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Subjectless Subjectivity, A Geography of Subject: Beyond Objectology

I’ve just listened to Caroline Williams’s wonderful, clear essay on the powers of Subject-less conception to be found within Spinoza’s ontology and his politics, “Reconfiguring Body and Mind: Thinking Beyond the Subject with/through Spinoza” (linked below). Drawing primarily on Althusser, but of course Gatens and Lloyd (a favorite), Balibar, Deleuze and Foucault, professor Williams presents a pristine cartography of longitudes and latitudes on which to trace our future maps. This what I like best about Spinoza, the powerful grammar which he provides by which we are able to say so many things he may have yet fully conceived, but which, nonetheless remain Spinozist. For those who are unfamiliar with this branch of Spinoza studies, in particular Althusser and Balibar’s materialism, this paper makes an excellent introduction and examination.

I found a great number of co-incidences with her paper on complex affectation and conatus bodies and my own thoughts (those on Conjoined Semiosis, Exowelten, Chaoplexic formulation, my recent study of the structure of the Prophetic Imagination as in the Balling Letter, and even the forthcoming thoughts on Absolute Zero and Cold). It is bracing to hear an articulate and condensed groundwork of a territory you yourself have been exploring perhaps more speculatively. For those that wish to know what I am going on about at times, listen to this paper reading.

I’ve asked for a copy of the paper so that I might study its points in more depth. If I receive it I hope to post on it more substantively, there is too much to really speak of here. For those object-oriented ones out there, I cannot help but think that Caroline Williams’s paper would be of some interest as she shows just how rich Spinoza’s subjectless subjectivity defies the said human realm.

The audio is found here, at the record of the “Spinoza and Bodies” conference. Also recommended Daniel Selcer (Duquesne), “Singular Things and Spanish Poets: Spinoza on Corporeal Individuation”.

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

Breathing Matter

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

A significant passage:

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

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

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

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

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

Infinitely Narrow: How Spinoza Corrects Descartes’ Lenses

Corry Shores has another nice post up in his series on my study of Spinoza’s optical theories and practices. He is the only person, as far as I know, who has made an attempt to read through the whole of my study and it is with great appreciation to find my thoughts reflected there. Here, 6: Seeing Differences between Descartes and Spinoza. Some Observations on Spinoza’s Sight. [The Kvond Spinoza’s Foci Summary Series], he points out a power conceptual, and pictorial difference between Descartes and Spinoza. In my understanding it is hard to over estimate just how pervasive Descartes’ optical metaphor for consciousness and methodology for clarity became, in particular when it was grafted onto by Idealist notions of fundamental intentionality, self-hood, and subject/object duality. Spinoza’s correction to the hyperbolic lens, the lens that Descartes felt would unlock all the powers of clear, nearly unlimited vision to man, stands at a fundamental cross-roads in the history of philosophy, noting the turn-out where modernity could not branched off from the Idealism it followed.

This contrast between the narrowly clear and self-evident, and the broad spectrum, comprehensive intuition of a whole makes an interesting contact point to a discussion Carl Dyke and I have been having over at his blog, on the Infinity Standard (something he regards as an unhealthy societal influence), Existential infinity. Descartes envisioned an infinity as well, an infinite power developed upon the tunnel vision of narrow band precision of clarity, ultimately founded upon the notion of the “self” as indubitable. While Spinoza wanted to say of lenses, of eyes, and ultimately of consciousness, whenever we are perceiving something clearly it is always because we are already perceiving the vista of what lies beyond it. There is no narrow clarity that supersedes and establishes the role of the margin. In fact, as is the case in criticisms of philosophies of Presence, it is always the margin, the ground, that allows the narrow, bright center to have importance, or even substance at all. As I have mentioned before, recent concerns about objects and their centrality are grown out of the image of clear centrality itself, something that comes out of Descartes’ optics, and as I tried to show, Kepler before him.

We do not realize how much our folk and philosophical conception of consciousness and the world is governed by a metaphor of tunnel vision.

A related post: The Hole at the “Center of Vision”

Spinoza Transfigured and reExplained: “Idea” as Information

In two posts I began opening up the notion that Spinoza’s treatment of “Idea” has strong sympathetic correspondences to modern conceptions of information and organization. First in Is Spinoza a Cyberneticist, or a Chaocomplexicist? I raised the idea that Spinoza offered something of a Chaoplexic view of organizational development and ontological power, and then in Information, Spinoza’s “Idea” and The Structure of the Universe I adopted the general replacement of Spinoza’s “Idea” with an version of Stonier’s “Information” as the basic structuring element of the Universe.

To help with the thought-imagination of some of this it seemed interesting to offer some retranslations of Spinoza’s propositions dealing with “idea”. I had done this before, come out of some discusssions I had with David Chalmers, but I can seem to find them. The grammar does not always work fluently for such a replacement, and perhaps this will confuse the issue for some, but hopefully you’ll get the gist and the new propositions can bring about a change in the staid way “idea” has been conceieved:

Informational Propositions

E2D3: By informational structure [idea] I mean a mind’s concept that the mind forms because it is a thinking, informational thing.

E2D4: By adequate informational structure I mean information which, insofar as it is considered in itself without relation to its object,  has all the properties or intrinsic denominations of real information (a true idea) [verae ideae].

E2p7: The order and connection of informational structure is the same as the order and connection of material expression (things).

E2p11: The first thing that constitutes the actual being of the human mind [mentis] is nothing but the informational structure of a singular thing that actually exists.

E2p13: The object [obiectum] of the informational structure constituting the human mind is the body, or a certain mode of extension which actually exists, and nothing else.

E2p15: The informational structure that constitutes the formal being [formale esse] of the human mind is not simple [simplex] but is, through a multitude of informational structures, a composite.

E2p16: The information of any mode in which the human body is affected by external bodies must involve the nature of the human body and at the same time the nature of the external body. (The ability to to be changed informationally, to be reorganized by work.)

E2p4: The informational structure [idea] of Nature (God), from which infinite things follow in infinite ways, it is capable of only being singular [unica].

E2p23: The mind [mens] does not know itself except insofar as it percieves the information of the changes (affections) of the body.

E2p25: The information of any change (affection) of the human body does not involve an adequate cognition of an external body.

E2p26: The human mind [mens] does not perceive any external body as actually existing except through the information of the changes (affections) of its own body.

E2p27: The information of any affection of the human body does not involve an adequate cognition [cognitionem] of the human body.

E2p32: All information (ideas), insofar as it is related to Nature (God), is wholly real (true).

E2p33: There is nothing in an informational structure that is productive (positive) on accout of which it is called false (confused, untrue).

E2p35: Falsity consists in a privation of cognition, which involves partial (inadequate) or confused information.

E2p36: Partial and confused informational structure follows with the same necessity as adequate (whole) or clear and distinct informational structure.

E2p38: Those things which are common in all things, and which are equally in the part and the whole, can only be conceived adequately.

E2p40: Whatever informational structure that follows in the mind from informational structure that is adequate in the mind is also adequate.

E3p10: An informational structure which excludes the existence of the body cannot be in our mind, but is contrary to it.

E3p11: The information of any thing that increases or diminishes, aids or restrains or body’s power of acting, increase or diminishes, aids or restrains our mind’s power of thinking.

Def of Affects IV: Love is a joy (an increase in the power to act) coupled with an informational structure orientation towards an external thing, taken to be its cause.

E4p1: Nothing positive (productive) about false (partial) information is removed by the presence of real (true) information, insofar as it is real (true).

E5p18: No one can hate Nature (God). Dem: The informational structure of Nature (God) which is in us is adequate and perfect. Insofar as we contemplate Nature (God), we act. Consequently, there can be no sadness accompanied by an informational structure orientation toward Nature (God), that is, no one can hate Nature (God). 

E5p35: God loves itself with an infinite intellectual love. Dem: God is absolutely infnite, the nature of God enjoys infinite perfection, coupled with the informational structure of itself, the informational structure of its cause. And this is what we said intellectual love is.

General Defintion of the Affects E3: An affect (emotion) which is called a passive experience [animi pathema] (a pathema of the soul) is confused information whereby the mind informationally affirms a greater or less force-of-existing of its body, or part of its body, than was previously was the case, and by the occurance of which the mind [mens] is determined to think this rather than that.

The Centers of Sensuous Gravity, and Their Relations: Shaviro and Harman

Turtlism and Other Quaint Difficulties

A few thoughts on Shaviro’s response to Harman’s appreciation for Turtles (and the problem of infinite regress). He mentions my thoughts on the matter, and seems to ponder such an answer, appealing to Schelling I think rightly so, rather than Hegel. There is a non-entity end of the backwards or beneath/between tracings of entity chains:

It may well be that an ungrounded infinite regress is not such a bad thing (as Harman says, for instance, here). There are, however, other ways to nuance the question of infinite regress. Kvond suggests as much here, raising the point that what stops the regress from being infinite might be of another nature than the entities among which the regress takes place. (This could be seen in a number of ways; I am inclined to think of it in terms of Schelling’s notion of a ground, as opposed to Hegel’s totalizing closure). But I need to think about this some more, so I will postpone further discussion until another time.

From my perspective though, it is Schelling’s Idealism that draws him down, and it is his Spinozism that makes such a concept of “ground” compelling. There is nothing that Schelling actually adds to the Spinozist solution to object-oriented Turtlism. There should be no ontological priority of mind (or subject/object binarism) in the analysis of either objects or their relations (I hope to post on this soon, under the concept of information). What is compelling about the Spinozist answer of Substance (against an Aristotelian concept of substances), is that each and every assemblage indeed retains its own inside/outside boundary, an epistemic concrescence we might want to say, but continually and ever this is an open relation, the interiors of recursivity being insufficient to define or “reduce” the object to any pure objecthood.

A Diversity and Richness of Relations

Shaviro goes onto praise the diversity of objects which Harman’s position brings into view, but decries the paucity of an appreciation of relations. He looks for a Realism (speculative or otherwise) which grants nobility to relations, as much as it does for said “objects”:

I am looking for a “speculative realism” that does justice to the multifariousness of relations, as well as to the multifariousness of things or substances.

As I have emphasized in the past, Harman’s love of objects isn’t I suspect really for objects at all, but rather the object is to serve as mere and empty anchor for the sensuous qualities, turning his philosophy into a QOP: The “sensuous vicar” of Causation.  Indeed, I think what distinguishes the framework that Harman provides is that, as Shaviro notes, it is a speculative mode of perception that leaves out the very connective material, the relations between such objects. The reality of those relations. One can see this symptomatically of course in his rather poor or insubstantive reading of causation. But it is more than this. Harman sees the world as fulled with objects because I think he wants to see it as filled with centers of activity. A center of activity here, a center of activity there, and the activities are sensuously confined behind the closed doors of the object’s surface. Harman’s is really a social theory of privatized interiors, in my mind anthropomorphically projected onto the rest of the Universe, a projection attempting to erase its social positioning of privatized sensuous inner realms.

But it goes beyond this, and Shaviro’s complaint is revealing. It comes to a question of openness vs. closeness. What a reality of relations (and not just closed centers of activity) gives us is a grammar of analysis for social relations themselves, the connective parts and forces that exist between located centers of activity. One might say the very fabric of what is real. In such a fabric, I suggest, is the very possibilities we have for self-direction and social increase, the very openness of our path-steering and trans-personal capacities of experience itself. Much is at stake when we are considering whether we should see the world as solely filled with centers of activity, or composed of activities, processes, etc., which sometimes cohere into centers better seen as boundaried.

The reason I suspect that objects must yield in turn to proceses or relations, in part is because this shapes the way that we encounter, change and participate in what we find, the way in which we blurr boundaries, cross over into objects, conjoinedly enflesh ourselves with pieces of the world, a view in which a primary sense of objects-under-retreat simply makes little sense.

 

Note

As a sidenote – and the reference may be non sequitur to some who have not been following my other posts – recent examination of the history of military strategy in the theories of John Boyd (on whom I also hope to post soon), I believe reveals the importance of reading the world as composed of solely centers of activity. When facing issues of an opponent (or a potential communicator)  the game of defeat or communication is won or lost in the very connectivity between centers (best not seen as centers themselves); while the evolutionary, preditor-oriented eye might readily travel to the centers of activity (the head, the heart, etc.), the warp and weft between the concrescences of pattern – those the seeming locuses of power, experience and mind – is where advantage is most played out.

Its “objects” All the Way Down

Turtle Oriented Philosophy (TOP)

Harman has a brief note voicing his complaint that people take the “Its turtles all the way down” as some kind of knock-down argument presumably against his own claims about objects:

Why is the phrase “turtles all the way down” always taken as a game-ending slam dunk, even when the alternative adopted is “the final turtle at the bottom of the world”?

If you don’t want an infinite regress of entities, the choices are:

(a) a finite regress to some ultimate constituent of the cosmos

(b) no regress at all, with everything remaining on the surface of human access and nothing hiding beneath

Neither is a very good choice.

The way that he sets up his dichotomy is perhaps somewhat revealing for the position he holds. There is something called an “entity” (presumably an “object”) taken from Medieval philosophy, the combination of which makes up the constituency of the universe. What has to be explained is the causal regress of these “entities”. When we take this “entity” notion and translate it to “turtles” we begin to see something of the problem. The way we think of “objects” as objects (with boundaries, insides and outsides, etc) is a product of our visual, everyday sense of the world, just as an American Indian might feel that the whole world rests on the back of a turtle (something he is very familiar with).

So, when we take up Harman’s cruel alternative “a”: (a) a finite regress to some ultimate constituent of the cosmos, the reason why this is a “good” choice is that the so called “ultimate constituent of the universe” isn’t best seen as an “entity” (or an object, or a turtle). It is of a nature that is not like the kinds of things our visual cortex gives to us. It is probably best seen as a kind of process, one would have to say.

The problem with Harman’s approach is that all he can see is turtles, this kind of turtle and that kind of turtle, and really for this reason his science of causation, how turtles relate to turtles is quite devoid of real explanations for the real world. When looking for causal explanations or the relationship between things he can only ask the question: But what kind of turtle is it?, not a very helpful question at times. Though one has to admit that imagining the world full of turtles and nothing else is a wonderful and entertaining thing to do.

What Alice Has to Say

There is a curious, melancholy character in Alice in Wonderland, the “Mock Turtle“, whose name and identity is made up of the very recursive nature of a faux turtle soup:

Then the Queen left off, quite out of breath, and said to Alice, “Have you seen the Mock Turtle yet?”

“No,” said Alice. “I don’t even know what a Mock Turtle is.”

“It’s the thing Mock Turtle Soup is made from,” said the Queen.

(Alice in Wonderland, chapter 9)

What we want to say is that like the mock turtle there is something of a confusion over what we “are” and the process and naming of soupmaking.

[Shaviro gives good context to the discussion here]

Is Latour an Under-Expressed Spinozist?

Selections from The Prince of Networks

This posting works as something like a hypothetical dialogue, a reading and response to the first twenty pages or so of Graham Harman’s Prince of Networks. Each of the Latourian points below are largely the words and descriptions taken directly from Harman’s forthcoming book on the renowned sociologist of science, presenting him as a metaphysician). Here is an interaction with the metaphysical possibilities of Latour when considered in the context of Spinoza. The aim is to press as coherently as possible the correspondences between these two thinkers, and to find bridges in the analysis of events such that each may inform the other. More specifically could say that this comparison follows from a rough equation between the two which proposes that all of Latour’s actors are well seen as modal expressions of Substance for Spinoza, such that in many respects Spinoza’s philosophy is able to accomodate or even subsume Latourian descriptions. Of course such an overlay is not complete, for no thinker presents the thinking of another, but the similarities are greater than might otherwise be supposed.

Because the Latourian points are specifically drawn from Graham Harman’s description of them, the comparison also serves as a quick introduction to the kinds of characterizations Graham is making in his coming book. Even if you disagree with the Spinozist comparison, orientation to Graham’s coming book is worthwhile orienting oneself towards.

a = Graham’s description of Latour

b = My comment on how Spinoza bears on the same issue.

The Four Axioms

1a. First, the world is made up of actors or actants (which I will also call “objects”).
1b. Spinoza’s modalities.

1.1a All entities are on exactly the same footing. An atom is no more real than Deutsche Bank or the 1976 Winter Olympics, even if one is likely to endure much longer than the others.
1.1b All modal expressions have the same reality as any other, as perfect expressions of Nature, (though some may have greater reality than others, that is be more active and powerful, given number of combinations they can make.)

1.2a This principle ends the classical distinction between natural substance and artificial aggregate proposed most candidly by Leibniz.
1.2b The Leibniz distinction is non-existent in Spinoza, so does not need to be so ended.

2a. Second, there is the principle of irreduction, already cited above. No object is inherently reducible or irreducible to any other.
2b. To know a thing is to understand its causes. In this way no modal expression is “merely” a certain form of description. Which is to say, neither is an apple merely a collection of atoms, or a fruit of the tree, but also because Substance exists and acts through modal expression, an apple is not merely Substance acting and existing, but also the sum total of all modal causation. It can be neither reduced, nor is it irreducible.

2.1a Yet in another sense we can always attempt such explanations, and sometimes they convince others. It is possible to explain anything in terms of anything else, provided we do the work of showing how one can be transformed into the other, through a chain of equivalences that always has a price and always runs the risk of failure.
2.1b I believe that Spinoza would accept this. It is important to understand that all of our causal explanations for things occur in Spinoza within the imaginary horizon of human activity, the social field of actorly agents. It is not at all clear that Spinoza allows human beings to hold completely adequate ideas, so thus all that they can do is build more and more powerful chains of descriptions, marked by their internal coherence to each other.

3a. Third, the means of linking one thing with another is translation.
3b. What links one thing to another is a vectorial degree of power, organized around the power to act, and therefore know: all things are linked to all other things, translation being a question of perspective which is never complete.

4a. Fourth, actants are stronger or weaker not by virtue of an inherent strength or
weakness lying in their private essence. Actants gain in strength only through their alliances
4b. Spinoza agrees. This difference of power is a degree of Being difference along a vector of knowledge (see 1.1b and his General Definition of Affects).

Concepts of Concreteness

5a. [The] four metaphysical axioms all stem from a deeper principle: absolute concreteness. Every actant simply is what it is. This entails that all actants are on the same footing: both large and small, both human and nonhuman. No actant is just fodder for others; each enhances and resists the others in highly specific ways.
5b. Spinoza agrees, the conatus of each thing strives to preserve itself to the optimum of its capacity (this defines its actualization). The human being is on no more “footing” than a peanut. Each are perfect expressions of Substance. In human beings this involves imagining things that give them the greatest power to act, and aligning themselves with things which are imagined to empower them

6a. Though graduate students are usually drilled in the stale dispute between correspondence and coherence theories of truth, Latour locates truth in neither of these models, but in a series of translations between actors.
6b. Spinoza also by-passes the dispute, ultimately because coherence is correspondence, but in human beings it is expressed by degrees of adequacy and power. Spinoza’s theory is not one of Representational knowledge.

7a. Nothing exists but actants, and they are all utterly concrete.
7b. In a deepingly of the flat Latour model, there is a qualification of “exists”. Substance has Being, but its being “exists and acts” through modal actants. So only do actants exist, but the totality of actants are an expression of Substance, individual actants (and their clustered relations) holding degrees of Being powers to act. So the Being of Substance is expressed in the “utterly concrete” expression of the modes.

8a. His philosophy unfolds not amidst the shifting fortunes of a bland human world correlate, but in the company of all possible actants: pine trees, dogs, supersonic jets, living and dead kings, strawberries, grandmothers, propositions, and mathematical theorems. These long lists of actors must continue until their plurality and autonomy is no longer suppressed. We still know nothing about these objects and what they entail.
8b. Spinoza agrees with the plurality of modal expressions, but as we come to understand the causes of any modal expression we ourselves become more active, ultimately aiming to understand the causes of our own modal expression; thus the boundary that keeps us from the world is an non-categorical determination: we are in modal combination with the animate and inanimate.

Not Aristotle’s Notion of Substance

9a. This does not lead Latour to a philosophy of substance. Traditional substance can be defined most easily by contrast with its qualities, accidents, and relations. A substance can easily be distinguished from its qualities, such as warmth or villainy, since these traits may change over time without its becoming a different thing. In fact, one of Aristotle’s best definitions of a substance is that which supports different qualities at different times. In this way, traditional substance suggests something identical beneath all its trivial surface fluctuations. Latour emphatically rejects this rift between a substance and its trivial exterior.
9b. Spinoza changes the Aristotlean approach to substance. First of all, any modal expression of Substance is not trivial, but rather the perfect and determined expression of Substance becoming fully concrete. So the above critique of Substance is understood in terms of Substances, which Spinoza explicitly rejects. There is only one Substance, the only thing that can be conceive through itself being the cause of itself. Modal expressions of Substance in Spinoza are not “trivial surface fluctuations” but the very means by which Substance “exists and acts”.

9.1a A cat, a tree, or a soul would be substances, but not the nation of Egypt as a whole, or vast pieces of machinery with thousands of parts. But since Latour grants all actants an equal right to existence, regardless of size or complexity, anything in the world must count as an actant, whether natural or artificial, as long as it has some sort of effect on other things.
9.1b As mentioned, Spinoza would grant Substance to only one thing, the Totality of all manifestion, and no modal expression has a metaphysical priority over any other. Indeed, a nation, or a theory, or a the Ethics itself, in that it is an expression of Substance in both Extension and Idea, and thus is a ratio of parts in communication, would all count as a body, having as much right as any other body.

10.a For Latour, an actant is always an event, and events are always completely specific. An actant does not hedge its bets, lying behind current involvements like a substance eluding its surface fluctuations. Instead, an actant is always fully deployed in the world, fully implicated in the sum of its dealings at any given moment.
10.b This is quite in keeping with Spinoza’s ateleological, immanent metaphysics. Each and every moment is an ideational and extensional expression, completely actualized, fully deployed as it is possible to be (under a degree of power/being when considered in isolation, perfectly actualized when considered in terms of the totality.)

11a Unlike a substance, actants do not differ from their accidents, since this would create a hierarchy in which some parts of the world were mere detritus floating on a deeper sea, and Latour’s principle of democracy between actants would be flouted.
11b Modal expressions only differ from Substance in terms of degree. There is no hierarchy though, for Substance exists and acts through modal expressions. The “accidents” are Substance acting. In this way my words, the color of my shirt, my legal standing, all express themselves autonomically as far as their striving can take them.

The Power of Relations

12a Latour’s central thesis is that an actor is its relations. All features of an object belong to it; everything happens only once, at one time, in one place. But this means that Latour rejects another well-known feature of traditional substance: its durability.
12b. For Spinoza Substance is its modal expressions, thus any actor is composed of its relations. The only thing that truly endures is Substance itself. But in the ratio of parts in a communication can be understood to be preserved, what Spinoza calls the ratio of motion and rest which defines a “body”. But because this ratio is mind dependent and ill-defined, it is not clear at all why he cannot be read as an Occasionalist, like Latour. Because each body is only an expression of the totality, ultimately to speak of preservation is a question of perspective.

12.1a We always speak of the same dog existing on different days over many years, but for Latour this would ultimately be no more than a figure of speech. It would entail that we abstract an enduring dog-substance or dog-essence from an entire network of relations or trials of strength in which the dog is involved at each moment of its life. Ultimately the unified “dog” is a sequence of closely related heirs, not an enduring unit encrusted with shifting accidents.
12.1b For Spinoza indeed each thing has an essence which is exhibited in its conatus/striving, and whose existence depends on modal causations external to it, but whether it is the same dog over time, or a series of closely related essences/strivings is ultimately indeterminate in Spinoza (he writes of an aged and mentally stricken poet who seems like the same person, but is not, and how our essence as an adult is different than that when were babies).

13a. Since an actant cannot be split into durable substance and transient accident, it follows that nothing can be reduced to anything else. Each thing simply is what it is, in utter concreteness.
13b. Due to the wide-sense expression of Substance by its modes (not a split), the power of explanation, empowerment through the knowledge of causes, is grounded in immanent expression. This means that modal expressions are not “reduced” to Substance, because modes are the means of Substance’s acting and existing, but they are explained through Substance. This is the ultimate metaphysical grounds which establishes the power of knowing. But in the actualization of modes, human beings necessarily are passive, dependent things, expressing themselves largely through imaginary relations and affective reactions (that is, translation always has its price and effect). The causal connections we make betweeen one modal expression and another though are perspective determined, for all things are connected to all other things.

13.1a We cannot reduce a thing to some privileged inner core by stripping away its inessential features.
13.1b Spinoza is in complete agreement. There is no inessential feature of Substance. Understanding a thing is achieved through understanding its causes in each and miniscule manifestation and effect. As an example, nothing is more useful to man than man, due to the sharing of a nature (the possibilities of connection), but the individual particularities, the causal history of one man and another are signficantly needed to achieve this usefulness.

14a. [For Latour] A theorist is no different from an engineer digging a tunnel through the mountains near Barcelona. One studies the rock, carefully assessing its weak and solid points, the cost of selecting one path over another, the safety concerns of workers, the availability of drill bits needed for specific tunneling methods, and other such factors. The engineer is not a free-floating mastermind of stockpile and calculation, as Heidegger imagines.
14b. Spinoza compares human understanding to being that of a worm in blood. The human being is both a historical being, plagued by imaginary associations and inadequate ideas, but also achieves relative freedom and clarity by understanding that he/she is a expression of Nature, the uniform, parallel expression of thing and idea. In order to theorize something (explain it), the causal history of his/her own ideas, emotions, pictures of the world need to be incorporated, as well as causal expression of the thing to be explained.

14.1a [an] engineer must negotiate with the mountain at each stage of the project, testing to see where the rock resists and where it yields, and is often surprised by the behavior of the rock.
14.1b It is not clear if in Spinoza human beings can hold absolutely adequate ideas at all, but ultimately any attempt to understand something (explain it) is to combine with it, both affectively and ideationally. Theorization is always an experiment in material combination, and not just ideas.

15a Nothing is pure calculation, nothing follows directly from anything else, nothing is a transparent intermediary. Everything is a medium or mediator, demanding its share of reality as we pass through it toward our goal.
15b For Spinoza completely adequate ideas follow cleanly from adequate ideas (as an asymptotic limit), but it is very unclear if human beings can hold a completely adequate idea, so any tracing of explanation occurs with the gradated and real history of one’s necessarily passive position in the world, ever assuming the maximalization of thought and extension, of which one is an expression. Calculation is a material as well as ideational act.

16a A truth is never a simple correspondence between the world and statements that resemble it, since we only link a statement to the world through the most difficult set of displacements.
16b Spinoza agrees. A true idea corresponds to its object, but this correspondence is ever buried in the relations of the human mind to its body and its causal history of the physical world, and his theory is certainly not a representationalist one. Ideas are actions of the mind and body. My ideas about China and Scrabble and Latour are all actually ideas of my body being in various states.

17a Neither is truth a kind of “unveiling,” as in Heidegger’s model, since this still implies that we approach truth asymptotically.
17b Spinoza does not speak of truth as “unveiling” (but he does rarely call his propositions to the Ethics “the eyes of the mind”. Because he refuses a representationalist model of knowledge, running counter to all Idealism, truth is a relation. He does make our relationship to the truth asymptotic, an aymptotology which shows itself concordantly in our power to act (and feel Joy). This asymptotic vector is the actual vector of Being/Power/Activity/Knowing.

The Full Deployment of Actors/God

18a Actants are always completely deployed in their relations with the world, and the more they are cut off from these relations, the less real they become.
18b Spinoza’s degree of Being definition of knowing and acting corresponds quite well here. The greater capacity a thing has to act or be acted upon, the greater degree of Being it has. Connections make perfections.

18.1 A Pasteur begins alone in his fight with Liebig over the cause of fermentation, or with Pouchet over spontaneous generation. Yet gradually, Pasteur amasses a formidable army of allies. Since Latour is no Machiavellian, not all of these allies are human. Pasteur’s allies may include mighty politicians who grant him funding, pieces of glassy or metallic equipment, and even bacilli themselves.
18.1b Spinoza would completely agree, both on the level of human and inhuman alliances, but in terms of how alliance functions in the human realm. Though he would insist that alliance is made in the strongest sense by appeal to commonality and a knowledge of causes. A theory is always a material as well as ideational expression, and it shows its power in its ability to combine not only ideas, but also material relations as well. The mind is no more priviledged than the body, and that means any body.

18.2a We become more real by making larger portions of the cosmos vibrate in harmony with our goals, or by taking a detour in our goals to capitalize on the force of nearby actants.
18.2b Spinoza agrees in terms of harmonization of parts, and would judge any interaction which increases our capacity to act a “good” thing.

19a For Latour, the words “winner” and “loser” are not inscribed in the essence of a thing, since there is no essence in the first place.
19b For Spinoza a loser is something that simply was overcome by a stronger force, the ratio of its parts in communication scattered. There indeed are modal essences in Spinoza, but because the existence is not predicated of a modal essence, it existing or not existing is not “inscribed” therein.

20a All actants are equal; all actants can win or lose, though some may have more weaponry at their disposal.
20b For Spinoza this weaponry is largely the knowledge state of a body, its degree of a capacity to act. But contingent circumstances can intervene to upon any partial modal expression of Substance, no matter how knowing/active. That is, the sage might very well have a piano fall on his head. Spinoza has strong Machiavellian influences, arguing that each and everything thing has as much right to the degree of power it can marshall.

Playing with Machiavelli

21a. The impact of Bruno Latour as a thinker is deployed in the bookstores that carry his works, the admirers who recommend them to others, and the careers that are altered by contact with his writings…There is no central point in the network where we encounter the very heart of Latour and his philosophy.
21b Completely so in Spinoza. Spinozist philosophy must be understood as both an extensional expression, materialized in all its manifestions, from books printed, to neurological states in people’s brains, to vibrations of air in conversation.

22a In order to extend itself, an actant must program other actants so that they are unable to betray it, despite the fact that they are bound to do so…. We always misunderstand the strength of the strong. Though people attribute it to the purity of an actant, it is invariably due to a tiered array of weaknesses.” (direct quotation of Latour)
22b I believe that Spinoza would agree because his affinities with Machiavelli, but a primary weapon of such “programming” others, is freeing them from their own illusions so to think more rationally, to understand the causes of the states of the world and their own states, and to ultimately to seek their own advantage. In this way Spinoza is an ethical Machiavellian.

23a Latour scoffs at the notion that the imperialist West succeeded by purifying objective truth from the naïve superstitions that still haunted gullible Indians.
23b For Spinoza it is simply a question of becoming more active and stronger through the understanding of causes and becoming more active. I don’t know what he would say as to why the West ultimately overcame the Indians, historically, for there may have been many intervening contingencies. But he would say that knowing the causes of things (for instance knowing the capacities of gunpowder), played a determinative role. He finds the West in many ways far more superstitious and imaginary than otherwise granted.

24a “It takes something like courage to admit that we will never do better than a politician….[Others] simply have somewhere to hide when they have made their mistakes. They can go back and try again. Only the politician is limited to a single shot and has to shoot in public.” (direct quotation of Latour)
24b Spinoza also finds a “single shot” concept of power manifestation (though the rational understanding of something is a pivotal aspect of the freedom to act). Spinoza’s “single shot” public concept of action is that each and every thought that we have is an affirmation of the power of the body to act, and can provide a change in the degree of reality one has. Conscious thought has no priority over any other mental/bodily action. Our actions are not usually what we think they are.

25a Forces are real, and real tigers are stronger than paper ones, but everything is negotiable.
25b Spinoza provides the same notion of negotiability, but it is between the real increases in Being which result from increases in knowledge, amid seemingly contingent relations to the world. Indeed a pen-stroke can kill, but this depends upon the entire matrix of coherent relations between events, the knowledge of which would only increase one’s own capacity to act.

26a Harmony is a result, not a guiding principle.
26b Harmony is both, a constructed result and a guiding principle. Very often increases in harmony at one level can induce disharmony at another (for instance the reception of Spinoza’s Theological-Political Treatise, which he refused to allow to be translated into Dutch, in much distinction to the ill-fated strategies of his friends the brothers Koerbagh).

27a Even power, the favorite occult quality of radical critics, is a result rather than a substance.
27b Power is not a substance but an expression of Substance.

28a Latour holds that truth itself is a result, not a starting point. “A sentence does not hold together because it is true, but because it holds together we say that it is ‘true.’ What does it hold onto? Many things. Why? Because it has tied its fate to anything at hand that is more solid than itself. As a result, no one can shake it loose without shaking everything else.” We call “true” whatever has attached itself to something more durable, less vulnerable to the resistance of other actants.
28b Spinoza would say that this “solidity” to which true sentences are “tied” to is the very nature of Substance and its expression in parallel Attributes.

29aRecently there has been a tendency to privilege language…. Language was so privileged that its critique became the only worthy task for a generation of Kants and Wittgensteins…. What a fuss! Everything that is said of the signifier is right, but it must be said of every other kind of [actant]. There is nothing special about language that allows it to be distinguished from the rest for any length of time.” (direct quote from Latour)
29b Spinoza does not privilege language either, but makes the power of ideas most distinct from their linguistic expression (or their related images).

30a Since actants are always fully deployed in the universe, with no true reality lying in reserve.
30b God is always fully expressing himself, nothing is reserve.

31a Latour dismisses any distinction between literal and metaphorical meanings of words
31b Spinoza would make a strong distinction between the imaginary relationship (affects) caused by words, and the ideational linkings, which allow us to see the causes of things. I do argue that there is room for the power of metaphor in Spinoza, since it is through metaphor and imagination that human beings are bound to each other in increasingly powerful relations, but there is a deep distinction.

32a Like the works of Whitehead, Nietzsche, or Leibniz, Irreductions views objects as individual perspectives striving to impose their viewpoints on the rest.
32b Spinoza is in 100% agreement, we want others to love what we love.

33a “I don’t know how things stand. I know neither who I am nor what I want, but others say they know on my behalf, others, who define me, link me up, make me speak, interpret what I say, and enroll me. Whether I am a storm, a rat, a rock, a lake, a lion, a child, a worker, a gene, a slave, the unconscious, or a virus, they whisper to me, they suggest, they impose an interpretation of what I am and what I could be.” (direct quote of Latour)
33b I am ultimately an expression of Substance as it expresses itself concretely, and thus what I am is also expressed in all other things. As I go through this seemingly contingent world, passively exposed to things I have little control of, as a mode of Substance my power to act comes from my ability to combine with any other mode of Substance.

Conclusion

If there is a difference between the two it is that Spinoza grants greater ontological changes in being and power to the understanding of the causes of things, whereas Latour would like causal explanations to be understood much more haphazardly, productions of chance and not needing explanation themselves. One might ask, Does not with the relative suppression of the need to explain the power of understanding the causes of things come the suppression of an ethics of communication, the way in which our ability to form networks with others and objects primarily occurs through attributions of interpretive charity? One might also ask, if indeed actants are to be understood to only as real as the power they exhibit in their networks, has Latour privided enough traction for the strategies for self-determination and liberation, the kinds of which grant freedom through the understandings of our own causes?

[all selections on Latour are quotations from an unpublished PDF of Graham Harman’s Prince of Neworks to be published this Spring by re.press]

Wittgenstein’s Abuse of Augustine’s “making/doing the truth”

Wittgenstein famously begins his Philosophical Investigations  with a quote from Augustine’s Confessions, in Latin no less, which is supposed to reveal a hidden “picture” of language that was damagingly influential across the centuries of Western philosophy, an influence that goes unabated until Wittgenstein theraputically provides us with a new picture, more than 1,500 years later. A seductive story if their ever was one. The problem is that it is quite likely that Augustine did not hold such a “picture” of language, and that Wittgenstein’s snap-shot method of interpretation does not capture at all the fullness, or even sense, of Augustine’s conception of language. Wittgensgtein wants to say that Augustine sees language as fundamentally a naming process, as essentially designative, something of an over-simplification, and in so doing fails to see the consitutive role of truth, the theoretical role of God, creation and incarnation in an expressive vision of language.

I had been discussing this over at Methods of Projection, in response to the site’s  inspired attempt  to reconsile Wittgenstein’s interpretation with Augustine’s actual position on language, via Hacker. Below are some thoughts on the overall conceptual mistakes that Wittgenstein makes in a failure to read Augustine with com-prehension, perhaps in a pursuit to ground his own Tractatus  endeavours across the centuries. These thoughts flow from Wittgenstein’s admitted attempt to separate out the purely ritualistic (and expressive) from actual theory, between which the analytical idea of “picture” seems to float.

A first quotation comes from Wittgenstein’s Remarks on Frazer. In his attempt to separate out mere symbolic expression found in magical ritual and “false pictures” in a pure categorical fashion, he refers to Augustine’s calls to God:

“Was Augustine mistaken, then, when he called on God on every page of the Confessions?
Well – one might say – if he was not mistaken, then the Buddhist holy-man, or some other, whose religion expresses quite different notions, surely was. But none of them was making a mistake except where he was putting forward a theory.”
(“Remarks on Frazer’s Golden Bough” )

This may explain why Wittgenstein failed to take into account Augustine’s reasoned positioning of God unto the very powers of speech and the use of signs, both in the immediate context of the passage he cited, but also in the breadth of reference to language throughout the Confessions. For instance, when Augustine questions the very capacity for sign-use to explain what is going on in the expression of will, calling to God, “Is anyone to be his own artifex?” (1.6.10),  just a few paragraphs after the cited passage, are we to read this not as a “mistake” in Augystine’s reasoning, but rather part of a simply ritualistic, symbolic God-calling expression which simply does not put forward a “theory”?  It seems that the position of God in Augustine’s conception is not for Wittgenstein “theoretical”, it is not part of the all important “picture” of language.

(Concordantly, one wonders if Wittgenstein had taken to interpreting Anselm’s so called Ontological Proof in the Proslogium, if he would have been able to parse out the many appeals to God from the very content of those appeals, or the substance of the proof itself. Somehow this parsing appears to be how he conceived the Confessions.)

Now this is an odd way of reading Augustine, if indeed Wittgenstein is thinking in this way, for the very purpose of the Confessions  is to confess the errors of his ways. Quite apart from the idea that the Hindu holy-man whose religion has different “notions” than Catholic Christianity is not a man in error, it is specifically the case that Augustine’s appeals to God (and the attendant notions), are part of his Confession of the mistakes, the errors of his Manichaeism. What is the Confessions if not a description and philosophy that works toward this very idea of moving from error to truth? Wittgenstein is right the confessional attitude is expressive and symbolic, but he does not see that just this expressiveness plays for Augustine a constitutive role in the nature of truth and communication, at the theoretical level.

James O’ Donnell makes the point quite well in his introdution to a much respected commentary on the Confessions:

“He who makes the truth comes to the light.” [cited at Bk 10.1] The truth that Augustine made in the Confessions had eluded him for years. It appeared before us as a trophy torn from the grip of the unsayable after a prolonged struggle on the frontier between speech and silence. What was at stake was more than words. The “truth” of which Augustine spoke was not merely the quality of a verbal formula, but veracity itself, a quality of a living human person. Augustine “made the truth” — in this sense he made himself truthful–when he found a pattern of words to say the true thing”

See how far such a comprehensive and linguistic interpretation of Augustine’s Confessions  is from Wittgenstein’s attempt to isolate out a “picture” of language amid confession itself. This process of picture isolation is part of a conception which distinguishes the sheerly expressive/symbolic, from the theoretical, finding in confession itself solely an irreducible gesture,

“The religious actions or the religious life of the priest-king are not different in kind from any genuinely religious action today, say a confession of sins. This also can be “explained” (made clear) and cannot be explained.” (“Remarks on Frazer’s Golden Bough”).

Clearly here Wittgenstein has in mind pure ritual (if there is such a thing, imagined to be empty of ideas or conceptions), like perhaps the actual act of going to a confession booth, yet given the proximity of the quote above to an initial reference to the Confessions,  it actually shows the instability of the category Wittgenstein is attempting, parsing sheer expression from all theory and idea. Counter to this segregation of empty, symbolic rite from theoretical meaning, we must say that Augustine’s Confessions  is indeed a “religious action” (at least as he conceives of it), but definitionally not one that can be separated out from the entire theoretical and linguistic expression of the self which Augustine carries out. The entire work is an expression. The searching for words, the searching for true words, creates a horizon of authentic expression for Augustine from within language, positioning what language itself, the use of signs, is; and it is only from within this horizon and personal arc that Augustine’s story of early thought and language can be understood.

Far from indicating a Slab language, where words merely correspond to objects, or even more a “system of commuication” which explains the whole of language (Philosophical Investigations, section 3), the aim of language is to “make/do the truth” and thus to “come to the light” (John). Augustine makes this plain at the beginning of Book 10, which O’Donnell had cited above:

1. Let me know thee, O my Knower; let me know thee even as I am known. [Cf. 1 Cor.13:12]. O Strength of my soul, enter it and prepare it for thyself that thou mayest have and hold it, without “spot or blemish.” [Eph. 5:27]. This is my hope, therefore have I spoken; and in this hope I rejoice whenever I rejoice aright. But as for the other things of this life, they deserve our lamentations less, the more we lament them; and some should be lamented all the more, the less men care for them. For see, “Thou desirest truth”[Ps. 51:6]. and “he who does the truth [ho de poiõn tên alêtheian] comes to the light.”[John 3:21]. This is what I wish to do through confession in my heart before thee, and in my writings before many witnesses. (Confessions)

Somehow Wittgenstein in his mind had turned Augustine’s call to God, “Let me know thee, O my Knower; let me know thee even as I am known,” into part of a call to God “on every page,” a substanceless reading, not seeing how “knowing” and being “known” are part of a reasoned constitutive of “making/doing” the truth through words. This is the wish of both the confession  in Augustine’s heart, an in the religio-linguistic action of the writings themselves. 

(Or would not such a call to God fall into Wittgenstein’s wide-sweeping category of Augustine’s calling to God? We cannot ever know, for Wittgenstein’s PI analysis is incredibly devoid of any additional textual reference, or even the clue that he has read into the context of the work or ouevre at all.)

Part of Wittgenstein’s deep misreading of Augustine’s early language (1.6.8) may also fall upon his perferred method of historical analysis. Aside from the general manner in which one examines historical texts through an understanding of the likely ideas or beliefs held by authors or actors and the social influences that may have lead to them, in a narrative of development, he favors a kind of “picture” theory of history, where one can simply look back in time and just compare these pictures discovered in texts and accounts:

“The historical explanation, the explanation is an hypothesis of development, it is only one way of assembling data…It is just as possible to see the data in their relation to another and to embrace them in a general picture without putting it in the form of an hypothesis about temporal distance.” (PO, p 131)

This precisely seems to be what Wittgenstein has done in his reading of Augustine’s infant learning of language, only to uncover a “picture”. He imagines that Augustine is putting forth a “picture” of language that is the same “picture” that he himself had when writing the Tractatus. Now, this is an interesting way to do philosophy, or to conduct a history of philosophy, or even study history itself. Wittgenstein feels that one can simply take snapshots of a text, and snapshots of another text (no matter how distant in time) and just see how they are the same. Now this is perhaps a helpful way to start  an interpretation of an ancient text, to notice similarities, but really the next  step is to see if these similarities bear out in context. Simply laying one passage upon another, like transparency photographs of faces, and seeing the resemblance, without looking at context is simply not the end of an analysis. The Kodak method of historical interpretation really is not a method at all, and seems that it is just this method that lead Wittgenstein to take a short passage of Augustine’s Confessions and expand it into a vast “system of communication” meant to explain all of language, leaving Augustine’s actual ideas about the self, language, incarnation and truth far behind. We might say, turning Wittgenstein’s analytical category upon itself,  Wittgenstein’s “picture theory” of historical text is a false, or at least deeply misleading, picture of history.