Frames /sing


Monthly Archives: May 2009

(C)ontinental Philosophy’s Incursion Into Environmental Study

Four Moments of Engagement

Adrian J. Ivakhiv, over at Immanence, provides a crisp, seemingly exemplary mini-history of the on-going interaction Environmental Studies has had with (C)ontinental philosophy, thrilling to read even though I am unfamiliar with nearly every Environmental author. One has a sense that one is watching the arboreal-rhizome of how philosophy invades a discipline, like so much Japanese Knotweed perhaps, in beautiful time-lapse photography. Additionally, I enjoyed the anti-essentialist, very “contenental” manner in which he denies there is anything such thing as Continental philosophy, insisting it is perhaps, at most, “a style”. A delightful paradox of form and content (and I do not say this critically).

I just love the tracing of Spinoza’s initial and then latter-day coming to the field (and as a Spinozist cringe over the Heideggerian phenomenology). And savor how he rightly labels Spinoza “prehistorical”. In any case, this is one of the most informative and enjoyable weblog entries I have read in a long while, opening up a world of persons, texts and species. 

The Ontology Beneath it All

Of this Spinoza’s Return moment Adrian writes:

This is the moment when Spinoza and other relational thinkers make their return via Deleuze, among others, into a field already imbued with phenomenological-hermeneutic and postmodern-poststructuralist thinking as well as the non-dualist provocations of Bruno Latour (actor-network theory), Donna Haraway and the critical animal studies folks, and other schools of thought. What’s missing in much of this work is an adequate ontology, and what Spinoza, Bergson, Whitehead, and the Deleuzians bring is an attention to the complex networking of the temporal-relational processes that constitute the world. This moment is ontologically anti-essentialist in its focus on processes of subjectivity (or subjectivation) and network-building (relationality, complex systems, etc.). Epistemologically it is realist in its understanding of cognition and affect as intertwined, relational, dynamic parts of the process by which organisms/subjects encounter environments/contexts. It is both materialist and discursive, politically and ethically engaged, holistic but not totalizing.

To bring to bear a perhaps critical question, it is interesting to query just how much Spinoza’s own ontology (even however bent by Deleuze’s will) could be asked to bear the full weight/breadth of the intellectual milieu it has entered. If indeed Spinoza helps provide an ontology for this field of positions, is it a Spinoza that would have to relinquish his main securing claim to enter fully into the continental style, that we understand something through its cause. That is, is Spinoza a “relational thinker”? Perhaps a direction is taken to an answer in my comparison between Latour and Spinoza: Is Latour an Under-Expressed Spinozist? where we may find the seed of a distinction for a coming importance of a non-Deleuzian Spinoza for Environmental (and Bio-ethical) Studies.

10 Greatest Philosophers (sigh): Desert Island Question

Tool Kit

Jon Cogburn’s list in the comments section over at Perverse Egalitarianism  it seems has forced/spurred me onto my own list, as absurd as it may be, (but processes of organization are creative). It is a conflation of “greatest influence,”  upon me, but also as I read it, “greatest influence” upon the best solution for the pressing questions of our historical moment, a solution which must resonate down to the root/earth of the Western Philosophical tree. In a sense the list represents the authors from whom — if I was on a desert island and had to compose a philosophical theoretical perspective for our Age, and could be given the entire oeuvre of each — I would compose my island library; where there are two, I get two for the price of one. I include a small note on what seems the most germane contribution, though effects are radial.

1. Spinoza (parallel postulate under a register of power)

2. Plato (formulating the Orphic)

3. Augustine (Immanent Semiotics of truth)

4. Plotinus (Degree of Being transformation of Plato)

5. Davidson (Triangulation and Objectivity)

6. Guattari and Deleuze (Ontology of Affects)

7. Wittgenstein (Language Game)

8. Nietzsche (Ascent of Metaphor)

9. Sophocles (The Surpass of Tragedy)

10. Maturana and Varela (Operational Closure)

A large measure of this ranking can be seen as an after-image of an entire branch of thinking stemming from Descartes’ Central Clarity Consciousness  conception, which had its reverberations and mal-interpretations running through both the Continental and Analytic sides, a branch that is best left behind for now.

The actual numbers are only as they came to me without very much juggling. Tons of beautiful philosophers left off, some of my most favorite ones with whom I agree much more, and more inspire me, than some on the list…but that is the beauty of lists they force a composition, a constellation. Of course I would love to hear any of your own lists under something of the same criteria (or whatever).

(On another para-frivolous note, I would love to do a NCAA like bracket “playoff” of the 64 greatest philosophers, a competition/comparison which could have serious conceptual implications about truth and correction.)

Here a BBC Greatest Philosopher List

The Limb-loosener of Rilke: The Torso of Dis/Integration


In my last post on the limb-loosening powers of Eros discussion flowed in two directions, over at Complete Lies, and then a bit in my comments section. The principle question is whether jouissance as an unbearable pleasure, something that would turn to pain if sustained, is the model for what the drive is. My sense is that just qualified “pleasure” is a sign of intensity beyond the limits of the system, so to speak, but that these are or can be modulated. What came to mind was Rilke’s terrific (literally) poem of Apollo’s torso that is fittingly limbless (and paralyzed). It calls to mind the Thymos (and its correspondent deinos) that burning core physiological ember that Greeks felt in their breast, and Sloterdijk’s Thymotics [written about here]. What happens beneath limbs that have been loosened:

Archaic Torso of Apollo

 We cannot know his legendary head

with eyes like ripening fruit. And yet his torso

is still suffused with brilliance from inside,

like a lamp, in which his gaze, now turned to low,


gleams in all its power. Otherwise

the curved breast could not dazzle you so, nor could

a smile run through the placid hips and thighs

to that dark center where procreation flared.


Otherwise this stone would seem defaced

beneath the translucent cascade of the shoulders

and would not glisten like a wild beast’s fur:


would not, from all the borders of itself,

burst like a star: for here there is no place

that does not see you. You must change your life.

The poem is nearly unspeakable. Commentary, like hanging cloth on marble. Yet I came across this odd animation of Rilke himself reading the poem, culled from the past of voice and photograph, uncannily brought to life with over-modern software now at the hands of memory. Talk about ghosting the poem, itself a kind of singing torso:

Wir kannten nicht sein unerhörtes Haupt,

darin die Augenäpfel reiften. Aber

sein Torso glüht noch wie ein Kandelaber,

in dem sein Schauen, nur zurückgeschraubt,


sich hält und glänzt. Sonst könnte nicht der Bug

der Brust dich blenden, und im leisen Drehen

der Lenden könnte nicht ein Lächeln gehen

zu jener Mitte, die die Zeugung trug.


Sonst stünde dieser Stein enstellt und kurz

unter der Shultern durchsichtigem Sturz

und flimmerte nicht so wie Raubtierfelle;


und brächte nicht aus allen seinen Rändern

aus wie ein Stern: denn da ist keine Stelle,

die dich nicht sieht. Du mußt dein Leben ändern.


Some alternate translations offered here.

And another animation of Rilke’s “Der Panther” by the same fellow here.

Eros/Thanatos One Drive: The Limb-Loosener of Sappho

Eros the Crawler

Reading over at Fido the Yak, “A Continuous Stream of Emerging Pattern” Fido expressed the desire to sing the praises of paralysis, invoking something of the Greek etymology of the word, loosening-beside. This called to mind Sappho’s use of a related word and concept, and I repeat hear my comment:  

I’m not sure if you have this in mind with your affinity for “paralysis,” but Sappho’s beautiful use of the word λυσιμέλης (fragment130) comes to mind; the word is often translated “limb-loosening,” used to describe the powers of the creeping, undefeatable, sweetly-bitter creature Eros, who has returned. Limb-loosening of course is what Homer uses to describe what happens upon a death-blow in battle [sleep as well], but there is a word-play here, as μέλος (limb), also can mean a “song, or strain” (melody, the song-road). The loosening is both a re/lease of limbs and song, but also a death. But even more, there is a hint of the verb μέλω, “I care, I have concern,” so the limb-loosener is also the care-loosener.

This phrase, and fragment has always haunted me every since I have read it many years back. She condenses so very much about the powers and experience of Eros in just a few compound words, in just a brief shard survived now for more than 2,500 years.

Expansion of Eros: The Loosening

The line reads thus in the Greek (I am never sure if fonts appear on all computers):

ἔρος δηὖτέ μ᾽ ὀ λυσιμέλης δόνει,

γλυκύπικρον ἀμάχανον ὄρπετον.

David A. Campbell (Loeb ed.), translates the line:

Once again limb-loosening Love makes me tremble,

the bitter-sweet, irresistable creature

I translate much more literally/experimentally:

Eros again, me of limb-loosening was shaking,

the sweetly-bitter, aidless creeper.

Aside from the nuances of association and wordplay, the word has the curious fortune of condensing a very significant question in the history of philosophy. Is there one drive, Eros, or pleasure, Joy (Spinoza). Or are there two, Pleasure and Death (Freud). I’m reminded of a recent reading over at Complete Lies, where there are musings about the nature of two drives understood as one:

What must be understood for this explication of drive is that things are continuously moved towards these impossible extremes. Does this mean that there is a fundamental dualism however? No; the drives to expansion and contraction, while seeming to have entirely different goals, achieve the same end: collapse. When a thing expands or contracts too much, that is, is taken from it’s precarious position of existence as we know it, it essentially disintegrates in the sense that is it no longer linked to other ghosts in the same way. This is the end that all things achieve at some point, their own elimination from this network we are a part of, the network of haunting and mourning. This is why both drives are ultimate death drives, as they both achieve death, in one form or another, in their drive to infinity.

I do not keep with Complete Lies’ position which is somewhat homologous with, though inverting of Empedocles’ theory of two forces (Aphrodite and Nike). But I would say that Sappho presents something of the internal forces, the ambiguities of what “loosening” means, as it can be both release and death, finding a correspondent in G&D’s (these initials should be reversed), territorialization and deterritorialization.

I think something of the apparent contradiction also exists in Spinoza’s One Drive format, as he argues that the more selfish we become, the more self-interested in power and its increase, the less of a “self” we realize that we are, finding expression in the distinct and determinative expressions of all that is beyond us. The pursuit and undestanding of love ends up with the integrative dissolution of the “self”, as a matter of perspective. Sappho gives us both, a literal Eros that crawls and creeps in such a way that the bitter, the sharpness is sweet, and our loosening helplessness beyond all device, is both a deathlike release, but also the release of a song, a melody. It shakes you, releasing you.

Human Centric Semiosis in the Name of Umwelten

The Apprehension of World

Through the pleasures of the Internet the author of one of the books I cited in my working development of a Spinozist theory of Exowelt responded to some of my thoughts. Paul Bains, whose excellent, articulate The Primacy of Semiosis I resourced, questioned any need at all for such an Exowelt thought, as he feels that Deely is already sufficiently non-Phenomenological and non-human-centric, two motivations for my working toward an Exowelt conception.

The exchange we had in the comments section seemed a bit scatter-shot between the both of us, but some interesting questions were raised. I repost my last thoughts here (changing the “person” of address), citing from a pivotal passage in Paul’s book which at least for him, conceptually sets the agenda at hand. Perhaps others will find the issues compelling, just as I do:

Here is the relevant passage from your book  that for me points directly to the human-centric framing of the issue for you (and Deely):

“I will seek to elaborate the critical distinction between the animal and human Umwelten – or species-specific objective worlds as Deely presents it. This distinction is timely, because although it has similarities with Heidegger’s treatment of exactly the same question, I will claim that Deely provides a more articulate and nuanced analysis. Those who are shocked by and criticize Heidegger’s “abyss” between man and animal might find this approach of value, even if only to distinguish themselves from it. The ultimate issue is this: To what extent it can be said that a non-languaging, non-human animal apprehends its Umwelt or milileu/envirioning world as a world at all: Deely’s distinction between zoosemiosis and anthroposemiosis intersects with Wittgenstein’s approach to forms of life and expressive capacities that can only exist in language: “We say a dog is afraid his master will beat him, but not, he is afraid his master will beat him tomorrow, Why not?”…The concept of objective being introduced in the preceding chapter (i.e., as something existing only insofar as it exists within awareness) will be seen as providing the relational network for the fabrication of species-specific objective worlds or Umwelten. Deely writes…” (page 60).

Beetles and Things: Why Experience Creates No Sphere

If I could take it piece by piece.

1. I don’t find the distinction between human and animal Umwelten “critical” as Paul does. That is, there is no substantivedifference here, no hierarchy. Or, as Spinoza insists, humans do not form a kingdom within a kingdom.

2. While Deely might be more nuanced than Heidegger in regards to the “abyss” he certainly maintains it, and does so in ways that are quite human-centric.

3. Paul’s “ultimate” question is also quite human-centric (not to mention quite rather Kantian flavored with the choice of “apprehension” as the “ultimate” value). I do not accept that apprehending one’s Umwelten “as world” is of critical, ontological distinction at all. This reflective notion is highly Idealist, and Paul is right to bring Heidegger up, a thinker who retains strong idealist, phenomenological roots.

4.While I accept that there are distinctions between zoo and anthropo semiosis, anthropo semiosis is irrevocably joined to zoo. It is zoo. And to this I would add that I do not stop there at the biotic world when I am speaking of semoitic processes. For me semiosis goes ALL the way down. Because Antropo semiosis is zoo, and relies upon zoo, there is no ostensive boundary of “world”.

5.Wittgenstein’s treatment of animals I find most problematic due to the highly eliptical and aphrostic style of his “arguments”. In particular here, the oscillation between “languaging” and “forms of life”. I offer my thoughts on the failings of Wittgenstein’s reading of animals here, if interested: The Trick of Dogs: Etiologic, Affection and Triangulation  [here].

6. I distinctly reject the notion that there are species-specific Umwelten, pretty much along the same line of reasoning that there are (individual human) mind-specific languages. Wittgenstein’s private language argument’s theme ends up disentangling every boundary.

It is specifically in terms of “experience”, what Deely calls a “sphere of experience”:

{Deely writing]”Elements of the physical environment are networked objectively, i.e., so as to establish the sphere of experience as something superordinante to and strictly transcending, all the while containing partially and resting upon aspects of, the physical environment in its ‘natural’ or ‘mind-independent’ being. Umwelten are thus species specific: No two types of organism live in the same objective worlds, even though they share the same physical environment.”

Just as there is no Beetle in the Box (it gets crossed out) there is no sphere of experience that necessarily is objectively distinct by species. It is only a phenomenological skew of what we think of determinative that ultimately thinks that communication between species is a communication between “worlds”

Or, to put it another way, taking up my notion of Exowelten, because there are real differences in the world that make up the terminus and perceptual limits of our bodies, and the bodies of other biotic and non-biotic forms, any strict species-specific distinction of realms or “spheres” has no ultimate footing. Our “Forms of Life” are already Semiotically Conjoined, and no delineation of experience can unjoin them.


Open Source Intellectual Expression: Vital Nodality

Watched Revolution OS(2002) on Netflix instant play last night (if you haven’t clued in, the “instant play” feature of Netflix is perhaps the best aspect of the product). The documentary on the development of the Linux/Gnu operating system with heavy interview time given to all the major players has informative parallel to bloggery-based intellectual development. To hear of the sudden profusion of a small piece of intellectual work, let us say the Open Source Definition, (and the surprise of its non-professional author), reminds me of the work I did last summer on Spinoza and Optics (apparently, and ridiculously, making me a foremost expert on the subject in the world, simply because no one else had thought to do it). I tell myself I really should read  The Cathedral & the Bazaar: Musings on Linux and Open Source by an Accidental Revolutionary, by Eric Raymond (whose essay quixotically changed the course of companies), which I have been meaning to for some time. It is not just the philosophical, practical and commercial tensions that fill this story, but, as the film shows, also that remarkable personalities come in contact and are expressed through these very specific means, nodes of transmission and transfer, the opening and closing of possibilities. Written ideas, working protocols, adhered principles, licensing documents, the joy of work all come to structured confluence. I think for those who imagine that there is a future for the intellectual process of shared ideas offered by this medium, there is much to learn from their historical example. I will say that how these people generally feel about writing and working on code is how I feel about working on (or being inspired by) philosophical problems or pursuing and posting research. And it’s always interesting to watch the imposition of “Cathedral” culture and those mental habits upon more or less spontaneous community. Most compelling perhaps is to watch the separation of the “idea” of the revolution from its commercial success -exemplified by how they had to figure out a way to change the word “free”. Not a betrayal, nor a dialectic reversal… an expressive mutation, a revolution in the genuine sense.

When thinking about intellectual gate-keeping, we are reminded of course, of JSTOR – a citadel of guarded labor born from largely not-for-profit institutions.

What if There was Only Poetry? What is the Referent of a Word?

Walking Between Spaces

As a happenstance some of the best thinking can sometimes be done in the footnotes, in the margins, and in the comments section it seems, where the constitutive effects of a text, refracted off of a number of diverse and unanticipated points, come to confluence themselves again, baring the traces of their brief travel. (For those who write without comments, without spaces, sad.) This is the secret to the bloggist form of intellectual cross-seeding and creative process. Epistolary reflection at an inspired rate.

Again, an interesting trail come from the side discussion over at The Whim, where Nicola responded to a comment of mine. He had written a poem, and I responded to the verse in verse, as somehow this seemed appropriate. And I mused, what if one could only comment upon poetry in poetry?:

…Sometimes I feel that this is the only response that should be permitted…in an aesthetic, or even epistemic sense.

What if we only spoke of poetry in verse?

Is there a reason why Parmenides who said there is no change wrote only in meter?

What did Plato lose when he took the meter out? (…and how did he smuggle it back in?)

Nicola, returned with a beautiful quote from Agamben), and then some thoughts about a possible utopian notion of language as poetry:

“Perhaps only a language in which the pure prose of philosophy would intervene at a certain point to break apart the verse of the poetic word, and in which the verse of poetry would intervene to bend the prose of philosophy into a ring, would be the true human language”  (Agamben)

The opening issue of Hot Gun! make a good poetic utopian pitch: “To achieve utopia, all language must be poetry . . . Poetry is the vocal mimesis of the experience of being in the world which gave rise to language. . . . Only once we have negated instrumental language, and brought ourselves back into the present, can we reintroduce result into mimetic language whereby the pleasure of telling you my feelings and of you understanding my desires in the present of action might be understood as a purpose. Poetry keeps language accurate but also does the opposite and slows it down to the point where language is itself and itself is the world” (Josh Stanley).

What an interesting proposal that language might best oscillate between the philosophical conceptual “intervention” with a kind of linear or spatial imposition, and then the returning bend back of poetic language itself. The ring composition of all truth. Do not the best philosophical works “rhyme”?

The Eutopia of Language

Instead of viewing this as a utopian project (which it is in a certain sense), perhaps as if often the case with utopias, we need only to realize that it is already the case. All language is poetry, (but simply does not know it). I have in mind Spinoza’s interesting recursive notion that any idea that is “in” the human mind (that composes the human mind), takes as its true object an extensional state of the body. The ideas I have of trees, Copernicus, newspaper print, chocolate cookie recipes, dust, Higgins Bosons are all ideas of various states of my body. In a certain oblique sense, the referent of the words I use, is “me” (or this compositional body). It is more than this though, for Spinoza. Any idea that we have is the expressed power of my body to act, and as such it is an affirmation of a certain degree of power of my body. Each time we “think” we affirm the flesh in one way or another, perhaps like a mainsail and jib that catches more or less wind with their ever fluctuating angles. In this sense, the words we speak, no matter their abstraction, come from the material dynamism of our bodies, are the poiesis of our bodies (and our bodies in combination with all others). They are poetry. Even the most instrumental language is instrumental in a different sense, in that it is expressive of powers far beyond its mere design.

If there is a utopian aspect of this, it is not that language must become poetic, but its very poetry must be recognized. A programmer may read a line of code and be moved. An archivist an inventory list and become stirred. Our language comes up and out of our bodies, but our bodies as they are precisely connected and materially joined to all others. If there is a philosophical/versed oscillation, perhaps this is only the one of our awareness.

Are not even the logic-chopping Analytic School stackings merely highly constrained quatrains without overt spatial imposition (I remember writing an entire novel chapter in Hexameter verse, yet letting it be “prose”) ? Is not the question of philosophy ever “From Whence Does it Come?” and the answer of poetry, “From here.” Is not each word a hiero-glyph under conditions self-traced and yet immanent to a horizon beyond any self that does not necessarily touch a community of things?

[addendum] Nicola ruminates that his desire for commentary is a desire for a space,

Of course something like this happens/is happening only through the wearing away of “poetry” and the practice the finding/possessing of other language as (always already) poetry. I am learning more and more how my desire for commentary is a desire for such a space, or as Agamben would gloss it a desire for language as mode of both understanding and possession/enjoyment.

While he seems to agree that other language is already poetic, I am unsure of this notion of a space of possession as an equivalent of enjoyment. I sense rather that commentary is (and my last post touched on this) the space of transmission and pollination. To understand is to transmit and be transmitted to, for the wave to have reached you. The space of this, in terms of commentary, seems to be not that of possession, for “enjoyment” is never held, but rather is more one of eddying, a folded-over zone, which may link to other such eddies elsewhere, a turbulence of continuities (or ratios, as Spinoza might have it).

It is not that instrumental or objective language should be eliminated, or even undermined, but rather when we see it, speak it, read it, we should do well to trace out and fill-up its full history of affective roots as a place and determination of its strength.

“Talk to me about the Ontology of Commentary” (Illumined)

Some Thoughts on the Glossator Roundtable

If any of you have simply put the radio on in order to structure the aural world about you, I suggest listening instead to this roundtable at the Glossator conference from this past April, hosted by Nicola over at The Whim. Each of three speakers was a favorite voice , and only one person seemed to be disappointingly repeating well-rehearsed positions from their past, not actively thinking with the possibility of learning something from those they spoke with or the subject matter itself. As such the genuine aura of the conference discussion really brought home how nice it is to have creative, bright minds come together. And playing at least the first hour of the discussion where voices rhythm with more alternation and variety, simply burgeons.

The speakers are: Ulrich Gumbrecht, David Greetham, Jesús Velasco, and Avital Ronell, and they loosely organize their comments upon Nicola’s questions on the Future of Commentary, of which there are five:

1. What is the sense of asking the question of the future of commentary?

2. What are the hermeneutics of commentary?

3. What is the ethical potentiality of Commentary?

4. What is the ontology of commentary?

5. What is the pleasure (ludi) and pain (labor) of commentary?

Aside from the almost certain conflict of interest in four professional Commentators discussing the importance and (ontological, political) necessity of commentary, there is a pleasure in hearing these perspectives. (I most enjoyed the reference to slides which illustrated different marginal or commentary spaces, forcing me to imagine my way through.)

The Mp3 file of the roundtable is here, originally found over at wrætlic: the notebooks of egil on the trammes of tresoun where Dan offers a paper from the conference “Affects and Their Gravities: Commentary as a Capacity of Care”

In addition, as a modest though not inconsiderable sidenote, it was so pleasant to hear an erudite voice – I think it was David Greetham’s – say the line: “”…,or to turn it around….I don’t say ‘dialectically’ because I don’t ever know what that means…”.  Thank God someone can disrobe such an abused and mystifying word in a conference context in such a light manner, and without commentary.

Too Much Binary, Not Enough World

As to commentary itself, I could not help but think as I listened to these compelling speakers, that they had a wrong, or let us say, over-determined sense of what Commentary was. Focused on the primary binary of Text/gloss, and no doubt filled with their decades of bodily engagement with commentary and text, eyes moving backward and forth, commentary quite often took on the graft of the Being/non-Being, Presence/Absence, Text/Margin dynamic, in which we struggle to “sharpen” just what the relationship between that which fills the empty space and that which dominates the centrality of vision, seemingly so we can escort it successfully into the future (where it can be maintained as an object for our disciplined and professional examination).

What came to mind as each thinker sought to corral commentary was the defiant example of Lindisfarne Illuminative Manuscript, which I have written upon here.

The illuminative script of the anonymous monk seems to have fulfilled yet exceed nearly all of the provisos and descriptions offered by the various thinkers (or at least presents an adjunct exemplification which complexifies their categories). This immanent scripting, which lay not in the margins, but is woven of semiotic, iconographic, syntactic, conceptual and historic elements in commentary, directs our vision to an underpinning of what commentary COULD be. That is, commentary, aside from the binaries of Presence/Absence (fill), may be best seen as out-growth, or over-growth, or even a seeding. It flows out from the text, from its very form and reproduction. And then, is it not, that commentary cannot be severed from its text, any more than the scholia of Spinoza’s Ethics can be cut off from the propositions and proofs, without a certain amputation?

When you look at the Lindisfarne illuminations and view them as commentary, perhaps even taking them as models of what commentary is, I think we come up with a different sense of both the great wealth of possible commentary forms, but also its coming future. One should not think of  or look to the blank space (which invites the binary), but to the nexus shore, the touching ground where text and gloss brush up onto each other, making any strict delineation between the two impossible, or unwanted. To read the commentary is to feel the affective connection, the unfolding of the truth of a practiced mutuality. The very materiality of a text, its re/production, already presumes a certain thickness of continuity, even to a word scribbled in the margin.

I would go a bit further, if we are to insist that there is a binary operant here. At most, text works as mimetic (objective) product, and what we read as commentary as deitic screen, to the degree that we experience a certain sourcing of the former to the latter, a causal effect to which we too can be joined. In this sense, the object and the ostensive finger are always intimate to each other, and cannot be divorced. 


Alternately, think of a text as a garden, and its commentary the diversity of weeds, border bushes, pollinators both organized and summoned by the plot of land. Flora and fauna and realm both support and direct our vision to the effect.

The Occlusion of Dialogics: What It Means to Converse with a Philosopher

For the Love of the Negative

I am having an interesting para-discussion with Nicola over at The Whim  on the good of talking about “the shadow” or “spectrality” or “negation” in particular when adopting an ontology of plenitude (which he himself seems to embrace), and he directed me to this wonderful post at Fido the Yak, explicating just how affective, how experiential negativity could be interpreted.

There, M. Ponty is cited, speaking to the full-spectrum of how we read (and overcome/complete) a past philosopher. Nicola seems to have in mind the richness of this engagement, the way that “sensibilities” seem to flesh-out otherwise abstract binaries of Self/Other (and the mother of all binaries Being/Non-Being).

I want to direct myself briefly to the opening thoughts on shadow, when reading a philosopher dialogically, what M. Ponty calls the “dialogical experience”:

In dialogical experience, I do not communicate to another a thought possessed elsewhere. I think with him and make myself in his image; moreover, his thought comes to itself only be formulating itself and offering itself to me, so that there is no clear-cut distinction between what would belong strictly to an author and what the interpretation projects into the author. What defines a thought is what is was still seeking to say, its “unthought,” which can be revealed only in a reflection which, on the basis of its difference, turns itself into the echo of the thought. Therefore, the rejection of the idea that one must subject a reading to objectivity in favor of the idea that one must attempt to explicate an unthought can be a higher form of fidelity.

As I expressed to Nicola, I do not see what service is paid by the importation of Hegelian inspired terms such as “shadow” or “the other” or “negative”, as if when we think along with another thinker we are conducting some kind of binary mathematics of exchange and surpass. I would claim that actually there is no such thing as the “dialogical experience” as it is here defined, where we strictly make ourselves the image of the other, (and this image-reflection accurately depicts what we are doing when we think along with someone else…there is always something more…much more). The reason for this is that, as M. Ponty says, in the dialogical experience I do not communicate to another a thought possessed elsewhere. This plainly is not only impossible, it is an illusion. We necessarily, when we inhabit the thoughts of another, bring to them thoughts that are possessed elsewhere. Not only the “elsewhere” of my entire genealogy of thoughts, but also the matrix of far-reaching points with which I have come in contact, and which have formed me. I communicate to the soma of a thinker the full contrain web of my being, and insofar as we communicate (even with a dead thinker), the nodal mutualities of our contacts. The illusion of a shadow, a specter, a mirrored reflection, is just that, the suppression of all our rich histories/possibilities, the ignoring of what consonant powers that are in operation, the very things that we are to make ourselves aware of if we are to bring our communication into more active fruition. It is NEVER the case of a Self and an Other meeting in binary form (even if this be our fantasy).

Shaking Hands with the Dead

Then M. Ponty works to subvert the priority of this binary through a richness of affective inhabitation, with a marvelous metaphor of hand-shaking…

The reason why I have evidence of the other man’s being-there when I shake his hand is that his hand is substituted for my left hand, and my body annexes the body of another person in that “sort of reflection” it is paradoxically the seat of.

We can feel this. But in shaking hands it is never the case of merely one body then another, one hand then another. The inhabitation, the annexing, is ever always the case of past hands shaken, the firmness of the grip, the communications of regard, proximity, obliquely or directly steered directionality, things that communicate themselves with a musicality of culture, intent, habit, mise-en-scene  compassry, a panoply of effects stretching out in every direction. Even in this well-chosen example there is no dialogic. In shaking hands the world explodes and connects again, and in the aperture of what philosophers call “the Other” there are so many “others” (as in, alterations, ripples, unowned, unauthored echoes and vibrations).

In this sense, even as M. Ponty tries to invigorate the pale abstractions “the Other”, the “negation” , the “shadow”, the “shadow” with a material and bodily grounding, I think this only points to the dread mistake of beginning with these philosophical binaries born of Idealist conceptions of Consciousness, the centrality of Being. What is suppressed is the polyvocality of effects, and therefore is lost the full horizon of what actually is being engaged.

This has substantial consequence for how we read past philosophers. For instance as I mutually inhabit Spinoza’s mind/frame if I allowed myself to regularly think that I am doing so under dialogical experiences of mirroring and shadow making, bringing to his thought nothing that its outside of it, I would have occluded myself of the very richness of my mental hand. For instance, the inheritance of Pragmatism and Neoplatonism I regularly bring to Spinoza, and it would be a dis-service to pretend that this is not what I am doing. But it is more than this. In studying Spinoza’s optical practices, and reconstructing much of his possible physical experiences of daily lens-grinding, I also bring to his so-called “thought” something of the mutuality of an understanding of what bodily practices are expressed in thought. I understand his thought from within its prospective source. It is not mere reflection, but also that we share a world. If I imagine him at his lathe, engaging in repetitious circular motions of pressure, fine-detail polishing, the objectivity I appeal to is not Self-Other, but that of World. I am not seeking, or constructing the un-thought of his thought, because my engagement is not an ascent from what what below me. It is much more two strains of music finding harmony across a larger melody.

It is for this reason that when M. Ponty wants to concentrate on the interior of another thinker, sinking down into the bodily real of animality (always the interior for the phenomenologist)…

This is what animalia and men are: absolutely present beings who have a wake of the negative. A perceiving body that I see is also a certain absence that is hollowed out and tactfully dealt with behind that body by its behavior. But absence is itself rooted in presence; it is through his body that the other person’s soul is soul in my eyes.

…this is only half, or a third of it. This game of binaries always must call in more in order to make sense of it. It is never the case of interiors coming into contact with interiors, merely, but rather the concreteness of world which bridges and maintains any consonance whatsoever. There is never any “hollowing out” (except as a moment of occlusion). M. Ponty wants to play the +/- , Being/Non-Being, game albeit with a beautifully, and suitably animal body ethic. The music of engagement is always richer than this. What is “behind” behavior is thus not only what is “underneath” (as if we are playing with cloaks again, as Heidegger loves to do), but also beyond and outside, in our substantial mutuality of world. There is no negative.

An Illusion of Free Will: “I moved my mouth. I talked. What did I say?”



Ed Young posts on recent experiments in brain stimulation that produced something of the illusion of a freedom of will, or at least the solicitation of the desire to act in a particular way: Electrical stimulation produces feelings of free will (found through Speculative Heresy) The original journal article ,“Movement Intention After Parietal Cortex Stimulation in Humans”, tells of how stimulation of the Posterior Parietal Cortex in patients produced not only the distinct feeling that they wanted to move parts of their body, but when the stimulation increased also the belief that they actually had completed the action, though they had not. Ed Young provides an excellently concise summation of the findings, and even makes mention of Cartesian Dualism.

The Flying Stone of Free Will

I am not one for feeling that scientific observation usually resolves long-standing philosophical issues which are born of conceptual and terminological circuits, but this does seem to be something of a a check on the Spinoza side of the ledger (perhaps to be added to the several entered by Damasio). As Spinoza saw the issue of the freedom of the will, the sense that we are freely acting was merely the awareness of an appetite to action combined with an ignorance of the causes that determined that appetite, bringing it into being. We, like a hypothetical thinking stone that is flying through the air, only imagine that we are freely acting, while we have been “thrown” by any number of external (and internal) forces.

The core of this position is found in his letter 62/58 to Schaller (October, 1674), which I quote at length because he presents his vision so compactly. It is interesting that some of Spinoza’s most revelatory position passages come from his letters:

I, therefore, pass on to that definition of liberty, which he says is my own; but I know not whence he has taken it. I say that a thing is free, which exists and acts solely by the necessity of its own nature. Thus also God understands Himself and all things freely, because it follows solely from the necessity of His nature, that He should understand all things. You see I do not place freedom in free decision, but in free necessity. However, let us descend to created things, which are all determined by external causes to exist and operate in a given determinate manner. In order that this may be clearly understood, let us conceive a very simple thing. For instance, a stone receives from the impulsion of an external cause, a certain quantity of motion, by virtue of which it continues to move after the impulsion given by the external cause has ceased. The permanence of the stone’s motion is constrained, not necessary, because it must be defined by the impulsion of an external cause. What is true of the stone is true of any individual, however complicated its nature, or varied its functions, inasmuch as every individual thing is necessarily determined by some external cause to exist and operate in a fixed and determinate manner.

Further conceive, I beg, that a stone, while continuing in motion, should be capable of thinking and knowing, that it is endeavouring, as far as it can, to continue to move. Such a stone, being conscious merely of its own endeavour and not at all indifferent, would believe itself to be completely free, and would think that it continued in motion solely because of its own wish. This is that human freedom, which all boast that they possess, and which consists solely in the fact, that men are conscious of their own desire, but are ignorant of the causes whereby that desire has been determined. Thus an infant believes that it desires milk freely; an angry child thinks he wishes freely for vengeance, a timid child thinks he wishes freely to run away. Again, a drunken man thinks, that from the free decision of his mind he speaks words, which afterwards, when sober, he would like to have left unsaid. So the delirious, the garrulous, and others of the same sort think that they act from the free decision of their mind, not that they are carried away by impulse. As this misconception is innate in all men, it is not easily conquered.

The Moving of Lips

How amenable is this non-dualistic framework to the conditions that Ed Young reports, wherein the motor action was able to be parsed from the mere feeling of intention, so much so that subjects even could be caused to hold the belief that they had not only a volition, but also had acted upon it,

Desmurget, on the other hand, could only ever produce the illusion of movement by focusing on the parietal cortex. And his patients’ descriptions of their experiences made it very clear that they were feeling some sort of internal intention to move, rather than feeling compelled by an external force. Without any prompting from the researchers, they all described their feelings with words such as “will”, “desire” or “wanting to”. One of the patients said, “I felt a desire to lick my lips”, after a low burst of current. With more stimulation, he said “I moved my mouth. I talked. What did I say?”

More than ever we get the sense that Spinoza hit upon something significant when he qualified the ideas we have about the world as really ideas we have of our body being in a certain state or other. And even more so, we get a glimpse into the finesse behind Spinoza’s denial of the freedom of the will, a “freedom” that resided under the veil of our ignorance (all the while still asserting a rigorous ethics). It was no mere abstract imposition of determinism for the sake of determinism. Nothing is more tiresome than the well-worn arguments of the freedom of the will, it seems. But what this study suggests is that if we look at the materiality of our freedoms, the means by which we experience our intentions as free, perhaps another kind of freedom is available, that of knowledge of causes a path of freedom advocated by Spinoza.

Further, our experiences and beliefs about the factuality of our actions, our very autonomic natures, seem to be fundamentally tied to our experiences of our appetites as such. It is not simply the case that we can ask, “Was that movement freely willed?” but also must ask, “Did we actually do what we thought we wanted to?” Our very desires, if strong enough, are part of the perception of action itself, suggesting that the understanding and appreciation for our actions, or intentions, may spring from an understanding of desire and appetite itself, just as Spinoza thought.

Of course, once we start untangling the weave of free intentions, the consolidation of a pure human “subject” also begins to unspool.