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Is Spinoza a Cyberneticist, or a Chaocomplexicist?

In reading through Bousquet’s The Scientific Way of Warefare (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, 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 signficant 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 Ne0platonic “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 (often overlooked), 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 expected (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 backdown 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 so breadthwise, 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 co0rdination 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 aggitations (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, 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 maintanence, 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 Guattari and Deleuze can find common ground with the sobriety of Spinoza, I believe it is here, in the intermediate, where the BwO meets 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 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.


A Taxomomy of Evils and the Demoness Ontology of Powers in Vitalism

In my few past posts I have begun exploring the ideo-figural aspects of the mythological figure of Zuggtmoy, a reported Demoness Queen of Fungi (seemingly drawn from the common stock of the sexualized evil of the D&D world). First I sketched out a fictional Encyclopedia entryin the style of Borges to get a feel for the mixtures of knowledges, histories, myths and reference that make up our co-ordination upon mytho-poetic reality. Then I took her more seriously, and investigated both her ontological expansionas a principle and a kind of incarnational exemplification in the unique properties of slime molds.

To follow through though, the tug of evil, itself, remained. For in her representational quality for the powers and speech of matter (M), one cannot dismiss the host of erotic, desire-imbued machinations that such a feminine modern archetype seems to carry. If such a demoness has a message to philosophy, conceptual evil is inscribed in its flesh. Below is a diaried entry on what must only be an outline of what such a con-figuration signifies…sometimes I believe it pays to think figuratively like this, as my guidepost thoughts on Achilles (and Sloterdijk) and also Antigone might show.

Demon and Law

Under the question of Zuggtomoy, fungal darkness the issue of the “demonic” necessarily must be raised, for the very subversive, if hierarchical nature of any ontological claim of thisorder appeals to a kind of intentional and performative domain. In such a view the historical understanding of literal magic and demonology proves revelatory, seen in the West primarily in the syncretism of the Hellenic and Leventine world, eventually subsumed under a mono-ideational Orthodox whole, Judeo-Chrisitan completions of local deities, mechanisms, which really must be seen as techniques. For it is in the techniques, and thus the technologies of magus traditions that at least one strong root of the scientific laboratory can be found. In a sense, demonology in its historical form expresses scientific instrumental multiplicity (subjects, laws, means and device), a multiplicity that resists the singular moniker Science.

The Demonic as a Locality of Powers and Means

When one questions the demonological, one is ultimately questioning a locality of techniques, that is until the demon (or δαίμων) becomes elevated to the status of a god wherein it starts to operate with something of a law-universal, a universal yet still constrained and specific in its manifestation, by circumstance. So as we  approach the demonic figure of Zuggtmoy (however fantastical) and work from her the possibilities of an ontological truth, we must address her in both her local, perhaps cult-like incarnation – for instance the kinds of things we might learn  from the structures of slime molds – but also potentially law-like, and therefore god-like revelations, as we might understand her domain, her sphere of actions, so as it to be a continual and constitutive plane for the very condition of our existence and agency.

Invariably as well, the subject of evil must be taken up, for ultimately and historically the homogenization of belief under any normalization of formal practice involves, or has involved, the creation of an entire sphere into which their actions can be categorically confined. Which is to say that the supra-lunar and astral projections of a hierarchy of powers that mark the syncretization of Hellenized Egypt (PGM) upon the spread of Judaism and Christianity under the crush of Roman occupation (the destruction of the Temple at Jerusalem, and all the apocalyptic and liberation re-ordering of the universe that follows), wherein every demon or daimon – even ever dead person – exudes a kind of tiered capacity of force, this is disbanded in favor of  a great domain binary of Good/Evil, Heaven/Hell, Life/Death, eventually to be purified into Presence/Absence and Being/Non-Being. When one  recognizes the historiography of demonology one appreciates the ideological use of the objective binaries that end up calculating a mirror dimension, whether or not these two dimensions are ever in theory or theology ever reconcilable or made disjunctive.

The Legalism of Pure Affection

But if we are to take up evil we must do more that understand the historical struggle between local powers of belief and practice (expressed as technique), and the hegemonic orthodoxy of homogenization, one must also look at the very conceptual core of what seems to show itself in the Law alone. This is the way in which law determinations that regulate the bodily pleasures (and pains) of others in a register of normativity themselves necessarily embody a pleasure. That is, there is ever the pleasures of regulating pleasure, a sweetness of investment which is ever occluded in the very recursive (and body continuity) circuit of their circulation, the very “contentless” nature of their nature of their content, which for Kant is demarked by the absence of pathological self-interest, or reason. The subject reaches the intensive apogee of its pleasure capacity to the degree that it refuses pleasure, perhaps the greatest pleasure of all (theoretically at least).

We can see this of course in de Sade’s inversion of Kant (first exposed by Horkenheimer and Adorno in Dialectics of Enlightenment, and then by Lacan in “Kant avec Sade”), wherein ultimately the subject becomes the pure instrument of Nature by embodying as best one can the very disinterested destructive power of evil, accomplished through the buiding of bodily circuits of repetition and pleasure coursings that enact – but locally, as devices -the universal powers of Nature’s transformations: that is, the very neutral but intense for of the law itself. You can see this measured enforcement of depersonalized traverse in the in situ figure of the Red Wax sewing thread which characterizes the narrative and argumentative acme of Philosophy in the Bedroom (published the same year, 1795, as Kant’s “Perpetual Peace: A Philosophical Sketch”), wherein disease is “rationally”  and literally sewn into the very body of the mother, creating the picture of a supposed universe within the universe, a relation that ultimately shows itself as a perversity, a cruelty:

[The scene from Philosophy in the Bedroom, in which Eugenie (well-born) sews up and destroys her mother’s own womb, in a kind of even further radicalized and profane Antigone (anti-birth), if that can be imagined; not only sewing but making of the mother’s body a field of excruciating intensity, signifying the null-fruition of the act]

EUGENIE – Excellent idea! Quickly, quickly, fetch me needle and thread!… Spread your thighs, Mamma, so I can stitch you together-so that you’ll give me no more little brothers and sisters. (Madame de Saint-Ange gives Eugénie a large needle, through whose eye is threaded a heavy red waxed thread; Eugénie sews.)

EUGENIE, from time to time pricking the lips of the cunt, occasionally stabbing its interior and sometimes using her needle on her mother’s belly and mons veneris – Pay no attention to it, Mamma. I am simply testing the point…

LE CHEVALIER – The little whore wants to bleed her to death!

DOLMANCE, causing himself to be frigged by Madame de Saint-Ange, as he witnesses the operation – Ah, by God! how this extravagance stiffens me! Eugénie, multiply your stitches, so that the seam will be quite solid.

EUGENIE – I’ll take, if necessary, over two hundred of them… Chevalier, frig me while I work.

LE CHEVALIER, obeying – I’ve never seen a girl as vicious as this one!

EUGENIE, much inflamed – No invectives, Chevalier, or I’ll prick you! Confine yourself to tickling me in the correct manner. A little asshole, if you please, my friend; have you only one hand? I can seeno longer, my stitches go everywhere… Look at it I do you see how my needle wanders… to her thighs, her tits… Oh, fuck! what pleasure!…

So how do we reconcile these two aspects of evil, the historiographical understanding of demonology as local technique subsumed and normalized, and the localized device building between bodies which performs a machinic if cruel transformation (and transfiguration) of affects…of surplus?

If anything, as we grasp the possibilities of a Zuggtmonic drive in the auspice of the demonic image of Zuggtmoy herself, both the cruel inscription of affects upon bodies in evacuated regimes of formal legalism, localized historically specific machina of bodies joined, yoked, and the local power techniques that are ever under hegemonic universalization (and, it seems, binary polarization in abstraction). The Law as instantiationally and concretely cruel and effectively homogenizing.

Elevating Local Demons

Where does this leave us unto the cruelties of godlike elevation of demonic Zuggtmoy? What kind of transformations and seeing-throughs  are possible through her fungal if brutal consumptions at the border of death and decay? What is gained by the elevation of her local technique to a universalized though context-bound law is the capacity to see constructives as not strict inside/outside binary machines, but as material relations established with the radience that covers death and decay itself, ones that appreciate staged, cyclictic (and not categorical) transitions between individual and collective, ever within the halo of decay’s release of constitutive elements; but always with the risk that the identification with the demoness may take hold of your subjective boundary and transform you through decay, putrification and thereupon growth itself, creating new sites for radiance. Ever the risk if we are not to participate in totalitarian cognizance and its absolute pleasure economies.

Related comtemorary posts elsewhere: Naught Thought here, there and whence;  Complete Lies thence; The Whim thither; Eliminative Culinarism (6-11-09) wither.

The Unlived Life and Unnecessary Triviality

Poetix offers a beautiful post on the meaning of the unlived life Latourian/Marxist valuation and its necessary connection to vitalism.

“A premise of Marxist economic theory, in particular of the Labour Theory of Value, is that exploitation is odious: the “surplus value” extracted from workers is a part of their life (that is, of their labour) which is taken from them and not returned. Not only is the working life of the worker actively curtailed by exhaustion and immiseration, but even the life he has left is not lived to the full inasmuch as he never enjoys the full fruits of his labours.”

From this comes to mind the Process Theology definition of “Evil”, derived from Whitehead and Aristotle, presented by Cobb and Griffin. Process Theology is an off-shoot of Whiteheadian metaphysics. Under this definition, there are two kinds of evil, absolute as Discord and relative as needless Triviality:

“Discord, which is physical or mental suffering is simply evil in itself, whenever it occurs. Triviality, however, is only evil in some cases. A trivial enjoyment is not evil in itself insofar as its harmony outweighs its discordant elements. But if it is more trival, and hence less intense than it could have been, given the real possibilities open to it, then it is evil. Hence while discord is absolutely evil, triviality is only comparatively evil.”

[Briefly summed up here: A Non-moral theory of Evil ]

With this in view, the soterial drive is the drive for the redemption of the “triviality” of other lives, a re-inscription of the meaning of their persisting notes in the strain. It is perhaps why Zionist movements and Christian Eschatology have played a heavy hand in the history of the West, in particular during it turning points of modernity 17th century and early 20th(and perhaps now). Keeping with an analogy of music, notes that are played trivallyso in history, the banal, sing-song jingles of an immature happinesses, or worse, the culdesacs of suffering, sour notes let out, each can take on a difference juxtaposed meaning when considered with our own actions. In this sense, our actions are genetic fulfillments of the hopes, unconscious and conscious, of others.

I think it is right to read the very question of continuity within the question of the maximalization of the intensity of our present lives, and hence attribute an implicit vitalism to any rational scheme to make sense of our world. As we stretch the living band to its most taut, discord reaching point, and form counterpoints to that tension, it is ever the graves of others that we retroactively over-turn and rebury.

The Angel of History

I differ though from Benjamin’s notion of historical impasse, the sense that we are ever removed from the paradise of a growing piling up of corpses and fragmentations, the haunting of a hautology:

A Klee drawing named “Angelus Novus” shows an angel looking as though he is about to move away from something he is fixedly contemplating. His eyes are staring, his mouth is open, his wings are spread. This is how one pictures the angel of history. His face is turned toward the past. Where we perceive a chain of events, he sees one single catastrophe that keeps piling ruin upon ruin and hurls it in front of his feet. The angel would like to stay, awaken the dead, and make whole what has been smashed. But a storm is blowing from Paradise; it has got caught in his wings with such violence that the angel can no longer close them. The storm irresistibly propels him into the future to which his back is turned, while the pile of debris before him grows skyward. This storm is what we call progress.

– Walter Benjamin,

Ninth Thesis on the Philosophy of History

And I do not read individuation as a necessary ghosting as Benjamin evocatively summons up,

Standing behind the doorway curtain, the child [who is hiding] becomes himself something floating and white, a ghost. The dining table under which he is crouching turns him into a wooden idol in a temple whose four pillars are the carved legs…. Anyone who discovers him can petrify him as an idol under the table, weave him forever as a ghost into the curtain…. And so, at the seeker’s touch, with a loud cry he drives out the demon who has so transformed him – indeed without waiting for the moment of discovery, he grabs the hunter with a shout of self-deliverance.

Walter Benjamin, One Way Street

The reason for this is that given a Spinozist conception of sense-making, one already takes any notes played as optimally intense, not from their perspective, but the perspective of the fullness of Substance’s expression. But, this is not to say that our position, or own historical attempt to maximalize ourselves beyond the locality of our individuation, beyond the ghosting implicatures of the Symbolic, necessarily doesn’t keep a record of the relative intensities and trivialities of others, not only of the past (!), but of the present and the future. It is musicology. As such, there is more than enough room though for the Caliban Question, and the imagination as prophetic, including the spectres of ghosts.

[Also recommended, the “Life Beyond Life” post at Complete Lies.]

A Non-moral theory of Evil

John Cobb and David Ray Griffin propose a definition of Evil that for me is hard to resist. Evil falls into two categories,

1). Discord.

2). Unnecessary triviality.

This is based on their onto-aesthetic assertion:

“Perfection is the maximal harmonious intensity that is possible for a creature, given its context.”

They expand:

Discord, which is physical or mental suffering is simply evil in itself, whenever it occurs. Triviality, however, is only evil in some cases. A trivial enjoyment is not evil in itself insofar as its harmony outweighs its discordant elements. But if it is more trival, and hence less intense than it could have been, given the real possibilities open to it, then it is evil. Hence while discord is absolutely evil, triviality is only comparatively evil.

Key to their definition of triviality is the concept of intensity. This is how they explain intensity, which reflects something of Aristotle’s aesthetics of the whole:

“Intensity depends upon complexity, since intensity requires that a variety of elements be brought together into a unity of experience.”

For them the process of the Good is ever a process of discovery: “To escape triviality is to risk discord,” or as Alfred Whitehead puts it, “[the evil of discord] is the halfway house between perfection and triviality.”

I would be interested in any views of this non-moral definition of Evil. Are there moral conundrums that could not be subject to it? I have thought of examples of triviality, and each time realized that they would be more “perfected” if made more intense, that is if a greater variety of elements were incorperated into the “unity of that experience;” and though the “evil” of physial or mental discord seems self evident, such discord seems ever redeemed if it leads to greater intensity/unity.

[written Feburary 25, 2006]