Frames /sing


Tag Archives: power

Transcendence or Immanence: Cake-and-eat-it-too-ism


Unwrapping Christmas Gifts

This is my last post on “The Autonomy of Affect” and I expect to go onto the rest of the book. Near the end Massumi makes a fantastic point about the somewhat false problem of transcendence vs. immanence, something that he also perceptively links to our spatializaton of concepts, and to his own prescription that we must make paradoxes that work for us:

…all this makes it difficult to speak of either transcendence or immanence. No matter what one does, they tend to flip over onto each other, in a kind of spontaneous Deleuzian combustion.  It makes little difference if the field of existence (being plus potential; the actual in its relation with the virtual) is thought of as an infinite interiority or a parallelism of mutual exteriorities. You get burned either way. Spinoza had it both ways: an indivisible substance divided into parallel attributes. To the extent that the terms transcendence and immanence connote spatial relations – and they inevitably do – they are inadequate to the task. A philosophical sleight of hand like Spinoza’s is always necessary. The trick is to get comfortable with productive paradox.

 Parables for the Virtual, 38

Of course I am drawn to he appeal to Spinoza. It seems that when I trace out Massumi’s proposed Spinozism I get the best sense of his metholodological twisting, and perhaps the best sense of where he goes wrong for me. I think he really hits upon a core issue with the spatialization of terms, something he wishes to alleviate through a confessed counter-spell of temporalization, as one can see in the footnote to the passage above:

* [from the footnote] The “productive paradoxical” procedure…will be to inflect the notion with timelike concepts of process and self-reference (the immanent understood not as an immanence to something, but of the belonging of a process to its own potential to vary) while retaining a connotation of spacelikeness (the immanence of process as a “space” proper to change as such).

I see a few problems with this time vs. space paradoxical sizzoring. The first is that it assumes a fundamental binary which would operate necessarily towards a proposed truth. Yes, I think that these are complimentary views, but they tend to collapse themselves into Spacialization = objects and Temporalization = processes. We are then in a resultant and to me sterile struggle between objects and processes, imagining that some sort of synthesis is what would compose the answer. None of this cuts to the root of the spatialization itself, which is opticality, in my opinion. Yes, spatial displays should be temporalized, but processes cannot become our new objects. What do I mean to say? I am at the cusp of something important. Massumi’s space vs time procedure leads to all sorts of binarization and dichotomy playing (which itself is largely an optical phenomena, “negation” in all its varieties). For instance where he picks up Spinoza he is loosely saying that the two Attributes offer a transcendent model, presumably wherein “idea” transcends “extension”, something to be juxtaposed, suitably and paradoxically, to the immanent model of monist Substance. This matches his own treatment of the virtual as both the source from which actualization occurs, and the to some degree transcendent key to actualization feedback and reflection. He tries to accomplish this miniature Hegelianism at the local level of a largely objectological abstraction. So where does he get it all wrong?

For me the problem is with the transcendent end of the dichotomy, as he exemplifies from Spinoza. There is an aspect of idea priority in Spinoza, but he works hard to undercut it in his very framework. The reason for this is that his ontology is not simply one great monument to Truth, but also a prescription for everyday freedom. It is never that idea escapes extension, nor even that its brings extension higher. Idea realizes its immanent condition (and this is accomplished in a fully affective manner), and as such realizes its impriority over extension. What does this mean. The ideas we have are only or foundationally ideas of our own body being in particular states. My idea of anything in the world is essentially an idea of “me” in a non-reflexive fashion. There is no sizzoring between immanence and transcendence, rather there is collapse into immanent core, and a weaving of causal wholeness from out of that core. This is Spinoza’s object vs process resolution. One’s object state is perspectival, and is already shot through ACROSS its borders, invaded, and opened-out-under, not through some idealist and metaphysical powers of difference itself, but because difference is simply the horizon line of being under creation. One positions oneself at that shore with a kind of aesthetic orchestration or dispersal, but it is really neither object nor process (in any contrastive sense).

Key to this is Spinoza’s General Definition of the Affects diagnosis of the Mind. The thoughts by which we orient ourselves and largely construct our causal relation to the world are degrees of power change in our ontological status in the world, direct affirmations of our body with onto-pleasure lean, and (I would say) positionings on the objective-affective scale of dissonance to triviality. The spatialization that leads Massumi into an object vs process resolution, itself must be reread on a degree-of-being diagnostic. In fact Massumi’s Deleuzian dichotomization, his proposed dialectic however qualified, shows that he did not absorb fully the Plotinean resolution to the long standing problem of Dualism, he did not see, as Augustine did, how Plotinus’ vectorial Being dis-solves Manicheanism. Turning the virtual into Spirit simply places the locus of dualism within a new box, making the actual the new Body. Massumi is definitely on the right track looking to affect as the proper place were dualisms of this sort are (re)solved, where Body gets its say, so to speak, but until this spatialization is diagnosed within degree-of-being perception, our self-diagnoses and prescriptions retain too much of the opticality which begins it all. Difference, per se, enters into the ideological funhouse mirror of duplication, and the Civil “person” becomes an inordinate locus for subjective acts of freedom, and all-too-human centered action for concern, losing the technological (and species) interindices of our mutually created world.

Instead, Spinoza meant his two Attributes to be read against an infinity, the unbound expression of Substance, and not as a two-step ladder to transcendence, (or even a transcendence/immanence dyad). They mark out the specific topography of our own becoming active, a cartological means of perfectly ourselves in a variety of techniques for Joy. Massumi is quite correct that our spatialization of them leads to confusions of a kind, but his notion of will-ful paradox perhaps missing the infinitude towards which they are directed. They are star-mappings for those a-toss at sea, something that a dense gravity crush of paradox may not help in. They are not mean as paradoxical relations, but perhaps the bending of flat map upon the sphere of action, the recognition that it is not paradoxical that parallel lines do meet. The interiority of our process is the discovery of an “interior” (out there), something we regularly do, but also, the tracings of the moving line between interiority and exteriority, how it creates a special shore, one which falls across our boundaries.

Being/s as Power to Affect or to Be Affected

From the Sophist


λέγω δὴ τὸ καὶ ὁποιανοῦν [τινα] κεκτημένον δύναμιν [247ε] εἴτ᾽ εἰς τὸ ποιεῖν ἕτερον ὁτιοῦν πεφυκὸς εἴτ᾽ εἰς τὸ παθεῖν καὶ σμικρότατον ὑπὸ τοῦ φαυλοτάτου, κἂν εἰ μόνον εἰς ἅπαξ, πᾶν τοῦτο ὄντως εἶναι: τίθεμαι γὰρ ὅρον [ὁρίζειν] τὰ ὄντα ὡς ἔστιν οὐκ ἄλλο τι πλὴν δύναμις.


I sat that that which has acquired any power (capacity) of any kind, either to create a change in anything of any nature [247e] or to be affected even in the least by the slightest, even if only on one occasion, all this actually IS. For I set up the term to divide beings to be nothing else but power (capacity).

As a means of comparison Spinoza’s:

That which so disposes the human body that it can be affected in many ways, or which renders it capable of affecting external bodies in many ways, is advantageous to man, and is more advantageous in proportion as by its means the body becomes more capable of being affected in many ways and to affect other bodies; on the other hand, that thing is injurious which renders the body less capable of affecting or be affected - E4p38

A Vectorial Understanding of Being

Silent Hill Nurses

The Body as Negotiation and Horror

Halloween is coming, and much looked forward to, time for a rumination on the mechanics of flesh (and horror), amid questions of salvation and social critique.

[click here to be able to view clip fullscreen]

What is it that is so engaging about this terrific horror scene? My suspicion is that it is the articulate collaspe the erotic into the horrific. These manikin’d figures perform a rhythmically spasmed ideal of the female body as autonomous machine, but one that is imagined to be inert until stimulated. They are faceless, breasted, high-heeled, and jerk with a movement somewhere between impulse and gearing. And it is their powderiness, moths that captivates us (like their day counterparts, don’t touch their wings). They have a dusted eternity about them, like statuettes put into a tomb, awaiting the next life for a king; the expression of desire that is not vital, not succulent, not verdant, but thin, spare, starved…like crysallis-paper. And their very stiffness expresses their phallic nomen, though they move like dancers, affected, against their anatomy, strung between a marionette wire and gravity, and tugged forward only by the light.

They are nurses, those uniformed, regulated images of maternal instinct, put into office. Condensations of nurture and erotic formulized power, here gone bad. Ever at their station, they are like tin soldiers to serve a moral war, atuned to battle. The growing political and economic freedoms of women in the world become anamorphically projected, down across these canal “types”, so as to create a kind of “astral body” for those concrete freedoms, one that can move through our imaginations, communally. (Some would say that this subverts, attempts to domesticate, enphantasize the real power, but that would be to lose the dimensionality of powers…minds act.)

And the protagonist of Silent Hill is a woman in a woman’s space. The lone substantive male figure is Triangle-head, the demon, who mutely can only disrobe or stab, or verminify with incredible violence. But this violence is lunar, it cycles through. His head is consubstantially strapped-on, castrated or chastity endowed. He already is a feminine expression. The Law, and the Father is locked outside. She, the mother who in the film is not a mother, or, only a mother-IN-law, must negotiate this bend of nurses, this last stage of female fantasy condensations. In fine mythic proportion, she has gone into the underworld with a lone tool, a magic lamp, a beam of consciousness. But natural laws do not function equally well down here. The light of the eyes certainly illumines, but it attracts (how many women have faced this, fundamentally). It shines and ensnares. Her spectral dopplegangers, the full-figure expressions of her imaginary transport become homocidally activated by her strong beam. They cluster and jerk, showing her their ways.

The stillness of their bodies, frozen in postures unreal for any human thing, it is their human form, their mockery and simultaneous paragonical perfection of female beauty that is so horrifying when they lurch into erotic-mechanical animation.  Response to their movement is to be petrified in horror, bearing still and breathless witness to their writhing bodies as they parade toward their desire – the light, you, the holder of the light.  And the light shuts off, and the bodies seize into stillness once more, shuttering in final violent spasms as they come to rest in even more contorted postures than before.  She is like them; in our nightmares we cling and long for the light to save us from our fear and we are petrified without it.  But she is more clever and her desire is stronger, for she can move without light, she can walk among and indeed walk like her fear.  It is in that darkness that they are pacified, without desire, and in this darkness the protagonist can move toward her desire, pulling and winding her  frame - blind like they are - through the maze of inanimate bodies. 

Paradoxically, she must shut off her magical implement, the darkness producer that it is. She must become one of them, a near-frozen articulation that can only feel, sense…proximately. She, a gear, must pass through those gears, without turning them. And their recursive ethic, their imbricated network, when she brushes too close, sets the whole desiring-machine into production. The slashes come in wide arcs, woman on woman. Model bodies mechanicize, and necks open up into mouths. The scalpel, the most discerning instrument, the sharpest refinement of perception, the critical tool, flies. But what is produced in this imaginary space is not death, it is a vortex-work of living, intense lines of red, until the “subjects” can huddle about the light again, like toddlers.

What is one to make of this gauntlet? A woman devoted to her duty as a mother (to an adopted child) must penetrate the fictive space of female power images, the automaton sources of gendered capacity. These images are not just projections of real relations, but are real relations in their own right, I suspect. That is why they terrify. Progress sometimes includes the faceless.

One might say that the mother here must negotiate the Field of Being, the historically determined imaginary manifestations of her real power, as real, and just do so as a Body. 


[The above is written with the help of my, of course, horrific wife]

Spinoza’s Circle and the Interior

Some Ruminations on Spinoza’s “Simplest” Thought

A single figure keeps returning to me as I contemplate Spinoza’s optical concepts and metaphysics, in view of the prevailing Cartesian science of the age, that elementary figure that Spinoza provides to help explain how he conceives of the reality of the modes, even the modes of ideas for non-existent things, in relationship to the ultimate reality of Substance, God or Nature. As Spinoza explains, the figure stands for something that has not parallel, not example, because it is a fundamental relationship which is unique and totalizing.

Ethics part 2, prop 8 schol. — The nature of a circle is such that if any number of straight lines intersect within it, the rectangles formed by their segments will be equal to one another; thus, infinite equal rectangles are contained in a circle. Yet none of these rectangles can be said to exist, except in so far as the circle exists; nor can the idea of any of these rectangles be said to exist, except in so far as they are comprehended in the idea of the circle. Let us grant that, from this infinite number of rectangles, two only exist. The ideas of these two not only exist, in so far as they are contained in the idea of the circle, but also as they involve the existence of those rectangles; wherefore they are distinguished from the remaining ideas of the remaining rectangles. (Elwes trans)

This has always been a convenient image for the explanation how the modes dependently are an expression of the totality which is all of what there is. One practically sees how the modes, while causally interacting with each other to produce current states of being, immanently rely upon a larger comprehesivity. And if one wants to even leave off from the narrowness of Spinoza’s explicit thought, the chords D and E could be read as vectors which produce an intersecting point (unlabeled), the modal expression of two lines of force, a point of focus, this seems at least arguable when considering much of the rest of Spinoza’s view.

But two other realizations come to me as well. The first is that the rectilinearitythat Spinoza presents within the borders of the circle very well may for Spinoza have represented the linear analyses of motion provided by Descartes. Part of the challenge presented to Spinoza, as he tried to heal a perceived breech between Body and Soul, Thought and Extension, was how to bridge mathematical descriptions with affective realities. In a certain sense the rectilinearity with the circle of Substance for Spinoza represents the ideational crispness of mathematical description understood as a partial, yet sufficient expression of substance. The mathematics is to some degree subsumed. Just as Huygens and others struggled to assume the advantages of the Perspectiva  tradition in optics, yet still fully explain the properties of light’s propagation (which Huygens would show to be that of a wave or a pulse), Spinoza too sought to preserve the mechanized sureties of Descartes mathematizations, yet with a view that could account for the affective propagations living bodies (as early as Kepler’s Paralipomena light is described as an “affectus”).

Secondly though is the realization that the circle does not only represent Substance as a whole, but also any conatus expression of Body (defined by Spinoza as a preservation of a ratio of motion and rest over time). The circle above can also be read as the recursive coherence of a body, and the internal causal relationships of which it is composed, immanent to its essence. 

In other words, a body, in the ordinary as well as in the Cartesian sense, preserves its physical integrity in just the same way the whole universe preserves it: they differ only with regard to the degree of probability that each can ‘survive’ externally caused modifications. Only the unique individual of level-ω can be modified in infinite ways without giving up its identity.

The Physics of Spinoza’s Ethics, David Lachterman

What level-ω is in Lachterman’s nicely conceived reduction is the last border of an entire body. Level-2 is the most elementary kind of body for Spinoza, a hypothetical composition of what one supposes is at least two of the most simple bodies “corpora simplicissima”. The human body, and all such bodies we regularly recognize as such are what Lachterman regards as level-k bodies (2 < k < ω). Following these descriptions, the circle above from the Ethics could be read not only as the schema of the level-ω Body, but also of any typical level-k Body. It is only the degree of power, freedom and being that preserves such a circle (ratio) that distinguishes it from the ultimate whole. Spinoza world can be seen as one of circles within such circles. The modal causal interactions are immanent expressions not only the totality of Substance or Nature, but also are expressions of the ratio of motion and rest of which a said body (level-k) is composed. The existential modality of ideas and extensions which is interior to the circle (level-k) can be read as contingent to the essence of that Body taken as a whole, as it is determined to exist.

While it is fair and best to understand the diagram exactly in the way that Spinoza meant it, I think it is important to realize that in a figure such as this, representing something for which Spinoza says there is no parallel, the image is likely overdetermined by several other Spinoza concerns and conceptions. The circle and its interior floats through Spinoza’s thinking process (additionally). The diagram can be read across at least these two layers: the affective subsumption of Cartesian mathematicization of Nature in terms of propogating, interacting bodies; and, the immanence of constituent modes of bodies under gradations of Being and power. And I would end that the suggestive recursivity of this body (level-k) opens itself perhaps to Autopoietic descriptions, at least for those bodies considered to be alive, and Autopoiesis itself to Spinozist re-description.

Spinoza and Plotinus, some morning thoughts

I ran across a LiveJournal entry that touched on something I have always found of interest, the relationship of Spinoza to Plotinus:

It’s amazing how much Spinoza resembles Plotinus.

Plotinus said that, instead of creation ex nihilo, existence emanated from God.

Emanation ex deo (out of God), confirms the absolute transcendence of the One, making the unfolding of the cosmos purely a consequence of its existence; the One is in no way affected or diminished by these emanations.

This mirrors Spinoza’s idea that “creation” (so to speak) was necessary because God exists; and that the world is the way it is, and could be no other way, because of the nature of God. And though physical things are contingent (limited by things outside of themselves), God/substance is the only non-contingent, necessary thing, because God is not acted upon by outside agents (there is nothing outside of God). Existence necessarily exists, because of the nature of God, but the modes of existence are contingent.

In Plotinus’ view, it’s the ulimate destiny of contingent things to reunite with the One. I haven’t read anything about ultimate ends in Spinoza’s Ethics, but if I remember correctly, he agrees (kinda) with Plotinus. Not only is it our fate to disappear into God (to become one with the Force!)–a fate which we have no choice about–we should actively assent to it, in order to increase our happiness.

The conceptual parallels between Spinoza and Plotinus have always appeared to me to be significant, as it seems that somehow through Plotinus Spinoza had an inheritance of the “degrees of Being” interpretation of power and truth. One does not know if he received this Neo-Platonic inheritance through Augustine or through an early youth exposure to Kabbalistic thinking that was rife in the religious community at the time, but very few interpreters seem to give it much weight, preferring instead the Cartesian root-stem. But Spinoza vectorial treatment of knowledge and his General defintion of the affects surely demands such an additional analysis. That I know of, only Deleuze (EiP:S, pp 170 -178) gives substantive consideration to this continuance, as he touchily tries to parse out Spinoza’s immanencefrom Plotinus’s emanation, a perhaps vital distinction (dictionary bending, one that always gets me flipping the pages to re-familiarize myself with these two words).

Such a connection proves significant because it bears on “ladyelaine’s” final paragraph here the path to freedom, for Hegel too thought that Spinoza’s position ultimately lead to an acomism, the collapse of all that exists into an non-distinct whole, a Blob of Being, without reflection. Hegel’s view was likely held because reflection was the gem-stone of his personal brilliant crown, the manner by which he pulled himself free, and originally from Spinoza gravity, the analytic that distinguished himself. Spinoza was missing the Reality of the “negation”, but was he? Hegel’s saving of the “soul”, the surety that the human soul was special, made of a distinction that was different in kind from the manner of distinctions that made rocks, and lakes and even sun’s light distinct somehow fails to grasp the grandeur of Spinoza’s treatment of the negation. The negation is indeed Real, but real as a comprehensive expression of the whole, wholeness against which the vectors of knowledge and power leverage themselves as completing. My own conceptions are composed of illusionary negations (distinctions of separation) only insofar as they limit my ability to act. Following Augustine in some way, they are composed of a relative poverty, degrees of privation. And this privation is only resolved through addition, an addition that is both bodily and relatively clear (insofar as).

I believe that a subtle key is that the “active assent” that ladyelaine intuits to be missing from Spinoza, only at first blush only seems absent, because it is everywhere. Every thought Spinoza asserts is an assertion. This is only retarded by imagining that a “person” is at the center of this assertion, instead of being composed by it. ladyelaine elsewhere touches on the difficulty she has in accepting that mind can be ascribed to something that is not a person (here). This of course is an ultimate question. Is it coherent to think of a rock having “mind”? Or, perhaps more tempting, is it coherent to think that a rock has “information”? It seems to me is that Spinoza proposes a unique monist (and material) solution, one that allows us to see that as minds we much necessarily combine with other minds, and (a very signficant “and”) as bodies we must combine with other bodies, forming compositional, thinking and affective wholes (however fleetingly). And, our freedom depends on it.

Related: Becoming Intense and Longitude: Deleuze and Guattari , Deleuze Lecture on Spinoza

HAL 9000

The Intelligence of Innocence and What Makes Things Real

The “Open the pod bay doors please HAL” sequence

I watched 2001: A Space Odysseyfor the first time in sometime the other night. And a few thoughts rose to mind. There is of course the incredible personality dominance of HAL in the film, the unforgettable synthetic intelligence, and his schizophrenic lapse into homicidal clarity, brought on by the conflict of his two knowledges: a surface knowledged of the mission, and an unconscious knowledge which became an imperative, “secrecy”. It has been explained that HAL killed the crew as a logical function of this need for secrecy. No crew, no secrets.

This has obvious relevance for a criticism of totalitarian states, and power structures, those which circulate with a near-empty recursion of knowledge, but there is something more that struck me, in this viewing. (This film was the first film that I ever saw in a movie theatre I believe, and I was probably about 4 years old. So it leaves something of an Ur-print.) 


What really moved me was the nature of the Kubrick synthesis of technology and humanization, in particular the sequence where in Dave takes the pod out to retrieve the body of Poole, who we have just seen spasmodically hurled into space, until his limbs finally relent, and he eases into the void, a sculptural figure. What is remarkable, as Poole becomes aetheticized, as his “picture making mechanism” is cinematically evacuated, is the extraordinary delicacy with which the pod comes to his body. This emblematically human moment, the retrieval of a loved one’s corpse, the most irrational, yet powerful of acts, is accomplished via the mechanism. Kubrick and Usworth’s camera capture an incredible delicacy as the weightless body rolls into the otherwise crustacean-like pincher of the pod. This is maternal.

 What is significant to my point is that though the pod is behaving most humanly, what ensues is a robotic chess-match between Dave and HAL, already foreshadowed. Dave strategizes from within his mechanical sphere of action, he speaks with impeccable civility, adding the required “please” to his requests. The techniques of his technology, express, rather than retard his humanity, but he is operating from a logical core. Far from this being a 2001 that critiques technology, it is one that appraises it, as human. Where the humanity ends and the technique begins is not clear, in fact at times they are inverted, with humanity coming out from technique (lip-reading). There simply are techniques of the soul which HAL simply has not mastered yet. HAL at the same time presents the horizon of infinite and collapsed knowing (in which there is no “error”) but also the retarded and childlike, pre-reflective state in which error is not known. He is, like we are all, the baby monolith.

If we are going to let HAL and the mothership stand for a totalitarian, technocratic State, we will learn that the mind of such a State is childlike, possessing an innocence of the world, possessed in its purity of its knowing (and attendant to a logical paranoia). We have, for instance in the Tiananmen moment pictured above, with the pod holding the murderous consequence up to the monolithic mothership, the confrontation of the moral adult with the child-like structure possessing the capacities of a sheer and systematic brutality. What Kubrick’s point is though, I think, is that technology itself is in a kind of infancy, and as it matures, it becomes synonymous with, and undifferentiated from human action itself. Humanty in a sense is made up of our techniques. We see a bit of this in the scene in the lunar shuttle, as Heywood Floyd and the crew select artificial sandwiches.

{a dialogue apparently not in the original screenplay]

Dr. Floyd: What’s that? Chicken? 

Dr. Bill Michaels: Something like that. Tastes the same anyway. [laughter]

Other Pilot: Any Ham?

Dr. Bill Michaels: [looking] Ham, Ham, Ham, Ham…

Dr Floyd: Looks pretty good.

Dr. Bill Michaels: They’re getting better at it all the time.

Aside from the obvious, ironic tone with which everyone seems to be infected, an incipient overly optimistic talk, toeing the party line of unquestionable enthusiasm, there is the sense that indeed the food, just like HAL’s computer intelligence, IS approaching what is REAL, that is, the capacities to become synonymous with, and therefore indistinguishable from that which comes from a different process of assemblage. A ham sandwich not only is a ham sandwich by any other name, but by any other process. Its processes are capable of being subsumed.

What matters here is that technology is not impediment, but a genic pathway, a matrixing of human capacities, each of which have to understood to be in their infancy, much as man is seen in this way. As The technology of social organization which HAL is supposed to represent, stands in for our own capacities. We too, as we approach the infinite, asymptotic line, enter into brutalities and innocences which require moral adjustments. And these moral adjustments are hand and glove to the technologies themselves, in which technologies play a necessary part (hence, the pod carries out the most intimate of actions, the embrace of a dead loved one). In fact, technology expresses and manifests our most human shore. When we come to understand that the man who stood before the line of tanks (apparently an historical event that contemporary China young adults do not know happened), this was not best seen as a man positioning himself against men-in-tanks assemblage, a lone fleshly, individual and brave consciousness, but rather it was and is, a man-in-camera assemblage vs a men-in-tanks assemblage, a materiality put into assemblage whose vectors are continually being discovered.

There certainly is room here for a Lacanian style Big Other take on HAL and the mothership, the conscionable moment when the excluded individual presents the repressed remains to the Desire of the Other, and finds its airless way back into the system to subvert it from its blind spot. I think that there are very good reasons to suppose that such a “logic” does well to describe a certain circulation of desire and affect which regulates the acquistion of, and attendence to, knowledge. There is an investment in circulation. But such a dialectic does not see what is more, how there is an infancy and childhood to capacities to act, to technologies, as those capacities grow into our own extensions of what is Real. As as Real, the facts of the matter (no matter their transparency), compiled into knowing and perceptive bodies, which are necessarily joined in assemblage even to those that they oppose.

To add a last thought. This joining is not just a homogenization under a new logic, but rather are realistically read as a braiding of techniques, a communication of affects across bounds which resists any literalization. There is an intimacy with which the pod grasps the corpse, and an intimacy with which HAL recalls his eariliest song. The dialectic, if there really is one, is the passing of the polyphonous of technology into the binary of identities, for the sake of a polyphony of returns.

The imagination justifies its confused and indeterminate state by moulding itself in the natural potentia, in the development and increase of human operari. Therefore two levels can be identified: first a static level on which the imagination proposes a partial but positive definition of its own contents and a second, dynamic level on which the movement and effects of the imagination are validated as a function of the contitution of the world.

Antonio Negri, The Savage Anomaly

Foucault’s Tortured Text, and the Ars Erotica

I recall that despite Chomsky and Foucault’s famous disagreements, Chomsky admitted that Foucault did have some very signfiicant ideas, but he was at a loss to explain why he expressed them as he did. There is something in this. There is form which characterizes Continental expression, which perhaps even more than its conclusions, rankles those who long for clarity. Foucault, in a way, at the level of form, expresses the very aspect of the Real that he argues for, and it is this more than anything else, I would suggest, that qualifies his rejection, by some.

Foucault’s Ars Erotica in the Field of Knowledge

In reading Foucault as a sociologist, one has to come to grips with his other projects, some of which can be summarized as “philosophical,” and even more broadly as “writerly”. The aims here is to briefly contextualize Foucault’s critique of Western epistemologies of sex within a larger world project, that of turning knowledge itself into pleasure, and beyond that, pleasure into pleasure-for-its-own-sake. It is through Foucault’s contrastive analysis, the comparison between Western scientia sexualis and a largely Eastern ars erotica, that Foucault seeks to subsume Western attempts to identify, categorize and discipline sexuality, within a more complete and totalizing view of Power as pleasure. It is in this philosophical move, brought about through textual imbrications (opaque vocabularies, serpentine sentence and thought structures taking up specific historical reference points), that Foucault presents in form, the very thing that he reveals in content.

To recapitulate, Foucault operates from an understanding of how pleasure has been handled differently in past societies. One of these ways he presents with contrastive force is the erotic arts, ars erotica. In this approach to pleasure, truth is supposedly made subservient to pleasure; in the ars erotica it is through techniques that bring pleasure, that truth-as-pleasure appears:

In the erotic art, truth is drawn from pleasure itself, understood as a practice, and accumulated as experience; pleasure is not considered a relation to the permitted and the forbidden, nor by reference to a utility, but first and foremost in relation to itself (57)

As manipulations, positions taken and stagings are performed, as excitation is heightened by initiates, the ars erotica of the East and of the lost past, achieves a self-evident and self-redeeming “truth”.

Following this model as hidden template, there is for Foucault–with his acute nose for pleasures taken–in the historical movement from the traditional hierarchies of the Catholic Church and the confessional offices of the priest, to the investigative, enlightened, positivistic pursuits of the Western scientist, a move marked by the indelible pathways of pleasure production. Enlightenment processes, far from holding pleasure down, were simply making new forms of pleasure (ways of discussing and particularizing what did not historically exist before). Thus what Foucault recognizes is that in the 19th and 20th centuries as scientists took over for priests as confessional recipients of “truth”, they invented ways of pleasuring, multiplying them in discourse. Instead of finding out ‘sins’, observers were identifying perversions, repressions, symptoms, clinical hysterias, etc.; and in their tracking down the elusive excesses of sexuality, and seeking to express the “truth” that is hidden and resistant in pleasure itself, this very process was developing is own pleasure in Power. It was quietly an ars erotica:

And we must ask whether, since the 19th century, the scientia sexualis-under the guise of its decent positivism-has not functioned, at least to a certain extent, as an ars erotica. Perhaps this production of truth…multiplied, intensified and even created its own intrinsic pleasure…We have at least invented a different kind of pleasure: pleasure in the truth of pleasure (70, 71)


in short, the formidable “pleasure of analysis”…constitutes something like the errant fragments of an erotic art that is secretly transmitted by confession and the science of sex. Must we conclude that our scientia sexualis is but an extraordinarily subtle form of ars erotica, and that it is the Western, sublimated version of that seemingly lost tradition (71)

Putting aside the critical possibility that Foucault has romanticized this “lost tradition,” and simply projected it upon the history of the scientific West, (for that would point to the “truth” of his descriptions, and not their internal coherence), what is the consequence of turning truth in pleasure to pleasure in truth? 

The overarching result is that despite, or possibly because of, the increasing individuality of Western society, (emphasis on the self as an agent of choice, increasingly detached from traditions), the pleasure of Power, the subtle ars erotica of the investigative scientia sexualis can be seen by Foucault to be manifested upon the social body itself, a centerless circulation of effects, staged through manipulations and techniques of examination and inscription:

[an imagined interlocutor suggests of Foucault]…at bottom, when you point out phenomena of diffusion, anchorage, and fixation of sexuality, you are trying to reveal what might be called the organization of ‘erotic zones’ in the social body (151)

to this Foucault adds importantly that such zones are literally organized on “bodies, organs, somatic locations, functions, anotomo-physiological systems, [in] sensations and pleasures” (152); this is as if to compose a material super-body (the linking of bodies to bodies through knowledges), that is both socially constructed and physical. The ars erotica of the past which worked to give illuminative pleasure to a person, or a couple, the kama sutras of individual sexual excitements, become for Foucault the imagined Tantric excitations of an entire social body, wherein pursuits of truth becomes practices that produce “erotic zones” on that social body, such that the pleasure and power is held by no one. The transcendent effects of sexual disciplines, become the transcendent effects of the discipline of sexualities.

This leaves the final question of Foucault’s style, and the possibility that he is enacting the very circulation of pleasure effects he claims to uncover in both the “lost” ars erotica and Enlightenment scientia sexualis. As Foucault pauses over historic manifestations of power (symptoms), orbiting them with a slightly opaque discourse of combinative mental effects, is he not presenting the very indiscernible pleasure that knowing, locating and excitation entails? What Foucault reveals is an eroticized view of the world, but also of text, (one might say epistemology and texuality as sexuality), wherein in our attempts to master either the discourse or the phenomena, we implicate ourselves in the pleasure of knowing.


Work Cited

Foucault, Michael. The History of Sexuality: Volume 1, An Introduction. Trans. Robert Hurley. Vintage Books Edition. New York: Random House, Inc., 1990.

The Rhetor and the Knower: Wittgenstein and Achilles


The question of this post would be, if once verificationist epistemologies are found to be unsupportable, and speech use is acknowledged to be an act, has not the rhetor (the speaker) and the deed doer become the same thing? And does this not place all “meaning” in a horizon of power?

Homer writes of Phoenix, the tutor of Achilles, that he was to instruct Achilles so as to make him into a “speaker of speech” (a rhetor of mythos) and a “doer of deeds” (a praktēr of ergon). The greatness of Achilles is his eventual fusion of these two into a single form. The political and the performance in war are inter-dependently related.

Homer in the Iliad wrote:

[Peleus, your father] sent you out from Phthia to Agamemnon, a mere child, knowing nothing yet of evil war, nor of assembles in which men become preeminent. For this reason he sent me to instruct you in all these things, to be both a speaker of words and a doer of deeds (Iliad 9.338-444).

Cicero the great champion of rhetoric, decried that Greek philosophy of arguments from first principles had broken instruction into two entirely distinct realms, that of knowledge and that of persuasion. The tongue had been separated from the brain, the “knower” from those “with the capacity to speak” (“alii nos sapere, allii dicere docerent”, Cicero De oratore 3.61). The result of which is a philosophical concern with the “res obscurae” and “non necessariae“. Philosophy, in Cicero’s view, had become preoccupied with its own products. The public and practical (pragmatic?) dimensions of knowing had atrophied.

Wittgenstein, a suitable Achillean character for a philosophical place like Cambridge, which can be our contemporary Troy, through his concept of “Language-games” and “meaning is use” breaks down this very rationalist Greek distinction. The rhetor and the gnostic are no longer divided. Speech is an act, one becomes a praktēr of mythos, and in language use one is a rhetor of ergon. The using of language is a kind of doing; knowing how to use words, how to “follow a rule” is the inscription of the realm of knowing itself, through the production of “meaning”. Meaning as practice.

With the unsustainability of verificationist claims of epistemology, rhetoric, that is the effective use of words, becomes the horizon of knowing. Consider Aristotle’s definition of Rhetoric in this respect.

Aristotle in Rhetoric wrote:

Rhetoric then may be defined as the faculty of discovering the possible means of persuasion in reference to any subject whatever. This is the function of no other of the arts, each of which is able to instruct and persuade in its own special subject; (translation J.H. Freese.)

Literal: Rhetoric thus is the capacity (dunamis) upon of each of the beheld (theōrēsai) to take in its own persuasiveness (pithanon), and not of each different thing (heteras) [this] is this skill’s (technēs) work (ergon). For each of the other kinds, the underlying (hupokeimenon) of its own, it is instructive (didaskalykē) and persuasive (peistikē) of that sort. (1.2.1)

The literal translation brings about a certain richness.

Rhetorical “Faculty” is actually capacity, or power. A “Subject” is each thing beheld, seen, considered (from which we famously get the word “theory” ). The “Persuasion” of a perspective, it should be noted, is derived from Peithō, Persuasion a goddess attendant of Aphrodite.

Theorizing in the rhetorical sense, is beholding and taking upon oneself (endexomenon) the inherent persuasiveness in the thing considered, that is it is the capacity of capacities. It is interpreting in terms both of sense, and in the power to convince others in a social sphere. It requires a certain discernability that will be marked in terms of a power (dunamis), to join language games to each other, bringing about consent. Instead of epistemologies, there are capacities. It is notable that the capacities are performed in rhetoric through forming arguments (enthymemes) through the identification of topoi (that is literally places), which are ways of relating. The forms (topoi) of Aristotle argumentation it can be said correspond to the rules of Language-games (and in the end Lebensform) of Wittgenstein. The rhetor is gnostic.


[written May 14, 2006]


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 50 other followers