February 2007


A good friend of mine, Craig Greenman, used to wax utopian about Loyola Beach in Chicago. Loyola Beach, said Craig, was a non-striated space, and he was right. People from all walks of life congregated there. I lived on Morse Avenue at the time, in Roger’s Park, just off Sheridan. It was one of the most diverse neighborhoods in Chicago, with a diverse Indian, Eastern European, Jewish, Hispanic, Muslim, and African-American community. And Loyola Beach? We all congregated there, the poor and the wealthy, the educated and the uneducated, all different groups, religions, economic strata, and ethnicities. The fourth of July was a sight to behold. Fireworks would explode. Everyone would cook out. The air would be filled with smoke from burning fireworks and campfires. Everyone was welcome even though it was Babel, even though we didn’t speak the same language. We all strolled and laughed with one another.

Often I find myself waxing utopian about this community that we’ve formed. I’ve always dreamt of a new Agora, of an empty space where discourse takes place. Will all of this have been anything? What will my encounters with N.Pepperell, Jodi Dean, Lars, K-Punk, Anthony Paul Smith, Infinite Thought or Nina, Aleatorist, Yusef, Orla, PEBird, Scott Eric Kaufmann, Foucault is Dead, Blah-Feme, Dejan, Fido the Yak, Ken Rufo, Dr. X, Susan, and all the others have been about? Here we have a non-striated space where difference in academics, orientations, and backgrounds fall into the shadows and where we speak freely. Will the trace of our speech have been preserved? Will we have done anything at all? Will we have accomplished anything at all? I try to cultivate a cynical and pessimistic attitude in all things, weaving myself as suspicious of all utopian aspirations, yet it is difficult for me not to be enthusiastic about our discourses.

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If one adopts Deleuze’s account of individuation it is clear that the problems of philosophy are significantly transformed. For instance, epistemology can no longer be conceived as the question of how we arrive at a knowledge of “true reality”, precisely because the objects of knowledge are themselves the result of processes of individuation where both the subject and object of knowledge are simultaneously produced. As Deleuze will argue in chapter 3 of Difference and Repetition, “The Image of Thought”– the chapter, incidentally, that he suggests was the most important for all his subsequent work (DR, xvii) –truth itself must be seen as the result of a genesis. “We always have as much truth as we deserve in accordance with the sense of what we say. Sense is the genesis or the production of the true, and truth is only the empirical result of sense” (DR, 154). This genesis just is the process of individuation, or the movement from problems to solutions.

Sense is located in the problem itself. Sense is constituted in the complex theme, but the complex theme is that set of problems and questions in relation to which the propositions serve as elements of response and cases of solution. This definition, however, requires us to rid ourselves of an illusion which belongs to the dogmatic image of thought: problems and questions must no longer be traced from corresponding propositions which serve, or can serve, as responses. We know the agent of this illusion: it is interrogation which, within the framework of a community, dismembers problems and questions, and reconstitutes them in accordance with the propositions of the common empirical consciousness– in other words, according to the probable truths of simple doxa… The failure to see that sense or the problem is extra-propositional, that it differs in kind from every proposition, leads us to miss the essential: the genesis of the act of thought, the operation of the faculties. Dialectic is the art of problems and questions, the combinatory or calculus of problems as such.

“Problem”, for Deleuze, is synonymous with what he refers to as Ideas or Multiplicities. That is, a problem is a field of differential relations and their accompanying singularities or potentialities. Consequently, we are not to understand problems as negative entities or mental entities, but as properly ontological instances presiding over the process of individuation. Problems are. This is why Deleuze, in Difference and Repetition, will use the term “Ideas” to refer to these multiplicities, thereby referring back to the ontological status of Ideas in Plato, while also drawing on Kant’s theory of Ideas as problems that admit of no solution but which organize all thought in The Critique of Pure Reason. Deleuze, of course, develops his own theory of Problems-Ideas-Multiplicities that will escape the representational assumptions of Plato and Kant.
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For some reason, today, I found my mind continuously returning to the epigraph of Deleuze’s charming little book Spinoza: A Practical Philosophy. There Deleuze draws a passage from Malamud’s text, The Fixer.

“Let me ask you what brought you to Spinoza? Is it that he was a Jew?”

“No, your honor. I didn’t know who or what he was when I first came across the book– they don’t exactly love hi9m in the synagogue, if you’ve read the story of his life. I found it in a junkyard in a nearby town, paid a kopek and left cursing myself for wasting money hard to come by. Later I read through a few pages and kept on going as though there were a whirlwind at my back. As I say, I didn’t understand every word but when you’re dealing with such ideas you feel as though you were taking a witch’es ride. After that I wasn’t the same man…”

“Would you mind explaining what you think Spinoza’s work means? IN other words if it’s a philosophy what does it state?”

“That’s not so easy to say… The book means different things according to the subject of the chapters, though it’s all united underneath. But what I think it means is that he was out to make a free man of himself– as much as one can according to his philosophy, if you understand my meaning –by thinking things through and connecting everything up, if you’ll go along with that, your honor.”

“That isn’t a bad approach, through the man rather than the work. But…”

I’m feeling rather despondant today, a bit dim. Perhaps I’m suffering from post-traumatic interview syndrome, or maybe it’s everything going on with the book. Occasionally I feel as if I go through these periods where I become all but autistic; where I lose my will to speak with anyone or think at all. Yet nonetheless I found that I couldn’t shake this passage from my mind, even though it’s been so long since I read the book. Similarly, when I returned home from the office I found myself delving back into Lucretius’ De Rerum Natura, a book that I’ve kept beside my bed for many years and that I read when I wake up in the middle of the night.
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In a seldom mentioned passage from his seventh seminar, The Ethics of Psychoanalysis, Lacan remarks that,

We must see right away how crude it is to accept the idea that, in the ethical order itself, everything can be reduced to social constraint, as is so often the case in the theoretical writings of certain analysts– as if the fashion in which that constraint develops doesn’t in itself raise a question for people who live within the realms of our experience. In the name of what is social constraint exercised? Of a collective tendency? Why in all this time hasn’t such social constrained managed to focus on the most appropriate paths to the satisfaction of individuals’ desires? Do I need to say anymore to an audience of analysts to make clear the distance that exists between the organization of desires and the organization of needs? (225)

It is impossible to read this passage and not think of the first volume of Foucault’s History of Sexuality. That is, Lacan here alludes to a critique of the so-called repressive hypothesis on two axes: On the one hand, we have the question of what would ever lead the individual to tolerate such repression, constraint, or law in the first place. Certainly the individual would unilaterally rebuke such a repression in a mythological state of nature. What is it that leads the individual to tolerate, accept, and even will these repudiations of basic biological needs? On the other hand, we have the question of why the social order has not yet delivered satisfaction and what function this dissatisfaction might serve. This disconcerting experience of finding in Lacan what one takes to be a critique of psychoanalysis is common throughout the seminar. For instance, in Seminar 9, L’identification, we will find Lacan developing an elaborate account of the trace and writing. This is in 1961-62. Derrida’s magnificent Speech and Phenomena and Grammatology will be released in 1967.

Passages such as this underline just why there has been so much tension between Marxist orientations of thought and psychoanalysis. Indeed, it is in the context of a discussion of Marx that Lacan makes this remark. If this tension emerges, then this is because Lacan here suggests that there’s something constitutive at the heart of human experience that produces dissatisfaction. Where a vulgar reading of Marx sees our discontent as the result of alienated social relations, Lacan here sees something ineradicable at the heart of our experience.
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Apparently it’s not enough for the rightwing to champion intelligent design and creationism over evolution in biology. Warren Chisum of the Texas state legislature and head of the appropriations committee recently sent out a memo claiming that the earth stands still, does not spin about its axis, and does not revolve about the sun. Read about it here and here, and see the memo for yourself here. Is this for real? It’s getting more and more difficult for me to be patient with organized religion and the religious. How can people such as this possibly get elected? This has to be a joke.

In the HBO documentary “Friends of God”, the now discredited Haggard, when questioned about the push to legislate Christian morality and the exclusions it is based on, points out that this is simply a matter of making decisions and that when you choose Crest toothpaste you necessarily upset those who like Pepsident. Of course, the fans of Crest don’t actively try to prevent the fans of Pepsident from using their toothpaste of choice, so we might wonder at the legitimacy of this comparison. This sort of faith– and perhaps there are other kinds –is anti-social in that it undermines the possibility of dialog among those who differ so as to maintain its convictions hell or highwater, and leads to destructive irrationalism and bitterly divided factional differences. It’s difficult for me not to desire its disappearance altogether and exceedingly difficult for me to be tolerant when this tolerance generates this sort of lunacy and conflict. The documentary is well worth watching, as is the documentary film Jesus Camp where children are taught to be soldiers, are made to hug a cardboard cut out of George Bush, and where faith is wedded in their training to muscular nationalism. Also worth reading is Jesus Land, where a daughter of extremist evangelicals chronicals her experiences at a Dominican Republic Christian reform school that eventually led to the death of her brother. Of course, a number of Christians aren’t like this… But a number of them are.

Here’s some additional interesting reading in related matters. Follow the links.

I’m home and thoroughly exhausted. I had a terrific time talking with the students and had some fantastic conversations with the faculty about their own research and teaching philosophies. We had some really terrific philosophical discussions and our research projects resonated in provocative and exciting ways (it turns out that the analytic phil. science guy works with Riemannian manifolds and is asking a number of very similar questions). All in all I think I did as well as I could do, and feel that I would be a great fit for this position… And that this position would be a great fit for me. I was loose, confident, and friendly, all of which, I think, is good. Honestly this trip was far too enjoyable to be an interview. I think I’ll go enjoy a glass of wine and collapse now.

catboxinggif2.gif Well Thursday morning I head off to Ohio for my whirlwind on-campus interview, returning late Friday afternoon. Hopefully I will perform well. I’ll be presenting on Deleuze’s concept of individuation to the students. I’m feeling pretty confident, which makes me suspicious and a little leery. I suppose I just feel that I’m a good fit for this position. Moreover, if this position doesn’t work out, I feel pretty strongly that there will be other opportunities. Right now what I need is more time for writing and research, upper level students, and an environment supportive and respectful of scholarship. A 5/5 load coupled with analytic work isn’t exactly conducive to writing. At any rate, wish me luck or get out your voodoo dolls. Ouch! Anthony, was that your needle I just felt!?!

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