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Tag Archives: distaff tradition

The Voiceless Texture of the Octopus

Octopus Silence

“There is something about octopus intelligence that invites an almost perfect projection of the missing elements that are not swept up by lingistic descriptions. The radial non-anthropocentric nature of their bodies, the fluidity of their movements and contortion, the highly tactic nature of their engagments, their reclusivity, and yes, the incredible topographic aspects of their communications, a communications that works to express just as much as to conceal (camouflage), to connect to their surroundings…all work to give us to see some missing vector of what we too do when we speak, gesture and move.”

The above is my comment from Fido the Yak’s “Voicelessness as Symptom” post, speaking the way that vocalization is conflated with powers of cognition. His turn to the vocalizations of dolphins is what brought up the octopus for me. Also, when considering the textile dimension of intellection, the Ovidian myth of the rape of Philomena (at the hands of her sister’s husband who cuts out her tongue to silence her), and the tapestry she voicelessly wove to reveal the crime (a common feminist metaphor), comes to mind. Along with Deleuze’s notion of a Distaff tradition in philosophy.

When she first saw his sword above her head.
Flashing and sharp, she wished only for death,
and offered her bare throat: but while she screamed,
and, struggling, called upon her father’s name,
he caught her tongue with pincers, pitiless,
And cut it with his sword.–The mangled root
still quivered, but the bleeding tongue itself,
fell murmuring on the blood-stained floor. As the tail
of a slain snake still writhes upon the ground,
so did the throbbing tongue; and, while it died,
moved up to her, as if to seek her feet.–
And, it is said that after this foul crime,
the monster violated her again…

…But even in despair and utmost grief,
there is an ingenuity which gives
inventive genius to protect from harm:
and now, the grief-distracted Philomela
wove in a warp with purple marks and white,
a story of the crime; and when ’twas done
she gave it to her one attendant there
and begged her by appropriate signs to take
it secretly to Procne. She took the web,
she carried it to Procne, with no thought
of words or messages by art conveyed.

Ovid, Metamorphoses Book 6

We follow the Greek word for “irrational” often attributed to brute animals ἄλογος (a-logos), surely linked to the powers of vocalization itself. As well as the Greek onomatopoetic word which became our “barbarian” βάρβαρος (bárbaros), thought to mimic the incoherent sounds of foreign tongues to the East. Of silence, Ovid’s invocation of the tongue as snake (which itself sees with its tongue) is fitting for our imagination of the vocalizationless animal who inconcordantly speaks at the Fall, a wisdom/threat beneath speech. The semiotic tactility within the capacities of speaking, part of what Cixous/Irigaray called two lips touching. The semiosis that occurs at the limits of folds, where on thing ends in intensity and another begins, and vectors in orientation to it. Weaving.

And then under questions of rationality and vocability we have the case of Amanda Baggs, an autistic who until she got a computer keyboard was thought to be a low functioning schizophrenic. I’ve thought about Amanda Baggs before: Amanda’s “Private Language”.

2/n: The ESSENTIAL binary of all Philosophical Discussion

I want to repeat a comment I added over at Naught Thought on the subject of what makes Dark Vitalism “dark”. I think Complete Lies was doubtfully querying about what the adjective adds. Its fair to ask.

It occurs to me to add that I have heard it said that if there is any TRUE binary, it is the binary of Being/Not-Being on the one hand, and Polyvocality on the other: perhaps symbolized as 2/n. In otherwords, the very idea that there are two (some fundamental two whatever their name), and that there are the many (all of which are to be investigated). In my mind what makes Vitalism Dark would be the decided attempt to position one’s vitalism on the “dark” side of this binary, within polyocality. Here, “dark” is not only representively dark, as in dark vs. light (with all the cultural powers and pitfalls of being on the lesser half), but also dark as in, non-binarious in its explanations.

I believe I found this thought when reading the excellent (really excellent) Volatile Bodies by Elizabeth Grosz, though certainly the idea of it is plentiful.

What is interesting about this essential binary which places binarization itself on one half, and multiplicity expression on the other is that it makes something of a good short hand for measuring out other positions. It seems to drive a hard line through most of Idealist thought which privileges and focuses itself upon the “2” as a producer of the “n”, while what Deleuze calls the Distaff tradition focuses on the “n” as underpinning any illusion or clarity of the “2”. And one might even say that a taxonomy of 2 vs. n elements might be made of any fundamental onto-epistemic assumptions of a prospective philosophical position. How invested is it in the “2” (and its multiplications)?  How are 2-elements handled, what place are they given? We can see as well how the 2 directs itself away from the physical world and a naturalized account of the world, and towards the traditional philosophical transcendent preoccupation, while the “n” seems to both engage in a kind of material poeticism, but one amenable to the sciences, maths and sociology (which describes structures of the n quite well).

The Spinoza Equation

Also of note of such an essential dichtomy for me is that it shows something of the uniqueness of Spinoza’s position, as he threw off the reportedly first and dominant “2” in modern philosophy, Descartes Mind/Body. He preserved it in an interesting way, as part of a conceptual dualism which itself was part of an infinity of attribute expressions, making a philosophy that might be signified as (1)/2*/n. His (1)/2*/n allows for investigation and embrace of the “n” (modal, concrete expression), but does so within a unity and really an affective unity (a strength of his philosophy which directs any pragmatic project of freedom towards n itself), though in aymptotic fashion.

It seems to me that any “dark” vitalism, or dark panpsychism (which is an even more compelling term), is one that embraces the “n” half of the binary in some very strong conceptual and really dynamic sort of way. Its one that reads the n as the very material of the theory. And part of the shrugging off the primacy of the “2” is realizing the non-ontological status of the negation.