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The Pre-eventual in Badiou: Conjoined Semiosis

Nick over at The Accursed Share posts his interesting essay on the problem of the waiting for the event, “What is to be done? Alain Badiou and the Pre-eventual” . His desire to de-emphasize the event is notable, and something I have affinity for, but I simply cannot follow his reasoning one what to do prior to the eruption in the situation. We had some extensive discussion, and still I am not clear on his point (at the very least my stunted comprehension may have brought out even more of Nick’s interesting thoughts for readers).

But aside from commending the essay which is written in a clear, forth-right style, there is a passage therein that gives me to think of my argued notion of Conjoined Semiosis, as Nick writes:

“While the idea of an evental site is clear in the case of a mass movement, is it not also the case that the elements of the presented “mass” are themselves presented precisely as specific family members, specific workers, and/or specific community individuals? In other words, while the elements of an evental site are not presented from the perspec-tive of the state of the political situation, can it not be said that the ele-ments are presented in an alternative situation, such as the community situation, or the familial situation? If this is the case, then the unpre-sented elements of one situation may simultaneously be the fully counted elements of another situation. As such, what constitutes an event and evental site for one situation may be a mere continuation of the status quo for an alternative situation. Or, to put it in other words, what consti-tutes an unpredictable rupture from one perspective is simply a culmina-tion of various, determined causal paths at another level.”

Apart from the bearing of this immediately upon Badiou, it is that very real sense in which there is ever a performative count-as-one, which makes up the semiotic horizon (inside/outside) that maintains itself through an internal coherence. This horizon is extended to include other horizon bound elements, for instance as Nick suggests, families, political unions, etc. which result from the resolution of cognitive dissonances, that is eruptions (events) within the internal coherence. Regularly, at least with human beings (though I believe it can be argued all the way down to the panpsychic), one experiences the rupture of expectation of coherence, even in our moment to moment thoughts, tracing the electric line, the “hole” at the center of consciousness. And these incoherences are then regularly made coherent again through the assertion of new, ordered states of other situations, other bodies with their own semiotic horizons (we judge their source to be either ideational/affective states of other things, our own erroneous or less than coherent internal events, or events in our shared world). What is fundamental though is that these ever eruptive events occur not only outside, in the meta-coherence of our own bodies and other bodies in a shared world (that situation), but also in a way that is not locatable within one of these three domains (self, others, world). The reason for this is that our perceptual bodies, the horizon of our semiosis is necessarily extended out beyond our own bodies, such that within our performative unity there are disruptions that occur neither within, or external to us, but BOTH, as part of our conjoined semiosis with other things. It is precisely this immanence that Nick’s observation of pre-existing situations which perpetuate through an event eruption touches on, how there is ever a continuity within the eruption of the event, a material line of traction, pushing our processes of re-coherence forward.

Some of my thoughts on this matter already posted:

Conjoined Semiosis: A “Nerve Language” of Bodies

Spinoza’s Notion of Inside and Outside: What is a Passion?

Spinoza’s Notion of Inside and Outside: What is a Passion?

There is a primacy of inside and outside in the philosophy of Spinoza that provokes powerful lines of thought that reach far into the future of systems theory and autopoietic conceptions of Life, not to mention a general pragmatism of how to define an individual in the world, whether it be as a political or biological entity. Here I want to dig into one of the most suggestive of Spinoza’s definitions, one that cuts across his entire ontology of an ethics of power and epistemological increase.

Spinoza conceives of an Affect simply [an affectus which is a passio of the animus], a simplicity that is captured in his definition of Love:

Love is a Joy accompanied by [concomitante] the idea of an external cause. Ethics 3, Definitions of the Affects VI

We already know what Joy is:

Joy is a man’s passage [transitio] from a lesser degree of perfection to a greater one. E3DoA, II

This simplicity is something I have often returned to, something of it always slipping out beyond its immediate and apparent clarity. It seems to capture a dynamic of our experience (and Being) that is more than what it says, and thus there is something about it that in rather un-Spinozist fashion seems to resist explanation. I have to say though that my recent theoretically stretchings have given me a different understanding, one that opens up the definition and concept to a new clarity.

Notably, and this has bearing on any consummate notion of object, the delineation of inside and outside is explicit and fundamental to the definition. There are two parts to it. The first is a change within the object/body which has no explanation, an ontological shift in the real being of it. Spinoza calls this shift a shift in perfection, but increases in perfection in Spinoza are nothing more increases in the capacity to act…the body has become more active, less reactive.

So stage/part one is:

1. An increase in the capacity for activity of the body/object.

As to this, because it lacks causal explanation it could happen because of something internal to the object (some event), or due to something external to it (some event). And the effect is one of a definite change. Understanding Spinoza, this change is read as an increase in the coherence of the parts of the object. They, for whatever reason, harmonize with each other better, and in human beings and perhaps all biotic objects, this is experienced in some way as a Joy [Laetitia].

The second part – and it is important I think to see that this is not second in time, but constitutive of the first part – is specific to the inside/outside divide.

2. A change that occurs within the object which refers to, reflects, represents or signifies what in terms of the object/body is an external state.

Something happens within the object/body which orients it towards something considered by the internal relations of the object/body to be outside of them. Several questions arise regarding the nature of this “idea of an external cause”, some of them opening up paths that philosophy has taken since the coming of Descartes. There has been a tendency to view this “Idea of an external cause” as a Representation of something in the world. I think that this is to the debilitation to the point that Spinoza is making, forgetting the nature of the Scholastic debates that he is at work resolving. (In fact, it is not even clear that Ideas in Descartes himself should be read exclusively, or even specifically as representations.) What Spinoza has in mind here is much better understood in terms of Signification, and not Representation, that is, semiotically. This is to say that internal to the object/body, concordant with a change in its harmony of parts, is a semiotic change, a change which is “a difference that makes the difference” which not only recursively indicates consequences to be followed within, but indicates, or in some sense is taken to be the effect of,  states outside the horizon of its boundary. Thus, internally, the change in a harmony of parts becomes a semiotic change which confirms the boundary of inside and outside, linking that effect to its boundary and some event beyond it.

So really, in a passion, we have three parts or aspects.

1. An internal change of the harmony or coherence of parts.

2. A semiotic change internal to the object/body.

3. The two aspects together produce a reinforcement of the inside/outside boundary along the horizon of its nexus.

Now Spinoza’s beginning point is that all of modal expression, the whole of concrete Being is fundamentally conjoined. Which is to say that any particular inside/outside delineation, although concrete and real, is also only partial in understanding. What he wants us to see is that even in the Passion of Love when there is a real increase in the harmony and coherence of our parts, and in that increase a semiotic change which appears to connect that inside to some outside event or state, this very inside/outside delineation, while the vehicle of our increases in power is also the condition of our limitation, a necessarily passive isolation of perspective, an Ultimate Negative theology of the specific ways of Being. We can only make internal semiotic changes to a particular limit of our capacity to act.

There is something in Spinoza’s definition of Love (and Sadness) which directs our attention away from the external state which is signified to have caused the internal change. Thus,  in the fashion of Chrysippus’s cylinder (Cic. De fat. 43), (which can change its reactive propensity to roll down hills by changing its internal relationship of parts: i.e., if it were rectangular it would cease to roll when hills were encountered), a contrary turn of our attention to external causes for Spinoza presents us with a fundamentally passive understanding wherein the power of our condition seems reliant upon the presence or absence of an external state. In cases of our concrete dependencies this cuts two ways: 1) the absence of oxygen will make us quite sad (as we cannot reconfigure our internal relations such that we do not need oxygen), 2) the absence of our new Ferrari might very well be something that we can internally overcome (our sadness is not necessary).

But I would like to move toward the first part of Spinoza’s definition, the change in the harmony of our internal parts, for it is here that question of dependency opens up something other than this dichotomy of relative freedoms (not free from oxygen, free from Ferraris). In Spinoza’s ontology of effects it is important to keep an eye on the fact that even in concrete inside/outside delineations which constitute an object/body, the external event is already connected to the internal event (regardless of the internal signification of what lies beyond it). When a pin pricks my skin and my body undergoes a great number of physical changes which indicate to itself that something external to it has caused a change in the harmony of its parts, this could not occur unless the pin and my body were not already in conjunction in some manner (for Spinoza  this ultimately comes down to both being expression of Substance). The event of the puncture is merely one that makes us aware of this connection, and what Spinoza wants us to see is that the more adequate (harmonious) our internal semiotic changes, they more they work in ways that embrace this mutual connection. Which is to say, the more that the inside/outside boundary is enforced through internal relations, and the more powerful and active these relations, the more this inside/outside boundary is surpassed.

So for Spinoza the more harmonious the intra-relations in an object or body, the more harmonious the inter-relations between objects/bodies, and this is because at least in some sense any two object/bodies already form something an object/body themselves. In combination, their parts are in communication, and this communication forms its own essential harmony.

It is for this reason that I find that the very best way of reading Spinoza’s approach to the nature of object/bodies is something of a cybernetic one. Whatever concrete inside/outside delineations which seem to constitute a body are ever redrawable to more powerful subsumptions. This does not mean that all the objects collapse into one great soup of effects, for this expression is highly structured and historically specific. The pathways of determined and mutual connection, the specific closures of inside and outside, are not illusions, but only partial perspectives, in the way that a worm in the blood is ignorant of the body that it is in, and the nature of the dependencies of its condition (as Spinoza says to Oldenburg, letter 15/32).

What Spinoza’s combinative ontology of bodies suggests is a view wherein any powerful connections we make with other objects in the world, whether they be “natural” objects such as rocks and trees, or technological objects such as automobiles, or scientific instruments, or cultural objects such as holy texts, or voter ballots, or animal objects such as pets, or endangered species, our senator, our child, these combinations are to be seen and experienced as real, physical combinations of whole cognitive bodies. Our body and the bodies that we combine with assemble a new body (for us new), a mutuality of effects. I discuss elsewhere, and I will expand on the point in time to come that these mutuality of effects are necessarily those of epistemic closure, the way that we inhabit other things and they us, in order to discover connections in the world.

Greatly though, as per my recent thinking on Coinjoined Semiosis, this very inside/outside cognitive barrier itself is problematized in a way that Spinoza did not thoroughly appreciate, if at all conceive of (although his metaphysics lays the groundwork for its analysis). This is to say, yes, in following Spinoza there is a fundamental inside/outside horizon of objects which is cognitively determinative. Yes, the semiotic ordering of our internal parts as it pursues harmonic cohesion is ever reinforcing the boundary between itself and the world, perhaps in terms which link as best as possible the connection between the inside changes to events outside. And lastly yes, understanding the nature of our dependency paves the way for a cybernetic understanding of how our bodies cognitively and affectively combine with other bodies in fluctuating epistemic horizons of their own. But the inside/outside cognitive barrier is even further problematized.

The reason for this is Conjoined Semiosis. There are events, perhaps even a plethora of events which are internal to the cognitive whole of a body, swathes of semiotic differences which make THE difference, which are already participating in other cognitive boundaries which intersect the inside/outside horizon. So, semiotic parts within our body are operating with a relative incoherence to ourselves, while still maintaining a relative harmony to themselves only discoverable by viewing the other cognitive wholes in which they participate and inform. In this way, the causes of these semiotic disruptions are both internal and external to the assembled body, running across its fabric like so much cross-weft, ready to be tugged from both within and without.

In this manner such disturbances point to the very insufficiency of the inside/outside horizon, the incompleteness of its view. When resolute, the inside/outside boundary will be destroyed, given enough invading variance. When flexible and transformative, the semiotic tugging will actually reveal the already constituted mutuality of shared material the enfleshed conjoinment of investments, leading to an expanse of what it means to be a Self.

In a sense, the binary of Subject/Object which plagues so many of the Idealist informed philosophies which followed from Descartes is cross-cut. It is not merely that the Subject and the Object combine like two oscillating bodies around a single center of gravity between them, but rather and also that laterally, obliquely, loxogonispherically – to use my favorite word in the history of words, by the grace of Sir Thomas Urquart – a fabric of interweave is already under assemblage. Much of this cross-weave is invisible, and necessarily will remain invisible, but insofar as contingently the tides of other bodies in interaction with the same world as our own work at vectored variance with our experiences, these semiotic pulls will be experienced as both outside of us and within us. Forcing us to expand or collapse.

What Spinoza’s definition of a Passion, in particularly the Passion of Love (or Sadness) does is direct our attention not only toward within, and the very generative matrix of the conditions of our freedom, or without at the apparent locus of our engagement, but towards the horizon itself. The result is not just that in our internal workings, our self-reflections, we think of how to overcome this horizon in a vertical way searching for a hierarchical understanding of what subsumes both of us (my body, and that body), like a body contains its cells, a society its citizens; or even that we turn toward the productive cybernetics of finding more and more bodies to become cognitively cybernetic to (both of these are informative). It is also to our understanding to look at the investments oblique to the very border concept we have which gives us a sense of the priority of the object above all else, a priority which casts it shadow across metaphysics in the illusionary binary of Being and Non-Being. It is the partiality of very specific, concrete, semiotic investments across bodies, the way that we incompletely invade and are invaded by others, which serves as a groundwork for a real mutuality of action.

Where there is a strict and strong experience of Inside and Outside, that is when the oblique investment is most obscured, and has its greatest, unconscious effect.

The Necessary Intersections of the Human Body: Spinoza

Radical Experiments With Spinoza’s Metaphysics of Body

There has always tugged at me a kind of vast and unexplored consequence of Spinoza’s defintion of a single “body” or “individual,” especially when seen in context with his general expressionist ontology. It is that Spinoza defines a body so simply, given in a matrix of the world understood to be one great co-relational thing (modes transitively determined by each other, modes immanently determined by God/Substance). I want to draw out some of the implications of Spinoza’s defintions of a body (none of which have I ever seen talked of), implications that in part lead me to the notion of Conjoined Semiosis which I have forwarded in my last two posts.

Spinoza defines a body most clearly in the Ethics at 2p13a2d

Definition: When a number of bodies of the same or different magnitude form close contact with one another through the pressure of other bodies upon them, or if they are moving at the same or different rates of speed so as to preserve an unvarying relation of movement among themselves, these bodies are said to be united with one another and all together to form one body or individual thing, which is distinguished from other things through this union of bodies.

 It is nearly an elegant defition and the second portion of it has really three operative parts. Bodies are moving “so as to preserve unvarying relation of movement among themselves”. In the Latin edition the phrase is ut motus suos invicem certa quadam ratione communicent, and is translated by Curley as “that they communicate their motion to each other in a fixed manner” which is quite a bit better. There is,

1). a communication of motion

2). a recursive, or at least horizoned, reflexive closure (communicating to themselves)

3). a fixed ratio

In his earlier Short Treatise  he says it even more succinctly:

Every particular corporeal thing [lichaamelijk ding] is nothing other than a certain ratio [zeekere proportie] of motion and rest.

[I discussed some of the other implications of this defintion here: The “Corporeal Equation” of 1:3: What Makes A Body for Spinoza? ] Now though I would like to draw out a particualr thread of thought. What immediately comes to mind is perhaps what Spinoza envisioned, so many billiard balls moving in motion in the world, bouncing all about, and when any number of them seem to fall into a fixed ratio of movement such that their communications upon each other seem to perpetuate this ratio of movement, this becomes an “individual”, a “body” proper. We can see it, and perhaps it is not far from how we roughly think about bodies that perserve themselves over time, a certain kind of continuity and closure of movement.

When Ratios Transpierce

But there are several aspects to this definition which expand it beyond what we might regularly take to be its described. Firstly so, the entire Extensional expression of Substance, in all of its modes at any one selection of time already seems to meet the definition. That is, the entirety of modal expressions in some transitive way communicate their motions to each other in a fixed manner…the ratio of motion and rest does not change on the whole. From the point of view of the entirety, any one “fixed ratio” is only an expression of the greater ratio of expression. Further, any parts which do not seem to be communicating their ratios to each other, is only a matter of perspective, thus, there is ever a perspective from which any combination of bodies, however disparate, are in communication with each other, if only from the point of view of the whole. In a rather Taoist-like sense, all things are connected to all other things.

When thinking about the human body there is a natural tendency to give it priority, though in Spinoza’s ontology this is not granted in any strict sense. So we must apply this notion of “individual” to our body as well. Part of this tendency of priority is to read the human body in the context of the whole expressive body of Spinoza in a kind of nesting, Russian Doll sort of way. The ratio of motion and rest which is preserved recursively in the human organism is simply an expression of the higher order whole, which has a subsuming ratio. The fixed ratio of our bodies is real, but attached to, or part of an entirety. It is not so much that that this is an alien concept to us, for instance any equlibrium of energy that our bodies maintain, swimming against entropy, might be said to reflect a general law of a conservation of energy in the universe.

But in theme of Conjoined Semiosis this is what I want to point out. The notion bodies defined as a communication of ratio preservation does not only function in a lower to higher order wherein our human body maintains its ratio in the shadow of the great, over-arching ratio of physical expression. And it is not only that our ratios of physical preservation then causally bump, skin to skin, into other ratios in preservation, whether they be bowling balls or puppies. It is that the ratios of preservation, as identified, are perspective dependent (under the idea that what separates out my ratio from yours is a delination which can be changed). More importantly, the border of my body (which is a real, modally expressed border for Spinoza) holds no priority over reading where a ratio begins and ends. And lastly, this “dissolve” of boundary does not simply function from part to whole, but also must exist in intersections across the borders of our bodies. It is not the case that our bodies only participate as wholes in larger groups of bodies, but also that the bodies of which our own bodies are composed, must participate in communications across our own boundaries. Again, the illustration from the last two posts:

There are two conceptual allowances for this in Spinoza’s philosophy. The first is that the human body ratio has no priorty over the communications of its parts. That is, parts of the human body can logically of course participate, while still maintaining their role in the human body fixed ratio, in still other ratios which intersect it (a subset of its parts can also be part of a set of another ratio in communication). The behaviors of a benign parasite for instance can participate in the ratio of my own body parts, have its motions and rest be subsumed in that ratio, and still participate in the fixed ratio of motions of the parasite gene population in the County I live in. This would make them in my view Semiotically Conjoined. The second of these is, due to the non-priority of the boundary of the human body, determinative effects upon the body cannot be reduced to surface to surface contacts. Because the human body is immaent to the field which expresses it, all parts that lie adjacent to it’s surface, are also produced by that field, and there is no reason why the events that occur within the human body are expressed only in the vector of its ratio. It is much more likely that because the identification of the ratio itself is contingent to perspectively, events within the human body can be equally measured by another trans-piercesive boundary (a benign parasite might turn destructive, the other parts of the human body being merely part of the environment of the population of parasite genetic expression).

I would say as well that something in Spinoza’s treatment of essence, in particular human essence, might demand just such a Conjoined Semiosis as per normal, for instance his thought,

For if, for example, two individualsof entirely the same nature are joined are joined to one another, they compose an individual twice as powerful as each one. To man then, there is nothing more useful than man E4p18siii

It is not at all clear how two men could share exactly the same nature, or whether this sameness 0f nature acts as an asymptotic limit (suggesting that their connection is somehow a Conjoined Semiosis, or that the new individual that they compose is possibly an overlap of their two natures). When two men agree and work together (heaven forbid they be a man and a woman), no matter how powerful their agreement, there is the sense that merely the divergences of their histories provide a separation of their natures (essences). One could see that the two men could form one new body or individual, for whatever length of time, if their motions remain in co-relative communication across their boundaries, but insofar as each man experienced himself separately (perhaps only flittingly as they joined together to row a boat), their two bodies would mostly be more of overlapping natures.

And then there is Spinoza’s letter to Peter Balling, wherein he comforts his friend, a father who had had a premontion halucination of his child’s death. There he explictly speaks of the soul as merely participating in the essence of another human being:

And since (like that which I demonstrated on another occasion) there must necessarily exist in thought the idea of the essence of the child’s states and their results, and since the father, through his union with his child, is a part of the said child, the soul of the father must necessarily participate in the ideal essence of the child and his states, and in their results, as I have shown at greater length elsewhere.

A father and son are not it would seem of exactly the same nature, but the deep entrenchment of their attachment has lead in Spinoza’s mind to a kind of intermingling of essences, such that through the power of the father’s love something of the son’s future might be involuntarily imagined. I would say that each of these descriptions provide that Spinoza may have held the thought of Conjoined participation between two material bodies, at least as an aspect of what it means for two bodies to combine together.

The Endurance and yet Vectorization of “Body”

But I want to draw this out even further. If any bodies in a fixed ratio of a communication of parts is an individual, why would not the select neurons of our brains, when we are in a discussion, (perhaps in combination with our other transmitive body parts and the air molecules that carry our words) constitute a single body? (What of all the extensional manifestions of classes of race or gender, which form assemblages with parts human and parts non-human alike?) It is not for Spinoza that the bodies themseleves must be perserved, but only the ratio [in concordance with a theory like Autopoiesis]:

If from a body, or an individual thing composed of a number of bodies, certain bodies are separated, and at the same time a like number of other bodies of the same nature take their place, the individual thing will retain its nature as before, without any change in its form [forma]. (E2p13, Lemma 4, axiom 3)


The human Body, to be preserved, requires a great many other bodies, by which it is, as it were, continually regenerated (E2p13, post4)

Necessarily it seems that out of the plethora of possibly found “fixed ratios” of communication that can be found, no matter how brief in existences, (or disparately spread) our bodies must be shot through across our otherwise considered to be natural boundaries. In fact, on the question of temporal endurance, the “fixed ratio” [certa ratione] can also mean “a certain” or “a particular” ratio, making an occasionalist dream-world of any number of vectorial objects, cutting through the boundaries of other objects. One need only find a ratio of commuications and no otherwise assumed boundary would preside. Such an approach of course would only be of a limited perspective, but Spinoza’s metaphysics makes of any modal expression a fully concrete determination of effects, and this would include the determinations which flow from any discovered trans-piercing corporeal ratio. Any inside/outside delineation must I would think be cut across by other inside/outside delineations. 

The second important conceptual opening in Spinoza’s treatment of bodies, in particular the human body, is that what a body knows is only a product of its interior, recursive movements.

The human Mind does not know [cognosit] the human Body itself, nor does it know that it exists, accept through Ideas of affections by which the Body is affected, E2p19

This flows from,

The object of the idea constituting the human Mind is the Body,  or a certain mode [certus modus] of Extension which actually exists, and nothing else, E2p13

One presumes that what holds for the human Mind and Body, holds for all bodies, since all bodies are an expression in parallel with ideas, the object of these ideas being the states of extension. What follows from this is that any body which preserves a ratio in a communication in parts, to some degree has Mind (an ideational ratio coherence), and that this Mind, following 2p19 above, only “knows” of its Body through the ideational expressions of the affections of its parts. Which is to say, the Mind of any corporeal ratio (however primative) only knows of the world outside of it through the affections of its material expression, and only knows of its own material state through the ideas of that expression. There is a fundamental cognitive closure to any hypostated ratio’ed communication.

The consequences of this are that if some of the semiotic elements that make up the human body are themselves elements in other cogntive bodies, the states of these elements (in Spinoza’s terms, affections) are read in at least two different cogntive orderings. That is to say, the other elements which make up the rest of a semiotic relation of parts in the human body, serve as part of the environment for the transpiercing body. This perhaps goes some way to explain the illusionary status of the affections from the perspective of God or Substance (somthing that vexes many interpreters of Spinoza). Though certainly Spinoza did not imagine his metaphysics put to this bent, what Conjoined Semiosis shows is that the meaning of an affection of semiotic elements in one body, the very same events, will have a different meaning in the transpiering body, given a different compositional whole. It is not just a change in the adequacy of ideas in a particular human mind that changes the ontological status of the affections of its body, but the affections themselves are likely, perhaps necessarily, according to the structures that Spinoza offers, already invested in Conjoined fashion to other bodies which run across its form.


There can be no doubt that Spinoza did not picture his metaphysics of objects in this way, for instance his proposition seems to rule out any conceptual invariance of inside and outside. There are many examples of this, but perhaps this is the most precise and consequential:

No thing can be destroyed except through an external cause, E3p4

But I can find no logical preclusion of a pervasive and rather animate Coinjoined Semiosis by which any body, including our own, is semiotical invested in the closed networks of other sense-making cognitive wholes, some of them quite vast and enduring, some of them quite local and ephemeral. In any case, this additional, vectorial analysis the otherwise assumed Natural borders of our bodies, speaks to the richness of what it means to be affected. It might as well add to the existential restriction upon the adequacy of human ideas, for it would not just the case that we cannot hold adequate ideas because we are restricted to a small experiential speck of the Universe, forever in our nature dependent upon things we do not fully understand, or even that what does causally affect us is somehow ultimately hidden from us by a kind of outside, external shadow, but also that many of our internal experiences of disturbed cohension come neither from “outside” or “inside”, but across the two, as what appear beyond us has tidal effects on our sense making parts, pulling us as if from within (both to greater epiphanic openness and conjunction, and toward paranoid self-purgings and external projections of hatred).

And would it be too far to go to say that this Conjoined Semiosis is what is logically behind the otherwise troubling, seemingly Parallel-postulate-defying distinction that Spinoza makes, that there are effects of the imagination that come from the Body, and those that come from the Mind, one of which can be prophetic [all events that occur in the body necessarily must also occur somehow in the mind, should they not]?

Effects of imagination either from the constitution of a body or of a mind, originate (translation own).

Effectus imaginationis ex constitutione vel coporis vel mentis oriuntur (letter to Peter Balling).

Are effects of the imagination which come from the constitution of the body to be explained as the disturbance of the body’s own semiotic elements under the mind (the cognitive whole) of another, which we experience as tearing, a lessoning of powers and coherence (Sadness); and imaginative effects that come from the mind, are come from the mind of a greater participation, or at least are formed in a cybernetic union of parts and bodies, bringing together what is so conjoined?


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

Conjoined Semiosis: A “Nerve Language” of Bodies

The Polyvalent and Cross-tongued

Chang and Eng Bunker

Chang and Eng Bunker

At times with an idea it is best to come up to a phenomena and embrace it as exemplary, a way of showing to others the heart of what you mean, and something of this comes through in the example of Conjoined Twins. I was discussing with my wife the nature of what I have been trying to put forth, which at the time had come down to the search for a term. A term was needed to crystallize just what sort of ontological distinction I was attempting to make when speaking of the polyvalence of semiotic elements that help form a body. As I explained to her, the very helpful notion of polyvalence lacked something. Yes, semiotic elements indeed could turn in every direction, but this poly-directionality was not fully what I meant. There was a constitutive sharing, a priority of investment and incarnation, a fleshed interweave that was not captured in the idea of a “polyvalent semiotics”. It is much more like Siamese Twins that share an organ, or body parts, aspects of the physical coherence of one body are already functioning as aspects of coherence for another (or really multiple, or illimitable) body/ies. There is a semiotic tugging, or in many cases tearing of bodies. In terms of history, they are not just layered upon each other like cells that lay with cells, composing organs, and with organs, composing bodies. Rather, bodies are already cross-semiotic to each other, their cognitive bodies woven into. We tried words like “inter-phenomenal” or “contra-phenomenal” (in answer to the ever popular “epiphenomenal”), but somehow the image of a shared body kept returning. It was that the semiotic order of a single body was enfleshed with other bodies. Finally my wife offered, expertly as always, How about just “‘conjoined”? So the term was born, Conjoined Semiosis. There is the difficulty that the example of Siamese Twins would override the concept, for what really is meant here is a great abstraction, albeit as concrete as possible, from the condition of such Twins. The questions of personal identity, autonomy, emotional coherence (for instance those so powerfully displayed in the story of Chang and Eng Bunker) are more peripheral to the term Conjoined Semiosis. I say peripheral here, though Conjoined Semiosis has profound effects on descriptions of normativity upon consciousness and questions of personal coherence. It is mostly the way that functioning differences in compositional elements necessarily are shared between bodies, across the cognitive boundary that they would from one coherent perspective form. This is analogous to (though perhaps still exemplified by) conjoined twins.

Autopoietic Closure

In explaining the idea to my wife I realized that if I am to make this clear I am going to have to begin at base concept, that is how semiotic differences can be seen to found the composition of an object. To get my point across we may have to begin in the middle, not with rocks or even chairs, but with the simplest of living structures, the single celled organism. It is biologists Maturana and Varela’s theory of Autopoiesis (much appreciated by later Guattari we might say), that gives us a firm conceptual foothold here. Principle to their theory that living things can be described as Autopoietic Machines is the notion of Organizational Closure. That is, a living thing can be defined as an organizationally closed system of parts whose process it is to make the parts of which it is composed. It’s a machine that makes itself. Events at its boundary work as perturbations of a recursively defined set of relations within its boundary, such that no recourse to external facts are needed to explain the processes of differences that define its behavior. So, an autopoietic machine possess a kind of semiotic autonomy, the differences that make up the order of its internal actions are organizationally closed. The presence of a predator or a food source beyond the boundary of the organism is only a perturbation of its surface. The cascade of effects within need not be definable with reference to either “predator” or “food source”, but rather are in reference to a kind of homeostatic but living recursion. Maturana and Varela illustrate their idea of Organizational Closure with a know well-known example of the submarine pilot. We as observers may watch a submarine carefully navigate a series of reefs and dangers, and thrilled with the display would radio the pilot. “Congratulations on doing such a good job avoiding those reefs and powerful currents!” He is to reply something like, “I have no idea what you mean by ‘reefs’ or ‘currents’. I only moved some levers this way and that, put this factor in balance of that factor” utterly cut-off from the external meaning of his actions. Autopoietic theory is quite detailed, and I present only a bare aspect of it here, enough to point out what semiotic closure would mean. Simply, the differences that make a difference to the coherence of a body, are cognitively closed to the boundary of that body such that the boundary makes a domain. This is the “Recursive View”.

Maturana and Varela get out of this solipsism of organizational closure in several ways. For one, not to be gone into depth here, every autopoiestic systems, although it is organizationally closed, is structurally open. That is external parts of the world enter into boundary and can replace parts within that boundary, without changing its organizational closure, much as like nearly ever human cell you have today in your body is not one you had 10 years ago. This can lead to subtle shifts in organizational closure, as replacement parts can have slightly different properties. But the more systematic way that recursively closed autopoietic systems link up with the world is through what they call “structural coupling”. That is, if each cell is a kind of black box to an observer, experiencing “inputs,” and behavorially expressing “outputs” the internal organizations of one cell can be adapted to the regularities of those outputs (their relations to its own perturbations) such that the two organizationally closed systems become structurally linked. Hence, cells link with cells, cells produce organs, organs produce organisms, etc.  In this way, the regularities of surrounding cells are regularities of environment.

This becomes rather neat hand and glove, boundary to boundary nestling, wherein the semiotic closures of one system produce expressions which in their regularity and coherence serve to stabilize and inform the semiotic closures of another system. The two systems co-depend in this way, or one might say assemble, the differences in the one producing linked differences in the other, despite their own organizational closure. There is much that can be made profound in this kind of nesting, the kind of which which reflects what we see in the biological world, the remarkable way that organisms co-operate in parts, and it is for this reason that the biological body has been effectively used as a metaphor for, and an example of, coherence in both the history of Philosophy and Theology. The powers of communication amid apparent closure, and despite constant change, is a powerful testament. [If we were to make a premature theoretical leap] we could say that the closed organizations with which we combine are “black boxes” of the Latourian or Graham Harman sort, but boxes which are not so much “black” as transparent to the world, and not so much boxes, but spheres. That is, the regularities of expression of other semiotic closures by which we more powerfully act in the world, are the very same regularities that allow us to inhabit, and live through, in a kind of mutual organism of expression, making the world appear clear to us, mutually so.

Conjoined Semiosis

But I would like to go in another direction, a direction in particular counter to the hand and glove, boundary to boundary matching up. The necessity of “conjoined semiosis”. If we return to the base picture of the semiotically closed boundary, we must see that each of the differences which make up this boundary function as specific semiotic units. The ability of the closure to cognitively read the world depends upon the internal coherence of its closed relations.

The horizon of this “thing” is determined by the coherence of its differences, that is, the role of the differences help constitute its being. If any one portion of these constitutive elements cease to perform coherently, in a simplistic sense the system seeks to repair itself of its error, or dies. This is the meaning of the illustration I provided in my last post.

Now I suggest that it is not only the case that the regularities of structural coupling are enough to describe how boundaries relate to each other. Rather – and we leave here merely the examples of living, autopoietic bodies, moving onto the the greater category of any recursively organized cognitive boundary where in the differences that make up its interior serve to produce its horizon of inside and outside – these component differences that make a difference are already serving their purpose within other cognitive bodies. That is to say, the boundary of inside/outside which interprets the differences that make up the whole is insufficient to explain the coherence of behaviors within it. Events in the world that happen outside of it, necessarily happen across it, intersecting its boundary. Hence my second diagram:

The importance of this distinction of cross- or conjoined semiosis is this. Parts within a cognitive body do not simply malfunction, or even out of their plenitude escape the regime of coherence established by the organism (top down), all this can be admitted. More, they possess what is experienced as a zombie-like property, and eruptive autonomy that cannot simply be chalked up to error. This autonomy of report can be both pernicious, leading to paranoiac self-purging, the attempt to cut out the semiotic “cancer” that is no longer “you”, or can be experienced ecstatically, with the sense that one is taken up into a power greater than oneself (itself a coin of paranoia).

The Worker Part

How to envision this. Taking up from a point made by Levi at Larval Subjects, it is important to see that the body of a factory (what he calls an Objec-tile), is made up of other bodies, for instance the persons that work the factory. In a certain sense, the allopoietic automobile factory (making things other than itself) is itself autopoietic, in that it has a recursivity of parts which make the parts that compose it (hire workers, make managerial rules, purchase materials, exact quotas, etc.). It seeks a homeostasis, or even a growth. Now, it is not enough to say that the body of the factory contains within it the bodies of persons. One has to also understand that the behaviors of those persons, as semiotic differences, not only inform the internal coherence of the factory, but also participate in the organization of other bodies, such as a Worker’s Union (or working class masculinity). So, when worker output slows during contract negotiations, the coherence of the factory, as far as it organizes itself upon its cognitive boundary: events outside in the world (like product demand, the social standing of the brand name, the price of oil, logical problems with delivery, the election of a new president) vs. inside the factory (like quota expectations, the means of expressing managerial authority, hiring practice profiles, worker hours), the cognitive answer may not reside in either an external cause or an internal one, but perhaps in a Conjoined Semiosis. That is, workers who are expressing the fitness of internal relations in the factory’s self-critique, and reflecting outside events, are also participating as semiotic units (differences that make differences) in the Worker’s Union. The behaviors of the factory workers – their slowing of productivity – is caused by something other than external factors, or internal coherence, but rather by a cross-semiotic relationship to another body. The “sense” of those behaviors is found in the coherence of a body whose semiotic parts intersect the factory. And the factory will have a sense that it is being pulled apart from within, that there is an autonomy of semiotic parts which is no longer coherently informing an inside/outside cognitive horizon, a zombie-like mutiny of parts. The Worker’s Union pervades within, and threatens from without. The same might be said if a woman is hired, and the behaviors of the male workers begins to exhibit the coherence of working-class masculinity.

So it is not enough just to say that the aggregate possesses a dynamic possibility of forming other bodies or objects. Rather, one has to understand that the aggregate is already cross-sectioned by semiotic polyvalence, its constituent parts are already communicating coherences to bodies other than itself. These are not objects rising up out of the aggregate, but rather pre-existing semiotic investments which interweave any coherent body or object. Even, or one might want to say especially, in instances where the factory is working quite well wherein the factory is transparent to its own internal coherence, only making minor corrections here and there (lobbying for new city council labor statutes, firing the unproductive worker), these cross-semiotic coherences are already operating. They simply are not making differences that make a direct – or threshold-passing – difference on the factory. This operation, the meshing of semiotic coherences across boundaries actually works to stabilize and produce resiliency within the cognitive horizon of the factory. The semiotic roles of objects within the factory are entrenched, become tied down across any number of vectors which inhabit it, all helping produce the transparency of operations. In this sense, the cross-boundary Conjoined Semiosis operates as a kind of field, yet a field always capable of cognitively tearing in any one direction (or multiple directions), upon perturbation, as itself is over-woven at its boundaries (the difference between field and body may be arbitrary to description, a question of focus, fields themselves constituting bodies). The question is one of report and horizon. The differences which make up a boundary are themselves already differences among other external differences, which make up other boundaries. It is the tugging from within towards events which seem external which often signals this trans-Subjectivity condition being stimulated. It is not just that any person (or thing) possesses sub-elements within it that cannot be forced into line, that won’t restrict themselves to the overarching coherence, as if in some primordial anarchy of parts, a multitude ever in surpass of its expression. More, it is that “parts” are already parts of something else, not in hierarchical layers, from simple to complex wherein the complex just has to master and dominate the simple, but that the simple (the simple difference that makes a difference) is conjoined to other complexities which do not reflect the cognitive horizon of inside and outside itself. And it is only by being able to read these conjoined semiotic relations (which are so plenary and largely invisible as not to be read in great detail in advance), that a body can make sense of itself.

To put it one way, when one is experiencing an eruptive, counter insurgence of autonomous effects in an otherwise coherent experience (be they psychoanalytic drives, population protests, a resistance to project), it is best to look not only within, but also across to the points of intersection, the way in which elements which formerly read as coherent, producing transparency of the world, are involved in other coherences, other transparencies, other horizons, in which you already have a concrete, body-sharing investment. One is Siamese to other parts of the world such that your boundaries do not match up. Perhaps this works for the social world, as long as we are talking about persons (subjectivities) or factories, classes of human beings, all the way down to the biotic. But what of the inanimate? Are these bodies, objects, shot through with Conjoined Semiosis?

Nail in the Coffin of Objects

Let us take up an intermediary inanimate, a hammer. It has no obvious cognition of its own, and has a socially constructed role in expectant future actions. Yet we can grant to the hammer the abstract informational distinction that it, like a living cell, is composed of differences that make a difference. If wood did not have the resilient (but still vibrational) quality that it does, it would not be what it is, a hammer. At least it would not be that hammer. So there is a certain internal coherence to its differences that make a difference. These differences are in my view semiotic to the object, that is, they indicate to each other parts of an organization which allow the object to be so constituted (whether we take it’s objecthood as a hammer to be a product of the mind or not, we grant that there is just such an organization of real differences, and that these differences indicate to each other). Now, the question is, do these differences also compose differences cojoined semiotically to other bodies. We have to say, yes. To list a few, the metal head participates in the organizational body of the Earth’s magnetic field, its differences informing the coherence of that body. The wood handle participates in the combustibility of objects in the workshed such that for instance if a fire was started there would be differences that make a difference that could impinge upon whether a fire would go out, or further inflame. The split in its handle may be said to participate in the informing body of broken things in the shed, such that the shed itself becomes a symbol of lost craftsmanship to a poet who writes a prodigious poem on the matter, eventually to land the hammer in a museum.

None of these communitarian differences which cross-hatch the hammer to the rest of the world have a constitutive effect on the hammer itself, that is, it is not tidally tugged in a direction which confuses it, for it lacks an overt self-regularity, in some auto-critique of its own semiology. Though I am not sure how categorical one can get about this, for the composite of differences does cohere, and in a sense read itself. The disintegration of its handle in a shed-fire is a kind of tugging away from its horizon. But there is no agent to the hammer, other than its persistence. (To these differences we need only add the differences that make up the hammer that allow it to participate in the assemblages which make of it a tool and allow it to persist:  its rigidity, its center of gravity, the vibrational quality of its wood, its mass; all of these and an infinite variety of others allow it to participate in the mutuality of its use such that a human being can compose with it a new body – a human body-hammer-nail perhaps – a body which contains its own recursive structure of communicated differences.) In this way, insofar as differences that make differences can be seen as semiotic, that is, as informing wholes, it is requisite not only that such horizoned wholes match up with the boundaries of other horizoned wholes, in a kind of dovetailing workmanship, but also, the informing differences of any object are necessarily conjoined semiotically to wholes that intersect it. In this way, the most ancient of Western Philosophical problems, the relation of the One to the Many, on the grandest of scales, mislead our eyes to an essential binary logic, one that obscures how the Many already historically, and determinatively are invested across any particular One, cross-linking it with another One, whose coherence can tidally rule it, experienced as both outside and inside its horizon. It is not a question merely of matching up two externalized “Ones”. Thus, the Self, and the Other serves as an oversimplification, as does the Self and the World, for it is not only a matter of creating a space where the Self and the Other can fruitfully live as seemingly opposed externalities to each other, but more a question of identifying the hidden, invisible semiotic cross-threads in the fabric of each, the way that trans-boundary bodies tidally pull on the objecthood of each, not into a subsuming whole (although this too can be possible), but into a cognitive direction. If there is anything I would want to emphasize it is the semiotic, and thus material, bodily, Siamese codependence that any coherences is built out of, the way that one’s own constituent parts necessarily act creating differences which inform not only of outside or inside, but of a bit of each. It is that the very groundwork of our own coherence, the substance of which it is composed, and the reserve upon which we draw, is disturbingly conjoined [with no inherent value judgment as to whether this is for the better or the worse]. The signals that we (and others, objects) receive within are necessarily cross-tongued, polyvalent, and tidally pulled. And our most rich transparencies are the products of Siamese, often inseparable boundaries.

This is the sense in which Daniel Schreber’s paranoic “Nerve-Language,” written about his sadly and beautifully powerful Memoirs of My Mental Illness, describes insightfully the subcutaneous semiotic ordering that occurs at a distance. A bit of it:

Apart from normal human language there is also a kind of nerve-language of which, as a rule, the healthy human being is not aware. In my opinion this is best understood when one thinks of the processes by which a person tries to imprint certain words in his memory in a definite order, for instance a child learning a poem by heart which is going to recite at school, or a priest a sermon he is going to deliver in Church. The words are repeated silently [as if in a silent prayer to which the congregation is called from the pulpit], that is to say a human being causes his nerves to vibrate in the way which corresponds to the use of the words concerned, but the real organs of speech (lips, tongue, teeth, etc.) are either not set in motion at all or only coincidentally. Naturally under normal (in consonance with the Order of the World) conditions, use of this nerve-language depends only on the will of the person whose nerves are concerned; no human being as such can force another to use this nerve-language. In my case, however, since my nervous illness took the above mentioned critical turn, my nerves have been set in motion from without incessantly and without any respite.

Apart from the power structure of control which reads as a fantasy product of the invasion of coherence, it is precisely this conjoined semiotic quality and determination which inhabits each body, maintaining and testing its coherence. This conjoined semiosis is something long missed when the primary dyads of subject/object, or object/object, ever attempted to be resolved in growing hierarchies of control and abstraction, predominate philosophical questions. Indeed there is room for subsuming abstractions, negotiations of agreement, the calling together of more coherent wholes, but these projects of affective communication, joining the edges of boundaries to the edges of other boundaries, are advised to be made with as close a view as possible to the fabric of conjoined cross-weave which both supports and tears across every object-body. It is not enough to attribute these capacities merely to the dynamics of aggregates, or even of assemblages.  It is in the nature of the materially coherent to be materially conjoined at a valence of coherence which pulls at the differences that make differences.