2411132044041In Onto-Cartography I spill a lot of ink discussing how structurations of time and energy can function as forms of power (and analyzing similar things with respect to how space is structured).  An “ont0-cartography” just is a mapping of how temporal, spacial, semiotic, and material beings function in producing certain social relations.  The hope is that with better maps we can develop more efficacious political interventions.  When dealing with issues of temporal structure, I called this form of politics “chronopolitics”.

One of the things that often fills me with dread with respect to time is its binary nature.  Time forces me to choose and in choosing I am perpetually killing other possibilities.  I can’t have both of the possibilities.  In writing this blog post, for example, I am not write the exam for my students or talking to my friend I haven’t talked to in weeks.  In driving to work, I am not walking.  If I watch a television show, I am not talking to my daughter.  If I am reading Derrida’s Specters of Marx, I am not reading Badiou’s Logics of Worlds.  Each act necessarily excludes other possibilities because we exist in time.  We can always console ourselves by saying that time can be regained.  I can have the conversation with my daughter later, I can take the walk tomorrow, I can read Badiou another time.  However, time can’t be regained.  The time I exclude is lost forever.  The walk I take tomorrow will be different than the walk I would have had today.  Who knows what I missed?  That opportunity for conversation with my daughter is gone.  Badiou will read differently after I read Derrida than he would have had I read him first.

With each choice, I’m killing time, I’m aborting it, I’m exterminating other possible futures both as to what would have happened and who I would have been.  Yet it’s not just me that’s killing time with my choices.   It’s the social structure I live in that kills time as well.  As a community college professor, I’m relatively fortunate to have next to no publication requirements and to have fairly light service duties.  I have a large student load, but otherwise have a fair amount of free time.  From what I understand, things are quite different for my university colleagues.  It’s not unheard of for such people to work upwards of 80 hours a week between service, scholarship, supervision, and teaching.  The nature of the labor system academics inhabit– and often it’s not just administrations that are doing this, but we make unreasonable temporal claims on each other when it comes to uncompensated editorial, conference organizational, publishing, etc., work –that force us to kill time.  The binary structure of those 80 hours mean that during that time we are not attending to our children, loved ones, friends, home, health, etc.  We have aborted the stream of time that would have allowed that, and often our personal lives and health suffer significantly as a result of this.  To be sure, we chose this life, yet we also become trapped in it.

What I say here is not, of course, unique to academics.  It’s the nature of all labor.  We have to work in the current system to live.  As Zizek likes to say, we are free to choose any labor we like and can get.  What we can’t choose is to opt out.  In one form or another, then, all labor forces us to kill time.  I think back to a friend who did mortgages at a certain bank.  That bank was so greedy in its demand for time that the loan officers weren’t even permitted to take lunch or take off early on occasion to take a child to a doctor.  Such decisions would come with significant sanctions from the management.  “She chose to work there”, someone will say.  True.  But what was she to do?  As a single mother whose ex-husband was a dead-beat dad, she had to support her child.  She had to pay rent.  Eat.  Pay for daycare (because she had to work).  And all the rest that comes with being alive.  She was stuck in time and beholden to a disjunction of choice that was not of her own making but that of her employer’s who got to make the decisions about how time was used.  While she had some freedom to make her own decisions as to how to kill time, many of the decisions belonged to her employer because if she wanted to take care of her child and pay her student loans she needed that job.  She was caught in a sticky web of economic power.

I think American neoliberal capitalism is particularly egregious in how it forces us to kill time (especially with the student loan and broader debt system).  However, it’s also true that every social system has its own way of killing time, of requiring us to kill time.  The question is two-fold:  At the level of our own lives as individuals and our own decisions, how ought we to kill time to live a flourishing life?  Answering that question would require figuring out just what a flourishing life is.  At the societal level, however, the question is one of justice.  Are these ways in which social systems force us to kill time just and reasonable?  Is it right, is it just, for an employer to literally take the life of its employees because they have a gun to their head that basically says “work this time or don’t support your kid?”  This is a question of how to make time and the demands made on time a site of political struggle rather than a mere obvious given that’s just “how things are”.

orpheus5125For Orpheus.

Last night a good friend of mine asked me about the value of philosophy.  It’s a good question and one I struggle with as well.  Why do I do what I do?  What is it all for?  Does it have any value?  Do my students benefit from the texts that we read, or are they the equivalent of books on tarot, such that these works are archaic forms of thought without any truth-value.  Certainly it seems that philosophy often makes us more confused, more uncertain, than we were before we started.  Where, to take an example at random, I might have begun by taking it for granted that it’s wrong to put your elbows on the table while eating, reflection on etiquette raises all sorts of disturbing questions.  Why does this norm exist?  Can I give an argument showing why we should follow this norm?  “That’s the way mannered or gentile people do things?”  That’s not the greatest argument because it’s an appeal to tradition which is an informal fallacy.  “It’s a way of showing respect to others.”  That’s a much better argument, as now etiquette is about proper care and regard for others.  It is good to show and have regard for others.

Yet all sorts of questions emerge at this point, and this is where the path of philosophical reflection begins to disturb.  Is etiquette a moral norm (and therefore a universal responsibility or obligation), or is it a custom?  What is meant by “custom”?  Custom, I suppose, are sets of norms and practices practiced by members of a particular community.  Other communities have different sets of customs.  Communities can be nationalities perhaps, ethnic and religious groups, classes, neighborhoods, etc.  How, then, do I decide which customs to follow in order to show respect and proper regard for others?  I should, I suppose, follow the customs, the etiquette, of whatever community I’m currently in.  But that’s not what I began by saying prior to my reflections.  I began by saying “I should not place my elbows on the table while eating.”  Should is a strong word that implies a universal quantifier.  Maybe “should”, in this context, is really an elliptical or abbreviated phrase, a sort of short-hand, that’s really saying “when in the community that has these customs, you should follow that norm so as to have proper regard for others.”  Much better.

But that’s really not how we talk about table manners.  We seem to hold that they’re stronger, more universal, than this.  For if this is really all we meant (“when in this community…”), then we would acknowledge that the elbow/table-norm is specific to a particular community (one I suspect is closely related to economic class) and that another community– say, Boston South Side working class communities –might have another system of etiquette that involves hunching over your plate with your elbows on the table.  Isn’t this how the ethnographer or anthropologist teaches us to think about these things?  If that’s the case, when I follow the elbow/table-norm in the Boston community, I’m being rude.  Yet again, people don’t talk about etiquette in that way.  They don’t say that those are the norms of the Boston community, their way of showing respect for others.  They tend to say that the people of that community lack manners.

read on!


So much of therapy– and I use that term precisely –is about making other people comfortable and society feel safe.  Analysis differs in that it suspects that accommodation is the problem the analysand suffers from.

leviathanWhat does atheism mean to me?  It’s certainly not, in my view, a thesis about religion.  Figures like Dawkins and Hitchens are as bad as the theists I joust with.  It’s not even a thesis about the supernatural or the magical or the divine.  No, to me atheism is a thesis about masters.  It’s a rejection of all masters, whether they be divinities, kings, fathers, mothers, intellectual figures we fawn over; anything raised over the rest.  Atheism is the recognition that there is no being, divine or otherwise, that is deserving of the place of master or sovereign.  It’s a war against all fathers, and mothers as well, that would occupy the position of sovereign.  It’s a commitment to fraternity and sorority and other unheard of ways of relating to humans and nonhumans on a flat plane besides.  As a consequence, my Wiccan or Christian brothers, sisters, mammals, and animals might sometimes be a better atheist than my materialist friends.  For atheism is a synonym for anarchism, that which is without arche or sovereign, not a synonym for that which rejects myth and magic.  Atheism is a synonym for those that would fight any would-be gods, whether they be divinities or fathers or kings or leaders.  And the problem with so many “atheists” is that they still remain so patriarchal, heteronormative, and committed to masters, leaders, and kings.  They still make ad hominem models of reasoning and argumentation, where “ad him” has the very precise meaning not of “insult”, but of thinking there’s something important about the person who speaks where right, justice, and truth are concerned.  We need a better effort from our atheist brothers and sisters, for they remain all too theist, even as they reject the supernatural.  In Lacanian terms, we need an effort– the only true anarchist effort –to abolish the discourse of the master and any and all patriarchies (which are synonyms for theisms).  Atheism targets not so much an end to divinities– thought perhaps that too –as an end to fathers, kings, mothers, and masters…  To that which transcends the leviathan. It is the rejection of your he thesis that anyone and anything is ever a legitimate occupier of a place of authority or knowledge.  It wills only an egalitarianism of actors.

14_francis-bacon_three-studies-for-a-crucifixion_19621332263106675We are meat.  On the surface, this sounds like a harsh thing to say.  It’s the sort of thing that is destined to get an object-oriented ontologist such as myself– or more properly, a machine-oriented ontologist –in trouble.  The same thing happened when the object-oriented ontologists observed that subjects are substances in the world among other substances; a claim saying nothing more than that we are embedded in the world.  But it’s meant to be a call for compassion.

We are meat.  What does that mean.  It means we’re vulnerable to this world.  It can harm us.  It can assault us.  We grow fatigued.  Exhausted.  Our cognition changes when we are in those states. We get sick, sometimes with horrific illnesses.  We get cancer or AIDS or ebola or the flu or RSD or crippling arthritis.  We suffer from hunger or from cold.  Our bodies age.  We grow older.  Our power of being, acting, and thinking fluctuates.

Yet somehow we still measure body-minds by idealized standards that are well fed, healthy, warm, free of sickness.  We expect those about us to perform as they do in ideal conditions and morally condemn them when they don’t.  But we are fragile and vulnerable, and this because we are meat.

I’m perpetually haunted by the question of what philosophy is.  What is it that distinguishes philosophy from all other forms of inquiry and thought?  Have I ever managed to “do” philosophy (probably not)?  What does it mean to do philosophy.  Occasionally I manage to think something.  When I reflect, I think to myself that philosophy is the critical investigation of what’s presupposed and assumed in our claims about the world and our actions.  Someone says:

Lightning started the fire.

The philosopher does not begin by asking whether this question is true or false.  She does not ask about lightning or fire (though maybe later).  No, the philosopher asks, “what concept is presupposed in this judgment?”  The concept, of course, is causality.  The properly philosophical questions are then as follows:

1)  What is causality or what defines causality as a distinct sort of relationship?

2) Are there one or many forms of causality?

3) Do all events have a cause?

4) How do we distinguish a causal relationship from a relationship in which one event merely follows another?

5) Is there a purpose or meaning to events?

Or take another example.  Have a 7 year old daughter I had the pleasurable privilege of enduring the show “Yo Gabba Gabba”.  In one episode they sing a song with the lyrics “Don’t, Don’t, Don’t Bite your Friends“.  A powerful moral lesson.  Suppose we encounter a person, Joe, who was raised by a family of morally deprived biters.  All day long every member of this family bit each other.  Joe grows up and gets in a relationship.  Joe ends up biting his partner because he’s either angry or for no reason at all (he was raised by a tribe of biters, after all).  Michael comes along and says “it was wrong for Joe to bite his friend”.  What’s presupposed in this judgment?  A number of things.

1)  The existence of a rule stipulating that we don’t bite our friends.

But more importantly,

2) That Joe should have known you shouldn’t bite your friends.

After all, how could we state that Joe is guilty of violating a rule if he didn’t know this rule?  A rule that one is measured by that one does not and cannot know is unjust.  Philosophical thought brings this point to reflection.  We’re then faced with a series of questions.  Perhaps initially we wanted to say that our ethical knowledge was the result of learning.  We were empiricists.  We say that people know the prohibition against biting friends from Holy Books, having the right teachers, parents, etc.  Yet Joe didn’t have the right teachers or parents.  He’d only been exposed to biters.  Yet we still say Joe’s action was a prohibition against the law of friend biting.  A dilemma brought to light by philosophy, forcing us to make a decision:

a)  Joe’s action was wrong and it is just to say so.  Therefore, there must be some way Joe could have known this rule independent of culture and teachers.  The empiricist theory of moral knowledge is therefore wrong.  There must be an instinct or faculty of reason that allows us to know our moral duties independent of whatever we’ve experienced or our teachers.  Joe should have used his instinct or faculty of reason and is culpable because he didn’t.

b) The empiricist theory of moral knowledge is right, therefore Joe is really innocent and our moral judgment is mistaken.  We should be compassionate towards Joe because he didn’t have the right teachers and should try to teach him, not punish or condemn him.

There are plausible arguments on both sides.  I’m not asking which is right.  The point is that these questions don’t even emerge until we ask “what did Michael’s judgment presuppose when he made it” (alternatively “what was the ‘a priori’ in Michael’s judgment?”).  And we notice that our attitudes towards either knowledge or judgment might very well change as a result of this reflection.

My Deleuzian friends will say “No, philosophy is a creation of concepts!”  As a neo-Deleuzian I don’t disagree.  I share that hypothesis.  But I’m asking the question “what leads us to create a concept” and giving the very Deleuzian answer “a problem or question”.  Had we not asked “what did this action or judgment presuppose?” we wouldn’t have generated the occasion to form a concept (in the first instance, the concept of “causality”, in the second instance, the concept of the conditions under which a moral judgment is just and a concept of the origins of moral/ethical knowledge).  Perhaps I’m a Brandomian without realizing it.

Harman says science knows nothing of philosophy, because science knows nothing of objects.  I think he might be right about the first part, but not the second.  If science knows nothing of philosophy, then this is because philosophy is not an interrogation of claims like “lightning started the fire”, but is rather an interrogation of the lenses, the eyeglasses, that allow us to make this judgment in the first place:  the concept of causality.  Our political, ethical, and epistemic judgments and actions will only ever be as good as the eyeglasses we use.  I take mine off and two people look alike.  I put them on and they look quite different.  If I conclude, or more disturbingly, assume, that there’s only one form of causality and they’re really three, I’ll ignore the other two.  Rockets to space will explode because I had the wrong conceptual lenses.  Science looks through eyeglasses, whereas philosophy asks how well formed those lenses are.  Some will object to my visual metaphors here.  I don’t know how else to express these points, however.  If I don’t have the concept of the unconscious and my friend leaves his jacket at my place I’ll think he’s forgetful.  If I do have the concept and he leaves it, I’ll be filled with joy.

Lacan claims that the gods belong to the order of the real.  This, I think, can only be understood in the context of Levi-Strauss’s theory of myth.  Myth is that which fills in structural contradictions, impasses of formalization, antagonisms, and fissures in the symbolic.  So long as we understand the Lacanian real as reality, we’re doomed to miss his meaning.  We will think Lacan is saying the gods are real in the colloquial sense of “real” (in the sense that we say, in ordinary language-  not “Lacanese” –that “the sun is real”). The Lacanian real just is these fissures in the symbolic (akin to Kant’s paralogisms and antinomies).  The idea of the gods (like ideology) tries to cover over the real, to veil and clothe it.    The question for a post-ontotheological ontology is whether the real can be endured as such without gods. Insofar as philosophy begins with the project of breaking with myth (and therefore, also, ideology which is the modern variant of myth), this question is not peripheral to philosophy, but at its heart.


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