Fantasy


A central aim of Bhaskar’s A Realist Theory of Science is to diagnose what he refers to as the “epistemic fallacy”. In a nutshell, the epistemic fallacy consists in the thesis, often implicit, that ontological questions can be reduced to epistemological questions. The idea here is that ontology can be entirely resolved or evaporated into an inquiry into our access to beings, such that there are no independent questions of ontology. As an example of such a maneuver, take Humean empiricism. As good Humean empiricists, we “bracket” all questions of the world independent of our mind and simply attend to our atomistic impressions (what we would today call “sensations”), and how the mind links or associates these punctiform impression in the course of its experience to generate lawlike statements about cause and effect relations.

Note the nature of Hume’s gesture: Here we restrict ourselves entirely to our atomistic sensations and what can be derived from our sensations. Questions about whether or not our sensations are produced by entities independent of our mind are entirely abandoned as “dogmatic” because we do not have access to the entities that might cause or produce these sensations, but only the sensations themselves. Consequently, the order of knowledge must be restricted to what is given in sensation. Hume’s epistemology is thus based on a thesis about immanence or immediacy. Insofar as our minds possess and immediate relation to our sensations, we are epistemically warranted in appealing to sensations as grounds for our claims to knowledge. We are not however, warranted in appealing to objects, powers, selves, or causes because we do not have sensations of these things. Consequently, all of these ontological claims must be reformulated in epistemological terms premised on our access to being. If we wish to talk of objects, then we must show how the mind “builds up” objects out of atomistic impressions and associations. If we wish to speak of powers, then we must show how the mind builds up powers out of atomistic impressions and associations. If we wish to speak of causality we must show how the mind builds up an idea of cause and effect relations through impressions and associations. If we wish to speak of selves and other minds we have to show how mind builds up our sense of self and other minds out of impressions and cause and effect associations.

At the level of the form of the argument, not the content, nearly every philosophical orientation since the 18th century has made the Humean move. While the content of these positions differ, the form of the argument remains roughly the same. That is, we perpetually see a strategy of attempting to dissolve ontological questions through epistemological questions. This move always proceeds in two steps: First, one aspect of our experience is claimed to be immanent or immediate. Second, the furniture of our ontology is then dissolved through an analysis of those entities with reference to this plane of immanence or immediacy. The immediate can be impressions as in the case of Hume, the transcendental structure of mind as in the case of Kant, the intentions of pure consciousness as in the case of Husserl, or language as in the case of late Wittgenstein or the thought of Derrida. Other examples could be evoked. In each case, the gesture consists in showing how the being of beings can be thoroughly accounted for in terms of our access through this immanence or immediacy. The point is that we no longer treat the entities in our ontology as existing independently of this field of immanence or immediacy, but now see them as products of these modes of access. Whether the world is really like this independent of our chosen regime of construction is a question that is abandoned as dogmatic.

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David1-744682.gifPaul Ennis has a terrific post up on his experience reading psychoanalytic thought, the dis-ease it generates in him, and how he encounters something similar when reading the speculative realists:

Reading psychoanalysis generates a sense of uneasiness in me. To borrow Zizek’s voice for a moment ‘I mean it quite literally’. When I’m sitting there reading about gaps and Others and Fathers I feel anxious. What is Metaphysics style anxiety.

There seems to be a direct psychological impulse behind what speculative realism wants to do. If my more informed readers will allow me to make a crude analysis: speculative realism wants to ‘allow’ the real in. It wants to collapse some symbolic order that we are not supposed to collapse.

Read the rest of the post here. Paul hits on something fascinating with his observation about collapsing something in the symbolic order that is not supposed to be collapsed. In the subsequent discussion in the comments revolving around the “heimlich” or “being-at-home”, I think the point of the unheimlich is somewhat missed in the discussions that somehow it is constitutively impossible for us to not be at home.

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In response to my post “Deleuze and Guattari avec Lacan“, Reid asks “What is the Borromean Clinic?” I confess that I am working through this myself, so I do not have a completely adequate answer. In many respects, this is the most and dense and difficult period of Lacan’s teaching, but it is also a period where he completely exceeds what he had developed in prior years, developing both an entirely new diagnostic system and new possibilities for the end of analysis.

In his Borromean period, Lacan shifts to a topology of the subject based on the borromean knot:

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The first thing to notice with this curious knot is that no two of the rings are directly tied together as in the case of a Hopf chain:

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Consequently, in the borromean knot, if any one of the rings are severed the other two rings fall away as well. In short, the consistence of the borromean knot arises only from the knotting of the three and the manner in which the strings pass over and under one another in the proper way. Lacan equated each of the three rings with one of his three orders– the real, the symbolic, and the imaginary (RSI) –corresponding to the order of ex-sistence (the real) or that which exists outside the symbolic, the order of the hole or lack introduced into being (the symbolic), and the order of consistency (the imaginary). However, it will be noted that each of the rings overlaps with the others forming points of intersection with the other rings like a Venn diagram:

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Consequently, we can think the different orders together getting various combinations between the elements. Thus, for example, there can be a hole in the real, just as there is an ex-sistence in the symbolic (the letter as opposed to the signifier). Likewise, there can be a consistence in the symbolic (meaning), just as there can be a hole in the imaginary. And so on. As I said, I am still working through this myself, so I have not yet worked out the implications of all this.

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This is the most hilarious thing I’ve heard in some time (click on the pic for full effect). Wish I’d been there.

Saturday May 26th the VNN Vanguard Nazi/KKK group attempted to host a hate rally to try to take advantage of the brutal murder of a white couple for media and recruitment purposes.

Unfortunately for them the 100th ARA (Anti Racist Action) clown block came and handed them their asses by making them appear like the asses they were.

Alex Linder the founder of VNN and the lead organizer of the rally kicked off events by rushing the clowns in a fit of rage, and was promptly arrested by 4 Knoxville police officers who dropped him to the ground when he resisted and dragged him off past the red shiny shoes of the clowns.

“White Power!” the Nazi’s shouted, “White Flour?” the clowns yelled back running in circles throwing flour in the air and raising separate letters which spelt “White Flour”.

“White Power!” the Nazi’s angrily shouted once more, “White flowers?” the clowns cheers and threw white flowers in the air and danced about merrily.

Read the rest of the story here.

In Seminar 23, Sinthome, Lacan remarks that the equivoke and homonym are the central tools of the analyst. In short, the analyst is the person who routinely practices what is commonly referred to as the lowest form of humor. The idea is to break up the illusory unity of the analysand’s speech (what Bruce Fink refers to as “ego-discourse”, or that form of discourse that assumes mastery of its own intention or that meaning and intention are one and the same thing) so that desire might be set back in motion. Somehow I never quite envisioned this particular deployment of that principle.

Jodi Dean has recently written an interesting post on sarcasm, irony, and parody.

I was thinking about forms of defense, particularly self defense. Irony, sarcasm, and citationality first came to mind.These seem to be mechanisms to establish distance. Zizek mentions something like this, “I love you,” as they say in the movies, or something like that. I defend myself by diffusing my feeling, making it less mine than ours. Everyone feels this way or, it’s hardly surprising that one would feel this way. I can always add–oh, I was joking or that was meant sarcastically.

What about humor, parody, cynicism? Do these require a lack of commitment, a distance and amorphousness, a denial, refusal, or foreclosure of ownership? I’m thinking of the Daily Show, a blog, and Peruvian presidents. Are the utterances, performances, predicated on a refusal of an underlying belief or conviction? Or, are they premised on its constitutive absence? On a smooth ability to drift and flow, catching on nothing and open to anything? Are these about distance or perhaps more properly about defense? If the latter, perhaps it is defense of nothing or of nothingness, defense against an underlying lack or foreclosure?

I’m too worn out from editing (hey, maybe I can get Anthony to do the indexing later… he seemed to enjoy it with the journal issue he put together recently. Kudos to Anthony)… To resume my thought, I’m too worn out to build on Jodi’s fascinating observations (why can’t I deploy theory with respect to the day to day like that?), but I wonder how this example of parody might fit with the model she suggests in her post. It seems to me that Jodi’s remarks revolve around the perspective of the speaker and the way in which they strive to defend against some desire. For instance, I might use sarcasm or irony as a way of managing uncomfortable desires with respect to the person I’m talking to. These desires might be something as simple as the desire to be recognized and the worry that I won’t, to more profound desires pertaining to love and friendship. Sarcasm can then function as a sort of defense by allowing me to diffuse the powerful jouissance that threatens the integrity of my being in relation to the person I’m speaking with. In the clinic, descriptions of such jouissance often come up when the analysand is describing their relation to certain privileged Others in their interpersonal relations. They might talk about feeling overwhelmed by these feelings, as if their bodily integrity has somehow been pierced or invaded. Certain rhetorical maneuvers then set in to diffuse this tension and re-establish equilibrium or a safe distance. All of this, of course, can be deeply paradoxical as the jouissance can be experienced as pleasurable yet overwhelming, like an intense feeling of love that is too much to bear. I once heard an analysand worry over whether his face might “blow off” (an interesting choice of words) during certain moments with his lover. He took tremendous pleasure from these encounters, but also felt that he must flee them.

At any rate, the parody and humor at work in this demonstration seems to be about something different. Here the clowns do not seem to be defending themselves, so much as they seem to be distancing the neo-nazis from their own signifiers, causing them to slide this way and that through a series of equivocations and pseudo-homonyms. Not only does a recoding of the hate speech take place, but something like the analytic discourse institutes itself by virtue of the clowns not receiving the neo-nazi’s messages (thereby underlining Lacan’s aphorism that “all communication is miscommunication” in a rather pointed way). What are we to make of the way the message strategically fails to be received in this particular protest? Lacan argues that all messages have their ideal receiver or Other– the person to whom that message is addressed. By undermining the reception of the message, do the clowns also undermine the Other for whom the neo-nazis stage their message? Finally, what role does a third observer– neither clowns nor neo-nazis but those witnessing the event –play in this encounter, and how does the clown’s strategy transform the neo-nazis relationship to this third? At any rate, I’m tickled to see such inventiveness in a protest.

I’m too tired to say much of anything today (first day of class and stress or anxiety that’s apparently impeding my sleep), but I came across this quotation from Althusser in Jameson’s Political Unconscious which frames questions of immanence in a particular clear way:

The epistemological problem posed by Marx’s radical modification of Political Economy can be expressed as follows: by means of what concept is it possible to think the new type of determination which has just been identified as the determination of the phenomena of a given region by the structure of that region?… In other words, how is it possible to define the concept of structural causality?…

Very schematically, we can say that classical philosophy… had two and only two systems of concepts with which to think effectivity. The mechanistic system, Cartesian in origin, which reduced causality to a transitive and analytical effectivity, could not be made to think the effectivity of a whole on its elements, except at the cost of extraordinary distortions (such as those in Descartes’ ‘psychology’ and biology). But a second system was available, one conceived precisely in order to deal with the effectivity of a whole on its elements: the Leibnitzian concept of expression. This is the model that dominates Hegel’s thought. But it presupposes in principle that the whole in question be reducible to an inner essence, of which the elements of the whole are then no more than the phenomenal forms of expression, the inner principle of the essence being present at each point in the whole, such that at each moment it is possible to write the immediately adequate equation: such and such an element (economic, political, legal, literary, religious, etc., in Hegel) = the inner essence of the whole. Here was a model which made it possible to think the effectivity of the whole on each of its elements, but if this category– inner essence/outer phenomenon –was to be applicable everywhere and at every moment to each of the phenomena arising in the totality in question, it presupposed that the whole had a certain nature, precisely the nature of a ‘spiritual’ whole in which each element was expressive of the entire totality as a ‘pars totalis’. In other words, Leibnitz and Hegel did have a category for the effectivity of the whole on its elements or parts, but on the absolute condition that the whole was not a structure…

[The third concept of effectivity, that of structural causality,] can be entirely summed up in the concept of ‘Darstellung’, the key epistemological concept of the whole Marxist theory of value, the concept whose object is precisely to designate the mode of presence of the structure in its effects, and therefore to designate structural causality itself…. The structure is not an essence outside the economic phenomena which comes and alters their aspect, forms and relations and which is effective on them as an absent cause, absent because it is outside them. The absence of the cause in the structure’s ‘metonymic causality’ on its effects is not the fault of the exteriority of the structure with respect to the economic phenomena; on the contrary, it is the very form of the interiority of the structure, as a structure, in its effects. This implies therefore that the effects are not outside the structure, are not a pre-existing object, element or space in which the structure arrives to imprint its mark: on the contrary, it implies that the structure is immanent in its effects, a cause immanent in its effects in the Spinozist sense of the term, that the whole existence of the structure consists of its effects, in short, that the structure, which is merely a specific combination of its particular elements, is nothing outside its effects. (Jameson 23-25, Althusser, Reading Capital, 186-189)

When I set out to write Difference and Givenness I had three primary questions before me: 1) What is specific to the thought of Gilles Deleuze (as opposed to the thought of Deleuze and Guattari)? 2) What is transcendental empiricism (in contrast to empiricism, transcendental idealism, and absolute idealism)? and 3) In what way is Deleuze’s thought a critical philosophy (rather than a dogmatic metaphysics)? The first question might appear strange; however, in my experience the secondary literature tends to treat the thought of Deleuze and Deleuze and Guattari as identical and interchangeable. Yet whenever Deleuze and Deleuze and Guattari speak of multiplicities, they are quick to emphasize that the addition of dimensions leads the multiplicity to change in nature. Consequently, when Deleuze and Guattari encounter one another it is necessary that this new multiplicity differ in kind from their independent thought. Yet this change in kind or nature can only be determined by becoming clear as to what Deleuze is up to in his own independent work. This is not, of course, to suggest that Deleuze is somehow opposed to Deleuze and Guattari or the reverse. To suggest such a thing would be to misunderstand the logic of intensive multiplicities. Such an approach would provide a way of properly determining what is new and vital in Deleuze and Guattari’s thought, and of measuring the field of problems that motivated this prodigious body of conceptual creating (concepts never emerging ex nihilo out of the mind of a “genius creator-artist”, but always emerging as a function of a field of extra-personal problems belonging to the field of being and the social).

In the course of my work, one of the conclusions I came to was that the early Deleuze of Difference and Repetition and The Logic of Sense was, in part, an attempt to develop the ontology proper to structuralism. This, of course, will sound like a strange claim for we are accustomed to thinking of Deleuze as a post-structuralist philosopher hostile to structuralism. Indeed, when Deleuze encounters Guattari, they will develop a significant critique of structuralist thought– as is immediately evident in their concepts of deterritorialization and reterritorialization and “becoming-animal” where a “theft of a fragment of a code takes place”, i.e., operations that can’t be contained or governed by a “structural totality” –yet in his earlier work Deleuze was very sympathetic to structuralist thought. This is evident in his essay “How Do We Recognize Structuralism?” (cf. Desert Islands, pgs 170 – 192), written between Difference and Repetition and The Logic of Sense. There Deleuze discusses the theses common to structuralist giants such as Saussure, Levi-Strauss, Lacan, Barthes, Foucault, and Althusser, and provides an account of structural genesis nearly identical to his account of actualization or individuation in chapters four and five of Difference and Repetition. To be sure, Deleuze’s structuralism is a dynamic or a genetic structuralism, but it is nonetheless an attempt to provide that ontology proper to structuralist thought. It might be assumed that Deleuze is here simply applying the principles of individuation he had developed in Difference and Repetition to the structuralists so as to “get these thinkers from behind and create a monsterous offspring”. However, this ignores the fact that Deleuze refers to Ideas or multiplicities as structures in Difference and Repetition, and refers to Saussure, Althusser, and Todorov as prime examples of virtual multiplicities (DR, 186, 203 – 206. Deleuze also makes constant positive references to Lacan throughout Difference and Repetition and The Logic of Sense). Structuralism and structuralist thinkers enjoy a similarly central role in The Logic of Sense as well.

The point here is not to defend Deleuze’s early structuralism. Deleuze and Guattari develop powerful critiques of structuralist thought in their work together; however, these critiques cannot simply be treated as “abstract negations” that simply reject structuralism tout court. A good deal is preserved in new form. Rather, the point is to think a form of relation causality, immanent causality, where causes are not outside their effects and effects are not outside their causes: a properly systemic or structural causality that would be neither mechanical causality, nor an expressivism where every actualization or individuation is simply a reflection or expression of an unchanging internal essence.

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Towards the beginning of his Critique of Dialectical Reason, Sartre writes:

“How can we accept this doubling of personality? How can a man who is lost in the world, permeated by an absolute movement coming from everything, also be this consciousness sure both of itself and of the Truth. It is true that Naville observes that ‘these centres of reaction elaborate their behaviour according to possibilities which, at the level both of the individual and of the species, are subject to an unalterable and strictly determined development…’, and that ‘experimentally established reflex determinations and integrations enable one to appreciate the narrowing margin within which organic behaviour can be said to be autonomous’. We obviously agree with this; but the important thing is Naville’s application of these observations, which inevitably lead to the theory of reflection, to endowing man with constituted reason; that is, to making thought into a form of behaviour strictly conditioned by the world (which of course it is), while neglecting to say that it is also knowledge of the world. How could ‘empirical’ man think? Confronted with his own history, he is as uncertain as when he is confronted by Nature, for the law does not automatically produce knowledge of itself– indeed, if it is passively suffered, it transforms its object into passivity, and thus deprives it of any possibility of collecting its atomised experiences into a synthetic unity. Meanwhile, at the level of generality where he is situated, transcendental man, contemplating laws, cannot grasp individuals. Thus, in spite of ourselves, we are offered two thoughts, neither of which is able to think us, or, for that matter, itself: the thought which is passive, given, and discontinuous, claims to be knowledge but is really delayed effect of external causes, while the thought which is active, synthetic and desituated, knows nothing of itself and, completely immobile, contemplates a world without thought. Our doctrinaires have mistaken for a real recognition of Necessity what is actually only a particular form of alienation, which makes their own lived thinking appear as an object for a universal Consciousness, and which reflects on it as though it were the thought of the other.

We must stress this crucial fact: Reason is neither a bone nor an accident. (30-31)

Recently I’ve been making a sustained effort to work my way through Marx’s massive Capital, while also returning to Deleuze’s collaborative works with Guattari, in a sustained attempt to think in a more concrete, rigorous, and philosophical way about the nature of the social (as opposed to dogmatically making sociological and psychoanalytic claims without grounding them philosophically). In certain respects, I think questions of how to think about the social and the Other have haunted philosophy for a century. With the emergence of the social sciences in the form of anthropology/ethnography, linguistics, psychoanalysis, sociology, history, and sociology, philosophy, I would argue, found its assumptions significantly challenged. Since the 17th century the schema of philosophical thought has been relatively straightforward: there is a subject whose contents of consciousness are immanent and immediate to itself (whether one is an empiricist or a rationalist) and therefore are certain (hence the fact Hume is certain of his impressions but can maintain doubt maintaining the objects that presumably cause them), and there is an object that the subject seeks to know. The social sciences significantly complicate this schema. For example, Levi-Strauss is able to show, in The Savage Mind and the Mythologiques, that there is an unconscious thought process that takes place, as it were, behind the back of the subject, both determining the thought process of the subject and creating a symbolic-categorical web, “thrown” over the world, sorting objects in various ways that can’t simply be reduced to the predicates or properties (the “primary qualities”) that belong to the “objects themselves”. This is the significance of Levi-Strauss’s extensive, often exhausting, discussion of how plants are sorted in The Savage Mind and his analysis of how the symbolic categories of the /raw/, the /boiled/, and the /cooked/ function with regard to the sorting of objects in the world (I use the convention “//” to denote the status of these entities as signifiers rather than predicates or “primary qualities” really inhering in an object). Similar results emerge from psychoanalysis– particularly in its Lacanian formulation, though also in Freud –linguistics, economics, sociology, and so on.

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Apologies for my lack of responses and postings lately. This last week has seen me doubled over in pain and getting little or no sleep as a result of intense stomach pains. I suspect I’ve developed an ulcer, but my hypochondrial, neurotic mind convinces me that it must be some form of cancer or a rare form of leprosy that only targets the stomach… Or perhaps I’ve contracted one of those aliens from Alien. I suspect this third possibility is the most likely given that I’ve been reading science fiction before bed lately.

At any rate, there have been some truly excellent posts floating about the blogosphere recently. N.Pepperell has written a short, but meaty, post on self-reflexivity, immanence, and theoretical pessimism as a teaser for a project she’ll be developing over the next year. Although she does not mention Badiou, it is interesting to contrast her self-reflexive conception of social transformation with Badiou’s theory of the event which comes from the outside. With his characteristic rigor and beauty, Lars has continued his meditation on the nature of language, unfolding the implications of language for ontology and agency in a heavy dialogue with Deleuze and Guattari among others (here and here). Little John and Ibitsu of Still Water Springs have taken some arrows from my quiver and sent them flying in different and interesting directions (here and here). In the post entitled “Reading”, in particular, he develops far better what I was trying to get at in my post Reading as a Material Event.

All of these interweaving dialogues have left me wondering what philosophy must be, what it must look like, when the mediated and contextual nature of agency is recognized. When one can no longer posit the subject as a ground of transparency and immediate presence, where does one begin without falling into a programmatic dogmatism? How does one begin to ground claims in such a universe? What does an epoche look like when it is no longer the delivery of a pure subject? I have no idea of how to formulate such questions and the alien that has decided to inhabit my stomach makes it difficult to even think about these questions. I certainly don’t wish to assert that philosophy is at an end, though I find myself concerned with what strikes me as dogmatism among a number of structurally influenced thinkers.

Hythlodaeus, over at the new blog Project Enlightenment, has revived the old debate about Zizek’s review of 300. Unfortunately I am unable to respond there as his blog does not accept anonymous comments and I do not have a Google account, so I’ll post a few words here. Hythlodaeus writes:

To my mind, the paroxysms of outrage that Zizek’s recent review of 300 provoked amongst certain members of the left academic blogosphere have only confirmed the basic truth of his argument that a truly progressive prioritization of values, in the current postmodern academic environment, is effectively impossible, because no one is willing to take responsibility for what a totally committed choice to pursue real social justice might actually entail–like, say, loss of job security. “If revolutionary action doesn’t include working full-time towards academic tenure–then no, thanks!”

I cannot speak for everyone regarding what motivated their concerns about Zizek’s valorization of sacrifice and discipline in this review, but for myself the issue was decidedly not one about the loss of job security. I take it as a given that any sort of revolutionary political change will involve significant transformations in how we consume and live. How could it not? Nor did it ever occur to me that somehow this issue has something to do with working full time or tenure. Rather, the issue had to do with convictions about the sorts of values we choose to valorize in revolutionary theory. All too often values of discipline and sacrifice, rhetoric of discipline and sacrifice, have been associated with fascist, dictatorial, and totalitarian regimes. Are these really the sorts of doors that we wish to open? Why not instead the valorization of values such as equality, justice, fraternity, freedom? What is at issue here are the sorts of master-signifiers that come to organize a movement and the manner in which these master-signifiers have a structuring effect on subsequent forms the movement takes. The issue is not one of concerns over giving up one’s hedonistic lifestyle, but about the way in which these master-signifiers function and resonate (see here and here) within a particular historical context. It is surprising that anyone informed by Lacan or Zizek would forget that language does not simply describe, but has a performative reality as well. The issue is not one of whether sacrifice and discipline ought or should or does take place in such movements– clearly it always does –but rather of how a particular movement comes to be structured and organized when signifiers such as this serve as the key, organizing, master-signifiers.

Hytholodaeus goes on to say:

LS writes:

I think this is a problem across the board in continentally influenced forms of theory, whether we’re talking about literary theory, political theory, philosophy, and so on. Often I find myself reading texts that are pervaded by some grand vision of revolutionary political transformation and I find myself thinking of my neighbors, my students, family members, existing infrastructure, etc., and I just wonder how such a grand vision can even be enacted concretely in practice. I then find myself suspecting that these political theories are more about ego and being superior, than about enacting any sort of real world change and are more about shoring up one’s academic standing and cred than the world.

Instead of continuing to parse Lacan, Deleuze, Foucault, et al, perhaps we should start devoting some of our attention to the abundant situated literature that’s being produced by the very real social movements we academics for some reason continue to strenuously deny exist. For instance, you might check out some of the websites for the activist groups listed under the “Contacts” section of Naomi Klein’s website nologo.org. You might also check out web resources like SolidarityEconomy and Anarcho-Syndicalist Review.

The oppressed aren’t stupid and they aren’t mute. They don’t need speaking for. They’re not a given “in-itself” waiting for us hyper-educated academic “for-ourselves” to properly theorize into a meaningful project. It smacks of obscene arrogance to think that the marginalized, the exploited, the oppressed of the world are incapably of reflecting on their situation in a sophisticated and nuanced way. Let’s stop treating them as inert objects, and start listening to them, start recognizing what they have to say. And, who knows, maybe even enter into dialogue with them. This is where I part ways with Zizek and his advocacy of the top-down Leninist intelligentsia qua vanguard model. I’m with Sartre and Habermas, Hardt and Negri instead: mutual recognition + intersubjective communication amongst groups-in-fusion= common value formation, i.e. the only horizon of a truly democratic, emancipatory, and transformative praxis.

From Hytholodaeus’ remarks, I cannot tell whether my position is here being criticized or endorsed. For the record, I am on exactly the same page as him regarding the need to focus on real social movements and the way they articulate themselves. I am deeply suspicious of hierarchicalized social movements where the “intellectuals” have the master-plan and set about designing society. On this blog, one of the things I’ve tried to focus on are the emergence of group formations, how they come to be, how they react on existing social structures, and how they come to transform social structures. In short, my view is that there needs to be less focus on critique, interpretation, and analysis, and more focus on those conditions under which groups emerge, nominate themselves, take on structuration, and begin to transform the social field. A political theorists work should be less about determining what is to be done, and more about what is being done, what these emergences are responding to, what potentialities they are introducing, and so on. It is for this reason that I have a certain fascination with fundamentalist religious movements in the United States, political blog collectives such as Moveon.org, Dailykos, Americablog, Atrios, etc, and so on. It is not that I share the politics of these particular groups. Clearly I do not. What interests me is how these groups emerged at all, what affects they mobilize, how they have managed to motivate people, what new sorts of subjectivities they produce, and how they have effectively challenged, and arguably transformed, various institutions whether at the governmental level or at the corporate level, and so on. This is what I find missing in so much of the political thought I read. “Okay okay okay, I agree with these positions and critiques, but… how do you mobilize people to enact these things?” What sort of media must be used to summon a people that don’t exist? What sorts of affects need to be crafted to summon a people that does not exist? What sorts of gatherings and institutions preside over the formation of these new subjectivities? What are the catalysts that lead people to form collectives, groups, movements? I see a lot of critique, I see a lot of analysis, but I don’t see a lot of concrete discussion concerning these very concrete details. Yet, as they say, it’s precisely with regard to these things that the rubber hits the road.

Zizek and Badiou have spent a good deal of time criticizing that variant of Marxist thought that talked endlessly about when the conditions for revolution are ripe. Zizek has characterized this form of thought as the position of the obsessional who is always preparing for the proper moment to make his advances on the woman without ever passing to the act, thereby revealing that his endless preparations are themselves a defense against the act. In this connection, Zizek has valorized the act as the proper corrective to this attitude, arguing that the act must initially fail to inscribe itself in the social field so as to become a signifier (the signifier always requires two, a repetition), thereby opening the field of radical transformation. The time will never be right, and certainly the elements populating the situation will never suggest that the time is ripe for revolution. Badiou has argued something similar with his conception of a completely ungrounded choice that decides membership of the event in the situation. I believe both of these views are positive correctives to a perspective that is always looking to the situation to find those ripe conditions. However, it shouldn’t be forgotten that the truth-procedure is precisely that hard work of transforming the elements of the situation or engaging in those acts that recode, that evoke, that call for a people that do not yet exist.

N.Pepperell of Rough Theory has written a beautiful clarification of a number of her positions regarding capitalism, immanence, the self-reflexivity of theory, and social transformation as a salvo in an ongoing discussion with Joseph Kugelmass and Ryan/Aless that I would like to post in full here as both a way of preventing it from flying under the radar and drawing some connections to Marx and other trends in emancipatory political thought. While much of this post can stand on its own, readers will find it worthwhile to return to N.Pepperell’s original post to get the full context of the discussion. In a lengthy post, N.Pepperell writes:

Fantastic stuff, folks – my thoughts are running in all sorts of directions. Many thanks for this. Let’s see how much sense I can make here.

Joe -

Yes, the term “outside” could be reappropriated to be compatible with an immanent critique. I tend personally to reserve the term “outside” for “nonsymmetrical” theoretical approaches – for approaches that basically offer two different theories – one that explains what capitalism is, and another that explains the standpoint of critique. The issue is that many theories have no idea that they are asymmetrical – whether because they take so for granted a certain notion of human nature, or because they claim not to have a normative standpoint, or because they theorise a “margin” or a potential for “rupture” that is so completely unspecified on a qualitative level that it has no determinate qualitative relationship to capitalism. So, effectively, I tend to use the term “outside” for what, in a Hegelian framework, would be an “abstract negation” – for an approach that rejects something, without explicitly thematising its own determinate relationship to what has been rejected.

I then use terms like “transcendence” or “determinate negation” or similar for the concept you’re trying to capture with the Mobius strip metaphor. No one owns the words, of course – and my terminology isn’t in any way standard. The concepts are the important thing – and you’re correct in taking my point to be that an immanent dialectical theory thematises the way in which something can arise within capitalism, and even fill some determinate role in the replication of that system – and yet, as Benjamin argues, we can still “brush history against the grain”, and use these very things against the context that has given them birth.

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One of the central claims of Whitehead’s thought is that “actual occasions” (his name for “entity”) are the ultimate reasons or grounds of all explanations. “…[A]ctual entities are the only reasons; so that to search for a reason is to search for one or more actual entities” (PR, 24). Alongside of Process and Reality I’ve been reading The Metaphysics of Experience: A Companion to Whitehead’s Process and Reality by Elizabeth Kraus. I recommend this study highly for anyone interested in Whitehead. If others have references to other secondaries I’d be interested in hearing about them as well. I believe some of these remarks are relevant to a discussion of holism and reductivism unfolding over at the Weblog, and especially Dominic Fox’s comments, with which I disagree as they are stated. At one point she gives an outstanding gloss on Whitehead’s conception of philosophy and what it means to give an account, so I’ll just post it here in full, with a few comments at the end, as I have nothing to add to it. I apologize for the lack of commentary on the passages that follow. Occasionally I come across something I find striking and really can do little more than point and grunt like the apes dancing about the obelisk in 2001.

In Modes of Thought Whitehead describes the task of philosophy as ‘the understanding of the interfusion of modes of existence’ (MT, 97). But what does it mean to understand? If the world is taken in its classical sense, any grasp of what Whitehead purports to do in PR and of the way in which he views his speculative scheme as an interpretation of reality is vitiated at the outset. In its Aristotlean meaning, to understand anything is to know it in its causes: to grasp principally its form and purpose. Knowledge, thus interpreted, is a moving away from the thing in its concrete singularity, which qua individual is unintelligible, toward a grasp of the universals which it embodies. To know an object is to be able to place it in its appropriate category, having delimited its genus and differentia. When based on this notion of understanding, philosophy is viwed as purely abstract, a priori, apodictic, and deductive science, whose certainty and purity are a function of its remotion from the concrete.

Whitehead totally repudiates this conception of the philosophical enterprise and the notion of understanding from which it springs. he is a Platonist with respect to knowledge, realizing that it is not theoretical understanding but rather the ability to rule well. If it entails a departure from the concrete, that departure is justified only in virtue of a subsequent return. Even the departure itself takes a different form from that evidenced in the traditional notion of abstract, in which the individuating notes of an object are left aside in the endeavor to seize its universal essentiality. For Whitehead, the movement of abstraction is indeed toward higher generalities, but in the move the individuality of the starting point is not analyzed away. In his view, a fact is understood when it can be placed in a wider systematic context which gives an account of its interconnections with other facts (my bold). The tecnique of analysis presumes that facts are isolated, self-contained units whose character can be revealed by the systematic dissection, and it thereby loses itself in barren abstractions. The true activity of understanding consists in a voyage to abstraction which is in fact a voyage to the more fully concrete: to the system in which the fact is enmeshed. The system as conceptualized may be more abstract than the fact itself in that it is more general, but the real systematic context is more concrete, and its elaboration yields more about the existential relations of the fact.

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