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Swimming Without Pause: Production Sans Subject:Toscano on Schelling and Spinoza

Breathing Matter

In this wonderfully conceived essay on Schelling and Spinoza “Fanaticism and Production: On Schelling’s Philosophy of Indifference” Albert Toscano works from a perspective of production, taking as a general question of philosophy the object seen as product. As he traces out Schelling’s struggle with Kantian concerns with the object, Toscano describes well the absolute limit at which Spinoza has placed himself, the radical of radicals (at least for the late 18th and 19th century mind). What the “subject” does, and I had never considered this in just this way, is provide a break in production, a gap, a respite, a hollowed out moment when all production stops. The machine that churns, relentlessly, holds its gears, if only locally. To have removed the importance of the subject, which Spinoza’s absolute philosophy ever threatens to do, is to remove the breath taken in the swim (leading to all sorts of transcendental leveragings). The appeal to the subject was not initially this, one suspects, but rather simply the way in which the subject seemed to explain how one escaped from the actual, what was happening in the moment (in the way that a dead, inanimate object seemingly cannot). But rather, subjectivity became more, a question of salvation, how to breath in a world of pure matter.

A significant passage:

Its two definitions, as eternal becoming and producing without limit, testify to Schelling’s monumental effort, even while still in Fichte’s wake, to think production beyond its Greek matrix: beyond transcendence construed either as the primacy of an effect or product or as the exteriority of form to matter. Philosophy as a suspension-in-production is thus geared towards resisting the tyranny of the actual, as that which covers over the activity which gave rise to it and leads to  these effects or illusions of transcendence which are engendered by the separation of subject and object. We are now ready to understand the retroactive significance of those passages in Schelling’s late lectures which refer to Spinoza’s substance as a “being (das Seyende) without potentiality”, “powerless being”, and his system as one of “complete quiescence”. The clue to this matter will come from one of Deleuze’s seminars, in the form of what may be an implicit avowal of an insufficiency of Spinoza which bears some interesting resemblances to Schelling’s own. Deleuze makes the following remark:

The necessity in Nature is that there will not be any relationships which are not effectuated [effectués]. The entirety of the possible is necessary, which means that all relationships have been or will be effectuated. […] Nature is the totality of effectuations of all possible, and therefore necessary, relationships. This is identity in Spinoza, the absolute identity of the possible and the necessary.(13.01.1981)

Now, if we turn to the Munich lectures, we can understand what is meant when Schelling, to support his critique, states that Spinoza’s is a system in which “the cause has completely merged into the effect”. For Schelling, in Spinoza’s system of necessity a suspension in production, even an artificial one, is unthinkable. There is simply nothing which would allow one to abstract production from product, which would allow an unlimited activity as pure cause to hold itself suspended before its effects. The reasons further adduced by Schelling in this 1833 text to support his claims against Spinozism, show him instead retreating to the positions held before that momentous threshold in German Idealist appropriations of Spinoza, the Supplement to the Ideen referred to above. “The God of Spinoza”, writes Schelling, “is still lost in substantiality and thereby immobility. For mobility (or possibility) is only in the subject. The subject of Spinoza is just object”. It is evident that, at this point, Schelling could no longer stand behind that fraught and tenuous, but nevertheless singular project of bringing together, through the indifferentiation of transcendental and natural-philosophy, the concepts of indifference and production into a philosophical endeavour truly beyond the legacy of Kantianism. To a certain degree the Schellingian project foundered precisely because of its radical character. In trying to think past the dichotomy of subject and object, Schelling found himself in a conceptual vacuum of sorts, unable to give due consistency to an inquiry which sought to break with the damning alternative between the articulation of subject and object on the one hand and the “night when all cows are black” on the other, as Hegel famously sniped at his former collaborator (16-17)

While I enjoyed Toscano’s take on Schelling and production I think that something is missed here, not in his description, but in the very notion of a “suspension before effects” as it is related to the notion of a Deleuzian avowal of a Spinozist “insufficiency”. Indeed it would seem that Spinoza does not let you breathe, insofar as you consider the material (object) environment alien (unbreathable). And if one cannot breathe, how can that which suffocates you breathe? Spinoza makes the world unbreathable, under the conditions to which a subject is put to use – and Toscano does an excellent job of discussing the apogee of Schelling’s flight towards Spinoza, away from Kant and Fichte. But in that holding of the breath, in Spinoza, as he submerges you, you then are forced eventually to gasp. One may find that beneath those oxygenated waters already there was breath, waiting. All the binaries of Idealism, many of which Schelling rapidly played, are organized against this possibility, that in matter, right there in the actual, you can and already breathe. No extrication was needed. Key to this is the suspension that is imagined to have happened through the subject, the gap in which “production” is supposed to have stopped and ground its gears, is an illusion. Production has continued, in the same way that the desert sun shines for the ostrich. All that one has done is secluded one’s knowledge. This is not accomplished through a “negation” or the imposition of the human powers of nothingness. It is done through a tempoing of the human half-directed, to a line of production, a river of it that it cannot follow, through the “picture” of an affirmation. Spinoza’s radical, powerless nihilism is a constructive one, one might suggest. It is one that, mid-stream, finds any action to come on the fly, amid production. There is no “time out” in history.

What is most interesting when following the Pantheism Controversy and all the ways in which people reacted to and corrected Spinoza is to key your eye upon what each was trying to preserve from Spinozist annihilation. You can’t think that, or we’ll lose “x”. Nearly everything that was an “x” for late 18th century German philosophy had strong political and ideological roots, that from this distance show themselves more clearly (in Schelling one of those “x”s was “freedom”). The terrible limit at which philosophy placed Spinoza during the controversy and its aftermath exposes as well the radical possible for both ourselves as a people and as subjects. To think without “x”. It would be a path of participation and cybernetic change through integration, aesthetic thresholds of fray and fixity, instead of instrumentally induced “breaks” in the order of being, timeouts wherein we get to play at God.