September 29, 2006
Posted by larvalsubjects under Blogroll
In a beautiful passage from their “Treatise on Nomadology– The War Machine”, Deleuze and Guattari write,
Let us take a limited example and compare the war machine and the State apparatus in the context of the theory of games. let us take chess and Go, from the standpoint of the game pieces, the relations between the pieces and the space involved. Chess is a game of State, or of the court: the emperor of China played it. Chess pieces are coded; they have an internal nature and intrinsic properties from which their movements, situations, and confrontations derive. They have qualities; a knight remains a knight, a pawn a pawn, a bishop a bishop. Each is like a subject of the statement endowed with a relative power, and these relative powers combine in a subject of enunciation, that is, the chess player or the game’s form of interiority. Go pieces, in contrast, are pellets, disks, simple arithmetic units, and have only an anonymous, collective, or third-person function: ‘It’ makes a move. ‘It’ could be a man, a woman, a louse, an elephant. Go pieces are elements of a nonsubjectified machine assemblage with no intrinsic properties, only situational ones. Thus the relations are very different in the two cases. Within their milieu of interiority, chess pieces entertain biunivocal relations with one another, and with the adversary’s pieces: their functioning is structural. On the other hand, a Go piece has only a milieu of exteriority, or extrinsic relations with nebulas or constellations as bordering, encircling, shattering. All by itself, a Go piece can destroy an entire constellation synchronically; a chess piece cannot (or can do so diachronically only. (A Thousand Plateaus, 352)
This passage provides an excellent entry point to Deleuze’s account of individuation. What Deleuze and Guattari here distinguish are two different perspectives on individuation. On the one hand, there is that account of individuation that sees what individuates the individual as an intrinsic property of that individual. This would be the instance of Chess, where the identity of the pieces belongs to the pieces as such. On the other hand, there is that perspective on individuation that sees individuation not as an intrinsic feature of the individual or as a feature of the individual to be found in the individual itself, but rather as a result of the relations that element enters into. Over the course of a game of Go, the “identity” of the disk changes depending on its relationship to other pieces placed on the board. It can thus be said that the disk, as an individual, is perpetually becoming or is a process. Just as I cannot understand the sense of a statement without knowing its relationship to other statements, the identity of the disk depends on its relationship to other disks.
It would thus seem to be simply a matter of claiming that there are two types of individuations: intrinsic and extrinsic. However, the issue is more complicated than this. As Deleuze puts it,
There is a crucial experience of difference and a corresponding experiment: every time we find ourselves confronted or bound by a limitation or an opposition, we should ask what such a situation presupposes. It presupposes a swarm of differences, a pluralism of free, wild or untamed differences; a properly differential and original space and time; all of which persist alongside the simplications of limitation and opposition. A more profound real element must be defined in order for oppositions of forces or limitations of forms to be drawn, one which is determined as an abstract and potential multiplicity. Oppositions are roughly cut from a delicate milieu of overlapping perspectives, of communicating distances, divergences and disparities, of heterogeneous potentials and intensities… Everywhere, couples and polarities presuppose bundles and networks, organized oppositions presuppose radiations in all directions. (Difference and Repetition, 51)
Limitation and opposition are names for representation, and indeed Deleuze and Guattari’s point is that Chess functions according to the logic of representation. However, it would be a mistake to assume that there are two types of individuation. Rather, for Deleuze there is only one type of individuation upon which representation is based. Deleuze’s central thesis, then, is that difference precedes representation, representation (the logic of identity) does not precede difference. Even the game of Chess presupposes prior differential individuation.
Setting aside any of the political or ethical implications that might follow from treating difference as prior to identity, the first question that naturally emerges is that of what ontological problem might motivate this thesis. Isn’t it obvious that there cannot be difference without identical terms to differ from one another? Doesn’t representation or the logic of identity adequately account for individuals? Presumably it is uncontroversial that there are individuals. So what is it about the logic of identity and representation that fails to account for individuals. Apart from his argument that the logic of representation fails to give us a concept of difference, but rather inscribes difference in the concept or identity (is this really a problem or is it a convincing way of formulating the problem?), the problem here turns out to be very simple. As Deleuze puts it, “Qualitative or extensive interpretations of individuation remain incapable of providing reasons why a quality ceases to be general, or why a synthesis of extensity begins here and finishes there” (DR, 247). On the one hand, the qualitative, I take it, refers to the logic of predication. If I say “Socrates is a man”, I’ve predicated a quality of Socrates but I have not articulated what makes Socrates “Socrates” or how Socrates differs from other men. I can multiply predicates to my hearts content, striving to find the Socratesness of Socrates in his “accidental qualities”, such as having a stub nose, being such and such a height, etc., but all of these qualities remain general. The individual qua individual still remains something that these general qualities are not. We thus have not accounted for what is unique to this individual or what the individual contributes to its individuation.
On the other hand, one of the classic ways of individuating individuals is to point out that no two identities can occupy the same place at one and the same time (individuation through extensity). Yet once again, we fail to give a positive account of the individual qua individual, but again resort to the negative. This time negativity appears in relation to the entities that this individual is not or which do not occupy this place. This, for instance, is how Hegel’s account of individuation proceeds in his discussion of “being-there” in the Science of Logic.
I had planned to write a longer post on Deleuze’s theory of individuation and the problem that motivates it, but as it turns out my mind is mush this evening, so I decided, instead, to throw out a passage from Difference and Repetition and make a few comments about it. In an amazing passage, Deleuze writes,
Difference is not diversity. Diversity is given, but difference is that by which the given is given, that by which the given is given as diverse. Difference is not phenomenon but the noumenon closest to the phenomenon. It is therefore true that God makes the world by calculating, but his calculations never work out exactly, and this inexactitute or injustice in the result, this irreducible inequality, forms the condition of the world. The world ‘happens’ while God calculates; if the calculations were exact, there would be no world. The world can be regarded as a ‘remainder’, and the real in the world understood in terms of fractional or even incommensurable numbers. Every phenomenon refers to an inequality by which it is conditioned. Every diversity and every change refers to a difference which is its sufficient condition. Everything which happens and everything which appears is correlated with orders of differences: differences of level, temperature, pressure, tension, potential, differences of intensity… Every phenomenon flashes in a signal-sign system. In so far as a system is constituted or bounded by at least two heterogeneous series, two disparate orders capable of entering into communication, we call it a signal. The phenomenon that flashes across this system, bringing about the communication between disparate series, is a sign. (DR, 222)
The first lesson to be drawn from this passage, I think, is that Deleuze cannot be adequately be described as an empiricist after the fashion of Hume, no matter how attractive and seductive such a temptation might be given the great difficulty of Deleuze’s texts and the relative simplicity of Hume. Classical empiricism is an epistemology premised on the primacy of the given (impressions) and their diversity (the variety of impressions), whereas Deleuze is clearly trying to account for something deeper and more fundamental than the given or the principle by which the given is given. Put differently, what Deleuze calls “the being of the sensible” cannot be equated with what Hume calls the “sensible” or “lively ideas”. Indeed, were Hume confronted with a position such as Deleuze’s, he would denounce it as metaphysical garbage as the empiricist principle councils us to only accept those ideas that can be traced back to the immediate givens of experience.
What Deleuze likes about empiricism, I think, is its emphasis on the individual or its rejection of universals and a priorism, but no matter how tempting it might be, I think it should never be forgotten that Deleuze is putting forward an ontology designed to account for the individuation of the individual, not an epistemology or theory of knowledge that claims skepticism with regard to our ability to know laws and universals. That is, Hume doesn’t reject the thesis that there may be causality or that there may be universals, but rather argues that we are unable to know such things by virtue of our inability to make valid inductions to the universal and necessary from a necessarily finite sampling of instances.
Deleuze’s central thesis throughout Difference and Repetition– a thesis he never rejected, as far as I know –is that individuation precedes the individual. That is, the individual is a product of its process of individuation. It is this process that Deleuze’s account of indi-drama-different/ciation is designed to account for. Individuation is here understood as a process, rather than something that is already there in the individual. The “indi” of course, refers to “individuation”. “Dramatization” refers to the spatio-temporal dynamisms or what Deleuze calls “intensities” that preside over the course of actualization. “Differentiation” refers to virtual multiplicities that distribute differential relations along with their singularities (potentialities), and which share no resemblance to the actualized individual (I need to write far more about this). Deleuze refers to the domain of differentiation as the domain of problems. And differenciation refers to the actualized individual, or species and parts. Deleuze’s thesis is that in the course of actualization, the problem resolves itself and cancels difference by equalizing the inequalities that characterize intensity. That is, there is a movement from the intensive realm of the unequal, to what Deleuze calls the realm of diversity, the given, or the actualized world of extensity. In this process the inequality or insensity that presided over the individuation of the individual disappears or is cancelled. Actualization takes place through the equalization of intensities or inequalities, that are always going to be unique to the field in which processes of individuation are taking place. As such, each individuation is going to be a creation within being, even if their results resemble one another from the standpoint of the actualized entity. Deleuze describes these individuals as “signal-sign” systems as there’s a communication between the actualized individual and the interiorized difference and problematic field (the heterogeneous series) and intensity that it continuously communicates with in the process of its ongoing individuation. The heterogeneous series are the virtual dimension of differential relations and their singularities and the extensity of the actualized entity, while the “sign” is the intensity that flashes between the two functioning as a spatio-temporal dynamism presiding over this actualization.
This thesis neatly allows Deleuze to account for the transcendental illusions of representation or the logic of identity. Identity isn’t an illusion produced by a mind that is somehow independent of an object. Rather, identity is an illusion produced in and through being itself over the course of actualization. The problematic field and its intensities that are the condition for the actualization of the individual are covered over in the course of actualization. This point can easily be seen through a few examples. If we take the example of an icecube, the individuation of this icecube consists in a transition from water to ice. The “problem” or multiplicity in this example will be the molecules that compose the water, whereas the intensity is going to be the temperature. Deleuze is quite liberal with his use of the virtual, applying it to everything from all the drops of water in the ocean when he discusses Leibniz, to atoms, to genes. Ice is differenCiated by equalizing this intensive difference among the water molecules, activating certain potentialities, and thereby producing an actualized extensity in the form of the ice (presumably other intensive factors such as surface tension and resistance, etc., would apply were we to take into account the icetray, air pressure, and so on). The point is that the temperature or intensive factors disappear when we examine the icecube itself… It’s nowhere to be found in the individual itself, though it was the sufficient reason for the production of the icecube. What Deleuze is able to account for by distinguishing the individual from the individuation is thus the specificity of this individual here on the basis of the process by which it came to be and its ongoing process of individuation in its capacity as a signal-sign system (the temperature must be maintained for it to maintain this actualized state).
This is a perfectly banal example and I only offer it to give a clear and readily accessible example of what Deleuze is trying to get at with his account of (indi)different/ciation. A more interesting example can be drawn from a slip of the tongue. For instance, recently in a psychoanalytic session, when going on about my inability to write or to bring projects to completion, believing my ideas to be pedestrian and conceiving myself to exist in an institutional setting where there’s no place for me save writing commentaries, I also went on about how I keep obsessively returning to the same themes, thinking I’m discovering them for the very first time, only to find that I wrote something in nearly identical terms five or six years ago. In the process of this frustrated rant, I went on to talk about the temporal paradox of repeating, of not being able to have all my thoughts or “my system” in mind at once, and how each repetition already becomes different from what preceded as my enunciations take on different meaning due to new experience that I’ve had each time I repeat them. In moaning about this I said “I can’t be before myself”. Of course, by this I meant that I can’t have my thought right there in front of myself like I might survey a venn diagram or a mathematical equation. Yet this expression is also a double entendre, or even a triple entendre. On the one hand, it could be taken to mean that I can’t be prior to myself, or that I have a fantasy of engendering myself, creating myself, of having no influences. Yet on the other hand, it could more significantly mean that I can’t be for myself (and indeed, I often have dark fantasies of doing something that thoroughly ruins me, which intrude in my thought against my will and cause me a good deal of anxiety). In other words, this slip of the tongue could be expressive of being against myself… If I can’t be for (before) I must be against myself. No doubt I use this fantasy as a way of maintaining my desire, for by seeing no place for myself in the world of continental philosophy, I don’t bother to revise the things I’ve written and therefore don’t publish more material, thereby allowing myself to sustain the belief that in another universe there could be a place for me or that perhaps I’ll finally get a grand idea that will “be for” (before) me, while also perpetually deferring such an act as it would ultimately be dissatisfying… Or something like that.
This bit of speech is, of course, an event and an individual of sorts. If we look to the expression itself for its identity or principle of sufficient reason, we would look among the words to find what it signifies. However, drawing on Freud’s account of the primary process, such a slip of the tongue is produced by a differential field (what he describes as the neurological system in his Project essay) populated by energetic disparities among neuronal connections (the famous libido) that resolve themselves by actualizing themselves in a symptom (here the slip of the tongue) that allows for an outlet or dissipation of these inequalities. This individual statement is what it is by virtue of this differential field (the unconscious) and the intensities that animate it. If transcendental empiricism is anything, then it is that ontology that seeks to account for the given on the basis of the inequalities that condition and give it. This would be an approach that applies to social phenomena, physical phenomena, persons, biological systems, ecosystems, works of art, and so on. Everywhere there will be unique differential or problematic fields, along with animating intensities or inequalities functioning as spatio-temporal dynamisms presiding over differentiation or the functioning of different signal-sign systems and functioning as their sufficient reason. Not only does the individuation precede the individual, but the individuation precedes that species (for which Deleuze praises Freud and Darwin) in that individuals do not instantiate species, but rather species are aggregate effects of individuals in a population undergoing similar processes of individuation (environmental factors, genetic factors, developmental factors, and so on). Each individuation will be a unique event in that the intensities presiding over individuation never belong to one and the same differential field and therefore face different inequalities to resolve (hence one of the reasons that genetics are not determining… At most, genetics only outline one, among many, fields of potentiality).
What interests me most in Deleuze’s remark about the unequal is that the remainder or unequal is never completely eradicated. That is, each cancellation of difference or intensity produces further inequalities that activate the potentialities of a system in new and different ways. Putting the issue in terms of “adaptation” (which is perhaps unwise as it indicates an environment is there in itself, present-at-hand, and that the individual must simply conform to this environment passively), individuals must adapt to their adaptations, or rather, each new actualization further complicates the field and generates new differential fields and intensities. It take it this is the meaning of the eternal return. How, then, are these concepts to be put to work? And how do they transform the way in which philosophy is conceived. At the very least it is clear that thought itself is an individuation, and any talk of foundations or origins already ignores individuation.
September 24, 2006
Posted by larvalsubjects under Blogroll
I’m not the biggest fan of Bill Clinton, but this interview on FOX News was absolutely amazing. Anglo-American philosophers draw a distinction between syntax and sematics, which, I think, sheds light on a number of contemporary discussions in systems, structuralist, and post-structuralist thought. On the one hand, semantics refers to what language is about. That is, semantics is the study of language in its referential dimension. If I wonder how the proposition “the cat is on the mat” links up to the world, then I’m focused on semantics. Syntax, by contrast, is the study of the rules governing how words and phrases are put together, without any reference to the world independent of language. Language not only says something of something else, but language also is something, and has its own organization. For instance, the entire formalist program in mathematics under Hilbert was aimed at reducing mathematics purely to mathematical syntax, so as to dispense with any need to refer to mathematical entities (such as Platonic forms) to account for the nature of mathematics.
One of the great innovations in 20th century thought was the hypothesis that syntax governs semantics. Thus, for instance, if we crack open Foucault’s Archaeology of Knowledge and The Order of Things, we find that Foucault approaches the history of knowledge not from the standpoint of semantics and questions of whether propositions advanced by scientists at such and such a time map on to the world as it actually is, but rather he studies the syntax governing inquiry and investigation at particular points in time (what he refers to as the analysis of “statements”). What Foucault seeks to show is the manner in which this syntax or these “epistemes” produce their objects, rather than simply being simple referential or semantical statements about their objects. We encounter something similar in Kuhn’s account of “paradigms”, or in Wittgenstein’s conception of “language games”. In a Lacanian analysis a good deal of the work consists in examining the manner in which the analysand is “cuckhold” by language (Seminar 5), or how the analysand’s symptoms are organized by the play of the phoneme (which belongs to syntax). The systems theorist shows how information isn’t simply a product of things “out there”, but rather how the organization of a system itself produces information (rather than the world producing information), which again calls for analogies to syntax.
This dimension of organization presiding over how propositions are put together often becomes invisible or falls into the background, as propositions direct us to attend to the object they point to. For instance, we might get into a sterile debate as to whether a particular proposition accurately represents the world, without bracketing the world altogether, and instead looking at the horizon within which the proposition is produced, purely at the level of its rhetoric. Nonetheless, if there’s something like genuine change, this change occurs at the level of syntax or organization, not at the level of semantics.
For me the most interesting moment in Clinton’s interview comes when he draws attention to the context in which these questions are being posed to him. Although his hypothesis seems to be that there’s a conspiracy against him, the more interesting thesis is the idea that media reporting is governed by a “syntax” of how narratives or stories are put together, which filters stories in advance. To have attention drawn to this dimension of reporting on the news itself at all is a remarkable thing.
September 22, 2006
Posted by larvalsubjects under Blogroll
For a long time I’ve thought that what I truly desire is a great interlocutor or someone with whom I can really discuss things and develop ideas. I often find myself bored at parties, dinners with friends, and other sundry outings as I find “small talk” exhausting and a waste of time. My eyes glaze over with peoples’ reports of their day and what is going on in their life. Wouldn’t an engaged theoretical discussion be far more preferable and interesting? And why is it that people engage in small talk at all? It’s a bit like birds warbling on a telephone line, simply signalling that they’re there. If only I had a truly engaged interlocutor! I think to myself. I despair that the discussions I do have seem fraught with miscommunication.
However, as I look over my friendships, the discussions I gravitate towards, and some of my own theoretical presuppositions I advocate, and my own way of relating to others I engage deeply with, it appears that I desire something very different– I desire irritation! Everywhere I go I seem to look for conflict, controversy, and disagreement (perhaps making me a rather unsavory character). My sense of humor is designed to shock and cause suprise, saying what shouldn’t be said, and is riddled with irony so as to provoke. When reading the newspaper or news magazines, the first thing I do is turn to the editorials and letters to the editor. I enjoy going to far right conservative blogs as I have such difficulty fathoming this sort of reasoning. The friendships I’ve had have tended to be with people that irritate me to no end, constantly frustrating me with their claims. And my most intense romantic relationships have also tended to be the stormiest.
Theoretically, of course, it’s odd that I would look for an interlocutor that I could really work with. As a Lacanian I advocate the principle that “all communication is miscommunication.” In my analytic practice I see everyday how my interventions are taken in surprising directions by my analysands, and understood in ways I could have never anticipated. The systems theorist in me adopts the thesis that “all miscommunication is communication.” In some respects, I think the latter thesis is more interesting. If systems are dynamic, this entails that they must reproduce themselves from moment to moment by generating further system-forming events. Systems are composed of events, not objects or things. A social system must generate additional communication on the basis of every event of communication, so as to endure in time. Agreement and consensus tend to diminish further operations or the production of ongoing communicative events as there’s no necessity of continuing communications where there’s agreement, whereas conflict and difference tend to promote ongoing autopoiesis of communication. Irritation (in its system-theoretical sense) generates ongoing communication.
Thus, I find Acephalous very irritating, and for this reason I had a very fine discussion with him that was generative of concepts for me (here and here). I suspect that Acephalous and I understood little of what the other was saying, but it was productive for me as it led me to develop thoughts I would not have otherwise developed– these days I’m becoming more and more sympathetic to his position based on my aleatory materialism –and he wrote about it further. Jodi Dean irritates the hell out of me because she seldom responds to my posts on her site, which I find terrifically rude (no doubt my tone comes off as insulting as I tend to write “dissertations” like I’m lecturing or teaching), but this irritation leads me to write even more with the vain fantasy that she’ll someday respond. As such, her silence generates ongoing communicative events. My friend Melanie irritates me to no end, as she’s always challenging psychoanalysis and attacking my latest theoretical fetish, leading me to throw up my hands in exasperation and heatedly defend what I was claiming, thereby generating ongoing autopoiesis between the two of us. My friend Noah, in graduate school, was extremely condescending, mocking, and abrasive, while brilliantly astute theoretically in a way that diverged sharply from my own views, leading me to constantly spar with him and pushing my thought to develop in ways that it never would have otherwise. My dear friend Robert irritates me to no end, as he constantly misinterprets my claims and pushes them in directions I don’t like, leading me to try to demolish him theoretically, while never really wanting to so that we might continue irritating one another. Yusef drives me up the wall with his playful writing style and rhetorical excesses, and therefore drives me to become even more rationalistic despite the fact that I sympathize with many of his positions, just to spite him.
There is a standard utopian narrative about how the internet allows us to exchange ideas and develop thought together collaboratively, by increasing nodes of communication (wherever connectivity is increased among nodes or elements of a system, that system changes qualitatively). It is not untrue that the net transforms the autopoiesis of communicative systems, but it doesn’t do this in a representational way (exchanging one and the same message). Everyone knows that thought is a solitary activity, that concepts are always misunderstood when you attempt to share them, and that communication in the representational sense is impossible for all save mathematics. Rather, what the net enhances are our possibilities for being irritated, which in turn leads to further development of the structures underlying our thought. If I participate on emails lists, for instance, it is not to reach some sort of agreement, but to produce irritation within myself that will push my thought in unforseen communicative directions.
I sing a hymn to gadflies, trolls, and cranks everywhere! May they be blessed and loved for upsetting the closure of my thought process and making me so uncomfortable.
September 21, 2006
Posted by larvalsubjects under Blogroll
A tip of the hat to Mark Crosby for turning me on to Robert Rosen. He’s not another one of these new age cranks, is he? I notice the Wiki link talks about teleology, which evokes a knee-jerk reaction in me whenever I encounter it. I don’t see why we can’t banish teleological descriptions from biology, describing biological processes as essentially chemical processes. “Chemical A is released, triggering chemical B, etc.” Isn’t this essentially the way Deleuze describes the unfolding of an egg? I must be missing something. Whatever the case me be, it’s nice to know that my intuitions about category theory are shared by others. Is there anything you haven’t read Mark?
(Image shamelessly stolen from Nick’s Accursed Share. I hope he doesn’t mind! Where else was I supposed to find a picture depicting a hat? There was only one rational choice.)
September 21, 2006
Posted by larvalsubjects under Blogroll
Posted at I Cite, via Spurious, Jodi Dean Writes:
Rules for academic papers
Link: Spurious. I don’t think I can live up to these rules. Thinking about them makes me feel quite sick and inadequate. That might be the point. But it certainly doesn’t help me figure out what to say at a meeting next month. Instead, I’m more aware of my failures, my citations, my affections, my dependencies. What would it be to speak dogmatically of blogging?
The following are a set of rules for the giving of academic papers in philosophy (especially continental philosophy). The rules recall those of the Danish film movement, Dogme 95, or even Oulipo. A primary aim is to break with the veneration of master thinkers not because it isn’t worthwhile studying a philosopher in great depth and over a number of years, but that this, by itself, is not philosophy.
Although I don’t agree with all of it, this list is gorgeous. Every year me and colleagues from other departments (usually Sociology, Anthropology, Psychology, and English), put together a panel for students on some theme such as “cultural relativism”, “universalism”, “information”, “signs”, etc. The papers I’ve written for these panels have been among the most fulfilling to both write and present. Generally I organize these papers around an illustrative and amusing anecdote (such as a lengthy discussion of how I feel compelled to mow my lawn not because I believe the lawn looks better that way, but because the neighbors might get angry, and vice versa for the neighbor), and I restrict myself to developing concepts and arguments, relegating any references to other thinkers to endnotes. When I give these papers I feel a sense of liberation and freedom that I’ve never felt at an academic conference or in publication. I feel free to develop my own positions as I’m not strategizing against other academics who might potentially offer me further opportunities for jobs, presentations, and publications in the future. Moreover, since I’m writing for students that attend the college, I feel as if I’m making a genuine contribution that has the potential to be a real intervention, rather than simply speaking to the choir and padding my CV. In this context I perhaps truly have the opportunity to make the students uncomfortable or to cause them to reflect a little, so long as my presentation is amusing, clear, and well argued.
In more cynical moments, I find myself thinking that figures such as Socrates, Spinoza, Leibniz, Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, and Lacan had it right, recognizing clearly that it’s impossible to be truly free intellectually so long as one is trapped within the confines of the academy; and increasingly I come to admire and envy freethinking individuals such as PEbird or the bizarre Ralph Dumain, not because I share their positions (though I’m generally sympathetic to PEbird and am enlightened by his observations), but because they are free to pursue whatever line of thought they like without worries of whether it will be accepted by the publishing industry or conference committees. They don’t need to worry bout having the proper “code-words” so as to continue their investigations. If I had a genuinely novel idea, would I have the courage or strength to express it directly in publications? For instance, over the last few months I feel that I’ve truly begun to develop my own ontology, that carries implications for ethics, epistemology, aesthetics, and social and political thought. I’ve written about 400 pages here since May. Oh sure, it’s deeply influenced by other thinkers, but it isn’t a simply an exegesis on any of those thinkers. I have no illusions and don’t think this some grand creation, but it’s still mine and what I think about. Will I have the courage to revise what I’ve written, elaborate on it, develop it, and send it to press? Is there a place for it? Is my belief that this isn’t possible in the domain of continental philosophy my fantasy about what the Other wants or sanctions? The only freedom comparable to the sort of joy I’ve experienced in writing these essays has been on discussion lists and this blog.
Something is deeply amiss in Continental philosophy departments. We are raising generations of thinkers to be historians, writing commentaries on texts, rather than practicing philosophy by developing problems and concepts. As a result, these texts come to be treated as reality, rather than the world about us. Day in and day out I read academic blogs where various news stories and anecdotes from life are posted forthrightly as opportunities for reflection, thought, and theorization, yet when I read books and articles by these thinkers, these things are used as exemplary examples of the master’s thought, rather than occasions of an encounter demanding theorization in their own right. The observations on these blogs regarding the news of the day and anecdotes from life are often brilliant theoretically, but show no particular commitment to any particular theoretical orientation. They’re owned by the author. Yet when these same authors publish, they suddenly become disciples and this disappears. Foucault, for instance, becomes the gospel where the geneology of the social sciences are concerned, yet no one seems to notice that the genesis of the social sciences Foucault studies are geographically localized in Europe, and that (as far as I know), no one has yet to write the geneology of the DSM-IV in the United States, or the “Foucaultian” history of education, prisons, and mental institutions in the United States. I wonder if academic presses would even be interested if such projects were proposed. We end up saying to ourselves that all institutions are historical and that we must know the history of these institutions in the Foucaultian sense as the historical is also the singular, and then treat Foucault’s historical analyses as if they were general.
Despite the often facile and irrelevant nature of Anglo-American thought, I think Anglo-American thinkers essentially have things right in their focus on problems and questions rather than masters. To be sure, figures such as Quine, Wittgenstein, Davidson, Sellars, Kuhn, and Brandom are “masters” in Anglo-American philosophy (all figures dear to my heart). However, if you go to any major academic bookstore such as the Seminary Co-Op in Chicago, the difference between Anglo-American thought and Continental thought as practiced in the United States is materially palpable. If you look at the section devoted to the work of Quine, you’ll find one or two studies of his thought. If you go to the sections devoted to Foucault, Deleuze, Derrida, Heidegger, etc., you’ll find an entire shelf (and sometimes two or three) devoted to studies of their work. Continentalists write studies and are disciples, whereas Anglo-Americans reference a figure such as Quine to either reference a salient argument that is recognized as sound, to dispute a claim, or to lift a concept and develop it in another direction. When papers are written on these masters, it is seldom to explain what the master meant, but rather to either argue against a particular claim or defend that claim against someone else who has argued against it. (In this connection, I disagree with Spurious’ prohibitions against citation, feeling the issue is less one of “citing out”, but of how citation is used). It’s almost as if there’s a prohibition against doing independent work in Continental philosophy, comparable to that of saying the name of God in Judaism (perhaps this isn’t a surprise given the similarity in privileging texts).
Of course, there are those happy few who escape this rut in Continental thought and who earn the right to speak in their own name. Massumi began his work with commentaries on Deleuze and Guattari, but his most recent work is increasingly his own, heavily influenced by Deleuze and Guattari to be sure, but nonetheless under his signature. Hardt began in a similar way with his early study of Deleuze. Ed Casey has been writing phenomenological analyses of various domains of experience such as Space and Memory for years. Andrew Cutrofello’s first book, The Owl at Dawn, provocatively pitched itself as a sequel to Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit (a scandalous claim to anyone who knows their Hegel), yet has received scant attention. Butler, of course, has done highly original work, even if drawing heavily on Derrida, Foucault, and Lacan. If one is bothered by observations such as these, one could thus smugly say that this is a right that must be earned. However, isn’t the more salient question that of whether our graduate institutions, our conferences, our journals, and our presses encourage this sort of work. That is, if institutional structures are not in place to promote this sort of work, then hungry, would-be academics, in markets every bit as competitive as the NFL or Hollywood, hardly have a reason to pursue it. We need to create journals and conferences that encourage this sort of work and break ourselves of these habits, premised on the idolotry of the master. No man or woman is right all of the time, so it’s rather bizarre that a problem such as “what is difference?” or “what is the political?” or “what is being?”, should get filtered into Deleuze’s conception of difference, Ranciere’s question of the political, and Badiou’s question of the political, rather than treating these various contributions as suggestions to be disputed and advanced within a broader field of how these problems and questions have been approached.
In my more cynical moments I wonder whether all of this hiding behind the shadow of the master isn’t symptomatic of a supreme cowardice, where we’re unwilling to own our own words. It’s intriguing that questions and themes of authenticity and individuality have been so central to the Continental tradition, that they generate such wild enthusiasm among the disciples, insuring that thinkers like Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Heidegger, Sartre (though not so much these days), Deleuze, Lacan, Zizek, and now Butler (with her most recent book on Ethics) maintain a central place, whereas a discussion of such issues is almost entirely absent in the Anglo-American tradition. Could this not be symptomatic of a tremendous lack of authenticity and individuality in scholarship surrounding Continental thinkers? The nice thing about writing commentaries and articles on other thinkers– and mind you, I have a commentary on Deleuze’s transcendental empiricism forthcoming, though I’m proud that my first article was an original work –is that you’re granted plausible deniability. On the one hand, writing a commentary gives you the opportunity to make the master you’re writing about say what you would like to say without you yourself saying it. That is, I’m a nobody, nobody cares about what I have to say as I haven’t proven myself, but Heidegger and Badiou really are somebodies! If I can make them say what I would like to say, then their symbolic capital is carried over to me and I’m given the opportunity to speak something I wouldn’t otherwise be able to speak (at least, something that wouldn’t otherwise be listened to). On the other hand, if someone should disagree with me or think my claim ridiculous (and who hasn’t thought that the claims of their beloved masters aren’t ridiculous at certain dark and private moments), one can simply say “Oh, it’s Deleuze who says that, not me. It is only a text, after all.” Joe Anglo-Americanus might truly make a facile proposal when he argues that all ethics ultimately goes back to genetics (the sociobiological thesis increasingly popular among the likes of Dennett, with their explanations of religion and altruism and whatnot), but at least he accepts responsibility for his proposal and presents them as his own [stupidity]. Isn’t this practice just the Continentalist version of “just following orders”?
September 20, 2006
Posted by larvalsubjects under Blogroll
The last few days I’ve been out of commission with a rather nasty cold that has left me feeling weak and listless, so I haven’t had a great deal to say… Except that there are times when I truly despise having a body. Occasionally I wonder whether experiences such as this aren’t the real origin of mind/body dualism. Given living conditions prior to the 20th century, wouldn’t there have been a genuine desire to escape the constraints of the body, to escape sickness, hunger, the deafening clamor of the passions, and the general wretchedness of embodied existence? I confess that I would like nothing more than to be pure thought. Few things, I think, are as joyous as that moment when I solve a problem in calculus or when I suddenly see how to proceed in a geometrical theorem, or those adrenaline pulsing moments where I come across an amazing concept in a text I’m reading and am suddenly able to put a word or a developed thought to something I’ve been trying to think without having been able to say it. I suppose I’m the poster-child of Nietzsche’s ascetic priest. I’d prefer not to have a body as the body only distracts. Oh, it’s certainly true that the body affords its pleasures– the tastes of an outstanding meal, a kiss, that first sip of a great wine, making love or sleepily cuddling. Yet these joys often seem to pale in comparison to the joys of thought. Although I love to cook, eating is often a chore done to provide my body with energy. The body grows hungry and clouds thought. Fatigue sets in, demanding rest right when your thought is at its peak, tearing you away from what you were doing. Alchohol and drugs hang you over, ruining the next day. And, of course, the body is subject to sickness. Yes, I understand, I think, why these ancients might have found a distinction between body and mind attractive.
During this time, I’ve been distractedly reading Oyama’s The Ontogeny of Information: Developmental Systems and Evolution, which is a truly amazing book. Oyama is making an intervention into the so-called “nature versus nurture” debate, attempting to show how biological systems are interactive systems, such that development cannot be understood as a unilateral process where genes function as a master-code defining the final form that an organism will embody, nor such that environment determines the final outcome of form, and through which the resulting organism is a unique and unpredictable result. Of course, everyone says that it is a combination of both, the question is whether they rigorously follow this program through. Oyama’s thesis is that our tradition of thought ineluctably leads us to distinguish form and matter, treating form as a master-plan imposed on brute matter (there’s fertile ground for a critique of certain aspects of Lacanianism here). In the case of genetic theory, the form, of course, would be genes that function as the information in-forming matter over the course of its development; but the primacy of form as information– as a sort of homoculous governing development –can be located in a number of other areas of inquiry as well (for instance, we might think of the role that the concepts of code and structure often play in social and political theory).
Oyama’s thesis is that we must give an account of the ontogeny of information itself, or that we must give an account of how something can come to function as information. In this regard, there is no preformed or a priori information, but rather every system constitutes its own information. For instance, whatever is capable of functioning as a signifier must result from an ontogeny, such that we must account for the processes by which it comes to be individuated and take on the function of information. Here I think structuralism often suffers by virtue of not distinguishing system and environment, and therefore generalizing elements of structure well beyond their boundaries, applying them to individuated beings to which they don’t apply… That is, structuralism too often fails to think situated structure.
Wherever form is conceived as independent of matter, we end up in all sorts of irresolvable questions as to how matter comes to take on form, leading us to assume teleology or some sort of homoculous presiding over the imposition of form on matter (it’s not difficult to see that this is where Badiou will end up by virtue of his claim that consistent multiplicities result from an operation, i.e., the question of the operator necessarily arises). I should point out that I have no special interest in biology and the nature/nurture debate, nor am I a neo-vitalist interested in making the overly broad generalization that “all is life”. Generally I see the nature/nurture debate as a stupidity, and I see this neo-vitalism as being based on an overly broad generalization that has a correct intuition but which does injustice to other types of systems such as physical systems. What interests me in Oyama’s book isn’t what she has to teach me about biology, but rather her critique of the form/matter distinction relevant to any theory that makes use of the concept of “code” in one of its variants, her account of causality and interaction, and her account of individuation. I thus read Oyama not as a contribution to vitalistic ontologies, but rather as a contribution to the ontology of aleatory materialism.
I came across a beautiful example of this sort of ontogenesis from a cultural anthropologist who I sometimes have the privilege of teaching with. This anthropologist has led a rather interesting life, being the son of a high-ranking intelligence officer under the Nixon administration, and thus having had the opportunity to live all over the world. On the first day of class he tells a story about moving to Africa and how his mother wanted to grow green bell peppers. Now, if we adopt the geneticist thesis, we’re led to the conclusion that where bell peppers are grown has very little impact on what bell pepper seeds become. Where genes function as an architectual blueprint presiding over development, the only environmental factors that are relevant are those of water, soil conditions, and sunshine. However, these environmental conditions only determine whether or not we successfully grow bell peppers, not the form that these genes shall take. The first generation of peppers turned out precisely as one would expect– as nice, large, green bell peppers. However, my anthropologist’s family was in for a surprise with the second generation: Rather than large, green bell peppers, the family instead got very small peppers, that were shaped differently than green peppers, and which were extremely hot like serrano or jalapeno peppers.
What this example illustrates is that very different phenotypes can be produced out of one and the same genotype, such that we have to question the primacy of the code (the genotype) in determining the final phenotype. Rather, if we are to properly think the individuation of entities, we must instead think a complex interaction between the entity in question and an environment as an ongoing process, where the individuated being comes to be produced. This gives rise to all sorts of micro-level questions– What genes are adjacent to one another during the process of development? What substances reach this or that cell at this or that particular time? What actualizations does the arrival of this or that substance lead to in this or that cell? What is the effect of this actualization with regard to neighboring cells, and how does this effect the developmental trajectory? Questions of timing, relation, materiality, and so on become crucial to understanding ontogenesis, such that we can’t properly think development as the simple unfolding of a pre-determined program. Similar questions need to be raised at the level of social theory, thinking inter-relationships between social structures or codes, social networks or fields, physical environment, biology, and so on. To take things a step further, we must not conceive the environment as something that is simply there, present-at-hand, such that it is passively adapted to just as cookie dough is made to adapt to the cookie cutter (which is identical to the geneticist thesis, but simply locates form elsewhere). Rather, we must think the environement as something that comes to be constituted as information by the system in question. As Zizek puts it in the awkward language of German idealism, “…[O]ne can never reach a ‘pure context prior to a decision; every context is ‘always-already’ retroactively constituted by a decision (as with reasons to do something, which are always at least minimally retroactively posited by the act of decision they ground –only once we decide to believe do reasons to believe become convincing to us, not vice versa)” (The Ticklish Subject, 19). This is simply the thesis of operational closure, wherein a system constitutes its own environment. An ant and a snake might be in one and the same abstract space, but they have entirely different environments. Oyama expresses this point about individuation well when she remarks that,
A corrective for a person who tends to think too much in terms of potters molding clay or of computers printing out messages might be the idea of campers raising and stabilizing a tent pole by pulling in opposite directions. Stability is dynamic, clearly depends on both participants, and may be maintained to the extent that variation from one or both directions can be compensated for. Attributing the general outcome to one camper and trivial details to the other would falsify the process. I hasten to add that I don’t consider this an adequate metaphor for ontogeny, but rather an illustration of a fairly simple point about causation: that it is multiple, interdependent, and complex. Even the potter, in fact, does not command absolutely. An artisan respects the qualities and limits of the material as much as he or she does his or her own; much of artistry, in fact, lies in just this respect for, and sensitivity to, the medium and the developing form. Finally, a program, to be useful, must be responsive to its data; outcomes are jointly determined. (37)
It seems to me that this simplification of causality and metaphor of the computer program is far from being restricted to biology. We find similar patterns of thought in social and political theory– especially among structuralists in their worst moments, but also in many applications of the Oedipus in psychoanalysis, along with certain “hard” readings of the role played by the signifier in the unconscious –that lead to poorly posed problems and inaccurate accounts of individuated beings such as persons and social systems. We suffer from a fetish of the individuated entity thought abstractly as independent of its environment (thereby leading to perpetual talk of what’s “inside” and “outside”), but also from a fetish for form (such as Kant’s categorical imperative or invariant social structures or genetic codes) that fails to account for the genesis of forms themselves. As such, it becomes necessary to think the individuating as an ongoing process, where form and information are themselves constituted dynamically and in relation an environment or ontogenetic field.
In correcting this formalist view, Oyama goes on to say that,
What we are moving toward is a concept of a developmental system, not as the reading off of a preexisting code, but as a complex of interacting influences, some inside the organism’s skin, some external to it, and including its ecological niche in all its spatial and temporal aspects, many of which are typically passed on in reproduction either because they are in some way tied to the organism’s (or its conspecifics’) activities or characteristics or because they are stable features of the general environment. It is in this ontogenetic crucible that form appears and is transformed, not because it is immanent in some interactants and nourished by others, or because some interactants select from a range of forms present in others, but because any form is created by the precise activity of the system. Since even species-typical ‘programmed’ form is not one but a near-infinite series in transition throughout the life cycle, each whole and functional in its own way, to refer to the type or the typical is also to refer to this series and the constant change that generates it. (39)
What Oyama calls for is a conception of individuation as an activity of systems in tandem with an environment (such that the environment must be thought as a “part” of the system), where stability is dynamic rather than static, or an ongoing process. It seems to me that this thesis calls for a sustained critique of the form/matter distinction that underlies so much thought, and massive revisions in ontology, epistemology, ethics, aesthetics, and social and political theory. Ontologically, it becomes necessary to undermine the thesis that there is a world already there, pre-existing, with respect to which systems adopt multiple perspectives. If information itself is the result of an onto-genesis, then it follows that there is no world in-itself. It makes no sense, for instance, to speak of sound in-itself, prior to bats (or other creatures) forming sonar systems that constitute sound as information. Similarly, it becomes necessary to avoid the tendency to think in terms of reality being composed of atomistic individuals, independent of one another. The “minimal being” is not an individual, but an individual-environment relation. Finally, it becomes necessary to think being in terms of ongoing processes of individuation, rather than finished products of the individuated. In epistemology, knowledge must no longer be thought as a representation of the world, but as itself resulting from individuating processes where systems constitute their own environments. This, for instance, is the significance of Lacan’s account of fundamental fantasy, where fantasy isn’t the opposite of reality, but rather the frame through which the subject continues processes of individuation with regard to an environment. In social and political theory, it becomes important to avoid the primacy of the code, and to look for more nuanced accounts of individuation where the social is perpetually regenerating itself and where it social structures are far more open ended and subject to the aleatory. Ethics… I don’t even know where to begin.
September 15, 2006
Posted by larvalsubjects under Blogroll
For every speaking being, the cause of its desire is, in terms of structure, strictly
equivalent, so to speak, to its bending, that is,
to what I have called its division as subject. That is what
explains why the subject could believe for so long that the world knew as much
about things as he did. The world is symmetrical to the subject– the world of what I
last time called thought is the equivalent, the mirror image, of thought.
That is why there was nothing but fantasy regarding knowledge until the advent
of modern science.
~~Jacques Lacan, Seminar XX, 127
In Difference and Repetition, Deleuze, having developed his account of difference, raises the spectre of the “beautiful soul”.
…does not the philosophy of difference not risk appearing as a new version of the beautiful soul? The beautiful soul is in effect the one who sees differences everywhere and appeals to them only as respectable, reconcilable or federative differences, while history continues to be made through bloody contradictions. The beautiful soul behaves like a justice of the peace thrown on to a field of battle, one who sees in the inexpiable struggles only simple ‘differends’ or perhaps misunderstandings. (52)
As an aside, it’s worth noting just how close Deleuze here is to Badiou’s Maoistic aphorism that “when you have an idea, the one becomes two.” That is, Deleuze is not the priest of a new cosmic harmony, but a thinker of constitutive antagonism or the real, where the affirmation of difference necessarily produces exclusions and selections. Like Zizek or Badiou’s universality or truth, that generates an transversal exclusion, Deleuzian affirmation of difference necessarily contains the dimension of struggle. For Deleuze, worlds– and I must forever remember to pluralize this term henceforth –are products of differences, asymmetries, inequalities, such that they do not form a harmonious totality, but only divergent series without One (despite his occasional, unfortunate statements about the One, it must be recalled that for Deleuze the One cannot be given, and is thus analogous to the set of all sets. Indeed, like Badiou in Logiques des mondes, Deleuze will claim that the non-giveability of the whole is the condition for any appearing whatsoever, cf. Proust & Signs, pg. 129 and Cinema 1: The Movement-Image, pg. 7). For Deleuze, it is difference that produces the world, not identity. Thus,
The world can be regarded as a ‘remainder’, and the real in the world understood in terms of fractional or even incommensurable numbers. Every phenomenon refers to an inequality by which it is conditioned. Every diversity and every change refers to a difference which is its sufficient reason. Everything which happens and everything which appears is correlated with orders of differences: differences of level, temperature, pressure, tension, potential, differences of intensity. (222)
In developing the ontology of difference it is thus not enough simply to see individuals, objects, entities, beings, as products of difference, such that the individual is always an ongoing process of individuation, where the being is simultaneously produced and producing itself within a preindividual field of singularities, and in which it constantly has to negotiate its relation to an environment such that the individual cannot be thought independently of its environment or is indistinguishable from its environment (as Nick has so nicely put it). Rather, the spectre of the whole– a theological ghost, if ever one there were –must be banished as well. That is, it is not enough to banish the spectre of substance metaphysics by demonstrating the manner in which there is no self-identical substance, hypokeimenon, underlying ever shifting and changing predicates (e.g., My hair turns grey, yet I remain the same subject. Fire burns the paper, yet some substance that is neither paper nor fire remains, etc), the whole too must be banished as a theological illusion, as a fantasy of the imaginary, as an idea borne of the desire to disavow constitutive antagonism, the real, and difference. Or yet again, as Lacan would have it, the whole is an instance of the discourse of the master, where one seeks to banish or disavow the real. As Deleuze puts it in his beautiful little book, Proust & Signs,
The mistake would be to suppose that the consciousness or the discovery of unity, coming afterwards, does not change the nature of the function of this One itself. Balzac’s One or Whole is so special that it results from the parts without altering the fragmentation or disparity of those parts, and, like the dragons of Balbec or Vintueil’s phrase, is itself valid as a part alongside others, adjacent to others: unity “appears (but relating now to the whole) like any one fragment composed separately,” like a last localized brustroke, not like a general varnishing. (164-5)
This need not simply be taken as a simple observation about the art of Balzac, but as a general ontological thesis. The whole is not a whole of parts, but is a part alongside the other parts (in systems theoretical terms, a whole would just be a system that takes the parts as parts of its environment, while the parts are quite indifferent to this whole). That is, a whole is always the result of an operation, as in the case of set-theory where a set is the result of an operation that unifies its elements, such that the whole is not itself ontologically primary. And just as in the case of set-theory, where we cannot form a set of all sets by virtue of the power-set axiom that tells us that the parts of a set are always larger or in excess of the whole, similarly we cannot form a constitent totality with being. Being does not form a whole. It is precisely this that is intended by the declaration that God is dead, that the Other does not exist, that there is no metalanguage, and that there is no universe of discourse (Seminar XIV), that there is no Other of the Other.
Yet strangely, whenever one talks about systems (worlds, situations), organizations, autopoiesis, interrelations, and so on, a sort of New Age spiritualist madness returns. Here one is more than happy to dispense with the God of transcendence, surveilling the whole like an Archimedean point from which the world itself may be moved, yet God is reintroduced in the vision of a harmonious whole, where everything is “interconnected”, where one takes solace from being a part of some grand, cosmic scheme, and where the guilty ones are those who “upset the balance” (clearly it’s difficult to see how anything could upset the balance if all is a part of this cosmic, harmonious world system– If the priests and apostles of the harmonious Whole were truly consistent in their ontology, then they would find the courage to affirm that even apparent imbalances are a part of cosmic harmony and that imablance only appears to be imbalances from the standpoint of a finite subject that cannot see the whole. Indeed, this is precisely what Descartes asserts in his epistemic argument against teleological explanations in the fourth meditation). One of the most striking examples of this in popular press would be Fritjof Capra, in his Web of Life. There Capra announces that a new paradigm is emerging around sciences such as autopoietic theory, systems theory, chaos theory, and complexity theory, that leads to a profoundly different vision of the world. As Capra describes this vision,
The new paradigm may be called a holistic worldview, seeing the world as an integrated whole rather than a dissociated collection of parts. It may also be called an ecological view, if the term ‘ecological’ is used in a much broader and deeper sense than usual. Deep ecological awareness recognizes the fundamental interdependence of all phenomena and the fact that, as individuals and societies, we are all embedded in (and ultimately dependent on) the cyclical processes of nature. (6)
In describing the ethics that emerge from this new paradigm, Capra goes on to say “What is good, or healthy, is a dynamic balance; what is bad, or unhealthy, is imbalance– overemphasis on one tendency and neglect of the other” (9).
In reading passages such as these, one wonders whether Capra and those who espouse similar new age sentiments, have thought about the very theory upon which they base their conclusions. Far from leading to the conclusion of holism, autopoiesis and systems theory lead to precisely the opposite conclusion– That there is no World (with a capital), only worlds (as Badiou would have it in Logiques des mondes, or even as Nelson Goodman would have it in Ways of Worldmaking). That is, systems and autopoietic theory is a theoretical view that sees being in profoundly antagonistic terms. This conclusion follows necessarily from systems theory for two reasons: First, insofar as the first distinction of systems theory is the distinction between system and environment, it follows that there can be no global or total system (after the fashion of a Spinoza, Hegel, or Whitehead). Systems constitute themselves by distinguishing between themselves and their environment. This distinction itself “re-enters” the system, such that it is the system that produces its environment, or draws the distinction between the system and environment (viz. the distinction between system and environment is a distinction that belongs to the system itself, and not one that can be found in the environment). That is, there is no one thing “out there”, present-at-hand, that is the environment, and another thing that is a system, but rather environments are themselves products of systems. Each system produces its own environment, or observes the world according to its own distinctions. There is no “world-in-itself” or “environment-in-itself” that all systems could be taken to coverge on, but only world-making. The result of this is that there is no Whole that would define harmony or the system of all systems, nor even any World that all these systems are in or that all these systems relate to as their shared environment. Capra’s conception of the world remains representational in that it is premised on a self-identical world existing independently of systems. But if such a world there is, it is not identical but rather pure multiplicity… Or as Nietzsche would have it, it’s turtles all the way down (masks without originals).
Second, insofar as systems are governed by operational closure (i.e., systems do not relate to an environment in relations of output and input, but rather only produce more of their own elements through their own operations– thoughts produce thoughts in psychic systems, communications produce communications in social systems, economics produces economics in economic systems, cells produce cells in biological systems, and so on), there is no system of systems that could be define the operations of all other systems. While it is indeed true that systems can enter into relations of structural coupling with one another, this does not entail that structurally coupled systems form a higher harmony. If the economic system enters into a structural coupling with the legal system, the economic system still encounters events issuing from the legal system in terms of the code “profit/loss” or “payment/nonpayment”, just as the legal system still interprets events issuing from the economic system in terms of the code “legal/illegal”. Systems do not communicate with other systems. Rather, the best we get is one system using another system to produce perturbations or irritations in itself, that the system then uses to generate information according to the code of that system. Strictly speaking, information doesn’t come from the world, but is a product of the system itself. Capra assumes that we can adopt a view from nowhere that would survey relations among all systems according to the code “harmony/disharmony”, but the problem is that each system produces itself according to the constraints of its own code. The system of capital, for instance, thrives precisely on disharmony and systematically produces disharmony so as to continue its operations.
This, incidentally, is the basic premise of Lacanian analysis. If the analyst comports herself in the way she does, then this is because there is no communication between systems. The analysand is brought to that point where he encounters the non-existence of the Other, or the manner in which the distinction between system and environment (subject and Other) is seen to re-enter the system of the subject himself (traversing the fantasy), or the manner in which the subject was always already producing the Other that was previously seen as the external impediment to the satisfaction of his desire. Oedipus tears his eyes out when he discovers that it was him all along, just as Johnny Angel is filled with horror upon discovering that he was the person he was searching for on behalf of Louis Cipher in Angel Heart.
Far from producing a Unity or Whole where all parts are interconnected, we instead get a sort of mad collection of scraps, that have no underlying unity. No doubt it was this that led Deleuze to formulate his concept of Multiplicity as that which is neither One nor Many, but a series of disjunctive relations belonging to the many as such. What Deleuze sought was a form of relation that isn’t embedded in a higher unity or space, defining its features, but rather an immanent topology that defines its own metric and organization. As Deleuze puts it in the in The Logic of Sense,
…the serial form is presented in a form irreducible to previous ones, that is, as a disjunctive synthesis of heterogeneous series, since these heterogeneous series now diverge. This is also a positive and affirmative use (no longer negative and limitative) of the disjunction, since the divergent series resonate as such; it is a continuous ramification of these series, relative to the object = x which does not cease to be displaced and to traverse them. (229)
It is not difficult to relate the term “resonance” to the manner in which systems enter into structural coupling with one another without representing one another, diverging without a common world. As he goes on to put it more strikingly, later in his essay “Klossowski or Bodies-Language”,
In Kant, therefore, we see that God is revealed as the master of the disjunctive syllogism only inasmuch as the disjunction is tied to exclusions in reality which is derived from it, and thus to a negative and limitative use. Klossowski’s thesis, with the new critique of reason that it implies, takes on therefore its full significance: it is not God but rather the Antichrist who is the master of the dijunctive syllogism. This is because the Anti-God determines the passage of each thing through all of its possible predicates. God, as the Being of beings, is replaced by the Baphomet, the ‘prince of all modifications,’ and himself modification of all modifications. There is no longer any originary reality. The disjunction is always a disjunction; the ‘either-or’ is always an ‘either-or.’ Rather than signifying that a certain number of predicates are excluded from a thing in virtue of the identity of the corresponding concept, the disjunction now signifies that each thing is opened up to the infinite of predicates through which it passes, on the condition that it loses its identity as concept and as self. The disjunctive syllogism accedes to a diabolical principle and use, and simultaneously the disjunction is affirmed for itself without ceasing to be a disjunction; divergence or difference becomes objects of pure affirmation, and ‘either-or’ becomes the power of affirmation, outside the conceptual conditions of the identity of a God, a world, or a self. (296)
In his discussion of Kant, Deleuze is here referring to The Critique of Pure Reason, Pt. II, Div. II, Bk. II, Ch. III, entitled “The Transcendental Ideal”, where God is thought as that being that selects among the totality of possible predicates pertaining to things, selecting those predicates that can be thought together without contradiction (Kant claims that God is not knowable, but is thinkable; indeed, according to Kant, God is a necessary regulative Ideal for the production of knowledge). As is my less than elegant custom of writing, I’ll quote at length:
Every concept, in regard to what is not contained in it, is the indeterminate, and stands under the principle of determinability: that of every two contradictorily opposed predicates [think of Aristotle's square of opposition] only one can apply to it, which rests on the principle of contradiction and hence is a merely logical principle, which abstracts from every content of cognition, and has in view nothing but the logical form of cognition.
Every thing, however, as to its possibility, further stands under the principle of thoroughgoing determination; according to which, among all possible predicates of things, insofar as they are compared with their opposites, one must apply to it. This does not rest merely on the principle of contradiction, for besides considering every thing in relation to two contradictorily conflicting predicates, it considers every thing further in relation to the whole of possibility, as the sum total of all predicates of things in general; and by presupposing that as a condition a priori, it represents every thing as deriving its own possibility from the share it has in that whole of possibility. The principle of thoroughgoing determination thus deals with the content and not merely the logical form. It is the principle of the synthesis of all predicates which are to make up the complete concept of a thing, and not merely of the analytical representation, through one of two opposed predicates; and it contains a transcendental presupposition, namely that of the material of all possibility, which is suppossed to contain a prior the data for the particular possibility of every thing. (A571/B579-A573/B601)
[Incidentally, Nick, this is your response to Benjamin regarding how Deleuze is critiquing possibility]. For Kant, conceiving any individual thing requires the assumption of the sum total of possibilities as a consistent system without contradiction, like Leibniz’ best of all possible worlds that excludes all other worlds. In practicing science, claims Kant, we must employ the regulative Idea of the world as a totality that contains no contradictions, so that we’re perpetually striving to see how all of the parts fit together in a unified whole. While we do not know this world (the position of dogmatism), we must nonetheless think this world so as to intregrate our findings in a system. Here we might think the difference between an encyclopedia, which doesn’t search for the underlying unity of its elements, and a scientific treatise that does look for the unity of its elements. The transcendental condition for the latter is the Idea of a world where all the parts fit together like a jigsaw puzzle. It is this that Deleuze has in mind by his thesis of “God as a master of disjunctive syllogism”. A disjunctive syllogism has the form “P or Q”, “not P”, therefore “Q”, yet applied to the totality of the universe. The idea is that God selects among those elements that do not contradict one another, excluding the others. Kant, of course, claims that this is a regulative ideal, not a truth that can be known, but rather a premise of any scientific practice (I must have the Idea, in the Kantian sense, that the world forms a consistent totality to study any particular thing in the world; or in Husserl-speak, the world is the horizon of all phenomenal appearances). No doubt this is also what Badiou has in mind as the object of his criticism when he argues that ontology has been subordinated to logic (the law of non-contradiction), and when he gets excited about topos theory, that allows us to think logics of worlds (thereby not submitting all worlds to Logic, but immanently conceiving worlds according to their own immanent systematicity), rather than the Logic of the world. Kant’s world is sym-bolic in that it ties together or relates all elements in a total system, subordinated to the law of non-contradiction.
By contrast, the world of Deleuze, Badiou, and systems theory is dia-bolic in that it is disjunctive or heterogeneous, marked by divergent series that do not converge on one and the same object. Indeed, when Deleuze evokes the “object = x”, we should understand this to mean that the object as an “in-itself” has disappeared altogether, or that there is no longer an independent “environment” within which all systems converge on one and the same thing, such that adding all these “perspectives” together would give us the object itself. It is for this reason that Badiou asserts that mathematics is ontology or the discourse of being (not that being is mathematics), insofar as mathematics is the only discourse that can speak of multiplicity as such, without treating being in terms of a set of system-environment distinctions.
Habermasians often contend that Luhmann is conservative because he asserts that social systems are composed only of communications and that human beings belong to the environment of social systems (i.e., they are outside of social systems). It’s notable that this is a thesis shared by theorists as diverse as Levi-Strauss, Saussure, Foucault, Althusser, etc., though never there formulated in precisely these terms. For Luhmann, communications systems produce communications, not human beings. Moreover, if social systems are operationally closed, then it also follows that human beings cannot steer or control communication systems. If persons are included in the social system (as distinguished from biological individuals and psychic systems), then they are included as communications (for instance, as a person I am a professor, American, male, etc. that is I fall into various communicative categories. Or as Lacan would put it, the signifier represents the subject for another signifier. Lacanian theory could here be thought as thinking the knot produced through the structural coupling of three distinct systems: the social system, the psychic system, and the biological system. At most psychic-systems can perturb or irritate these systems, bringing the social system to process these irritations in terms of its own distinctions, like the economic system using the perturbation of a legal system according to the code “profit/loss”, rather than “legal/illegal”. Just as I cannot buy something with the law, but must have money (thereby participating in the economic system), individual persons cannot steer or control the communications systems. It is here, I think, that the political question emerges. We cannot rely on a harmonious totality as modernity is characterized by functional differentiation, where all we have are disjunctive series of heterogeneous systems all subject to operational closure or governance by their own codes (hence Zizek’s assertion that the relation between the economic and the political can only be thought as a parallax, not as one controlling the other). But if this is the case, how is it possible to make an intervention in the divergent systems that all constitute different worlds? Where there is no longer a world to speak of but only fragments, what is the difference that might make a difference? While it might very well be reassuring to think of the “world” as a harmonious totality, such a position is ontologically unsound and leads us to pose the wrong sorts of questions and problems… And as Deleuze points out, we always get the solutions we deserve based on the questions we ask and the problems we pose.
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