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The “heart” of Neo-Liberalism, blah, blah, blah

While I try to shrug off all this Neo-liberalism this, and Neo-liberalism that, as other blogsters are using fancy acronyms for Neo-liberalism as if they are busy making entries in the Merck manual, this one passage of qualifications and analogies from the Neo-liberal hating Levi Bryant I find interesting (yes, he has equated Neo-liberalism with Nazism recently):

While I do not disagree with Rowan William’s thesis that the picture of the human as an intrinsically self-seeking creature constitutes a false anthropology, I have noticed that there is a tendency to treat the core of neo-liberal capitalist ideology as consisting almost entirely of this false anthropology. What is missing in this conception of neo-liberal ideology is the legal and normative framework that underlies this way of relating to the world and others. On the one hand, in order for neo-liberal capitalist ideology to get off the ground it requires what what might be called a “pure subject” or a “subject-without-qualities”, not unlike Descartes’ cogito or Kant’s transcendental unity of apperception. At the heart of neo-liberal capitalist ideology (NLCI) is not so much a subject pursuing self-interest, as a legal subject functioning as the substrate of property, commercial obligations and debts, and divorced from social context and conditions of production.

One can see right away from the bolded material that analogies abound. Levi objects to an anthropological view being read as the core of Neo-liberalism, because there is a framework (legal normative) in which (?) a substrate operates (legal subject) onto which various formal economic relations adhere.  What Levi denies, in something beyond a point of emphasis, is that the “heart” or the “core” of Neo-liberalism is the self-interested subject. Instead it is a mere formalism of “subject” and its laws. To put it briefly, it’s not the self-seeking, self-interested desiring-subject, it’s the structured-subject (legally and philosophically) that is the troublesome kernel of Neo-liberalism. Let’s leave aside the kind of rhetorical slippage between philosophical “subject” and legal “subject” here, is it really correct to say that THIS is the core/heart of Neoliberalism (whatever that is)?

From my perspective the attempt to minimize the anthropological myth, the idea that human beings are essentially and naturally selfish beings, and instead draw a different heart/core made of some kind of structuralization, misses something. The entire legal and normative framework, we would say, came into existence and into justification in the very strong context of the belief that human beings are self-interested beings, essentially. The entire formalized drive towards privatization is made in response to this picture of humanity, it is naturalized within it. While I’m not sure who is saying that Neo-liberalism is nothing but this myth – David Graeber does make a vivid anthropological argument that “even” exchange is something that is done between enemies, suggesting that economic models of abstract equivalencies are necessarily mythologically self-interested ones – I am also unsure how much of the “framework” and its formalized subject could operate without it. In fact, as Spinoza knew just at the cusp of the Cartesian subject, one cannot cut off the conception of the cogito from the idea of its separate faculties of Willing and Judgment. In order undo the abstract subject, willing and freedom have to be radicalized. The desiring subject, how it desires, and what it desires for is integral to the very isolation of the said “substrate” of the subject in the first place. In fact, all of this stems to a great degree from Representational conceptions of knowledge and related questions of autonomy, freedom and desire.

I don’t really know what good finding the heart or the core of Neoliberalism does, other than create a kind of rhetorical force to steady the aim of our critique. But I do doubt that our narratives about how humans naturally (or if one is in Lacanian moods, structurally) desire are not every bit as important as the laws and norms that are created to regulate and shape those desires. I personally find the Neo-liberalism stigma mark to be something of a canard, designed by those that think “radical break”, getting “outside”, is the only way towards justice, but in any case, philosophies of “lack” (including much of what flows from Hegel, and those that hunger after essentialized “nothingness” or “absence” or “object”) have a great deal to do with foreclosing the possibilities of thinking about the “subject”, or better, the self beyond its normative product-buying, object-chasing behavior. One  also has to ask, as we pre-occupy ourselves with “objects” as essential and constitutive relations, are we not already caught up in economies (of desire, of real capital) which presuppose the “lack” which drives them, sinking deeper into our mental concrete the assumptions which secure the relations we would wish to change or improve upon.

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Freud and then Heine: Spinoza Does not Deny God, but Always Humanity

Freud and Spinoza on Kant’s Freedom

A few days ago I listened to the paper by Michael Mack (Nottingham), “Spinoza and Freud, or how to be mindful of the mind”  from the Spinoza and Bodies conference (audio here), and one quote really stood out, taken from Heine on Spinoza. Mack’s paper argues that Freud subverts the primary aim of Kantian philosophy: the autonomy of the human under and definition of Freedom. That is, the Copernican turn accomplishes a radical autonomy of man which is strictly modern, that the recursively defined categories of thought provide humanity with a kind of fresh space, a topos, upon which to do and be and make whatever they well, a cocoon of freedom. He doesn’t express it in this way, but I do. Freud takes this from Kant and the modern heritage in that he takes from the inside the autonomy that Kant attempted to carve out,  the “self”. I had never really thought if it in these terms, but one can see that it is precisely at the level of freedom that Spinoza’s Freedom and Kant’s Freedom collide, and one can see Mack’s point that Freud and Spinoza are on the same side on this, that the “self” is ever only partially free, and the sense that we are all exposed to causal forces far beyond our control, the ignorance of which deceives us into thinking we are freer than we are.

The paper is a wild ride at times, and Mack has the haltering verbal excitement of someone overly familiar with a history of ideas and some much neglected material that makes his reading engaging, at least to my ear. He exposes some, one wants to say sublimated, or at least seldom acknowledged even by Freud himself, influence of Spinoza on the father of psychoanalysis. Mack’s point falls off in the area of the Death Drive where he doesn’t do a sharp enough job of contrasting the admitted radical difference of Spinoza and Freud on this point, a chasm gap, surely on account of time .  For me, any comparison between Spinoza and Freud must at least start or end there. Where Mack is really strong is how he positions Freud and Spinoza towards Kant’s autonomy, and the subject of the Self.

In making his point about Freud, Spinoza and Jewishness, Mack brings the wonderful quote by Heine on the subject of Spinoza’s charged atheism. In an almost over-statement in response to the Pantheism Controversy, Heine declares, it is not God that is denied by Spinoza, but rather Man:

“Nothing but fear, unreason and malice could bestow on such a doctrine the qualification of atheism. No one has spoken so sublimely of Deity than Spinoza. Instead of saying that he denied God, one might say that he denied Man. All finite things are to him but modes of the Infinite Substance, all finite substances are contained in God, the human mind but the luminous ray of infinite thought, the human body but an atom of infinite extension. God is the infinite cause both of mind and of body, natura naturans.”
This starting point of Heine’s the erasure of Man, is the widescope though still concrete view that meets up nicely with Caroline Williams’s paper, already mentioned here:  Subjectless Subjectivity, A Geography of Subject: Beyond Objectology. Beginning with this erasure comes the integrated recomplexification of Man, humanity, Self, Subject, State, on an entirely different order. None of these abstract, cognitive boundaries are “kingdoms within a kingdom” but rather are shot through with material effects and forces beyond their knowledge, their autonomy.
 
Michael Mack’s paper is derived from a new book due out March 2010,  Spinoza and the Specters of Modernity: The Hidden Enlightenment of Diversity from Spinoza to Freud, Continum Books, something certainly to look out for.

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

Breathing Matter

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

A significant passage:

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

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

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

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

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

Infinitely Narrow: How Spinoza Corrects Descartes’ Lenses

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

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

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

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

An Illusion of Free Will: “I moved my mouth. I talked. What did I say?”

 

 

Ed Young posts on recent experiments in brain stimulation that produced something of the illusion of a freedom of will, or at least the solicitation of the desire to act in a particular way: Electrical stimulation produces feelings of free will (found through Speculative Heresy) The original journal article ,“Movement Intention After Parietal Cortex Stimulation in Humans”, tells of how stimulation of the Posterior Parietal Cortex in patients produced not only the distinct feeling that they wanted to move parts of their body, but when the stimulation increased also the belief that they actually had completed the action, though they had not. Ed Young provides an excellently concise summation of the findings, and even makes mention of Cartesian Dualism.

The Flying Stone of Free Will

I am not one for feeling that scientific observation usually resolves long-standing philosophical issues which are born of conceptual and terminological circuits, but this does seem to be something of a a check on the Spinoza side of the ledger (perhaps to be added to the several entered by Damasio). As Spinoza saw the issue of the freedom of the will, the sense that we are freely acting was merely the awareness of an appetite to action combined with an ignorance of the causes that determined that appetite, bringing it into being. We, like a hypothetical thinking stone that is flying through the air, only imagine that we are freely acting, while we have been “thrown” by any number of external (and internal) forces.

The core of this position is found in his letter 62/58 to Schaller (October, 1674), which I quote at length because he presents his vision so compactly. It is interesting that some of Spinoza’s most revelatory position passages come from his letters:

I, therefore, pass on to that definition of liberty, which he says is my own; but I know not whence he has taken it. I say that a thing is free, which exists and acts solely by the necessity of its own nature. Thus also God understands Himself and all things freely, because it follows solely from the necessity of His nature, that He should understand all things. You see I do not place freedom in free decision, but in free necessity. However, let us descend to created things, which are all determined by external causes to exist and operate in a given determinate manner. In order that this may be clearly understood, let us conceive a very simple thing. For instance, a stone receives from the impulsion of an external cause, a certain quantity of motion, by virtue of which it continues to move after the impulsion given by the external cause has ceased. The permanence of the stone’s motion is constrained, not necessary, because it must be defined by the impulsion of an external cause. What is true of the stone is true of any individual, however complicated its nature, or varied its functions, inasmuch as every individual thing is necessarily determined by some external cause to exist and operate in a fixed and determinate manner.

Further conceive, I beg, that a stone, while continuing in motion, should be capable of thinking and knowing, that it is endeavouring, as far as it can, to continue to move. Such a stone, being conscious merely of its own endeavour and not at all indifferent, would believe itself to be completely free, and would think that it continued in motion solely because of its own wish. This is that human freedom, which all boast that they possess, and which consists solely in the fact, that men are conscious of their own desire, but are ignorant of the causes whereby that desire has been determined. Thus an infant believes that it desires milk freely; an angry child thinks he wishes freely for vengeance, a timid child thinks he wishes freely to run away. Again, a drunken man thinks, that from the free decision of his mind he speaks words, which afterwards, when sober, he would like to have left unsaid. So the delirious, the garrulous, and others of the same sort think that they act from the free decision of their mind, not that they are carried away by impulse. As this misconception is innate in all men, it is not easily conquered.

The Moving of Lips

How amenable is this non-dualistic framework to the conditions that Ed Young reports, wherein the motor action was able to be parsed from the mere feeling of intention, so much so that subjects even could be caused to hold the belief that they had not only a volition, but also had acted upon it,

Desmurget, on the other hand, could only ever produce the illusion of movement by focusing on the parietal cortex. And his patients’ descriptions of their experiences made it very clear that they were feeling some sort of internal intention to move, rather than feeling compelled by an external force. Without any prompting from the researchers, they all described their feelings with words such as “will”, “desire” or “wanting to”. One of the patients said, “I felt a desire to lick my lips”, after a low burst of current. With more stimulation, he said “I moved my mouth. I talked. What did I say?”

More than ever we get the sense that Spinoza hit upon something significant when he qualified the ideas we have about the world as really ideas we have of our body being in a certain state or other. And even more so, we get a glimpse into the finesse behind Spinoza’s denial of the freedom of the will, a “freedom” that resided under the veil of our ignorance (all the while still asserting a rigorous ethics). It was no mere abstract imposition of determinism for the sake of determinism. Nothing is more tiresome than the well-worn arguments of the freedom of the will, it seems. But what this study suggests is that if we look at the materiality of our freedoms, the means by which we experience our intentions as free, perhaps another kind of freedom is available, that of knowledge of causes a path of freedom advocated by Spinoza.

Further, our experiences and beliefs about the factuality of our actions, our very autonomic natures, seem to be fundamentally tied to our experiences of our appetites as such. It is not simply the case that we can ask, “Was that movement freely willed?” but also must ask, “Did we actually do what we thought we wanted to?” Our very desires, if strong enough, are part of the perception of action itself, suggesting that the understanding and appreciation for our actions, or intentions, may spring from an understanding of desire and appetite itself, just as Spinoza thought.

Of course, once we start untangling the weave of free intentions, the consolidation of a pure human “subject” also begins to unspool.

Subjects Created in Truth Procedures at Prague’s Franz Kafka International Airport

Pursuing the Generic

Not only does this “news report” play upon our well-worn picture of Eastern Block Communism, it does so fused with the addictive Fox News/CNN mode of Breaking News anticipation, perhaps revealing the degree to which we are already pure Ideological subjects. What is striking is that we recognize ourselves here, not in some sci-fi sense of an alternate parallel universe, but rather this is the REAL (not to mention the relief of joyful distance that comes through as we idenitfy the literary references and can chuckle about it all like some highly literate Russian in our minds).

Of course the properly identified Subject has no such difficulty within an Airport, (along with the implicit experienced subject who is simply able to finesse the quirks of the system with a certain tacit knowledge). One moves seamlessly along the generic paths of processes with great, if somewhat banal, glee. It is the supposedly resistant Western capitalist “individual” (buisness traveler) who becomes confused, marked, externalized to their own internal.

Who/what is the Subject? The resistant kernel that cannot be processed, or the perfectly generisized lipidity of movements and identifications? False dichotomy. “Properly followed, proper protocols” and Wittgenstein’s Language Game sign-followings met with delicious irony. 

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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 Synth of Photosynth: Subjection and Engagement

Here: Photosynth of Popolopen Creek [link did not work, now it does]

Still experimenting with the notions of Space implict and explicit in Microsoft’s new Photosynth service. Above is a still from my second trial, the first was talked about some in context with Graham Harman’s Object Oriented philosophy. As you might see from the still, the program and service offers a way to synthesize various planal captures of a physical space such that something of the original experience topos is re-produced. The planes of approach are vectored against each other under the posit of any number of virtual positions, and the effect is one of REAL environment. This effect is furthered by the means of viewing. One either toggles through the virtual space with the arrow keys, jumping photo by photo clump in a kind of primative, self-directed cinema staggar, or with the mouse slides through the space, up, down and across; or lastly one can pin-pointed planal windows with the mouse and jump-into each with a click, spun across the constructed dimension.

The aesthetic makes a good backdrop for some of the actor oriented thinking I have been doing (I am in the middle of reading Graham Harman’s forthcoming work in Latour Prince of Networks, and also studying Augustine’s De doctrina in view of Davidson’s principle of Charity). What strikes me most forcefully is the summoning up of the experience. It is not so much that the physical space is represented (though clearly it is reconstructed in a mathematical sense, and “the space” or “the object” in this aesthetic does seem to become the primary subject). It is more that the conscious engagement of an enviroment is re-lived, as if in the mode of a memory, the way in which objects, perspectives, aspects suddenly come into mental view in an unpredictable yet linked way (each visit to the synth produces a different narrative experiences). This mimic of consciousness becomes a parallel metaphor for the mimic of sight that the still camera rectangle accomplishes. Somehow in the whirl of axial polygons induces or invokes the experience of memory, (or investigation), the very topoi  of photographic iconic use.

In particular the hinge-swings of the synth which break from the smooth curve of the space, instead of expressing the failure of a continous space, in their imagery of book pages, call into being the very booked realities in which page-turns are not disruptive, but enhancing, apophantic. Reality itself is exposed as layered, positional, framing, temporal, juxtaposed in the very artifice of the aesthetic. One can feel the seams between photos, and it is this felt texture, like zipper scars, that gives the experience its power, the way that reality “shows through” the crude prismings.

The sun is dimming in the late afternoon of the bridge above. The positions of the subject jerk about as planal as their property frames, tied to so many Renaissance visual grids, yet as long-set sun, stones and snows turn on virtual axes, displaying their polygons, and the anamorphic projection of the self is levitated through-out, the spirit of the space (and not the subject) is called forth. In fact, the community of effects, something which is not centralized, not particularized is set up before one, across  flesh.

There are no Black Boxes, and Latour wants. There are more Spheres translimpid of occasioned and causal shadings. The way that bodies inform by combination.

[An alternate synth from the same site]