April 2007

This morning I received the following email in response to my post Truth Procedures or Uncanny Doubles and the Postmodern Right.

Two quick thoughts on your post “Truth-Procedures”? Uncanny Doubles or the Postmodern Right

– is the “destruction and suffering” wrought by contemporary capitalism outweighed by its gains (including your ability to sit behind a computer and post philosophical thoughts on technology invented by the military/industrial complex)?

– the conversation quoted (if it took place) also has an uncanny resemblance to Delousses’ interpretation of the Nietzschean Master / Slave dialect.

I find these sorts of reactionary questions fascinating. The questioning of whether the conversation took place is icing on the cake. It underlines the manner in which reporting has come to be thought of as a commodity that one picks and chooses according to their ideological preferences of liking and disliking. Whenever something fails to conform to ones ideological vision it is concluded that it must be a leftwing bias and purposeful distortion. These kinds of questions seem to work according to a sort of “gotcha!” logic. “What a hypocrit! You’ve benefitted from x, while nonetheless having problems with it!” I wonder how the author might respond to an abused child. “Is the destruction and suffering wrought by your abusive father outweighed by its gains (the fact that you exist, went to university, and are now able to do research in the social sciences to prevent child abuse)?” Thanks for the Delousses reference. I assume the author must have been being ironic as his email performs the very nature of postmodernism both with his doubt and by having a signature from a prominent southern author that gives a vigorous defense of being southern (the cover of his book even has a confederate flag) while signing his email with an entirely different name, thereby enacting postmodern theses about the fluid and simulated nature of identity.


Reading Dennett has led me to think that it would be both interesting and useful to produce a sort of taxonomy of different species of hermeneutics. Here’s a start. Perhaps readers can suggest better names and other editions to such a list.

Zoohermeneutics: Intepretation that traces all practices and social formations back to biological and evolutionary principles. Exemplars of this would be Dennett, Dawkins, and roughly anything from evolutionary psychology and sociology.

Theohermeneutics: This is a wide ranging field that requires further subdivisions. One variety interprets historical and political events in terms of Biblical prophecy. Pat Robertson would be an example of this. Other approaches interpret texts in terms of their religious symbolism. Paul Ricoeur would be a good example of this. Clearly Ricoeur and Robertson are doing entirely different things.

Econohermeneutics: This would be a form of interpretation that explains cultural phenomena in terms of economic conditions. Marx would, of course, fall here. As would Friedman.

Ontohermeneutics: The most famous proponent of this heremeneutics would be Heidegger who reads all of Western history in terms of different sendings of being.

Pathohermeneutics: This hermeneutics traces texts back to the lived body. Merleau-Ponty and Lakoff come to mind here.

Aestheticohermeneutics: This form of hermeneutics traces texts back to distributions of sensation. Logical positivism falls here as does Hume and other empiricists. Under one reading, Deleuze would fall under this as well, though in a very different way than logical positivism.

Historicohermeneutics: This interpretative approach traces texts back to their historical conditions of production.

Dunamohermeneutics(?): This would be that hermeneutics that traces texts back to distributions of power. Spinoza, Nietzsche, Foucault, and Deleuze and Guattari might be placed here.

Semiohermeneutics: This hermeneutics would look at texts as networks of relations among other texts. Certain aspects of Derrida and Butler fall here. Gadamer would fall here. Basically any intertextual approach would fall in this category.

Sociohermeneutics: Interpretative approaches that explain texts sociologically, e.g., Luhmann, perhaps Latour.

Biohermeneutics: Interpretative approaches that explain phenomena vitalistically, e.g., Deleuze, Bergson.

Any other suggestions?

BOOK III, PROP. X. An idea, which excludes the existence of our body, cannot be postulated in our mind, but is contrary thereto.

BOOK III, PROP. XI. Whatsoever increases or diminishes, helps or hinders the power of activity in our body, the idea thereof increases or diminishes, helps or hinders the power of thought in our mind.

Note.–Thus we see, that the mind can undergo many changes, and can pass sometimes to a state of greater perfection, sometimes to a state of lesser perfection. These passive states of transition explain to us the emotions of pleasure and pain. By pleasure therefore in the following propositions I shall signify a passive state wherein the mind passes to a greater perfection. By pain I shall signify a passive state wherein the mind passes to a lesser perfection. Further, the emotion of pleasure in reference to the body and mind together I shall call stimulation (titillatio) or merriment (hilaritas), the emotion of pain in the same relation I shall call suffering or melancholy. But we must bear in mind, that stimulation and suffering are attributed to man, when one part of his nature is more affected than the rest, merriment and melancholy, when all parts are alike affected. What I mean by desire I have explained in the note to Prop. ix. of this part; beyond these three I recognize no other primary emotion; I will show as I proceed, that all other emotions arise from these three. But, before I go further, I should like here to explain at greater length Prop. x. of this part, in order that we may clearly, understand how one idea is contrary to another. In the note to II. xvii. we showed that the idea, which constitutes the essence of mind, involves the existence of body, so long as the body itself exists. Again, it follows from what we pointed out in the Coroll. to II. viii., that the present existence of our mind depends solely on the fact, that the mind involves the actual existence of the body. Lastly, we showed (II. xvii. xviii. and note) that the power of the mind, whereby it imagines and remembers things, also depends on the fact, that it involves the actual existence of the body. Whence it follows, that the present existence of the mind and its power of imagining are removed, as soon as the mind ceases to affirm the present existence of the body. Now the cause, why the mind ceases to affirm this existence of the body, cannot be the mind itself (III. iv.), nor again the fact that the body ceases to exist. For (by II. vi.) the cause, why the mind affirms the existence of the body, is not that the body began to exist; therefore, for the same reason, it does not cease to affirm the existence of the body, because the body ceases to exist; but (II. xvii.) this result follows from another idea, which excludes the present existence of our body and, consequently, of our mind, and which is therefore contrary to the idea constituting the essence of our mind.

I’ve picked up Dennett’s Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon, and Dawkin’s The God Delusion, out of curiosity about the rhetoric of these texts. What interests me about these works isn’t the sophistication of their arguments, but rather the fact that they’re directed towards a popular audience and are designed to have an impact on popular debates here in the United States. That is, books like this strike me as trying to put an option on the table within the field of popular discourse that isn’t currently there and I’m interested in seeing how this rhetoric functions to do that. In this regard, I certainly don’t share the biologism or scientism of these thinkers, nor am I looking to these works for a scholarly discussion of religious metaphysics versus other ontologies.

The very first paragraph of Dennett’s book caught my eye as it is something that’s come up here at Larval Subjects in my discussions with Orla from time to time. There Dennett writes,

Let me begin with an obvious fact: I am an American author, and this book is addressed in the first place to American readers. I shared drafts of this book with many readers, and most of my non-American readers found this fact not just obvious but distracting– even objectionable in some cases. Couldn’t I make the book less provincial and outlook? Shouldn’t I strive, as a philosopher, for the most universal target audience I could muster? No. Not in this case, and my non-American readers should consider what they can learn about the situation in America from what they find in this book. More compelling to me than the reaction of my non-American readers was the fact that so few of my American readers had any inkling of this bias– or, if they did, they didn’t object. That is a pattern to ponder. It is commonly observed– both in America and abroad –that America is strikingly different from other First World nations in its attitudes to religion, and this book is, among other things, a sounding device intended to measure the depths of those difference. I decided I had to express the emphases found here if I was to have any hope of reaching my intended audience: the curious and conscientious citizens of my native land– as many as possible, not just the academics. (xiii)

It seems to me that if we accept something like Deleuze’s account of individuation and immanence, then we are necessarily led to think in terms of situations or constellations that are geographically local, and that think the constitution of a phenomenon in terms of the context in which it emerges. I don’t know that philosophy has ever thought “geographically” in this way or just how one might go about thinking geographically. Rather, space seems to be something that is perpetually subtracted from the generalizing and totalizing urges of philosophical speculation in ways that are perhaps even more profound than the way in which phenomena are detemporalized.

There have been stabs in the direction of “geophilosophy”. Foucault’s archaeologies and geneaologies are both very situated in how they analyze formations of thought and the bodies that accompany them in terms of their geographical site of emergence. There’s something tremendously irritating in the way Foucault’s analysis of the penal system or the discourse of madness is then generalized as if it can be taken to apply anywhere. For instance, shouldn’t someone write a geneaology of the DSM-IV and how it has functioned in the United States? A geophilosophy would thus be an ecophilosophy, rejecting any sort of generalization for a phenomenon but examining the manner in which it is a technology or way of life deeply wedded to a certain field of singularities or relations. Over at Rough Theory I’ve made a few stabs trying to articulate just what this would be in terms of assemblages and constellations, but I’m still far from being clear as to how to precisely articulate what I’m trying to get at.

BOOK III, PROP. IX. The mind, both in so far as it has clear and distinct ideas, and also in so far as it has confused ideas, endeavours to persist in its being for an indefinite period, and of this endeavour it is conscious.

Note.–This endeavour, when referred solely to the mind, is called will, when referred to the mind and body in conjunction it is called appetite; it is, in fact, nothing else but man’s essence, from the nature of which necessarily follow all those results which tend to its preservation; and which man has thus been determined to perform.

Further, between appetite and desire there is no difference, except that the term desire is generally applied to men, in so far as they are conscious of their appetite, and may accordingly be thus defined: Desire is appetite with consciousness thereof. It is thus plain from what has been said, that in no case do we strive for, wish for, long for, or desire anything, because we deem it to be good, but on the other hand we deem a thing to be good, because we strive for it, wish for it, long for it, or desire it.

BOOK III, PROP. VIII. The endeavour, whereby a thing endeavours to persist in its being, involves no finite time, but an indefinite time.

BOOK III, PROP. VII. The endeavour, wherewith everything endeavours to persist in its own being, is nothing else but the actual essence of the thing in question.

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