December 2006

Jodi Dean has posted a diary on Gingrich’s desire to institute “patriotic” teaching of American history from a religious perspective over at the marvellous I Cite. The diary has generated a lot of heated exchanges that are probably less than flattering to all involved. What I find most interesting in this whole discussion is not the question of which side is correct, but rather how certain forms of criticism seem to be entirely off limits no matter how carefully crafted or qualified. Where certain groups should be aligned with one another in fighting a common menace, there’s instead a series of mischaracterizations and sophistical insults. What is it about our identifications that lead us to such mental contortions, sophistries, and distortions of clear thought? And to take yet another low blow, why is it that the Christian seems constitutively unable to avoid viewing themselves as a victim beset upon the wicked forces of paganism and secularism, regardless of whether they have all the power? Perhaps this discourse of the victim is the first thing that needs to be overcome. Then again, after having been up for over 24 hours grading (the joys of having a 5/5 teaching load), I suspect I’m not thinking all too clearly either.

N.Pepperell has written an extraordinary post, developing some of the previously made claims in directions I think highly productive. Also, a special thanks to Joseph Kugelmass for further molding the discussion in response to one of my prior posts. N.Pepperell writes,

My own approach to thinking about our context has been to try to think very carefully (almost certainly not carefully enough, and I would benefit greatly from the kind of critical scrutiny these sorts of conversations can provide) about the historical distinctiveness of “modernity” – an investigation that has led me to focus on how we understand capitalism as an element of our global social context in the modern period. If anyone has read back through the older entries in this blog, they will have seen me make at least gestural rejections of common ways of understanding capitalism – I tend not to be very happy, for example, with attempts to define capitalism in terms of class domination, in terms of the market or in terms of core and periphery. While these are to some degree empirical matters, the reason I engage in these skirmishes is because I understand them to have philosophical stakes: capitalism is, I suspect, our closest candidate for an unconscious global social relation (unconscious in the sense that it has arisen and, in spite of a great deal of conjunctural planning carried out en route, is still largely sustained via social practices that are not consciously seeking to bring the overarching system into being). I further suspect that the unconscious – the alienated – nature of this social relation may be particularly important in understanding certain aspects of the forms of perception and thought associated with capitalist history, but this point is far too complex for me to cover even gesturally here…

There’s a lot here, so read the rest. Unfortunately I can’t comment more at present as I’m grounded and am not allowed to play until I finish all my grading due Monday.

N.Pepperell over at Rough Theory has written a very sensitive post responding to my recent post on individuation. N.P. writes,

Sinthome’s thought on these questions is subtle and sophisticated, and I wish to be very clear that I am not trying to criticise any substantive points put forward in Sinthome’s posts. What I wish to ask, though, is whether the kind of reflection Sinthome carries out here might in its own practice remain bound to a subject-object divide: whether the practice of thinking through this issue, as carried out in these posts, is consistent with the express goal of the posts, which is to develop a system that transcends subject-object dualism.

And a little further on,

In drawing attention to these common means of explaining the rise of new concepts, I am obviously not seeking to criticise precise reasoning, or to argue against philosophical reflection on the natural world. I am, though, asking whether the form that philosophical argument takes, when it appeals to subjective error or objective empirical novelty, can be understood to be adequate when the content or purpose of philosophical reflection strives to overturn the subject-object dualism. Perhaps we need to be seeking a form of philosophical exposition that is more adequate to the content it seeks to express. I regard this as an epistemological task – where epistemology is understood as, to borrow a phrase from Sinthome, a “theory of learning”, rather than as itself a project grounded in the subject-object divide. And I think that Hegel – and, for that matter, Marx – by focussing their attention on self-reflexivity, have highlighted the need to find a philosophical path through this labyrinth.

Unfortunately I’m in the midsts of marking for the end of the semester so I’m unable to give a detailed response. First, I want to express gratitude to N.Pepperell for so thoughtfully and earnestly thinking with me in both a spirit of friendship and critical questioning, aimed, I think, at producing something or collaboratively developing something rather than simply opposing positions to one another. In a former post, N.Pepperell expressed worries that I took him/her to be criticizing or dismissing me (with regard to my claim that “the One is not”) which I did not, nor do I take these remarks to be presented in this spirit. The worries I expressed about the thesis that the One is not are my own worries (here and here and here), namely that I sometimes recoil from this thesis and its implications, finding myself concerned that it is absurd or incoherent. Rather, I take N.Pepperell’s comments as working notes revolving about a shared set of questions and concerns.

It seems to me that what N.Pepperell is groping for is the expression “performative contradiction”. That is, in suggesting that there is a conflict between the content of my post and the form of my post, the suggestion seems to be that at the level of content, the ontological claims being advanced say one thing, while the form in which these claims are advanced say quite another. It would be here that all the issues of self-reflexivity emerge, for if my claims about individuation hit the mark, then 1) an onto-epistemological theory of individuation must account for how it itself came to be individuated. To put this point a bit differently, my meditations on these issues perhaps suffer the old joke of a man alone in a room asked by a passing traveller whether anyone is there and responding “no”, thereby missing the obvious fact that he is there. I am “counting myself out” of the very thing I am talking about, and thus suggesting a transcendence that the content of my post forbids. 2) The nature of critique with regard to other epistemologies and ontologies is significantly transformed as one can no longer say that they are simply mistaken– which would simply be another variant of the subject/object divide, i.e., the thesis that the world has been erroneously represented –but must instead tell some sort of story as to how these onto-epistemologies came to be individuated.

N.Pepperell remarks that,

I should note that I am being very sloppy with my language here – this is not how Sinthome would express this problematic – I’ll ask forebearance on this issue because my “target” in this analysis is not actually how we can best understand individuation, but instead something more abstract: I’m trying to illustrate something about the habits of thought into which most of us – including myself – tend to fall when we seek to resolve this kind of philosophical dichotomy.

If I am understanding N.P. correctly, then s/he is referring to the habit of thought that continues to evaluate things other than itself in terms of the subject/object divide, while nonetheless having purported to reject this representational conception of the world. Thus, for instance, Deleuze argues that we must shift from a theory of knowledge to a theory of learning throughout Difference and Repetition, and must examine things in terms of how they come to be individuated or produced rather than how they are to be truly represented, and then proceeds to denounce Hegel, Kant, Plato, and others as getting it wrong without applying these very principles to their thought.

It seems to me that there are a couple of thinkers that would be very fruitful in helping to address these sorts of questions. The German philosopher-sociologist, Niklas Luhmann, develops a good deal of his systems theoretical sociology around the theme of self-reflexivity and “observing the observer”. These themes are developed very explicitly in texts such as Theories of Distinction and Essays on Self-Reference, but also in his magnificent and dense work Social Systems, where he argues, among other things, that a theory of society must also self-reflexively account for its own claims. Following the obscurantist mathematician Spencer-Brown, Luhmann argues that we can’t observe anything prior to drawing a distinction. For instance, we might draw a circle on a piece of paper, thereby distinguishing an outside and an inside. Once a distinction has been drawn, it becomes possible to indicate things on the basis of the distinction (I can now say something is inside or outside). The key point is that the distinction is on the side of the observer, not the thing itself. From this Luhmann draws the conclusion that we can only have system-specific knowledge and can never know the world as such. I follow Luhmann part of the way, however, my criticism has been that the conclusion he draws from this line of reasoning repeats the representationalist tradition in epistemology, assuming that there’s a world “out there” in itself that can never be known– he often draws skeptical conclusions from his sociological work –and that Hegel’s critique of the ding-an-sich or thing in itself shows why there is no thing in itself. Nonetheless, Luhmann provides a number of readily available tools for handling these issues of self-reference.

On the other side of the spectrum, it seems to me that this discussion can be profitably situated by taking a page from the Marxo-Hegelian playbook. Marx argues that each age develops a specific epistemology and ontology on the basis of its economics. I am not sure that I’m ready to follow Marx all the way with his economic determinism, but what makes Marx of interest here is that he doesn’t simply argue that an epistemology or ontology is wrong or mistaken, but shows how these philosophies are individuated as solutions to a problem (here and here) within a particular socio-historical field. For instance, when an analyst approaches the fantasy of an analysand, he does not do so by showing how it is a distorted representation of reality or falsehood. After all, for Lacan reality is framed by fantasy and thus functions like a Luhmannian distinction or a window through which the subject selects between what is relevant and mere noise where desire is concerned. Rather, analysis proceeds as the analysand comes to discover the manner in which the fantasy (which very well might never be discussed as a fantasy) resolves a certain deadlock with regard to the desire of the Other or solves a particular problem of desire for the analysand. In short, fantasy is not treated as an error. Similarly, the philosophical and theoretical formations of history could productively be approached not in terms of the error/non-error distinction, but as a series of individuations responding to particular sets of problems. Hopefully I have heard some of what is in N.Pepperell’s marvellous posts.

He was passionate about the Revolution and spoke of freedom, equality, egalitarianism; yet his reasons for believing were too subtle, to clever, too philosophical not to attract the suspicion of the party leaders. Unfortunately I could not see a happy ending for Dr. Zhivago.

~A passage about one of my imagos

K-Punk has written a nice post on blogging and pseudonyms that relates to some of the issues I’ve been discussing in the last few months regarding my name. K-Punk writes:

Perhaps writing – or more specifically, writing about oneself – only reveals the inherently split nature of the subject: the ‘the other one, the one called Borges … the one things happen to’ in ‘Borges and I’ is the subject of the statement, the Borges who observes that ‘I do not know which of us has written this page’ is the subject of the enunciation. Any use of the pronoun ‘I’ will always exposes this split, this spaltung.

It seems to me that this reminder of the split status of the subject is crucial for discussions of virtual engagements. The standard story has it that the net allows us to playfully create our own identity however we like, without the usual constraints that attend our day to day subjectivity. However, this sort of split is already constitutive of subjectivity as such: I am perpetually split between my imaginary imago that functions as an ideal ego for an ego ideal (a particular gaze from which we see ourselves as lovable) and my unconscious desire. Indeed, Lacan describes the imago structuring the ego as not only a semblable, but as a frozen statue constitutive of frustration itself, as I am never able to coincide with this ideal image of what I’d like to be. Between the lived body that farts and belches and moves in a less than graceful way and the body-image constitutive of the ego, there is always a disadequation or gap such that the imaginary is itself split or fissured, generating frustration and a perpetual remainder. Are not our net personae precisely such statues? Well worth the read.

I also get nervous discussing Hegel as he’s been the object of such scorn in French theory. Frankly I find Deleuze’s Hegel unrecognizable and suspect that it’s Kojeve’s Hegel that’s being addressed; though Deleuze, as a student of Hyppolite’s, was certainly in a position to know better. I suppose I’m not the first to have this sort of love-hate relationship with Hegel. For me, Hegel’s account of essence in the Science of Logic is especially interesting as it so nicely develops an ontology of relation, paying special attention to features of self-reflexivity. This can be seen with special clarity in The Encyclopaedia Logic (trans Geraets, Suchting, and Harris). In the opening paragraph of the second division, Hegel writes:

Essence is the Concept as posited Concept. In Essence the determinations are only relational, not yet as reflected strictly within themselves; that is why the Concept is not yet for-itself. Essence– as Being that mediates itself with itself through its own negativity [relation to otherness]– is relation to itself only by being relation to another; but this other is immediately, not as what is but as something-posited and mediated [related].– Being has not vanished; but, in the first place, essence as simple relation to itself is being; while on the other hand, being, according to its one-sided determination of being something-immediate, is degraded to something merely negative, to a shine [or semblance].– as a result, essence is being as shining within itself. (175)

For instance, when we shift from a naive perspective of everydayness to say a sociological perspective, we have made the shift from the doctrine of being to the doctrine of essence. The former perspective sees the actions of a person as immediate qualities of their character and being, whereas the sociological perspective encounters the person as the expression of a history, material conditions, and cultural practices within which they emerge or are constituted. That is, these relational features come to “shine” or be reflected in the person the researcher observes. In an important Zusatze to this paragraph, Hegel articulates this point a bit more clearly. Hegel writes that:

When we speak of ‘essence’, we distinguish it from being, i.e., from what is immediate [or in-itself, without reference to another]. In comparison with essence, we regard being as a mere semblance [something to be explained, grounded]. But this semblance is not simply ‘not’; it is not an utter nothing, rather it is being as sublated.– The standpoint of essence is in general the standpoint of reflection. The term ‘reflection’ is primarily used of light, when, propograted rectilinearly, it strikes a mirrored surface and is thrown back by it. So we have here something twofold: first, something immediate, something that is, and second, the same as mediated or posited. And this is just the case when we reflect on an ob-ject or ‘think it over’ (as we also say very often). For here we are not concerned with the ob-ject in its immediate form, but want to know it as mediated [for instance, when we come to treat a slip of the tongue as expressive of unconscious desire rather than a simple error]. And our usual view of the task or purpose of philosophy is that it consists in the cognition of the essence of things. By this we understand no more than that things are not to be left in their immediate state, but are rather to be exhibited as mediated or grounded by something else. he immediate being of things is here represented as a sort of rind or curtain behind which the essence is concealed.

Now, when we say further that all things have an essence, what we mean is that they are not truly what they immediately show themselves to be. A mere rushing about from one quality to another, and a mere advance from the qualitative to the quantitative and back again, is not the last word; on the contrary, there is something that abides in things, and this is, in the first instance, their essence. As for the further significance and use of the category of essence, we can recall first at this point how the term ‘Wesen’ is employed to designate the past for the German auxiliary verb ‘sein’ [to be]; for we designate the being that is past as ‘gewesen’ [elsewhere, in the Science of Logic, Hegel will famously say “wesen ist gewesen”, alluding to the historical nature of essence]. This irregularity in linguistic usage rests upon a correct view of the relation of being and essence, because we can certainly consider essence to be being that has gone by, whilst still remarking that what is past is not for that reason abstractly negated, but only sublated so at the same time conserved. If we say in German, e.g., ‘Caser ist in Gallien gewesen’ [‘Caesar was in Gaul’], what is negated by that is just the immediacy of what is asserted about Casear, but not his sojourn in Gaul altogether, for indeed it is just that which forms the content of this assertion– only it is here represented as having been sublated.

When a ‘Wesen’ is spoken of in ordinary life, it frequently only means a comprehensive whole or an essential sum; we speak in this way, for instance, of a ‘zeitungswesen’ [the press], of the ‘Postwesen’ [the postal service], or of the ‘Steuerwesen’ [the taxation system], etc., which simply amounts to saying that the things that are part of these are not to be taken singly in their immediacy, but as a complex, and then further in their various relations as well. So this linguistic use involves just about the same content as essence has turned out for us. (176)

The metaphorics deployed in this passage are beautiful, and, no doubt, the fan of Pynchon’s Crying of Lot 49 will find much to delight her literary palate in Hegel’s reference to the postal system. From a Deleuzian standpoint, this passage is of interest insofar as it shows how far Hegel’s understanding of mediation is from the subordination of the individual being to abstract and formal categories such as Kant’s categories of the understanding. More interestingly, it indicates the manner in which the entity is to be thought in terms of a network of concrete material relations, or as belonging to a complex or system.

In an act of great kindness, N.Pepperell over at Rough Theory has emailed me a a series of questions that tie together various themes I’ve been developing on this blog since I began writing here in May. I call this a great kindness as it spurs me to try to think through some things and articulate my intuitions more clearly. N.Pepperell writes,

I’ve been trying to backtrack an issue through your blog (if you see fifty thousand hits from me over the past couple of days, this is what I’ve been trying to mine the site to find – I’ve really enjoyed the back posts, by the way: beautiful formulations – it’s always a real pleasure, reading your work…).

What I’ve been trying to tease out if the strategic purpose of a distinction you periodically make between your approach – which you characterise as making “ontological” claims about, e.g., the impossibility of totality, and other approaches, which you criticise for making similar claims, but only at the level of “epistemology”. Your strategic intention would probably be clearer to me, if I were more familiar with the works to which you are replying. My guess – but this may simply be ill-informed – is that you are concerned to distinguish your approach from approaches that view totality just as being something that humans (with their limitations, etc.) could never *know* – whereas you are trying to assert that totality is something that could never *be*? But I may be completely missing the point – apologies if the question seems exceptionally obtuse…

My question – and I think this would still be relevant even if I’ve misunderstood your strategic intent – is: given that you wish to make ontological claims (I’m sympathetic to this desire), isn’t it then necessary also then to move into an epistemological theory, in order to explain how it becomes possible for us to achieve a particular ontological insight – if that insight can itself be demonstrated to be historical in character (if the insight, in other words, has not always been available to humans cross-culturally)? In other words, questions of how we can make ontological assertions – of what I would tend to call our standpoint of critique – necessarily imply the need for an explicit epistemological theory, at least if we remain within a materialist (in the sense of secular) framework.

The tricky thing then becomes how one thinks this within a framework sympathetic to Enlightenment ideals – how we can relativise our insights historically, without the experience of vertigo that often follows from relativisation. I’ve had a few conversations back and forth with Kerim Friedman on this, relating to the possibility for cumulative knowledge- my working concepts involve trying to think about the ways in which exposure to particular historical experiences make certain things easier to think, cause certain concepts to be readier-to-hand. (Ironically, my recent volley into a Derrida discussion at rough theory seems to be pointing in a similar direction, which I wouldn’t specifically have expected when we selected those readings…)

My instinct would be that this form of historicisation leaves open questions of truth – it doesn’t automatically debunk a concept, just because we make a case that a concept leaps to mind more easily in a particular period. Recognising how we might find it more tempting to think in specific ways at specific times, though, can make it easier- at least, this would be the hope – to obtain a useful degree of working
scepticism that better positions us to think about the validity of our concepts and insights…

This may simply be an unworkable tangent on my part… Among other things, I find it difficult in particular to communicate the very abstract level of historical experience at which I expect such “priming” of perception and thought might take place – such that a number of different (and, at times, conflictual) categories of perception and thought can nevertheless be recognised as homologous due to their implicatedness in specific forms of social practice… In spite of these problems – and they may ultimately be insurmountable… – I keep circling around this issue, because I can’t get past the problems historical specificity can cause for ontological claims – with the challenge of how we make ontological claims (and how we then adopt, for example, a particular critical standpoint in relation to matters of truth or goodness), while still not resorting to metaphyics…

At any rate, you may already have thought these things to death – I’m always very conscious of the breadth and depth of your background compared to mine. I was just struck by your periodic criticisms of others for engaging in claims about epistemology, rather than ontology – and, among other things, I suppose have used the email to write myself through to a sense that you might have been criticising epistemological theories that have a somewhat different “target” than the sorts of epistemological theory I tend to worry about in my own writings…

Sorry to pepper you with an essay. And all the best with the job search!

Let’s see if I can make some sense. There’s a lot here and I can’t respond to it at all, but the short answer is that I’m not myself entirely sure where I’m going with the distinction I draw between ontology and epistemology with regard to the non-existence of the whole. In part I’m simply making a stab at a new beginning in philosophy and seeing where it leads, and quite honestly I sometimes find myself thinking it all a bit absurd. There are two distinct issues here: On the one hand, there’s the issue of the distinction between ontology and epistemology, and my hostility towards epistemology. I feel better able to defend my animosity towards what I loosely refer to as “epistemological stances”. On the other hand, there’s the thesis that being is not One, that it does not form a whole or a totality. This I find far more difficult to think about, though I will say that much of this follows from my Lacanianism, as a consequence of my take on the real and the non-existence of the Other.

In a vague sort of way, I think three intuitions are at work in this impulse: First, I take it that the epistemological tradition which I mark as beginning roughly during the 18th century has today come to an impasse with various forms of skepticism or relativism. Unable to establish any determinate ground of knowledge, we’re now in the position where knowledge is thought as construction and no claim to knowledge enjoys any more privilege than another. Knowledge has become sociologized, while nonetheless maintaining a distinction between being-as-it-is-in-itself and being-as-it-is-for-us. Second, despite the fact that this distinction is made and we are forever unable to know being as such but only being as it is in and through our distinctions, the fantasy of being-itself is nonetheless maintained. There is a being as such, but it is thought as forever out of reach. I take it that this is what sustains the thesis that all “knowledge” is on par as a sort of fiction or construction, as the idea of construction implicitly evokes the idea of the unreachable, unconstructed. Ideologically I see this discourse as allowing the theorist to maintain distance from all knowledge constructions by devaluing them, thereby maintaining an imaginary illusion of mastery. That is, it works as a sort of metalanguage. Third, I take it that the discourse of epistemology implicitly maintains a distinction between the knowing subject and the known object that treats the subject as outside the domain of being.

I take it that the sociologization of knowledge is based on the correct observation from sociology and anthropology that when we examine different cultural configurations, the categories defining the relationship of the agent to the world differ from culture to culture. This was a thesis that Hegel masterfully articulated in a variety of his writings, such as the Phenomenology, as well as his writings on history and the history of philosophy. You will notice that much of what I’ve written on in past months has to do with the problem of individuation in the history of philosophy. What I’m trying to get at by shifting these questions from epistemology (how do we represent the world) to ontology, is the thesis that there is no further object beyond our engagement with that object insofar as subject and object are simultaneously individuated through their interaction.

A good deal of what’s lurking in my thought here is Hegel’s discussion of Essence in the Science of Logic and force and understanding in the Phenomenology of Spirit. Hopefully I can clearly condense a good deal of difficult material to make these points. Without going into too much detail, in the second magnificent volume of Hegel’s Science of Logic, Hegel writes that,

Essence that issues from being seems to confront it as an opposite; this immediate being is, in the first instance, the unessential.

But secondly, it is more than merely unessential being, it is essenceless being, it is illusory being [Schein].

Thirdly, this illusory being is not something external to or other than essence; on the contrary, it is essence’s own illusory being. The showing of this illusory being within essence itself is reflection. (394)

The translation of “Schein” as illusory being is unfortunate. “Schein” can just as easily be translated as “appearance”, and has connotations of what is “on the face of something” or “keeping up appearances”. The point that Hegel is making is that a distinction has been drawn between how a thing appears or shows itself and what is in the true nature of a thing or its essence. That is, we come to encounter being as containing a true nature that accounts for its appearance. For instance, I no longer encounter my coffee as just the bundle of properties it presents to me such as its color, taste, scent, and so on, but now see these properties as reflecting a nature that makes this coffee what it is. There is thus a distinction between the “coffee-in-itself” and “coffee-for-us”.

Difficulties begin to emerge when this relationship between essence and appearance are treated as external and opposed to one another, such that the essence of the thing is something held in reserve. We only ever relate to appearances, so how are we ever to form a relationship to essence or the internal nature of a being (note that Hegel uses the term “essence” in a very unique and unexpected way, that shouldn’t be confused with abstract form)? The essence of the thing is thought of as its inner nature in distinction from its appearances, yet what is this inner nature? In an enigmatic and famous passage from The Phenomenology of Spirit, Hegel writes that,

The inner world is, for consciousness, still a pure beyond, because consciousness does not yet find itself in it. It is empty, for it is merely the nothingness of appearance, and positively the simple or unitary universal. This mode of the inner being [of Things] finds ready acceptance by those who say that the inner being of Things is unknowable; but another reason for this would have to be given. Certainly, we have no knowledge of this inner world as it is here in its immediacy; but not because Reason is too short-sighted or is limited, or however else one likes to call it… but because of the simple nature of the matter in hand, that is to say, because in the void nothing is known, or, expressed from the other side, just because this inner world is determined as the beyond of consciousness. (88)

When we draw the distinction between essence and appearance we also try to determine what belongs to the object as such and what is contributed by us (or language, or culture). Hegel’s point seems to be that we quickly discover that we must subtract all predicates from the object of knowledge to get at the being-in-itself as it is unrelated to us, yet in doing so the object evaporates into nothing or becomes a void. The question of epistemology can be treated as the the question of how we get to the thing itself, while skepticism and relativism can be seen as positions arguing that the thing in itself is unreachable. It’s notable that skepticism does not reject the idea that there is a thing in itself– indeed, it is crucial to its position –but it does claim that we are forever unable to reach this thing in itself.

Hegel’s strategy is to argue that 1) essence is relation. This is a part of the idiosyncracy of his concept of essence I mentioned. The second volume of the Science of Logic is a careful analysis of the various types of relation structuring being, and makes a case in which beings must be understood as networks of specific and embedded relations. And 2) that essence must appear (478). In short, Hegel makes the obvious point that essence is only encountered in and through appearance, and that there is no quality-less essence beyond appearance. I cannot go through all the steps of this argument, but in a representative passage, Hegel remarks that,

A thing has properties; they are, first, the determinate relations of the thing to another thing; property exists only as a mode of relationship between them and is therefore the external reflection and the side of the thing’s positedness. But, secondly, this positedness is in itself; it maintains itself in the relation to the other and is, therefore, admittedly only a surface with which Existence is exposed to the becoming and alteration of being; but the property is not lost in this. A thing has the property of effecting this or that in another thing and of expressing itself in a peculiar manner in its relation to it. It demonstrates this property only under the condition that the other thing has a corresponding constitution, but at the same time the property is peculiar to the first thing and is its self-identical substrate; it is for this reason that this reflected quality is called property. In this the thing passes over into an externality in which, however, the property is preserved. Through its properties the thing becomes cause, and cause is this, that it preserves itself as effect. Here, however, the thing is so far only the quiescent thing of many properties and is not yet determined as actual cause; it is so far only the implicit reflection of its determinations, not yet itself the reflection which posits them.

The thing-in-itself is, therefore, as we have seen not merely thing-in-itself in such a manner that its properties are the positedness of an external reflection; on the contrary, they are its own determinations through which it enters into relationships in a determinate manner; it is not a substrate devoid of determinations and lying beyond its external Existence, but is present in its properties as ground, that is, it is identity-with-self in its positedness… (SL 487-488)

In the Phenomenology of Spirit Hegel will discuss this relatedness of entities producing properties in terms of the “solicitation of force”. Things “solicit” one another evoking properties in relation to one another. For Hegel the thing can never be thought in isolation from its relationship to other things, and moreover, while we may talk about entities containing potentials– indeed, Hegel himself does so in the cited passages –we cannot speak of a thing in-itself that does not appear. The thing exhausts itself in appearing and appears in and through relation. For instance, in psychoanalysis there is not one thing, the unconscious, that is in-itself, and another thing, the symptoms/parapraxes, that are appearances. Rather, the two are on a mobius strip with one another and the symptom is evoked in relation to the Other and others. Lacan is very Hegelian in this regard.

So this brings me to a first point: There is a tendency in epistemological frames of thought to subtract the knowing subject from these basic principles, rather than seeing the subject as an element in these interrelationships. This creates the irresolvable problem of how it is possible to know the thing itself. However, everything changes once we recognize that the subject itself is caught up in these networks of relations, and it becomes possible to see knowledge as an ontological result of a process of individuation (here and here and here and here). To try to put the point a bit more clearly, knowledge must be seen as resulting from the milieu in which it is individuated, or its field of engagement. I take it that this responds to your remarks about material and historical conditions. If this is ontological rather than epistemological, then this is because there is no further being in-itself beyond these interactions and relations that would be a true object of knowledge. None of this is to suggest that I am a Hegelian or that I follow him in all the claims he makes. I do find, however, that the Doctrine of Essence in the Science of Logic, is a model of clear thinking (though not clear writing), and of great interest to anyone committed to relational ontology and fatigued by ineffectual epistemic critiques.

Consequently, my proposal is that rather than asking which is the right form of knowledge or claiming that there is no knowledge, we instead look at how knowledges are individuated and produced in a specific field of relations. This would also amount to a theory of learning rather than a theory of representing. Of course, this raises significant questions with regard to the Enlightenment project of critique and demystification that I have not yet worked through.

Fatigue is overtaking me and I find that I’m no closer to giving a persuasive account of just why I think it is important to advance the thesis that being is not One. The intuition lurking in the background seems to be the point that since the conditions of individuation are always specific and unique, and since there is no self-identical thing in-itself that would serve as a measure for ways of relating to beings, there is no one being or whole in which all beings are contained. Rather, we just have divergent topologies of networks of relations that perhaps converge at points but which do not form a totality or whole. If you go back to my very first posts in May you’ll find some attempts to make formal arguments for this claim in relation to my discussions of the death of God.

I came across this article over at Poetix (a blog which I very much enjoy), so I decided I’d shamelessly steal it and post it here. I concur with his conclusion: Badiou’s account of the event does sound suspiciously like Althusser’s late work on the encounter. I wish I did better at reading Althusser. Everytime I sit down to read more than an essay, I find myself so irritated by the rhetoric of scientificity and what rings as a call for Marxist orthodoxy that I have to put it back down. Am I superficial for feeling that the return to Marx (parallel to Lacan’s return to Freud) needs to be pulled off with a bit more style?

Well I just discovered that I’ve landed interview number 2 at one of the schools I desire to be at most. It’s a well known liberal arts college that has a thriving philosophy department. Looking over my post on Ian Lustick’s book, I’ve noticed that there’s been an evolution of my thinking on this blog. There I was concerned about the possibility of breaking from systems, history, and power. Since September I’ve increasingly examined how networks and movements are formed, the fragility of social organization, and how history is used to create openings of possibility in the present. Perhaps I have a research orientation after all. I’m all atwitter with excitement.

I’m always delighted to discover that some other blog or site has linked to me. As a means of authorizing my narcissism, I tell myself that it has roots in a deep Cartesian crisis such that I have come to recognize that the immediacy and self-certainy of the cogito can no longer be established. In establishing the certainty of the cogito, Descartes writes:

But what then am I? A thinking being. What is a thinking being? It is a being which doubts, which understands, which conceives, which affirms, which denies, which wills, which rejects, which imagines also, and which perceives. It is certainly not a trivial matter if all these things belong to my nature. But why should they not belong to it? Am I not that same person who now doubts almost everything, who nevertheless understands and conceives certain things, who is sure of and affirms the truth of this one thing alone, who denies all the others, who wills and desires to know more about them, who rejects error, who imagines many things, sometimes even against my will, and who also perceives many things, as through the medium of the senses or the organs of the body? Is there anything in all that which is not just as true as it is certain that I am and that I exist, even though I were always asleep and though the one who created me directed all his efforts to deluding me? And is there any one who these attributes which can be distinguished from my thinking or which can be said to be separable from my nature? For it is so obvious that it is I who doubt, understand, and desire, that nothing could be added to make it more evident. And I am also certainly the same one who imagines; for once more, even though it could happen that the things I imagine are not true, nevertheless this power of imagining cannot fail to be real, and it is part of my thinking. Finally I am the same being which perceives– that is, which observes certain objects as though by means of the sense organs, because I do really see light, hear noises, feel heat. Will it be said that these appearances are false and that I am sleeping? Let it be so; yet at the very least it is certain that it seems to me that I see light, hear noises, and feel heat. (Descartes, Meditation 2)

Descartes can take solace in the fact that while he may be uncertain of the veracity of his representations, he cannot doubt his own existence. I, on the other hand, am not so lucky; for insofar as I am a subject of the signifier, I only gain evidence of my own existence in and through others who occasionally make gestures in my direction suggesting that perhaps I do exist after all.

Along these lines, I was particularly amused to discover that the political theorist Ian Lustick from University of Pennsylvania has linked to my blog, using a diary I wrote on one of his interviews to plug his book Trapped in the War on Terror. The most amusing thing about this is not the link itself, but that my little corner of the rhizophere is linked alongside Arianna Huffington’s blog, dailykos, and I never knew I was in such auspicious company. Who knows, perhaps I’ll even appear someday on NPR! (shudders)

At any rate, so as to return the favor I’ll plug his book again and the original diary which he apparently appreciated… Hey Lustick, need any new faculty in the Poli Sci department?

My Argentinian friend, the analyst Gracelia Ferraro, has honored me with another letter responding to my remarks about the situation of psychoanalysis in the United States and asked that I post it here. I have been remiss in not posting it earlier and hope she will graciously accept my apology. Gracelia writes,

One addition to Lacan’s “obscurantism” and the difficulty of reading his work: Lacan uses this speech to make “real”, as a dream, that there is no sense of senses or there is no metalanguage. The unconscious is never clear or rational but always enigmatic and I appreciated the difficulties in reading Lacan as part of my training as an analyst. So even if I agree with the fact that simplifying may be useful from the teaching point of view, very useful, the thesis that it is efficacious “transmitting” an encounter with how the rhetoric of the unconscious works is quite inane. We see here the same ethical problem that haunted Freud during the last years of his discoveries. Should we do anything to keep the psychoanalysis alive? (See Ernest Jones’s discussion with Freud about the foundation of the IPA as related to medical vs. psychoanalytical practice). Should we keep its foundations intact with such a high price to pay: fewer analysts with no social or academic achievements? We have to keep in mind that Lacan’s interest in the institution pertains to his question of how an analyst is made. What desire animates an analyst? How does one’s own analysis leads to it?

I understand the cultural context you explain as being representative of our cultural differences, and obviously you must be correct according to what I can read elsewhere. However in my country, the problems are of a different shape but lead to the same problem: The Psychoanalytical Institution (APA) loves the symbolic and the mirror stage, but have mixed it with anything at hand resulting in a lame heterodoxy or heterology , while keeping the “contratransferencial” form of interpretation.

We cannot make ourselves the keepers of orthodoxy or the “truth” which being half said reaches the impossible, but we have to care about the enigmatic shape of unconscious and not confuse it with either the mystical or over rational “scientific” biases. That is how I understand what is at stake with Lacan’s engagement with knots or mathemes within his discourse: a complete “transmission” of the concept.

How can the Academy can take the extreme and exceptionally precise enunciation “there is not a sexual proportion”? what biologist will agree?. We can trace this extraordinary (for the common sense) assumption back to Freud. But you see Levi, these are questions not discussed, we prefer to see Lacanian “concepts” everywhere except where they have to be seen: at the less-one of the subject, the parletre … Many think that Lacan is a structuralist because of Derrida’s influence on Academics (I guess). We need to stress this point if we don’t want to be so divided between our practice and “ the world”.

I have nothing more to add, except perhaps to raise the question of whether the subject is, in fact, present in discussions of Lacan in the United States. By this I am not referring to the level of the concept, where one heroically defends the concept of the subject against postmodern, neuropsychological, and post-phenomenological declarations that the subject is dead. Within Lacanian practice, the subject is never encountered as such, but always fades behind the signifier, disappearing the moment that it appears. The subject is present as enigma. What the appropriations of psychoanalysis by cultural studies risks is an illusory mastery of the subject or suturing shut of the unconscious on the premise that psychoanalysis provides the tools to decipher all formations of the unconscious.

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