May 2009


For the last few days I’ve been a bit remiss in responding to comments and email due to being swamped with other things. I apologize for this. Today, in response to my post on Orientalism, Jerry the Anthropologist writes:

Allow me to wonder how this post might look to someone reading it at Universitas Kebangsaan Malayu or at Gadjah Mada or at San Carlos. Its not that I don’t appreciate (or that they might not appreciate) the elegance of the argument.

Put another way, somewhat over 50 years ago, after having examined somewhat over 300 definitions of culture, A. L. Kroeber and Clyde Kluckhohn wondered whether its not so important what culture is as what culture does.

Hopefully my friend Jerry will say a bit more about his distinction between “culture being” and “culture doing”. For my own part, I have become suspicious of concepts like “society”, “culture”, “economy”, “language”, etc., because I think all too often these concepts tend to hypostatize phenomena that are really complex networks of interactions. South Park recently had an uncharacteristically good episode on precisely this issue with respect to the economy that is well worth watching. We treat the economy as if it itself were doing something, as if it were an entity– the episode is all about how we have “angered” the economy and must repent –when, in fact, the economy is us. The thesis of this post is that we tend to hypostatize things like “culture” and “society”, turning them into entities when, in fact, they’re processes. In developing this line of thought, I am not denying phenomena like orientalism, but raising ontological questions about the conditions under which it is possible.

This, I think, is part of the importance of the concept of “assemblage” or “network”, as opposed to that of “system” or “structure”. By system or structure I understand a form of organization where the elements are inseparable from one another such that their being is purely a function of their relations within that organization. For example, in structural linguistics the phoneme p is nothing apart its differential relation to the phoneme b. Indeed, according to this account we already speak poorly by referring to “b” and “p” as phonemes as there is only b-p or the differential relation defining the two terms. This sort of concept then gets applied to social phenomena as well, such that no element in the social exists apart from the other elements, or rather, all of the elements are what they are by virtue of belonging to the organization. From a system theoretical perspective, the analogy is generally to biology where all the elements are understood to have a functional role and set of interdependencies within the social system. From the structural perspective the analogy is to structural linguistics where the elements are inseparable and only take on identity differentially.

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DSC00265This last week I have been compiling all the notes and short pieces I’ve written for my next book which, much to my surprise, comes to about 800 hundred single spaced word pages, all written since January. I’m not sure how I’ll ever organize it all but hopefully, as I read over it, a general thematic will come into view. Right now I’m about halfway through Badiou’s Logics of Worlds. I have to say, I’m finding the second volume of Being and Event far more opaque than I found the first volume. Despite being very impressed with his revised theory of the subject in the first chapter of the book, I have very mixed feelings about the chapter on the Transcendental and Objects. As always, there is much here to provoke thought and generate new ideas, but my major problem with his discussion of objects is that it still seems too wedded– to my thinking –to cognition. Yes, yes, I know Badiou declares that the transcendental he’s developing is in no way attached to a transcendental subject and that he is attempting to think an objectless subject. The problem, however, arises in relation to his use of mathematics. Throughout his discussions he is constantly making reference to issues of how to identify, evaluate, and measure objects. In other words, his account of objects and worlds strikes me as unfolding in the register of the epistemological rather than the ontological, and, as such, seems inexorably wedded to the subject (in a Kantian or Phenomenological sense, not Badiou’s special sense). Perhaps this should come as no surprise given that Badiou continues the Parmenidean protocol of defending the identity of being and thought.

On a more positive note, I’ve been reading James Williams’ Gilles Deleuze’s Logic of Sense: A Critical Introduction and Guide and have been enjoying it immensely. For me the Logic of Sense is among Deleuze’s strangest books. On the one hand, it stylistically has a tremendous clarity that is absent in much of Deleuze’s other writing. On the other hand, despite this clarity of style I find the book deeply enigmatic and opaque. What is it, exactly, Deleuze is trying to develop? What problems is he responding to? What is his major claim? All of this remains largely unarticulated in the work. Williams book goes a long way towards responding to these issues and develops a highly interesting account of both Deleuze’s theory of the event (and its relation to matters of fact) and a Deleuzian ethics. Hopefully I’ll get the opportunity to write a bit more on the major lines of his development once I finally complete the book.

At any rate, below is one of my favorite Summer pasta recipes. If I have chosen to call this pasta the “Subject of Truth” pasta, this is in honor of Badiou. For readers who are not familiar with Badiou’s conception of truth, truth, for him, is not a representation or adequation between proposition and object, but is a practice in relation to an event that evades all the categorizations of the semiotic web or web of belief characterizing a particular situation. For Badiou there are four types of truths or truth procedures: the amorous, the political, the artistic, and the scientific. These are the four domains where events or shattering encounters take place. Thus, for example, Galileo’s declaration that nature is mathematical is a sort of event and subsequent scientific practice involving the mathematization of nature would be the “truth procedure”. Those engaged in this project to this day are what Badiou refers to as “subjects”. If I refer to this pasta as a “Subject of Truth Pasta” then this is because it makes you want to keep eating even after you’ve eaten far too much.

Subject of Truth Summer Seafood Linguini in Herb and Wine Sauce

Ingredients

1/2 pound linguini
1/2 pound large sea scallops (quarter into smaller pieces)
1/2 pound peeled shrimp
Salt and Freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, plus some more for drizzling
3 tablespoons of butter, divided
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 large shallot, finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
4 sprigs fresh thyme, leaves removed and chopped
4 sprigs fresh oregano, leaves removed and chopped
1 cup dry white wine
1 can (6.5 ounces) of chopped clams with juice
25 leaves of fresh basil, shredded or torn
1/2 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
1 lemon, zested and juiced

Place a large pot of water over high heat and bring to a boil for the pasta. Once at a boil add some salt and cook pasta to package directions. Hold off on starting the scallops until you drop your pasta. Drizzle a large skillet with olive oil and heat. Add garlic, shallots, crushed red pepper flakes, thyme, oregano, a little salt and pepper. Reduce heat a little and saute garlic and shallots 1 to 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Add wine to the pan and free up any pan drippings. Reduce wine 1 minute, then add clams and juice. Continue to cook for about 1 minute. Add the basil, parsley, lemon zest and juice and the remaining 1 tablespoon of butter, stir the mixture until it has melted. Season scallops lightly with salt and pepper. Add the scallops and shrimp, lightly poaching (about 4 or five minutes). Add the cooked linguini and cook for about 30 seconds, just to combine and let the pasta soak up the sauce. Serve with Transcendental Garlic Bread and Evental Salad

Transcendental Garlic Bread

Combine a couple tablespoons of butter with a dash of dried oregano, some Hungarian paprika, and a bit of garlic powder to taste. Mix thoroughly. Slice crusty French bread so that individual pieces are still attached at the bottom. Butter each individual piece. Wrap in tin foil and heat until warm in oven at 300.

Evental Salad

Fresh garden greens such as arugula or baby romaine
Some sliced red onion
Sliced tomato
Sliced cucumber
Crumbled blue cheese
Balsamic vinegar dressing

Laughing_buddha_statue_Buddha_gift_mRecently some charges of Orientalism have been floating about the blogosphere with regard to a particular thinker. I don’t care to get into the nuts and bolts of this discussion, but I do think it might be of value to raise some issues about some of the sociological, anthropological, and linguistic assumptions that might underlie this sort of charge. As the Wikipedia article on Orientalism succinctly puts it, “Orientalism implies essentializing and prejudiced outsider interpretations of Eastern cultures and peoples.” In response to this short definition, we might ask “what are the conditions for the possibility of Orientalism?” On the one hand, we are told that Orientalism is an essentializing interpretation of Eastern cultures and peoples; while, on the other hand, we are told that this interpretation is an outsider interpretation.

picture_kafka_drawingBeginning with the second criteria or feature characterizing the “phenomenology” of Orientalism, I think we should ask “who is the outsider?” When it is claimed that someone or some mode of discourse is an “outsider” mode of discourse we are implicitly claiming that an inside exists. Put otherwise, what we are suggesting is that cultural identities, cultural “types”, cultures themselves, exist. But is this a warranted assumption? Are we not every bit as much strangers or outsiders within our own culture as we are with respect to other cultures? Do we not wonder how to be Americans, English, Egyptian, Chinese, etc? Or put otherwise, in Lacanian terms, do we not find ourselves perpetually fraught with the hysteric’s question of what we are for the Other? Quoting Zizek quoting Hegel, the mysteries of the Egyptians were mysteries for the Egyptians. The mistake of the sort of culturalism presupposed by the charge of Orientalism is that it implicitly advocates a sort of immediate and non-mediated relationship to cultural identity such that insiders and outsiders actually exist. But if the aphorism that the big Other does not exist means anything, it is that there is no internally consistent and totalized set of signs and signifiers capable of defining a cultural identity and fixing one’s identity as a member of a group. Our encounter with our own cultural system is every bit as fraught and mysterious as our relation to the so-called “other”.

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As is so often the case during breaks, my brain has all but fallen out of my ear and I’ve been in a bit of a dark malaise. I’ve spent the last week reading Badiou’s Logics of Worlds, Neal Stephenson’s Quicksilver (I’m about halfway through at the part where Half-Cocked Jack and Eliza meet Leibniz), sleeping in, eating, and doing a whole lot of nothing. I really have to get myself in action this week and start getting things done.

DSC01129Malaise aside, I have been getting some nice gardening done. The other day I turned over all the soil so roots could grow better, and, in my ongoing battle with wabbits, I put in a ring of marigolds about the perimeter to drive them away. So far this strategy seems to be working as I haven’t seen any hanging out in my backyard since.DSC01130 In addition to keeping the wabbits out, I think they look terrific as well.

DSC01131My tomatoes are beginning to come in which is very exciting. In addition to that my four cucumber plants are beginning to flower like crazy, so there’s a good chance I’ll be inundated with cukes. The situation is much the same with my pepper plants. I planted about seven different varieties of peppers, using both seeds and pre-grown plants.

Much to my surprise between seventeen and twenty plants popped out of the ground, so with any luck I’ll be crushed under the weight of habaneros, jalapenos, poblanos, serranos, a couple varieties of bells, cherry peppers and who knows what else. Who knew that you could just put plants in the ground and they’d start producing stuff?DSC01132 If you look carefully– I know the pictures are fuzzy –you can see a couple of tomatoes on one of my plants.

DSC01133I even have a nice harvest of lettuce and herbs that are just about ready, and my very first pepper (a cherry pepper) has appeared (visible at the very bottom of the page)! I have no idea what non-pickled cherry peppers might taste like, but I’m keen to find out.DSC01134

Perhaps I should give up this philosophy and theory stuff altogether and just open a vegetable stand along the side of the road somewhere. After all, being the great fan I am of Epicurus and Lucretius it seems like a good idea to follow their advice of tending to ones garden. Of course, that’ll never happen.

If I find the time and motivation this week I’d like to write a post on the role that the concept of chaos plays in the history of philosophy and contemporary thought and another post on Badiou’s Logics of Worlds. Whether we are speaking of the creation myth in the Bible, the myth of the Demiurge in Plato’s Timaeus, or chaos in Deleuze, Badiou, and any number of phenomenologists, there seems to be a marked tendency of thought to conceive the materiality of matter as a sort of pure chaotic flux without any internal structuring– or as Graham has put it “formatting” –principle within it. Following an Aristotlean protocol– though a protocol already present in the thought of Plato and perhaps even Parmenides –it seems as if matter is ineluctably conceived only in its negative, as the absence of form. This generates the entire problem or question of how form is generated or how matter comes to be “form-atted”. And, of course, because matter has already been conceived as formlessness, as the un-form-atted, as that which is without in-form-ation, the principle of form must come from elsewhere or outside of matter.

Just as we have the Little Dipper and the Big Dipper in the domain of stellar phenomena, where the question of in-form-ation emerges, we inevitably get either the Big Demiurge or the Little Demiurge as the principle or source of form. In other words, this model of matter or the materiality of matter comes to require reference to a transcendence to account for the genesis of form. In the case of the Big Demiurge, this would, of course, be the theological conception of God imposing order on the pure chaotic materiality of being. In the case of the Little Demiurge, this source of in-form-ation would be a subject of some sort, whether of the Kantian variety, the Husserlian variety, the Sartrean variety or some other sort. Matter itself is treated as being without its own structuring principle or as being without its own ordering principle. As Gilbert Simondon observed, this way of thinking most likely arises as a consequence of technocratic thought where humans impose form on a matter that is thought or conceived of as a passive recipient of structuration.

However, it is not difficult to discern this move as already necessitated by the Parmenidean declaration. Here the whole problem emerges in relation to Parmenides’ declaration that being is and non-being is not. Now, if being is and non-being is not, we very quickly run into the problem of difference. For if to differ is to be what something is not, then it follows that differences are not for as we know being is. Yet if differences are not, then it follows as a consequence that entities are not, for to be an entity is to differ.

Perhaps it would be no exaggeration to say that an entire destiny of Western thought already lies within Parmenides’ fateful decision. Here the issue would lie not with the declaration that being is, but rather with the identification of difference with negativity. For in identifying difference with negativity, Parmenides insures that the principle by which being is form-atted requires an exteriority, another agency, another principle through which difference is introduced. We thereby get the interminable story of the Big and Little Demiurge imposing form on the world. However, in identifying difference with the power of negativity, has not Parminedes fallen into what Roy Bhaskar calls the “Epistemic Fallacy” or the conflation of the epistemic and the ontological? Between difference as it functions in representation, recognition, or the cognitive activity of identification and difference as it is ontologically, there is a massive chasm. I say “This is a cherry pepper”, thereby identifying the pepper and distinguishing it from other types of peppers and plants. But it would be a mistake to suggest that the pepper itself, in being a cherry pepper, proceeds by way of negation in establishing or acting its being. The differences that compose the ongoing adventure of the pepper are absolutely positive, affirmative, and without any sort of negation. What is required in overcoming the Parmenidean consequence is a purely positive conception of difference that is not based on negation or negativity.

I find it interesting how substantially my diet changes once the weather gets hot here in Texas. Suddenly I find myself craving light fare that is also very spicy. At any rate, here’s a typical Summer dish. If you’re really nice I might even share my spicy salmon dish in the future.

Jerk shrimp and chicken on skewers. Use Walkerswood wet rub if you can find it. I can’t recommend this stuff highly enough, though don’t use too much as it can seriously hurt you! It’s not a bad idea to make a sour cream, mayo, lemon, horseraddish dip to cool it off. I love hot but this is dangerous stuff. Don’t marinate for more than an hour!

Mango Salsa. This has become a staple of my summer diet over the last few years and is an excellent substitute for salad. I make it with a diced mango, a small diced red onion, half a diced large cucumber, a minced jalapeno, a quarter cup of cilantro, and a lime squeezed over top of it. Season it with salt and pepper to taste. This is good with just about anything, but I often serve it with spicy seafood dishes and chicken.

Caribbean bread. This stuff is ridiculously good and I like the whole concept of grilling bread.

Refried black beans on the side.

Having now read about the first one hundred pages of Badiou’s Logics of Worlds, I confess that I’ve been pleasantly surprised. In the past I’ve remarked that I didn’t find Badiou’s theory of the event, truth-procedures, and subjects very interesting. The reason for this was that Badiou seems to entirely detach the subject and truth-procedures from the world in such a way that reigning circumstances don’t matter. In other words, Badiou’s subject sometimes looked to me like an account of the proverbial Japanese soldier on a Pacific island that refuses to acknowledge the end of the war, i.e., an attempt to maintain militant political fidelity at all costs, even when it becomes counter-productive. I was wrong.

When I first picked up the second volume of Being and Event I thought about skipping the first book and proceeding directly to his discussion of appearing, being-there, and the transcendental. That would have been a mistake. Badiou has significantly complicated his theory of the subject, developing a new category that he calls “the body”. In addition to subjects that maintain fidelity to the event we now have two additional figures of the subject: the reactive subject and the obscure subject. Badiou’s description of the obscure subject– a subject that completely tries to deny the even in the name of some “full body” of truth that has existed for all time and can never change –is absolutely inspired. Badiou writes:

Things stand different for the obscure subject. That is because it is the present which is directly its unconscious, its lethal disturbance, while it de-articulates in appearing the formal data of fidelity. The monstrous full Body to which it gives fictional shape is the atemporal filling of the abolished present. Thus, what bears this body is directly linked to the past, even if the becoming of the obscure subject also crushes this past in the name of the sacrifice of the present: veterans of lost wars, failed artists, intellectuals perverted by bitterness, dried-up matrons, illiterate muscle-bound youths, shopkeepers ruined by Capital, desperate unemployed workers, rancid couples, bachelor informants, academicians envious of the success of poets, atrabilious professors, xenophobes of all stripes, Mafiosi greedy for decorations, vicious priests and cuckolded husbands. To this hodgepodge of ordinary existence the obscure subject offers the chance of a new destiny, under the incomprehensible but salvific sign of an absolute body, whose only demand is that one serves it by nurturing everywhere and at all times the hatred of every living thought, every transparent language and every uncertain becoming. (61)

That’s a passage for the ages. I can’t say that I’ve ever encountered such figures of subjectivity. Nope, not ever once.

blackshaw-rabbit-2001My rabbit is back. This rabbit is the strangest, most tame, rabbit I’ve ever encountered. When I go outside cheesy music from Dances With Wolves begins to play and the rabbit and I intensely regard one another. She refuses to move even when I’m three feet away from her, impetuously chewing her grass with a sense of indifference. Perhaps I’m undergoing some strange Deleuzian “becoming-rabbit”. That doesn’t sound very interesting though. Why does my totem animal have to have cute little ears and a fluffy white tail? I’m like Tyler Durden discovering that my totem is a penguin.

Things aren’t all bad, however. The rabbit– I’ll call her “Two-Socks” in keeping with the Dances With Wolves motif –is a revolutionary rabbit… A real Badiouian subject of truth. Yesterday she dug a little burrow in the middle of my back yard, tearing up all sorts of grass. I would have no truck with this and threw down some blood meal to drive her away. What do I find today? Well there she was, digging yet another burrow. This is clear, irrefutable evidence that she is a subject of truth maintaining fidelity to an event, reinterpreting all the elements of the situation in terms of her truth. My hypothesis is that she is contesting bourgeois capitalist power structures and the hegemony of lawns over vegetable gardens. I suspect that she’s a familiar sent by my wicked friend Melanie to torment me in my hollow middle class existence. Or maybe she just got knocked up and finds the tall grass of my unkept lawn to be a nice place to lay the results of her rutting.

Now that I’ve finally completed all my grading, I can relax and enjoy my Summer:

Publication Projects

Write my second book, Being and Difference: An Essay in Object-Oriented Ontology, which develops a number of the claims I’ve been developing here under the title of “Onticology”.

Complete my contribution for The Speculative Turn anthology on the Ontic Principle.

Chase down the contributors to The Speculative Turn, edit their work, and get’er done.

Write an article for the Deleuze and Ethics anthology coming out with Edinburgh University Press on Deleuze’s ethics of the event, showing how this account of the ethical provides a strong alternative to deontological and utilitarian ethical theories, based on problems rather than generalized rules. Unfortunately James Williams has taken some of the wind out of my sails on this with his extremely interesting and generally excellent study of Deleuze’s Logic of Sense.

Write the author’s response to the reviews of my book.

Write a review of Hoy’s book on temporality.

Reading

Learn Category Theory through Lawvere and Schanuel’s excellent and highly accessible Conceptual Mathematics.

Read Badiou’s Logics of Worlds and find something in it to complain about.

Give Graham’s Guerilla Metaphysics the second close reading it deserves.

Finish reading the Brassier books I’ve started.

Finally get around to reading Iain Hamilton Grant’s book on Schelling.

Teaching

Teach two sections of Intro to Philosophy. I am seriously praying this doesn’t happen.

What’s on your plate this Summer?

For those who are interested, Badiou’s Logics of Worlds is now available.

In a generous response to my post “Realism Through the Eyes of Anti-Realism“, Lee Braver writes:

Your discussion of translation is very intriguing and, when applied to mind-world interactions, it does sound a death knell for passive correspondence. This seems to be a version of Kant’s position–our mind’s activity (A5) in organizing experience rules out capturing (R2) the way the world is independently of our experience of it (R1). Then the question becomes, what sense can we attribute to the existence of this independent world (R1) if it remains forever closed off to us. Even the bits and pieces are heavily constructed and interpreted. I take your response to be something like, the existence and nature of an object consists in its interactions with other entities, something like some of Nietzsche’s musings on WTP, and this includes the mind, so that what an entity coughs up in our interactions with it is part of its very nature. Is that right? Of course, if an entity is the totality of its interactions (a la Leibniz), then it isn’t truly independent of us, since interactions with our minds make up 1 of its essential properties. Also, how do we differentiate between accurate/true/illuminating bits and pieces and false/misleading ones? Why go to all the trouble of setting up experiments if my mundane interactions with a thing are just as valid and real? But maybe I haven’t got your idea at all. BTW, Joseph Rouse is also really good on the construction of artificial environments in science.

This is an important and deeply challenging question that I am still working through myself. A couple of points are worth noting here. As I have articulated it, Latour’s Principle states that there is not transportation without translation. This is to say, there is never a transport of a difference from one entity to another entity where the target entity functions merely as a vehicle for the difference from the source entity. The first point to note with the Anti-Realist project would thus be that Anti-Realist positions consistently violate this principle. Here we get a curious inverted mirror between Anti-Realism and Realism. Where Braver rightfully criticizes a certain variant of realist positions for treating the mind as a passive locus (R5) that merely reflects the world as it is (what I would call “naive realism”), Anti-Realism falls into a similar positing of passivity, but with respect to the object. For the Naive Realist the relationship between world and mind, object and subject, is uni-directional and uni-lateral, such that the object does all the “work” and the mind merely receives and registers the object. Similarly, for the Anti-Realist, the relation between mind and world, subject and object, is uni-directional and uni-lateral, such that the object, now, is a passive vehicle of the mind’s synthetic activity, contributing nothing of its own beyond the manner in which it “affects” the mind providing it with matter for intuition.

In other words, for Anti-Realism the mind is not “translated” by the object and for Naive Realism the object is not “translated” by the mind. In both cases, these claims are based on certain assumptions about the nature of identity. In the case of Naive Realism, identity is placed “in” the object (R3), such that the object is exactly what it is and knowledge consists in discovering or reflecting this identity. Knowledge cannot change this identity in any way as to do so would be to distort the nature of the object. Identity-in-the-object is thus a sort of inert and unchanging identity. We are supposed to get to the object as it is beyond any of its shifting changes. We find a similar thesis with respect to identity asserted by the Anti-Realist position. Where it is the object that remains the same in the case of the Naive Realist position, it is the mind that remains the same in the Anti-Realist position. The mind does not become something other in its encounter with the object, but the object does become something other in its encounter with the mind.

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