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Seminar on Joy’s Transformation: Cybernetic Achilles

The Serpent, Sea and Fire: Thinking Beyond the Skin

In the comments section over at In the Middle, Eileen Joy mentioned a seminar she teaches that really fascinated me, (and made me wish I could attend it), Bodies-Becoming & Identity Machines: Post/human Literatures, the syllabus of which she posts here. Any synthesis that contains the trinity of Grimm, Carroll and K. Dick simply thrills. In her description she quotes G&D’s ATP on the concept of a book…

. . . contrary to a deeply rooted belief, the book is not an image of the world. It forms a rhizome with the world, there is an aparallel evolution of the book and the world; the book assures the deterritorialization of the world, but the world effects a reterritorialization of the book, which in turn deterritorializes itself in the world (if it’s capable, if it can).

As she announces, referring to Haraway,

“In this course, we are going to explore how, following the thinking of Donna Haraway, the body does not end at the limits of the skin, but is dispersed across a world of affects, intensities, and objects. We will be especially interested in exploring hybridities and transformations of different “selves” that cross unexpected borders, from plant to insect to wolf to human to machine and beyond.”

Thoughts of this unity of transformation of course churn up all kinds of associations, with Kafka and von SacherMasoch heading the list when we are dealing with Guattari and Deleuze. But for me these kinds of trans-skin boundaries conjure up something more ancient than even Ovid. I think of Thetis, the mother of Achilles, for some reason.

The Frayed Threads of Divinity 

If you recall, Zeus was forewarned that if he bedded the sea-goddess Thetis the offspring would come to overthrow him. Wisely so, he forced Thetis to take on a mortal spouse, turning aside the divine fate, weaving it instead into a human line. But like the more well-known story of Menelaus in the Odyssey, who had to wrestle a shape-changing sea god Proteus, Peleus, the soon-to-be father of Achilles, had to wrestle Thetis in order to win her. It is this image that comes to mind, as Apollodorus tells it…

Chiron, therefore, having advised Peleus to seize her and hold her fast in spite of her shape-shifting, he watched his chance and carried her off, and though she turned, now into fire, now into water, and now into a beast, he did not let her go till he saw that she had resumed her former shape.


[Above: Peleus depicted as seizing Thetis around the waist, with the attendant creatures of transformation]

Here we have not a constant transmutation into a line of flight, but rather the wrestled hold upon transmutation until it shows its original/constant face. The female element passes through degrees of being. (A description of the late Mannerist depictions of Peleus and Thetis in Athenian vase: here.) So at first glimpse the Peleus/Thetis trial does not seem to hit immediately upon what Eileen is talking about…but give it a moment. Apollodoros continues…

And he married her on Pelion, and the gods celebrated the marriage with feast and song. And Chiron gave Peleus an ashen spear, and Poseidon gave him horses, Balius and Xanthus, and these were immortal.

When Thetis had got a babe by Peleus, she wished to make it immortal, and unknown to Peleus she used to hide it in fire by night in order to destroy the mortal element which the child inherited from its father, but by day she anointed him with ambrosia. But Peleus watched her, and, seeing the child writhing on the fire, he cried out; and Thetis, thus prevented from accomplishing her purpose, forsook her infant son and departed to the Nereids. Peleus brought the child to Chiron, who received him and fed him on the inwards of lions and wild swine and the marrows of bears, and named him Achilles…

The Library, III. xiii 5-6

Here we see the involution of the divine, now sought to be undone by the female power of transformation itself. Out of her shame she seeks to purify her son, burning the mortality right out of him. There is something remarkable about this image of the divine mother hiding her infant in the fire at night, and the infant writhing. The polymorphic materal body becomes not just a transverse cacophony, but a burning torture of purification itself. If we are to grant some sort of  Oedipal (and fatherly) cutting of the jouissance cord of agony/ecstasy, we see that the child is then joined powerfully to the wild/animal world through the surrogate Chiron. Not fires, but beasts feed him, in fact the core parts of beasts, intestines and marrows. The transformation of the child is no longer external, but internal, through nourishment most raw.

Achilles: The First Cybernetic Man

The boundaries of his skin, to take up again the Haraway’s distinction, are consecutively they are permeated unto transformation. The series of his mother has been embodied in a temporal succession of development. But there is more to add to this figure. As Frazer (the Loeb translator and editor) notes there is another legend of this story found in various mythological summations and scholia, as he retells it,

Thetis bore seven sons, of whom Achilles was the seventh; she destroyed the first six by throwing them into the fire or into a kettle of boiling water to see whether they were mortal or to make them immortal by consuming the mortal portion of their frame; and the seventh son, Achilles, would have perished in like manner, if his father Peleus had not snatched him from the fire at the moment when as yet only his anklebone was burnt. To supply this missing portion of his body, Peleus dug up the skeleton of the giant Damysus, the fleetest of all the giants, and fitted it neatly into the ankle of his little son, Achilles, applying drugs which caused the new, or rather old, bone to coalesce perfectly with the rest.

This one is just brilliant. Achilles is not only the birth-son of a divine/human interface, the warp and weft of human excellence, but he is also a cybernetic construction of an ancient past, a grafted inclusion of a lost Age of beings. And it must be embraced that the largeness of the former time is fitted to the infant’s body with a “drugs”. I assume here that Frazer is speaking of a “pharmakon” with is a recipe, a technology (technique), an invention of elements arranged, a potion, a medicine, a poison. Achilles, the first technological man.

There is something about this abberant version of the myth that speaks to just what the trans-human, post-human trajectory of path is. Our technologies are ever through combination beyond our skin’s boundaries, incorporating past and buried powers (those skeletons of flesh), with our own bodies, in novel ways. What is buried in the earth of our mutual past is exhumed and woven in, with pharmakon  magic (readers note of course the Derrida love for Plato’s myth on the origin of writing, calling it indeterminantly, a pharmakon.)

Lastly we understand what happens to this transformative thread, as it has been twisted through a human world. Zeus’s non-born son, is in-born in the human, and lastly, through the various intersections of the lines of flight, enters history. The transformations amid skin are lastly proven out in history itself, from which we get the Iliad


Related Post: An Achillean Economy: The Economy of Thymotics and Anger, Sloterdijk

The Bristling of Wheat, The Warming of the Thymos

I was talking with my wife today about how our Cattle Dog pup’s fur bristles with fear/excitment when she steps out at night and smells the air, to howl or bark. She was saying how we all know what this feels like, despite our species differences, and what came to mind were a wonderful word-image of Homer’s on how the thymos of an angered man can come to be “warmed” or “softened”. This has consequences I believe for a general theory of Thymotics, as I joined Sloterdijk to advocate perhaps a different notion of economy. 

…and his spirit (thumos)
was warmed (ianthē), just like the dew upon the ears of corn
of a ripening crop, when the ploughlands are bristling (phrissō):
even so, Menalaos, was the spirit (thumos) in your heart warmed (ianthē)
Trans. Nicholas Richardson (Chapter 23 @ line 600)

Richardson translates these lines beautifully, showing their circular structure. The image is that of a thumos (heart, spirit, passion) that upon being warmed by the sun, simply evaporates, bringing the crops to grow. This is in restorative relation to the other images of desire, earlier in the Iliad describe as being vapor-like (kapnos) in the context of loss: the honey-sweet thumos that waxes like kapnos in anger at 18.110 where Achilles savors his anger over his lost Patroklus, and then Patroklus’ psuchē which goes into the earth like kapnos vapor, where Achilles cannot grasp it, 23.100. Instead here, in the shadow of Achilles’s adjudication, the thumos is warmed like dew is, under a divine sun. The bristling of the corn-wheat, phrissousin, has rich meaning; the word can mean anything from physically bristling to having a chill or a shudder, or even holy awe.

What does it take to see the whole world as bristling?

The Power of Political Silence: Achilles, Antigone and Ignatius

The non-Being of Speech

In researching and thinking on political/philosophical application of the ideal of Achilles (written about here) I’ve run into a provocative quotation from the early Christian Bishop Ignatius:

It’s better to be silent and to be rather than speak and not to be. Teaching is a fine thing provided that he who speaks also does; there is “one Teacher” who “spoke and it was done”, and what he has done in silence is worthy of the Father. He who possesses the word of Jesus can in truth also hear his silence, so as to be perfect, and so that through what he speaks, he may act, and through what he keeps silent, he may be judged. (ad Ephesios 4. 1.2)

[Found in Language in the Confessions of Augustine, Burton]

Immediately came to mind the withdrawal of Achilles from the Hellenic contingent, and his self-imposed silence on the matter because he had no proper “being” in the speech that was available to him. Eventually, in the ninth book, he will address the hall, and speak in a unique what that defies and re-defines the language game before him. Here in Ignatius’s appeal to the being of silence and the non-being of speech, the coherence of speech and action we find the very values of integrity speech that Achilles scolds Odysseus as failing to hold. Any Achillean, thymotic economy of political power must employ silence one would think.

Also recalled for me is the silence of Antigone, her withdrawal from the social order. There are many comparisons to be made between Achilles and Antigone, and I believe that Sophocles had the hero of the Iliadin mind when writing his tragedy. She completes her act of burial silently, and in her initial interaction with Kreon is nearly mute. And, like Achilles, when she does speak, she speaks in a way that uttterly torques the language game custom into which she has entered, speaking as if “the man”.

There is something worth contemplating here, “It is better to be silent and to be rather than speak and not to be,” as Ignatius advises. He is thinking of a particular political situation in this context (the Bishop of Ephesus), but I think his words can be extrapolated out to the very corners of what “being” is. In an illustration I often return to Tommaso Campanella compares existence with the very terminus of a line, wherein we reach the capacity of ourselves, coming right up against our non-being (all of what we are not). Speaking can threaten our capacities to be if we do not fully deploy ourselves within it. Teachers must speak fully. And silence is often a power that can be drawn on.

An Achillean Economy: The Economy of Thymotics and Anger, Sloterdijk

What is Greek Thymos?

The above is a signature clip from Andrei Tarkovsky’s hauntful meditation on the role of the artist in society, not to mention amid Soviet Society. There may be no greater film made on the subject of the artist than Andrei Rublev. The final chapter of the bell casting is so redounding on the issue of tradition and making, it to this day stirs and moves me. (It was a film that actually put me to sleep in the first three attempted DVD viewings. Like Freud’s the-father-who awoke-from-the-dream-of-his-son-burning, I dove into my dream rather than endure its somnambulant truth, it would seem.)

But the horse of above, for those who do not know the film, can be seen as a certain effervescence of life, a kind of natural expression that society can work to suppress. The horse, an animal of pride and tremendous strength, of the herd and a social order that is beyond the wisdom of the bit, here frolics in a way that seems to criticize the human order of the film’s brutal wars and stern, religious transcendental ambitions/isolations/silences. The horse expresses itself upon and within the field.

Why do I bring up Tarkovsky’s colt here? In recent posts, after my raising the possibility of an informative critique of Western philosophy following the Attic Greek contrast between the Ages of Achilles and Odysseus, attempting to reposition Achillean Immanence against modernist Odysseusean Instrumentality and Wanderlust, Mark Crosby was good enough to point out a rather thorough comparison between my thoughts and those presented by Peter Sloterdijk in his yet to be translated Zorn und Zeit (Anger and Time). I have to say, I just love when I find strong parallels between my own prospective thinking and the cross weft of someone else. It is as if we have fallen upon a great store of possibilities. So this post is an attempt to come to grips with some of the confluences.

“The menis (wrath), do godess sing, of the Peleusian Achilles,/destructive” (Iliad’s first line)

I will go into Sloterdijk’s thoughts more deeply in a moment, but for now it is enough to say that he, like me, returns to the epic of the Iliad, and the figure of Achilles’s  anger, as a starting point for an ideal to be followed in human relations. He proposes that the menis/wrathof the poem’s initial line is not a personal wrath, but in a sense civic and divine wrath, a natural product of the thymos (heart, spirit, passion, force) of a person before the failings of the political. Instead of an economy of lack, eros, object-oriented projections, such as that which Western civilization has evolved and Continental philosophy has often emphasized, a economy of thymos, of gift, and righteous anger is preferred. The reason why I have brought up the horse of Tarkovsky is that I believe it helps us understand something of the Greek conception of what Thymos is. When I think of thymos, I think of horses.. When reading a Greek characteristic, it is often advisable to turn to the hyperbolic form of it, as is the case with the thymotic (LSJ):

Hyperthumos, on,
A. high-spirited, high-minded, daring, freq. in Hom., in good sense, Il.2.746, 5.376, al., cf. Hes.Th.937, Pi.P.4.13, B.12.103, etc.: irreg. Sup., “huperthume statos andron” Stesich.95.
II. in bad sense, overweening, Od.7.59, Hes.Th.719, AP6.332 (Hadr.); over-spirited, of a horse, X.Eq.3.12.
III. vehemently angry, Poll.6.124. Adv., “hyperthumosagan” in over-vehement wrath, A.Eu. 824.
IV. in Adv. also, eagerly, readily, IGRom.4.1302.12(Cyme, i B. C./i A. D.).
Among these definitions we have the example of the over-spirited horse, citing Xenophon’s On the Art of Horsemanship:
To sum up: the horse that is sound in his feet, gentle and fairly speedy, has the will and the strength to stand work, and, above all, is obedient, is the horse that will, as a matter of course, give least trouble and the greatest measure of safety to his rider in warfare. But those that want a lot of driving on account of their laziness, or a lot of coaxing and attention on account of their high spirit, make constant demands on the rider’s hands and rob him of confidence in moments of danger.

We recall the figure of the “horse-trainer” from Socrates of the Apology (25b). The over-thymotic  man, someone like Achilles, is in a sense the unbroken man, the one that will not take the bit, the one withtoo much soul. How is society to deal with the thymos, and eventually the menis-wrath of the over-souled person or peoples? Is the only rapidly expandable economy that of Capitalism’s desire and lack-driven instrumentalities, vanishing petite object a’s, economies that work by “sublimating” into atomized individual of guilt and pleasure, or worse and alternately as Sloterdijkwill tell us, the vast “banking” of thymotic  anger within a social collective, resenting Revolutionary Left?

Sloterdijk’s Zorn und Zeit

I have not read Anger and Time, and am not overly familiar with Sloterdijk’s  philosophy so I will have to rely upon the two English reviews linked by Mark, and use extensive quotation so as to build something of a dialogue in thought with the book. At the very least the quotations here might give a context to arguments I am presenting.

Anger and Time: a critical assessment” [click here] , Miguel de Beistegui

“Zorn und Zeit” [click here], Fransisco R. Klauser

epd society and space

Klauser sets us in the right place, positioning the divinity of Achillean anger as part of a wide, historical immanence of rightful, citizened, defense against political injustice. In this telling Achilles is the power which will not submit to opportunism and legal or customary usurpation. It is the feeling in the breast that grows almost without object, but merely as an objection.

Sloterdijk’s reading of the Greek heroic epos, the imaginary space of gods, half-gods, and divinely chosen angry heroes, underlines that in ancient Hellenistic mythology the origins of anger are neither located in the earthly world, nor attributed to individuals’ personalities. Anger is rather understood as a possessed, divine capacity, a god-favoured eruption of power. Hence the birth of the hero as a prophet, whose task is to make the message of his god-given anger an immediate reality (pages 23 , 24). For Homer, to sing the praises of Achilles’ heroism also and ultimately means to celebrate the existence of divine forces, which are releasing society from its vegetative daze, through the mediation of the godly chosen `bringer of anger and revenge’.

It is from the Greek mythological relationship with anger that Sloterdijk derives his own conceptualisation of anger through the figure of Thymos. Originally denominating both the Greek hero’s specific organ for the reception of god-given anger and the bodily location of his proud self, Thymoslater with  Plato, and following the generaltransformationof the Greek psyche from heroic  belligerent to more civic virtues, stands for the righteous anger of the Greek citizen as a means of defence from insults and unreasonable attacks (page 42).With the figure of Thymos set against the psycho-analytical focus on Eros, anger, for Sloterdijk, is not only a vent for frustrated desires, but also, and rather, a reactive manifestation of offended pride. (Klauser)

As we can see from this paragraph’s end, the economics of Thymos, of soul and anger, vary withthose of Eros diagnosed and thus developed by psychoanalysis. In the notion and confirmation of pride, no longer is this a question of objects, or payments, but of relations. Achilles puts this very pricelessness forth, in defiance of what is hidden, in his ninth book refusal to be bought off by Agamemnon and Odysseus.

Neither counsel will I devise with him nor any work, [375] for utterly hath  he deceived me and sinned against me. Never again shall he beguile me with words; the past is enough for him. Nay, let him go to his ruin in comfort, seeing that Zeus the counsellor hathutterlyrobbedhim of his wits. Hateful in my eyes are his gifts, I count them at a hair’s1 worth. Not though he gave me ten times, aye twenty times all that now he hath, [380] and if yet other should be added thereto I care not whence, not though it were all the wealth that goeth in to Orchomenus, or to Thebes of Egypt, where treasures in greatest store are laid up in men’s houses,-Thebes which is a city of an hundred gates where from sally forth through each two hundred warriors with horses and cars; [385] -nay, not though he gave gifts in number as sand and dust; not even so shall Agamemnon any more persuade my soul, until he hath paid the full price of all the despite that stings my heart. (A. T. Murray translation)

One also recalls the Achillean novella Michael Kohlhaas by Heinrich von Kleist, wherein the hero refuses all possibility of payment or retribution, aside from the restoration of his one horse once illegitimately taken, setting the entire land to war. Righteous indignation allows no translated payment, no abstraction of a wrong. No amount of instrumental increase can restore the injury to the heart.

Miguel de Beistegui continues on with the theme, developing the historical critique that Sloterdijk brings to libidnal organizations. Once anger is internalized, and begins to be “banked”, or better, “stored up” (in just the kind of hydraulic metaphors psychoanalysis enjoys), it enters into a different economy: an economy of objects, an economy of hatred, instead of thymos or menis. Interestingly, Sloterdijk characterizes this real banking of anger not so much of the Christianized soul (which begins this internalization), but of the Revolutionary Left (which of course has its distinct history of brutal and collective abuses).

So, beginning with the fact and facticity of anger, Zorn und Zeit describes its economy or, more precisely still, its two possible economies, that is, the way it is and has been managed collectively in European history. The first type of economy is connected with a certain Greek, and specifically Homeric stance, the contemporary equivalent of which Peter Sloterdijk seeks to identify in a renewed concept of pride partakes of a healthy “thymotics”. It originates from the thymos, or the part of the soul that, according to the early Greeks, and up until Plato, was thought to be the site of the noblest affects. The second type of economy, on the other hand, is associated with the main processes of collection or gathering of anger, namely, Judeo-Christian metaphysics, and revolutionary politics. It originates from the erotic part of the soul, which defines the envious, libidinal partof the human psyche. If one can speak of anger in both instances, one also needs to emphasise the fact that they do not originate in the same part of the soul. As soon as anger is conserved, preserved, or interiorised, as soon as it is allowed, or worse still, encouraged, to accumulate, as soon as its externalisation is deferred, it enters into a different kind of economy in fact, it enters what has come to be associated with economy as such, and by that we mean the economy of accumulation, growth, and interest. Like monetary economy, the economy of anger crosses its critical threshold when anger rises and moves from a state of local accumulation and punctual expenditure [revenge to] that of a systematic investment and cyclical growth most notably, revolution, especially in its global ambition.

Paradoxically, then, and almost perversely, Sloterdijk argues that the revolutionary movements of the last two centuries, and the communist revolutions in particular, partake of an essentially capitalistic economy of anger that contradicts and undermines the very politicaleconomy it seeks to promote. In other words, and from the point of view of its dominant affect, communism would be driven by the very economy that it seeks to overturn. It would itself be an expression of the drive to accumulate, invest, and live off its capital. It would itself operate like a gigantic bank, in which the world reserve of anger would be deposited, and would grow, with a view to its final and total mobilisation in the name of a global revolution.

Under Sloterdijk’s review, Communist projects partake in the very anger-banking processes that drive the Capitalist machine that it seeks to overthrow. The resentment attributed to the priest of Christianity by Nietzsche is accumulated into a great reservoir of assembled power, a power directly attributed to libidinal organizations of psychoanalysis and beyond. And this organization is distinctly that of object-orientation, the internalization and projection upon, control over objects in the world:

The catastrophic effect of psychoanalysis, according to Sloterdijk, lies in its analysis of the conditio humana as a whole on the basis of the dynamic of the libido, and thus on the basis of erotism. This approach would not have been problematic, had it not been developed at the expense of the pole of thymotic energies (page 27). Yet such a one-sided view was no coincidence: the thymotic had long ceased to be valued and analysed as the site of possible values and virtues, with a few notable exceptions, such as Nietzsche and, more recently, Bataille. Psychoanalysis was and remains (for instance, in its Lacanian version) an economy of compensation and sublimation, born of an original and irreducible experience of lack:  “Whereas erotism indicates ways towards the `objects’ that we lack and in the possession or proximity of which we feel fulfilled, thymotics opens up ways for the human being to value what it has, what it can be, what it is, and what it wants to be” (page 30). In other words, the shift from erotism to thymotics, which Zorn und Zeit hopes to facilitate, is a shift from an economy of possession and lack to an economy of being, power, and plenitude. Throughout history, anger has been eroticised, that is, reduced to libidinal impulses defined by their lack and their weakness. Whenever the human condition is defined by a constitutive lack, also known as sin, the “ethics of indignity” prevail.

Here is where I find my greatest affinity with Sloterdijk’s ideas, for it was specifically the contrast between the ever-devising, instrumentalist Odysseus who has come in some modern philosophy quarters to essentialize the existential crisis of modern human beings, bothblessed and cursed by their technological powers, that the Greeks of Athens and even long before positioned Achillean immanence of rightful anger and immanent, eruptive power. It is precisely in terms of what is “hidden” (a favorite of such objectologists as Heidegger) and the character of device users that Achilles forms his objection to Odysseus’s very machinationed mind at the start of his book nine speech:

Zeus-born, Laertean, poly-machinationed, Odysseus, it must be now that the telling – spoken outright – it is declared, even as I have the sense, accomplished it shall be, so not with me you’ll murmur seated near another to another. For an enemy to me is that man – equal to Hades’ gates – who a different thing he hides in his chest, yet another thing he would have said. Nay, I will say what appears to me to be best.

For the Achillean, one does not hide what is other in one’s breast but speaks forthrightly, expressionally. The nothingness of hidden thoughts is hated just as the gates of Hades are hated. They are of the same stuff so to speak. I do not believe that the exception is to any dissemblance, but to dissemblance and hiddenness as proper modes of conduct, ideals to be achieved. There is in Odysseus the exemplar of the negotiator, not only of persons, but of circumstances. His is a world of objects which must be positioned. For Achilles, the world is a world of forces, and his is a immanence within them, one in which the alliance with others is a bodily constituted bond. The thymos of Achilles is the very substance that is shared between persons. His taken Briseis is his “thumares” (female form of his thymos 9.336). He thymos is poured into by the grieving of those he loves (9.612). Words matter. Riches are not worth a soul (9.401). The weapons at his disposal are merely withdrawal and action, and the power of those he is allied with. The very object-orientation of his counterpart Odysseus is misplaced. Words and weapons are the very stuff of a life.

These are very noble characteristics, at least we might get a few to agree. But in what sense do these two manners about the world form valid and alternate perspectives? Is there a way in which the Odysseusean West can become more Achillean, more immanent, more bonded, more respectful of the Menis of the wronged, such that its very economy of interactions and concepts were to be organized around notions of dignity and anger? Has history reached a point where the magnanimus, great-heart has gained a substance out-reaching the arms of the instrumental opportunism of assumed object control and prediction? Has an economics and ontology of lack and absence, via the projections of the missing object come to a limit?  De Beistegui does not see himself through to a Thymotics of Anger, questioning whether we need a modulated anger, a rationalized anger:

Despite Sloterdijk’s claim, I wonder whether anger cannot be seen to have played, and to continue to play, a positive and active role in public life, especially in the face of social injustice not as “simple explosion”, “revenge”, or “evolution”, which Sloterdijkrecognises as the three fundamental forms of anger in Western history (pages 95 , 103), but as yet another form, which can be described as revolt, or rebellion. It is not merely explosive and immediate, for it presupposes a degree of organisation and mobilisation. It is not motivated by revenge, but by a deep sense of injustice and indignity…The anger in question is one that presupposes a sense of outrage, empathy, and therefore something like a social instinct (which Aristotle would call philia, or friendship), but one which, in order to be effective, needs to be mediated and processed rationally.

Bringing Forth an Achillean Spinoza?

I think this an important point, and one which Spinoza could help us out on, for he is expert on the dovetailing of the affects of the mind and rational propositions (and not allowing them to collapse into dual distinctions). Much like a critique of object orientation, Spinoza tells us that affects of love and hatred are mistaken or confused ideas which in a sense blame our weakened states upon external objects. It is the idea of an externalcausethat makes up a mental affect. I would offer that it is precisely in the projection of our pains and sadnesses upon objects that the difference between Immanence and Instrumentality lies. While de Beistegui sees a distinction between an Aristotlean rationality of anger, and the three modes that Sloterdijk prescribes, I do not accept this difference, for within “evolution” I would includetherationalization itself of anger, with the primary Spinozist understanding that the affect of anger (and not hatred) is not counter to the rational. In fact, the menis of Achilles, his thymos by poem’s end, is no longer cholos anger, or even named mēnis wrath, now, but has become meneainō which is sheer purposive force, determination, might, strength, power (24.23-54), very close to Spinoza’s conatus and potentia. Achilles has moved to through extreme affective determinations to reach this point, but we cannot discount its end. Indeed though Spinoza often frames his advisementsin terms of utility, for instance that nothing is more useful to man, than man, this is always within the bodily, affective combinations of persons withothers and withthe world, in a view towards ultimate and mutualimmanence. The external object is part of the same expressive field. And it would strike me that the very thymotic evolutions are more greatly enhanced the affects of mind as well.

To bring up a specific historical example, the anger of the “barbaric” crowd against the De Witts, savagely murdered as they were leaving prison in August 1672,  was a complex venting of political forces. Johan de Witt had guided the Dutch Republic on a course of a uniquely modernist ends, a state of freedoms of expressions, the enhancement of new capitalist forces; yet he had utterly failed to protect the Dutch from the Catholic armies of Louis XIV which were set to eclipse the entire land. His failure as a leader cannot be dismissed from the reasons for his lynched execution. It is too easy to see him solely as the victim of reactionary, dull-minded hoi polloi who simply did not understand his Enlightened genius (and surely he was genius). It was also the uprising of the populace, farmers, women, that had perhaps saved the Republic up to this point (as deWitt was being forced into very poor positions of negotiation for defeat). The savagery with which he and his brother was killed has interesting parallels to the inhuman treatment Achilles gave Hectors corpse (there were eye witness reports of cannibalism). When Spinoza cried “Ultima barbarorum!” he was staring right into the heart of the democratic powers he hoped to enlist, but savagely so; he felt that these were not the thymotic angerof indignity and pride, but that of banked hatred and projection upon objects. I think that this is partly true. Yes, imaginary relations helped organize the riot, but the actual brutality, the excessive object concern, the rending of the flesh, likely stemmed from real thymotic incursion into the social field, the eruption of the offended beast:

For days an angry crowd had been gathering in front of the Gevangenpoort, and they wanted to see blood. Tichelaer [a likely false accuser of an attempt assinate the Prince] was given every opportunity to whip up emotions. Cornelis, in not fit state after the torture he had been subjected to, had asked his brother to send a carriage. Johan arrived in person at half past nine, apparently in the naive belief that he could calm the crowd. He could not have been more mistaken. The soldiers and civic militiamen, who had mounted guard aroundthe entrance to the prison, were becoming just as agitated as the crowd. Shops started closing in nearby neighborhoods as people began to sense trouble. Wild rumors were making the rounds, one of which maintained that peasants from the surrounding countryside were on their way to plunder The Hague. After endless waiting, at four o’clock the militia men forced the brothers outside (The Dutch Republic in the Seventeeth Century, 53-54)

The confluence of Voetian and Orangist alliance had been grafted onto I suspect, a much larger force of fear and dignity come from the country side and the lower classes, the dispersion of forces that had held the Dutch Republic intact from the assaults of the Catholic French. The bodies of the brothers deWitt eventually became inscribed with the very conatus of Dutch persistence, and in no small respect did the vicissitudes of Enlightenment capitalism and Burgerism, the mobilization of a merchant class at the expense of industry stability (such were the sea lanes and identities of nobility), incur this ignorant protest that built itself through the streets. The mark of the brutality of their murders, was I suspect less the mark of the imaginary, and more the mark of Achillean protest, pure and simple, upon the very matter that confined them, held to the surface and organs of the body.

What Is The Locus of Protest?

Further on the issue of the rational at its relationship to the affect of menis, or thymos, and I don’t know if Sloterdijk follows this at all, but Achilles’s thymotic response in one of at first petition (to his mother goddess) and then strategic withdrawl and inaction. The menis wrath is thus also a quietude of reflection. I find Achilles to be much more of a Spinozist hero than many might suppose.

De Beisteguiraises the very interesting point that if there is to be a thymotic transformation of social economies, they would have to occur within the libidnally based structure of Capitalism itself, within the very erotic realm of object-pursuit. Our very states of infinite debt seem to be too married to the deep investments of personal sublimation which constitute the very meaning of our lives. There strikes him to be a very incompatibility between the deep dept of our economic system, and the debts of our lives.

For isn’t capitalism, especially in its current form, based on the systematic appeal to the erotic, and to our ability to desire what we perceive to be lacking, and in the possession and consumption of which we hope to find satisfaction? In itself impossible to ever satisfy completely, this desire is partially fulfilled through consumption, yet at the cost of a mounting debt, and the dependence on a system to which we find ourselves ever more riveted, ever more enslaved.

In short, whilst I see how the ethics of dignity that Sloterdijk promotes is incompatible with, and in fact radically opposed to, the revolutionary and global impulses witnessed in the 20th century, I fail to see how the aristocratic or thymotic stance he advocates is compatible with the current state of Western capitalism, driven by ever greater and more crippling levels of debt, deficit, and lack. In fact, one might want to go as far as to argue that if it is true that we might be hard-pressed to identify one universal discourseor “bank”, in which we could invest our anger, with the hope of seeing it grow in the future, we could be equally, if not more, hard-pressed to find any promise of a future that would not already be spent, already mortgaged. At the economic level, it is through consumption that we seek to alleviate ourselves form our sense of lack, our fear, and our decadent eroticism. But this is not an investment. In fact, it leads to a greater sense of lack, and a greater desire. It forces one to borrow from one’sown future, to live one’s future before it has been actually lived. The truth is, we’re not saving or storing anything, not even anger. In many ways, we’ve already spent our future, and chained ourselves to this loss.We’ve given away something that we have not yet lived, and can never be ours, namely, time. We don’t even own ourselves anymore. No wonder we’re afraid. No wonder we’re angry.

There is almost something poetic to this, we have exhausted ourselves, spent all our notes of promise, and there is no bank or discourse to redeem our expenditures, nor even internal resources to drawn on again. I think the answer of course is that we are in our state an Agamemnon, and it is our recourse to grant respect to the Achilleses of the world. If we of the West have outspent ourselves, clearly there is menis enough in the world, lament enough in the world, to see where we have deposited our investments and actions. It is perhaps at most that outside ofour realm, more than ever, as learned by Achilles with his Priam, that we must look for the possibilities of the thymotic economy. To take two examples, we in the West often confuse ourselves over the dramatic mournings of those in Islam, paralyze ourselves over the numerical vastness of rape, disease and war in Africa in tumults. These, I suspect, are Achilles laments of thymos. Something to be acknowledged at a very deep and symbolic (and not instrumental) level. There is no dearth of soul in the world.

Infinite Debt or Bodies in Composition

Lastly, critically brings the very technological attachments between persons that now inhabit and construct our world, attachments of such speed and transfer that events as images seem to defy any human growth, as centered on the human:

If we are to consider the question of time, or the question of our time, in relation to a specific attunement, or a set of attunements, we need to take into consideration the way in which, not human beings, but machines, and information systems in particular, act as decisive mediators and formidable accelerators and amplifiers. They are the bank, or the automatic growth vehicles, through which those affects are processed, and to a large extent produced. The current financial crisis, in which the banking system is at issue, as well as the terrorist attacks on the US of 9/11, illustrate this new dimension of a bank of affects that can be mobilised at a moment’s notice, and turned into global catastrophes. At no point, therefore, would I suggest that those affects bring us any closer to the ideal that Sloterdijk evokes in his book. In fact, inasmuch as they stem from the most negative of affects, namely, fear, and lock us into a climate of suspicion and depression, they disallow the spirit of self-esteem and self recognition which Sloterdijk wants to revive. They do not allow us to grow and flourish as free spirits. Rather, they continue to capitalise on the negative eroticism which Sloterdijk so adequately describes.

I do not fully accept Sloterdijk’s division between eroticism and the thymotic, though I can certainly see the value of the distinction. Achilles most certainly had an eros for Protroklus that was born of his thymos, as he did for Briseis. And there are distinct object-concerns for Achilles, not in the economy of abstract exchange, but in terms of passage. He holds onto both Patroklus and Hector, the one as a soul-ghost, the other as a brute materiality. His abuse of the body is a product of the circulation of his thymotic rage, quieted, and brought into incantational repetition. When de Beistegui emphasizes that the attunements of our day are of machines and informations systems, and not of human beings I think he is actually pointing the way forward, towards a post-human Achillean Age. This is the difference between the aristocratic gift giving economy that may perhaps be suggested by a Bill Gates and Warren Buffett of efficacy of philanthropy. The gifts and growths are not strictly of human beings, as centered subjects. The growth is of immanence itself, the immanence of recognition across subjectivities, in the answer to affects in communication.

Yes, technological affect transfers indeed employ intersubjective projections. Britney Spears’s face on the screen allows for the conduit of affect bleeds across space and time with incredible motion. Instantly we can coalesce. And yes, we want to move away from object-orientation and concerns with lack. But the destablization of the human subject brought on through technologies is the very path forward to thymotic economies, for identifications in individual powers allows us not only depressions and fears, but polyversal bodies, bodies capable of ornate action. Key is that the thymotic is recognizable as source and determination. Hatred needs to be pushed back, ciphoned back, into its river mouth ofanger and pride, a well-spring for a community of values and generosity of mutal recognition. Not sub-jects, or ob-jects, but syn-jects.

Lastly, Klauser tells us something that Spinoza balanced his entire Ethics upon, that the logic of love and hatred are the same. Those concerned primarily with objectsarethose who must bear the burden of this truth.

`Based on its erotodynamic approach, psychoanalysis has shed much light on hate as the dark side of love. This approach has shown that hate and love rely on a similar logic, with projection and recidivism being in command in both cases. Yet, psychoanalysis has remained silent in view of anger, which originates from successful or failed aspirations to success, reputation and self-respect” (page 27)

Anyone who knows why the artist casts the bell to be rung in the village square, or why the horse rolls in the grass, knows that it is not a question of objects, nor their accounting.

The Sprache of Achilles: The Panoply of Speech

The Man that Does Not Think by Oneself

I want this post to both grow out of a comment Carl from Dead Voles made on the thread Heidegger “Never says…” and Harman says… and also to be an expansion upon the thoughts I began on my recent post Human Competence: Achilles On the Mend. There is a certain compatibility between Wittgensteinian language game approaches and the speaking strategies of Achilles, the hero of Homer’s Iliad, and it is my hope to use the figure of Achilles to point forward toward a way that is neither tragic, nor alienated in the world of objects, a post-human world of forces and coherent assemblage.

Carl was responding to a line from the neo-Marxist/Spinozist Etienne Balibar, that that reflects something of Wittgenstein’s well-known Private Language Argument: “If no man ever thinks alone, then we might say that to know really is to think ever less by oneself”

This is making me think of Wittgenstein’s private language problem. Perhaps we’ve come full circle and back to your original post. In with the not-said is all of the rules and tools that any particular language game makes available to take for granted. These are the conditions for any intelligible and communicative statement. In practice they arise out of discourse communities, which are associated with ways of life, which are conditioned by all sorts of things starting with food and up through durable institutions. I trust I can wave my hands like this and convey a gist.

We make our own worlds, but not in conditions of our own choosing, as Marx said. So I couldn’t agree more when you say “I find it more valuable to see how we can invest the tradition itself with new possibilities, to change the tradition from within. And whether it is the tradition that is doing the thinking, or us as originals, really doesn’t matter.” Except I’d say it’s both, always both…

We had been discussing Graham Harman’s appropriation of Heidegger’s notion of Dasein and implied objecthood, coupled with his stout refusal to grant that Heidegger held such an idea as is originally his own, that objects other than human beings could have their own Dasein determination. The idea is meant to be both implicitly found within Heidegger, but also excluded from Heidegger. In a sense, it partakes in the authority of Heidegger, but aims to be immune to critiques of the same. In this regard, Carl suggests (at least it seems to me) that within a Wittgensteinian terminology, the language game of Heidegger’s description of the world might be seen to have within its possibilities of Graham Harman’s assertions regarding forever hidden, real objects, although these possibilities were not develped by Heidegger.

Achillean Immanence vs. Odysseus’s Instrumentality

In my previous post on the difference between the heroic figures of fierce and woeful Achilles and the table-turning, wandering Odysseus, I pointed out that Western Philosophy, particularly in its modern manifestations, took on the wrong Greek hero. Instead of the radiating Achilles who defines himself by his bonds and presents himself as a pure man of action (or inaction), of which speech was a considerable means, philosophy concerned itself with the No-man traveler of endless turns, the serial human being whose only defining characteristic is his mind’s capacity to dexterously articulate itself amid the contingencies of Being, all the while largely homeless, spread across the earth.

There is an important factor in the story of Achilles though that narrows the point and brings us directly back to the comparison to language games that Carl draws. And this is Achilles’s linguistic strategies as found in his speech of the Ninth Book of the Iliad. For those who are unfamiliar, or need to be refreshed, Achilles the greatest warrior of the Greeks has withdrawn from the Trojan War because his rightfully awarded prize Briseis was taken from him by Agamemnon who is nominally the chief of the Hellenic contingent, as some sort of recompense for his own war-prize, a daughter of a priest of Apollo having to be returned. The Hellenic warriors now are loosing the battle without their most powerful ally, and Agamemnon is faced with the shame of having acted unrightfully. Achilles has been convinced to come to a great hall meeting where he is to make a plea articulating his being wronged. As it has been put, “Achilles needs to be paid, but he cannot be bought off”. 

Now this is the interesting thing. Achilles in our collective memory is largely thought of as some kind of glorious and blood splattered athlete, a kind of brute beauty perhaps, a pure articulation of body. But this is not at all the case in the minds of the listeners of Homer. He is a master of the lute and song, learned in the secrets of medical arts, and adroitly mesmerizing in speech (muthos). In his speech to the hall, in rebuttal to Odysseus’s finely constructed argument, he combines personal expression and ethical character argumentation (I am this way, Agamemnon is that way) to present a plea which strains the very form of the heroic hexameter verse in which it is to appear.

The Book 9 Speech: The New and the Old

There has been debate about the unique uses of language forms by Achilles ever since Adam Parry’s 1956 article “The Language of Achilles” which claimed that Achilles’ abuse of the heroic form actually indicated his pure and existential alienation from the rigidity of human ordination. He was in a sense, cut off from history, and in the end performs some sort of transcendental and divine reconsilation. David Claus in his 1975 “Aidös and the Language of Achilles” denied Parry’s conclusions, rather arguing that Achilles in speech only melded the heroic code to its new possibilities, bending and transforming its rules. The context of these interpretations can be seen in the informative essay, “The Language of Achilles: Reconstrution vs. Representation,” Steve Nimis (1986)[click here]. There Nimis sums Claus’s understanding of Achilles’ maneuver as the following,

Achilles, Claus argues, does not simply negate the heroic “code” (taking this term to mean a pattern of meaningful behavior and speech), but rather stretches and bends it in order to articulate his own ideal view of that code. Hence despite the formality and rhetorical predictability of his overt statements, [Achilles] manages to suggest a division of the heroic world into men who feel and love, who can fight, who have proper joy in their possessions, and those who rely on “things” to defend themselves against heroic sthenos, who seek to be kinglier than others, whose possessions are nothing good to them, who do not even know what a life is worth. Again, while this rejects Agamemnon and all his ways, it leaves the heroic code, at least as Achilles idealizes it, intact.

It is this I would like to focus on, the way in which an Achillean ideal type, through the force of his Being, his ideational and bodily capacity to act, takes hold of the existing “language game” and torques it to express what cannot otherwise be expressed within it. And in so doing, idealizes it by living out the expression he/she has formed. And it is specifically at the nexus of valuation that Achilles draws his distinction within the heroic realm. There are two kinds of men:

1. Men who feel and love, who can fight, who have proper joy of their possessions.

2. Those who rely on “things” to defend themselves against heroic strength [sthenos], who seek to be kinglier than others, whose possessions are nothing good to them, who do not even know what a life is worth.

Beneath this division is really the instrumentality of valuation, the unbodied, placeholder conception of “things” (objects and situations) as separable units of deploy vs. the lived and built bonds of enfleshed alliance. It is the difference between instrument and prosthetic grafting. Achilles forms his words out of his very fleshed circumstance, fully committed to what he can do. Agamemnon (and Odysseus) has politically weighed and buried self-interest against the possibilities of advance.

Nimis, taking both interpretive positions of relative alienation in hand, then qualifies Achilles’s speech act within the linguistic distinction of rule-governed creativity, and rule-changing creativity:

Both Claus’ analyses of Achilles’ speeches and Parry’s notion of Achilles’ alienation can be rethought in these terms, taking our cue from the distinction linguists make between rule-changing creativity and rule-governed creativity. All communication occurs in terms of conventions, but such conventions are constantly being used to “say” new things by various creative strategies. Rule-governed creativity is defined as the production of a new phrase or message which is a combination of conventional units in a way governed by prior conventions. Thus the sentence “there is a golden mountain on the moon” would be a “new” expression, but able to be understood given the existing conventions of English. Wallace Stevens’ famous line, however, “green colorless ideas sleep furiously,” is an example of rule-changing creativity, since the production and interpretation of this phrase require the establishment of a new convention which does not yet exist. Achilles’ speeches can be said to be examples of such rule-changing creativity. Like Wallace Stevens, he is a sign-producer who wishes to change the “code”, to articulate a meaning for whose communication and accurate reception no adequate conventions exist as yet. The situation seems to be paradoxical: if communication is based on conventions, how can it occur where no conventions exist? Yet unless we assume that language is “natural” in the strict sense (i.e., that it is immanent), all language must have become conventional by some form of rule-changing creativity (4)

Aside from the fact that Donald Davidson does have an answer for how language can occur without shared conventions, we can glimpse at the way in which Achilles’s speech act is to be idealized as the exemplar of almost all creative artistic activity. It is the attempt creatively change the rules of the game that refuses your articulation, rather than play by the rules (and break them secretly when you can). And in so doing attempt to isolate and express the purpose of the language game in the first place.

Now there is something a bit Hegelian about this take of Nimis’s, and it really shows up in his conclusion, but I would like to focus on Achilles’s alienation. He is not alienated from human beings as a class, for he gets along well with his Myrmidons who he leads, and Protroclus who he loves, and Briseis, and Phoenix his old mentor (despite disagreements), and his mother the goddess Thetis. He alienated from his moment in history, the condition he has found himself in, as an injustice has been suffered. And he experiences this not as a personal injustice, which it is, but as a crisis in leadership itself, in the unkingliness of the said King who does not fight nor act equal to his position. This is shown much later in the Hellenic games Achilles presides over, after Agamemnon has left the narrative, showing the correct form of generous rule. Fair is not a calculation. So Achilles’s is not an ontological alienation under which he is somehow removed from his very Being, but a contingent insufficiency of expression, wherein his constitutional bonds are stretched. In this way, Achilles creatively stretches the heroic form, and with great expense steps away from the game so to affect it with his absence. A great portion of the tale is told with his absence as the main actor until finally it is only his armor that arrives. Achilles is the full inhuman and divine breadth that is in what’s human.

Achilles as Actor

When I suggest that the Achillean answer to the traditional Odysseus problems of philosophy is available, it is this that I emphasize (to select a few).

1. A substanced capacity to live through your bonds and attachments, and not simply use or deploy them.

2. The capacity to realize that speech acts are fully material acts, and that we can readily use rule-changing creativity to express what is within a rule-governed game.

3.The rhetor and the gnostic become the same person because the difference between the political and performance is collapsed.

4. Maintaining the hyper-human (divine) and trans-human (inanimate, elemental forces) spectrum of action, drawing on all our capacities to manifest (Solar Achilles).

5. Employ the immanence of one’s power as necessarily a limit reachable by mercy, the affirmation of custom renewed (Priam).

6. The value of things is fate.

7. Don the Achillean armor of immanence carefully, prudently (Patroclus); you are already wearing it.

8. When you make the corpse (Hector), turning the living into surface through the inscription of your desire, you must release it.

This is far from the self-negating existentialism of Odysseus (at least before he comes home to Ithica, as he becomes qualified by later Attic Tragedy). The human being takes its place within a panoply of historical objects, each fighting to bring forth its full expression. And bonds formed between living an inanimate things are as solid as atomic bonds, the forceful living through, and by the others around us. Man does not travel on his own temporal river, sequestered from the world, blessed/cursed only with the negating power of his consciousness. Man does not travel cloaked with the negating power of his own mortality. In the figure of Achilles it is not the illusion that man is both angel and animal, and therefore neither, the gap between them, but rather as all things are so constituted, man is a spectrum of forces brought to bear in their moment of history, finding the articulation that is best possible for them, those voices and those continuities.

Human Competence: Achilles On the Mend


Carl at Dead Voles wrote a pair of ruminations that flowed from an all-too-honest confession of how to write a philosophy paper by Graham Harman (apparent Graham linked to the comments, and then deleted the link, finding the criticism out of bounds). First he critiqued Graham’s very helpful suggestions on how to structurally spruce up a paper, things like breaking it up into sections, identifying tensions with positions other than your own, and then mixing in a Classic thinker, drawing our attention to how as a historian Carl finds this process (expanded into a prescription for how to read books, and dovetail papers with talks) to be painfully different from the kinds of closer examinations he must carry out. Then in “Shopping at the Black Box Store” he draws heavier consequences from this kind of text and thought production, summing up the problems with the Latourian proposal that Theories operate primarily as Black Boxes, calling for perhaps a better, more lucid metaphors (linking parts of Metaphors We Live By), ultimately pointing towards the Black Boxes of Marxist thought:

This is an interesting metaphor to me, because in my dissertation I used it to characterize marxist approaches to revolutionary consciousness and suggested that its darkness contributed to enabling some pretty serious errors and atrocities. Perhaps a more transparent and reflective sort of thinking (not to mention a more glassy set of metaphors) might have contributed to a more humane revolutionary practice?

Part of this response falls at the feet of philosophy itself, with a real mourning that Graham Harman’s lessons how how to produce and package philosophical ideas does describe the requirements of a real environment for philosophy production. One really must roll one reading into another talk. One really should through in a Classical thinker every now an then. I mean, there is a brand to keep up. Distinct from the real sense that theories can be seen as Black Boxes that can indeed be opened up to see how they work, there is also in Latour (and Harman’s celebration of the same), the sense that the way that a theory succeeds is by Black Boxing itself, keeping its hidden mechanisms opaque to the viewer.

Two Kinds of Magic

Arthur C. Clarke said brilliantly in his Third Law, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”  There is the sense that any theory that is to be successfully put forth has to operate as a kind of magic, and a magic that happens when we don’t quite know how they did that. This is distinct of course from the kind of magic one feels when we “see how they did that,” when we see how things connect and manifest. There seems to be a fundamental tension between these two kinds of magic.

Graham Harman’s behind the scenes “tricks of the trade”  benevolent advice to up and coming thinkers perhaps invests in both kinds of magic. This is how it all connects, what Carl calls the glimpse behind the curtain: this is how you can create the illusion of deep and analytical thinking, and gather momentum in your profession and your brand. And there is a beautiful magic in “How to be a Successful Philosopher” perhaps in the same way as magician in training would feel relieved to know now how to saw the lady in half. Much of Graham’s professional insight seems to fall into this category of “there is no mystery for how to make the mystery appear”.

But as I read it, Carl’s problem isn’t with Graham’s successful procedures, but with the very social conditions which reward and reinforce just these habits of reading and paper building. Do theories only become accepted through a kind of magical allure, a seduction into a willing-suspension of disbelief, a refusal to let others look under the hood? I believe that what flows from Carl’s objection to skim reading and antique philosopher insertion is something of the same objection to mass-produced objects of consumption. There is the sense that yes, you can do it that way, but perhaps I want something hand-carved. When philosophy bases itself upon idea and text production of this sort, does it not take as its very material that which is most malleable to such a process?

Achilles Contra Odysseus

With these thoughts in mind throughout the intermittency of morning I found my mind turning to a comparison which was somewhat prevalent in Athenian society, the contrast between Achilles and Odysseus. There is something to Carl’s appeal for a glassier set of metaphors, and his dissatisfaction with Graham Harman brand-building Black Box stores that for me invokes this antique difference. Odysseus was he man of many turns, polytropos. The word is rich in meanings. Because clever he can turn in any direction, he is a swiss-army knife of mentality and action, full of devices. Yet because of this, his life (despite the homecoming at the Odyssey’s end) is also in quintessential Heideggerian and Holderlinian fashion, a life of wandering, turn upon turn, endlessly thrown into and against the world. He is thought to be in many ways the essentially modern man. To some degree he embodied both the positive and the negative values of contemporary Athenian citizen ideas.

But Achilles was a different sort of figure, a man of a different sort of Age, someone who the Athenian Greeks often felt put the Odysseus of tricks to the pale. A man perhaps who no longer it seemed could exist. Contrary to Odysseus’s adaptability, Achilles was someone who exerted the pure force of his ability to act and manifest itself directly (even it its absence). He was something like a direct radiation of Being. His story in the Iliad told of how man is to act amid social injustice, when one’s nominal leaders lack the community of values which are required to lead. It is told that he is both a rhetor and a doer  in such a way that we understand that speaking is a kind of act and not something readily separable.

There is a very real sense that as the history of Western philosophy, particularly in its modern form, turned to the Greeks for their blueprints of questions and answers, the wrong, or least desirable Greek ideal was absorbed. People like Heidegger rejoiced over the alienations of Odysseus, his homeless machinations, and did not see the simplicity of force found in Achilles. A man conditioned by his loves (Briseis, Patroclus, Thetis, the Myrimdons, then lastly affimed custom, reconsiliation and mercy), and driven to personal yet mutual justice, someone who bent the rules of the very discourse available to express his dissatisfaction, and through a combination of refusal and action morally shaped both his community and historical events. Achilles was man before Man, something that could manifest both itself in surplus of the spectrum of the human, and become god-like, or in deficit of what’s human and become a mere force of Nature. It was the necessary capacity to bestride these two that he embodied to a far greater degree “what is human” than did the later Odysseus who articulated a specific historical domain, which he remained within. 

As philosophy recovers from the Idealisms which plagued the Rights of Man, and seeks to reorient itself within a Real World of forces and objects, it must be wary of ontologizing the Odysseus of what is human, the specific alienations we have generated through our choices (much of it imported through the ontology of the Negation, how his name can only be pronounced as “No-man” by the poly-phemic One). There is a real choice in philosophy I believe, whether to start with the Achilean man (woman), or the Odyssean one, a beginning which directs the kinds of answers we find.

My sense is that as sufferers of modern and post-modern conditions, it is best not to ontologize these to the degree that we cannot imagine ourselves beyond them. Yes, perhaps it is good to learn the tricks of the trade, to bring forth black box powers as a matter of survival, but it is better I suggest to learn the glow of an other competence, the competence of bond, withdrawl and speaking action. I think that there is something to Carl’s glassy metaphors that speaks to the proposed unifications of Achillean force. The ways in which powers are better read and expressed as Real.

What Does Odysseus know that Achilles does not? And what does Achilles know…ontologically?

Heidegger’s Confusion Over “Truth”

The Blanketing of the Truth

The problem is that Heidegger as he examines the Greek concept of truth (aletheia), even as it is investigated by Plato in The Sophist, begins with Aristotle. We can see this plainly in his recounting of the “history” of truth in his lectures on the Platonic Dialogue, as he moves as quickly as possible to the logos-determined, speaking realm of human beings. Heidegger wants to get onto the firm and comfortable ground of Dasein, of human-oriented Being-There. And in the quotation below we can see how in just a few strokes he gets from “Aletheia” (which is commonly translated into our word “truth”) to the albeit to be problemized “uncoveredness” of the legomenon, “the spoken thing”.

the history of the concept of truth

Alethes means literally “uncovered.” It is primarily things, the pragmata, that are uncovered. To pragmata alethes. This uncoveredness does not apply to things insofar as they are, but insofar as they are encountered, insofar as they are objects of concern. Accordingly uncoveredness is a specific accomplishment of Dasein, which has its being in the soul: aletheuei he psyche. Now the most immediate kind of uncovering is speaking about things. That is, the determination of life, a determination that can be conceived of as logos, primarily takes over the function of aletheuein. Aletheuei ho logos, and precisely logos [speech, reason] as logein [to speak]. Insofar now as each logos is a self-expression and a communication, logos requires at once the meaning of the logomenon [the spoken thing]. And insofar as it is logos which aletheuei, logos qua logomenon is alethes. But strictly taken this is not the case. Nevertheless, isfaras speaking is a pronouncement and in the proposition aquires a proper existence, so that knowledge is preserved therein, even the logos as logomenon can be called alethes….Knowing or considering is always a speaking, whether vocalized or not. All disclosive comportment, not only everyday finding one’s way about, but also scientific knowledge, is carried out in speech. Legein primarily takes over the function of aletheuein. This legein is for the Greeks the basic determination of man: Zoon logon echon [an animal that holds speech]. And thus Aristotle achieves [in Nic. Eth. VI, 2], precisely in connection with this determination of man, i.e. the field of the logon echon and with respect to it, the first articulation of the five modes of altheuein. (Heidegger’s lectures on Plato’s Sophist, 18-19)

There are a few things to set straight right off. His simple, literal defintion of aletheia as  “uncoveredness” is an incredible simplification of the meanings and origins of the word, something he quickly has reduced, in largely Sophoclean fashion, to a trope of cloaking and residual depth. The power and sweep of this simplification should not be underestimated, for it directs the whole of the theoretical that follows. When something is “covered” our immediate questions inevitably turn to the nature of the thing that lies between it and us, how did it get there, what is it made of, can we remove it, what purpose does it serve. One can see how nicely such a condensed translation fits within the Idealist tradition which focuses on the Phenomenal and Ideational veil of Ideas.

Unfortunately, or we might say fortunately, the history of the concept of truth goes back much further than where Heidegger wants to take it. He wants us to see that A-letheia is a privative. It means A (not) letheia (covered). But does -letheia mean “covered”? Not really; at least it cannot be reduced to such without extensive distortion. We can recognize the name famous River of Lethe in the land of the Dead (so named by Ovid) in the word, a history of which we will return to in a moment. But the root comes from the Greek verb lanthánõ, which specifically means (LSJ):

A. in most of the act. tenses, to escape notice

B. causal, to make one forget a thing

As a signular note, a cloaked thing might or might not escape notice, and one might or might not forget a cloaked thing (in either case its very cloakedness could draw attention to it, as someone who kept their hand hidden behind their back has a certain obviousness to them). The Greek concept of Lethe is much more thorough than “cloakedness.” It is much closer to our notion of Oblivion. The forgetfulness of Lethe is more than the visual trope of “coveredness” gives us. It is the dissipation of difference. There is no difference there that matters, that makes a difference.

To bring out more of this concept of Aletheia, the a- (un) letheia (forgotten, obliteratered, lost) I want to turn to the Orphic mythologies that informed Plato’s own theories of truth, and likely formed a widespread and constitutive influence upon the very notion of aletheia in Greek culture. Below I quote from Guthries’s Classic text,  Orpheus and the Greek Religion, a selection which focuses on the occult knowledge of the Underworld given an Orphic Initiate regarding the topography of the land of the Dead, and their explicit instructions on how to avoid Lethe.

Keeping, then, to the right, the soul comes to a spring [on the right, having been warned not to drink from the spring of forgetfulness on the left], and addresses to the guardians that are before it a prayer that it may be allowed to drink of the water, of which it is in dire need: “I am parched with thirst and I perish”. We may presume that it has passed by the way that is described in the Republic as leading to the plain of Lethe, “through terrible and suffocating heat; for it is bare of trees and of all the fruits of the earth”. At the end of that journey too the souls are given water to drink. For the general belief that the dead are thirsty and in urgent need of water we have references which though not frequent are sufficient to indicate that it must have been widely held and not a particular tenet of the Orphics. The same prayer occurs in the Egyptian Book of the Dead, and had been adopted from it into the Hellenic religion of the same part of the world, as is shown by several sepulchral inscriptions, found, like the gold plates themselves, in Italy, with the formula: “May Osiris give thee the cold water”. No doubt the name of Osiris was taken by the Greeks because they found in the Egyptian religions an idea similar to that which they already held themselves.

The word yuxpro/n means of course not simply “cold” but “refreshing”. (The two are the same in Mediterranean countries.) It is of the same root as psyche, soul and Dieterich (Nekyia, 95) compares the word a)nayu=xai in the Orphic line which literally means “refreshed from evil”. The water is not ordinary water. It is water from the lake of Memory, and it is only the soul whose purity is vouched for which is to be allowed to drink from it. This is the soul which has escaped from the circle of birth, or evil, or woe, and is about to enter on the state of perfect divinity. Consequently it is not, like the souls in the Republic which are being prepared for a new incarnation, made to drink a certain measure of the water of Forgetfulness (Rep. 620a). That, without doubt, is the fountain on the left which it is told above all things to avoid. For it is reserved the water of life, which will enable it to retain full consciousness (Guthrie, Orpheus and the Greek Religion, 177)

How far we are from simple “covered” and “uncoveredness”, and even linguistic reductions of the determination of the human soul to that which is spoken. Rather, the depiction of Lethe and not-Lethe is expressed in very physical terms, in terms of refreshingly cold water as drink. The soul in the land of the dead has passed through extreme heat, and is bewildered by its thirst. It has been instructed not to drink of the fountain on the left, but on the right. Here I quote the already cited Orphic passage from the Republic:

[621a] And after it had passed through that, when the others also had passed, they all journeyed to the Plain of Oblivion [tes Lethes pedion], through a terrible and stifling heat, for it was bare of trees and all plants, and there they camped at eventide by the River of Forgetfulness [Ameleta potamon], whose waters no vessel can contain. They were all required to drink a measure of the water, and those who were not saved by their good sense drank more than the measure, and each one as he drank forgot all things.

The word-choice here is telling. The soul has passed across the Plain of Oblivion (tes Lethes pedion), and the river that the reincarnating soul drinks from is not the River of Lethe, but the River of Ameleta, the River of Uncaring. Under Orphic telling, the aletheia is not the “uncovered” but “the not-uncaring”. Clearly, those that drink from the River of Mnemosyne instead of Ameleta, retain their cares and concerns. Quite to the contrary of Heidegger’s lexical reversion which will eventually make a “cloaking” out of human Dasein engagment with the pragmata (affairs, things of concern), the very nature of aletheia is that of retaining concerns and care. It is only through the retention of cares that the soul is refreshed of the heat of oblivion.

The Role of Care as Revelation

Importantly, Heidegger tells us in his history of the concept of the truth that “This uncoveredness [of aletheia] does not apply to things insofar as they are, but insofar as they are encountered, insofar as they are objects of concern.” Notice how this differs from the Orphic/Platonic tale of elementary care and concern. The concern is not with “objects” but with thirst itself, with the state of one’s own body. It is the purity of this sufferance, as a care, which in turn orients the soul both toward the gaurdian and the spring. And contrary to Heidegger’s assessment, it is indeed the care of the soul which orients it rightfully to the pragmata, “insofar as they are”. One must, in examining the history of the Greek notion of the truth acknowledge this fundamental equation.

It is for this reason that the optical metaphor of covered and uncovered that Heidegger adopts, while suited to the Idealist heritage he keeps, actually is insufficient to the Greek concept of truth (insofar as we can historically generalize). The the failure of cares in Oblivion is the detachment from one’s own state, to dissipate. It is not a condition of veiling, or coveredness, of something coming between the subject and the world, but rather is a constitutive internal relation, a failure of orientation towards one’s own health and dynamic expression, a failure to recall in one’s concerns the connections which “as they are” have constituted you.

In this correction we must keep track of Heidegger’s smooth move towards Aletheia of speaking being: “Now the most immediate kind of uncovering is speaking about things.” One wants to stretch back to some time more distant than the benchmark for truth, Aristotle, and turn to Homer, the Iliad. Achilles is furious and in attendance of the Assembly where he is told that Agamemnon will take from him his beloved Briseis. Achilles has his hand on the hilt of his sword which he is in the act of drawing. Agamemnon is finished, yet:

The white-armed goddess Hera had sent her forth, [195] for in her heart she loved and cared for both men alike. She stood behind him, and seized the son of Peleus by his fair hair, appearing to him alone. No one of the others saw her. Achilles was seized with wonder, and turned around, and immediately recognized Pallas Athene. Terribly her eyes shone. (Book One, lines 195-200)

What is the “truth” status of Athena’s terribly flashing eyes? None of the others in the hall saw her (literally, she was coming to light [phanomene] to him alone, not the others).  Not only did he perceive her [gignosko] as generally present, but seemed to do so as particularized by the very manifestion of her eyes [phaanthen]. These eyes are the very epithetic status of the goddess herself, “Flash-eyed” Athena. I suggest really that it is not on this occasion of words (debate in a hall) that the most immediate form of “uncovering” is words, but rather of bodily seizure and distinctive identification. The pragmata of Achilles’ concern, that of Agamemnon’s unworthy stewardship of the Greek contingent, his love for Briseis, suddenly is invaded by the pragmata of his own condition, exposed in the glinting revelation of things as they are, the concerns of his very thumatic soul. But it is not a condition of layering, of things standing between what is and the perceiver. Nothing is hidden, rather the richness of connection is accomplished in care. We find this in the poem when Achilles finally achieves the ῎Ελεος of compassion for Hector’s father and his sworn enemy King Priam, Eleos, the God of Mercy. This is what is missing from Heidegger’s notion of “truth” as kinds of covering and uncovering, in an optical metaphor of distance.

Productively I feel that the order of these points against Heidegger should be framed within a large problem in the Idealist tradition that Heidegger participates in, and this is the absolute tendency to consider philosophical questions solely in terms of a fundamental dyad. This form of analysis is one that principally comes out of the European Christian concern of how to connect the human soul with God. The presumption was that the world simply interferred in some sense (which the exception of the Church, which faciliated the connection) As God came to be displaced, the fundamental question became epistemic, how does the human perceiving subject connect to the world (and the world’s surrogate, the “object”). In taking the philosophical question to be primarily a subject/object question, the great and constitutive third, others, came to be pushed aside. In general, as philosophies become discordantly engaged with one-to-one relationships, and their profusion of binaries, it is inherently insuffient and misguided (that is, it has decomplexified the relationships of the world to an unhelpful degree). It seems to me that as Heidegger turned to Aristotlean notions of truth, categorizing them widely as Greek, and adopted a primarly optical metaphor for qualifications of Being, he did so in a way quite friendly to the pre-existing Idealist dyad of self/world. In this fashion, in his foreclosure to the immanent capacities of “care” in the Greek mind, he obscured the very third leg of the triangle, others, which would otherwise show how “care” in all things, including things “non-human” is actively involved in our mutual construction of the world, in degrees of ontological freedom.  Because “aletheia” was for Idealist Heidegger primarily an EYE/OBJECT relation (that metaphor), the constitutive movment from “lethe” (dissipative oblivion) to “a-leth-eia” (condensed internal relations of expressive care) was robbed of the very depth of the dimensionality of others. More Augustine, more Achilles was needed.

The Rhetor and the Knower: Wittgenstein and Achilles


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

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

Homer in the Iliad wrote:

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

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

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

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

Aristotle in Rhetoric wrote:

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

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

The literal translation brings about a certain richness.

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

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


[written May 14, 2006]