There is always that moment I dread when, sitting on an airplane or train, someone asks me what I do for a living. “Oh, I’m a professor and a psychoanalyst.” “Really, wow, what do you teach.” Here I find myself internally cringing, my whole body tightens up. Should I say? “Well, philosophy.” “Philosophy! Tell me, what’s your philosophy? What are the major issues in philosophy today?” Right about this time I want to flee very quickly. How can I answer this question? Am I really a philosopher? I don’t really seem to belong to any discipline. For instance, when, occasionally, this blog is listed on other sites I’m invariably described as a Lacanian theorist that discusses issues pertaining to culture and politics. This always surprises me, as I take myself as primarily interested in issues in metaphysics and epistemology, and see my interests in psychoanalysis as pertaining to issues of the necessity of reconceptualizing the nature of the subject due to discoveries made in the last one hundred or so years in fields such as ethnology, anthropology, sociology, communications theory, psychoanalysis, etc. I take it that these discoveries necessitate new ways of posing very old philosophical questions and concerns.

The situation is worse in job interviews. “Tell us a bit about your research.” Suddenly I feel myself overwhelmed by anxiety and encounter what Heidegger called “being-towards-death”. My research. What is my research? Do I have an overarching project? Do I have some central idea or problem that I’m trying to work through? When I go back and look at what I’ve written in the last ten years I’m often astonished by the consistency of what I’ve thought about, by how I return to the same themes and issues over and over again. Yet when I’m “in it”, it all just seems like a chaotic and random mess. Should I tell them about the figures I’m interested in? Well that strategy isn’t so good as I tend to interpret figures a bit idiosyncratically, so if I talk about my interest in Hegel, for instance, they’ll assume that I advocate a teleological view of history, the idea of a total system of absolute knowledge, and a facile conception of dialectics organized around the infamous triad of theses, antitheses, and syntheses. If I talk about logics of antagonisms, chances are they won’t have the faintest clue as to what I’m talking about. If I talk about what I’m writing at the particular moment and what I plan to write in the near future, then they won’t see a defined project. And if I talk about my interest in Lacan they’ll assume that I’m interested in psychology, not philosophy, not seeing the significance of psychoanalysis with regard to some key philosophical concerns. So it goes.

In a very powerful passage from Difference and Repetition, Deleuze writes,

…the condition must be a condition of real experience, not of possible experience. It forms an intrinsic genesis, not an extrinsic conditioning. In every respect, truth is a matter of production, not of adquation… 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)

I suppose this is what I am trying to think about– The production of the true, not as the work of a sovereign or idealist subject as the truth of my identity itself is something that is the result of a real genesis, but as the resolution of a problematic field. How, for instance, is it that we come to conceive ourselves in this or that way at this or that time throughout history? Why, for instance, does the subject suddenly come to experience itself as split around the time of Freud, as no longer master of its thought, where a couple centuries before it encountered itself as transparent? What empirical worlds are discovered as a result of these various problematic fields? What types of objects populate this or that world at this or that particular time or for this or that community or animal? As Heidegger demonstrated in his beautiful Fundamental Concepts of Metaphysics: World, Finitude, Solitude, an object is never simply a thing that is there present-at-hand in its own right, but always belongs to a specific world. The problem with Heidegger– at least in this text — is that despite his use of ecology, these worlds are always measured against the world of Dasein. Thus Dasein is understood to have a world, animals are thought as poor in world, and things like rocks are thought without world. Why not think worlds in their own right, without this primacy of Dasein? How would the genesis of truth be thought for these worlds?

At any rate, it is something along these lines that I think that I’m trying to think about. Others tell me that I’m thinking about very different things, and they’re probably right. In connection with his discussion of sense, Deleuze hits the core of the difficulty:

Sense is what is expressed by a proposition, but what is this expressed? It cannot be reduced either to the object designated or to the lived state of the speaker. Indeed, we must distinguish sense and signification in the following manner: signification refers only to concepts and the manner in which they relate to the objects conditioned by a given field of representation; whereas sense is like the Idea which is developed in the sub-representative determinations. It is not surprising that it should be easier to say what sense is not than to say what it is. In effect, we can never formulate simultaneously both a proposition and its sense; we can never sawy what is the sense of what we say. From this point of view, sense is the veritable loquendum, that which in its empirical operation cannot be said, even though it can be said only in its transcendental operation. (DR, 154-55)

Deleuze will develop his analysis of sense in great detail in The Logic of Sense, though these few pages from Difference and Repetition, pages 153-164, are absolutely indispensible for making headway into that enigmatic text. It is notable here that sense is neither the subject, nor the object, nor even the proposition itself, but something out of which all three of these terms emerge. Sense, for Deleuze, is thus not a linguistic category or a category of minds, but an ontological and genetic category. I find myself in sense, sense does not find itself in me. The object is in sense, sense is not in the object. One might object and say “but of course sense is a category of mind, he refers to it as an Idea”, but in Deleuze’s venacular, an Idea is not a mental category after the fashion of Locke, but is an ontological category referring to problems or multiplicities, or the sub-representational domain of the pre-individual out of which entities are individatuated or actualized. For Deleuze, Ideas are far closer to Plato’s conception of Ideas as the ground of beings, than to Locke’s notion of mental entities that populate the mind. As I endlessly repeat here, Problems are.

All of this is perhaps why I recoil in horror when someone asks me what my philosophy is or what my research is about. To ask what someone’s research or philosophy is, is to ask them to simultaneously formulate a proposition and state the sense of that proposition. Yet I can say what I mean or mean what I say, but I cannot say what I mean and mean what I say. It is perhaps for this reason that a project can only ever retroactively be formulated, which is, of course, a paradox in that a project is precisely a pro-ject, something that one is working towards. Yet if I can only say what I mean or mean what I say, then I can only know my project as a “re-ject”, or as something I retrospectively discover. “Oh, that’s what I was working on, that’s what it was all about.”

I then find myself wondering how it is possible to work on anything at all. The answer, of course, is that sense is only in being made. This generates further paradoxes. For I would like to be able to say that sense is something that is discovered, that it is something that is already there, existing in its own right. For instance, the literary critic might wish to hold that the sense is already there in the text waiting to be unlocked. However, if sense is only in being made, then sense is only in engendering itself. The sense of a text is something that is only produced in reading the text, where both the reader and the text are engendered as products of that interaction, or after-effects. This would be true of psychoanalysis as well. In going through analysis, you don’t discover anything, but rather you engender something. It is not that such and such an unconscious conflict was already there as the secret truth of the symptom, but rather that the symptom, the subject of the symptom, and the conflict are engendered in the process of free association, thereby transforming the economy as a whole. The unconscious is thus not something that precedes analysis, but is a result of analysis. The problem here is that we always want to treat the object of analysis as independent of our analysis of it and ourselves as independent of the object we engage with, not seeing the manner in which our engagement with that object produces it while it produces us. For instance, in a psychoanalytic vein we might think of how we come to take on certain identities in interacting with others and how they take on entities in interacting with us. How do students, for instance, produce professors and professors produce students? How does this interaction generate the conflicts that populate the classroom?

My initial impulse is to wonder whether all of this isn’t the worst form of subjective idealism, of Berkeley’s Esse est percipi, where mind is somehow creating reality. However, this misses the key point that it is not the mind that is doing the producing here, but rather the interaction that is doing the producing. This interaction could be with biological critters that have brains and objects in the world, it can be with social groups and a world, it can be with objects interacting with one another that have no brains at all. But it is the interaction, the problematic field or multiplicity that it defines, that is to be thought, not a mind imposing its form on the world about it. The former is formed in the forming. As such, we here have a materialism where the materiality of matter is to be thought as productivity after the fashion of Marx. If nature is anything, then it is production and it becomes necessary to think the specific conditions of production– their historical specificity, their concrete specificity, etc –to understand that thing.

The tragedy of all of this is that I can never finally say the sense of what I say; however, this is the happy news as well. For each time I say the sense of what I’ve said, I find that I must then say the sense of the sense of what I said. The problematic field reinserts itself and new problems are born. This is why texts do not exhaust themselves. Every time the critic speaks the sense of a text, that text is transformed and new calls to say the sense are produced. When Whitehead says that all of philosophy is a footnote to Plato, it is perhaps this that he had in mind: That each philosopher finds herself engaged in saying the sense of those that came before her, thereby producing a new result, new subjects, new objects, a new world. For in the end, aren’t all philosophies lived? Don’t I transform my way of living, feeling, seeing, perceiving, and acting as a result of the sense of what I thought?

I have no idea what I’m trying to say here.