March 2007

I came across this review of Lampert’s Deleuze and Guattari’s Philosophy of History over at the outstanding Continental Philosophy, written by, of all people, Keith Ansell Pearson. Pearson writes,

With this book Jay Lampert has set new standards of clarity and rigour by which future studies of Deleuze will need to be appraised. It is among the very best studies of his work published to date, and one that should ensure Deleuze’s work does not remain the sole possession of a lunatic fringe. It is not a complete success. Some of its decisions about Deleuze and about the philosophy of history need to be questioned, and not all of its main theses and arguments equally persuade. Where it does succeed is in laying out with great clarity and precision some of the critical questions that need to be addressed to Deleuze’s project, and in showing that there are rich resources in his oeuvre for invigorating questions of history, time, memory, and the future.

Unfortunately I have not yet had the opportunity to read Lampert’s book as it is outrageously priced and I have all too often been burnt by secondary sources on the work of Deleuze and Deleuze and Guattari. Nonetheless, Pearson’s review does make it sound enticing. The focus of the review strikes me as reflective of a growing sense that the bar of scholarship needs to be raised where the work of Deleuze and Guattari are concerned. All too often we’ve been given secondaries that are simply introductions and, in the most egregious cases, show little adequate familiarity with the history of philosophy. Many of these studies content themselves with sloganeering, quoting this racey passage there on difference, this other one here on nomads and rhizomes, and this other one on the writing of the history of philosophy as a buggary designed to produce monsterous creations (somehow the remaining part of the passage about how these readings must be careful and rigorous is always ignored), without doing the hard work of unfolding the conceptual apparatus and arguments Deleuze develops. What we get is a postmodern Deleuze that is more personal fantasy and what one expects to find, rather than a Deleuze who has constructed a formidable and elaborate ontology in close, vigorous dialogue with thinkers such as Parmindes, Plato, Aristotle, Scotus, Descartes, Spinoza, Leibniz, Kant, Maimon, Hegel, Husserl, Sartre, Heidegger, Bergson, Nietzsche, Simondon, the Stoics, Lucretius, and a host of other thinkers that currently escape my recollection.

Moreover, there’s been a tendency for this scholarship to be organized around unproductive friend/enemy distinctions (Plato, Descartes, Kant, and Hegel are bad guys and Hume, Spinoza, Leibniz, Nietzsche, and Bergson are good guys) where arguments and thinkers can simply be rejected as being “philosophers of the State” without argumentation. Admittedly I take delight in writing about Hegel, Descartes, phenomenology, or Lacan in part simply because it violates and disrupts this code that I see to be unthinking and unphilosophical; though this probably is not good for my credibility as a Deleuze scholar. Oh well, I’m not certain I ever wanted to be a scholar anyway, but would prefer to draw on thinkers that give me conceptual resources to articulate what I only vaguely am trying to say (a lot of times I feel like a croaking frog, unsure of what I’m trying to get at).

Nonetheless, in recent years we’ve seen a whole spate of outstanding studies. In part I think this is due to Badiou’s pathbreaking book Deleuze: The Clamour of Being. This is not because Badiou’s book is particularly accurate, but because it forced those that would defend Deleuze to focus on argumentation and the careful development of concepts. We’ve also seen excellent works by Pearson such as Germinal Life and Philosophy and the Adventure of the Virtual, along with the absolutely brilliant and stunning work of de Beistegui in Truth and Genesis: Philosophy as Differential Ontology. Toscano has graced us with his stunning Theatre of Production, and Hallward has set the bar for careful argumentation and commentary in Out of This World, even if one ultimately disagrees with many of his interpretations as I do. DeLanda has opened new paths with Intensive Science & Virtual Philosophy. All of these works are characterized by what I suspect Scott Eric Kaufmann is referring to by “Hegelian seriousness” or the careful working through of the concept and argument. I find it breathtaking and hope it continues. I’m tickled by Pearson’s reference to a “lunatic fringe”. One cannot simply exempt themselves from the rigour of philosophical argumentation as enthusiasts of Deleuze so often appear to wish, while still dogmatically making assertions that are expected to be adopted. Deleuze is a far more rigorous and careful thinker than his defenders often give him credit for being.

Hegel’s account of being-for-itself follows that of “being-there” in the Doctrine of Being. Being-there emerges from becoming and is the moment of determinancy or quality accomplished through negation of what is other. Being-there thus defines itself in terms of limit. The difficulty is that limit is shared by both what is limited and its other. Consequently, the being-there that strives to limit itself finds itself passing into its other. Being-for-itself is the response, the attempted “cure”, to this endless passing over, and takes place through an attempted exclusion of the Other.

Responding to my post on mediation and stupidity, N.Pepperell of Rough Theory writes,

I think the reason for my sort of lightening flash reaction to the text is that – again, solely in terms of the internal logic of this small collection of sentences – the problem of immediacy is here posed as a problem of how sense perception is inadequate or works to confuse us: the taste of the wheat gives us no clues; if we attend only to the evidence of our senses, then, it is plausible – if also criticisable – that we should not stumble across the various social mediations that have led to the production of this wheat, have carried it to our tables, have caused us to perceive it as something to be used for food rather than for some other purpose, etc. Tacitly, the properly critical perspective here lies in focussing our attention, not on the abstracted physical properties of the thing that we are consuming, but on the complex network of social relationships that has enabled this sense perception to take place. Marx is cited unproblematically as the inspiration for this insight.

N.Pepperell is responding to this quote from Deleuze and Guattari:

Let us remember once again one of Marx’s caveats: we cannot tell from the mere taste of wheat who grew it; the product gives us no hint as to the system and the relations of production. The product appears to be all the more specific, incredibly specific and readily describable, the more closely the theoretician relates it to ideal forms of causation, comprehension, or expression, rather than to the real process of production on which it depends. (AO, 24)

I don’t have a lot to say in response to this take on immediacy, but I wanted to clear up an apparent confusion. Sense-perception is certainly a form of immediacy, but a focus on sense-perception is not what I take away from this passage. Rather, I take it that immediacy is a way of relating to objects and concepts that 1) detaches them from their history of becoming, and 2) detaches them from the network of relations through which they derive their sense. The murderer reduced to a murderer would be an example of immediacy, though certainly I cannot perceive the quality of being a murderer through my five senses or sense-intuition. Being-a-murderer rather is a form of what Husserl referred to as categorical intuition. Nonetheless, there is a way of relating to murderer as abstract immediacy and another way of relating to a murder in terms of the mediations out of which he arises. Similarly, being-a-teacher is not something that can be perceived through the five senses, but we can relate to teachers in terms of immediacy. More strikingly yet, I cannot perceive a number, say 10, but I can relate to it in terms of immediacy or mediation.

Hegel’s Science of Logic gives ample evidence of this fluidity of the “immediate”. Each subsequent moment of the Logic begins by treating a particular category as “immediate”, even though each moment after the beginning– “being pure being” –is quite complex, containing a number of mediations. Being-a-teacher is internally an exceedingly complex form of objectivity, but can nonetheless be taken as an immediate when subtracted from its relations.

It had not occured to me to focus on the element of sense-perception in the wheat passage from Deleuze and Guattari; perhaps by virtue of being aware of the context in which they were citing it and by virtue of knowing just how sensitive Deleuze and Guattari are to the social and cultural dimension of experience. What I found striking in the passage was simply the dimension of background or production. As for the questions of what the conditions are for critical subjectivity, I have, as yet, no set and defined answers. I’m busily trying to construct any critical edifice at all and trying to theorize common phenomena that I encounter in the world around me– common platitudes I encounter in the writing of my students, poor administrative policies, and disasterous political decisions –so these questions strike me as roadblocks or obstructions to that sort of work. Decontextualization seems to be a common thread linking these forms of thought. How does the critic come to see this? Shrug. I don’t know. While I fully acknowledge that such a subjectivity too must result from a process of individuation and be riddled with mediations, the more pressing question strikes me as that of what we can do about it and how we can organize forms of thought and praxis that are more sensitive to the dimension of mediation, avoiding the catastrophes that objectifying thought seem to generate by virtue of subtracting phenomena from their networks of relations. Lacan spent his entire career thinking about the formation of analysts and wondered whether or not a single analyst has ever existed. I believe this is a healthy attitude towards critique as well: has a critic ever existed?

In Negative Dialectics, Adorno writes, “the most enduring result of Hegelian logic is that the individual is not flatly for himself. In himself, he is his otherness and linked with others” (161). For me, Hegel’s Science of Logic has always been the great white whale, Ulysses, or Finnegans Wake of philosophy. What interests me in Hegel is not what he has to say about Spirit or reconciliation or the formation of a total system where nothing escapes– as absolute knowledge is sometimes thought to be (incidentally, I finally attained absolute knowledge back in 2004 when I, at long last, completed the Phenomenology, yet sadly I received no raise and many strongly encouraged me not to put this on my CV).

No, what interests me about Hegelian dialectics– especially as formulated in the Logic –is its capacity to think otherness, relation, and an immanent tension within a system pushing it to the point of auto-critique. Anyone who musters the will to read the Science of Logic with open eyes, free of the invectives that have been levelled against Hegel by figures such as Lacan, Deleuze, and Derrida, will be deeply rewarded with the conceptual clarity he brings to the table and the various conflicts that he unfolds and which repeat again and again in a variety of different structures of thought. Despite its Joycean prose, it is a work worth studying carefully and returning to again and again as an endless source of ideas. One can literally say, “oh there’s Deleuze, there’s Quine, look there’s Badiou”, and so on.

N.Pepperell over at Rough Theory has written a very nice post on materialism and critical subjectivity responding to some of my recent scribblings. N.P. writes,

A critical theoretic approach would require that Marx ground his own critical standpoint – that he account for the forms of critical subjectivity manifest in his own critique – using the same categories and the same analytical strategies he directs at the society he criticises. We would presumably agree that Marx understood himself to be presenting a materialist theory – and that materialism functions as a normative ideal within his approach, as a standard against which Marx criticises the mystifications underlying other approaches. Yet what could be more “materialist” than this perception of wheat in terms of its immediate physical properties – this image of objects shorn of their embeddedness in social relationships and moral valences, open for examination by our senses, either directly or as amplified by technology? This issue becomes confused by the more recent flattening of the concept of “materialism” as though it pertains to something specifically economic – and therefore somehow should naturally direct our thoughts to social relations of production. In Marx, I would suggest, the concept still carries both a mixture of this later meaning, and its earlier sense of “secular” and “scientific” thinking – and would thus be somewhat aligned with the tendency to explore the “material” world, understood as a “demystified” and “rationalised” world, shorn of anthropomorphic projections.

Marx’s materialism suggests that things might not be as simple as Deleuze and Guattari imply. If Marx were to point to an object like wheat, and note that social relations cannot be deduced from it, perhaps there is a more complex sense in which such an observation might figure in Marx’s work: perhaps he might also be asking how he can justify the use of “materialist” concepts, within his own self-reflexive and immanent approach. Perhaps he might be seeking to meet the criteria of self-reflexivity (and of immanence or materialism itself) by posing the problem of how it came to pass that we exist in a society that can perceive and think in materialist terms, a society for which notions like sense perception might be appear to be the most basic, the most “natural”, way of perceiving the world – a society whose inhabitants can observe wheat and not immediately think things like: “Yes of course: I recognise this substance: it may only be lawfully consumed by persons of this caste, when prepared in this way, and at this time. It may only be produced by persons of that sort, using these traditional techniques, and with the proper ritual performances.”

I confess that I strongly disagree with her take on Deleuze and Guattari, as I think the two develop a careful analysis of just why such illusions emerge and the conditions under which a critical subjectivity is possible. Indeed, this is one of the central themes of my study of Deleuze’s thought, Difference and Givenness: Deleuze’s Transcendental Empiricism and the Ontology of Immanence, where I 1) strive to show why Deleuze’s transcendental empiricism is not a return to dogmatic metaphysics, 2) give an account of why the illusions of transcendence and representation emerge, and 3) provide an immanent account of the emergence of critical subjectivity. Despite these reservations– reservations she herself expresses –the post does an excellent job laying out questions revolving around critical subjectivity, immanence, and materialism.

Of late I’ve occasionally grumbled about education reform here in the United States. Given the sort of readership I have, I suspect that some look at me sidelong when I go on these rants wondering why I get so worked up. After all, there are much sexier issues to discuss like global capitalism and empire. Nonetheless, I think the No Child Left Behind act has been an unmitigated disaster and I am filled with cold chills whenever I think about it. I wish some talented Foucaultian would come along– you know the type, those that don’t simply talk about what Foucault himself wrote, but continue the project of rigorously studying forms and organizations of institutional power such as, perhaps, the way the DSM-IV functions and so on –and analyze the sorts of subjectivizations produced as a result of these agendas. These are the contemporary forms of micropower. Are they being studied and strategized?

What will the minds of Americans be like ten or fifteen years from now, after these children have grown up and entered the work world? Apparently this movement isn’t restricted to the secondary schools, but now there are entire groups of university administrators who believe this would be a good idea at the college level as well. In my cynicism I might not be surprised to hear of community or junior college administors pursuing such reform… But administrators at four year institutions with graduate programs? Now whenever I hear some well meaning person speak of “rubrics” and “performance outcomes” I shiver and dig my heels in, terrified that this is what is lurking right around the corner. I have a dirty confession to make: I passionately believe in traditional liberal arts education and the formation of critical thinkers that do not simply repeat but that are capable of posing problems and creatively generating solutions. The aim of pedagogy should be the formation of free men and women or self-directing agents. This is not accomplished by producing good test-takers. Indeed, listening to the horror stories of the pressures that are placed on students to perform well on these tests, it’s difficult to escape the impression that the very aim of this program is to thoroughly destroy any love of learning so that we might have a perfectly docile populace. The minute I hear words like “rubrics” and “performance outcomes” I suspect that the person using them has little or no understanding of what pedagogy is. At any rate, if you’re in the mood to be outraged, read this and this.

These are prime examples of what I have in mind when I speak of forms of action and policy arising out of stupidity, where the dimension of mediation has been ignored. In the development of this legislation teachers have systematically been cut out of the process as there’s been a working assumption that teachers are the problem and that the businessmen and lawyers that make up Congress know better what is required of education than those who teach. The first stupidity then lies in reducing education to a simple exchange of information, memorization, or “facts”. The second lies in the belief that the source of our education problems are the result of poor teachers. In both cases these are the results of “thingly thought” that pitches problems in terms of abstract immediacy, failing to appreciate the broader network of relations embodied in its object. I’m thoroughly baffled that parents and teachers everywhere aren’t filling the streets and marching with torches as a result of these disgusting policies. I get so angry thinking about this and what I’m seeing in my classroom from students freshly out of highschool that I can hardly even pull together words to say anything of value on the issue.

In a previous post I attempted to work through Deleuze’s thesis that stupidity is a transcendental structure of thought, an illusion internal to thought, similar to Kant’s transcendental illusions produced in and through reason. In intervening days I’ve continued thinking about this, trying to think more specifically about what challenges thought, making it so difficult to think. It seems to me that this question is not only vital to the more remote concerns of philosophy such as those belonging to metaphysics and epistemology, but also to concrete issues in politics and ethics. Once again it is necessary to emphasize that stupidity, if it is a sort of transcendental illusion, would not be a cognitive failing resulting from poor development or inadequate neurology. Neurologically, one could be quite intelligent and still be embroiled in stupidity. On the other hand, I don’t particularly like the word “stupidity”, though I confess that I gravitate towards this word as I see so much of it in the world about me. I suppose that says something about the structure of my desire. Hopefully no one will cleverly lay me bare in terms of Hegel’s logic of the beautiful soul.

Those who came before us are quickly disappearing and a void is appearing. It’s important to keep certain orientations and trajectories of thought alive.

As a heads up, Larval Subjects will be celebrating its one year birthday on May 21st. If there’s anyone who would like to have a hand in planning the festivities, I could really use your help. New York and Chicago are planning parades, along with a number of European cities such as London, Paris, Berlin, and others. It appears that the birthday is even going to be celebrated in Australia, in places like Melbourne. Sadly China, who is still upset with me, is bowing out. Really I’m overwhelmed by all this. Some have already agreed to assist. Lars will be speaking here in Texas (anything to get away from the Damp). N.Pepperell will be speaking in New York (hoping to escape the Australian heat). And Anthony Paul Smith wishes to speak in Chicago (presumably to hang out with Adam Kotsko and get in some good bar fights on the South Side). Still, c’mon folks, it’s just a stupid blog. I realize Larval Subjects has set the definitive research agenda for the next century, but really it’s just a blip in time. Nonetheless, if you do decide to help, please keep quiet about it so Larval is surprised. Also, Larval Subjects is not itself a subject, so it really has no use for gifts. However, while LS is not itself a subject, it does appreciate the thought, so you can give me gifts in its stead should you so desire. Now I know LS is extremely difficult to shop for. It just never says what it likes. So if you wish to give money or a gift certificate, accompanied by a thoughtful and kind letter, that would be fine. The crazy thing about LS is that it’s very vain, so you might consider writing about its new outfit.

…instead of something distinguished from something else, imagine something which distinguishes itself– and yet that from which it distinguishes itself does not distinguish itself from it. Lightning, for example, distinguishes itself from the black sky but must also trail it behind, as though it were distinguishing itself from that which does not distinguish itself from it. It is as if the ground rose to the surface, without ceasing to be ground. (Difference and Repetition, 28)

Returning home, thoroughly exhausted, every bone and muscle in my body aching, yet exhilerated by the changes I see occuring around me and the role that I am playing in these changes, I find a great roar growing deep within my abdomin, as if I can no longer speak but can only make gutteral and animal-like sounds. I want to sit and float, thinking of nothing, yet I glance over at Spurious, only to find two more luminous posts.

In reading the title of the most recent one, I fantasize, with a quiver of guilty pleasure, that this is a love letter addressed to me… That this is what happens when aphorisms like “communication is something” vibrate across space and time and are fed through another machine, producing something that I could have never anticipated and filling me with enjoyment for that very reason. No doubt these little fantasies are to reassure myself that I exist, that I am, to garner for myself some minimal semblance of being. I wonder when words will come to me again. Somehow I do not want to start a conversation with these luminous inscriptions, even if an infinite one is already there, preferring instead to let them be. I know Lars is in the habit of destroying things he has written, like Franz Kafka burning some of his stories. I know also know that Lars appreciates Levinas. I have never been above using the values that others embrace as means to my own ends, so I link to what he writes here so that he, in his encounter with the Other, might be beholden to my call and not destroy these combinations of zeros and ones. That way I might be able to come back to them again and again when autism strikes me and I can do nothing but roar.

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