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Tag Archives: Sophocles

The Transvestive Signifier and the Antigone Complex

Ismene: Linguistic Duplicity vs. Linguistic Transvestism

Following up the line of thought begun in recent attempts to sketch out the possibilities for a postoedipal Antigone Complex subjectivity [What is the “Antigone Complex”? Posthuman Tensored Agency, More on the Antigone Complex], it is good I think to put our attention to the other sister, if only as a point distinction. If one sharpens the eyes to the language use in the argument between the two sisters that opens the play, we can perceive two postoedipal language strategies (before social power). Contrary to the usual reading that Ismene is merely the conservative, unrebellious, passive female, a kind of wooden literary foil to the outrage that would become Antigone, Ismene’s rhetorical strategies reveal the fundamental power of duplicity of meaning in the face of authority. This means that Ismene’s postoedipal political/subjective position is one in which one acts as the modest, demur woman, but harbors residual power which works behind the scenes, threatening with dark, chthonic force. The art of Ismene’s suggested ambi-guity is exemplified throughout  in a maze of negations and wordplay slippages, and can be seen reflected in Antigone’s infuriating severance from the game (and Ismene) after having played it for a bit, but perhaps the Isemene strategy can be iconically show in the passage (roughly lines 60-66)…

ἀλλ’ ἐννοεῖν χρῆ τοῦτο μὲν γυναῖχ’ ὄτι

But one must think that tho’ this a woman-pair we

ἔφυμεν, ὡς πρὸς ἄνδρας οὐ μαχουμένα·

Produced, so that against men we-two will not war,

ἔπειτα δ’ οὕνεκ’ ἀρχόμεσθ’ ἐκ κρεισσόνων

On that account we’re ruled by greater things,

καὶ ταῦτ’ ἀκούδειν κἄτι τῶνδ’ ἀλγίονα.

These to heed, and still the more grievous of these.

ἐγὼ μὲν οὖν αἰτοῦσα, τοὺς ὑπὸ χθονὸς

For me I call on they belów the earth

ξύγγνοιαν ἴσχειν, ὡς βιάζομαι τάδε,

To (with-) hold forgiveness, just as I’m forced here;

This is typically translated to mean something like, we are mere women, we cannot fight, and as such must listen to men who are more powerful. This is the supertext. But Ismene is double-talking, and her appeal to the chthonic deities shows it. She is ALSO saying, we have produced ourselves as a woman-pair fate, and as such we are ruled by things greater, more powerful than mere men; these dark, grievous powers we must heed (not men with whom we do not outwardly fight). The double meaning is there again in the final part, wherein she seems to be asking for the dead to “hold forgiveness” for her, given her paralysis, but alternately, to “withhold”, to keep to themselves and not dole out the forgiveness, just as she herself is imprisoned by the political situation. Ismene’s tact is that of stored vengeance under a placid face, woman heeds (and embodies) the most grievous of the most powerful, drawing on the immanent and repressed powers of the dead, using the duplicity of meaning that is possible within language itself. We can see this for instance as a regular and powerful postmodern feminist (and suppressed minority) strategy, a kind of chthonic duplicity.

Antigone’s Transvestism:  No Presumption of Essential Family Violence

Antigone though refuses linguistic ambi-guity, two-facedness as a tool of power (or subjectivity). Instead she wishes to exact the linguistic power inherent in the very filial organizational body out of which she has come, a process of investism…

Taking her perspective as one in contrast with Oedipalism, rather than Isemene (which is a separate issue):

No more exoteric appropriations upon projections of intra-family violence. Instead the family, if anything, forms a nearly equivocal though structured plane within which the exoteric is ever qualified. There is no essential family violence the resolution of which requires the import of foreign and symbolic forms. One does not kill and replace the father by becoming the father of another girl, who loses her father to a kind of death. Rather, if anything, the father is expropriated into an outer form of action, something like an armor to be put on in the name of the family plane, because there is no kerneled subjectivity that is born into reflection through a struggle within the whole. Instead, semiotic elements, signifiers, become vehicles for circuited travel within the larger locality of a kinship philia of eros  bonds and an imbrication of functional role over determinations. Like within dreamwork, one can simultaneously be (play the functional role of) father, daughter or brother. families become portal and self-defining alliances which borrow from their own appropriative use of social forms (gendered and hierarchical/stereotypical), and entire vocabulary of transvestive public positions. The intra-family powers of filial in-netting (and a family can be any kind of historical mutual dependence and nuturing, structuring) provide an affect steeping re-animation of otherwise stale social designations. One goes out in the world AS father, or AS child, or AS sibling perversely impowered by that incubation to which one is loyal, thereby capable of subversive or only creative repositioning oneself within the social sphere, reappropriative of the restrictions of social expectation for new and redemptive use.

Instead of an Oedipal exogamous process of external appropriation which assumes an internal family violence which gives rise to a spliting of the (pure) subject, in which the female aspect plays a kind of material ground for male subjective severings, and the ultimate murder of the father accomplished through the replacement of a father for the daughter from another family, the family is already understood as a coherent, immanent plane that has already appropriated the semiotic elements of society under their own affective structured imbument which transforms the very possibility of their deploy, the capacity to wear the signifier dress (for Antigone to be BE the man) with a certain libidnal fluidity/intensity, subversive of the social order from which the signifier elements were initially borrowed (opening up the possibility of other  families, other filial attachments to be made).  In this sense the family becomes the resource of the very apparition of the divine like force of the signifier itself (not as law-giver, but as radiant element). When Antigone, the young girl performatively stands before Kreon wearing the dress of the father, her father-brother Oedipus, richly steeped in the power of her filial experiences, Kreon stares right into the face of “the man”, and rightfully struggles to anchor it: either she is the man or I am the man. When Antigone sprinkles dirt upon her brother-nephew, she operates as sister-aunt-mother, condensing the figures into a single apparition which cannot be fully separated out from divine apparition itself (or natural processes), running right along the seam of language and nature, come from the incestuous affect-stew of what family is.

It is said that a herding dog as it runs about a flock of sheep, driving it forward, skirting the edges, jumping to the front to steer is actually enacting all the positions that would be taken if the pack was in tact. First this, then another, then another, building a geometry of their organizational synchrony in space. This is what Antigone does, the secret to her transvestism and the imbument of her public powers, come from the experiential bonds of the filia. She occupies each of the familial positions, in turn, the entire family, channeling the affective powers of each borrowed term, in the social sphere exhibiting the apparitional force of what she has appropriated.

The Surpass of the Binary Condition of the Subject

One can recognize in the strategy of Ismene the binary against which I have warned too deep a philosophical dependence. We can say that Ismene’s is a postoedipal position in the sense that she is born into the Oedipal historical situation, but really it is intra-Oedipal, in the sense that it attempt to harness the repressive end of the splitting binary force. This is a primary Freudian conception, a hydraulic model of the mind which finds on the other side of the (negation) barrier certain forces, shadows, that can bubble up from below and exact revenge. If you hold down the mulitiplicity or the primitive too much, it forces its way up to the surface. The duplicity of Ismene trades upon this dark-below, past, un-dead conception, using the ambiguous facility of language, of inside and outside, as a kind of internal power of resistance. Among these strategies related to the contest of Oedipal formations one can find those that appeal to the painful jouissance and attempts to release or celebrate/promote it, after at risk of being defined by the very frame they are somewhat in opposition to (and thereby unconsciously working to reproduce it).

In the Antigone complex one can see the dangers perhaps of a sterile circulation of recursive and relived semiotic elements if the family body is too threatened by a perceived external force. But one should be careful to read the difference in the construction of the subjective itself, the way in which subjectivity embodies itself within filial attachments of which there is no essentialfamilial violence (which is not to say that families do not contain violence, it is just that violence, or promotions to violence, are not essential to the subjective process). The Antigone Complex subjectivity is a positional subjectivity, appreciating the partial epistemic and deeply affective perception powers that involve actual families and siblings, etc, denying for instance any overt importance of something like the categorical “other” (Big or small “o”). Epistemic affective projection always works along prosthetic vectors. One feels an event through your brother’s arm, through your mother’s cheek and hair, not as partial objects, but as plane of world revelation. And the borrowed signifier terms that turn the constellation of trans- or intra-body  human memory into “brother” or “daughter” themselves become “cooked” in the sinewed, one-bodied attachments that are filial. This vectored subjectivity does not require a signifier resting place (a sister can BE a brother), but rather frees up the body to express itself transvestively, such that the wearing of the signifier, performing its function (within and without the family) becomes both an experimentation, and potentially a power toward freedoms (the ability to find new family without the murder of the father), understanding the atavistic nature of social appearance along the powers of bodily cybernetic, epistemic, affective combination, shifting alliances of what is felt and made most coherent.

It is important, I believe, to watch the line between Ismene hydraulic harnessing of the opposite (un)form, and Antigone Complex positioning. It is perhaps quite helpful to trace out the jouissance lead eruptions of bodily limits and the economies of pleasure that help constitute mutualities, taken to the limit perhaps in the G&D concept of the BwO, but one risks losing track of the specific investments, the specific/strategic transvestisms that constitute and condition an Antigonous  subjective expression. It is not just that some repressed thing is breaking free (either at this moment, or continually), but that a bodily contiguity inhabits a social designation/role imbued by the very historical experience of its intra-familia affective force. It is not just a breaking-free, one of the terms out pacing the other. It is specific acts of inhabitation with apparitial, political consequence.

This subjective transvestism is quite different than ornamentation vs. form. Antigone struggles to make the “god” appear in the substance of the signifier (a flash from the infinite), in the fabric of the social, loyal to composite filial memory and its poles of experienced alliance, but not to the signifier itself which is embodied, but also shifted and deployed.

A related line of thinking genealogical to this: Wasps, Orchids, Beetles and Crickets: A Menagerie of Change in Transgender Identification; and alternately The Necessary Intersections of the Human Body: Spinoza

More on the Antigone Complex

Ribbons of New Subjective Action

Yesterday I began thinking about the potentials of an Antigone Complex – how I would love to do an online, philosophical reading group on that play in the spirit of Mikhail’s Braver reading group, there is so much philosophical groudwork there, the play has been so conceptually influential its not even funny – thinking in particular about just how tempting and difficult defining a complex is. We want to think of a complex as a kind of double-bind that the subject finds herself in, in the classic sense that the supposedly Oedipal subject is confronted with a kind of inevitable loss (which – now he – then must either accept or deny with consequences). I am struck how Antigone has no such kind of difficulty. She is already inscribed within the matrix (and we use that word literally perhaps) of her powers, however involute that is. Hegel wants to find in her a kind of primative form of the law which the State must eventually sublate, and there is plenty of fodder for conceptions of opposition in the play, Sophocles just loves them, but there is something more happening here. She is a kind of ribbon-thread that runs up through all those oppositions, not joining them together, not holding, but rather transversing them. Kreon, the most fatherly of the fatherly, is not an opposition to her. She runs right through him. She is an apparition to him. The fatherly and the law is her natural order, the water to her fish. She is most dextrous there.

It must be kept in mind that Antigone is a child. Likely understood to be perhaps 13 or 14 by the Greek audience, her boldness, her transfigurative dress in male clothing (“I say now I am not a man, but this girl is a man!” line 484) is something well beneath opposition, something coming right out of the woodwork of the bones. And yes, there is a distinct aura of sterile opposition here, from the lexical facts of her name right on up, but I sense that history has mis-read even this. (I recall my idiosyncratic professor of Greek telling me that her name was commonly understood as “replacement child” the child named after the stillborn birth of another. She is the generation that comes after.)

When thinking hard about the play when retranslating it I came across a reading that claimed that the play should be named Kreon, in the manner in which the title denotes the figure that is going to go through the tragic anagnoresis. Antigone, though she comes to mourn her wedding to death, is not transformed, but transforming. What would a complex of the subject look like that held this capacity?  She is catalytic in the literal and Sapphic sense of the word. And seems to hold within her many of the Zuggtmonic drive principles that have recently been pondered here. I cannot help but think of the confusion that many miss, that there were TWO burials of her brother Polyneice’s body, the first having a very possible purely naturalized explanation – the sleeping guards awoke to find the body nearly invisible and disappeared, covered over by a dust storm. Antigone in this sense acts as a kind of overcoding of the supernatural/natural imaginary relation human beings necessarily have, a subject’s capacity to act right out of the nexus of the material and natural worlds: the subject as apparition (but not subjectivity as having-appeared).

Guattari and Deleuze have an insightful passage in a thousand plateaus  that invokes many of the capacities of Antigone; though she, the political girl, is not mentioned by name (Joan of Arc), she haunts the description:

The girl is like the block of becoming that remains contemporaneous to each opposable term, man, woman, child, adult. It is not the girl who becomes a woman; it is becoming-woman that produces the universal girl. Trost, a mysterious author, painted a portrait of the girl, to whom he linked the fate of the revolution: her speed, her freely mechanic body, her intensities, her abstract line or line of flight, her molecular production, her indifference to memory, her nonfigurative character – “the nonfiguration of desire.” Joan of Arc? The special role of the girl in Russian terrorism: the girl with the bomb, guardian of dynamite? It is certain that molecular politics proceeds via the girl and the child. But it is also certain that girls and children draw their strength neither from molar status that subdues them nor from the becoming-molecular they cause to pass between sexes and ages, the becoming-child of the adult as well as of the child, the becoming-woman of the man as well as of the woman. The girl and the child do not become; it is becoming itself that is a child or a girl. The child does not become an adult any more than the girl becomes a woman; the girl is the becoming-woman of each sex, just as the child is the becoming-young of every age. Knowing how to age does not mean remaining young: it means extracting from one’s age the particles, the speeds and slownesses, the flows that constitute the youth of that age. Knowing how to love does not mean remaining a man or a woman; it means extracting from one’s sex the particles, the speeds and slownesses, the flows, the n/ sexes that constitute the girl of that sexuality. It is Age itself that is becoming-child, just Sexuality, any sexuality, is a becoming-woman, in other words, a girl.

We see here the factor of the start that does not become (the girl does not become a woman), a kind of straition that cuts through and across sedimentations. There is tendency though in such a pure-becoming grasp to lose track of the materiality of Antigone, her history, if we are to find a complex of her, to instead turn her into something of a mathematical vector, which she certainly is not. She is a person, a subjectivity. A traveling body. Not simply a molecularization. And it is not true that the “girl” does not draw her power from the molar, for Antigone’s very invisibility, her capacity to stand before Kreon, to transpermeate straight to the tomb, is due to her place among the molar/Father, as “a child”. The girl in molar determination granted access. And though we understand what Guattari and Deleuze mean when they say that the becoming-girl does not become woman, it is most certainly only in juxtaposition to the capacity to pre-figure woman, to nacently BE woman, that a definite constitutional and apparitional power is achieved. Molecularity does not circulate merely on its own osmosis plane (something that I think both G and D would agree with).

So I resist the idea of making Antigone into a kind subjectivity of pure-becoming. It is much more attuned to her relationship to a pre-posited history of genealogical twisting (an incest of directives) into which she is born. She is not just thrown-into-the-world, but born-into a necessary and profane involution. It is the subjectivity of a pre-existing perversity. Is this twisting, this born-into twisting (a twisting that Sophocles calls αὐτοφώρων ἀμπλακημάτων – “a self-suspicion twist of blood” of the father and the mother) related to the semantic twisting of conflating explanations for the first burial of Polyneices? I think so. The material (natural) and the imaginary (affective projective) fold themselves into a twin-layered parallel construction, and as such the Antigone subjectivity is able to step in between, in the infintesmal crease, to persist, to stand and live in the gap, and then act, so as to appear. Perhaps what Nicola referred to as the “tiniest diety”. Indeed in the play Antigone performs as something like the tiniest deity. There is something there, including her polymorphous capacity to functionally perform under what Butler calls an equivocality of kinship (which really isn’t so much equivocal as dextrously polyvalent), one in which the sign carries a certain apparitional and inhabited vocability that renders Antigone the ability to seem to speak right out of Space, that needs to be developed and clarified.


[A related post in dialogue on Antigone and the possibilities of an Antigone Complex by Anodyne Lite: Two Versions of Antigone]

What is the “Antigone Complex”? Posthuman Tensored Agency


I came across something of the notion when reading Judith Butler’s Antigone Claim  that their conceivably could have been something other than the Oedipus Complex in history (despite its firm historical nestwork). That there could have been an Antigone Complex, with the implicit suggestion that perhaps it is time for us to recognize one as such. The thought came up again when responding to Eileen Joy’s post over at In The Middle, which elicited from me the need to declare that not EVERYBODY died in the Antigone, and that Ismene might very well represent a solution or answer to the Antigone Complex, itself a response to the Oedipus Complex into which she had been born (of that wrong sex). Just what is, or what could be the Antigone Complex?

[Digression]  A quick Google shows that indeed there is a book which aims to take up something of just this topic. The Antigone Complex: Ethics and the Invention of Feminine Desire, by Cecilia Sjöholm, which I have not read. The publishers description tells us that it is about feminine desire and the difference between ought and must. I perused it online and it does not seem to hit where I am going, nor really where I would hope an entire complex meant to supplant the great and determinative Oedipus Complex would go. (To be fair this is a cursory assessment.) And then there is a chapter written by Ronald Britton on the Athena-Antigone Complex which from the chapter title “Forever Father’s Daughter” also seems to miss the radical re-descriptive possibilities. It is a theme apparently taken up by Ellyn Kaschak who as also developed an Antigone Complex, now with sociological dimension:

Ellyn Kaschak uses the story of Antigone to draw a parallel with women in modern society. She points out that women are socialized to constantly put their loved ones’ welfare – especially that of the men in their lives – before their own. Furthermore, Kaschak theorizes that women internalize society’s narrow view of their identities and their usefulness, until their self image becomes aligned with society’s expectations. Therefore, a woman in Kaschak’s Antigone phase considers herself as an extension of the men in her life, often subordinating her own needs and desires in order to ensure that theirs are met. 

[Return]  These really seem to in one way or another run far afield from the kinds of capacites one could find in Judith Butler’s invocation of Steiner’s observations. I sense that there is something more, something posthuman(ist), something unrooting in the notion of an Antigone Complex, something that does not cheat Antigone herself who in narrative really supplanted and surpassed her father.

Retracing Sources

Its best I think to post the passages seminal to the question for me, first from Butler and then from Steiner whom she references:

In George Steiner’s of the historical appropriations of Antione, he poses a controversial question he does not pursue: What would happen if psychanalysis were to have taken Antigone rather than Oedipus as its point of departure? Oedipus clearly has his own tragic fate, but Antigone’s fate is decidedly postoedipal. Although her brothers are explicitly cursed by her father, does the curse also work on her and, if so, through what furtive and implicit means? The chorus remarks that something of Oedipus’ fate is surely working through her own, but what burden of history does she bear? Oedipus comes to know who his mother and father are but finds that his mother is also his wife. Antigone’s father is also her brother, since they both share a mother in Jocosta, and her brothers are her nephews, sons of her brother-father, Oedipus. The terms of kinship become irrevocably equivocal. Is this part of her tragedy? Does this equivocality of kinship lead to fatality?

Antigone is caught in a web of relations that produce no coherent position within kinship. She is not, strictly speaking, outside kinship or, indeed, unintelligible. Her situation can be understood, but only with a certain amount of horror. (57 Antigone’s Claim, Part III “Promiscuous Obedience”)

From Steiner’s incomparable Antigones:

Now we are at the nub of the dialectic. There is only one human relationship in which the ego can negate its solitude without departing from its authentic self. There is only one  mode of encounter in which the self meets the self in another, in which ego and non-ego, the Kantian, the Fictean, the Hegelian polarities are made one. It is a relation between man and woman, as it surely must be if primary rifts in being are to be knit. But it is a relation between man and woman which resolves the paradox of estrangement inherent in all sexuality (a paradox which incest would only enforce). It is the relation of brother and sister, of sister and brother. In the love, in the perfect understanding of brother and sister, there is eros and agape. But both are aufgehoben, “sublated”, in filia, to the transcendent absoluteness of relation itself. It is here, and here only, that the soul steps into and through the mirror to find a perfectly concordant but autonomous counterpart. The torment of Narcissus is stilled: the image is substance, it is the integral self in the twin presence of another. The sisterliness is ontologically privileged beyond any other human stance. In it, the homecomings of Idealism and Romanticism are given vital form. This form receives supreme, everlasting expression in Sophocles’ Antigone.

Between the 1790s and the start of the twentieth century, the radical lines of kinship run horizontally, as between brothers and sisters. In the Freudian construct they run verdically, as between children and parents. The Oedipus complex is one of inescapable verticality. The shift is momentous; with it Oedipus replaces Antigone. As we saw, it can be dated c. 1905…. (17-18).

I would very much enjoy hearing from others what an Antigone Complex would be, what essential relations it would consist of. Today I wrote down a few notes on the possibilities of the subject, perhaps as seeds for structures to follow. The way that I view a proposed complex would be one that would follow upon the ubiquity of the Oedipus one that may have characterized our conceptions of subjectivity in the modern, Industrial era, that would indicate what it means to have been born into Oedipus, but not strictly subjected to it. To be, in a sense, in excess of Oedipus. Posthuman.

– An inherited historical situation of involution.

– Positional nomological/functional diversity – the sliding of the signifier as a mode of agency; (polymorphy)

–  The Law of the Dead – inscription within the Law is always an under determination.

– Willingness to play the villain.

– Rite over substance – Supernatural Conflation.

– Marrow Thinking.

– Subjectivity is not the site of determination.

– The father is neither the one who enjoys or forbids, but the one who twists.

– Prosthetic combination – tensors of affect as imperative – the blindman’s hand.

I see as well, in looking at my copy of Antigone’s Claimthat I made a similar styled list, but one that juxtaposed the principles of Ismene and Antigone:

Ismene – Literal truth vs. duplicities of power | Antigone– Transvestism of power (surplus and deficit)

Ismene – Double meanings | Antigone– Symbolizing the unpresentable to produce disjunction

Ismene – Leveraging from within and double strategy | Antigone – Apparition of the god  – the “start” that does not become

And then the question: Is every symbolic act an affective univocal claim upon the Chthonic deities?

I do not know what this comes to, but I sense a focusing of powers into a concept of subjectivity that does not makes of the subject a split or a dilemma. Or, if there is a split, it is the splitting of powers, peeling off the historical layer from the political, using the affective flesh as something of a lathe. There is an apparitional force that exceeds any death or brothered conception, any simple reduction to Being/Non-Being or even filiation, that must be taken to. There is a performance of the transvestism, of reaching signifer autonomy, the way in which Antigone has a filion in the humorous and undecided guard – who comically performs what Antigone does in a deadly way – that resists any psychoanalytic recapture. Yes to an Antigone Complex.

Follow-up thoughts: More on the Antigone Complex

10 Greatest Philosophers (sigh): Desert Island Question

Tool Kit

Jon Cogburn’s list in the comments section over at Perverse Egalitarianism  it seems has forced/spurred me onto my own list, as absurd as it may be, (but processes of organization are creative). It is a conflation of “greatest influence,”  upon me, but also as I read it, “greatest influence” upon the best solution for the pressing questions of our historical moment, a solution which must resonate down to the root/earth of the Western Philosophical tree. In a sense the list represents the authors from whom — if I was on a desert island and had to compose a philosophical theoretical perspective for our Age, and could be given the entire oeuvre of each — I would compose my island library; where there are two, I get two for the price of one. I include a small note on what seems the most germane contribution, though effects are radial.

1. Spinoza (parallel postulate under a register of power)

2. Plato (formulating the Orphic)

3. Augustine (Immanent Semiotics of truth)

4. Plotinus (Degree of Being transformation of Plato)

5. Davidson (Triangulation and Objectivity)

6. Guattari and Deleuze (Ontology of Affects)

7. Wittgenstein (Language Game)

8. Nietzsche (Ascent of Metaphor)

9. Sophocles (The Surpass of Tragedy)

10. Maturana and Varela (Operational Closure)

A large measure of this ranking can be seen as an after-image of an entire branch of thinking stemming from Descartes’ Central Clarity Consciousness  conception, which had its reverberations and mal-interpretations running through both the Continental and Analytic sides, a branch that is best left behind for now.

The actual numbers are only as they came to me without very much juggling. Tons of beautiful philosophers left off, some of my most favorite ones with whom I agree much more, and more inspire me, than some on the list…but that is the beauty of lists they force a composition, a constellation. Of course I would love to hear any of your own lists under something of the same criteria (or whatever).

(On another para-frivolous note, I would love to do a NCAA like bracket “playoff” of the 64 greatest philosophers, a competition/comparison which could have serious conceptual implications about truth and correction.)

Here a BBC Greatest Philosopher List

Witnessing Ontologies of Difference

The Full Nelson of Plato

Larval Subjects posted what Levi calls “the Full Nelson” of Plato, the exemplary text from the Phaedo which has condemned all of Western Philosophy to a certain kind of choke hold that ever since we have been trying to get out of (to transmute Hegelian dialectics into a single trope we still carry with us). The fearsome conclusion, roughly as Plato wrote it reads,

And we recognize also that this absolute equality has only been known, and can only be known, through the medium of sight or touch, or of some other sense. And this I would affirm of all such conceptions (75d)

Socrates has turned the relative sameness between things (rocks, tables, doves) into a derivative of Sameness itself, some surpassive Sameness, which we must have had grasp of [lambano] previously, so as to be able to grasp these samenesses through our senses.

I suppose we all know this drill, but occasionally when we return to the Same, we detect something different, and for some reason reading Levi’s post elicited in me a slightly different understanding of the Same, even the Same in the Platonic chokehold sense.

I should say from the start that the associations that I have for the search of Ontologies of Difference, of pure-Difference, have always troubled me. It is not that they are wrongly motivated, but rather that they seemed far too in love with the soterial potential of essential binaries, the Being/Not-Being dichotomy of imagined to be transcendental Logic (even when renounced), a dichotomy which itself is derived from an over-simplified caricature of human experience: hence, the reduction of the subject qua Subject, and on overall disregard for the plentitude of Being. It seems that somewhere someone got it into their heads (and there are more than a few candidates), that homosexuals or blacks or women, or poor, that is those that fall to the margins of society cannot be fully affirmed, cannot have the full rights of Being, unless we find a Being that starts  with Difference. In such a reading which not only exposes the political use made of Ontologies in the past, a certain naturalization of subjugation, the category of Being seems to stand in for the State, and to reduced difference (skin color, gender, mental coherence, poverty) to merely a derivative of the State (as the Same Status), necessarily condemning many to the margins. Same became not only the political enemy, but the Ontological enemy. Difference must be celebrated, (and ontologically, logically posited) as essential and if possible, prior.

There is more than a grain of truth to this revisioning. That is, through our ontologizations we configure what is imaginable, we lay the land of concept so to speak. So a radical revisioning of what is ontologically beneath all of our legal and otherwise taken to be objective descriptions seems deeply in keeping with changing what is possible between us. Yet, there is something to this praise of difference for itself, the grand celebration of difference as the full right of Being which troubles me.

First of all, insofar as this re-ontologizing is a vast reclassification of particular people of difference, that is particular homosexuals, particular people of color or (trans)gender (the rights of which as different become projected onto the class of others like them that are deprived), there is an odd consumerist essentialization of difference for its own sake running through like a theme. “We chose and affirm our difference, as difference, because choice is what essentialized commercial subjects do, that is our right and duty, to choose.” As individual intellectuals celebrate their choices, and then align their differences to groups composed of difference, whose difference then becomes ontologized as a point of logic through elaborate strategies, it seems that dragged with it all is a fundamental, domesticating assumption, the subject of choice. I cannot say this for all celebrations of difference, and all searches to get out of Plato’s homoerotic chokehold, but this is a strong current in the movement.

Second of all, coming to think again on the nature of Plato’s Same, the enemy of pure, underived Difference, it seems that in some ways this Same has been misconstrued. I say this because for a very long time I think I misconstrued it. The problem is that in our binaries of logic we tend to flatten out what is a possibly a much more dynamic relation, almost always with a hope of transcending it. We draw the flat map to have mastery over the terrain, but as Wittgenstein tells us, the map is not the territory. (I would add, if we are to understand maps and territories, we have understand that while the map is not THE territory, it is A territory.)

A Minimization of Difference

Back to Levi’s post and my reaction to it. The trouble is that when we as postmoderns look at the argument that Plato puts forth, it does feel stultifying. (As Levi sums it up…)

Plato’s argument thus runs as follows. Equal-things always differ in some respect or capacity. Because equal-things always differ, we cannot arrive at a concept of equality-itself from equal-things. Therefore, our concept of equality-itself does not arise after our experience of equal-things, but must precede our experience of equal-things, for how could we recognize equal-things as equal-things- all of which differ both from themselves and others like them -if we did not first know equality-itself. Consequently, our concept of equality itself is prior to any of our dealings with the world.

For one thing, we don’t want our experiences here on this earth to be minimized in the least. This minimization begins a long process of minimizing one thing or another, one experience or another, one person or another, one peoples or another. We might be all for valuations and discriminations of better or worse, but something in us tells us that it should not start at the wholesale level, our experiences here are as real and significant as anything else. Secondly and relatedly, there is the terrible sense that if the reason why we able to recognize the similarity of things is simply because we have already grasped, before hand, a Grand and essential Sameness, this fails to capture the importance of differences to us. It is not just the samenesses that give us a love for living, but differences, perhaps even more so. How can all of these mundane distinctions merely be derivative? This carries with it the unsatisfactory notion that homosexuality is merely derivative of heterosexuality (with lexical irony), and that woman is derived from man, black a marring of white.

The Even Ground of Equilibrium

But, thinking on what it would mean for Sameness to be the origin, the great basin for Differences, I went back to Plato’s text, and looked at the word for “same” or “equal” (as it is translated). It is Ison, from which we get our words like isometric or isomorphic. What is immediately conjured up is mathematical equality, and this is generally the purity of Same towards which this binary heads. But contingently the LSJ dictionary had among any of its easily recognizable uses, one use which contained a subtle difference. It not only meant “equal” but “even”, as in can describe ground as “even or flat”, or the cadence of an army as marching in iso. As always is the case with the Greek, as much as we would really like to rationalize them into a near mathematical purity (given the tradition of their depiction), there is always a depth, a material depth to their conceptions that we miss. There is not a great difference between ison as “equal” and ison as “even”, but it a difference that opens up what Same is, not only for the Greeks, but for us as well.

I started picturing what it would be like to assume evenness of ground, or of step as the basin for difference, and what came to my mind is a perceptual experience which I rather naively assume to be shared with much of the animal kingdom. A predator, perhaps a mountain lion on its ledge overlooking a shallow gorge stares out at the field. There is an odd sort of evenness to it, as consciously it creates a field upon which differences register, there, a movement in the brush! Is this picture of consciousness, the idea that the evenness of the field in a certain sense foregrounds the possibility of difference really at the heart of the repression of woman and people of color? Is it that the difference of a deer’s movements are “derived” from the Same of the valley gorge, playing second fiddle? Is it that the evenness of perception has priority over the differences it enables, and if so, this hierarchy becomes the hierarchy of the subjugation? Well, in thinking about it, the shallow gorge is never completely flat, or even. It is already percolating with differences that the lion is registering (in my fantasy reenactment of an animal perception). The field of vision, as even, is in a sense is fecund with both samenesses and differences, both the flat and the eruption, seem to be found within a general sense of ison. Instead of thinking of a great abstraction through which our logical binary can cut, it seems better to think of ison as Equilibrium, and an experience of Equilibrium at that.

When imagining that a sense of equilibrium is prior to, or the condition of disturbance, it seems that something less of the conceptual either/or baggage of ontological abstraction is carried through. It is hard to imagine that the general sense of equilibrium what we as organisms have is foundational to a naturalized minimization of the differences between people. Instead, equilibrium becomes the experiential baseline (already which in differences) for which other differences, disequilibrium’s, disturbances, take on their significances.

In this embodied vision though we are immediately drawn into a Hegelian comprehension of the Negation of the Negation, that is, at bottom is an equilibrium process that encounters disturbances (negations, exceptions), when are then re-incorporated into a new and higher equilibrium. As someone like Judith Bulter complains, difference is always subsumed under a new Non-difference, (with the implicit, and one might say Capitalist duty to difference for the sake of difference). Everything goes flat again. We have the appeal of a process of consciousness which describes how we are ever disturbed, and find ways to repress or reintegrate these differences that may feel like something we naturally do, without the desirable conclusion of difference for its own sake.

Not a fan of the Hegelian appreciation of the Negation, and its attendant teleology of history, I wondered if there is another way to think about this equilibrium, this field of evenness, which is not so reductive. Well versed with Spinozist tendencies, my own appreciation for Plotinus’s NeoPlatonic revisioning of Platonic Forms (ultimately the Ison), I keep wondering if we are missing something in the Greek notion of Same, of Equal, of Even.

Cat or Tails

If I return to the mountain lion and explore this notion of Same as Equilibrium and continue with the imagination of the field of differences, this is what I come up with. The cat, gazing lazily over the gorge is in an unattuned state of perception, that is, their is a directedness upon the general equilibrium of the life-force below which does not form an object, and upon which eruptive events occur, the shake of breezes on brush, the shadow from a hawk above, the regularity of the brook running. Any of these can provide occasions for momentary attenuation which is then reintegrated in the general state of equilibrium. These disturbances, these eruptions of a difference that make difference, are not best seen as objects, per se, but effects of relation. Their perception does not make up the essence of a consciousness (it intentionality), but the entirety of the field, its equilibrium states and its dissonances, do.
Now there is a movement, a disturbance which heightens the cat. Ears move forward, eyes narrow, breathing slows.

The difference, the disturbance in the equilibrium is registered as “prey” (to be categorically crude about it). The cat’s involuntary motions already set up a new equilibrium, and then motions towards the animal below (those differences), on a vector, set up new equilibriums, and soon the animal is running, leaping, configuring itself as a mutuality within the field of the world that the deer, the shallow gorge, and it all share. The contemplative equilibrium, that of a passive witnessing of a certain retreating flatness, has been transformed into an equilibrium of subsuming movement. Capacity to act. To say that all of the differences (disturbances) are only derived from the Equilibrium is to be too lexical, too syllo-logical about it (and to misunderstand the origins of logic). They are the very substance of what Equilibrium is. They are its expression and power as equilibrium. It is that the mountain lion has appeal to (cognitively, structurally) the dynamic equilibrium of the world, that it is able to act more freely. It is not that all of the differences are merely collapsed into the banality of Same, but that rhythm operates through the recognition of the full reality of difference, as difference, a process which is includes the awareness of difference as dissonance. If one is to make the collapse of the nature of Being into that of the State that is implicit is so many criticism of ontologies of Same, it is not that marginality is a secondary effect of the State (or even that the State is established through the necessary suppression of difference through the production of marginality — still too optical, containing the notion of the “hidden”), but that the State in its very forth comingness, produces a maximalization of difference as the possibility of its very field, as perception. Instead of a Subject as Object-consciousness essentialization reading of Being (with its priority of absence or Nothingness which cloaks at the borders of an object, not to mention the optical sense that the “back” or the “inside” of the object is forever hidden from us), it is a Same as Dynamic Equilibrium, producing differences as concrete expressions of its power to act, maximizing those differences as it goes, creating the texture of its possibilities.

I think that this is what is behind the development of Plato’s “Full Nelson”. It is not so much a chokehold, as a hug (one might say if one were being humorous). The Same is not a flat, logical identity of things to be expressed merely as a binary, and not even a Progressive necessity of the reduction of differences, but rather it is best seen as dynamic equilibrium, equilibrium as maximum expressiveness, an expressiveness beyond all subsumption. Being as radiating differences and distinctions.

There comes to mind a word from Sophocles’ Ode to Time, found in the play Aias. Time is called “anaríthmêtos”. I have quoted the line before:

All things Great [makros] and Unmeasured [anaríthmêtos] Time (646)

The word is often translated “countless” or “immeasurable” (and makros often simply translated as “long”). Time moves for Sophocles with a kind of negative theology. It cannot be measured. A metron is Greek is not only a “measure” as in a measurement, but also a “measure” as in a meter of poetry. Sophocles in measured poetry is singing about the immeasurableness of Time, a pure and delightful contradiction. If we were to translated the metered verse of the Greek into our English emphasis on rhyme, Time moves un-rhymeably, as we rhyme about and with it. As we move away from Sophocles’s joy of the negation the chasm of the tragic abyss (something I think he eventually profoundly overcomes with the concept of Eleos  in the play “Philoctetes”), I think this is an essential aspect of the conception of Same which must be incorporated in our reading of the concept. Equilibrium for the Greeks, is musical. It is in the form of the poetic, as expression. If we are to recover from Plato’s Full-Nelson, it is from within this heritage of the Same that we must surely operate, the Same as maximalization of differences.


Again though, we really much retreat from any flat logic of binary differences, they are not rich enough to capture what happens in metered verse. (There is not only a genetic reason why Parmenides who is thought to have made a category mistake of flat logic wrote in meter.) And reaching out toward an ontology of pure difference does not cut it either (the dignity of persons of color or mixed gender does not rely upon that). It is rather the sense, the overriding and concrete sense that the entire world monistically is connected, that it rhymes, fundamentally with itself. All of our equilibriums, our transitions from contemplatively flat equilibriums to dynamic, poetic, bounding mountain-lion equilibriums of action, are reliant upon the appeal to a world that expresses itself as one vast equilibrium, an equilibrium of expression. The lion cannot run without fundamentally rhyming with the ground, the shallow gorge, and even the deer, each of them as expressions.

This is where I have long had a subtle misreading of the Sameness of Being which sterilely cut itself off from its step-brothers Differences. How is it that we are supposed to connect all of those differences (and those samenesses) back up to one Same? What an absurd question. It relies upon a notion of Same, of Ison, too flat, too drained white, not richly enough conceived as equilibrium as maximum expression. Much as which we have had the metaphysical danger of confusing the map with territory, we have flattened out the lines of what Ison means. A car idling in the drive is Ison, even. The same car accelerating through a canyon curve is Ison. The communication between the driver and the steering mechanism is Ison. But also, the tree that has fallen in the road also must be Ison, if we are to continue, and the fear of hitting a deer is Ison, or the speeding over the limit is Ison. That is, there is always a plentitude toward the rhyming which is appealable, the bath in which is rewarded with a constructability, the possibility of action.

Same as Dynamis

It is here that I think that Spinoza’s notion of Substance provides particular revelation. How is it that he connects the Substance up to all the diversity within it?, people want to ask, flattening out the map of dichotomies. How does he get to the Only thing to the Many things? This to mistake the question of the Same at the conceptual level. The Ison is fundamentally and unreservedly a dynamic equilibrium, a vast expression. As such it necessarily produces a maximalization of differences out of the pure plentitude of its even, equal, Isotic expression. To make anything less of these modal differences than the absolutely concrete actuality of Ison, to minimize even the tiniest of differences, is to minimize the reality of what Dynamic expressive Equilibrium is. The modes are Real because Being when it is “running” (and it is by it very nature always running), produces itself distinctly.

Returning to our mountain-lion, it is a music of Being which may attend to this subline of music (this equilibrium, the shallow gorge) in order to note this subline of music (deer-brush interactions, which serves as a dissonance), then composing its own gorge-lion subline of music, but none of this is done outside of a harmonization, that is the music, however faltering, always recaptures itself in a way that musicality itself becomes the tantamount supposition. The question for pure ontology of Difference, that is, the sour note that is granted full rights and dignity out of its very sourness, always must come back to the dynamics of tasting. This does not mean that all difference is simply collapsed into Same, made into an ephemera, an illusion (unless the illusion is that one can have a musical difference whose essence is non-musical, a freedom of choice or purchase which is utterly private and cut off from all interplay…the fantasy behind the hole in the Capitalist, Democratic Subject). Rather, as one acts as Substance, increasing one’s capacity to act in the world through the understanding of expressive causes, as Substance one increases the number of differences one creates, a potentiality of sournotes abound, which is nothing other than the creation of a perceptual field of distinguishings, a body of dissonances, the way that the hair stands up on your skin, bristling. The is the meaning of horror, and awe, which lies at the bottom of any ancient contemplation of Same, of Ison.

The project of Being, insofar as we can stipulate one, is the creation of as diverse a number of surfaces upon which the horror-awe can condense, the maximalization of intensity as expressive equilibrium, in which one’s own differences register as a plentitude. Is this pure Difference? I wouldn’t know. It is more an Ontology of Perceptibility, and I suggest that it is reached not through a primary optical metaphor of Objecthood (the hidden below the surface), the shadow the Citizen as Subject, but through constructive bodily assemblage, the way that we technologically construct the living soul through our cybernetic combinations with the material and para-material world, creating more and more surfaces upon which revelation (dissonances) may occur. The hairs stand up on end.
It is for this reason that I think it best to see our capacities to read and experience the world as ultimately mutually expressive. Action is not at a distance because distance implies primary opticality. Action is always constructive out of a plentitude that is present, which is ever appealed to making rich differences which make the difference. Ison as plentitude, and not its lack.

The unhappy consequence of this understanding of Being is that it does not give ontological voice to what is taken to be an essential human experience (people what to define the Human separation from Nature by it). We want an ontology which expresses our alienation, one that fundamentally buries out alienation in the very heart of Being. We do not want to be told that our sadnesses, our dislocations are only problems of perspective, that if simply change our view our haunting shadow of the Abyss will simply disappear. And part of this is not wanting to imagine that when a bird returns to its nest-tree only to find it destroyed or raided, it may feel alienated or dislocated, or even sorrowful, at least not in the category which we are able. Our ontologies must entrench the very sorrow of our condition, anchoring it, alleviating our need to look towards our relations (chosen and otherwise), as the causes of our experience. It is agreed that the great satisfaction of Existential Ontologies of Negation, is denied here. Ours is not a world condemned to a freedom of Nothingness in various guises. In replace of this solace is rather opened a continual path of construction. That is, at any moment in time we can begin construction of bodies in assemblage, which are either newly created, seemingly ex nihilist of a change idea or mind, or can be reconfigured more powerfully from already existing forms (the same change in two ways). At any moment one can begin anew a music through the musical recognition of what is already playing, edging on cacophony. One searches for the tilted Equilibrium and affectively combines with other affective bodies, anew. Repeating a sour note, attenuatedly, changes it, yet one can only repeat the note cognitively, in a change of power, through the understanding of its cause through a mutuality with the world, and with others. When one does so one changes the possibilities of difference, modal becomes nodal.

The finding of similiarites (of which metaphor is a exemplary) is ultimately not a referential process. The “same” of which the process participates is not a same of reference, a pointing back to, or over and above to some over-arching ground of Same. I’m not sure that even Plato thought of it in this way. This is a table not because there is a same of Table floating behind it. Rather, the finding of similarities is productive and best seen as bodily in construction, putting our bodies in consonance, such that it assumes the power of an equilibrium. Looking for the priority of this equilibrium, its foundation, is like looking for the workability of the experience of “it works”. But this does not make this Ur-Equilibrium simply the world of Becoming, for this flattens out the pure dimensionality of Being (a great fear of someone like Graham Harman). This dimensionality, a certain depth, is found in two ways. Locally its is found in the sheer dimensionality of bodies on combination, in the lived, affective transfers which express the power of communications, radiating out. The mountain lion-gorge-deer assemblage is dimensioned in locality. But it is also brought into depth through the nature of causal understanding itself. The very nature of increases in power through causal understandings, necessarily a minimal trinity where there was only a shallow binary before. The world becomes fleshed and immanent, through the power of causal understanding. This too is not a understanding of reference (Substance is not a “thing” or even a “state”), but of a constitutive experience flowing out of what Equilibrium must be.

Beneath any such appreciation of Equilibrium there is always the danger of having the concept collapse and become flat, that is the constant and ever-producing Equilibrium of Being can be read as a flat-line nullity. This the haunt of the Freudian Death Drive, the Shadow of the Pleasure Principle. A Pure and empty circulation, the inorganic draw beneath Pleasure pursuits. There is a tendency to see Pure Being as a negation of its expression. Our individual pleasures only collapse into a great machine of Death. This is merely, in my view, the gravitous compliment of too close a contact with the sacred (profane), as dissonance rises beyond the threshold of comprehension or even organization. The Death Drive circulation works as the center-of-gravity closure that allows dissonance affects to sink down and cohere, if only in a pure banality of effects, forever the attractor of Fascist, totalitarian binding. In this way a Spinozist conception of Substance (and of State) maintains as matter of its project ever the asethetic haunt of blind circulation, intensity turning down upon itself for the sake of its own rhyming. The music of Being turned into a dull ditty (the pains/pleasures of dissonance flashing as mere surface ephemera). The antedote to this is to realize its ever presence (as a function of lived thresholds of coherence, a tendency to urgently create bodies in vaccum), and to return a notion of Ison as normatively and ontologically the production of maximal difference, as a product of its fecundity. These ontological closures are mere cocoonings (sometimes brutal), for mixtures of potential action through dynamic Equilibrium.

The Bounce of the Being of Beings

 All things Great and Unmeasured [anaríthmêtos] Time

Births [phúei] unseen & having appeared [phanénta], hides [krúptetai];

(Sophocles, Aias; lines 646-647) 

Graham Harman’s Response: The Lock on Objects

Sorry that I have been out-of-computer for a day or so, for when I first read Graham Harman’s response to my earlier questioning of his work and term “Object-Oriented Philosophy,” I wanted to enter in quickly so that the tempo between us could produce some clarity, for it seemed off-hand that Graham did not address my thought too directly, and a quick up-take of his points would prove light-shedding. But given that circumstances have driven some distance, it was my sincere hope that by spinning his response over in my mind, turning its being-of-being center, looking at every angle, I could come clear to a positive relation to what he is saying.

But this has not happened. That is, as I have more than absent mindedly contemplated his response, this thoughts remain distinctly apart from much of the point I was making, not only about Husserl’s notion of intentionality, Heidegger’s opticality, but most importantly, his own return to object-centrality…that all stem from one Cartesian picture of how consciousness operates, a picture come at least in part from the new science of dioptrics and the metaphors of lenses.

What is nice though is that I have time now to engage his response piece by piece, and as is sometimes the case with a text, by teasing out its directions, woof and warp, one may come to feel what is being said more directly, more positively.

A Trinity of Points

The best thing is perhaps to begin with Graham’s three-point assessment of my questioning. As an excellent writer he gives me something to hold onto right off. And if we are to find the source of a misunderstanding, it likely would be here. These are the three points he feels that I am making:

1) Harman’s focus on objects represents a typical rut of the tradition that needs to be overcome

(2) it comes from a desire for a “central clarity” (rather than, I suppose, a comfort with the inevitable lack of such clarity)

(3) instead of the “game” of trying to recapture the essence of things, we should realize that accidents are the name of the game

Right off at number one it seems that we are in the same ballpark. But something in the rhetoric, in the words, tells me that he is hearing something I do not intend. “Rut,” what a wonderful word. Do I mean that those sons of Descartes that have taken the Central Clarity image of consciousness are in a rut? We can see the groves worn into the path, as the centuries of wagons carrying their ontic weight to argument market, the praxis of human habit has philosophical steered just where such wagons can go, is this what I mean? Yes, I can see that. But I do not see this “rut” as typical  in the sense that it is somehow mindlessly banal, as in the phrase, “oh, he’s so typical,” and nor do I want to be thinking of “types” or even of “the tradition” as if there is a necessary iconoclastic movement that has to be started. It is rather for me that there is an inheritance of an image, an expectation of the sufficiency of a take, what Wittgenstein would sometimes call a “picture,” and that this picture of consciousness (though it has its roots in the misty past of Greek Ur-texts, the kind of which Heidegger loved to play with) at modern times grounds itself in a particular moment in history: the development of optical prosthetics, and the experience of images seen through theoreticized lenses, which were taken to be models of consciousness itself. That is, the over-riding optical metaphors of Western Philosophy, in the person (and scientist) of Descartes, took on a very specific character as to how consciousness was to be “pictured,” carried forward through his metaphysics. When one realizes the origin of such framing, then the framing itself can at least be questioned. And I would say that at least as far as I read him, Harman’s work seem to be tensioned both inside and outside of this frame.

That is, like the tension that I read within Harman’s own work (soon to be noted), Descartes’ centrality of focus notion of consciousness was actually a concept which ran counter to his much wider semiotic Realism treatment of mind wherein ideas were thought of as actions. His philosophy of a sensing, communicating mechanism grew out of his main ambitions as a natural philosopher which likely superceded his interest in metaphysical grounds. It was Descartes’ theological need for a free, independent Will, (that is, an accountable soul), which lead him to insert into consciousness this notion of central clarity. The central clarity is what the Will (Soul) focuses on. And so too, as Graham Harman strains towards a post-human Husserl and Heidegger, one that does not privilege the human relation above all others, he (at least in my opinion) drags with him the heritage of the prime metaphor of consciousness as optical central clarity which Descartes originally inserted in order to privilege the human in the first place. Descartes’ semiotics of mind wherein the mind perceives the world directly through its bodily senses in the same (decentralized, non-optical) way that a blind man perceives the world through a stick, becomes a human soul which directs its Will, like a spotlight, on some core clarity…or really object.

His secondly summation,

(2) it comes from a desire for a “central clarity” (rather than, I suppose, a comfort with the inevitable lack of such clarity)

I like Graham’s second point, at least how it starts, but I am unsure where he got the sense that I am arguing for an inevitable lack of clarity (though I may suggest that in theories which I did not include in my response to Object-Oriented Philosophy). I suppose though this may be due to me not putting proper emphasis in my disagreement. My problem was not with a reduction of consciousness to Central Clarity, but to Central Clarity. Indeed there is clarity in consciousness (Descartes’ trope would not even function if there were not), and there may even be a Central Clarity (that is, there is a figure/ground feature to consciousness that is quite significant, and we say things like “can you make your point more clear?” or, “I can’t quite make out the bird in the bush”). But consciousness is not reduced to (or even super-achieved by) this centralization: no object constitutes it. The reason for this is primarily two-fold. The first is that I contend that if one looks to the very center of consciousness (that is, under the spotlight picture which imagines that consciousness is like something that shines out onto the world in some fashion, and reveals Being of whatever status at its center, leaving Non-Being at its wake or at its border), there in the center, the point of attention, is not a “clarity”. And there at the center is not an “object,” or even a “concept”. There is not even the apideîn of Heidegger’s Platonic abstractive seeing. If we are to think in terms of centers, the center of consciousness is a dissonance, an eruptive line. The second reason is that even if we cluster this dissonance center (might we say a laser center) with a broader object or concept center (the spotlight), this contrast in clarity is dependent upon the sense of all the lies beyond it…that is, the “clarity” would not even be restricted to this center (its object), but is spread upon a web of perceptions and beliefs, from which no dividing line can be taken. It is my point, at least insofar as I respond to Graham’s orientation towards the “object”, is that centrality itself (intention) when applied undermines the pure notion of clarity, but also, insofar as there is clarity, it is not centralized. The very character of consciousness is lost in the push towards central clarity.

Graham’s third point is an important one, because here at least I get the sense that he understands the very crux of argument against his treatment of “accidents” to essence, what he approvingly says Husserl calls the “gems” of a object:

(3) instead of the “game” of trying to recapture the essence of things, we should realize that accidents are the name of the game

What I would like to bring out is why the “accidents” are the name of the game. They are not the name of the game because they are more important than the essence (against which we are supposed to realize their very accidentally), but rather because in Graham Harman’s very dichotomy, the significance of what he calls accidents becomes lost. It is not that the accidents are what we should philosophically keep our eye upon, though I do insist that what Graham calls “accidents” are what our living line of consciousness is already on. It is that our very epistemic way of understanding bodies and relating to the world is one in which the contingent effects upon things in the world, and our ability to read those effects sensibly and make powerful, meaningful determinations, arises out of those effects. When a tree shakes unexpectedly, this is not an occasion of the essence of the tree suddenly exhibiting a new “gem”. We look into the air and at other trees, and may even attend to our own skin, searching for breeze. Then we narrow our gaze up into the branches, perhaps change our position unto the tree, and then see a squirrel flitting its tail energetically, perhaps territorially. We are not engaging a “real” object that is ever in retreat from us. The shaking of its leaves was not some apparitional shimmer of an essence caught on the intentional object of our minds. The shaking of the trees leaves was what directed our attention towards the shared world, towards a cause that has a bearing upon us (what shook the tree could shake us). The sound and spasm of the tree caught our attention because it was dissonant to our expectations and beliefs; not because the essence of the tree had acquired new gems. The accidents are the name of the game because events that catch our attention are those same events which direct us toward understanding the world better. Our “clarity,” far from being centralized, is composed and provisional. The world is largely transparent to us. We are not cut off from it, but are part of it.

Are Two Kinds of Objects Still Objects?

After these three digestions Graham goes onto make some important points, unfortunately these are directed more towards interpretations of Husserl and Heidegger, and spend less time on his own notion of the importance of “objecthood”. But because I link my trouble with his philosophical aim to a continuity in a tradition, perhaps this is fair. It is best then to see to what degree Graham is sipping from the Cartesian waters of consciousness as a Central Clarity insofar as he leans back on Husserl and finds objects in Heidegger.

He first finds a difficulty in a tendency he sees in me to treat “the theme of objects as if it were the same strategy” in both Husserl and Heidegger. Try as I might, I can’t quite see where he finds this, for I did not speak of the strategies of each thinker. Clearly Heidegger is in response to Husserl, and is not using the same strategy. What I do claim though is that the same fundamental optical metaphor for Being is exhibited in both, and this metaphor is one of central clarity. In Husserl this metaphor is taken to be definitive for consciousness (however then analyzed), in Heidegger, in a kind of Negative Theology, it is indicative of the failings of consciousness. The spotlight of the mind cannot see under  being. In both cases the metaphor is that which sets the pragmata, the issues at hand.

Graham wants to tell us that the “objects” in Heidegger (which he himself as unearthed) are very different than Husserl’s. Of course they are. We are in infinite agreement. The point is that the very characterization of object as object, (that is, in some implicit way as the central focus of a clarity of consciousness), whether it be the intentional “over-arching” object or the object/thing/being that hides, is an adoption of this rutting motif. Even where Heidegger crosses out the object altogether in its hiddenness, as he toggles optically between alêtheia and lêthê (preferring the outright visual trope of “coveredness” rather than the more readily “forgottenness” or even dull “obscurity” which are perhaps closer to the feeling of the word in the Greek), he is still enrapture by a primary aim of consciousness that is of Central Clarity. It is just a Central Clarity which is perpetually denied of us…we can never really see the object before us. I think that Graham is quite right to rescue the notion of object from Heidegger and to place it in front and center, but in so doing, I believe he is calling attention to a history of thinking about consciousness as defined by a Central Clarity (perhaps CCC). By crossing out this Central Clarity, imposing Non-Being over its Being, so to speak, one is still in the game of CCC. That Heidegger’s objects hide and that Husserl’s objects don’t hide at all really are effects of the same diagnosis.

Edge of Philosophy

Graham then says something else which puzzles me a bit,

But what I most object to is the idea that Husserl’s eidos is some sort of traditional game, and that rejecting it immediately stations one on the cutting edge of philosophy in our time.

First of all, I have not so much interest of getting to the “cutting edge” of philosophy, if by this one means a newness that is marked by its newness. I am interested in philosophy that is germane to our time, and as he knows, my reinvigoration of Campanella (via Spinoza) means for me that the “cutting edge” may involve some very sharp edges from the past. (Nexus points of historical change often involve philosophical branchings which were not taken up in the mainstream, branching which may prove rich in conceptual possibility when paths taken deadend: argued for in terms of Spinoza here.) Graham here seems to feel that I think that just by making iconoclastic gestures, jettisoning some tradition, one gets to hop their place to the front of the line. My critique of Graham’s Object-Oriented Philosophy (again, still a surface critique), is not that it is not “on the cutting edge of philosophy in our time,” but that the very post-human aims of his philosophy are not served well by the object-orientation he wishes to retain, in fact, emphasize. That is, historically and conceptually, the centrality of the object is what has been most in the service of centralizing what is human — as I said, this can be dated back to a fundamental tension between Descartes Natural Science and his Christian Theology. Where Graham identifies the object buried in Heidegger, and returns to Husserlian intentionality to speak of a fundamental dyad of the intentional and real objects to give the Heidegger objects life, he takes with him the poisoned-pawn of human centrality (despite his every intention not to). When Graham speaks of these objects, or the tool-beings which are never seen fully, as they hide from our spotlight consciousness, the dyad is set up once again, one which fundamentally mischaracterizes (or oversimplifies into a picture) consciousness. And there are two levels of this problem, the first is the presumed authority of the optical metaphor in the very concept of “hiddenness,” and secondly that the very nature of opticality as a central clarity is already flawed, because at the center of optical perception is a living line of dissonance.

For me, at least insofar as I share Graham’s post-human aims, the very notion of a hidden tool is missing what is happening in tool use. When using a tool we inhabit a tool, we join a tool, we become it… we do not strictly “use” it (wherein at some level we are “beholding” it, or attempt to “use it up”). Drive a car and the car is not “hiding from us”. In fact, the car and us become a pansensual revelation of the states of the road, an assemblage of collaborative and really cybernetic perceptions. The fullness of the car is there, as well as the fullness of the road. Because we leave behind opticality, it is not that the road is hiding from us at all, but rather, the road, the car and us are expressing themselves in a consonance, one might say, a degree of power. Could the expression be more powerful? Sure. But opticality, the missingness of the rest of the object (be it the road, the car or me) is not the best characterization of the optimalization of an expression. Our communications can be increased. The shocks could be replaced, I might have studied a map before I left, I might wear glasses, the road engineers might have banked the turns more, I might obey the speed limit, I might have put better gas in the car, I might have better driving music on the mp3 player, but none of these increases have to with whether the object of the road is more or less hidden from us. Opticality simply is not the best trope. In fact, the accidents of the road, the “phenomenal qualities” of it are the very things which direct us to a conceptual understanding and increase in our ability to act. If ice is clinging to the trees in a beautiful glassiness about every branch, as it was here last week after an Ice Storm, I am notified that the road might have “black ice”. I touch my break, I feel the road. I slow down, I drive more freely, with greater control and expression. Where there is a philosophical concern it is how taking a position, an orientation towards these qualities which compose the very changes in power and freedom that make up the most important things in our lives. I believe though that indeed it is in the direction of tools and use we must turn, as Graham tells us, but our very notion of tool must change from an object used (which remains hidden from our view) to an thing inhabited and combined with, to a degree of power.

Graham claims that the “upper-hand” tradition is the tradition of empiricism, and it is this tradition which Husserl leads us away from. (Is there the suggestion that if we overcome this tradition we have come to the cutting edge?) But this is an odd response to my claim that Husserl is in the Cartesian tradition. In fact, both the empiricists and the idealists are largely under the Consciousness as Central Clarity picture, come from Descartes. The idealism/empiricism divide (with Graham firmly, and properly, replanting Husserl in the Idealist camp) is already structured by the CCC. Husserl is argued by Graham to have been the very first to have placed a schism that formerly fell outside the Idealist realm, within the Idealist realm itself, what he calls a “true distinction”. This may well be that Husserl invented a distinction within the distinction, but my point is that he is already operating within a mistaken conception of consciousness itself, the very notion of central clarity as reductive of consciousness. To divide a mistaken category is not in my view helpful.

But because Graham spends so much time speaking about Husserl (and Heidegger) and not his own notion of the Objects which should make up the orientation of Philosophy, I am left unsure if he is defending their positions or his own (insofar as he has appropriated them). I have no desire to get bogged down into Husserlian and Heideggerian hermeneutics, two thinkers, on which if 9/10ths of the literature written were lost in a fire I’m not sure how much would be lost to Western Civilization (one can say this about any of the heavy weights, Spinoza included). I would much rather entertain what Graham means by the importance of the Object, at least enough for me to dispel my strong suspicion that by rescuing the object from Heidegger and combining it with Husserlian Intentionality, he has also rescued an implicit CCC and homo-centricism, which he then hopes to throw back out. Or at the very least, the way that he is going about it is the long way around, one which will eventually leave him with no choice but to embrace a panpsychism of such objects.

The Central Paradox of Objects?

Graham then ends with the imagination of the ironic:

The irony is that all the people who reject objects because they think they’re beyond traditional notions of identity, or whatever, are thereby missing the central PARADOX of objects: that they exist in constant tension with their accidents, relations, qualities, and moments. Objects are always sliding away from themselves in two directions along two separate axes. It is those who reject objects who lessen the tension and offer some crude simplicity in its place

I cannot tell if this is directly precisely towards me, for I am unsure what “crude simplicity” I would have put in place of objects. Rather I embrace the very eruptive qualities of things when engaged, but certainly deny that it is objects themselves that are either “splitting” or “in tension with” something or “sliding away” from themselves. It is a beautiful, indeed poetic picture. But it is a picture that is misleading in two ways. The first is that it is the eruptive that is the indicative of consciousness. The center of consciousness is the living line of dissonance. Nothing is ontologically sliding away from itself, there is no object wobbling which works as a cause directing our attention to something important (one might say conditions can wobble, erupt, fraction, expections, tempo, loose emotions, textures, so many things that are not proper objects of consciousness). It is not a paradox of objects, but a fabric of the very nature of what perception (and conceptualization) is. Our attention is directed towards things, features, elements, qualities, events, differences, and these differences indicate (sêmainein), they direct our attention outwardly towards the causes of these events. The book has that color now because of the angle of the sun. The room has that sound now because a book just fell from its shelf. That face has that expression because he just heard the news. To locate these accidents within the very object, as a kind of tension, a paradox is to loose what “accidents” do…they indicate and expand. Part of this reading of objects through their accidents (or qualities) is also a fundamental ability to place ourselves in the bodies of them. I understand why you are saying the things you are saying, why your arms are moving the way they are moving, because I know (as Wittgenstein would tell us) that you are in pain, or that you believe such and such to be the case (as Davidson would say). I inhabit you, and read the world through you, as you do through me, and it is this very readability, this affective reflection or imitation which becomes truly cybernetic, which denies the ultimate opacity of objects. Objects combine with us, and we to they. If they only combine to a certain degree of optimality at a certain moment, this degree is what is possible at that moment in time (strictly, there is no such thing as the McCain Victory Coalition, I would say). If we are to speak of optimal combinations of objects, or, simply things, res, then the very distinction of objecthood (in any notion of hiddenness) is forced to vanish. That is, it is only One Thing that is combining with itself, what Spinoza would call Substance, Nature or God. In a sense, it is not the object which is wobbling or splitting, but our very degree of the power to act freely. The second thing wrong with this picture is that the very notion of a central object that does all these things [before our implicit and floating, unstated gaze] trades upon a notion of consciousness as Central Object Clarity. The reason why the object bucks and sways is that the very frame under which we look to uncover the nature of such an object is a simplification.

As opposed to what Graham calls “lessening the tension” that is supposed to exist in every object [a kind of jouissance of the object perhaps], I suggest that one recast one’s eye to where this tension lies. It is not in the object itself (whatever its status), but in the living line of dissonance at the center of consciousness. What this does is open up the direction towards which the eruption points, and I might say naturally points, It points to other things, to other persons (there is a reason why Heidegger’s obsession with the peek-a-boo object never lead him to any theory of friendship or an richly interpersonal groundings of meaning). When the tension is taken out of the object (which is either rattling around eruptively in our heads, like a piece of radioactive yellow cake, or incandescing there in the grass), it is redistributed in our relationship to the world, the choices we make, the alliances we form (epistemic and otherwise), the bodily assimilations we bring about. The vibrancy of the object is our vibrancy, across domains. Graham, yes, I agree, the object shimmers. In fact the world shimmers. But its shimmer is always indicative, opening, expanding, couched in our felt combination with other things and people that we read as inhabited.

Essential Dyads, May They Never Die

Lastly Graham makes an appeal to the soterial benefits of his dyads, something that preserves something at the heart of objects:

In Prince of Networks, the final chapter (which no one but me has seen yet) begins with a criticism of “radical” philosophies, where “radical” means the attempt to reduce one aspect of entities out of existence. The “dyads” criticized by Kevin are not fossilized relics of olden times, but are the only way to preserve the weird ambiguity in the heart of objects.

Beside the obvious appeal that the heart of something should always be saved (we even, or especially, wince when the vampire gets the stake driven in), there is a curious recursivity to this thinking. One must have fundamental dyads because they save the heart of objects. This is suppose to counter my claim that the very notion of a (split) heart of object is generated by the dyads themselves, itself a product of Central Clarity Consciousness. It is not the case that such dyads are dead bones, but rather they are living generators of the very thing that are necessarily imposed to protect. In fact, Graham’s choice of words here is I believe telling. I think he does see the dyads as relic-ous, or at least, he sees them as preserving a heart of things which resistant to what we can say about them, turning objects into relics. The saint’s finger bone has something in it other than all the properties that seem to be external to it. The whole world is filled with saint-finger bones. I don’t even wish to reduce this resistance quality out of existence. I wish rather to place it in a living service of ever-renewed combination, the increase of our power to act and understand ourselves and things in the world. Perhaps we can say that objects are not living-dead secret-keepers, but living secret-tellers. Because I see this tension not as an irreducible property of objects (or of consciousness), locked in a eternity of ontology, but as part of the connective between bodies, the very notion of entities has changed. The dyad between me and my car is productive of a reading of a triad me-car-road. But me-car-road can become part of a dyad me-car-road/rain, which in turn can read eruptively into a third. There is no limit to the dexterity or subtlety with which these combinations can be, and are daily, momently being made. The wanted resistant holiness of saint-bones is spread everywhere in directions of power, freedom and knowing. If one is argue that there are the saint-bones of “real objects” in tension with their qualities, and then the unreal saintbones of “intentional objects” which ally uneasily with their accidents, and somehow our getting along in the world is explained, made more vivid, more dynamic through these two “objects” furtively matching up, one is really left to explain the role these objects play in the mechanism by which knowledge as power enables us to become more free, more transparent, more fathomable, but also more dexterous, more articulate, more resonant, more intense, more maliable by degrees, and the question of complete transparency falls to a change in the picture of consciousness itself.

This being said, I do consider Graham’s philosophy to be on the cutting edge, in the positive sense. It is engaging. I have to confesss that I did not matriculate (at) through endless quibbles over Continental texts as Graham has endured. His vision is no doubt hard-won, and I do not aim, nor even suspect I would be able to shake it. But discussions are fruitful. What is one to do when one has found their own “tool analysis” concept of Being quite apart from Heidegger when discussing things with someone who traces nearly every philosophical position theyhave back towards Heidegger’s influence? Unlike Graham (at least it seems) who traces the path forward on mainly  Continental terms, I see an synthesis of Analytic and Continental as the most opportune way forward, to work both before and after the breach. My encounters with Heidegger and Husserl were personal encounters. And like Graham, I was put off by the human-centric auras of these philosophers. And when I read Latour I too was struck by the deep metaphysical possibilities of his work. (But admittedly I was largely taken by the sense that all of this could be put in a much more usable philosophical framework, and Heidegger was not the philosopher I thought of, Spinoza was.) In fact I admire Graham’s renewal of Heidegger through a vigorous post-human inter-indices. I have yet to read his Prince of Networks to see fully what he does with it, perhaps it is convincing. I would want to add to all these thoughts that there is a very real and artistic sense in which objects do defy us, that they radiate, perculate, evanesce. I do not find this to be an ontological category, that is, a category which we must logically consider real in order to make sense of how we make sense of the world. The sculpter feels the radiation of the grains of marble, the traffic controller feels the tremble of the computer grid at a vital moment, just before snow fall there is such a terrible silence. Even a common water glass, if we hold it in our hand can strike us so weirdly. None of these do I mean to deny. This is a product of our cathexis of objects, that is the affective way we extend ourselves to them (and they to us). But instead of stopping their, and thinking, feeling that the “swerve” is in the object, pay closer attention to where your attention is going. It is not that the object is jumping, traveling away, wrargling, slipping. Your attenuation is traveling. And to where it is specifically going is something that is lost when it stops at the object, at something the object itself is doing. One can of course use the soft-focus of an emanating object as a crafting tool. One can get accustomed to its presence, its rise and fall. Like seeing gods in all things, there is something to it, but non-being is not there. Take it in your hand and do something with it, I say.

[Followed up here: Harman Brings Central Clarity to the Issue (wink, nod) ]

Dust…Beware Fantasies of Being

For tho’ he had vanished, tho’ entombed not,

Thin, as if the awe of a fugative, was the dust.

Lines 255 and 256 of the Antigone stand in the way of any purely immanent, plentitudnal reading of the world’s ontology. A thin layer of dust has made the body of Polynikes “disappear”. In order to understand this one must see this naturalistically. A dust storm has billowed up in the night. At dawn, the body which could not be buried has literally become invisibile in the thinnest of layers. This layer is a co-incidence of the contingent into Fate, caught up in imaginary relations: the imagination of Lack.

So invisible it was that Hölderlin, Heidegger’s “prophet of future Being”, refused to, or mis-translated it into absence, in a parentheses of negatives:

Nichts feierlichs. Es war kein Grabmal nicht.

Nur zarter Staub, wie wenn man das Verbot

Gescheut. (265-67).

Collapse and Emergency

These two words bear close watching. My wife today pointed out to me how odd the word “emergency” was. It caused me to check: OED says, from the late Latin, emergentia. An emergency, ultimately from emergere, “to come forth, come out, to rise up… is what we hear it be if we listen to it, an emergence (curious that an orginal, now rare meaning in English pertained to how bodies would float to the surface of water).

Given this, “collapse” also came to mind. I recalled how habituated heretics were fatefully convicted of being in a state of relapsus, as Campanella was. Falling back. Collapse though is from collaps- the past participle stem of collabi, to fall together. The “co-“, the coming together is what I think should not be lost. The root, Lapus, they tell us is the perfect past participle of labor, “to move gently along a smooth surface, to fall, slide; to slide, slip, or glide down, to fall down, to sink”.

Emergence and sliding together.

We confuse (fuse together). We consider collapses to be emergencies, and often emergenices to signal collapses. When examining each, perhaps best attention is paid to just what is emerging, and what is sliding together, and further and more subtly, how sliding-together is a kind of emergence, and visa versa.

So Sophocles speaks of Time:

Everything, oh lengthy & unmetered Chronos

Produces, the unseen even as the revealed gets concealed.

Nothing is unexpected/hopeless…

Ajax, lines 646-648

And need we remind that “crisis” is from the Greek κρίσις; it is a “turning point”, a trial’s judgment, a discernment, a choice, an election. How the world is a composition of crisises, difference that makes a difference, and perhaps nothing more than such.


Teiresias and Sophocles resolve Non-Being


And I find it so curious, for those that follow Heidegger (and even those of a Phenomenological bent in general, descendents of Brentano’s intentionality thesis), how fully the optical metaphor of “appearance” is embraced, as if this were the only mode of doing, thinking, acting. While it is certain that we, as a species, are a visual creature, to be so dominated by just one trope, just one mode, is striking to me.It recalls something that blind Teiresias says in the Antigone (a play often over-read in terms of presence and exclusion, following Hegel’s appropriation), something I think that en-LIGHT-ens the limits of the optical trope.

Sophocles for Teiresias wrote:

…We came by a common road,

Two-out-of-one seeing. With the blind so

It is this path, out of the fore-leader it moves.

lines 988-991

In this way Sophocles unlocks the binary dynamics of non-being. For going forward as a human being is much more tactile, much more omni-sensical, and affective, than any over-riding metaphor of seeing and darkness demand. In this Teiresias talks of how as a blind man he must see through the eyes of the sighted boy who leads him [two out of one seeing], in a way that is combinatory. Thus for those who cannot see [all human beings] this is the only path that there is, a path that literally moves, goes, comes-out-of the one that goes before [ek proegetou]. The “path” literally moves by those that are ahead. Our contact with them is more polyvalent than simple binary being and non-being will allow.

Plotinus, notably, offers similiar combinatory, cybernetic understanding. The notion of vision as knowing leads to a physical synthesis of eyes:

Beholding (theöria) and the beheld (to theõêma) have no boundaries (peras)…For it is not spatially limited (perigegraptai). It is, of course not present in the same way in every soul, since it is not even in a like way in every part of the soul. That is why the charitoteer gives the horses a share of what he sees (myth of ambriosia and nectar, Phaedrus: 247E5-6); and they in taking it obviously would have desired what they saw, for they did not get it at all. And if in their longing they act, they act for the sake of what they long for; and that the beheld and that beholding (Enn. 3.8.5).

If they are two, the knower will be one thing, and the known the other, and contemplation (theõria) has not yet made this pair akin to each other (õieiõsen) (Enn. 3.8.8).

The non-spatial quality of presencing, is taken up in blind man talk of the ubiquity of voice:

…just as if there was a sound filling an empty space (katechousês epêmian), or with an empty space (meta tês erêmias), with men too, and by setting yourself to listen at any point in the empty space, you will recieve the whole sound, and yet not the whole. Enn. 3.8.9)

This does not mean that Being and Non-being should not be discussed, and teased out into the thinnest of their threads. For long as one follows the dominant metaphors of Sight, Appearance, Phenomena, there must be room for Non-Being in the discussion.


But any philosophy of presence, appearance and negation, has to take advise from Teiresias’ immanent “by a common road”, a material enfolding of perception, the path out of which grows from its lead and combination. The two-out-of-one seeing.