Tag Archives: Odysseus
What is Greek Thymos?
The above is a signature clip from Andrei Tarkovsky’s hauntful meditation on the role of the artist in society, not to mention amid Soviet Society. There may be no greater film made on the subject of the artist than Andrei Rublev. The final chapter of the bell casting is so redounding on the issue of tradition and making, it to this day stirs and moves me. (It was a film that actually put me to sleep in the first three attempted DVD viewings. Like Freud’s the-father-who awoke-from-the-dream-of-his-son-burning, I dove into my dream rather than endure its somnambulant truth, it would seem.)
But the horse of above, for those who do not know the film, can be seen as a certain effervescence of life, a kind of natural expression that society can work to suppress. The horse, an animal of pride and tremendous strength, of the herd and a social order that is beyond the wisdom of the bit, here frolics in a way that seems to criticize the human order of the film’s brutal wars and stern, religious transcendental ambitions/isolations/silences. The horse expresses itself upon and within the field.
Why do I bring up Tarkovsky’s colt here? In recent posts, after my raising the possibility of an informative critique of Western philosophy following the Attic Greek contrast between the Ages of Achilles and Odysseus, attempting to reposition Achillean Immanence against modernist Odysseusean Instrumentality and Wanderlust, Mark Crosby was good enough to point out a rather thorough comparison between my thoughts and those presented by Peter Sloterdijk in his yet to be translated Zorn und Zeit (Anger and Time). I have to say, I just love when I find strong parallels between my own prospective thinking and the cross weft of someone else. It is as if we have fallen upon a great store of possibilities. So this post is an attempt to come to grips with some of the confluences.
“The menis (wrath), do godess sing, of the Peleusian Achilles,/destructive” (Iliad’s first line)
I will go into Sloterdijk’s thoughts more deeply in a moment, but for now it is enough to say that he, like me, returns to the epic of the Iliad, and the figure of Achilles’s anger, as a starting point for an ideal to be followed in human relations. He proposes that the menis/wrathof the poem’s initial line is not a personal wrath, but in a sense civic and divine wrath, a natural product of the thymos (heart, spirit, passion, force) of a person before the failings of the political. Instead of an economy of lack, eros, object-oriented projections, such as that which Western civilization has evolved and Continental philosophy has often emphasized, a economy of thymos, of gift, and righteous anger is preferred. The reason why I have brought up the horse of Tarkovsky is that I believe it helps us understand something of the Greek conception of what Thymos is. When I think of thymos, I think of horses.. When reading a Greek characteristic, it is often advisable to turn to the hyperbolic form of it, as is the case with the thymotic (LSJ):
Hyperthumos, on,A. high-spirited, high-minded, daring, freq. in Hom., in good sense, Il.2.746, 5.376, al., cf. Hes.Th.937, Pi.P.4.13, B.12.103, etc.: irreg. Sup., “huperthume statos andron” Stesich.95.II. in bad sense, overweening, Od.7.59, Hes.Th.719, AP6.332 (Hadr.); over-spirited, of a horse, X.Eq.3.12.III. vehemently angry, Poll.6.124. Adv., “hyperthumosagan” in over-vehement wrath, A.Eu. 824.IV. in Adv. also, eagerly, readily, IGRom.4.1302.12(Cyme, i B. C./i A. D.).
To sum up: the horse that is sound in his feet, gentle and fairly speedy, has the will and the strength to stand work, and, above all, is obedient, is the horse that will, as a matter of course, give least trouble and the greatest measure of safety to his rider in warfare. But those that want a lot of driving on account of their laziness, or a lot of coaxing and attention on account of their high spirit, make constant demands on the rider’s hands and rob him of confidence in moments of danger.
We recall the figure of the “horse-trainer” from Socrates of the Apology (25b). The over-thymotic man, someone like Achilles, is in a sense the unbroken man, the one that will not take the bit, the one withtoo much soul. How is society to deal with the thymos, and eventually the menis-wrath of the over-souled person or peoples? Is the only rapidly expandable economy that of Capitalism’s desire and lack-driven instrumentalities, vanishing petite object a’s, economies that work by “sublimating” into atomized individual of guilt and pleasure, or worse and alternately as Sloterdijkwill tell us, the vast “banking” of thymotic anger within a social collective, resenting Revolutionary Left?
Sloterdijk’s Zorn und Zeit
I have not read Anger and Time, and am not overly familiar with Sloterdijk’s philosophy so I will have to rely upon the two English reviews linked by Mark, and use extensive quotation so as to build something of a dialogue in thought with the book. At the very least the quotations here might give a context to arguments I am presenting.
“Anger and Time: a critical assessment” [click here] , Miguel de Beistegui
“Zorn und Zeit” [click here], Fransisco R. Klauser
Klauser sets us in the right place, positioning the divinity of Achillean anger as part of a wide, historical immanence of rightful, citizened, defense against political injustice. In this telling Achilles is the power which will not submit to opportunism and legal or customary usurpation. It is the feeling in the breast that grows almost without object, but merely as an objection.
Sloterdijk’s reading of the Greek heroic epos, the imaginary space of gods, half-gods, and divinely chosen angry heroes, underlines that in ancient Hellenistic mythology the origins of anger are neither located in the earthly world, nor attributed to individuals’ personalities. Anger is rather understood as a possessed, divine capacity, a god-favoured eruption of power. Hence the birth of the hero as a prophet, whose task is to make the message of his god-given anger an immediate reality (pages 23 , 24). For Homer, to sing the praises of Achilles’ heroism also and ultimately means to celebrate the existence of divine forces, which are releasing society from its vegetative daze, through the mediation of the godly chosen `bringer of anger and revenge’.
It is from the Greek mythological relationship with anger that Sloterdijk derives his own conceptualisation of anger through the figure of Thymos. Originally denominating both the Greek hero’s specific organ for the reception of god-given anger and the bodily location of his proud self, Thymoslater with Plato, and following the generaltransformationof the Greek psyche from heroic belligerent to more civic virtues, stands for the righteous anger of the Greek citizen as a means of defence from insults and unreasonable attacks (page 42).With the figure of Thymos set against the psycho-analytical focus on Eros, anger, for Sloterdijk, is not only a vent for frustrated desires, but also, and rather, a reactive manifestation of offended pride. (Klauser)
As we can see from this paragraph’s end, the economics of Thymos, of soul and anger, vary withthose of Eros diagnosed and thus developed by psychoanalysis. In the notion and confirmation of pride, no longer is this a question of objects, or payments, but of relations. Achilles puts this very pricelessness forth, in defiance of what is hidden, in his ninth book refusal to be bought off by Agamemnon and Odysseus.
Neither counsel will I devise with him nor any work,  for utterly hath he deceived me and sinned against me. Never again shall he beguile me with words; the past is enough for him. Nay, let him go to his ruin in comfort, seeing that Zeus the counsellor hathutterlyrobbedhim of his wits. Hateful in my eyes are his gifts, I count them at a hair’s1 worth. Not though he gave me ten times, aye twenty times all that now he hath,  and if yet other should be added thereto I care not whence, not though it were all the wealth that goeth in to Orchomenus, or to Thebes of Egypt, where treasures in greatest store are laid up in men’s houses,-Thebes which is a city of an hundred gates where from sally forth through each two hundred warriors with horses and cars;  -nay, not though he gave gifts in number as sand and dust; not even so shall Agamemnon any more persuade my soul, until he hath paid the full price of all the despite that stings my heart. (A. T. Murray translation)
One also recalls the Achillean novella Michael Kohlhaas by Heinrich von Kleist, wherein the hero refuses all possibility of payment or retribution, aside from the restoration of his one horse once illegitimately taken, setting the entire land to war. Righteous indignation allows no translated payment, no abstraction of a wrong. No amount of instrumental increase can restore the injury to the heart.
Miguel de Beistegui continues on with the theme, developing the historical critique that Sloterdijk brings to libidnal organizations. Once anger is internalized, and begins to be “banked”, or better, “stored up” (in just the kind of hydraulic metaphors psychoanalysis enjoys), it enters into a different economy: an economy of objects, an economy of hatred, instead of thymos or menis. Interestingly, Sloterdijk characterizes this real banking of anger not so much of the Christianized soul (which begins this internalization), but of the Revolutionary Left (which of course has its distinct history of brutal and collective abuses).
So, beginning with the fact and facticity of anger, Zorn und Zeit describes its economy or, more precisely still, its two possible economies, that is, the way it is and has been managed collectively in European history. The first type of economy is connected with a certain Greek, and specifically Homeric stance, the contemporary equivalent of which Peter Sloterdijk seeks to identify in a renewed concept of pride partakes of a healthy “thymotics”. It originates from the thymos, or the part of the soul that, according to the early Greeks, and up until Plato, was thought to be the site of the noblest affects. The second type of economy, on the other hand, is associated with the main processes of collection or gathering of anger, namely, Judeo-Christian metaphysics, and revolutionary politics. It originates from the erotic part of the soul, which defines the envious, libidinal partof the human psyche. If one can speak of anger in both instances, one also needs to emphasise the fact that they do not originate in the same part of the soul. As soon as anger is conserved, preserved, or interiorised, as soon as it is allowed, or worse still, encouraged, to accumulate, as soon as its externalisation is deferred, it enters into a different kind of economy in fact, it enters what has come to be associated with economy as such, and by that we mean the economy of accumulation, growth, and interest. Like monetary economy, the economy of anger crosses its critical threshold when anger rises and moves from a state of local accumulation and punctual expenditure [revenge to] that of a systematic investment and cyclical growth most notably, revolution, especially in its global ambition.
Paradoxically, then, and almost perversely, Sloterdijk argues that the revolutionary movements of the last two centuries, and the communist revolutions in particular, partake of an essentially capitalistic economy of anger that contradicts and undermines the very politicaleconomy it seeks to promote. In other words, and from the point of view of its dominant affect, communism would be driven by the very economy that it seeks to overturn. It would itself be an expression of the drive to accumulate, invest, and live off its capital. It would itself operate like a gigantic bank, in which the world reserve of anger would be deposited, and would grow, with a view to its final and total mobilisation in the name of a global revolution.
Under Sloterdijk’s review, Communist projects partake in the very anger-banking processes that drive the Capitalist machine that it seeks to overthrow. The resentment attributed to the priest of Christianity by Nietzsche is accumulated into a great reservoir of assembled power, a power directly attributed to libidinal organizations of psychoanalysis and beyond. And this organization is distinctly that of object-orientation, the internalization and projection upon, control over objects in the world:
The catastrophic effect of psychoanalysis, according to Sloterdijk, lies in its analysis of the conditio humana as a whole on the basis of the dynamic of the libido, and thus on the basis of erotism. This approach would not have been problematic, had it not been developed at the expense of the pole of thymotic energies (page 27). Yet such a one-sided view was no coincidence: the thymotic had long ceased to be valued and analysed as the site of possible values and virtues, with a few notable exceptions, such as Nietzsche and, more recently, Bataille. Psychoanalysis was and remains (for instance, in its Lacanian version) an economy of compensation and sublimation, born of an original and irreducible experience of lack: “Whereas erotism indicates ways towards the `objects’ that we lack and in the possession or proximity of which we feel fulfilled, thymotics opens up ways for the human being to value what it has, what it can be, what it is, and what it wants to be” (page 30). In other words, the shift from erotism to thymotics, which Zorn und Zeit hopes to facilitate, is a shift from an economy of possession and lack to an economy of being, power, and plenitude. Throughout history, anger has been eroticised, that is, reduced to libidinal impulses defined by their lack and their weakness. Whenever the human condition is defined by a constitutive lack, also known as sin, the “ethics of indignity” prevail.
Here is where I find my greatest affinity with Sloterdijk’s ideas, for it was specifically the contrast between the ever-devising, instrumentalist Odysseus who has come in some modern philosophy quarters to essentialize the existential crisis of modern human beings, bothblessed and cursed by their technological powers, that the Greeks of Athens and even long before positioned Achillean immanence of rightful anger and immanent, eruptive power. It is precisely in terms of what is “hidden” (a favorite of such objectologists as Heidegger) and the character of device users that Achilles forms his objection to Odysseus’s very machinationed mind at the start of his book nine speech:
Zeus-born, Laertean, poly-machinationed, Odysseus, it must be now that the telling – spoken outright – it is declared, even as I have the sense, accomplished it shall be, so not with me you’ll murmur seated near another to another. For an enemy to me is that man – equal to Hades’ gates – who a different thing he hides in his chest, yet another thing he would have said. Nay, I will say what appears to me to be best.
For the Achillean, one does not hide what is other in one’s breast but speaks forthrightly, expressionally. The nothingness of hidden thoughts is hated just as the gates of Hades are hated. They are of the same stuff so to speak. I do not believe that the exception is to any dissemblance, but to dissemblance and hiddenness as proper modes of conduct, ideals to be achieved. There is in Odysseus the exemplar of the negotiator, not only of persons, but of circumstances. His is a world of objects which must be positioned. For Achilles, the world is a world of forces, and his is a immanence within them, one in which the alliance with others is a bodily constituted bond. The thymos of Achilles is the very substance that is shared between persons. His taken Briseis is his “thumares” (female form of his thymos 9.336). He thymos is poured into by the grieving of those he loves (9.612). Words matter. Riches are not worth a soul (9.401). The weapons at his disposal are merely withdrawal and action, and the power of those he is allied with. The very object-orientation of his counterpart Odysseus is misplaced. Words and weapons are the very stuff of a life.
These are very noble characteristics, at least we might get a few to agree. But in what sense do these two manners about the world form valid and alternate perspectives? Is there a way in which the Odysseusean West can become more Achillean, more immanent, more bonded, more respectful of the Menis of the wronged, such that its very economy of interactions and concepts were to be organized around notions of dignity and anger? Has history reached a point where the magnanimus, great-heart has gained a substance out-reaching the arms of the instrumental opportunism of assumed object control and prediction? Has an economics and ontology of lack and absence, via the projections of the missing object come to a limit? De Beistegui does not see himself through to a Thymotics of Anger, questioning whether we need a modulated anger, a rationalized anger:
Despite Sloterdijk’s claim, I wonder whether anger cannot be seen to have played, and to continue to play, a positive and active role in public life, especially in the face of social injustice not as “simple explosion”, “revenge”, or “evolution”, which Sloterdijkrecognises as the three fundamental forms of anger in Western history (pages 95 , 103), but as yet another form, which can be described as revolt, or rebellion. It is not merely explosive and immediate, for it presupposes a degree of organisation and mobilisation. It is not motivated by revenge, but by a deep sense of injustice and indignity…The anger in question is one that presupposes a sense of outrage, empathy, and therefore something like a social instinct (which Aristotle would call philia, or friendship), but one which, in order to be effective, needs to be mediated and processed rationally.
Bringing Forth an Achillean Spinoza?
I think this an important point, and one which Spinoza could help us out on, for he is expert on the dovetailing of the affects of the mind and rational propositions (and not allowing them to collapse into dual distinctions). Much like a critique of object orientation, Spinoza tells us that affects of love and hatred are mistaken or confused ideas which in a sense blame our weakened states upon external objects. It is the idea of an externalcausethat makes up a mental affect. I would offer that it is precisely in the projection of our pains and sadnesses upon objects that the difference between Immanence and Instrumentality lies. While de Beistegui sees a distinction between an Aristotlean rationality of anger, and the three modes that Sloterdijk prescribes, I do not accept this difference, for within “evolution” I would includetherationalization itself of anger, with the primary Spinozist understanding that the affect of anger (and not hatred) is not counter to the rational. In fact, the menis of Achilles, his thymos by poem’s end, is no longer cholos anger, or even named mēnis wrath, now, but has become meneainō which is sheer purposive force, determination, might, strength, power (24.23-54), very close to Spinoza’s conatus and potentia. Achilles has moved to through extreme affective determinations to reach this point, but we cannot discount its end. Indeed though Spinoza often frames his advisementsin terms of utility, for instance that nothing is more useful to man, than man, this is always within the bodily, affective combinations of persons withothers and withthe world, in a view towards ultimate and mutualimmanence. The external object is part of the same expressive field. And it would strike me that the very thymotic evolutions are more greatly enhanced the affects of mind as well.
To bring up a specific historical example, the anger of the “barbaric” crowd against the De Witts, savagely murdered as they were leaving prison in August 1672, was a complex venting of political forces. Johan de Witt had guided the Dutch Republic on a course of a uniquely modernist ends, a state of freedoms of expressions, the enhancement of new capitalist forces; yet he had utterly failed to protect the Dutch from the Catholic armies of Louis XIV which were set to eclipse the entire land. His failure as a leader cannot be dismissed from the reasons for his lynched execution. It is too easy to see him solely as the victim of reactionary, dull-minded hoi polloi who simply did not understand his Enlightened genius (and surely he was genius). It was also the uprising of the populace, farmers, women, that had perhaps saved the Republic up to this point (as deWitt was being forced into very poor positions of negotiation for defeat). The savagery with which he and his brother was killed has interesting parallels to the inhuman treatment Achilles gave Hectors corpse (there were eye witness reports of cannibalism). When Spinoza cried “Ultima barbarorum!” he was staring right into the heart of the democratic powers he hoped to enlist, but savagely so; he felt that these were not the thymotic angerof indignity and pride, but that of banked hatred and projection upon objects. I think that this is partly true. Yes, imaginary relations helped organize the riot, but the actual brutality, the excessive object concern, the rending of the flesh, likely stemmed from real thymotic incursion into the social field, the eruption of the offended beast:
For days an angry crowd had been gathering in front of the Gevangenpoort, and they wanted to see blood. Tichelaer [a likely false accuser of an attempt assinate the Prince] was given every opportunity to whip up emotions. Cornelis, in not fit state after the torture he had been subjected to, had asked his brother to send a carriage. Johan arrived in person at half past nine, apparently in the naive belief that he could calm the crowd. He could not have been more mistaken. The soldiers and civic militiamen, who had mounted guard aroundthe entrance to the prison, were becoming just as agitated as the crowd. Shops started closing in nearby neighborhoods as people began to sense trouble. Wild rumors were making the rounds, one of which maintained that peasants from the surrounding countryside were on their way to plunder The Hague. After endless waiting, at four o’clock the militia men forced the brothers outside (The Dutch Republic in the Seventeeth Century, 53-54)
The confluence of Voetian and Orangist alliance had been grafted onto I suspect, a much larger force of fear and dignity come from the country side and the lower classes, the dispersion of forces that had held the Dutch Republic intact from the assaults of the Catholic French. The bodies of the brothers deWitt eventually became inscribed with the very conatus of Dutch persistence, and in no small respect did the vicissitudes of Enlightenment capitalism and Burgerism, the mobilization of a merchant class at the expense of industry stability (such were the sea lanes and identities of nobility), incur this ignorant protest that built itself through the streets. The mark of the brutality of their murders, was I suspect less the mark of the imaginary, and more the mark of Achillean protest, pure and simple, upon the very matter that confined them, held to the surface and organs of the body.
What Is The Locus of Protest?
Further on the issue of the rational at its relationship to the affect of menis, or thymos, and I don’t know if Sloterdijk follows this at all, but Achilles’s thymotic response in one of at first petition (to his mother goddess) and then strategic withdrawl and inaction. The menis wrath is thus also a quietude of reflection. I find Achilles to be much more of a Spinozist hero than many might suppose.
De Beisteguiraises the very interesting point that if there is to be a thymotic transformation of social economies, they would have to occur within the libidnally based structure of Capitalism itself, within the very erotic realm of object-pursuit. Our very states of infinite debt seem to be too married to the deep investments of personal sublimation which constitute the very meaning of our lives. There strikes him to be a very incompatibility between the deep dept of our economic system, and the debts of our lives.
For isn’t capitalism, especially in its current form, based on the systematic appeal to the erotic, and to our ability to desire what we perceive to be lacking, and in the possession and consumption of which we hope to find satisfaction? In itself impossible to ever satisfy completely, this desire is partially fulfilled through consumption, yet at the cost of a mounting debt, and the dependence on a system to which we find ourselves ever more riveted, ever more enslaved.
In short, whilst I see how the ethics of dignity that Sloterdijk promotes is incompatible with, and in fact radically opposed to, the revolutionary and global impulses witnessed in the 20th century, I fail to see how the aristocratic or thymotic stance he advocates is compatible with the current state of Western capitalism, driven by ever greater and more crippling levels of debt, deficit, and lack. In fact, one might want to go as far as to argue that if it is true that we might be hard-pressed to identify one universal discourseor “bank”, in which we could invest our anger, with the hope of seeing it grow in the future, we could be equally, if not more, hard-pressed to find any promise of a future that would not already be spent, already mortgaged. At the economic level, it is through consumption that we seek to alleviate ourselves form our sense of lack, our fear, and our decadent eroticism. But this is not an investment. In fact, it leads to a greater sense of lack, and a greater desire. It forces one to borrow from one’sown future, to live one’s future before it has been actually lived. The truth is, we’re not saving or storing anything, not even anger. In many ways, we’ve already spent our future, and chained ourselves to this loss.We’ve given away something that we have not yet lived, and can never be ours, namely, time. We don’t even own ourselves anymore. No wonder we’re afraid. No wonder we’re angry.
There is almost something poetic to this, we have exhausted ourselves, spent all our notes of promise, and there is no bank or discourse to redeem our expenditures, nor even internal resources to drawn on again. I think the answer of course is that we are in our state an Agamemnon, and it is our recourse to grant respect to the Achilleses of the world. If we of the West have outspent ourselves, clearly there is menis enough in the world, lament enough in the world, to see where we have deposited our investments and actions. It is perhaps at most that outside ofour realm, more than ever, as learned by Achilles with his Priam, that we must look for the possibilities of the thymotic economy. To take two examples, we in the West often confuse ourselves over the dramatic mournings of those in Islam, paralyze ourselves over the numerical vastness of rape, disease and war in Africa in tumults. These, I suspect, are Achilles laments of thymos. Something to be acknowledged at a very deep and symbolic (and not instrumental) level. There is no dearth of soul in the world.
Infinite Debt or Bodies in Composition
Lastly, critically brings the very technological attachments between persons that now inhabit and construct our world, attachments of such speed and transfer that events as images seem to defy any human growth, as centered on the human:
If we are to consider the question of time, or the question of our time, in relation to a specific attunement, or a set of attunements, we need to take into consideration the way in which, not human beings, but machines, and information systems in particular, act as decisive mediators and formidable accelerators and amplifiers. They are the bank, or the automatic growth vehicles, through which those affects are processed, and to a large extent produced. The current financial crisis, in which the banking system is at issue, as well as the terrorist attacks on the US of 9/11, illustrate this new dimension of a bank of affects that can be mobilised at a moment’s notice, and turned into global catastrophes. At no point, therefore, would I suggest that those affects bring us any closer to the ideal that Sloterdijk evokes in his book. In fact, inasmuch as they stem from the most negative of affects, namely, fear, and lock us into a climate of suspicion and depression, they disallow the spirit of self-esteem and self recognition which Sloterdijk wants to revive. They do not allow us to grow and flourish as free spirits. Rather, they continue to capitalise on the negative eroticism which Sloterdijk so adequately describes.
I do not fully accept Sloterdijk’s division between eroticism and the thymotic, though I can certainly see the value of the distinction. Achilles most certainly had an eros for Protroklus that was born of his thymos, as he did for Briseis. And there are distinct object-concerns for Achilles, not in the economy of abstract exchange, but in terms of passage. He holds onto both Patroklus and Hector, the one as a soul-ghost, the other as a brute materiality. His abuse of the body is a product of the circulation of his thymotic rage, quieted, and brought into incantational repetition. When de Beistegui emphasizes that the attunements of our day are of machines and informations systems, and not of human beings I think he is actually pointing the way forward, towards a post-human Achillean Age. This is the difference between the aristocratic gift giving economy that may perhaps be suggested by a Bill Gates and Warren Buffett of efficacy of philanthropy. The gifts and growths are not strictly of human beings, as centered subjects. The growth is of immanence itself, the immanence of recognition across subjectivities, in the answer to affects in communication.
Yes, technological affect transfers indeed employ intersubjective projections. Britney Spears’s face on the screen allows for the conduit of affect bleeds across space and time with incredible motion. Instantly we can coalesce. And yes, we want to move away from object-orientation and concerns with lack. But the destablization of the human subject brought on through technologies is the very path forward to thymotic economies, for identifications in individual powers allows us not only depressions and fears, but polyversal bodies, bodies capable of ornate action. Key is that the thymotic is recognizable as source and determination. Hatred needs to be pushed back, ciphoned back, into its river mouth ofanger and pride, a well-spring for a community of values and generosity of mutal recognition. Not sub-jects, or ob-jects, but syn-jects.
Lastly, Klauser tells us something that Spinoza balanced his entire Ethics upon, that the logic of love and hatred are the same. Those concerned primarily with objectsarethose who must bear the burden of this truth.
`Based on its erotodynamic approach, psychoanalysis has shed much light on hate as the dark side of love. This approach has shown that hate and love rely on a similar logic, with projection and recidivism being in command in both cases. Yet, psychoanalysis has remained silent in view of anger, which originates from successful or failed aspirations to success, reputation and self-respect” (page 27)
Anyone who knows why the artist casts the bell to be rung in the village square, or why the horse rolls in the grass, knows that it is not a question of objects, nor their accounting.
Carl at Dead Voles wrote a pair of ruminations that flowed from an all-too-honest confession of how to write a philosophy paper by Graham Harman (apparent Graham linked to the comments, and then deleted the link, finding the criticism out of bounds). First he critiqued Graham’s very helpful suggestions on how to structurally spruce up a paper, things like breaking it up into sections, identifying tensions with positions other than your own, and then mixing in a Classic thinker, drawing our attention to how as a historian Carl finds this process (expanded into a prescription for how to read books, and dovetail papers with talks) to be painfully different from the kinds of closer examinations he must carry out. Then in “Shopping at the Black Box Store” he draws heavier consequences from this kind of text and thought production, summing up the problems with the Latourian proposal that Theories operate primarily as Black Boxes, calling for perhaps a better, more lucid metaphors (linking parts of Metaphors We Live By), ultimately pointing towards the Black Boxes of Marxist thought:
This is an interesting metaphor to me, because in my dissertation I used it to characterize marxist approaches to revolutionary consciousness and suggested that its darkness contributed to enabling some pretty serious errors and atrocities. Perhaps a more transparent and reflective sort of thinking (not to mention a more glassy set of metaphors) might have contributed to a more humane revolutionary practice?
Part of this response falls at the feet of philosophy itself, with a real mourning that Graham Harman’s lessons how how to produce and package philosophical ideas does describe the requirements of a real environment for philosophy production. One really must roll one reading into another talk. One really should through in a Classical thinker every now an then. I mean, there is a brand to keep up. Distinct from the real sense that theories can be seen as Black Boxes that can indeed be opened up to see how they work, there is also in Latour (and Harman’s celebration of the same), the sense that the way that a theory succeeds is by Black Boxing itself, keeping its hidden mechanisms opaque to the viewer.
Two Kinds of Magic
Arthur C. Clarke said brilliantly in his Third Law, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” There is the sense that any theory that is to be successfully put forth has to operate as a kind of magic, and a magic that happens when we don’t quite know how they did that. This is distinct of course from the kind of magic one feels when we “see how they did that,” when we see how things connect and manifest. There seems to be a fundamental tension between these two kinds of magic.
Graham Harman’s behind the scenes “tricks of the trade” benevolent advice to up and coming thinkers perhaps invests in both kinds of magic. This is how it all connects, what Carl calls the glimpse behind the curtain: this is how you can create the illusion of deep and analytical thinking, and gather momentum in your profession and your brand. And there is a beautiful magic in “How to be a Successful Philosopher” perhaps in the same way as magician in training would feel relieved to know now how to saw the lady in half. Much of Graham’s professional insight seems to fall into this category of “there is no mystery for how to make the mystery appear”.
But as I read it, Carl’s problem isn’t with Graham’s successful procedures, but with the very social conditions which reward and reinforce just these habits of reading and paper building. Do theories only become accepted through a kind of magical allure, a seduction into a willing-suspension of disbelief, a refusal to let others look under the hood? I believe that what flows from Carl’s objection to skim reading and antique philosopher insertion is something of the same objection to mass-produced objects of consumption. There is the sense that yes, you can do it that way, but perhaps I want something hand-carved. When philosophy bases itself upon idea and text production of this sort, does it not take as its very material that which is most malleable to such a process?
Achilles Contra Odysseus
With these thoughts in mind throughout the intermittency of morning I found my mind turning to a comparison which was somewhat prevalent in Athenian society, the contrast between Achilles and Odysseus. There is something to Carl’s appeal for a glassier set of metaphors, and his dissatisfaction with Graham Harman brand-building Black Box stores that for me invokes this antique difference. Odysseus was he man of many turns, polytropos. The word is rich in meanings. Because clever he can turn in any direction, he is a swiss-army knife of mentality and action, full of devices. Yet because of this, his life (despite the homecoming at the Odyssey’s end) is also in quintessential Heideggerian and Holderlinian fashion, a life of wandering, turn upon turn, endlessly thrown into and against the world. He is thought to be in many ways the essentially modern man. To some degree he embodied both the positive and the negative values of contemporary Athenian citizen ideas.
But Achilles was a different sort of figure, a man of a different sort of Age, someone who the Athenian Greeks often felt put the Odysseus of tricks to the pale. A man perhaps who no longer it seemed could exist. Contrary to Odysseus’s adaptability, Achilles was someone who exerted the pure force of his ability to act and manifest itself directly (even it its absence). He was something like a direct radiation of Being. His story in the Iliad told of how man is to act amid social injustice, when one’s nominal leaders lack the community of values which are required to lead. It is told that he is both a rhetor and a doer in such a way that we understand that speaking is a kind of act and not something readily separable.
There is a very real sense that as the history of Western philosophy, particularly in its modern form, turned to the Greeks for their blueprints of questions and answers, the wrong, or least desirable Greek ideal was absorbed. People like Heidegger rejoiced over the alienations of Odysseus, his homeless machinations, and did not see the simplicity of force found in Achilles. A man conditioned by his loves (Briseis, Patroclus, Thetis, the Myrimdons, then lastly affimed custom, reconsiliation and mercy), and driven to personal yet mutual justice, someone who bent the rules of the very discourse available to express his dissatisfaction, and through a combination of refusal and action morally shaped both his community and historical events. Achilles was man before Man, something that could manifest both itself in surplus of the spectrum of the human, and become god-like, or in deficit of what’s human and become a mere force of Nature. It was the necessary capacity to bestride these two that he embodied to a far greater degree “what is human” than did the later Odysseus who articulated a specific historical domain, which he remained within.
As philosophy recovers from the Idealisms which plagued the Rights of Man, and seeks to reorient itself within a Real World of forces and objects, it must be wary of ontologizing the Odysseus of what is human, the specific alienations we have generated through our choices (much of it imported through the ontology of the Negation, how his name can only be pronounced as “No-man” by the poly-phemic One). There is a real choice in philosophy I believe, whether to start with the Achilean man (woman), or the Odyssean one, a beginning which directs the kinds of answers we find.
My sense is that as sufferers of modern and post-modern conditions, it is best not to ontologize these to the degree that we cannot imagine ourselves beyond them. Yes, perhaps it is good to learn the tricks of the trade, to bring forth black box powers as a matter of survival, but it is better I suggest to learn the glow of an other competence, the competence of bond, withdrawl and speaking action. I think that there is something to Carl’s glassy metaphors that speaks to the proposed unifications of Achillean force. The ways in which powers are better read and expressed as Real.
What Does Odysseus know that Achilles does not? And what does Achilles know…ontologically?