February 2007


I haven’t read this yet, but it looks as if it’s potentially very interesting for anyone interested in issues of systems, organization, recurrence, and process.

NOTE: HTML and Lacanian mathemes don’t mix very well. In what follows I’ve used “*” to represent the “losange”, “punch”, or diamond in Lacan’s formulas for fantasy.

Filled with exhaustion from the excitement of last night and the lack of sleep it engendered, I don’t really have much to say today, but I simply wanted to post this passage from Zizek’s Plague of Fantasies as it so nicely encapsulates the Lacanian theory of fantasy, first developed in Seminar 6, Le desir et son interpretation, and culminating in Seminar 14, La logique du fantasme.
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Judge Schreber had his psychotic break when he was appointed to a high ranking governmental position and had an encounter with the place where the name-of-the-father ought to be in his unconscious. While certainly not being given such a position myself, I have to confess that I feel a bit sick with anxiety myself. I just received an email from Peter Hallward asking if I’d be interested in taking Mladen Dolar’s position at this conference in March.

Mladen Dolar’s position?!?… Peter Hallward? What’s going on here? Anthony Paul Smith tells me that all the interesting things in Deleuze studies are taking place in Middlesex. On the one hand, a free trip to Great Britain isn’t exactly the sort of thing you turn down. Moreover, a substantial portion of my study of Deleuze is devoted to precisely the question of Deleuze’s own particular brand of rationalism, so I have plenty to say on this issue. I do, after all, pitch Deleuze as a hyper-rationalist, and this would give me the opportunity to respond to the absence of any discussion of individuation and the differentials in Hallward’s discussion of Deleuze.

On the other hand, pulling something together by mid-March is a bit of a stretch. I have my on-campus interview next week and will have to cancel classes for that. I’m in the midsts of my Zizek/Badiou article and have the editor breathing down my neck wondering where it is. And chances are I would have to cancel four days of class to go on this little expedition. But then again, opportunities like this don’t come along every day.

I think I’m going to go get sick now.

***

Alright, alright, you’ve all convinced me that I can’t pass this up. I’ve pitched my proposal to Hallward and he likes. The title of the paper will probably be something like “Aesthetics as an Apodictic Discipline: Deleuzian Ideas, Multiplicities, and Differential Relations”. Basically I’ll be trying to make sense of what Deleuze could have possibly meant when he remarks, in Difference and Repetition, that,

Divergence and decentering must be affirmed in the series itself. Every object, every thing, must be see its own identity swallowed up in difference, each being no more than a difference between differences. Difference must be shown differiong. We know that modern art tends to realize these conditions: in this sense it becomes a veritable theatre of metamorphoses and permutations. A theatre where nothing is fixed, a labryinth without a thread (Ariadne has hung herself). The work of art leaves the domain of representation in order to become ‘experience’, transcendental empiricism or science of the sensible.

It is strange that aesthetics (as the science of the sensible) could be founded on what can be represented in the sensible. True, the inverse procedure is not much better, consisting of the attempt to withdraw the pure sensible from representation and to determine it as that which remains once representation is removed (a contradictory flux, for example, or a rhapsody of sensations). Empiricism truly becomes transcendental, and aesthetics an apodictic discipline (my italics), only when we apprehend directly in the sensible that which can only be sensed, the very being of the sensible: difference, potential difference and difference in intensity as the reason behind qualitative diversity. It is in difference that movement is produced as an ‘effect’, that phenomena flash their meaning like signs. The intense world of differences, in which we find the reason behind qualities and the being of the sensible, is precisely the object of a superior empiricism. (56-7)

And as Deleuze goes on to say much later, “Difference is not diversity. Diversity is given, but difference is that by which the given is given, that by which the given is given as diverse” (222).

This then will require a discussion of Kant’s conception of the aesthetic in the first Critique, his distinction between pure intuition (space-time), and material intuition (the rhapsodic flux of sensations or qualities), Hume’s skepticism, and Deleuze’s transformation of the principle of sufficient reason. Hopefully I’ll be able to pull something interesting together in the next month.

All that remains now is to find out whether or not Middlesex will give Hallward the funding for my plane ticket. I should know by Friday.

For better or worse, this will be the new home of Larval Subjects. I’ve imported all of the original posts from Blogger so you can now find them here. There’s a handy search function in the lefthand bar– though oddly it’s not labelled –that you can use to find specific and incriminating things. In the days to come I’ll be updating the blogroll, so don’t feel miffed if you’re not yet listed. If you have comments about the aesthetics of the blog let me know. I know that white on black can be hard on the eyes, so right now I’m vascillating back and forth as to whether or not to keep this template. We’ll see.

For those who have offered to help me proof the book, I am waiting on the galleys to make the final decision. I deeply appreciate, and am touched, that so many of you have offered to help.

Once again the theory wars have erupted throughout the blogosphere (here and here and here) and once again I find myself both disturbed and confused as to what these wars are about. On the one hand, if I find myself disturbed by these discussions then this is because vaguely I experience myself as falling within the scope of these critiques, and I see all of this as somehow being bound up with questions of institutional power.
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blog trackingJodi Dean has a very interesting post over at I Cite on what holds discursive communities– especially academic communities –together, and what is required to critique these communities. There she writes,

The same holds when one talks about political theory. In American political science, theorists are a separate subfield and generally treated as separate by the rest of the discipline. We are sometimes considered a field among ourselves, perhaps because we read Aristotle and Hobbes while the others think that politics can be a science and try to find formal models that do something besides stating the obvious. Yet, political theorists disagree among ourselves. A big division is between those who do a kind of analytic political theory–or who are still oriented toward Rawls–and those who do continental. Yet, among continental theorists there are also huge debates and disagreements. The Habermasians don’t read Deleuze or Zizek (not to mention Ranciere, Laclau, Agamben, or Badiou). And, while I’m on a journal with a bunch of Deleuzians, they are generally non-sympathetic to Zizek (they think he is not immanent enough and that the notion of the lack is both dangerous and wrong).

Can it mean anything, then, to reject or criticize political theory as a whole? If one is a formal modeler, yes. One is saying that only with formal methods can anything significant be said about politics. But, this is not a critique. It is simply a rejection. I don’t critique formal modeling in my work. I simply reject it. I find it uninteresting and irrelevant. (I’ll add that I do think there is an important role for a lot of empirical political science although I don’t do that sort of work myself.)

Ray Davies makes an interesting point in a thread over at faucets and pipes:

Words aren’t solid tokens which can be extracted from one game and used in a different game while meaning the same thing. Precise definitions are important when rationally arguing against a supposedly rational argument, but can be toxic to community formation, as I’ve personally seen in attempts to establish the boundaries of “science fiction” or “poetry”. A social term is, finally, defined socially, and, in healthily varied communities, allows for unpredictable outliers.

I agree. Terms are markers of discursive communities.

So, can one criticize an entire discursive community by invoking one of their terms? Yes, if one is rejecting the community per se. Here one would be making an institutional argument, that is, an argument about the group existing as a group. But one would not be addressing any of the discursive content through which the group is constituted. Why–because it is precisely the contestation over the content that designates membership in the group. (This is why I never take a stand on alien abduction or 9/11 truth; that would constitute me as a member of the group/discursive community I’m trying to understand.)

I don’t have a whole lot to add to her post; however, in addition to these discursive factors of how a master-signifier is attached to a specific set of signifiers (S2’s) for this or that variant of feminism or variant of Lacanians or group of political theorists, it seems to me that we should also include a discussion of jouissance, or the particular form of enjoyment that bounds a community together. This would include not just the way the community itself enjoys, but also the manner in which the community perceives other groups enjoying and seeks to defend against this enjoyment… That is, the shared fantasy of the group pertaining to how the Other illegitimately enjoys.
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In a striking passage from Seminar XVII: The Other Side of Psychoanalysis, Lacan remarks,

What have I said, in effect, about any possible saying [dire] in the place of truth? The truth, I have been saying, can only be stated via a half-saying [mi-dire], and I have given you a model for it in the enigma. For this is how it is always presented to us, and certainly not in the form of a question. The enigma is something that presses us for a response in the name of a mortal danger. Truth is a question, as has been known for a long time, only for administrators. “What is truth?” We know by whom that was, on one good occasion, eminently pronounced.

But this form of half saying that truth restricts itself to is one thing, and this division of the subject which takes advantage of this to mask itself is another. The division of the subject is something quite different. If “where he is not, he is thinking,” and if “where he is not thinking he is,” it is indeed because he is in both places. And I would even say that this formulation of the Spaltung is improper. The subject partakes in the real precisely in that it is impossible, apparently. Or, to put it better, if I had to employ a figure that doesn’t occur here by chance, I would say that the case with it is like that of the electron, where the latter is proposed to us as being at the intersection of the wave theory and the corpuscular theory. (103)

Of course, the split here that Lacan speaks of is between the ego and the subject of the unconscious. In and through my ego, as a sort of frozen statue or image of oneself that one aspires to, we find a minimal ontological consistency. Yet it must be emphasized that this image is frozen, and is for that reason without thought. Rather, if there is thought it takes place in this other scene, the unconscious, that is always at odds with the frozen and statuesque image of the ego that we take ourselves to be.
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One of the central axioms of sociological systems theory is the thesis that systems process events according to their own internal organization. As Luhmann puts it in his magnificent work Social Systems,

The environment receives its unity through the system and only in relation to the system. It is delimited by open horizons, not by boundaries that can be crossed; thus it is not itself a system. It is different for every system, because every system excludes only itself from its environment. Accordingly, the environment has no self-reflection or capacity to act. Attribution to the environment (external attribution) is a strategy of systems. But this does not mean that the environment depends on the system or that the system can comman its environment as it pleases. Instead, the complexity of the system and of the environment– to which we will later return –excludes any totalizing form of dependence in either directions. (17)

For Luhmann, the fundamental distinction in sociological systems theory is the distinction between system and environment. Systems constitute themselves by distinguishing themselves from an environment. However, the key point is that, to put it in Hegelian terms, the relationship between system and environment is not an “external positing” where the environment is one thing and the system is another thing, but rather the unity of the environment is itself constituted by the system, such that the relation between system and environment is a self-referential relation constituted by the system itself. Any occurance taking place that the system attributes as coming from the environment but which doesn’t fit the frame of this distinction is simply coded as noise or chaos. (more…)

One of the central axioms of sociological systems theory is the thesis that systems process events according to their own internal organization. As Luhmann puts it in his magnificent work Social Systems,

The environment receives its unity through the system and only in relation to the system. It is delimited by open horizons, not by boundaries that can be crossed; thus it is not itself a system. It is different for every system, because every system excludes only itself from its environment. Accordingly, the environment has no self-reflection or capacity to act. Attribution to the environment (external attribution) is a strategy of systems. But this does not mean that the environment depends on the system or that the system can comman its environment as it pleases. Instead, the complexity of the system and of the environment– to which we will later return –excludes any totalizing form of dependence in either directions. (17)

For Luhmann, the fundamental distinction in sociological systems theory is the distinction between system and environment. Systems constitute themselves by distinguishing themselves from an environment. However, the key point is that, to put it in Hegelian terms, the relationship between system and environment is not an “external positing” where the environment is one thing and the system is another thing, but rather the unity of the environment is itself constituted by the system, such that the relation between system and environment is a self-referential relation constituted by the system itself. Any occurance taking place that the system attributes as coming from the environment but which doesn’t fit the frame of this distinction is simply coded as noise or chaos.

It is for this reason that systems are characterized by “operational closure”, such that events are processed according to the organization of the system in such a way that what an event is is always-already predelineated by the organization of the system. As Luhmann writes a bit further on,

Information occurs whenever a selective event (of an external or internal kind) works selectively within the system, namely, can select the system’s states. This presupposes a capacity for being oriented to (simultaneous or successive) differences that appear to be bound to a self-referential operational mode of the system. “A ‘bit’ of information,” as Bateson says, “is definable as a difference which makes a difference.” This means that the difference as such begins to work if and insofar as it can be treated as information in self-referential systems.

Therein lies an immense extension of possible causalities and a discplacement of the structural problematics under their control. the extension goes in two directions. On the one hand, given the capacity to process information, things that are not present can also have an effect; mistakes, null values, and disappointments acquire causality insofar as they can be grasped via the schema of a difference. On the other, not just events but facts, structures, and continuities stimulate causalities insofar as they can be experienced as differences. Remaining unchanged can thus become a cause of change. Structural causality makes self-determination possible. Systems can store up possibilities of affecting themselves and, with the help of schemata that employ differences, can retrieve these at need. It should be noted, however, that structure does not operate as such, on the basis of a force dwelling within it. It merely enters into the experience of difference, which makes information possible, without necessarily determination what will take place there. Thus a system creates its own past as its own causal basis, which enables it to gain distances from the causal pressure of the environment without already determining through internal causality what will occur in confrontations with external events…

As a result of all this, the operational mode of self-referential systems changes into forms of causality that to a large extent reliably prevent it from being steered from outside. All the effects that one wishes to acheive ab extra either in the system or with it assume that the system can perceive impulses from without as information– which is to say, as the experience of difference –and can in this way bring about an effect. Such systems, which procure causality for themselves, can no longer be “causally explained” (except in the reductive schema of an observer), not because their complexity is impenetrable, but on logical grounds. (40-41)

In short, systems do not function according to linear relations of cause and effect such as the transfer of motion that takes place in one billiard ball hitting another, but rather function according to a system specific causality that governs how events “impinging” on the system are received. What counts as information for a system, will depend on codes and programs belonging to the system. Elsewhere, in his beautiful and very accessible work, The Reality of the Mass Media, Luhmann explains that these codes are binary distinctions that determine how events are to be sorted as information. Programs then define how information is to be put to use by the system in question. Thus, for instance, the legal system perhaps organizes all events into information according to the code of legal/illegal, whereas the news media system processes all events according to the code information/non-information, and so on.

One of the key implications of this understanding of operational closure is that information cannot be transferred from one system to another. As Luhman puts it in The Reality of the Mass Media,

If, in addition, one starts out from the theory of operationally closed systems of information processing, the generation of information processing, the generation of information and the processing of information must be going on within the same system boundaries, and both differences to which Bateson’s definition is geared must be distinctions in the same system. Accordingly, there are no information transfers from system to system. Having said that, systems can generate items of information which circulate between their subsystems. So one must always name the system reference upon which any use of the concept of information is based. (19)

The reason for this is immediately clear: If there are no transfers of information from system to system, then this is because information is only information for a specific system by virtue of the distinctions employed by that system. Insofar as different systems employ different distinctions to sort information, it follows that the event sorted according to the operative distinctions produces different information in both cases. It is for this reason that systems are not susceptible to “steering” from the outside, as the manner in which the system receives these events will be governed by the distinctions employed by that system. In this regard, Luhmann has a number of very pessimistic things to say about Marxist ambitions to steer the social system through either the economic or social system.

It seems to me that all of this is highly revelant in the context of Badiou’s theory of the event. Very briefly, for Badiou an event is an occurance that fits none of the predicative categories governing what he calls a situation. In the lexicon or encyclopedia of the situation, there simply is no name for the event. Put in Luhmann-speak, an event is that which evades the binary codes governing how events are to be transformed into information. According to Badiou we can never demonstrate that an event has truly taken place precisely because there are no categories in the situation for counting the occurance. Consequently, the event is little more than chaos or noise. For Badiou, a subject is that agent that emerges in the wake of the event that resolves to count the event as belonging to the situation and to re-evaluate all elements of the situation in light of the implications this event has for the structure of the situation. There is thus a distinction, for Badiou, between subjects and individuals. Prior to nominating and becoming agents of an event, all of us are individuals. However, in being siezed by an event I become a subject by bearing active fidelity to the event, sustaining it through this fidelity, and seeking to transform the situation in light of the event.

In light of Luhmann, two serious concerns arise in relation to this theory of the event: First, if all systems process events in terms of system specific distinctions or codes, how is it possible for individuals to be open to events at all? Individuals are either their own systems or are iterations of the broader systems to which they belong through interpellation (Althusser’s ISO’s). It would seem that an individual must already be prepared to receive an event in order to be capable of discerning an event as an event rather than as mere noise or chaos. Consequently we can ask, “what are the conditions for the possibility of being receptive to an event in Badiou’s sense of the word?” Second, is Badiou, perhaps, overly optimistic about the transformative possibilities of events? If subsystems of a system– society –process events according to their own codes, there is a serious question as to how these subsystems could be open to the re-interpretations undertaken by the subject of an event. I don’t have answers to these questions and am not offering these observations as a way of demolishing Badiou. Rather, these are questions posed for further work and thought.

Unfortunately I’m just not very witty like many of you out there in the blogosphere, so I thought some of you might assist me with the title of my book. When I told my students the title they all exclaimed “wow, long title”. So what do you think:

The Transcendental Empiricism: Between Aesthetics and Representation

or

Difference and Givenness: Deleuze’s Transcendental Empiricism and Ontology of Immanence

I’m partial to the latter as I like “and” titles, but who knows. Additionally, I wonder if anyone would like to help me in proofing the manuscript once the galleys come in. The plan is for the book to go into production by April, so things are going to be extremely hectic during the next few months. Being the poor bloke that I am, I can’t offer money, but I can offer acknowledgement.

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