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Tag Archives: Spinoza

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.

Massumi’s Cognitive Doubling, Spinoza’s Numerical Affectivity

I have to admit that the first essay that confronted me in Massumi’s book has really stymied me. The difficulty comes at several levels, not the least of which that I had read this essay before in other contexts, not realizing it, and the deep disappointment with it from the past echoes back up through time like a dark, and somewhat intellectually fetid tide. The staining feeling that Massumi gets is it all wrong, terribly wrong in his attempted synthesis of Bergson and Spinoza, washes back up over my contemporaneous reading, and frankly left me very frustrated with my attempt to initiate an innocent engagement with the collection. (I am hoping that I had not amnesiacally run into Massumi’s other essays in the past.) One if left with the unenvied task of critically breaking apart Massumi’s experimental expositions, a very unkind and in fact unpleasant thing to do to such beautifully attempted and articulated readings in the realm of philosophy I appreciate, or…simply passing over what for me has been something of an infuriating encounter. I’m going to have to do much more of the latter, and less of the former for the essay “The Autonomy of Affect”, for the sake of preserving the right aptitude for the rest of what Massumi has to say. My responses will have to remain gnomic.

Numericity of Connections

First of all Massumi opens with the report of an experiment which involved a film that narratively told the story of a melting snowman. Massumi notes the variety of assessments of versions of the film (some without words, some factually descriptive, some emotionally keyed), coupled with seeming disparities of the autonomic effects of heartrate and skin galvinization, etc. From this he draws, as he is want to do, a radical, disjunctive contrast between affect responses (intensity) and literal comprehension (signifying comprehension). I know that this is his goal, to create a fundamental dichotomy, but, at least from a Spinozist perspective (which he attempts to appropriate), he’s got it all wrong. Factual descriptions are not necessarily in disjunction with affective responses…rather they set up their own affective responses in a variety of strengths. It is not the factuality of a narrative reading that confuses assessment of the film’s quality, but rather, I would suggest, the attempted synthesis of the viewer of their own projective interpretations of the reality of the images, and the viewer’s projective interpretation of the narrator’s reality. This is not intensity vs. signification at all, but a question of strength of image association, best seen in Spinoza’s reading of how images grow stronger through a numerical relation to causes:

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

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

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

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

The factality of a narration of an emotional cinematic scene simply sets up another vector of causes, but not one that is necessarily disjunctive at all. In fact Spinoza’s entire prescription is in finding the nexus between both vectors of causes. Massumi is quite good at drawing our attention to intensity, and in fact the autonomy of affect, but it is in my mind the equal need to find a doubling reflexive between the immanent and the actual, a necessary disjunction, that runs simply in the wrong direction.

Spinoza Does Not Double

One can see this in his outright appeal to Spinoza, how he torques Spinoza’s reading of mind to accomodate an abstraction of mind, a move that is really antithetical to Spinoza’s own project:

In Spinoza, it is only when the idea of the affection is doubled by an idea of the idea of the affection that it attained the level of conscious reflection. Conscious reflection is a doubling over of the idea upon itself, a self-recursion of the idea that enwraps the affection or impingement at two removes. For it has already been removed once by the body itself. The body infolds the effect of the impingement – it conserves the impingement minus the impinging thing, the impingement abstracted from the actual action that caused it and actual context of that action. This is a first-order idea produced spontaneously by the body: affection is immediately, spontaneously doubled by the repeatable trace of an encounter, the “form” of an encounter, in Spinoza’s terminology (an infolding, or contraction, of context in the vocabulary of this essay).

Parables for the Virtual, 32

First of all, because Massumi does not cite any Spinoza is pretty hard to find out just where he is coming from, and this frustrates our interpretative aims to even a greater degree because Massumi is inventing a position for himself. Insofar as one could extricate such a description from Spinoza, one would have to say that Spinoza works actually to show how this process of “mind” is fundamentally in error, and that betterment of mind consists in unraveling this confusion. To say that the body initially “removes” an effect from its environment (though its recursively organized semiotic effects that make it a “body” in the first place, let us say), in a kind of abstraction, is either in error due to its incompleteness, or in its intention. One must first grant that for Spinoza ideas in the mind of God refuse any such abstraction at all, and that due to this refusal, the quality of being that something has is leveraged upon this refusal of abstraction as well. The abstractly frankly is definitionally never complete, nor is it categorical (certainly not in the fashion that Massumi implies); which is to say the constitution of the effects of the body which make it a body occur via its participation IN its enviroment, its mutuality with its environment, one might say its sharing in its “essence”, and as a mode of Substance simply could not exist/persist without this sharing. The removal of the impingement simply does not fully or even abstractly occur. The ideas (what I read as information), which organize a body, are paticipations. Indeed they have their degrees of intensity, but there is no removal.

Secondly, the second-order of removal that enwraps the organism in consciousness is in fact not a goal or aim of Spinoza’s concept of freedom (he does not or will not move towards a Hegelian conception of reflection or incorporative wholeness, the wholeness that Spinoza pursues is machinic and constructive). One can see from Spinoza’s concept of affect and passion that attribution of intensity to an external cause (a passage from one degree of perfection and power to another, coupled with the idea of a cause, General Definition of the Affects), must be unwoven. In this manner, consciousness is NOT merely the idea of an idea. The trickling from one thought to another is a MODE of consciousness, one that is fundamentally involved in the deprivation of power. What Spinoza is concerned with is a mode of consciousness which is NOT reflective (hence, German Idealism’s dichotomous appropriations of Spinoza, beginning with Schelling and ending with Hegel, are truly wrong-headed, missing what is genuinely novel to Spinoza’s solution of the mind). One can see that Massumi is missing the boat as well, when he seeks to define “mind” specifically in reference the doubling itself, quite in contradistinction to Spinoza own undoubled qualification of mind as mere Attributive expression:

The trace determines a tendency, the potential, if not the appetite, for the autonomic repetition and variation of the impingement. Conscious reflection is the doubling over of this dynamic abstraction upon itself. The order of the connection of such dynamic abstractions among themselves, on the level specific to them, is called mind.

Indeed there are such doublings and such abstractions, but foundational is that this is not ALL that there is to mind. One can see right away that Massumi has made a right turn on Spinoza when he should have made a left, when he attempts to leverage a ghostly double out of Spinoza’s monism at the register of the body. Spinoza’s entire point is that the “body” is not what it thinks it is (and neither is the mind).

Again, these are tentative readings based on the temporal process of engagement.

The Sewn Stitch of Logical Stoppage: Massumi on Terminus

The difference between actual stopping that occurs when a continuity exhausts itself and reaches a terminus and the logical stopping that goes over what then appears its path, in order to cut it into segments separated by plottable points, is not at great as it might seem at first. The retrospective ordering enables precise operations to be inserted along the way, in anticipation of a repetition of the movement – the possibility that it will come again. If the movement does not reoccur, it can be captured. It comes to a different end.

Parables on the Virtual, 10

Here Massumi is really cool. The passage is in the context where reflexive feedback of positionality (definitionality) loops back into potential, in his story of ontogenesis. I do resist this picture of time and action, but will bracket it and allow it to travel with me. Here though is a compelling homology along the registers of terminus. There is the ending that is actual, for instance we might assume something like “death”, and there is the terminus of logical capture (which he goes onto exemplify by “space”). Both are kinds of endings. The analogy thrusts us forward onto interesting topology, but how far are we to take this (we don’t want to ontologize it into a force, I would want to say, a force of “death” or extensionality)?

If I take a Spinozist reading of these two terminal relations, the actual termination is a break down of a consistent ratio of parts in communication. The parts fall out of orbit, so to speak, they disperse. Spinoza would deny that the continuity “exhausts” itself, rather he reads it as that it has been intercepted by a stronger force (or forces), encountered a dis-ressonance, a dis-ruption. Where it gets interesting is that the definitional capture or “end” that result in the nominalization of possibility, is that any nominal relation MUST be considered as part of the environment of the actualizing ratio that is being described. In a certain sense, the living processes that are being terminated in a description (which for Spinoza are a lasting ratio of parts in communication), are not simply fed back into by those descriptions, but are also participated in, with those descriptions. When we describe, logically, this is not just a sharing of freeze-frame death, but also a lived cross-body communication and mutuality. (This is an enfleshed melding, which can really occur via affect, as much via idea.) It is for this reason that I resist the reflexive loop as essential, the stationed turn that wants to make of logic a sewing stitch.

It of course may be that Massami will move in this direction with his treatment of affect, but as a Spinozist of affect I have to say that when describing, chopping up, framing, etc, these actions themselves must be understood and affirmations of my own ontological status, and thus must be understood not simply and terminus relations in reflection. Part of this involves the radical reconsideration of what terminus is. Indeed species can become extinct, but as well they can be (or will be) re-activated through technological means. The genetic line of my body, its cells, does end in the possibilities, but also advocatable is the continuance (or permanence) of its varying combinations.

Ontological Privilege: Massumi on the Priority of Change

Massumi here reshuffles his cards in the stacked deck, so that the aces will fall into his hand.

Indeterminancy and determination, change and freeze-framing, go together. They are inseparable and always coincide while remaining disjunctive in their modes of reality. To say that passage and indeterminancy “come first” or “are primary” is more a statement of ontological priority than the assertion of a time sequence. They have ontological privilege in the sense that they constitute the field of the emergence, while positionings are what emerge. The trick is to express the priority in a way that respects the inseparability and contemporaneousness of the disjunct dimensions: their ontogenetic difference.

Parables of the Virtual, 8

I want to approach this field/emergence logic of priority from a Spinozist point of view (surprise). We at first see some strong general homology. The “field” of change and process is Natura Naturans (nature naturing) and the emergent positionality is Natura Naturata (nature having been natured), and there is even the rough correspondence to the diminishment of the importance of the modes that some readings have imposed on Spinoza (all the way to Hegel’s accusation of an acosmism). This is significant, and something I always want to stress when people try to impose an Idealist (18th century German) interpretation on Spinoza. The modes are the very means by which Substance exists and acts (E3p6dem). They are not secondary, or less real. What is key about this is the prescription of human action implied in any diminishment of “positionality”, the sense that positioning or framing comes after (in any sequitor fashion) the processes themselves. Instead, all our degrees of power, being, pleasure, perfection changes are real and coincident changes in semiosis. This is to say, following Spinoza’s treatment of the affects, our changes in capacity are changes in the idea we have of ourselves in the context of the world itself, but not reflective changes in idea. We do not look at ourselves in a mirror (of consciousness or any other), and then make adjustments in idea. Rather, our concrete “position” is itself a positional change. This goes down into a radical sense of what (self) affirmation is, a non-reflective (relatively) autonomous embrace which includes that which cross-currents our own being, propelling us out to mutualities.

Massumi at this point, in his counter to positional, linguistic philosophies I think is very well placed. But there is a difference I believe between our ratio-imaginary mappings (including mathematics) of semiotic differences, and informational semiotic change involved in process of becoming that Massumi is trying to prioritize. The “field” is not just processes of becoming that underlies a surface of concretizations or condensations, but must be semiotic (that is to say, informational) itself. What he calls “freeze-frames” are both imaginary, but also real, let us say, edge-of-chaos determinations. Which are strictly speaking determinations without being opposed to (linear) indeterminancy.

Another way of stating this is, perhaps: There is no “disjuction”.

A Few Random Thoughts…Spinoza, Descartes, Latour

Descartes philosophized laying in bed, it is said, and Spinoza did so at the work bench where he ground lenses during the day. A difference in affects of philosophy.

Genevieve Lloyd says in her “Male, Metaphor, and the Crisis of Reason” that female designates the undifferentiated, and that the male designates the de-gendered soul to be appropriated by (male) Reason, while female designates that which is marked by gender (sex), by virtue of its alignment with the Body. One wonders, is Spinoza’s Substance to be read as feminine (perhaps here is where Schelling tries to grasp him)? Plotinus’s move of the One (Hen) is a quick shuffling from “male” (progenitor) to “female” (engendering) in a single line (Ennead V ii, 1).  She also says that Descartes was caught up in the analogy of motions of the mind (no doubt conflating physics and mentality). Is this why Spinoza thinks of the agency not as a motion, but as a shift in Being, and not an act of Will? Is all transparency masculine? Is there not a transparency of body? Are Latour’s black boxes female holes in the materiality of the body? Is it not the case that instead of a world of black boxes we have orbs of transparency?

Tim Minchin and Spinoza’s Love: If I Didn’t Have You


Spinoza: Love is a joy [an increase in perfection, power, pleasure, being] accompanied by the idea of an external cause.

Josh W. in an informative comment chain in my positioning article on Spinoza: Is Spinoza a Cyberneticist, or a Chaocomplexicist? ,  offers the above hilarious love song by Australian comedian Tim Minchin. It directs our attention to something of the implications of Spinoza’s view of love. Not to be overly philosophical about a brilliant piece of comedy, but Minchin really brings out the full genealogical powers of love amid the powers of abstraction from immediate binaries between subject and object, and in fact its a pretty touching song. I think for Spinoza it is out of our loves that our better world must be made, with a realization of all that goes into a love. I’d never run into Minchin before. I would say that there are distinct senses in which persons do play irreplaceable roles, in that they link a certain dead series, to a living one, along the one concrete line of a human trajectory, where there is no “if” in “If I didn’t have you”. In this my wife. In this sense persons operate as bodies unto us, not just as points of sympathy, reflections of would-be otherness, but whole cargo participations of flesh continuences, oscillating undeniable cohesions which momentum themselves out into specific orbits without which we would not be. Great vehicles which undermine any silly notion that we each are, what they have called “in-dividuals”.

Žižek Asks “What is Spinoza?”: Tarrying With a Negative

Where Spinoza Diverts From History

Through some recent cursory discussion in which arose the comparison between Lacan’s analytic three realms of Imaginary, Symbolic, Real and Spinoza three knowledges (Imaginary, Rational and Intutional) a very important homology upon which their differences are perhaps best spelled out, the subject of Žižek’s take on Spinoza reoccurred to me. I had encountered it a few times before, and as always with his subversive simplifications I took pleasure in what he had to say…but lasting with a kernel of firm resistance. Instead of exploring the genetic relationship between Lacan and Spinoza there is the sense that Žižek is performing a landscape of historical necessity, contorting Spinoza’s theory in a kind of Procrustean vision which reduces him to what history made of him in the developments of German Idealism, in particular under the controversy of Panthesism of that Age. What is lost to us in such a movement of Spirit is both the social-political determinations which fueled the German Ideal reformulation of Spinoza – perhaps penult in the figure of Schelling (including our loss of Heine) – but more importantly Spinoza himself. And with the loss of Spinoza, is lost the potentiality of his claims and their own historical expressions of proto-modern forms of the Dutch Republic. Žižek ensures that Spinoza cannot come to us without the mediation of German Idealism. It is impossible. There can be no importation of the past along another nexus.

This made me wish I had engaged Žižek’s thoughts on Spinoza before, so I take this chance to take up some aspects of his inscription upon Spinoza, in a kind of running commentary. Hopefully this will direct others to his succinct and interesting exposition, but also will expand Spinoza out from such a titan’s bed. My mode of engagement is not academic. I simply pass to his excellent essay and extract the relevant and interesting passages, quote whole from them, breaking them into points that mostly flow into each other, and comment with some length in much the same way I would as my mind runs when I read them. You can simply skip my comments and read the numbered points and get a pretty good sense of where Žižek is coming from (and one can always return to the essay itself). I interpose several linked reference to past posts in case others would like to hyperlink around these arguments, changing frames as they wish.

The Denial of the Mediator

From Spinoza, Kant, Hegel and… Badiou!

1. So what is Spinoza? He is effectively the philosopher of Substance, and at a precise historical moment: AFTER Descartes. For that reason, he is able to draw all (unexpected, for most of us) consequences from it.

I certainly agree with Žižek that historically configuring Spinoza as AFTER Descartes is quite significant, I make something of a sociologically argument for the importance of Spinoza leveraged precisely on this fact, but Žižek has something important also in mind here. Spinoza is not only after Descartes, he is BEFORE Kant and then Hegel. He forms part of a progression, a series, which terminates in Hegel. Whereas I would argue that Spinoza’s Non-Representational, degree-of-Being view of knowledge was the path not taken (exposing the raw intellect of potential in early Dutch experimentation with Capitalism, Democracy and Mechanism), Žižek necessarily reads him as part of a march towards an ultimate totalization which finds its completion in Hegel. Following this trajectory requires that we take the Idealist’s approach which moves from Spinoza to Kant to Schelling and then Hegel, and reduce Spinoza’s philosophy to merely being a philosophy of Substance. There is something to Spinoza’s Substance, but it is not what German Idealism would like to make of it.

2. Substance means, first of all, that there is no mediation between the attributes: each attribute (thoughts, bodies…) is infinite in itself, it has no outer limit where it would touch another attribute – “substance” is the very name for this absolutely neutral medium of the multitude of attributes. This lack of mediation is the same as the lack of subjectivity, because subject IS such a mediation: it ex-sists in/through what Deleuze, in The Logic of Sense, called the “dark precursor,” the mediator between the two different series, the point of suture between them. So what is missing in Spinoza is the elementary “twist” of dialectical inversion which characterizes negativity, the inversion by means of which the very renunciation to desire turns into desire of renunciation, etc.

I do not think that Deleuze’s dark precursor is identical to the “subject”. In fact there are two levels at which I would resist Žižek’s easy slide. Firstly there is the conflation between “subject” and “subjectivity” and this is unwarranted. Caroline Williams delivered a nice Althusserian-Spinozist paper that can be accessed here: Subjectless Subjectivity, A Geography of Subject: Beyond Objectology. As Williams forwards, it should be argued indeed that there is subjectivity in Spinoza, without the “subject” proper. Secondly, Deleuze’s dark precursor is not in any sense a negation. Rhetorically it does invoke something of Schelling’s Dark God ungrund of the coming subjective reflexivity, but it is itself a surplus without reflection:

“In fact, it is not by poverty of its vocabulary that language invents the form in which it plays the role of dark precursor, but by its excess, by its most positive syntactic and semantic power. In playing this role it differentiates the differences between different things spoken of, relating these immediately to one another in a series which it causes to resonate.”

Difference and Repetition

Žižek is trying to wedge in the truth of his dialectical inversion, and where it does not fit it is merely coming (if history gives it enough time). Who can blame him, but we must keep track of such wedgings. Not every meditation is an inversion (it might very well be a “fold”) and not every mediation is a negation. In any case though, I would be glad to accept that Spinoza contains neither “Subject” nor “dark precursor”(or its Schelling imposition), and this is due to the unmediated nature of Substance’s expression. Substance both exists and acts via the modes (E3p6dem).

3. What is unthinkable for him is what Freud called “death drive”: the idea that conatus is based on a fundamental act of self-sabotaging. Spinoza, with his assertion of conatus, of every entity’s striving to persist and strengthen its being and, in this way, striving for happiness, remains within the Aristotelian frame of what a good life is – what is outside his scope is the what Kant calls “categorical imperative,” an unconditional thrust that parasitizes upon a human subject without any regard for its well-being, “beyond the pleasure-principle,” and that, for Lacan, is the name of desire at its purest.

This also is something I affirm, and have written on. There is a primary if not absolute tension between Freud’s Death Drive or his splitting of the drives, and Spinoza’s unitary Pleasure Principle conatus (Spinoza performs the differentiation of destruction on another, and in fact multiple levels). I entertain the differences between Freud and Spinoza here, in the latter part of the article: The Zuggtmonic Drive: (Dark) Intelligence Without Center. As I try to point out, there is a conflation between two things in Freud’s pursuit of this drive: the search for an explanation for the repetition of trauma (recursive unhappy behavior), and the presence of conscious/unconscious morbid thoughts such as “I want to die”, neither of which require the positing of an entirely different metaphysical drive.

It is good as well that Žižek organizes the contrast between Spinoza’s conatus and Freud’s Death Drive as the problem of self-sabotage. This is because it allows us to potentially trace how Spinoza unhinges the explanatory need for such drive in his subversion of the “self” as it assumed. This is to say, ultimately Spinoza deprives any self of ontological ground upon which any then “sabotage” can be grafted or posited. There indeed are selves, just as there are objects (in fact there are just as many one could say), but these selves are ever in boundary-smearing expansions and contractions, pulled in tides across their horizons. And pleasure/power is the mode by which these permutations appear to accrue and disperse.

Where is the Center of the Affects?

4. What the “imitation of affects” introduces is the notion of trans-individual circulation and communication: as Deleuze later developed in a Spinozian vein, affects are not something that belongs to a subject and is then passed over to another subject; affects function at the pre-individual level, as free-floating intensities which belong to no one and circulate at a level “beneath” intersubjectivity. This is what is so new about imitatio afecti: the idea that affects circulate DIRECTLY, as what psychoanalysis calls “partial objects.”

Here Žižek brings to the fore a very important feature of Spinoza. It is in fact the one feature that will undermine the singular framing he is trying to provide, how Substance has to be mediated by a negating Subject. Because Spinoza’s is a subjectivity without a subject, and because his ontology of modes is cross-tidal, the looked-for subject never appears. This not to say that it is denied, rather, it simply makes no appearance because it is unnecessary in the surplus of Spinoza’s model. Without the Subject Žižek’s progression through to German Idealism’s preoccupation with an optics of reflection or construction falls off its rails…reifying as they in their variety are want to do, imaginary reflections of images in mirrors, in camera obscura devices, in paintings of linear perspective, unto a logic of binary negating ab-straction. Indeed it is through the “trans-individual” communication of affects, the autonomy of affects we want to say, that we trace out the cross-currents that both work to vectorially focus themselves in persons, selves, identities, bodies of coherence, but also tear at these the same, communicating across their parts in such a way that there are gravities which pull at the joints of any anatomy. This implicit cross-directionality in Spinoza I have written on under the conceptual auspice of “Conjoined Semiosis”: Spinoza’s Notion of Inside and Outside: What is a Passion?, The Necessary Intersections of the Human Body: Spinoza, Conjoined Semiosis: A “Nerve Language” of Bodies and The “ens reale” and the “ens rationis”: Spelling Out Differences. But aside from the details of an argument of Conjoined Semiosis, it is in the general sense the veritably the trans-individual nature of the imitation of the affects which undercuts the centrality of the subject itself, and eventually atrophies its need. Interestingly, and with some connection to Lacan’s imaginary stage of identification, the imitatio affecti are the congealing of essential rational presuppositions (we must see the world as reflected by others who are both like us, and are in the same world) which help center our experiences along specific gravities; but these condensations are not reducible to strict abstract binaries  of terms Same and Different,  as they inhabit and inform the co-ordination of the entire animal and biotic world where no Symbolic “subject” gains any footing even for the staunchest Idealist. (On the extrapolations of the imitation of the affects and it rational centering: The Trick of Dogs: Etiologic, Affection and Triangulation, Part I of IV and the concept of an Exowelt.) Yet the autonomy of these affects, the way that non-human effects communicate themselves across those similarities, is the very thing that fuses the human and the non-human together, smearing out the anthropocentric center of human-oriented, Idealist preoccupation. As Žižek rightly stresses, these forces are beneath subjectivity. What he does not fully recognize is the sufficiency of this “beneath” in terms of explanation. One should add, these effects are not “partial objects” as they pervade the biotic world and inhabit a great variety of non-representational states, at best they are semiotic pieces.

5. The next philosophical consequence is the thorough rejection of negativity: each entity strives towards its full actualization – every obstacle comes from outside. In short, since every entity endeavors to persist in its own being, nothing can be destroyed from within, for all change must come from without.

Inside/Outside and the Vectors of Determination

This is an important point, and one can certainly see how Žižek arrives at this interpretation. Spinoza is quite forceful at times that there is only a physics in which things are composed in strict inside/outside determinations. And objects persists through some sort of momentum or conatus – like a baseball thrown through a vacuum in space – striving until some External event violently interacts with its internal circulation, eventually breaking apart its communications of parts which had existed in an otherwise harmonious relation. This is certainly in some sense the picture in Spinoza, and from it we gain his very strong cybernetic interpretation of the improvements of human knowledge and autonomy. We are to look within and order our informational house in much the same way that in cybernetic theory a system works back towards a homeostasis, and does so through the filtering of external (and thus threatening) noise. But Spinoza’s view is not comprehensively cybernetic. (I discuss the relationship between Spinoza’s Cybernetic and Chaoplexic features in Is Spinoza a Cyberneticist, or a Chaocomplexicist?.) One of the reasons for this is that ultimately any cognitive inside/outside boundary – and thus any ontological grounding of the “subject” proper – is illusionary, or a kind of perspective for Spinoza. Spinoza’s readings of inside persistence and external obstacle are meant to be understood as something like: “insofar as something is taken in abstraction to be apart from its environment, and insofar as it is abstracted in an act of imagination from Substance and pictured as a thing unto itself, then…”. But this inside/outside dichotomy of external destruction is not the foundation upon which the negative is foreclosed. Instead really the negation which draws a boundary between one interiority and an external force (an imaginary exclusion), is not just a distinctness which separates, but a distinctness which joins the inside and outside in a mutuality. Ultimately because all interactions participate in each other, both at the level of Substance’s expression, but also at the epistemic mutuality of essence in a shared course, inside and outside are not final determinants. (An provisional development of this line of thinking is found here, in a study of the metaphysical consequences of Spinoza’s letter to Balling: Spinoza’s Scheme of the Prophetic Imagination ; Omens of the Future: Intellection and Imagination.)

This brings Žižek’s invocation of a fairly common reading of Spinoza that “all change must come from without” under some radical revision. Where the change comes from ultimately is Substance’s own expression under which inside and outside attribution has no final anchor. Further, a study of Spinoza’s theory of affects, specifically his General Definition of the Affects, we see that inside and outside is no longer the focus of the diagnosis. All passions are indeed causal relations of passivity to events external to the object, registered as a lack of self-determination (which all things but Substance share), but these are auto-affirmations of its own power to exist, expressed in the degree of adequacy of one’s own ideas. This is central to Spinoza’s idea of freedom. The change in power, a loss of a degree of being, is constituted by a kind, a quality of self-affirmation which is not a reflexivity, a mental (or I would say informational, organizational) affirmation of the physical capacity to be. Locating this change strictly outside of the internal closure of affirmation simply doesn’t hold, and this is because the inside/outside boundary is not determinative. I do not blame Žižek for simplifying the Spinoza model in the way that he does, because Spinoza at times truly speaks in that way and it is common to read in him this fashion, but his physics of preservation is part of a larger metaphysical organization in which internal ordering and external participation preside.

6. What Spinoza excludes with his rejection of negativity is the very symbolic order, since, as we have learned already from Saussure, the minimal definition of the symbolic order is that every identity is reducible to a bundle (faisceau – the same root as in Fascism!) of differences: the identity of signifier resides solely in its difference(s) from other signifier(s).

This is interesting. Žižek appeals to Saussure’s binding of signifiers (upon which he wishes to leverage his Master Signifier) to show how any ultimate inside/outside diagnosis of change requires a negating Symbolic Realm, the realm in which the “subject” finds its proper place. Žižek’s reasoning is a little circular and shifting here. Identify requires a “bundle” and a “bundle” requires a negation. Spinoza refuses a negation, therefore he refuses a “bundle” view of differences. What he does not consider is the way in which Spinoza indeed allows a bundles of differences that make an “internal” difference, but then mitigates any such reading through internal transformations of being (General Definition of Affects) and a mutuality of inside/outside participations. Bundles are transpierced by other bundles, so to speak. It certainly is true that there is no “symbolic order” as Žižek conceives it in Spinoza, but there are semiotic powers of organization in its stead. It is perhaps symptomatic that Žižek has moved from one simplified notion of Inside and Outside (Spinoza’s proposed physics) to another (Saussure’s linguistics).

7. What this amounts to is that the absence can exert a positive causality – only within a symbolic universe is- the fact that the dog did not bark an event… This is what Spinoza wants to dispense with – all that he admits is a purely positive network of causes-effects in which by definition an absence cannot play any positive role.

Here is where we can really almost leave philosophy behind and simply think about the world itself. Unless we are speaking of a highly refined, and circularly defined concept of “event”, it simply is not true that the absence of some event can only have a positive (and here I read positive as promotional and determinative) role in making sense of the world. Žižek simply wants this to be the case, that “subject” and “absence” and “negation” and “symbolic” and “signifier” all interlock to provide a framework for reading the world and others. Unless you already assume the sufficiency of such a framework, one has to even ask how does such a view get off the ground? The way that it gets off the ground is from starting one’s analysis with the Idealist binary abstractions of Being and Non-Being or Subject and Object. But the world does not start there. One need only begin with another model, perhaps that of music, to grasp how significantly an “absence” can be a presence without dissolving into abstractions of Being and its negation. Even a child’s tune played on the piano can show how an anticipated note, when not played, produces a determinative effect (pleasure, discordance, etc), without its resolution into a full “subject” operation. A semiotic contrapuntal view of the world as inter-rhythmed, for instance such as that offered by Biosemiosis,  is one in which anticipated absences play a heavy, constitutive role. As I have pointed out before under the question of Spinoza’s supervention of the Death Drive, experiments with Slime Mold intelligence show that the presence or absence of stimulate become determinants of intellect action, such that absences work as much as “events” as presences do (The Zuggtmonic Drive: (Dark) Intelligence Without Center). Unless one wants to confer to Slime Mold’s “subject” status, the theory and our world conflict. I might add, as a moment of obvious recognition, my dog quite easily reads my failure to feed her at the right time of the day as an “event”, as well as my failure to become alarmed at a sound outside the house.

8. Or, to put it in yet another way: Spinoza is not ready to admit into the order of ontology what he himself, in his critique of the anthropomorphic notion of god, describes as a false notion which just fills in the lacunae in our knowledge – say, an object which, in its very positive existence, just gives body to a lack. For him, any negativity is “imaginary,” the result of our anthropomorphic limited false knowledge which fails to grasp the actual causal chain – what remains outside his scope is a notion of negativity which would be precisely obfuscated by our imaginary (mis)cognition. While the imaginary (mis)cognition is, of course, focused on lacks, these are always lacks with regard to some positive measure (from our imperfection with regard to god, to our incomplete knowledge of nature); what eludes it is a POSITIVE notion of lack, a “generative” absence.

This is a nice final point, and we see where Žižek and Spinoza are at greatest friction. Žižek needs the negation to be the foundation of the ethical itself, whereas Spinoza writes an entire Ethics which requires nothing of the negation as an ontological force. What Žižek finds as contradictory in Spinoza is that the imaginary projections of anthropomorphic imaginary relations which are supposed to plug-up in the gap of our knowledge are not appreciated for what they are, fill-ins for a gash in the ontological itself. Indeed the heart-felt link between the subject and negation that Žižek requires so as to ladder himself up onto Kantian grounds, is one that cannot imagine an ethical position without the gash in the world. It is telling that the musicality of life, the contrapuntal semiotic cohesion between the biotic and the abiotic, the role of tempo and constructive absences, cannot be grasped by Žižek’s Lacanian hands. Žižek must lead us to what Spinoza called and denied “a kingdom within a kingdom”. The reason why imaginary relations are not simply stucco for the hole in the humanist wall, meant to seal out the traumatizing Real that leaks in, is that the human itself is already participant and not cut off. To put it one way, in the failure to grasp “the actual causal chain” (imagined by Žižek as a failure of Representation) mis-cognitions through both the pursuits of pleasure and affirmation of power, participate in a mutuality of causal connection. Even the most imaginary relation in Spinoza is already a partially true one. There is no cut-off from the thing-in-itself. It is not a case of vats and brains. To use an example Spinoza takes from Descartes, we may imagine that the Sun is 200 ft away (and represent it as such), but this expresses a true relation of participation involving both the Sun and our Body, and this is to some degree participant in the true. The problematic is not how to connect the cut-off interior to an Ideal exterior, but how to improve these already existing connections and participations. Imaginary effects as powers of connection are an ethical connection in which we are already participant. Ethics runs itself right down to the fibers of existence. The lacks of mis-cognition are relatives of power and action, degrees of possible performance, and not categorical negations and their completion. And key to this is appreciating the contrapuntal nature of absences. I discuss this in the context of Hoffmeyer’s Code Duality in Bioethics, Defining the Moral Subject and Spinoza. I owe Hoffmeyer’s theory a proper critique which I have worked on but not presented, but truly it is that Spinoza’s ethical subjectivity is woven out of the very semiotic material of both the biotic and abiotic world. It requires no subject proper. Žižek is correct in centering Spinoza against any Kantian subject commandment, but he is incorrect (or deficient) in reducing Spinoza’s position to this lack of Kantianism, something he accomplishes by amputating the inside/outside diagnostic from the living body of Spinoza’s full metaphysical position, and then importing the inside/outside distinction to his own Saussurian conclusion.

A Dynasty of Kings: The Insertion of Negation

Largely the progression that Žižek wants to enable is one founded upon the Idealist Representational view of knowledge, coupled with the Christianized centrality of the “subject” (as both soul and legal figure). Žižek wants there to be a holy trinity of Spinoza-Kant-Hegel upon which he can graft a further Idealist trinity of Deleuze-Derrida-Lacan. Aside from the logic of a kind of royal dynasty, subsumption of all philosophical enterprises under the notion that a trio of Kings must mythically occupy the throne in their seasonal turn, we recognize that this genealogy of Kings is accomplished with a severe descriptive restriction upon what Spinoza claimed. Indeed Žižek is right to demarcate all the ways in which Spinoza is not Kant and not Hegel, but pared from Spinoza are all the complex explanatory frameworks that enable him to stake out his non-Idealist alterity. In a sense we cannot begrudge Žižek’s attempted synthesis of the alien Spinoza to his own philosophical position (perhaps not unlike Kreon’s desire to subsume the house of Oedipus unto the State). Repeating the traumas of a State performance of course does not do the job any better.

There is another order in which I don’t understand the Lacanian-Marxist preoccupation with the negation. The fundamental and ontological structuring of the “object” and lack as the condition of desire and subject itself is an instantiation of a logic of Capitalism. It is the proposition that metaphysically our relations to the world can be none other than that of a kind of gap-chasing and fundamental alienation, an alienation which one could argue is has been historically produced. I simply do not understand how those politically minded against alienation would take as firm a hold as possible to a metaphysics of alienation, except in the most masochistic of senses.

On the Eternity of the Mind and the Multiverse: 20 watts

There has been lingering dissatisfaction with Spinoza claim that some part of the mind is eternal and does not die, a diagnosis of his:

EV29 – The human mind cannot be absolutely destroyed with the body, but there remains of it something which is eternal.

Robert Lanza has a mediation on death and the illusions of time which perhaps helps position Spinoza’s claim, Does Death Exist? New Theory Says ‘No’. I’m not one for the New Age end of this nor loose appropriations of quantum physics, but the general scope of this kind of theorized eternity, combined with my own interpretation of Spinoza’s take of “mind” as information and organization fit well together (here on information and Spinoza: Information, Spinoza’s “Idea” and The Structure of the Universe). Einstein is invoked by Lanza, and of course Einstein was to some degree influenced by Spinoza:

Death does not exist in a timeless, spaceless world. In the end, even Einstein admitted, “Now Besso” (an old friend) “has departed from this strange world a little ahead of me. That means nothing. People like us…know that the distinction between past, present, and future is only a stubbornly persistent illusion.” Immortality doesn’t mean a perpetual existence in time without end, but rather resides outside of time altogether.

I’ve discussed Spinoza’s thinking on the immortality of the Mind before: Spinoza, On The Immortality of the Soul, I think you can see the homology between Spinoza’s thinking and Lanza’s quantum depiction. At the very least we can see what Spinoza means, even if it is not granted.

Scholars On Spinoza Now: Politics, Religion and Democracy

Pensum over at However Fallible alerted me to this nice overview article in Eurozine on some of the importances of Spinoza to contemporary questions in society.

Spinoza scholars Gábor Boros, Herman De Dijn, Moira Gatens, Syliane Malinowski-Charles, Warren Montag, Teodor Münz, Steven B. Smith participate in answering a series of question sets directed mostly at religious and political issues:

1. To what extent is Spinoza’s interpretation of scriptures and revealed religion relevant today?

2. Could Spinoza be called a reductive naturalist?

3. What do you think about the attention Spinoza’s theory of emotions is receiving today from psychologists and cognitive scientists?

4. What do you take to be the advantages and disadvantages of Spinoza’s separation of political and religious authorities?

5. Do you think that Spinoza’s denial of free choice makes morality impossible?

6. What do you make of Spinoza’s favourable comments on democratic regimes? What do you think Spinoza thought of the multitude? Why do you think so many Marxist philosophers have found inspiration in Spinoza?

7. What do you make of Spinoza’s claim that the right of individuals is limited only by the extent of their power to be, to think and to act? In particular, how do you reconcile his equating power and right with his conception of political sovereignty?

The article form is uneven due to its format, but there is a certainly an advatage to having a spectrum of answers side by side. I’ll confess that I am not directly familiar with a few of the philosophers commenting, but Moira Gatens is one of my favorite authors on Spinoza. She doesn’t come off as vividly here as she does elsewhere, but her textual answers are substantive. And Montag is always wonderful.

Laruelle, the Non-Euclidean and Spinoza


Tracing Out Laruelle’s Kantian Reduction of Spinoza

I’ve been having a (very loose) discussion of the relationship between Laruelle and Spinoza over at An und für sich, where Anthony P. Smith is helping me understand where Spinoza and Laruelle diverge. In the last day I’ve been reading up on this nexus, combing through Laruelle’s Response to Deleuze where most of the resistance to Spinoza is spelled out, as well as attempting to get a grasp of Laruelle’s rather vocabulary-entrenched argumentative conception of “decision” within all of philosophy, much of which I draw from Brassier’s treatment. Not an easy task. So this post operates only as a touching point of intuitive difficulties I have with Laruelle’s treatment of Spinoza, and not a rigorously explication of them. I sense that part of the problem is the global approach that Laruelle attempts to bring out of what is really much more an analysis of Kant and Kant-related philosophies. That is to say, the “Dyad” of Laruelle, which is supposed to find its source in an orginary “decision” between Idealism and Materialism fits quite well in the Scheme/Content form of Kantian and perhaps most post-Kantian philosophy, but this “science” of philosophy may not really be as well suited to pre-Kantian, or at least Spinozist positioning.

I think part of the problem may be genetic, which is to say, Laruelle isolates the first act of his non-philosophy to be an explicit Plotinean/Kantian duplicity. He frames the orientation of his problematic in terms of Plotinian One and Kantian transcendence:

… Non-philosophy does not effectively or successfully begin until Une biographie de lhomme ordinaire [A Biography of the Ordinary Man (1985)], because it is there that the problem of how to bind the four sides together is thematized and basically formulated –albeit not without difficulties– through the notion of unilaterality. The conditions for this solution are that the One acquire a radical autonomy with regard to philosophy, that it stop being a philosophical object, and that the latter is revealed to be a transcendental appearance. It is as though an over-neoplatonization of the One was accompanied by a corresponding over-kantianization of philosophy as appearance…

“A New Presentation of Non-Philosophy”

Though in this very interesting essay Laruelle traces out the various stages of non-philosophy as its stemmed from this original “dyad” (we want to say), one has to wonder at the full-wealth of a proposed science of philosophy that necessarily drags with it an inherently Kantian partner. As a Spinozist there is a very real, non-representational sense in which Spinoza precludes or forecloses the path that Kant and Kantianism took, and took hold of the Plotinean One in more or less Plotnean terms (a degree-of-being resolution), so much so that a science derived from Kant as a constitutive part simply misses the analytical mark. One cannot read Kant back into Spinoza (unless of course a Spinozist, such as Deleuze, has been busy putting Kant into Spinoza as an expansive permutation of his thought). This leaves us with the sense that Laruelle’s science of philosophies is perhaps best conceived as aimed towards post-Kantian appropriations of Spinoza, which one intuits perhaps really is the historical case.

In a certain way, admittedly from the beginning, Kant helped form the very conception of the originary “decision” which is said to characerize ALL philosophy, giving one to wonder if once we carefully pair away Laruelle’s Kantianism (assumed in the characterization of decision) a space opens up, historically, for a communication between Spinoza and Laruelle (one which Laruelle himself may not have been able to grasp due to the global nature of the claims of his science).

Part of my problem in reading Laruelle on Spinoza is attempting to locate the all important “decisional” dyad. Brassier in his dissertation on non-philosophy does a very good job of characterizing it in particular Kantian terms, terms otherwise recognized as scheme vs. content (Davidson). Philosophy is said to make a core, axiomatic choice which divides the Real into some “transcendent” a priori “faktum” (scheme) and some “immanent” empirical “datum”:

“Alien Theory” [click for larger image]

We can certainly see the strong Kantian nature of the decision in this telling by Brassier, but with the equations of immanence = empirical datum and transcendence = a priori faktum *at the simplest level), there really is no correspondence that I can see between the nature of this “distinction” (or Dyad) and the various distinctions we read in Spinoza. We feel like we are swimming in really the Kantian half of the originary Plotinus/Kant dyad.

Brassier opens up the distinction into its simplest form, that of the knower and the known, the perceiver and the perceived, but I still cannot find the traction point in Spinozist philosophy, largely because these elemental dyads are refused in a great number of ways which generally foreclose an essential materialist/idealist reading.

“Thus for any philosophical distinction between two terms (or Dyad), as such, in the…”

Curiously Laruelle has found a kind of incipient “ego” in Spinoza’s philosophy (in his Response to Deleuze, cited further down), which he links to concepts of Oneness, and perhaps his reading of Spinoza is leveraged in accepting this, but many actually find the opposite of this as Spinoza’s explanation of perceptions, thoughts, knowing are radically against any isolated ego or self, continually de-centering any supposed knower/known dyad. It could be that Laruelle’s need for an “ego” to be found in Spinoza is based upon the desire to graft Kantian distinctions/decisions back onto him, but thus far I cannot quite grasp where he locates this and rather suspect a deficiency in his reading (driven by both a desire for global description and his contest with Deleuze). For thoughts on Spinoza’s subversion of the “subject”: Subjectless Subjectivity, A Geography of Subject: Beyond Objectology, where Williams’s “Reconfiguring Body and Mind: Thinking Beyond the Subject with/through Spinoza” is discussed.

Where Lies the Decisional Dyad In Spinoza?

Anthony Paul Smith has been helping me uncover just where the decisional dyad occurs in Spinoza, and in the comments linked above you can find the context of the causal discussion. There he locates the decision not within a faktum/datum, but within a One/All division, and then further in the natura naturans/natura naturata specification:

The problem in Spinoza is the convertibility of the One with the All, for Laruelle. This leads to all sorts of amphibologies and melanges, rather than any kind of identity. The split is then between the natura naturans and the natura natuarta, in Spinoza. I do think this leads to a kind of slippage in Spinozist thought, but one that can be recast non-philosophically and still Spinozistic.

Connecting all the dots between the naturans/naturata distinction in Spinoza, and the Kantianish transcendent faktum/immanent datum seems very difficult to do. In fact, I can’t do it. IF there is a transcendent part of the dyad, it is the naturans which certainly doesn’t fall into any easy empirical/immanent category. In fact if this is an orginary decision in Spinoza it certainly doesn’t seem to operate in the transcendent/immanent manner Laruelle’s Kant-derived essentialization of philosophy finds important. Instead, in the cognitive plane, acts of perception are naturans actions (affirmations) which concretize themselves into naturata states of relative being, degrees-of-power, in which “knowing” refuses the distinction between knower and known. They are not parsed in order to be reglued, and certainly not via the naturans/naturata distinction. To put it another way, the naturata do not make up a datum that is the conditioned. Nothing is “given”, so to speak.

Anthony Paul Smith also mentions the reversibility of the One and the All in Spinoza, and there is good evidence that Laruelle does hold this as central to his analysis. He makes this point clear in his Response to Deleuze where he objects to Deleuze’s drawing comparisons between Laruelle’s One and Spinoza’s One:

(1) To the first objection: The One in question, the radical immanence through which it is defined, is not above all the One-All, whether ‘close’ or not to Spinoza, but instead a One-without-All, and even a Onewithout- Being, which we call the One-in-the-last-instance in order to oppose it to the convertibility which it refuses of the One and of Being, similar to the Spinozist reversibility of the One and the All. Certain contemporary philosophers abhor the One—and with good reason. We do as well: however, on the condition of specifying that it is then a question of the One correlative to the Multiple under any title or relation, and convertible through an inversion—whether close or not—with Being. Because the One prevails over Being or the Multiple, or the Multiple over the One, or because they alternately prevail over one another, these are clearly possible solutions which must be explored, but this is precisely not our problem. A real critique of immanence according to Deleuze is now possible; and among other possibilities, it can be constructed on behalf of a form of immanence still more radical, excluding all transcendence outside of it: not only theological objects and entities, but also the ultimate form of transcendence, auto-position or survey, the fold or doublet, etc. The One-in-the-last-instance is the true suspension of this One-All and, in a general way, of all reciprocity, in other words, of all relation without possible exception, essentially ‘without relation’ to Being.

Because Laruelle is responding to a “Spinozist reversibility of the One and the All” we are not sure if he is taking Spinoza on directly or not. And this is a problem we’ve already mentioned, as Laruelle has Deleuze specifically in mind here. The situation is further problemized because characterizing Spinoza’s philosophy as a One and All explication actually stems from the German Idealist reinvigoration of him in the 18th century, leading to the Pantheism Controversy. It was Lessing’s recasting of Spinoza Substance into questions of the One and All (Hen kai pan) that eventually lead to Schellings’s Idealist insertion of “negation”  into the Spinoza program, all in the name of rectifying it with, yes, Kantianism, ultimately culminating in Hegel’s ontological negation. The entire matrix of the One and All re-characterization of Spinoza, in attempts to avoid a percieved threat of radical Nihilism and Atheism, not to mention the dissolution of the “subject” and anthropocentrism, has to be considered as historically driven (ideologically so), well within the aims of domesticating Spinoza. So, in a certain sense, Laruelle’s acceptance of a One and All Spinoza (under the auspices of a Kantian diagnosis of “decision”) is quite in line with the philosophical attempts to domesticate him in synthesis with Kant (via the subject). Indeed, the question of the “I” (in Schelling with Kant and Fichte), which Laruelle discovers as implicit in Spinoza, haunts this fundamental mis-reading of his position. Kant should not be brought to Spinoza.

Substance As Ego?

I’ve mentioned it a couple of times, I suppose I should include it, here is the passage where Laruelle imagines that the very unity of Substance becomes an originary projection of a “ego”.:

In reality, Spinoza has always been invoked for two contradictory reasons: for the immanence characteristic of causality, no doubt, but also for the transcendence all too characteristic of the unity of substance in relation to the so-called ‘human subject’ as the supposed or site of immanence. The formula of the ‘human subject’ is kept here, but it is obviously ambiguous (which subject? which man?). This double enlistment is significant: Spinoza, this is justifiably immanence in effect, but immanence as it is lived or received as transcendent by the human subject, external to it and too great for it—let us retain this formula—and thus Deleuze recognizes and lays claim to it, rejecting man as the third and final moment of the triad, as a piece adjacent to machines, as a persona adjacent to concepts. Here there is no essence or absolutely autonomous form of man: the latter is a system of effects and is composed beginning from its content, affections and perceptions. The argument given is this: immanence is not to something else which is always transcendent; it is thus not to the cogito or to the ego; it is to self but not ‘to itself’ (emphasized p. 208, understood consequently: the ego is a preliminary form, transcendent to the immanence of the One- All). What does this argument mean? It begs the question: if immanence is that of the Spinozist substance, then in fact it is the ego which is now a transcendent form; but this is to be given what is necessary to demonstrate. The recent interpretations of the Cogito (Michel Henry and Jean-Luc Marion) are more subtle and show that radical immanence, without representation, is the essence of the Cogito.

“Response to Deleuze”

One can certainly see the lasting residue of the Idealist reappropriations of Spinoza in this reading, that any unity must be a cogito unity. While I am not familiar with the proofs of Henry and Marion, on any number of fronts one can argue that in fact Spinoza’s philosophy subverts not only the human cogito (and “ego”) to such a radical degree, but also does so at the level of Substance itself. The human subject is torn asunder from within, in a necessary Conjoined Semiosis (as I argue in these three posts: Aggregates, Groups and Trans-semiotics; Conjoined Semiosis: A “Nerve Language” of Bodies ; The Necessary Intersections of the Human Body: Spinoza ), but as well, that Substance is unity in no way correspondent to human cognition. In fact only a strong Idealist commitment (and one might say implicit Kantian commitment) would drive the preoccupation with a One and All reading of Spinoza. Spinoza himself really does not make this sort of distinction in his philosophy (far from it being the essential dyad), chosing other determinations upon which to organize his thinking. As such, perhaps Laruelle’s critique falls more heavily upon “Spinozists” and much less so than on Spinoza himself. This leaves us right back where we started, attempting to locate the initial decision of Spinoza’s philosophy.

The non-Euclidean: A Change of Axioms

Because this is not a thorough investigation but only a report on my followings of an intuition, it is perhaps better to change tact and find a certain strange correspondence between Spinoza and Laruelle, a correspondence of analogy. The attempt to locate the Kantianish “decision” in Spinoza seems to ground itself upon the reef of German Idealism’s appropriation of (and inoculation of itself against) Spinoza. It could be that an approach of the problem rhetorically would yield unexpected results.

Key to understanding Laruelle’s non-philosophy, perhaps more key than any other factor, is appreciating the “non” in non-philosophy. It is not a negation in the least, but rather a kind of expansion, or alteration. Laruelle tells us that it must be seen in the light of the “non” in non-Euclidean geometry. Brassier in Alien Theory puts it this way:

[click for larger image]

And Laruelle expands on the nearly literal connection between Non-Euclidean geometry and his change of axioms. It achieves a science status by breaking the internal logic of the (Kantian) decision (comparable to the changing of the 5th axiom of Euclid).   

Non-philosophy is obviously not a theory of knowledge or a system in general. It is a real-transcendental science of the world. The only way of discovering it is by relativizing the exclusive primacy of the logic that hides it and prevents one noticing it in philosophy, even of the non-analytical kind. We could say, in our customary style, that it is a transcendental logic that is real-and-nothing-but rather than logical; one that is without-logic or non formal, so to speak. Contrary to the logicist reduction of philosophy, which leaves the hidden prerogatives of philosophical sufficiency intact, specifically in the form of positivity and hence of a kind of dogmatism, this non-philosophical reduction of philosophy is at once real-transcendental and capable of a wide variety of realizations, not only in terms of logic but in terms of the sciences in general. There is an instance that is more radical than logic, and this is the real. Not that it is possible to replace logic by just any science while maintaining the same privileges for the latter. It is the universal posture of science that must take the place which in philosophy is held by the restricted universality of logic. Non-philosophy shatters the strictures of logic and analytical reduction, just as it dissolves the residues of a compulsory, exclusive and primary logic in the transcendental logic of philosophers, granting the transcendental the sole support of the radical real, and hence the possibility of entering into combination with each of the sciences. Non-philosophy is unified theory: a radical extension of philosophy beyond transcendental logic, but one that deprives it of its traditional pretensions. As a result, it is philosophy and its logical organon that lose their prerogatives by being turned into a simply real-transcendental organon. Thus, it is necessary to take the expression ‘non-philosophy quite literally, so to speak. It is not just a metaphorical reference to ‘non-Euclidean…

“A New Presentation of Non-Philosophy”

Now Brassier’s footnote references over 30 pages of text, so perhaps Laruelle works out a rigorous comparison between his non-philosophy and philosophy itself (all of them making the same sort of “decision”), different than that expressed in Laruelle passage cited which explicates the non-Euclidean analogy. This I cannot say. At first blush though we can read a very rough equivalence. Euclidean geometry possesses one group of axioms, and non-Euclidean geometry constitutes a change in these axioms. Pointedly, the fundamental decision of philosophy is avoided in favor of a radical Immanence. Okay, we can see that. But more is at stake in the literalized analogy, the movement from a “geometry” to a “science” and Laruelle’s expansion brings most of this out. In no-way does the non-Euclidean refusal of the parallel-postulate (related to Euclid’s fifth) give non-Euclidean geometry a position of taking the products of Euclidean geometry as its empirical objects, so the comparison holds within itself a slight of hand. This meta-like positioning of non-philosophy via non-Euclidean reference actually reads a kind of perverse disassociation.

This is what I find buried in the provocative metaphor. Primary among the interest in non-Euclidean geometry is the curious features of elliptic geometry. What we have in the globalization of space in such a geometry (which denies the parallel postulate of Euclid), is the kind of hermetic space that Laruelle finds problematic in Kantian philosophy (and by extension, philosophy in general), that is to say, the a priori conditioning creates the empirical conditioned, folding the “decision” back into the whole coherence, obscuring in a way its transcendence. The sphere of non-Euclidean geometry, invoked, a world where parallel lines SEEM like they would go on forever, in the seclusions of philosophical axioms, are shown to be recursively closed, intersecting at antipodes. In a way, Laruelle’s non-philosophy actually claims to expose the non-Euclidean (elliptic) nature of Kantian inspired analysis of “decision”. From the point of view of earth, when we draw two parallel lines on the ground, they appear actually Euclidean, transcendent, whereas in almost a Lacanian Symbolic fashion, our space is curved. They will intersect.

So when Laruelle invokes the non-Euclidean nature of his non-philosophy, I believe he is rather exposing both the illusion of an infinite Euclidean space (within a philosophy), and it’s actually curved, hermetic isolation of the Real (when seen from without). Kant’s logical necessity of Euclidean space further orients this reference to fifth postulate differences in geometry, and the kind of critical and axiomatic break that Laruelle is attempting to make.

The invocation of Euclid’s geometry, apart from Kant’s love for it, also has something of a reverbative affect back through the history of philosophy to the Ur-philosopher of Euclidean clarity, Spinoza himself. How can one rigorously (or literally) compare your radical approach to non-Euclidean geometry and not call to mind Spinoza’s famous more geometrico, and his desire to treat human emotions as if they were lines and points? In fact, at the face value of rhetorical forms, Laruelle’s non-Euclidean non-philosophy stands in strict opposition (I know, Laruelle refuses “non” as opposition, but I am speaking of the rhetorical form here) to Spinoza’s Euclidean Philosophy. As I’ve tried to point out in the above, it is hard though, given Laruelle’s Kantian framework of dyad, to locate exactly where the decisional diagnosis will fall. Instead they stand apart, perhaps as pictures. Or, as different sorts of Space, just as the original analogy might most strongly suspect.

Now this is the interesting thing. Non-Euclidean geometry largely developed over the contest of Euclid’s 5th axiom, what came to be described as the parallel postulate. And elliptic geometry (among others) arises with the change of this postulate, that parallel lines will not meet ad infintum. The appeal to the Non-Euclidean is an appeal to the challenge of the parallel postulate. Perhaps this is only a contingent jewel of historic happenstance, or perhaps Spinoza’s Euclideanism somehow floats behind Laruelle’s invocation, but Spinoza’s philosophy possesses its own much debated “parallel postulate”. In fact his gnomic parallel postulate can be said to be fulcrum upon which he balances the entire materialism vs. idealism quaesta.

With some homology to Euclid’s unmeeting parallel lines Spinoza asserts that “E2P7: The order and connection of ideas is the same as the order and connection of things.” In fact upon this parallelism of infinitely extending parallel lines of causes seems to create the entire woof and weft of Spinoza’s seeming Euclidean space. It is the fiber of an abstract rejection any form of Idealism, a placing of the material on equal footing with the ideal (positioned within, one supposes, an infinity of other order and connection expressions of other unknown Attributes). Spinoza accomplishes a flattening of space required for his analysis, but in doing so in just this way refuses any scheme/content, conditioning/conditioned binary. What can we make of this?

Let us take up our provisional reading of the implicit Euclidean and non-Euclidean reversals in Laruelle’s rejection of the Kantian decision. The internal (spherical) realm of Kantianish decision creates an appearance of phenomena which are quite Euclidean in appearance (flat). The decision producing a philosophical coherence of the world in terms of material and idea, in a sense, bends the Real creating the very Kantian restricted access to Real, through an illusion of Euclidean infinity. The decision performs the very structure of Kantian philosophy itself (no matter which axiomatic dyad one makes). It appears straight because it is curved. Okay, let’s accept this doubling.

But because we are hard pressed to locate the original dyad in Spinoza – Is it between Substance and Attribute, as Laruelle suggests late in his Response to Deleuze, is it between Attribute and mode, between Substance and mode as in naturans/naturata, or Between Attributes themselves for instance in the parallel postulate itself? – we might want to take up the very case of Euclidean Space itself, the Space of the Ethics. This assessment of space is further complicated by Spinoza’s famous dismissal of geometry itself in Letter 12, wherein figures and shapes (as well as numbers and maths) are given to being mere imaginary products. Clearly, Euclidean geometry is taken up as a form of argument not because it presents a fundamental truth about Substance. Nature does not speak mathematics. All the same, Spinoza flattening of the ground through his own parallel postulate does well to be compared to Kant’s flattening through the bending of Space. Could it be that Spinoza’s Euclidean geometry presentation is actually the inverse of Kant’s, exoterically flat, esoterically elliptic? That is, despite the parallelism of thing and idea, is it not that parallel lines do in fact intersect, and that these intersections are regularly performed in the foreclosure of any knower known dyad as well as the remarked absence of any “subject”?

Spinoza tells us rather radically that any idea we have of something in the world is actually an idea we have of the state our body is in, so that when I phenomenologically look at my dog and perceive it, this is nothing more than imaginary relationship I have to the world (and myself), and that my idea of my dog is actually the idea (I prefer the concept “information”) of my body being a certain state. The reference is entirely cybernetic and recursively defined, and this is due to his parallel postulate. Friends of a neurological, brain-science view of the body and consciousness like this internal reference. All our thoughts about the world are our bodies coming into certain states of combination. What Spinoza tells us is that certain states of combination are more powerful, more active, more free, that others. Another way of stating this that our informational distribution and organization can become more or less self-determining.  We can see here a non-Euclidean bending of space buried within the flatness of the parallel postulate itself. Each human being makes a kind of self-referential sphere. But this is really not so either, for even though our ideas are merely ideas of our body being in certain states, we can have better ideas than others, and because we and the external things of the world are both expressions of the One Substance, occasions of us actually coming to know things external to us are necessarily participatory occasions, occasions which not only defy any restrictive notion of “subject” and “object”, but also cross out any ultimate boundary between one’s own body and that of another thing.

As I have argued in my treatment of the Prophetic Imagination, Spinoza’s Scheme of the Prophetic Imagination ; Omens of the Future: Intellection and Imagination, Spinoza ensures the possibility of a sharing of essences even at the level of the imagination. In addition to this, Spinoza’s definitions of body and individual as communications of parts and the causes of unitary effects all promote a variable negotiation of boundary which undermines any self/other essentialization, and in fact runs this mutuality right down to a panpsychic core which is neither materialist nor idealist. What one might propose with non-Euclidean, elliptic Geometry floating in the air, is that the knower and the known (in the Idealist sense) form the antipodes of a spherical mutuality of real communication of parts, such that the identity between each is blurred if not collapsed. And this antipodal notion actually expresses itself in an ignorance which takes the podes to be opposed because the spherical space is forgotten in an ignorance. This is to say that there are a spherical space of causes which have colluded to bring about the relations almost all of which is invisible. But not only this, the spherical space is filled with its own infinity of antipodes, and the space itself can be, and is perpetually redrawn in other spheres, all of which end upon the Immanence of Substance itself. This is to say, the Sciences are in the business of identifying antipodes (objects and knowings) and reconstructing the spheres of their collaboration, ultimately in the face of a necessary distortion (not of flatness or parallelism, but of infinities). And the monism of Substance, along with parallel postulate flattenings of our own thoughts, serve as tools for correcting the dislocations of our self-oriented and imaginary Euclideanism.

It seems to me that because the Ethics has to be read as a material thing with which our bodies are meant to interact and combine with, something upon which to grind our body lenses, so to speak, and not merely a mental, Ideational world to drift into, and because the philosopher is to conceive of his/her thoughts of the world (even the most transcendental thoughts) as thoughts of his/her body being in a certain state, forming a kind of combinative, material power, precisely the non-Euclidean dislocation of philosophical truth of Laruelle occurs buried within the implicit fractal and non-linear relations bound within the Euclidean exoteric form of Spinoza’s Euclidean presentation. In all, Spinoza’s coherence of argument is meant to provoke the intuition of connection, and thus to alert the mind to its own distortions of space, in particular how it reads its causal relationship to the world. Spinoza’s is a non-philosophy in the sense that it is meant as a philosophy meant to be left behind, once used.


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