but then understands the solution to such shadow-staring is keeping an eye upon a multiplicity of light sources, and the nature of their varying strengths.
I’m glad that Graham sees the possibilities of this redescription of his work, and love the notion of a philosophy Federation of “Evil Kirks and Spocks.” I say that we embrace somthing of this, but in fine Nietzschean fashion retain the value judgment, the BGE evil of it (if I recall, Evil Spock was able to think himself out of his evil universe, finding common ground with Good Kirk). What I hope is that if indeed Graham is only attempting to save Qualities, and is merely presenting an OOP as a means for a QOP intention, something more is being achieved than flipping a coin around by pointing out this fact. What Nietzsche wants us to know is that the thing that is evil, that seems like the dark side of something, is really its potentiality masked. Without Hegelian pretension, if indeed Graham is seeking to save qualities, and not objects, we can stop asking questions about the exact metaphysical nature of objects, and start asking questions about what is the best way to save, or as I say, ennoble, qualities. It may well be that positing empty, regressing objects IS the best way, that it does more for the stature of qualities than molten postmodern/post-structuralist fantasy, or even another approach, but until we get to the program itself, we can never properly frame the question.
In this way, I am saying more than the common place that makes of everything a coin. Rather, it is if we get to the real, or at least determinative motivation of a philosophical project, its “evil-twin” underside, we can then open up the project to possibilities that a blindness to that underside undershadows. In Graham’s philosophy this limit, as he admits, comes down the occasionalism-like collaspe of objects which fails to account for the nature of their change. What I would say is that it is of the very nature of the armature that Graham has passionately and insightfully constructed, so as to save qualities, that limits the force of their salvation. If he, I and others come to agree, if we make a value judgment that what we are really after is the esteem of qualities, then we can discuss more precisely the failures of esteem in others’ approaches, and invent better strategies for that esteem, rather than simply looking to shore-up and solve what we thought was the central focus of our attention.
Instead of making a nice pair of things, a doppleganger of inseperable concepts, such as those seen in Graham’s wonderfully titled Count Magnus Effect, one proposes a means for satisfying discourse, for finding agreement. There may be some fun in pointing out to others that they are accomplishing one thing when then thought they were accomplishing something else; Nietzsche had tremendous pleasure in this, and modern day Zizek just loves this game. Such a reversal is not really all that valuable unless one returns it to the question of valuation itself. Do we value the same things and just have different projects on how to achieve it? This is not to say that agreement is guaranteed, but at least the nature of disagreement changes.
Campanella: Knowing is Being
The essentializing dyads that Graham expresses himself in, come from a strong Heideggerian genus, retain a certain human-centric heritage which Graham is pushing against. But I suspect that it is the nobility of the quality that keeps Graham on this side the panpsychist Gate. As I dig like a Latourian engineer attempting to meet up with the tunnel that Graham has dug in the same Ontological mountain, and trace out each of my excavation, and to the best that I can, his own, it is on the question of the salvation of the quality that I think we can find a common ground. What I will propose that instead of instantiating the rights of qualities upon the nothingness of a retreating and empty object, a consideration of Tommaso Campanella’s proto-Cartesian “Cognoscere est esse,” to know is to be. This a core, quality-directed principle which undercuts in history and object some of the founding theoretical dyads which inform a human-centered picture of consciousness. Much akin to the objects of Graham’s fascination with Late Scholasticism, and Late Renaissance theory (Bruno, Suarez), Campanella’s rationalization of Natural Magic, which is the attempt to synthesize the lived (Quality) emphasis of Telesio’s empiricism to the metaphysics of immanent and unified Being (Augustine), provides the substance of the rescue of Quality without the collapse into molten origins. Campanella’s metaphysics are rough-hewn, though voluminously written, and appear to modern commentators often as a hodgepodge of irreconsilable positions and influences. Campanella comes off as a pre-modern fantasticist, as confused by astrology as he was by the Political situation of which he was a victim. But rather, it is Campanella’s love for the world, its embodied, animal-like quality, its magic of effect, which produced the theoretical possibility for a contemporary salvation of qualites, of the sort that I think that Graham pursues. It is not so much that qualities are granted their rightful power because they are in a tension with Substance Objects which invariably retreat from all investigation, a mark of characterized experiences of human consciousness. It is rather, in surpass of any categorical reduction of human consciousness, that qualities has their own nobility and powers. Campanella wanted us to know that when I come to know something (an entity), I literally am transformed into it (an interesting pre-sage of Latour’s Principle of Translation). When I know a cold thing, I literally become cold. Or, if we want to postmodernize it, when I know Capitalism, I literally become Capitalism, I am transformed into that entity. How exactly to read this transformation I think comes from the notion of assemblage, of bodily (and therefore following Spinoza, ideational) combination, under a figure of power.
What I suggest is that once we identify the hidden, as Graham says, evil valuation behind his project, it is towards a panpsychism that qualitative embrace leads. That is, one needs not rent out high-priced object Real Estate on which Qualities are then permitted to live. Instead, qualities become the very mechanism for embodied agreement and power-assemblage, no more warring in tension with the landlord.
A thought-quote train, widestepping across peaks
Stuart Kaufmann, a theoretical biologist and complex systems researcher, inspired by Wittgentein’s Philosophical Investigations, writes in his own book Investigations, this about physical “work”:
“Work is more than force acting through distance; it is, in fact, the constrained release of energy, the release of energy into a small number of degrees of freedom. It is the constraints themselves – with as Phil Andersons point out, a kind of rigidity – that largely constitute the organization process. But – and here will be the hook – in many cases it takes work to construct the constraints themselves. So we come to a terribly important circle, work is the constrained release of energy, but it often takes work to construct the constraints.”
This bootstrapping notion of work and freedom can be put into relation with two other quotes. On the notion of constraint which produces freedom,
Tethered heart, Free Spirit – If one tethers one’s heart severely, and imprisons it, one can give one’s spirit many liberties: I have said that once before. But one does not believe me, unless one already knows it -
Section 87, Beyond Good and Evil
And on degrees of freedom:
Whatever so disposes the human Body that it can be affected in a great many ways, or renders it capable of affecting external Bodies in a great many ways, is useful to man; the more it renders the Body capable of being affected in a great many ways, or of affecting other Bodies, the more useful it is; on the other hand, what renders the Body less capable of these things is harmful (E4p39)
The notion of constraint as vector of increase is ancient of course. One should add the voice of the Eumenides from Euripides’ play,
σωφρονεῖν ὑπὸ στένει.
To temper under strain.
ἄλγησον ἧπαρ ἐνδίκοις ὀνείδεσιν·
Sting your heart with real reproach,
τοῖς σώφροσιν γὰρ ἀντίκεντρα γίγνεται.
For in sobriety, spurred it is born to be.
Lastly, the computational process of Simulated Annealing, here described by Kauffman, and then Daniel Dennett:
Annealing is just a gradual cooling. Real physical annealing corresponds to taking a system and gradually lowering its temperature. A smithy hammering red-hot iron, repeatedly plunging the forming object into cold water and then reheating it and hammering it again, is practicing real annealing. As the smithy anneals and hammers, the microscopic arrangements of the atoms are rearranged, giving up poor relatively unstable, local minima and settling into lower-energy minima corresponding to harder, stronger metal. As the repeated heating and hammering occurs, the micoscopic arrangements in the worked iron can first wander all over the space of the configurations, jumping over energy barriers between all local energy minima. As the temperature is lowered, it becomes harder and harder to jump over these barriers…
- At Home in the Universe
The right level of explanation is the algorithmic level: As the metal cools from its molten state, the solidification starts in many different spots at the same time, creating crystals that grow together until the hold is solid. But the first time this happens, the arrangement of the individual crystals is suboptimal – weakly held together, and with lots of internal stresses and strains. Heating it up again – but not all the way to melting – partly breaks down these structures, so that, when they are permitted to cool the next time, the broken-up bits will adhere to the still-solid bits in a different arrangement. It can be proven mathematically that these arrangements will get better and better, approaching an optimum or strongest total structure, providing that the regime of heating and cooling has the right parameters.”
- Dennett, Darwin’s Dangerous Idea
In annealing most important is the “cooling schedule” the methodology of driving energy into the system, and then letting it fall. This is what Nietzsche called tempo, “the patient ear to every staccato and every rubrato” (BGE, 246). What those that strain for the non-naturalization of rationality might have is the loss of the meaning of tempo, the “cooling schedule” of work and rule-following, semantic understandings.
How much is the thought process, and the life lived, like sword-making? How much is “understanding” and communication, even the most clear communications, a methodology of the heated and the cooled?-
Today while eating at our favorite greasy-spoon Andy’s my wife and I were discussing an everyday something that happened at her work, where she is a bartender. This is how she summed it when I asked her if she would:
Ricardo, a buser, appeared at the bar and presented to me a small, bronze coin, not unlike a penny. His English is not expansive and he told me in a somewhat confusing way that the coin had been discovered by someone in the kitchen or on the busing staff and that, though he liked it, the person who had found the coin had instructed him to give it to me. It was something of a gift.
I looked at the coin a bit more closely and realized that it was a Canadian coin. I showed Ricardo the image on the “heads” side of the coin, explaining that it was the queen, expressing to him that it was not a US coin, but rather a Canadian coin, and therefore had no worth for spending.
Ricardo was interested in this, not only because he was surprised to find it was a foreign coin, but perhaps also because he had appraised it as a gift. I accepted it happily and thanked him.
It was interesting to me that an object that began as a mistaken penny, a seemingly worthless piece of currency as it is, but was presented and passed on to me as a gift of some worth. That worth – the worth of a gift – is ultimately what was imprinted on the coin. It was deemed technically worthless by its status as foreign currency, but immediately took on a sort of exotic worth in the exact same process. Had the coin been something of worth in US currency, perhaps a quarter, or even a dollar coin, the gift would have seemed something entirely different – a payment; how does it feel to receive one dollar from someone with whom you work? The “worthlessness” as a penny and the worthlessness of foreign currency are both, seemingly, necessary for the gift to be received as a gift of any worth at all.
From our discussion it occurred to me that those that are lovers of philosophy are not unlike coin lovers. There is a certain sense, in reading the ideas of others–whether they be the largely discredited, though still taken to be influential views of people of the past (Descartes, Plato, etc.), or if they be the exotic ideas of contemporary schools of thought (Deleuze perhaps, or Zizek)–there is a sense that the foreignness signals something. Because these coins (ideas) are not a part of our regular currency, they evoke the whole series of relations which allows them to have functioned as coins (ideas) at all. If one has an ancient Roman coin in one’s hand, through its marks and significations, something of the whole of Rome comes before us. These are economies of thought. And whether we use them within our own economy, and our appreciation for them, operates somewhere between a “gift” and a “value”.
This brings to mind Nietzsche’s brilliant equation of truths with coins:
What is truth then? A mobile army of metaphors, metonomies, anthropomorphisms, in short a sum of human relations that are elevated, transmitted, beautified in a poetic or rhetoric manner, and that appear to the people after a long usage as fixed, canonical and binding: truths are illusions of which one has forgotten they are illusions, metaphors that are worn out and literally became powerless, coins that lost their images and are now metal and no longer coins.
“On Truth and Lie in the Extramoral Sense”
In his analogy, Nietzsche does not deal directly with the notion of public minting. There is a way in which he imagines that coin-truths are minted in a metaphorizing process, by the imprints of experience: “What is a word? It is a copy in sound of a nerve stimulus,” and “To begin with, a nerve stimulus is transferred into an image: first metaphor. The image, in turn, is imitated in a sound: second metaphor”.They have become blank, rubbed out from their images, in his imagining, and are circulating emptily, without force. But this is not really how truth-coins function. Coins function within an economy of marks. A blank coin does not circulate, and expressions of experience do not mint coins. What Nietzsche is drawing out is that via their marks, when coins circulate, they no longer are their marks seen as marks, as part of a specific economy in history. The marks circulate invisibly, so that a “dollar” becomes in a way, transcendent in its effect. When we encounter a foreign coin, a coin of others, we encounter the very minted aspect of our ideas, our truths, the associated and contractual relations which make up a criteria laden economy. The marks come out. And when we take up the coins of other currencies, we bring up the possibilities of our own currency.
As I have written elsewhere, Nietzsche did not come up with the metaphor of comparing truths to coins. He was responding to Plato’s Socrates, who talks of the trade of pleasures likened to the exchange of coins, in the purchase of virtue:
My dear Simmias, I suspect that this is not the right way to purchase virtue, by exchanging pleasures for pleasures, and pains for pains, and fear for fear, and greater for less, as if they were coins, but the only right coinage, for which all those things [69b] must be exchanged and by means of and with which all these things are to be bought and sold, is in fact wisdom; and courage and self-restraint and justice and, in short, true virtue exist only with wisdom, whether pleasures and fears and other things of that sort are added or taken away. And virtue which consists in the exchange of such things for each other without wisdom, is but a painted imitation of virtue and is really slavish and has nothing healthy or true in it…
Here, if we follow the analogy, we surmise that there is an official mind of real coins, in fear of a counterfeit minting by others. The “stamp” of currency, is that of Ideas, (instead of the stamp of Nietzsche’s nerve-stimulous). The reason I suggest indeed that we value the gift aspects of coins, of foriegn ideas, is neither to recieve coins of official and universal mint (transcendent ideas), nor coins of most naturalmint (nerve-impressions), though the ideational, and affective aspects of idea economies are always in employ, but it is to enter into lived economies of Sense, so that they reflect upon our own. In this way, value and gift coincide.
If we must ask, What is it that is impressed upon the metal blanks of our coins? We would have to say that the blank is never blank, and what is impressed is the repeat of folds in our bodies, made from creases of our shared criteria and Sense. A community of e/a ffects and distinctions.