octopus_by_cardenaslosky-d60yg3dIncreasingly, as I turn to questions of ethics, I find myself wondering about things we could describe as “absolute values”.  These are things we esteem and value for their own sake such as love, friendship, beauty, compassion, health, and so on.  It’s easy to see why we value things such as health, beauty, and friendship for their own sake (though maybe these are more mysterious than they might initially seem).  It’s more difficult, I think, to understand beauty.  This is above all the case within a naturalistic framework.  When I read architectural theory written during the Middle Ages, Rennaissance, and early Enlightenment period, beauty is an index to truth.  It resonates with us because our ability to discern it is a sort of index of the divine that dwells within us; it is that which draws us towards the divine or God and that which indicates God’s signature on his creation.  In a naturalistic framework all that falls away.  We find we must give an immanent account of beauty.  The question then becomes that of why we find the beautiful beautiful, of why we encounter the beautiful at all.  This is not a question– at least at first –of what we find beautiful.  In other words, it is not a question where discussions of harmony, pattern, and proportion would be appropriate answers.  Again, the question here is not what is beautiful, but why such things would be beautiful to us at all.  What is the ground of the ability to have, as Kant put it, “disinterested pleasure” or the ability to find things beautiful?

Initially this question might seem rather abstract.  However, I suppose one reason I find it interesting is that a central component of neoliberal capitalism lies in instrumentalizing all that is.  All of being increasingly comes to be understood in terms of use-value and exchange-value.  For example, we no longer really talk about the intrinsic worth of education and knowledge as things that are desirable for their own sake, but instead talk about them in terms of “getting jobs” and how they can (economically) benefit the world.  Part of combatting neoliberal capitalism lies in cultivating a sensibility for those things that are valuable in their own right, that have a worth that isn’t a use or for the sake of a profit.  I am not suggesting that beauty will save it.  Beauty is just one example of those things that are valuable for their own sake or that contribute to a life being a life worth living or a good life (especially within immanence where there’s no longer recourse to a transcendent “afterwards”).  I do think, however, that beauty might play a key role with respect to environmental issues and how we relate to other living organisms, but I’ll save that for another day.  I just wonder why it is that I find something beautiful or what is reflected back to us about ourselves in those things we find beautiful.

Review of Onto-cartography.

Creative_Wallpaper_Archeology_019602_In late September, October, or November this Fall I hope to teach a New Centre course entitled “The Archeology of Matter” inaugurating and outlining a project that might be referred to as “hyletics”.  It is often suggested that Descartes is responsible for mind/body dualism; however, philosophy has had a tendency towards idealism and dualism since its inception.  Indeed, while it takes different forms, the tendency towards idealism and the erasure of matter is not unique to Western philosophy, but appears to be a cross-cultural phenomenon.  Similar in ambition to deconstruction, hyletics explores the conceptual mechanisms and motivations by which materiality is repressed so as to open a space of thought proper to materiality.  Far from a scientistic orientation of thought seeking to assert the primacy of the sciences over all other forms of cultural production, hyletics explores the repression of material labor, the living and lived body, the desiring body, the body that hungers, ages, that falls prey to sickness, that is tormented by desire, and the world of things throughout the world of thought.  It seeks to determine what imperatives led to the primacy of the concept over the body and thing, the word over materiality, and how these inversions prepared the way for the rise of capital and the anthropocene.

Olive groveLandscape is neither in space, nor is it of space.  Indeed, landscape had to be evacuated and erased in order for space to come into being.  In this regard, space is a historical fiction that is all too real in its consequences.  Space was formed as conceptual space through a historical process that involved the invention of writing, the development of mathematics, and the rise of capitalism and colonialism.  Before that there was only landscape.  However, while a certain form of humanity is a necessary condition for the emergence of space, landscape is in no way dependent on the human nor any other living being.  Where space is a epistemic category, a cultural category, landscape was there well before any humans or any other living beings existed and will be there long after the demise of all these beings.  Landscape is in no way dependent on the gaze of the artist nor those that dwell within it.

matrix01Space is an abstraction, a subtraction of all difference, and therefore an idea, a system of signification.  As a subtraction of all difference, it is the form of form, or the possibility of absolute exchange.  The formation of the form of form was a necessary condition for the rise of the commodity.  The form of form is the milieu of identity, of the same, required for the institution of generic equivalence as the core unit of being.  Through the institution of the form of form as that which renders everything comparable and exchangeable, as that which institutes the brute repetition of the same at all levels of civilization, the infinitude– not withdrawal –that resides in each thing or being is veiled and the attempt is made to tame and master all that exists.  Beings are reduced to a handful of variables such as their extension.  The obsession with repetition known as “quality control” or the reign of the generically repeated for each instantiation in the order of time comes into being.  One place becomes the same as any other, for in reality space is without place.  Everything therefore becomes comparable according to a value, even people and all other living things.

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Since last week I’ve been haunted by a discussion with a friend that I had over lunch about his hostility towards Freud.  Mind you, I’ve never been an orthodox Freudian.  In particular we discussed Freud’s theory of fetishes.  He led me to reflect on why I value Freud and where I diverge.  I’ve never bought into the gender stuff or Oedipus in Freud.  What’s left?  The mobility of desire:  desire is not programmed, but rather anything can be eroticized.  We all have our shine on the nose, our fix.  As he said, there are as many genders or orientations as there are people.  The entire world becomes a signifying system, a referential system, in terms of our loves and attachments.  The Birds.  Alice. It’s all kink; perhaps most of all when it doesn’t look like kink.   There’s the theory of the repressed.  Our desire, our wishes, our betrayals of ourself always return in some form.  Poe’s Telltale Heart.  We never escape the truth of our desire.  Then, there’s Freud’s respect for the singularity of subjects, for sinthome, for the bizarreness of associative systems as against Jungian  archetypes.  There is no dream dictionary, only Borgesian encyclopedias created by the aleatory encounters and wanderings of a life. There’s no hermeneutics in Freud because ultimately the unconscious is a singular nonsense, a life, this life, that person’s life.  It is a creation of meaning, not an expression of meanings.  The unconscious forges, it doesn’t express. And finally, there’s Freud’s Humean Spinozism.  We are the fabric of our desire.  I’m grateful for that discussion.

www.wired-2There is a gravity to language.  In the case of physical gravity there’s not an attraction produced by forces, rather a bending, a curvature of space-time, along which another object then falls.  That curvature of space-time creates a path defining the vector of the object caught within the gravity well.  This is a good metaphor for power.  If mountains exercise gravity, if they have a certain power, then this is because they create a path along which other entities move.  I could, perhaps, climb the sheer face of the mountain to get to the other side, but this would be both dangerous and would require a great deal of energy.  Instead, I move along the contour of the mountain to get to my destination because this is the path of least resistance or perhaps I find a pass, a ravine, through which I might get to my destination.  Along the way I see a number of things I would have missed as a result of a more direct route, I encounter all sorts of dangers and boons I would have missed along another path, because the mountain has defined the vector of my movement.  Such is the gentle power of a mountain, its gravity.  I am choosing the path I take, but nonetheless the mountain has placed that path before me.  Was it I or the mountain that chose?

There is no action we engage in that is not supported by the things or beings of the earth.  In this respect, all action is distributed.  Action does not arise solely from you or I, but is a collaboration of many entities in tandem with one another.  Often we don’t notice this because we are so accustomed to the environments within which we act.  It takes a special sort of eye, a counter-factual eye, to discern the distributed nature of action.  Consider an astronaut striving to walk on the moon.

Notice how the astronaut falls and has great difficulty getting up.  It is not simply his heavy backpack that causes his difficulties, though it certainly doesn’t help.  Rather, it is the gravity of the moon that causes his problems; for it is about 1/6th that of the earth.  His body, at the level of his muscles, bone structure, and size is put together for the gravity of the earth.  On the earth we move throughout the world like a fish in water, meshing beautifully with the earth’s gravity.  On the moon, however, all of this changes and movement becomes incredibly difficult and awkward.

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A musical piece composed by Odvk and Seetyca inspired by Onto-Cartography and other works of contemporary theory.

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