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Tag Archives: Body Without Organs

Is Spinoza a Cyberneticist, or a Chaoplexicist?

In reading through Bousquet’s The Scientific Way of Warfare (aspects of which I have already engaged, here), there are pockets of useful summation that one runs into in his narrative that simply call for investigation. I’m going to have to pass on an elaborate presentation of the ideas of Cybernetics and Complexity, but Bousquet provides excellent, essential cartography. In particular is his emphasis that Cybernetic thinking from the 40s, 50s and 60s concerned itself with a borrowing of the concept of “entropy” from thermodynamics, in organization processes of “negative feedback” in pursuit of system homeostasis, with a concentration upon system “control”. Systems were seen as hermetically closed loops which worked inwardly to organize themselves to fight off entropy, noise, confusion, and establish an unending homeostasis which required no fundamental change in their own internal structure. The most basic form of the system was one that was able to note internal deviations from system “norm” which promoted external actions which would affect either a change in the environment or within, which then directed the system back to where it was before disturbed.

For some concerned with the philosophy of Spinoza there are immediate prima facie correspondences here, enough to suggest that Spinoza seems something of a proto-cyberneticist. Spinoza’s stoic-like internal regulation of one’s own thinking processes, especially on the order of the avoidance of “confused” ideas, along with his doctrine that the conatus (essential striving) of a person or a thing was a driving force to preserve itself against outside destruction, seem to hold true to a cybernetic framing of the question of epistemology and power/control. Add to this that cybernetic models were of a distinctly linear mathematical nature (marked by the additive property of cause), and that at times Spinoza seems to treat causes in the same linear fashion (for instance the idealized assertion that two men of the same nature, when combined produce a new body twice as powerful), suggests deep conceptual ties been Spinoza’s self-regulating bodies of conatus continuation and early information theory, cybernetic concepts of the control of “noise” and pursuant homeostasis. (There is of course the significant difference in the concept of entropy itself, as Spinoza reads all degradation as caused by external influence, and not natural to any system itself.)

To this comparison of affinities we also have to add a significant metaphysical homology, something that struck me as rather surprising. I have long emphasized that Spinoza’s onto-epistemology partakes in an unusual though very distinct way in the Neoplatonic model of Being as read in degrees. This is to say, things do not simply have Being or not, but rather have degrees of Being. And, as I also emphasized, Augustine was probably the greatest purveyor of this Neoplatonic doctrine, taken from Plotinus, through the Christian Middle Ages to post Renaissance thinking. In such a view, “evil” is under a non-Manichean, and one wants to stress, non-Dualistic definition. Evil was simply the absence of good (and not a force in its own right).

Historical Digression: Handled briefly so as to give a sketch of the historical ground we are covering, the Augustianian, Neoplatonic position is perhaps best expressed in his Enchiridion. There the ontology of the Good is equated with Being (an argument also found in the City of God  XI, chap. 9, where the relative non-Being of evil is also briefly stated). As with Spinoza so many centuries later, the question of the Being of evil becomes one merely one of privation:

CHAPTER IV. The Problem of Evil

12. All of nature, therefore, is good, since the Creator of all nature is supremely good. But nature is not supremely and immutably good as is the Creator of it. Thus the good in created things can be diminished and augmented. For good to be diminished is evil; still, however much it is diminished, something must remain of its original nature as long as it exists at all. For no matter what kind or however insignificant a thing may be, the good which is its “nature” cannot be destroyed without the thing itself being destroyed. There is good reason, therefore, to praise an uncorrupted thing, and if it were indeed an incorruptible thing which could not be destroyed, it would doubtless be all the more worthy of praise. When, however, a thing is corrupted, its corruption is an evil because it is, by just so much, a privation of the good. Where there is no privation of the good, there is no evil. Where there is evil, there is a corresponding diminution of the good.

One can see the correspondence between Augustine’s Neoplatonic “privation” and Spinoza’s theorizing on falsity, wherein the “Good” has been transposed into issues of truth; in the Ethics the gradated Being resolution of traditional dualisms has taken on its most systematic character. As Spinoza writes, ultimately echoing Plotinus’ radiating conception of Being (Enn. 3.2,5; 4.5,7):

E2p33 There is nothing positive in ideas whereby they can be said to be false.

Proof: If this can be denied, conceive, if possible, a positive mode of thinking which constitutes the form [forma] of error or falsity. This mode of thinking cannot be in God [E2p32], but neither can it be conceived externally to God [E1p15]. Thus there can be noting positive in ideas whereby they can be called false.

E2p35 Falsity consists in the privation of knowledge which inadequate ideas, that is, fragmentary and confused ideas, involve.

Return to Our Main Point: What is interesting is that Bousquet brings to our attention that Norbert Wiener, the father of cybernetics, actually subscribed to an Augustinian concept of evil as well. That is to say, he regarded informational “noise” as that which a cybernetic system fought to overcome, understood as the absence, or non-recognition of order (pattern). When a cybernetic system fails it is due to a confusion resultant from an inability to read clearly the pattern of the events outside of it. And Wiener felt that cybernetic systems not only described thermostats and computer negative feedback loops, but also human beings and social systems.

The passage Bousquet evocatively cites is this:

I have already pointed out that the devil whom the scientist is fighting is the devil of confusion, not of willful malice. The view that nature reveals an entropic tendency is Augustinian, not Manichaean. Its inability to undertake an aggressive policy, deliberately to defeat the scientist, means that its evil doing is the result of a weakness in his nature rather than of a specifically evil power that it may have, equal or inferior to the principles of order in the universe which, local and temporary as they might be, still are probably not to unlike what the religious man means by God. In Augustinianism, the black of the world is negative and is the mere absence of white. (190)

The human use of human beings: cybernetics and society

One can see an immediate base similarity of project, in which the scientist looks to make clear and distinct the noise of the world, presumably by ordering his/her own ideas and internal organization as best that he/she; this, coupled with Spinoza’s own significant ontological tie of ordered and clear ideas with self-affirmations which render real changes in power in the world seems to place both Wiener and Spinoza within a world of potentiating noise and confusions, in which systems of every sort create islands of relatively more self-acting, clearer idea’d, internally coherent workings. The internal patterns of recursive coherence are those which recognize and order themselves amid a general pattern producing world. And there is ever the sense that the patterns, the coherence, the rationality is already out there. In Bateson, this is the “pattern that connects”.

But There Are Other Aspects of Spinoza

This is the way that Spinoza is often read, as the devoted, internally turned Rationalist. Neglected though, is an entirely countervailing second aspect of Spinoza’s thinking. His Letter 12 skepticism towards mathematics, which he relates to products of the imagination (a point often overlooked by those that characterize him), exposes a general distrust of ANY finite, localized expression of the universe, especially on the aspect of “control”. This is to say, Spinoza is ever suspect of the human mind/body’s ability to direct itself in the world, and as such, this skepticism yields to distinctly non-linear, non-equilibrium prescriptions which go far beyond Cybernetic science presumptions.

As Bousquet tells it, it is the realization that negative feedback isn’t the only primary organizing principle in systems. Indeed if a system is ever going to be able to adopt to environments which themselves are changing, it must have the ability to rewrite and change its own internal interpretative relations. And in order to do so they must be able to move from equilibrium pursuit (that ordered Good), to other equilibrium states. In fact in a certain sense the more semi-stable states a system is able to move into, the greater the chance it will have the flexibility to adapt to unexpected (unwritten yet) events. In short, one might want to say in a dangerously rhetorical way, a bit of “chaos” has to be introduced into the system. It is here where the conservation-oriented, evil-noise-fighting cybernetic model gives way to Chaos theory and Complexity theory, fused into what has been called Chaoplexic thinking.

Positive feedback loops are those of a kind that do not push the system back down to a homeostatic state, negating the effects of some outside perturbation. Instead they excite the system and work to produce more external events which, in what could be a vicious cycle, stimulate the system into further action. Positive feedback loops are those which can be self-extinguishing, as they throw the system forward into states from which it might not ever be able to return.

Now one can definitively say that just such mad chases are what Spinoza most often theorizes against. The burn-out amplifications of the imagination are just the kind that produce violence and hatred among peoples, and, as Spinoza artfully worked to show, these hatreds are logically linked to loves as well. Love and hate each can produces amplified destructions of reverberation. But if we look closer, is it not the case that negative feedback closure is also what Spinoza sees as insufficient? And, can we not agree with some systems theorists, that it takes a combination of negative-feedback groundings, and positive feedback exposures, flights, in order to produce a viable and self-preserving system? And, at the most fundamental level must we not also admit that for Spinoza behaviors and conditions of rationality are themselves positive feedback in their nature: rationality and clear understanding tends to produce more rationality and clear understanding (however contingently contextualized). What I suggest is that Spinoza’s cybernetic model of clearer self-organization amid a potentially threatening environment of noise is tempered (or one should say spiked) with an alternate Chaoplexic embrace of positive feedback amplifications, and that these amplifications help us read out some of core prescriptions in Spinoza’s advisement.

I feel a turn to an excellent diagram offered in Linda Beckerman’s informative essay “The Non-Linear Dynamics of War” will be of some help in uncovering the non-linear thinking of Spinoza. The diagram along with some of her explication hopefully will show the numerical, as well as still determinative aspects of chaoplexic organization, such that Spinoza skepticism of finite systems/expressions may dovetail with such thinking.

In explanation of the diagram Beckerman writes in a passage so clear it is worth quoting at length…

3. Bifurcation

3.1  Non-linear systems have the capacity to exhibit multiple stable states. This is illustrated in Figure 1 in what is termed a bifurcation diagram. The far left hand side of the diagram represents systems that are mono-stable and upon perturbation will eventually settle down to a single static or steady state condition. Just to the right of this region, the system “bifurcates”. This merely means that there are two states available to the system. For one range of perturbations and conditions, the system will settle down to one state and for another range of perturbations and conditions, it will settle down to another state. As we progress towards the right, each branch splits, and then each branch further splits resulting in a rapid increase the number of stable states. On the far right hand side are those that are Chaotic. Chaotic systems appear to have an infinite number of potentially stable states. But they never settle down to any of these for long and are therefore considered to be unstable…

3.3 Systems that are mono-stable or in steady state are so stable that any perturbation causes them to snap back to their stable state, leaving no opportunity for adaptation. Change requires “surgery”. An example of this would be a nation that solely uses attrition warfare to achieve its aims, regardless of the perturbation and underlying conditions (e.g. nature of adversary) causing them to go to war.

3.4 Figure 1 also shows an opportunistic region for adaptation. It is opportunistic precisely because there are so many states available. Many non-linear systems can be caused to bifurcate repeatedly merely by increasing the magnitude of the control parameters (see section 4). The most opportunistic portion is that immediately preceding the chaotic region (referred to as the “Edge of Chaos). The difficulty is the danger that a high amplitude perturbation (input) or change in system configuration (number of interconnections) could push the system into the chaotic region.

What I would like to put into immediate juxtaposition to such a Chaos-oriented framework is Spinoza’s famously suggestive numerical, and physical equation of “the Good”, where the Good is understood as “useful”…

E4p38Whatever so disposes the human Body that it can be affected in a great many ways, or renders it capable of affecting external Bodies in a great number of ways, is useful to man; the more it renders the Body capable of being affected in a great many ways, or of affecting other bodies, the more useful it is: on the other hand, what renders the Body less capable of these things is harmful.

Hopefully you can see clearly how deviant this axiom of use is to the perturbation-shrinking model of negative feedback elimination. Indeed, much more suitably does Spinoza view of the enhanced body seem to reside – not in some fixed, closed off organization – but actually in the twilight region so described above in the diagram, the place between rigid stable states and pure chaos. Once in such a mathematical and determinative sweet-spot too much a deviation, either towards stability or toward turbulence, reduces the number of ways a body can effect and be affected. Only in the wave-line is this ideational maximality found, and one could say that for Spinoza it is this aesthetic line – caught between a hubris of excessive control and a reckless amplitude of destruction – that constitutes the proper, which is to say living, positive feedback loop.

It is Spinoza’s skepticism both towards finite expressions of knowledge, and also towards the human being’s capacity to become self-determined, that ever directs any individual outward, towards the surface of its interactions. But not only outward, where the border between self and world, self and other is ultimately broken down and reconfigured, but also breadth-wise, across the horizontal of explanations. It is Spinoza’s pursuit of the maximization of interactive powers that undermines any primary subject/object, or subject/world concerns. Instead, it would seem, that all our interally directed, cybernetic-like orderings, all our reductions of informational “noise” must also then turn back towards the very interface that composes them, to the living line of a multiplicity of possible states.

Valuably Bousquet notes that the passage from Cybernetics to Chaoplexic thinking has been characterized as the move from concerns of “control” to those of “coordination”, what has been called the “coordination revolution”. Bousquet cites Arquilla and Ronfelt who put the case in the context of military theorization. No longer is the ultimate thought for the control of all events internal to a network or system, but rather in terms of the loosely configured relatability of elements:

In these and related writings, we see a trend among theorists to equate information with “organization,” “order,” and “structure”—to argue that embedded information is what makes an object have an orderly structure. As this trend has developed, its emphasis has shifted. At first, in the 1940s and 1950s, information theorists emphasized the concept of “entropy”—and were thus concerned with exploiting feedback to improve “control.” Now, the emphasis has shifted to the concept of “complexity”—and this has led to a new concern with the “coordination” of complex systems. Control and coordination are different, sometimes contrary processes; indeed, the exertion of excessive control in order to avoid entropy may inhibit the looser, decentralized types of coordination that often characterize advanced forms of complex systems. What James Beniger called the “control revolution” is now turning into what might be better termed a “coordination revolution.” Entropy and complexity look like opposing sides of the same coin of order. About the worst that can happen to embedded information is that it gives way to entropy, i.e., the tendency to become disorganized. The best is that it enables an object to grow in efficiency, versatility, and adaptability (148)

In Athena’s camp: preparing for conflict in the information age John Arquilla, David F. Ronfeldt

The reason for this is that, in perhaps a rediscovery of many rule-of-thumb warnings against excessively directed control, if one too strictly links internal elements within a finite system, the very improvements of the system when under stress might actually lead to the catastrophic collapse of it. Instead of tightly organized linkages, loosely based, more chaotic and therefore flexible relations are desired. Bousquet citing John Urry:

In loosely coupled systems by contrast there is plenty of slack in terms of time, resources and organizational capacity. They are much less likely to produce normal accidents since incidents can be coped with, so avoiding the interactive complexity found within tightly coupled systems. In the latter, moreover, the effects are non-linear. Up to a point, tightening the connections between elements in the system will increase efficiency when everything works smoothly. But, if one small item goes wrong, then that can have a catastrophic knock-on effect throughout the system. The system literally switches over, from smooth functioning to interactively complex disaster. And sometimes this results from a supposed improvement in the system.

Global complexity  John Urry

At the risk of having steered too far from our course, the genuine skepticism over finite, linear, rationalistic, internally directed and corrective, often hierarchical organizations, shows itself in the truism of how such linearity can switch into non-linear collapse, blindside to the episteme of the system itself. Instead a skepticism towards rational systems in general directs our attention between towards horizon creating interactions themselves, towards the notion of coordination and agreements, out towards an aesthetic of mutual bodies forming a crest of living, self-producing edge-of chaos complexification.

If it is so that Spinoza possesses such a non-equilibrium appeal, where is it to be found? Is it enough to invoke his defintional awareness of the usefulness of numerical interactions? Does his skepticism towards mathematics and any finite division of magnitudes establish a non-linear bent, enough to quell the dominant linearity of his age with Newton just around the corner? Is there a radical non-equilibrium pursuit that balances out the conservatism of his conatus doctrine? I think there is. And it falls to the entire directionality of the Ethics, in particular the acme psychologies of the fourth book, and at last the passing into Intuition of the fifth book.

This is the determinative passage I feel. Spinoza is an interesting writer, for as he is often times at such pains to draw out and weave concepts into an extensive web of taken-to-be luminous clarity, pages and pages of definition, proof, axiom, proposition, all interlinked. His very best stuff can be expressed gnomically, small statements whose interpretation is that upon which everything else turns:

E5p2 If we separate out agitations (commotiones) or affects (affectus) from the cognition (cogitatione) of an external cause, and we join them to other cognitions, then Love and Hate, toward the external cause, as are the vacillations of the soul (animi fluctuationes) arising from affects, are destroyed (destruuntur).

Carefully consider this proposition in the context of the Cybernetic/Complexity dichotomy. It subsumes the whole of Spinoza’s quantifiable psychology of the preceding fourth book. It is the very cognitive temptation to give wholesale systemic valuation (“good”/”bad”) to external events that Spinoza has called into question. To put it into cybernetic terms, when the human body/mind system passes away from a state of equilibrium (moves to a condition of greater or lesser power), the credit is inordinately attributed to an external event. That external “cause” is given the valuation of good or bad given the changes in the system. When the experience is negative, that is, a breakdown of the internal coherence of the system experienced as Sadness (perhaps something we can equate with noise), the system steers itself away from such events, back to equilibrium (risking a fixed, conservative stasis induced by fear). But when it is experienced as positive, that is, an increase in the internal coherence of the system experienced as happiness, then a positive feedback loop ensues, and the system steers towards the amplification of such events, promoting their increase (risking runaway dissolution).

Spinoza’s psychology is based upon moving clear from either of these determinatives, each of which are governed from an inordinate assessment of the power of an external cause. He at first directs the eye inwards, in a cybernetic-like valuation. It is not in the nature of the external event (alone) that the passage from one desired or undesired state has occurred, but rather in the very orders of our bodies and minds. We were predisposed to be affected a certain way, but it is our cognitive tendency to attribute the cause of these changes to some external thing that ultimate weakens our self-determination and freedom.

Compellingly, once this internal self-check is conducted separating out the affect from any one-to-one dichotomization of some state of our bodies/mind and some state of the world, the affect itself, the very feeling of the body in change is to be joined to other cognitions besides those of the thought of some overt external cause. I find this fascinating because Spinoza is advocating a kind of turning the body and its feelings over to the very interface with the world, wherein the world is seen as a great screen of causal effects. This is to say, our affects continue to distribute themselves across our bodies (minds), but they do so in a broad-spectrum fashion that invokes the edge chaos sweet-spot of Beckerman’s diagram. One can see this I believe in Spinoza claim that the fluctuations of the soul are “destroyed” in this process of opening up and cognitive awareness. This is not for him a passage into a conservation of the Self, so defined apart from the world, a falling back into an equilibrium of maintenance, but rather an expansion. The oscillations he has in mind are the oscillations of Love and Hate, the way in which loves generate fears and conservative retrenchments of the self against the world. And hates open up into flights that can disintegrate into turbulent chaotic flow. Instead there is an aesthetic place, between the two. It is a kind of equilibrium of perpetual growth, or the openness to a complexity of states that defies the equilibriums of the past, a literal opening up of the finite to the Infinite. A rift of becoming. Because the affect itself becomes separated out from its distinct (and false because partial) conscious interpretation, the affect exists almost as pure bodily thinking, or put another way, thinking purely through Joy (transitions towards perfection, power, freedom).

Thoughts Tending Towards Deleuze and Guattari

This is I think what Guattari and Deleuze called the Body Without Organs. And while for some it makes difficult sense to see where this dimension of Guattari and Deleuze’s thinking can find common ground with the sobriety of Spinoza, I believe it is here, in the intermediate, where the BwO meets the Chaoplexic edge that the two/three find their home. And while Spinoza’s aesthetic setting seems closer to “stable” and D&Gs closer to chaos, they are operating in the same bandwidth, in proximity, as each takes Joy as its compass heading. What Spinoza provides is a careful analytic of the powers of Cybernetic organization, at the level of epistemology and psychology. Indeed the rewriting of internal codes, the reorientation of cognitions toward each other, within the understanding that the affects of our body serve as material guide, is essential to seeing that Spinoza’s Rationalism is ever an A-Rational theory of growth, a search for the line of complexity that is ever re-inscribing anew the boundary between self and world.

}∅{ The Full Set

The Full-ness of a Body

This is not what I intend to write on the Subject of Infinity, but it is a projective chain of thoughts. It is a tracing of a yet un-consolidated line of interpretation.

Fido the Yak presents a symbol/concept which – and I’m not sure of its origin or complete meaning – is quite intriguing in the light of my recent readings on Spinoza, the Infinite and mathematics. What I would like to call the Full Set. This is how Fido describes his imagination of it

}∅{ is like an in-cept, yet it emerges discursively as a response to the arche. How does it originate? Autopoietically? Or do we acknowledge that it is a con-cept with the arche? (Like its withness with the empty set.) I talk about }∅{ extemporaneously because the extemporaneous describes it. If you can be in a state of consciousness that includes nothing while excluding nothing then }∅{ can describe such a state of consciousness, or a goal of thinking, a guideline, better. Maybe you’d want it to represent an empty concept, I don’t know. I say now the }∅{ expresses the acknowledgment that the explanation never exceeds its explained, which is a way of saying it never accomplishes what it sets out to do, and that “foundation” is a metaphor—you may see why I call it “the breach.”

We are running in similar directions, but I prefer in my own thinking to not think of it as a breach, so much as a whole plenitude, close to Deleuze’s Full Body, the Body without Organs. (Here my thoughts proceed from his in-spiration, in perhaps an appropriation.) It is closely related to Spinoza’s notion of the Infinite as something that cannot be broken. So, in my hands, it would describe the infinite proximity between any two limits.

It emerges from Spinoza’s diagram of bound infinities, which proclaims that within any bounds there are an infinity of magnitudes which are themselves divisible:

It is important to see that for Spinoza these are magnitudes(and not simply points on an imaginary line, which are at best ab-stractions). As magnitudes, they are FULL. Now, if we are to play with symbols, the requisite symbol for Spinoza’s point about bound infinities would be something like }∞{, which is to say, between any imposed limits, there are an infinity of magnitudes buried. Also importantly, and somewhat divergent from Badiou’s concept of Count-as-one, the symbol should not be {∞}, because for Spinoza any (abstract) internal bounds already, already refers to, or references to some degree a determination that lies outside of it, as in his Letter 12 diagram

The sub-section between AB and CD {}, already includes comprehension of the circle circumstance itself, }{. Or, the internal count-as-one (set), really is composed, determined by the bordering edges of something beyond it, as a mode of comprehension, consciousness itself.

Playing With Symbols

So, while Spinoza in Letter 12 seems to be presenting something of a }∞{ determination, what would be the intuition of the full set }∅{, which is our subject here mean? It is not that between any two abstract limits there is some sort of nothing, or emptiness (for Spinoza denies the ontological consistency of the void). It is rather that the act of distinction and limitation itself drives itself toward the impossibility of separation: as we enter into the infinity of magnitudes (let us start with Badiou’s count-as-one teeming/erupting with multiplicities) {∞}, we are pre-positedly forced both outward…}∞{…but also inward to the full set itself…}∅{…the way in which what lies between simply cannot be divided at all and remains unbroken. It is not the sheer multiplicity that lies between any borders (inside, or outside), but rather the implicition that there is no “gap”, the very fullness of Being, from which mathematics, figure drawing and set-making composes only an abstraction, an imaginary class. It is for this reason that for Spinoza rational thought leads ultimately to an Intuition of immanent wholes and a speed of thought. 

Or, if put another way, any conception of emptiness, or lack, or nothing {∅} (whether it be mere psychological wanting, or mathematical 0), diverges upon the fullness of being, showing itself to be a figment.

Davidson, Spinoza, Aristotle: Veridicality and Organs

A ruminating thought floats behind these considerations.

Is there a connection between a). Davidson’s world thought to be the cause of our beliefs which assumes an inherent verdicality of belief, making of a triangulating community of language users a kind of organ of truth, b). Spinoza’s (proposed) expectation that interactions with his Ethics, that would cause increases in our power to act along a vector of Joy, the proofs of which serving as organs of mental perception, within a cohering affectively bonded sociability, c). and Aristotle’s functional defintion of the products our sense organs as incorrigable.

Further, aside from any imposed normativity, projected upon funcationality, such and organ bound communication of veridicality would open the question up along biological valences of affect and power. Organs can open up to an analysis of the Body Without Organs. Communicated action across functionality.


Secondly, perception of special sensibles is incorrigible for Aristotle because it is constitive of the very notion of veridicality. Vision under optimal conditions is the only criterion we posses by which to judge whether something has a particular colour: for example to view something under optimal conditions is to meet all the relevant conditions by which colour is determined. On this account, to distinguish between something really being red, and just looking red to someone with excellent eyesight who views the object under optimal lighting conditions, would simply make no sense…This is not an epistemological account of perception, in the sense of an account that tells of how the veridicality of our knowledge of the natural world can be secured…it is not just that the proper use of our sense organs automatically gaurentees the verdicality of what we perceive, but rather that, given their proper use (i.e. the proper use of normal sense organs operating under optimal conditions) the question of our being mistaken simply makes no sense (159-160).

– Intellectual Biography 159 – 160)

Aristotle, De Anima Book II Part VI (418):

In dealing with each of the senses we shall have first to speak of the objects which are perceptible by each. The term ‘object of sense’ covers three kinds of objects, two kinds of which are, in our language, directly perceptible, while the remaining one is only incidentally perceptible. Of the first two kinds one (a) consists of what is perceptible by a single sense, the other (b) of what is perceptible by any and all of the senses. I call by the name of special object of this or that sense that which cannot be perceived by any other sense than that one and in respect of which no error is possible; in this sense colour is the special object of sight, sound of hearing, flavour of taste. Touch, indeed, discriminates more than one set of different qualities. Each sense has one kind of object which it discerns, and never errs in reporting that what is before it is colour or sound (though it may err as to what it is that is coloured or where that is, or what it is that is sounding or where that is.) Such objects are what we propose to call the special objects of this or that sense.

Martha Nussbaum and Hecuba: The Living Latticework of Ethics

Polyxena (much welcoming) and the Chorus

University of Chicago professor, Martha Nussbaum, speaks emotionally and clearly about the tender nature of ethical binding, “we are more like a plant, than a gem”, as she summons up the lessons from Euripedes’s play. She communicates in body and mind the tenuous connections which make up our sense-making dimensions of the world, the fast and terror-ible filaments which communicate our living nature: ethos.

[from grundlegung, from The Brooks Blog]

We can become shattered and animalized, when the bodily components of our trust become broken. And goodness is the openness to this kind of risk. But Nussbaum’s personal appeal, “I wake up at night thinking of Euripedes’ Hecuba…” calls to mind the haunting moment wherein the chorus women speak as one woman, a conflation of plural and first persons: she readies herself for bed, unbeknowingly perched on the destruction all that makes sense, in the towers of Ilium. This is the scene of two that “haunt” me from the play:

I, my curls in twisting
Turbans was rhythming,
Out from golden mirrors gazing
Into the bottomless rays,
That readied I might fall into bed,
But up a roar rose in the city.  (922-927)

How this is the tension of Iium in all the twistings that satisfy and pacify, golden, and the then discordant escalation that amplifies and signals. The “I” collapses into a single horrifying moment.

Secondly, there is the report of Talthybius, to Hecuba, of the kind of death that Polyxena her beautiful daughter suffered, when the Greeks had commended that she be put to death as a sacrifice on the tomb of Achilles so as to sate his ghost (the ghost of their inequities):

And when she heard the word of commanders
Loosening the cloth from the peak of the shoulder
She tore it to the hollow of her ribs, navel-low,
And showed her breast, as lovely as a goddess’
Statue. Then sinking to her knees she spoke these
Words of surpassing bravery: “Here young man, if
It is my breast you want to strike, strike here… (556-565)

Apart from Nussbaum’s sensitive reading of the fragility of ethical behavior I think stands these two limits of the feminine body, that which is recursively wound in peace, the self-enjoyment which circulates upon its own, with an infinitesimal relationship to the depth of rays and their mirror in its own gaze (an operation which is variously projected upon the woman, yet in fact is polyvalent);

but also, unlike the shattered nature of Hecuba’s fate, her dog-becoming – and I disagree that becoming-animal is necessarily a “shattering”, as it is also a potentiating of the body, a fractaling – there is Polyxena’s display of the body in defiance, the abject resistance to order, subverting the very sexualized mechanism of a “breast”, making oneself a site of protest and eruption. This a core Greek Tragedy notion. In this way, the surface volume of the fragility that Nussbaum points out touches at its surface, the Body Without Organs, as how Deleuze and Guattari may have conceived it. The surface of the human is inhuman, there, the breast and the mirror meet.

If we are more like a plant than a gem, then perhaps we are more like a rhizome than a tree.


Wasps, Orchids, Beetles and Crickets: A Menagerie of Change in Transgender Identification

[written Fall of 2007]

Whatever so disposes the human Body that it can be affected in a great many ways, or renders it capable of affecting external Bodies in a great many ways, is useful to man;

-Spinoza, Ethics, Part IV, Proposition 38

This paper is going to be a bit of an experiment in description, as it borrows from the two poles of philosophical pursuit that have over the last century been reported to have grown apart, the Continental and the Analytic. Yet now the rumor is that they are coming together, again (α). So this paper starts where much leaves off, in between.

The under comparison is that of transgender and its successive, trans-sexuality. Much plagues those who take such a diverse category for their subject, attempting to gather so many in one conceptual net and to call them by one name; and then to pick each out by kind, as if we might through measurement and definition find a genealogy of desires and practices, a phylum, a taxonomy, and eventually an etiology which organize these behaviors so as to make them meaningful to ourselves and others. That is not the aim here. What is to be discovered, if anything, is how trans-practices manifest by their very nature across phyla, no matter their destination, but also how in doing so, they enrichly form new bodies, and new capacities for wholeness.

The starting point is the philosophy of Deleuze and Guattari, difficult thinkers to begin with because so much of what they write, even, or especially as they endeavor to be analytical, is defiant of our usual categories of intellectual organization. Hierarchies, categories, binaries, universals, systems, and tree-branching structures of thought are not spared. Or rather they are spared, but de-centralized, as they propose alternative ana-lysis to the way the world manifests itself. Yet undeterred we shall begin by plucking from them a single metaphor, an analogy, a homology, a model which is none of these things and possibly more (a map), and use it to unfold what may be happening when a person of one supposed gender begins his or her journey towards another.

We, following Deleuze and Guattari, take from biology as a starting point the remarkable phenomena widely called “sexual deception” or more pointedly, and technically: the conditions, structures and events surrounding “pseudocopulation” wherein an orchid sexually masquerades as a wasp. As biologist Manfred Ayasse describes,

Ophys flowers mimic virgin females of their pollinators, and male insects are lured to the orchid by volatile semiochemicals and visual cues. At close range, chemical signals from the flowers elicit sexual behavior in males, which try to copulate with the flower labellum and respond as if in the presence of female sex pheromones. Thereby the male touches the gynostemium, and the pollinia may become attached to his head or, in some species, to the tip of his abdomen. His copulatory attempts with another flower ensure that the pollinia are transferred to the flower’s stigmatic surface and pollination is ensured (Ayasse, 517)

Wasp, Orchid, Deleuze, Deterritorialization - transgender

In short, orchids particularly of the genus Chiloglottis, have evolved with the capacity to produce the sexual pheromones of a wasp that serves as its pollinator, Neozeleboria, and to visually present the appearance of the female wasp herself. What is advantageous about this example is this: just as scientists struggle to describe such imitation in a language of pure instrumentality, of surfaces, structures and behaviors, and are forced to slip into a language of intents, deceptions, lures, and rewards to make their description full, conversely, as we approach the wants and desires of trans-persons we might go beyond simply their volitions and aims, and see that even in examples of “copying” or “imitating” something more is going on, something bio-morphic. For while as striking as it may seem to a normative some that a biologically sexed woman may try in every regard within her means to become understood to be a man, that is, to be something that is not within her supposed historical capacity to be, it is perhaps even more revealing when we realize that an orchid can become indistinguishable by scent or sight from the sexual partner of a wasp (Wong, 1530). In fact, what Deleuze and Guattari want us to see is the insufficiency of a language of physical boundaries and a language of psychological aims when describing the powers of transformation, in particular, when mimicry or copying is involved. For what ultimately is in play when copies are read as authentic or inauthentic is the Platonic distinction between the good copy and the poor or deceptive imitation. In the stead of this, Deleuze and Guattari would like to use a conception of copy in which the copy is only as good as what it can do (β) , no longer being a “copy” (neither good nor bad), but an experimentation, making of both the orchid and the trans-sexual in kind, neither a deception, nor an approximation, but a real becoming, that is, a continual process a material assemblage.

Deleuze and Guattari imagine there to be a wasp-orchid assemblage, where the boundaries of the one cannot be thoroughly distinguished from the boundaries of the other. Rather it is in terms of code and traces that the stratum of a plant line intersects unexpectedly (there is nothing in the nature of a plant that would anticipate it becoming-animal in code), with the stratum of an animal line, where each becomes the function of the other. Using a vocabulary of “territory” to note the closed and open statuses of a body, as it pertains to function, Deleuze and Guattari offer a description of the wasp-orchid relation which exceeds the explanatory power of representational thinking:

The orchid deterritorializes (γ) by forming an image, a tracing of a wasp; but the wasp reterritorializes on that image. The wasp is nevertheless deterritorialized, becoming a piece in the orchid’s reproductive apparatus. But it reterritorializes the orchid by transporting its pollen. Wasp and orchid, as heterogeneous elements, form a rhizome. It could be said that the orchid imitates the wasp, reproducing the image in a signifying fashion (mimesis, mimicry, lure, etc.). But this is true only on the level of the strata — a parallelism between two strata such that a plant organization on one imitates an animal organization on the other. At the same time, something else entirely is going on: not imitation at all but a capture of code, surplus value of code, an increase in valence, a veritable becoming, a becoming-wasp of the orchid and a becoming-orchid of the wasp. (10).

It is through this notion of desire working as a rhizome between strata—the unseen way that grass grows, branching out nodulely, diversely, without center, in contrast to the sciencific analogy of the tree—that they seek to uncover the very real trans-phyla communications and creations that lie not below, nor prior to, but adjacent to the hierarchies and arboreal structures of our more common molar descriptions of life and thought (Pearson, 153),. As Pearson describes the rhizome,

A rhizome is…a subterranean ‘network of multiple branching roots and shoots, with no central axis, with no unified point of origin, and no given direction of growth’. In effect the rhizome constitutes the surplus value of evolution, always coming into being without origin, and only conceivable when evolution is understood as functioning transversally, that is, as cutting across distinct lineages (157)

it is through the rhizome that the orchid reaches the wasp, and the wasp the orchid. And as it may be suggested, how the trans reaches the pronoun, and the pronoun the trans, through others. Despite the experiences of approximation and representation that occupy many trans-individual efforts, such a rhizomic approach allows that something more significant than “copying” poorly or perfectly may be involved in trans-becomings, something productive.

In order to understand Deleuze and Guattari’s approach which includes codes, intensities and traces, we need to address their idea of the “body without organs” (BwO). The term, taken from the end of schizophrenic poet, Antoine Artaud’s radio play, “To Have Done with the Judgment of God” (δ) , is a concept designed to describe the intensive nature of a body as it is both experienced and expressed in a specific yet unhierarchized form. It is in direct contrast to a supposed body-with-organs that is by society organ-ized, furnished with organs, to particular purposes and functions. Deleuze and Guattari see in the BwO the capacities of the body to become traversed with intensities and thus possibilities that cannot be contained within its heretofore organized history, or one could say, its phylum, or kind. It is the way that the BwO unhinges analysis of events of imitation and approximation, freeing descriptions from an etiology of specific psychic aims, wants or desires (to be more like “daddy,” or to attract “men”), that it brings its greatest fecundity. As imitative pursuits show themselves to be something more than simply making copies of copies, they begin to manifest a productive desire. But how is a body without organs, found, located or recognized?

Deleuze and Guattari want us to see a priority of affects, the way that our affects actually work to define what we are capable of doing, and thus what we are. In a telling, counter-intuitive example they suggest for instance that a racehorse has less in common with a workhorse than does an ox. Working within a cartographic measure of parts which undermines any descriptive speciation, they write:

Lattitude is made up of intensive parts falling under a capacity, and a longitude of extensive parts falling under a relation. In the same way that we avoid defining a body by its organs and functions, we will avoid defining it by Species or Genus characteristics; instead we will count its affects…A race horse is more different from a workhorse than a workhorse is from an ox (257).

For, the body of a racehorse goes beyond our classifications of kinds—though these too demarcate the kinds of experiences a racehorse can have, for instance the experience of mating with a workhorse. A racehorse will likely experience things in a manner no workhorse will come to, while the ox and workhorse will have a community of affects historically determined across species. The body without organs is this veritable capacity to be defined through intensities experienced in particular ways; and from these intensities be able to disorganize from one’s history (deterritorialize), and reorganize in a line of flight, “jumping the tracks” of code so to speak, into new possibilities of material assemblage (reterritorializing), just as the orchid becomes an orchid-wasp.

How this reflects upon trans-identities is of great interest, for much of what garners the attention of scientists, advocates and trans-persons themselves is the very seemingly imitative nature of their self-projects. How would such projects be seen if taken out of the representational milieu, and into the constructive arena of body without organs transformation? What would the trans-experience look like under such a view? Deleuze and Guattari provide us a key in their explanation of how one might go about actually making (and not just finding) a body without organs. They take up again an example of apparent imitation. This time instead of a flower becoming an insect, it is a masochist’s fantasy aim of becoming a horse: bridle and all. They want to question the Freudian-lead psychological framework of causes, wants and desires that tries to make heads or tails of why a masochist may want to “be a horse” (258), and instead picture the masochist’s project as one of establishing a program of thresholds and affect transformations (ε). After a series of ritualized conditionings where the part of the horse is organized upon the body of the masochist, the question of what is happening is opened up:

What is this masochist doing? He seems to be imitating a horse, Equus eroticus, but that’s not it. Nor are the horse and the master-trainer or mistress images of the mother or father. Something entirely different is going on: a becoming-animal essential to masochism. It is a question of forces. The masochist presents it this way: Training axiom—destroy the instinctive forces in order to replace them with transmitted forces. In fact, it is less a destruction than an exchange and circulation (“what happens to a horse can also happen to me”)  (ATP, 155) (ζ)

There are two things going in this description: first is that the masochist becomes a horse by undergoing the training axiom itself, as the horse does, and so becomes similar; but paramount is this very possibility, that instinctive forces are capable of being replaced with transmitted forces through the mechanism of a program, where the horse is not so much copied, but mapped onto a historic structure. That is, the body of the masochist is given new possibilities (other than its phylogenic and historical forms) through the mapping of new intensities, a transmitting of affects across species bounds. Imitation becomes an actualized line of flight.

It is through this Deleuzian concept, which Elizabeth Grosz calls “[one] of the body as a discontinuous, nontotalizable series of processes, organs, flows, energies, corporeal substances and incorporeal events, speeds and durations…” (164), that the trans-project takes its firmest grip, as trans-. This body becomes a map of intensities structured through a program of becomings as transmitted intensities deterritorialize the body only to reterritorialize it somewhere else through a sharing of affects, and thus possibilities. Might it be constitutive of the trans-identity that there is an informing project of affective and signifying becomings? As clothing, body language, verbalizations, thought processes, role-play, then possibly medicalizations such as rites of hormone intake, social organization of surgeries (appointments, testaments, visits, payments), then the construction of repeatable and perhaps increasingly scrutinized scenes of passing and not-passing become assembled into an entire machine of affect transmission, is not the trans-person the constructor of the body without organs par excellence? But if the trans-person is making a map of themselves, of their body as intensities, what is it they are mapping?

In her book Volatile Bodies, Elizabeth Grosz emphasizes the distinction between surface and depth which Deleuze and Guattari elucidates, one which can be thought of as characterizing the difference between “primitive” and “modern” inscriptions of the body. For Grosz, while the savage inscriptions upon the body, in general, mark relations, modern significations have become markers of interiorities. It is this tension between exterior relations so mapped and the interior wants, desires and aims of a subject’s psychology that seems to play between potential descriptions of trans-identity projects: what they are doing, and what they are wanting. Grosz hopes for us to see our inscribed bodies in a more savage way, as intensive surfaces so that “they create not a map of the body but the body precisely as a map” (139) (η) , in the way that the orchid can be said to map the wasp. The cartographic body of a trans-identity person, through its transmitted forces, becomes a map of relations, if we apply Grosz’ description of the savage:

The body and its privileged zones of sensation, reception, and projection are coded by objects, categories, affiliations, lineages, which engender and make real the subject’s social, sexual, familial, martial, or economic position or identity within a social hierarchy. Unlike messages to be deciphered, they are more like a map of correlating social positions with corporeal intensities (140).

And yet the trans-person, as he or she maps across biological and sociogenic branches through a program of rites of construction and occasions of “passing,” comes to be posited as having an interior by virtue of living these corporeal intensities. Occasions of surface folds and affective transfers between historical and biologically determined kinds become thus spaces for the projections of a modern psychology of depth:

What differentiates savage from civilized systems of inscription is the sign-ladeness of the latter, the creation of bodies as sign systems, texts, narratives, rendered meaningful and integrated into forms capable of being read in terms of personality, psychology, or submerged subjectivity […]

[…]The indefinite and ever-changing impetus and force of bodily sensations can now be attributed to an underlying psyche or consciousness. Corporeal fragmentation, the unity or disunity of the perceptual body, becomes organized in terms of the implied structure of an ego or consciousness, marked by and as a secret and private depth, a unique individual (141)

For Deleuze and Guattari, as they align themselves to such a description of surfaces counter to that signifying what is “interior”, what remains integral for any complete account of desire is that, apart from a psychology of aims and personhood, desire is best seen as rhizomic, especially when representational accounts offer the lure of their greatest explanatory potential. For it is across representational copies, and the moralizing tendency to regard some copies as good and some as mere imitations, that the productive values of desire are to be traced.

An effect of this approach is the way that a trans-experience of desire is to be assessed, both by engaged others, and the persons themselves. Pleasure is the coin with which morality trades most (ι). By Deleuze and Guattari’s telling, it is the collapse of desire into pleasure which constitutes the creation of the subject. “Pleasure is an affection of a person or a subject;” they write, “it is the only way for persons to ‘find themselves’ in the process of desire that exceeds them; pleasures even in the most artificial, are reterritorializations. But the question is precisely whether it is necessary to find oneself” (156). Because the narrative of “finding oneself” makes up a great deal of the subjective experience of many trans-persons, the status of this “self”, in particular the experience of “gender” as it relates to identity must be paid close attention to. If we are to view trans-experiences as so many willful constructions of folds and intensities, mappings of social forms onto the egg of the body, transversally, what are we to make of the very real contestations of selfhood, self-discovery and self-expression well attested to by trans-persons themselves? What is the status of gender, as it is self-conceived and experienced as real, and determinant? And can the rhizomic becomings of Deleuze and Guattari’s description, be re-contextualized into modes of being without becoming entirely hierarchialized into reified strata, strata which condense around a “self”? How does one find out what gender one is?

In some transsexual accounts there is a very real and persistent theme of having to correct one’s body so as to fit the gender one always was. Transsexual Jamison Green, in his book Becoming a Visible Man for instance makes a good example of this when he compares the process of transexuality to “planing the edge of a door so that it fits within its frame” (192). He sees himself as always having been a particular gender, male, and that his body has simply, over the previous parts of his life, mis-communicated to others what he is. Further, he grounds his authority over his gender in terms of an inalienable privacy of experience, invoking the famous “reality” of a tree that falls in the forest:
Gender is a private matter that we share with others; and when we share it, it becomes a social construction […] But to say that without this interaction there is no need for gender is like saying that if a tree fell in the forest and no ear is there to hear the sound, then there was no sound, or perhaps no tree actually fell (191)

There is a significant sense in which this incorrigibility of report serves to authenticate a trans-persons aims, both to others, and to oneself. It is as a person of an incontrovertible gender claim that many of the morally ambiguous acts of self-transformation gain their footing. While not to disparage either the need for such a justification, nor the experience of a surety of knowing one’s gender over time, it is perhaps helpful to examine the foundations of the self-knowing of gender, so as to at the very least gain a perspective of the kinds of terrain trans-persons have to cross—for not all trans-persons may make the claim that they are and have always been a particular gender. In this way we hope to avoid particular entrapping binaries, for instance those between an experiential “soul” and the signifying “body”, so as to inscribe even the most conservative projects of transsexuality—that is, becoming what one already always was—in a landscape of even greater freedom, communication and authority.

I propose that in view of Jamison Green’s notion of private authority, we tentatively treat “gender” in the manner in which Wittgenstein treated all things which we claim to “know only from our own case”. Through Wittgenstein we may provide an account of the solidity of gender, where it is experienced to be solid, and a fluidity where it is experienced to be fluid. And through Wittgenstein, as he takes on representational pictures of the mind wherein we are tempted to think that we directly experience meaning in some unmediated, internal form, we may find bridge to the Analytic tradition in the non-representationalism of Davidson. We may discover that we cannot know directly, in any unmediated way, what “gender” we are, and that to find out what gender we are, we must have “the rest of the mechanism.” (PI §6).

The quickest way to Wittgenstein’s “truth” is perhaps his obiter dictum: “How do I know this colour is red?—It would be an answer to say: ‘I have learnt English’” (PI §381). For what Wittgenstein would like us to see is that when we make judgments about the world (and ultimately about ourselves), it is laterally towards the mutuality of our exchanges that we must turn, if we are looking for the foundation of their truth. There is for Wittgenstein nothing anchoring in the nature of a patch of red paint, for example, that gives us the “how” of our knowing that it is red. Rather, there is a matrix of rules which govern how we talk about things, which allow us to know what is “red”, and what is not. This approach elucidates not only disagreements about “things in the world” but also disagreements over internal presentations and experiences. So, following Wittgenstein, one perhaps can answer, How do I know that I am male? An answer would be: Because I have learned English.

But what if even having learned English seems not to be enough to clear up the meaning of a perception? If way we use the words for specific colors is sunk in the way that we organize ourselves around our experiences of colors, in communication with others, what if our perceptions don’t match up with others? If there was a person who every time saw what supposedly was “red”, and everyone called “red”, instead saw the hypothetical color “ryd” in their Cartesian mind, what would result? One might suggest that the regularity of the use of the word, in concert with the regularity of the experience would work in one of two ways. Either this experience of “ryd” would become synonymous with “red” to the degree that it is for all purposes, it would be “red,” or such a person would come to realize over time that she or he just doesn’t experience “red” the way that other persons do; for instance, “I just don’t find ‘red’ to be a hot color, but it is much more like ‘blue’ or ‘green’ to me”. If gender can be seen as to be like color, the actual experience of being a gender would be one in which the way we use the words “male” and “female” orient us either to their proficiency to describe us, or the divergence of our experience from the norm, and perhaps a bit of both.

Wittgenstein Bettle in the Box - Gender

There is a well-known picture-game that Wittgenstein offers which helps us to see the place personal experience holds in justifying facts of a matter, his Beetle in a Box. Wittgenstein writes speaking of pain,

Now someone tells me that he knows what pain is only from his own case!—Suppose everyone had a box with something in it: we call it a “beetle”. No one can look into anyone else’s box, and everyone says that he knows what a beetle is only by looking at his beetle.—Here it would be quite possible for everyone to have something different in his box. One might even imagine such a thing constantly changing.—But suppose the word “beetle” had a use in these people’s language?—If so it would not be used as the name of a thing. The thing in the box has no place in the language-game at all; not even as a something: for the box might even be empty.—No, one can ‘divide through’ by the thing in the box; it cancels out, whatever it is (PI §293)

The beauty of this example is that it takes relations between people in communication to be fluid and sure. The experience of beetle, becomes established in the regularity of the use of the word “beetle” so much so that the experience itself can be “divided through” in such a perfect, grammatical world. This beetle in the box example was designed for particular claims to know what one is experiencing, only from our own case, what a pain is, what a color is. And despite the idea sometimes forwarded that it is only philosophers who make these kind of “from my own case” claims, it seems entwined in the very nature of personal identity and social authenticity to have a private, unmediated authority of over what one experiences. Here though, Wittgenstein is helping to unseat the idea that we can just look into our own box and know what it is that we see, apart from what all others say and see. In his vision, what is inside the box is not a “something” that can be opened up and shown, or pointed to in any way.

But in order for us to make full use of Wittenstein’s beetle we have to take into account the binary grammar of gender, and thus the particular ways that the language of gender helps organize our experiences of ourselves as gendered. Diverging slightly from his model, let us imagine that not only does the word “beetle” have a use, but so does the word “cricket”. One sensically, in these people’s language, has either one or the other:

Under such a model one can see that through the regularity of the uses of these words “beetle” and “cricket” no matter what really is in the box, one would possibly come to understand that one has one or the other. And there may be cases whereby, even though your anatomy by the norms of designation and use tell you that you should have a beetle inside, it makes the most sense of your experience in the world to say that you had a cricket (just as a person who sees ryd might come to understand that she or he does not see “red” they way that others do, but sees something closer to “blue”). And you might even come to understand that, counter the grammar of such words, sometimes it seems that you have a beetle, and sometimes a cricket, or a strange thing that has a few characteristics of each, and even of something else unnamed. Yet in no case does one know what one has, solely by looking into the box.

We have come from Deleuze’s polyvalent world of affect-becoming, where bodies exist as intensive maps, pure surface values composed of transverse, affective states which allow phyla-genetic paths to cross over, from flower to wasp, from man to horse, and back again, a place where one can become what one historically is not, and we have arrived at a Wittgensteinian world where experience works as what may be described as a kind of center of gravity (κ) , not a “something” but organized by, and potentially organizing a mutuality of meanings, behaviors and concepts, as people come to agree upon the use of words in language-games played. What remains is to join up these two worlds, the Deleuzian one of two-dimensional, coded, affective bodies, and the Wittgensteinian one of horizontal mechanisms of rule-use, under a coherent description such that the powers of both are not diminished, each leading towards a picture of transgender authenticity. I propose the philosophy of Donald Davidson, as a nexus point of such mutuality.

Beginning from Wittgenstein figure of the Beetle in A Box, because we cannot look into anyone else’s box, we must make operative, perhaps hardwired, or even logical assumptions in order to communicate with others and make sense of the world. With such a capacity in mind, Davidson establishes principles charity (λ), guiding non-individuated assumptions about the nature of other persons’ beliefs. Beliefs, he attempts to show, must be of a veridical and coherent nature so as to ground our interpretation of intentional behaviors, and they do so within a necessarily causal picture of the world, a process he calls triangulation.

Triangulation exists at the most fundamental level of life: “All creatures” Davidson writes, “classify objects and aspects of the world in the sense that they treat some stimuli as more alike than others. The criterion of such classifying activity is similarity of response” (212); yet this criterion of similarity of response itself can only be derived as a regularity through the regularities of other responses to it; this necessarily creates a nesting of regularities: Thus:

Triangulation - Davidson - Objectification

1. There are regularities in the world (M).
2. A creature classifies these regularities.
3. The criterion of this classification is the regularity of this creature’s behavior in response (D).
4. The measure of this criterion is the regularity of behavior of another observing creature (another D, or the perceptive subject), etc.
5. We and others seem to be responding to the same features of the world.

The way that Davidson sees our understanding of others, as language users in a field of meaning, thus is built upon a recognition, and confirmation of regularities; it is these that underwrite our rule-following use of words and that help us form the propositional content of our thoughts; more complexly, it is that as language users we are constantly triangulating between a world and others. It is a world whose events are seen to cause our sensations (μ) , sensations which cause our beliefs (ν) ; and others are those whose mental-states are similarly caused, causing their intentional behaviors (ξ). These behaviors are then interpreted by a normative relation of one to another, via their meanings—that is, we triangulate two positions, our and others so as to gain a world. In this way we are always seeing the world, ourselves and others in an interlocking, mutually dependent relationship, as the world affects others as it also affects us. In such a matrix of relations the world takes on an objective character; all the while we come to have a necessarily intersubjective knowledge of others, and a dependent subjective knowledge of ourselves. These are Davidson’s “three varieties of knowledge” (ο) . To put them in Wittgenstein’s framework: something is “red” in the world because we know that others experience/believe it to be red and because we experience/believe it to be red.

To be more illuminating, I would like to expose these three knowledges to a conceptualization of affective sameness which subsumes Davidson’s principles of charity, filling the gap which lies between “experience” and “belief”. For triangulation necessarily occurs within bodies in relation, bodies of sensation. What I propose is that in interpreting others in the world, we affectively imagine them to be like us, not just at the normative level of beliefs, and thus meaning, but through a governing attribution of sameness. That is, not only do we imagine that like us, others hold a majority of true beliefs about the world, and that these beliefs are reasonably in support of each other, but we also imagine that we would experience the same things as they, under the same conditions.

Thus, if anything allows triangulation to operate all the way down the animal chain of being, it is this affective sharing. It is through this transmitive sharing of sensation, structuring and structured by our beliefs, that new beliefs are able to take hold, and the communication with another attains its bodily relevance. In it simplest form, our experience of the world as real comes about through an affective transmission of sameness.

So while we may very well disagree with others’ interpretations of the world, the beliefs which cause their behaviors, the world and they only make sense if we understand their (mis)interpretations within the larger context of a shared (re)action within a shared world, in an affective communicative capacity (π). We must in some sense “touch” and exchange affects even with those we disagree with, in order to disagree (this is the source of emotional repulsion and moral approbation, judgment involves intimate affective touching, becoming what you object to if only for a moment).

But there is something more involved in our affective and belief-guided imagination of others through which we see the world as it is to be. And this that the affects of others cause us to have affects ourselves. As Spinoza puts this law of affect sharing: “If we imagine a thing like us, toward which we have had no affect, to be affected with some affect, we are thereby affected with a like affect” (EIIIp27). There is, at the foundations of our perceptions of the world a socializing effect, a continuous potential trans-phyla exchange of affects which works to weave bodies together; those of diverse historical genealogies necessarily are put in affective states that others must be imagined to hold, however provisionally, in any attempt to make sense of manifest behaviors. Thus within the index of beliefs about the world is a working bodily exchange of Spinoza’s affectuum imatatio, an imitation of affects, which puts two points of view in concert with the world. Not only do we imagine what others believe, and are therefore able to understand what they mean, but we must feel what we imagine them to feel.

Using this Spinozist conception of affect-sharing we may manage the leap between Davidson’s normative meaning as it spreads out in a pragmatism of sense and interpretation, and Deleuze and Guatttari’s transmitted forces, ethically increasing the number of things a body can do, marrying phyla-genic lines. Davidson grants that a thought may belong to a single person, but not its content, which is mapped, “Even our thoughts about our own mental states occupy the same conceptual space, and are located on the same public map” (218), and this map can be regarded under the affective process of mappings the body . Because Davidson is looking for nonindivuative psychological attitudes (211) which govern our capacity to make sense of the world as language speakers, and sees Wittgenstein’s private language argument as holding not only a community-based “objective check on the correct use of words” but also necessarily a check on “what is the case” (210), the recursivity of pattern recognition in the use of words, as they are used to describe ourselves and the world must be seen as nested and communal relations, building semantic bodies in dependent reflection, not only of belief, but of experience, as it unfolds in the world. It is the case, therefore, that when a biological “woman,” per se, takes on the narrative that “she” has always been a “man”, and too in project willfully constructs the affect experiences of a “man” this transmission of affect must be read as both “real” and “truth telling”, for our accounts of the world are made of nothing more than this. In such a process, not only is the “woman” changed—that body—but so too are “men” changed—those bodies—so as to become however ephemerally a body. It is the force and the coherence of such claims, played out in the constructed struggle to become what one is, that ultimately decides the fact of the matter. In the end the question will be: How well does desire sit in that circulation?

What Davidson’s work does is contextualize the projects of affective becoming which typify the body without organs of Deleuze and Guattari, within an orientation towards a shared world: I am a horse, I am a man, become affect-enriched, world-making procedures, without collapsing them into a purely subjective state of personal psychology, because psychology itself (mental predicates and nonindividuative attitude) is seen as part of a mediating same which constitutes relations . When affects are communicated through program, for instance that of those practiced by the masochist, reinscribing “instinctive forces” with “transmitted forces,” this can be read in context as something more than producing a body without organs, though this descriptions remains; rather, such are dimensionally full productions of affective bodies, as seen to be sharing the world, and cognitively oriented towards it, as it causes internal states in affects spread between perceptions; hence material assemblages become interpretive assemblages of community. For while the masochist may be mapping the intensities of a horse-assemblage upon his body, he is not only doing so, but also in that he is positing himself within the affect-range of a horse he is feeling the world to be causing these distributions, the particularities shared by a horse and himself, as in their union they are determined to hold specific states and potentiated beliefs. Part of cognitive becoming, without a reduction to a Cartesian or even Phenomenological subject, is the transmission of affect across bodies in the experience of a shared and causal world. What Davidson does is compass the expansive ontological work of Deleuze and Guattari’s back towards some of its own origins, that is, back towards an ethical Spinozist description of shared affects in an imaginary binding of the social, in service of the judgment of the world through the creation of affective bodies.

What I propose is that as transgenders and transsexuals come to orient themselves around the meanings and uses of the words for gender, they, like all of us, engage in a radical, body constructive affectuum imatatio. But as Deleuze and Guarttari tell us, this is not taking on the representation of some other thing, but rather taking on the power of an affect as another body might be experiencing itself, as it is undergoing an interaction with the world. It is placing the map of the body in its causal contexts, and thus maintaining the materiality (limits and possibilities) of relations. Trans-individuals are perhaps best seen as engaged in forming an affective ratio in concert with other bodies, such that in a transmission of affect they form together a novel, interpretive perspective of the world.

Spinoza defines a body in a spectacular way:

When a number of bodies…are so constrained by other bodies that they lie upon one another, of if they so move, whether with the same degree of different degrees of speed, that they communicate their motions to each other in a certain fixed manner, we shall say that those bodies are united with one another and that they all together compose one body or Individual (EIIP13def.)

It is this “communicate their motions to each other” which makes of an imitation of affects a material exchange, and also of meaning a praxis experimentation in power, one in which the composite mutuality of experience in response to the world becomes a new locus of experience, across bodies, in so forming a body of communications. In this way, semantic articulations of states of the world, and internal experiences become pathways of bodily constructions of knowledge, in combinatory forms, as the “facts of the matter” continually play out in that praxis of an affective community.

If transgender and transsexual persons can be seen as orienting the cartography of their bodies around the “beetles” or “crickets” that all persons are grammatically supposed to have, with each person coming from the particularities of anatomical and behavioral markers, the histories of what they have been, embedded in the language and expectations of their time, their trans-attempts across those genetic histories mapping upon their bodies the “same” of others imagined to be the same, then trans-acts can be read as multi-individual body-makings, as those of one genealogical history are conjoined with others of others, under the auspice of a single semantic perception. And this new assemblage of perceptions, affects and an operative mutuality of beliefs becomes enriched through the capacities for affect which each genealogical history brings in its cross-pollination of the new assemblage.

In this way, narratives of identity which populate many trans-gender self-descriptions don’t have to be seen merely as collapses of desire into a subjectivity of pleasure, as Deleuze and Guattari may have it. Or to put it another way, the reterritorializations by which Deleuze and Guattari characterize the nature of assemblages that desire forms, don’t have to be read solely in terms of a subject, in the absolute interiority of a “beetle” or a “cricket”. For while it is in terms of identity, gender and self that trans-persons might argue, and even experience their rights as authentic persons, such organized experiences exist through the mutuality of affect as it slides across bodies, keeping parts in communication, through speed, motion and ratio, in a compass-work of an objective world. The experience of such a world need not be dependent upon a subject-state of an “I”. If Davidson has shown us anything, the two are not reciprocal to each other. Rather, it could be read that any localized experience of subject-hood, the pleasures and fears that make up the occasions of passing as another gender for instance, is already part of a communication of affects which make up the body of that semantic sign, as it takes up another organ of perception. And this assemblage of affects, no matter its narrative, should be understood within the specifics of its program and assemblage as they are engaged, that is, the practices, techniques, and material relations, as they produce a shared world through their continual, if only provisional, communications. Just as the subject can be seen as a molarity for Deleuze and Guattari, a passive collapse, the beetle is crossed out by the grammar of Wittgenstein.


α. Such a meeting ground can perhaps very broadly be characterized as “non-representational” thought.

β. As Pearson writes of the ethical dimension of Deleuze and Guattari’s BwO: “The ethical question [knowing what a body can do] concerns the theory and praxis of opening up the body to connections and relations ‘that presuppose an entire assemblage’ made up of ‘circuits, conjunctions, levels and thresholds, passages and distributions of intensity, and territories and deterritorializations” (154). This is viewed as ethical within Spinoza’s determination that any increase in the capacity to affect or be affected is an ethical increase in power and perfection (Spinoza, EIVP38). It is to this Spinozist ground that Deleuze and Guattari must return if they are to make ethical claims for their descriptions.

γ. The terms of deterritorialization and reterritorialization are difficult to define, and can be seen as open and closed states of becoming within the world, respectively. The most helpful analogy is perhaps Deleuze and Guattari’s comparison of a piece of music leaving and returning to a refrain (310-350). Here deterritorialization describes an organism, for instance the orchid, leaving behind its genealogical history, to become what it is not, a wasp, in a flight of transformations, only to become what it is again, when the wasp becomes part of its reproductive system. It is the same for the action of the wasp. Two pieces of music, perhaps, are woven in code, leaving and returning to a refrain.

δ. Man is sick because he is badly constructed./ We must make up our minds to strip him bare in order to scrape off that animalcule that itches him mortally, / god, / and with god / his organs. / For you can tie me up if you wish, / but there is nothing more useless than an organ. /When you will have made him a body without organs, / then you will have delivered him from all his automatic reactions / and restored him to his true freedom. / Then you will teach him again to dance wrong side out / as in the frenzy of dance halls
and this wrong side out will be his real place.

ε. Deleuze and Guattari describe it this way: “program … At night, put on the bridle and attach my hands more tightly, either to the bit with the chain, or to the big belt right after returning from the bath. Put on the entire harness right away also, the reins and thumbscrews, and attach the thumbscrews to the harness. My penis should be in a metal sheath. Ride the reins for two hours during the day, and in the evening as the master wishes. Confinement for three or four days, hands still tied, the reins alternately tightened and loosened. The master will never approach her horse* without the crop, and without using it. If the animal should dis­play impatience or rebelliousness, the reins will be drawn tighter, the mas­ter will grab them and give the beast a good thrashing” (155).

ζ. The quote continues, “Horses are trained: humans impose upon the horse’s instinctive forces transmitted forces that regulate the former, select, dominate, overcode them. The masochist effects an inversion of signs: the horse transmits its transmitted forces to him, so that the masochist’s innate forces will in turn be tamed. There are two series, the horse’s (innate force, force transmitted by the human being), and the masochist’s (force trans­mitted by the horse, innate force of the human being)”.

η. At more length, on what it means for a body to be a map: “Instead of being read simply as messages, that is, as signifiers of a hidden or inferred signified which is the subject’s interiority, these incisions function to proliferate, intensify, and extend the body’s erotogenic sensitivity. Welts, scars, cuts, tattoos, perforations, incisions, inlays, function quite literally to increase the surface space of the body, creating out of what may have been formless flesh a series of zones, locations, ridges, hollows, contours: places of special significance and libidinal intensity…These incisions and various body markings create an erotogenic surface; they create not a map of the body but the body precisely as a map. They constitute some regions on that surface as more intensified, more significant, than others. In this sense they unevenly distribute libidinal value and forms of social codification across the body” (139).

θ. “My dear Simmias, I suspect that this is not the right way to purchase virtue, by exchanging pleasures for pleasures, and pains for pains, and fear for fear, and greater for less, as if they were coins, but the only right coinage, for which all those things [69b] must be exchanged and by means of and with which all these things are to be bought and sold, is in fact wisdom; and courage and self-restraint and justice and, in short, true virtue exist only with wisdom, whether pleasures and fears and other things of that sort are added or taken away. And virtue which consists in the exchange of such things for each other without wisdom, is but a painted imitation of virtue and is really slavish and has nothing healthy or true in it; but truth is in fact a purification [69c] from all these things, and self-restraint and justice and courage and wisdom itself are a kind of purification”

ι. Dennett makes the use of a similar concept in explaining intentional states in terms of what he calls an “abstract objects” attempts to reconcile Instrumentalism with Realism, “If we go so far as to distinguish them [beliefs] as real (contrasting them with those abstract objects that are bogus), that is because we think they serve as perspicuous representations of real forces, ‘natural properties’ and the like” (29).

κ. Davidson is concerned with the fundamental problems with explaining the value of truth in our attempts to understand others, in particular under a model of communication which he calls “Radical Interpretation.” Under such a view each of us as language speakers are seen to be continually interpreting the speech act of others under working hypotheses of what their intentions, beliefs and desires are, and their causal relations to the world. When making sense of others we regularly employ what he calls the principle of coherence, which allows us to “discover a degree in logical consistency in the thought of the speaker,” and the principle of correspondence that gives us to “take the speaker to be responding to the same features of the world that he (the interpreter) would be responding to under similar circumstances” (211). These two principles are examples of what has been called principles of charity, and he contends that without such charity we cannot come even understand what it is that another person is saying, to even come to the point of disagreeing with it.

μ. “The relation between a sensation and a belief cannot be logical, since sensations are not beliefs or other propositional attitudes. What then is the relation? The answer is, I think, obvious: the relations is causal” (“A Coherence Theory of Truth” 229).

ν. Beliefs include a class of mental predicates, which include desires, fears and wants.

ξ. “An action, for example, must be intentional under some description, but an action is intentional only if it is caused by mental factors, such as beliefs and desires” (“Three Varieties of Knowledge” 216).

ο. “Until a baseline has been established by communication with someone else, there is no point in saying one’s own thoughts or words have a propositional content. If this is so, then it is clear that knowledge of another mind is essential to all thought and all knowledge. Knowledge of another mind is possible, however, only if one has knowledge of the world, for the triangulation which is essential to thought requires that those in communication recognize that they occupy positions in a shared world” (213).

π. And indeed, when others act in ways that seem incommensurate with “reality,” it is upon the nature of their beliefs that we place our attention, understanding those beliefs to somehow be erroneously caused by the world, and thus explanatory of something of their natures, that is, traceable to a genealogy of thought and experiences which strikes us as incommensurate with our own, an incommensurability founded upon either an error or an essentialized kind. In such a way, even those with whom we vehemently disagree can still report on the world so that the world retains its objective character, as it is confirmed by the (mis)perceptions of others (filtered through their beliefs or experiences which we take in account). But only by imagining others to hold beliefs and affective states that we too might be able to hold do even our greatest disagreements still hold relevance.

Works Cited

Ayasse, Manfred, et al. (2003). Pollinator attraction in a sexually deceptive orchid by means of unconventional chemicals. The Royal Society. 24 January, 2003. pp 517-522.

Davidson Donald. “A Coherence Theory of Truth”. The Essential Davidson. New York: Oxford University Press. 2006.
–.“Three Varieties of Knowledge”. Subjective, Intersubjective, Objective. New York: Oxford University Press, 2001.

Deleuze, Gilles, and Guattari, Félix. a thousand plateaus: capitalism and schizophrenia. Trans. Brian
Massumi. Minneapolis: Minnesota Press, 1987.

Dennett, Daniel C. (Jan., 1991). “Real Patterns”. The Journal of Philosophy, Vol. 88, No. 1. pp. 27-51.

Green, Jamison. Becoming a Visible Man. Nashville: Vanderbilt University Press, 2004.

Grosz, Elizabeth. Volatile Bodies: Toward a Corporeal Feminism. Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1994.

Pearson, K. A.. Germinal Life: The difference and repetition of Deleuze. New York: Routledge, 1999.

Spinoza, Baruch. The Collected Works of Spinoza, volume 1. Trans. Edwin Curley. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1985.

Wittgenstein, Ludwig. Philosophical Investigations. Trans. Elizabeth Anscombe. 3rd Edition, Hardback. Cornwall: Blackwell Publishing Ltd, 2004.

Wong, B. B. and Schiestl, F. P.. How an orchid harms its pollinator. The Royal Society. 3 July, 2002. pp 1529-1532.