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Category Archives: Spinoza

Spinoza Stock Up, Heidegger Riding High

UPDATE: As you can see from this site that philosophy stock prognosticator professor Harman references, Spinoza’s stock DID go up in 2009! (at least against Leibniz stock, which has been experiencing a trending downturn):

The Obama bailout must be having a decided effect on Spinoza Corp, which is still chasing the legendary profits of Leibniz in 2004-5. It may be seen as simply a return to mid-decade performance, or a sign that Spinoza Corp heath has tapped into new post-crisis resources and will leave Leibniz behind. Also Heidegger has been riding high for quite a while, exempting the blimp of Derrida’s death, suggesting that Heidegger is a bit recession proof, performing well in good times and bad, perhaps something like the Shirley Temple Effect.

On Massumi’s Parables of the Virtual: Movement

Opening lines…

When I think of my body and ask what it does to earn that name, two thing stand out. It moves. It feels. In fact, it does both at the same time. It moves as it feels, and it feels itself moving. Can we think of a body without this: an intrinsic connection between movement and sensation whereby each immediately summons the other.

I am reading Brian Massumi’s 2002 book now, and this blog is going to go through a bit of a change. Part of this transformation perhaps will be my reading of Massumi’s book, which I hope has the heft to throw me forwards. If not, it may be a mere diminishment. Selective responses to Massumi should appear here, perhaps as small gateways forwards.

To Massumi’s opening lines. Yes, body and movement. Note his reflexivity though. It moves as it feels (feeling=movement), but it feels itself move (movement=feeling itself). I wonder if he is conscious of this importation? Further, there is a dimension of feeling that he does not seem to consider in his binary. This is the feeling of densification. The feeling of sitting down into. The sensation which is only a movement by analogy. A heading down towards zero.

I write in the margins…

“I do not trust “change” in the concept – it is an utter denial of real change which neither a multiplicity, nor a difference  (somehow these binaries bleed as leeches). Change is a connectivity and a cohesion that does not bend back – you want to call it a fold.”

What do I mean by that? There has always been a fear of change that wants to domesticate it through ab-straction, it seems. And sometimes the worst of these are philosophies of change, those that attempt to depict it, praise it, raise it up. Who had more fear of change…Heraclitus or Parmenides? Nietzsche or Spinoza? I fear Massumi’s binary for the body. It cosies up to movement. But he is also right that philosophies of rupture missed something about change and movement, ever searching for the periodic gash, whether it be a revolution or symptomatic rent of the Real. This is just another fear of change, genuine transformation that occurs in the microbes of the soil, the smallest places, continually. As he writes of past recent philosophies…

The slightest ongoing qualitative change paled in comparison paled in comparison to the grandness of periodic “rupture”. Against that possibility, the everyday was the place where nothing ever happens.

I know that Massumi wants to work this sense of movement into Deleuze’s metaphysics of difference, one of the least interesting aspects of his thinking. I am hoping for more.

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?

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.

The “heart” of Neo-Liberalism, blah, blah, blah

While I try to shrug off all this Neo-liberalism this, and Neo-liberalism that, as other blogsters are using fancy acronyms for Neo-liberalism as if they are busy making entries in the Merck manual, this one passage of qualifications and analogies from the Neo-liberal hating Levi Bryant I find interesting (yes, he has equated Neo-liberalism with Nazism recently):

While I do not disagree with Rowan William’s thesis that the picture of the human as an intrinsically self-seeking creature constitutes a false anthropology, I have noticed that there is a tendency to treat the core of neo-liberal capitalist ideology as consisting almost entirely of this false anthropology. What is missing in this conception of neo-liberal ideology is the legal and normative framework that underlies this way of relating to the world and others. On the one hand, in order for neo-liberal capitalist ideology to get off the ground it requires what what might be called a “pure subject” or a “subject-without-qualities”, not unlike Descartes’ cogito or Kant’s transcendental unity of apperception. At the heart of neo-liberal capitalist ideology (NLCI) is not so much a subject pursuing self-interest, as a legal subject functioning as the substrate of property, commercial obligations and debts, and divorced from social context and conditions of production.

One can see right away from the bolded material that analogies abound. Levi objects to an anthropological view being read as the core of Neo-liberalism, because there is a framework (legal normative) in which (?) a substrate operates (legal subject) onto which various formal economic relations adhere.  What Levi denies, in something beyond a point of emphasis, is that the “heart” or the “core” of Neo-liberalism is the self-interested subject. Instead it is a mere formalism of “subject” and its laws. To put it briefly, it’s not the self-seeking, self-interested desiring-subject, it’s the structured-subject (legally and philosophically) that is the troublesome kernel of Neo-liberalism. Let’s leave aside the kind of rhetorical slippage between philosophical “subject” and legal “subject” here, is it really correct to say that THIS is the core/heart of Neoliberalism (whatever that is)?

From my perspective the attempt to minimize the anthropological myth, the idea that human beings are essentially and naturally selfish beings, and instead draw a different heart/core made of some kind of structuralization, misses something. The entire legal and normative framework, we would say, came into existence and into justification in the very strong context of the belief that human beings are self-interested beings, essentially. The entire formalized drive towards privatization is made in response to this picture of humanity, it is naturalized within it. While I’m not sure who is saying that Neo-liberalism is nothing but this myth – David Graeber does make a vivid anthropological argument that “even” exchange is something that is done between enemies, suggesting that economic models of abstract equivalencies are necessarily mythologically self-interested ones – I am also unsure how much of the “framework” and its formalized subject could operate without it. In fact, as Spinoza knew just at the cusp of the Cartesian subject, one cannot cut off the conception of the cogito from the idea of its separate faculties of Willing and Judgment. In order undo the abstract subject, willing and freedom have to be radicalized. The desiring subject, how it desires, and what it desires for is integral to the very isolation of the said “substrate” of the subject in the first place. In fact, all of this stems to a great degree from Representational conceptions of knowledge and related questions of autonomy, freedom and desire.

I don’t really know what good finding the heart or the core of Neoliberalism does, other than create a kind of rhetorical force to steady the aim of our critique. But I do doubt that our narratives about how humans naturally (or if one is in Lacanian moods, structurally) desire are not every bit as important as the laws and norms that are created to regulate and shape those desires. I personally find the Neo-liberalism stigma mark to be something of a canard, designed by those that think “radical break”, getting “outside”, is the only way towards justice, but in any case, philosophies of “lack” (including much of what flows from Hegel, and those that hunger after essentialized “nothingness” or “absence” or “object”) have a great deal to do with foreclosing the possibilities of thinking about the “subject”, or better, the self beyond its normative product-buying, object-chasing behavior. One  also has to ask, as we pre-occupy ourselves with “objects” as essential and constitutive relations, are we not already caught up in economies (of desire, of real capital) which presuppose the “lack” which drives them, sinking deeper into our mental concrete the assumptions which secure the relations we would wish to change or improve upon.

The Soul Crushed and Twisted by the Mechanical Arts – Plato

Plato’s Prisons of Techne

I repost here the quote from the Republic that in usual Platonic, imagistic language is full of potential truths. Here we find Socrates discrediting primarily the sophists, but really by virtue of a whole class of technically skilled [techne] workers, those whose power and knowledge consists in their experiences, and standing, as workers. In condensed fashion he runs the gambit from prisoners to technicians to mere machine workers. All of these he tells us, wish to gravitate, actually more, leap or fly to the prestige of philosophy:

Just as men out of prisons into holy sanctuaries are fleeing, so these joyous men out from technical arts are leaping into Philosophy, as if those being most intricate would hit upon the little art of themselves. For in comparison with the other arts the honor of philosophy even though abandoned is more magnificent. This is the flight of the many unaccomplished by nature, who from the technical arts and even workmanship, their bodies have been mutilated and their souls envined and even crushed through the mechanical arts.

Plato, Republic [495d]

Leaving the question of the sophists aside and picking up the word-image, we really have something here. There is the interminable sense that our experiences as workers confined to the techniques of our knowing and doing, caught within the demands of an economic and thereby psychic necessity, contort us, alter us. And Plato’s image is quite strong as he evokes the worker or technician (and some editors have thought that he had the military arts in mind, but the image carries through) whose body is maimed by the arts he practices. We see vividly the industry worker, or other friends of the “machine” who has lost fingers or received other bodily harm, even desk workers whose time in the chair have changed their posture. All of these graftings of a machinic upon the human body are rolled up into the image of the prisoner at the beginning of the passage, the one who is confined, shackled by circumstances of every degree. And all of these make for Socrates those who are unqualified to the seat of Philosopher. This is because, as the body is the image of the soul, it is not only bodies that have been exacted upon, it is souls, and here in the end forming a bookend to the prisoner the image is striking. The mechanical arts (by which we are to see mean arts, perhaps those of low craftsmen, even with the association of the weaver who is feminine), actually “envine”, they envelope and slowly twist and choke the soul, even eventually crush or pulverize it. What comes to mind for me is of a gear-working, a rack that out of its unnatural nature incrementally destroys the cognitive powers of the soul. Here “work” in every mechanical gradient becomes the equivalent of torture.

At a certain level we have condensed here all of the reasons why the economic freedoms of others become a high priority for us. For it is not just in political restriction that the voice and soul becomes contorted, but also that the very lived mechanical – and we read mechanical even in the most abstract sense of purposed and productive repetitions – states of workers are binding and cognitively contorting devices. At least that is the rhetorical picture. Aside from Plato’s political aim, the freeing of cognitions from devices remains a kind of halo of a hope, an attractor.

Scholastic Silence: How to Comtemplate

But in this ethical picture stands its opposite, the idea that the Philosopher is he who is not contorted, maimed or crushed. The one whose body and soul stands relatively whole, unpressured, the one who can see clearly, from a distance. It is there that Bourdieu’s critique of the “scholastic point of view” which I brought up in my last post, occurs. The production of the quietude of the Philosopher, the near monastic, let us say scholastic isolation from the contortions of mechanical art pressures, is, Bourdieu wants us to know, artificial. The cocoon and buffer that creates the gap between a world of devices and techniques exacted, and the imagined realm of reasons, has to be built. It has been constructed through labors which themselves are structured. And then it too is structured by internal devices and arts. What Bourdieu wants us to know is that when the philosopher adopts the scholastic point of view, he/she is likely carrying with him/her the vast train of social constructions (literal constructions) which enable that monastic cell of contemplation, and there is both a social and epistemic responsibility towards the excavation of those inherited and largely unconscious relations (an excavation that in some sense is retarded by flat ontologies who know only their surface).

The One Machinist of the 17th Century

In a way it is the Philosopher who knows least the mutilations of his/her body, the envinings of his/her soul, the pulverizations, due to the very quietude of contemplation. And to this great dis-orientation of thinking towards the mere mechanical, my mind turns towards the rise of the philosophy of the mechanical, the Dutch flowering of Cartesian mechanism. It seems here that most, if there was to be a philosophy that embraced the mechanical nature of thinking it would be found here. I wrote some time ago about the “hand of de Beaune” a brilliant mathematician who was working hard in the service of Descartes on the production of a fantastic automated lens-grinding machine :Descartes and Spinoza: Craft and Reason and The Hand of De Beaune. With somewhat of a coincidence de Beaune’s hand was severely cut just as Plato’s technician’s body was maimed. Descartes’ dream though was of producing machines which no hand would touch, pure, abstract machines, concretized maths, in a sense, those which would free the otherwise fettered human mind. Plato’s dichotomy duplicates itself, the machine as enemy to the mind because of the body, as well as its instrumental aid. As I have pointed out in my investigation of Spinoza’s lens-grinding, Spinoza was the only “worker” of the period, and in fact the only craftsman per se. While lens-grinding and machine fascination was an elite hobby among the new scientist riche, Spinoza was actually a worker, and engaged his lens lathe daily as a matter of his economic sustainance. Deep in this machinic age, only Spinoza new the machine in a fashion Plato’s Socrates could not. He knew it with his hands.

In an interesting fashion, Spinoza’s “scholastic point of view” embodies a unique self-reflective awareness that is encapsulated in his worker, machine status, as well as one might admit, his standing as an ostricized Jew. He occupied a position at the border, a stand-point, that made of his quietude a different sort of awareness. Born of the age of the machine, Spinoza understood the human being too as a device, a complex series of ordinations, to which other complex serieses of ordinations are connected, a “spiritual automaton” he called the human being. In this awareness the “worker” takes on a different place: Not that of “prisoner” to stand in dialectical opposition to the unmutilated man, but of machinic degree. Our work becomes an expression of machines, machines of which we never extricate ourselves. It is only that we need to choose our machines (those of which we are made) more carefully, with an eye to liberation. The gaze of leisure is to be questioned.

Blogged Quietism

In this view blogging of course becomes a significant phenomena. Some philosophical bloggers write out of a self-created cocoon to escape the twisting techne of university or college, forming however brief a contemplation of respite, engaging the machinic of the internet. Some blog in order to be able to speculate, to freely exhibit what they might be able to think, if they were allowed to. Yet, as we produce our ideas and disseminate them, to the degree that we do not embrace the machinic, we are fraught with generating the modes that have produced our monk-cell, unconsciously, not recognizing the shapes of our bodies and souls.

Atop this image of the mechanical arts that contort there is the artist, we might say, is also the self-artist. The one that grasps the inherent machinic character of the human, and purposely undergoes specific machinic contortions upon both body and soul, not to perfect, but to express (and to some degree soterologically free themself and others from) the specific techne of the world, as it stands. To take on the machine, in the way that a poet takes on a complex meter.

Fascist Bindings In Latour: The Blinding Glory of Non-Human Agency

I’m still reading and digesting the essay, but Steve Fuller’s critical treatment of Latour, with its deep investigation into the economic and political matrix out of which it came is extremely interesting reading, in particular for those that imagine that there is something inherently liberating by either Flat Ontologies, or the raising of objects to the level of actor.  I want to reproduce here two pages of thought provoking text wherein Latour and ANT is taken to task for its Capitalist and Fascist potentiality, as well as an implicit Neoliberal stake (which Fuller examines elsewhere). For an panpsychist like me, an advocate for Animal Agency-Right recognitions, and a thorough-going Cybernetic conception of mankind and human beings, this presents a serious challenge on the ethical/political axis. If it is to be resolved, for a Spinozist, it is within the one thing that separates out Spinoza, strongly, from Latour, the power of rational explanation of cause, and the directional degree of liberation entailed in forming networks in the first place. The one thing that unbinds any imposed corporeal union of technology and humanity, is the dutiful liberation of all elements beyond their single axis of connection or network. Otherwise Fascism haunts.

It is worth considering that Fuller brings up some of the recent commentary fears that have attended criticism of various blogged appropriations of Latour which stake their soul upon not being Neoliberal, and certainly not Fascist. Some have feared that displacing the importance of the human is a demotion of human, in particular of political concerns. Fuller raises this problem of increase agency under the auspices of liberation with some worthy argument. I have an answer for this from a Spinozist, non-Flat perspective, but I’m unsure if the new metaphysicians of Latour do.

I hope to formulate a more comprehensive post of Fuller’s point, and the Spinozist answer, in particualr of the terms where Latour and Spinoza agree. I duplicate the prose here because the pages are relatively succinct and convincing in their argument, and form a kind of brief, elegant picture of what is wrong with Flat Ontology, in particular from a political and ethical perspective.

This last point is worth stressing because actor-network theory is full of emancipatory-sounding talk that claims to reveal the “missing masses” needed for any large-scale sociotechnical achievement. However, the masses are presented as if they were literally physical masses whose movement is necessary to give an elite forward momentum. The agency of these masses is thus limited to the extension or withdrawal of collaboration, not the initiation of action. The current fashion for distributing agency across both people and things merely underscores the value of the masses as means to the ends of other parties, since in many cases nonhumans turn out to be at least as helpful as humans in achieving those ends. (The locus classicus is Callon 1986; for subsequent applications, see Ashmore and Harding 1994.) Although actor-network enthusiasts often make much of the innovative political vision implied in this extension of agency from persons to things, some disturbingly obvious precedents for this practice seem to have been suppressed from STS’s collective memory, the first from capitalism and the second from totalitarianism. The first precedent concerns actor-network theory’s affinity with the metaphysics of capitalism, which, through the process of commodification, enables the exchange of human and machine labor on the basis of such systemic values as productivity and efficiency. This is the sense in which technology is normally regarded as a “factor of production,” that is, a potentially efficient replacement of people. Indeed, the metaphysically distinctive tenet of socialism in modern political economy has been its revival of the medieval doctrine that human beings are the ultimate source of value in the world. But like capitalist cost accounting, actor-network theory knows no ontological difference between humans and machines. Consequently, the subtext of the title of Latour (1993), We Have Never Been Modern, might have read “We Have Never Been Socialist” to capture the increasingly neoliberal climate of French science policy that makes ontological leveling seem so attractive. This point is lightly veiled in Latour’s refashioning of the word “delegation” to capture the process whereby humans and nonhumans exchange properties, which legitimates the treatment of humans as cogs in the wheels of a machine, and machines as natural producers of value.

Here we might compare the Parisian treatment with the most developed set of arguments for extending agency to nonhumans. These fall under the rubric of “Animal Liberation,” as popularized by the Australian moral philosopher Peter Singer (1975). In this guise, the politics of agency veers toward restraint and caution rather than mobilization and facilitation. An important difference between Singer and Latour is that the Animal Liberation movement has gravitated toward a conception of “animal rights” modeled on the civil rights accorded to humans. Significantly, a sentient creature, usually a mammal, is the paradigm case of a “nonhuman.” In contrast, the various Parisian exemplars of a “nonhuman” have typically resided much lower on the evolutionary scale: scallops, microbes, and even mechanical door closers all serving as examples at various points (Callon 1986; Latour 1988, 1995). The overall effect is that in its proliferation of agency, actor-network theory dehumanizes humans, while Animal Liberation humanizes animals.

When Hegel, following Spinoza, said that freedom fully realized is the recognition of necessity, he had in mind an idea that can easily be lost in the liberatory rhetoric associated with the extension of agency to nonhumans, namely, that to increase the number of agents is not to increase the amount of agency in the world. On the contrary, it is to limit or redefine the agency of the already existing agents.A’s full recognition of B’s agency requires that A either make room for B as a separate agent or merge with B into a new corporate agent. In both cases, A is forced to alter its own identity. In the former case, the change may be rationalized as A’s coming to lead a simpler life, whereas in the latter, it may be rationalized as A’s now having access to more power than before. The former corresponds to Animal Liberation, the latter to actor-network theory: the former retains the human as unique agent (at least at the species level) but at the cost of diminished wants and power, whereas the latter magnifies the wants and power of the human but at the cost of rendering each individual a (potentially replaceable) part of the larger corporate machinery. (For an earlier treatment that mistakenly assimilated actor-network theory to the Animal Liberationist perspective, see Fuller 1996.) Animal Liberation’s excesses are regularly documented in the forced entries into university laboratories to “free” animals that have been caged for experimental purposes. Yet, there is an even less savory precedent for the extremes to which an actor-network perspective can be taken, namely, the twentieth century’s unique contribution to political theory and practice: totalitarianism. Contrary to Latour’s oft-repeated claim that politics has never taken technology seriously, totalitarian regimes stand out from traditional forms of authoritarianism precisely by the role assigned to technology as the medium through which citizens are turned into docile subjects, specifically, parts of a corporate whole.

While attention has usually focused on totalitarian investments in military technology, of more lasting import have been totalitarian initiatives in the more day-to-day technologies associated with communication, transportation, and building construction. The early stages of these developments already informed science policy debate in continental Europe at the dawn of the twentieth century (Fuller 2000, chap. 2, sec. 3). Ultimately, these technologies enabled unprecedented levels of mass surveillance and mobilization, all in the name of configuring the national superagent. In the course of this configuration, any sharp division between humans and nonhumans was removed. An important consequence was that a subset of the human population— say, the Jewish race or Communist ideologues—could be excluded from the corporate whole as such great security risks that the rest of the human population would agree to submit themselves to sophisticated invasive technologies in order to become part of, say, the “Nazi cyborg.”

This last point was first made by Carl Schmitt, the Weimar jurist who provided the original legal justification for the one-party state that became Nazi Germany. Schmitt ([1932] 1996) held that technology was the latest and most durable corporate glue because its apparently neutral character seemed to impact everyone equally, thereby enabling conflict to metamorphose from the elite cross-border confrontations of the past to “total war” involving a nation’s entire population. Schmitt envisaged that the threat of an external foe more powerful than any internal foe would lead citizens to submit to the application of mass technologies for purposes of defeating that foe, however much their own personal freedoms may be constrained. Actor-network theory can be understood as the account of society that results once there is no longer a hegemonic state apparatus in charge of this technostructure: a devolved totalitarian regime; in a phrase, flexible fascism. Instead of a unitary state that renders everyone a means to its specific ends, now everyone tries to render everyone else a means to their own ends. The former members of the corporatist state may have lost their sense of common purpose, but they retain the personal ethic which attended that purpose. The difference in actual outcomes is much less predictable than under a totalitarian regime, but ultimately explainable in terms of the agents’ differential access to the resources needed to attain their ends. Thus, the necessitarian myths that originally propped up Mussolini, Hitler, and Stalin have now yielded to contingent narratives centered on Pasteur (by Latour), Edison (by Hughes), and Seymour Cray (the inventor of the mainframe computer, by MacKenzie).

Indeed, one of the eerier similarities between the predilections of totalitarian and actor-network theorists is the glorification of the heroic practitioner—be it the power politician or the heterogeneous engineer—whose force of will overcomes the self-imposed limitations of superstitious citizens and academics in the grip of a theory. Thus, comparable to Pareto’s disdain for the planning pretensions of social democrats is Callon’s (1987, esp. 98ff.) contempt for the sociologists Pierre Bourdieu and Alain Touraine, who define in mere words the contemporary state of French society, something engineers supposedly do much more effectively in their daily practice.

One of the most remarked upon features of fascist ideology is its easy combination of an animistic view of nature, a hyperbolic vision of the power of technology, and diminished sense of individual human agency. The same could be said of the “delegations” and “translations” that characterize the accounts of sociotechnical systems provided by actor-network theory. Interestingly, in his brief discussion of totalitarianism, Latour (1993, 125-27) comes closest to endorsing the Pirandellist “it is so, if you think so” form of relativism of which his critics have often accused him. Specifically, he explains the formidability of totalitarian regimes in terms of a widespread belief in their underlying philosophies, rather than, say, the collective impact of the actions taken under their name. Latour officially wants to ensure that people are not inhibited by philosophies that stray too far from the scene of action, but his argument also implies that one ought not be inhibited from forming alliances with people to whom such philosophical labels as “totalitarian,” “capitalist,” and “imperialist” are conventionally attached. In this way, Latour allows nominalism all too easily to slide into opportunism (22-24)

“Why Science Studies Has Never Been Critical of Science Some Recent Lessons on How to Be a Helpful Nuisance and a Harmless Radical”, Steve Fuller

Thank you for the essay Adriano.