March 2007

Smokewriting has written an excellent post offering some of his thoughts in relation to my recent post on Hegel:

The ‘Logic of Essence’ in the Science of Logic attempts to carry this forward by mounting a full-on critique of the separation between essence and ‘mere’ reflection, essence and appearance, ground and grounded, and substance and accidents. Through this movement, the concept of relation – Kant’s third causal category of reciprocity – receives a full articulation as the primary means of thinking identity dynamically. As Sinthome writes, there is no inner core to things that provides their effectivity, their capacity to produce an effect autonomously. There are only the relationships between things that govern the ongoing expression of their potential: Hegel writes (I don’t have the exact reference to hand) of the idea of existence, not as the achievement of a finished, settled accretion of individual being, but as a process of coming-to-be through which the interrelated conditions of a thing’s existence complete or augment [ergänzt] themselves in another thing. This is to foreshadow the conceptual universe of complexity theory, in which co-constitutive, dynamic, non-linear relations are shown to subvert putatively unidirectional causal series. Sinthome notes that the predilection for a fixed relationship between a veiled to-be-known and a pure knower are reflected, in slightly differing configurations, across a ‘wide variety of skepticisms common to thought today’. The habit of mind that refers causality and determination to the equivalent of the efficient cause – just one out of Aristotle’s four modes of aition – is one to which we return just as often.

Well worth the read.

I once heard a person express wonder and delight at “sharing a world with such creatures” in relation to something that had resonated with her at the level of thought. There is a profound precision and rightness in this expression, such that I hardly know how to capture it at the level of the Notion. The indefinite article hints at a pluralism of worlds and a possibility of other worlds and other fields of individuation, expressing an awareness of the contingency of this shared world and the hope of other worlds yet to come. But the concept of the “creature”, applied to what are ordinarily referred to as persons or humans, suggests singularity, animality, mad and untamed becomings that can no longer quite be classified in terms of subjectivized positions. The creaturely evokes the irreplaceable, and functions in much the same way that Levi-Strauss’ word mana, as an empty signifier that names that which fails to be embodied in language or the contemporary system of signifiers. But above all, to inhabit a world with creatures, would this not mean that there are still things worthy of wonder, astonishment, and admiration?… That there are forces that counter-act our cynicism, holding out the hope for something more? These are powerful and traumatic words to hear… Words that bring one to tremble and fill one with envy. Perhaps the creaturely, as an empty place holder of what cannot be named is nonetheless an end that should be aimed at. This would be the affirmation of a very different Gregor Samsa.

For the past few days I’ve been completely inundated with marking, along with ongoing contentious “political engagements” that have been eating up a good deal of my time. Unfortunately it doesn’t look as if my schedule is going to let up until mid-April, so I’m not in the best of moods at present. To make matters worse, it’s been four weeks since the job interview and I’ve still heard nothing. At this point I have no idea what to think and am thoroughly perplexed. This week is Spring Break for the University, so I suspect I won’t hear anything for at least another week. I’m trying to tell myself that I just didn’t get the job so I don’t think about it.

During this time I’ve been vaguely thinking about Hegel’s critique of Kant’s thing-in-itself and his discussion of grounds, conditions, and existence in the doctrine of essence. I am not quite sure why I find this particular moment of the Science of Logic and Phenomenology so significant, though I do believe that it resonates with a good deal I’ve written about individuation with regard to Deleuze and interactive constructivism in biology. More intriguing yet, Hegel’s account of essence rejects all transcendence in favor of appearances. For Hegel there isn’t one thing, essence, and another thing, appearance. Rather it is appearance all the way down and there is no further fact “beyond” the appearances that is hidden and that must be discovered or uncovered. Hegel will say, “Essence must appear” (EL, paragraph 131). The real surprise is that the mediation of essence is a reference to another appearance, not a distinct ontological entity to be contrasted with existence. As Hyppolite recounts, “The great joke, Hegel wrote in a personal note, is that things are what they are. There is no reason to go beyond them” (Genesis and Structure of Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit, 122).

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.

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