April 2007


It seems to me that there are different types of works of philosophy that do very different types of things. Some works, like those of Epicurus, Epictetus, Lucretius, or Spinoza are almost like user manuals. They were written to produce a transformation in oneself, in ones values, how one feels, how one sees, and how one lives, as well as a transformation in one’s readers. Lucretius’ De Rerum Natura, for instance, is a poem written to his friend Memmius. You pick up Epictetus or Spinoza to figure out how to weather this world and perhaps even prosper in life. When you come out the other side you have a different set of values. You might end up doing little more than tending to your garden and taking pleasure in the study of the stars or flowers or the creatures that swim about in tidal pools.

Other books are like weapons or bombs. They target the social space or a configuration of common thought, a sensus communis, and shatter a set of conceptions. These are books like Hume’s Enquiry, Voltaire’s Candide, de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex, Freud’s Interpretation of Dreams, Three Essays, Civilization and Its Discontents, Nietzsche’s Geneaology of Morals, Marx’s Das Kapital, Foucault’s Discipline and Punish and History of Sexuality, Deleuze and Guattari’s Anti-Oedipus, etc. These books do something. They explode conceptions. They change configurations of human bodies, generating new collectives and groups. They reverberate.

Yet other books are like moves in a game of chess in long discussions that span thousands of years. These are the academic books, addressed to other scholars, like Brandom’s Making it Explicit, or Searle’s Construction of Social Reality, or Gadamer’s Truth and Method. I tend to feel these books are cancerous, even though I’ve written such a book and such books often contribute something. Nonetheless, I can’t help but have suspicions about the whole publishing industry attached to universities and what it produces.

This is not an exhaustive catalogue, just a stab. I often wonder what sort of book I would write were I not bound up with the academy and if I had no intention of ever publishing. Is there a book that I would like to rewrite, to repeat, today? What would such a book be for? What would it seek to do (to me, not to any readers)? What would it mean to write in a way that forgets all scholarly debates and options and simply attempts to distill the essence of something (which is very different from suggesting something outside history)? Is it possible to write such a book today? What would it be to write a book that wasn’t a move in the game of chess, that like Spinoza, refrained from any such engagement in the world of letters, and strove simply to transform oneself in and through the act of writing? What would it be like to spend ten, twenty, thirty years writing, without the intention of ever releasing such a work, of ever being recognized for such a work, and without worrying over such debates? What book would you repeat or rewrite?

BOOK III, PROP. III. The activities of the mind arise solely from adequate ideas; the passive states of the mind depend solely on inadequate ideas.

Note.–Thus we see, that passive states are not attributed to the mind, except in so far as it contains something involving negation, or in so far as it is regarded as a part of nature, which cannot be clearly and distinctly perceived through itself without other parts: I could thus show, that passive states are attributed to individual things in the same way that they are attributed to the mind, and that they cannot otherwise be perceived, but my purpose is solely to treat of the human mind.

Joseph has written a very nice response to my post declaring all of you mad.

So far, so good. But what about the more personal issues at stake here, which LarvalSubjects links to his obsessiveness, his problems with sleep and enjoyment, his abuse of his body, and his dark fantasies?

I imagine that, outside of public matters of disagreement that preclude difference, LarvalSubjects is thinking about self-defeating phenomena. All of the work I’ve done writing for this blog, and all of my own experiences with the bitter alienation he is describing, persuade me that the essential symptom/syndrome of this moment in Western life is undecidability and indeterminacy. That means, with respect to individual neuroses and psychoses, that all of them are acquired secondhand, and dropped or revised with startling ease.

Is there a single way of abusing one’s body that has not been chronicled in films, television shows, medical handbooks, websites, and so on? Is there a single pathology of sleep that is not known, catalogued, campaigned against, satirized, and vindicated? If, right now, eighteen people are singing simultaneous versions of “Folsom Prison Blues,” is it really possible to talk about a dark fantasy of murder in a shocking manner?

I’m too exhausted to say much of anything. Between marking and faculty council I hardly have a moment to think these days, but I think Joseph here hits on something very interesting. As Nietzsche puts it in his famous parable of the madman from The Gay Science,

‘Wither is God?’ he cried: ‘I will tell you. We have killed him— you and I. All of us are his murderers. But how did we do this? How could we drink up the sea? Who gave us the sponge to wipe away the entire horizon? What were we doing when we unchained the earth from its son? Whither is it moving now? Whither are we moving? Away from all suns? Are we not plunging continually? Backward, sidward, forward, in all directions? Is there still any up or down? Are we not straying as through an infinite nothing? Do we not feel the breath of empty space? Has it not become coler? Is not night continually closing in on us? Do we not need to light lanterns in the morning? Do we hear nothing as yet of the noise of the gravediggers who are burying God? Do we smell nothing as yet of the divine decomposition? Gods, too, decompose. God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him.

The madman’s declaration is not a happy declaration. It is the declaration that the world has lost its arche, its ordering principle. It is the declaration that we have lost our naivete and no longer believe that beneath the chaotic flow of experience there is some law or order. There has been a collapse of our sense of who we are as individuals, (the “selfness of our self” as Kierkegaard might say), the orderliness or lawfulness of the world, and of purposes and goals. Or maybe this is just me. I cannot seem to find any fixity for my identity. I am suspicious of any goals I set for myself, suspecting some hidden catch behind them. And the world appears chaotic to me. Where is the joy in schizophrenic processes of desiring-production promised to me by Deleuze and Guattari? Why do I experience this as so anxiety provoking?

BOOK III, PROP. II. Body cannot determine mind to think, neither can mind determine body to motion or rest or any state different from these, if such there be.

Note.–This is made more clear by what was said in the note to II. vii., namely, that mind and body are one and the same thing, conceived first under the attribute of thought, secondly, under the attribute of extension. Thus it follows that the order or concatenation of things is identical, whether nature be conceived under the one attribute or the other; consequently the order of states of activity and passivity in our body, is simultaneous in nature with the order of states of activity and passivity in the mind. The same conclusion is evident from the manner in which we proved II. xii.

Nevertheless, though such is the case, and though there be no further room for doubt, I can scarcely believe, until the fact is proved by experience, that men can be induced to consider the question calmly and fairly, so firmly are they convinced that it is merely at the bidding of the mind, that the body is set in motion or at rest, or performs a variety of actions depending solely on the mind’s will or the exercise of thought. However, no one has hitherto laid down the limits to the powers of the body, that is, no one has as yet been taught by experience what the body can accomplish solely by the laws of nature, in so far as she is regarded as extension. No one hitherto has gained such an accurate knowledge of the bodily mechanism, that he can explain all its functions; nor need I call attention to the fact that many actions are observed in the lower animals, which far transcend human sagacity, and that somnambulists do many things in their sleep, which they would not venture to do when awake: these instances are enough to show, that the body can by the sole laws of its nature do many things which the mind wonders at.

Again, no one knows how or by what means the mind moves the body, nor how many various degrees of motion it can impart to the body, nor how quickly it can move it. Thus, when men say that this or that physical action has its origin in the mind, which latter has dominion over the body, they are using words without meaning, or are confessing in specious phraseology that they are ignorant of the cause of the said action, and do not wonder at it.

But, they will say, whether we know or do not know the means whereby the mind acts on the body, we have, at any rate, experience of the fact that unless the human mind is in a fit state to think, the body remains inert. Moreover, we have experience, that the mind alone can determine whether we speak or are silent, and a variety of similar states which, accordingly, we say depend on the mind’s decree. But, as to the first point, I ask such objectors, whether experience does not also teach, that if the body be inactive the mind is simultaneously unfitted for thinking? For when the body is at rest in sleep, the mind simultaneously is in a state of torpor also, and has no power of thinking, such as it possesses when the body is awake. Again, I think everyone’s experience will confirm the statement, that the mind is not at all times equally fit for thinking on a given subject, but according as the body is more or less fitted for being stimulated by the image of this or that object, so also is the mind more or less fitted for contemplating the said object.

But, it will be urged, it is impossible that solely from the laws of nature considered as extended substance, we should be able to deduce the causes of buildings, pictures, and things of that kind, which are produced only by human art; nor would the human body, unless it were determined and led by the mind, be capable of building a single temple. However, I have just pointed out that the objectors cannot fix the limits of the body’s power, or say what can be concluded from a consideration of its sole nature, whereas they have experience of many things being accomplished solely by the laws of nature, which they would never have believed possible except under the direction of mind: such are the actions performed by somnambulists while asleep, and wondered at by their performers when awake. I would further call attention to the mechanism of the human body, which far surpasses in complexity all that has been put together by human art, not to repeat what I have already shown, namely, that from nature, under whatever attribute she be considered, infinite results follow. As for the second objection, I submit that the world would be much happier, if men were as fully able to keep silence as they are to speak. Experience abundantly shows that men can govern anything more easily than their tongues, and restrain anything more easily than their appetites; whence it comes about that many believe, that we are only free in respect to objects which we moderately desire, because our desire for such can easily be controlled by the thought of something else frequently remembered, but that we are by no means free in respect to what we seek with violent emotion, for our desire cannot then be allayed with the remembrance of anything else. However, unless such persons had proved by experience that we do many things which we afterwards repent of, and again that we often, when assailed by contrary emotions, see the better and follow the worse, there would be nothing to prevent their believing that we are free in all things. Thus an infant believes that of its own free will it desires milk, an angry child believes that it freely desires vengeance, a timid child believes that it freely desires to run away; further, a drunken man believes that he utters from the free decision of his mind words which, when he is sober, he would willingly have withheld: thus, too, a delirious man, a garrulous woman, a child, and others of like complexion, believe that they speak from the free decision of their mind, when they are in reality unable to restrain their impulse to talk. Experience teaches us no less clearly than reason, that men believe themselves to be free, simply because they are conscious of their actions, and unconscious of the causes whereby those actions are determined; and, further, it is plain that the dictates of the mind are but another name for the appetites, and therefore vary according to the varying state of the body. Everyone shapes his actions according to his emotion, those who are assailed by conflicting emotions know not what they wish; those who are not attacked by any emotion are readily swayed this way or that. All these considerations clearly show that a mental decision and a bodily appetite, or determined state, are simultaneous, or rather are one and the same thing, which we call decision, when it is regarded under and explained through the attribute of thought, and a conditioned state, when it is regarded under the attribute of extension, and deduced from the laws of motion and rest. This will appear yet more plainly in the sequel. For the present I wish to call attention to another point, namely, that we cannot act by the decision of the mind, unless we have a remembrance of having done so. For instance, we cannot say a word without remembering that we have done so. Again, it is not within the free power of the mind to remember or forget a thing at will. Therefore the freedom of the mind must in any case be limited to the power of uttering or not uttering something which it remembers. But when we dream that we speak, we believe that we speak from a free decision of the mind, yet we do not speak, or, if we do, it is by a spontaneous motion of the body. Again, we dream that we are concealing something, and we seem to act from the same decision of the mind as that, whereby we keep silence when awake concerning something we know. Lastly, we dream that from the free decision of our mind we do something, which we should not dare to do when awake.

Now I should like to know whether there be in the mind two sorts of decisions, one sort illusive, and the other sort free? If our folly does not carry us so far as this, we must necessarily admit, that the decision of the mind, which is believed to be free, is not distinguishable from the imagination or memory, and is nothing more than the affirmation, which an idea, by virtue of being an idea, necessarily involves (II. xlix.). Wherefore these decisions of the mind arise in the mind by the same necessity, as the ideas of things actually existing. Therefore those who believe, that they speak or keep silence or act in any way from the free decision of their mind, do but dream with their eyes open.

Book III. PROP. I. Our mind is in certain cases active, and in certain cases passive. In so far as it has adequate ideas it is necessarily active, and in so far as it has inadequate ideas, it is necessarily passive.

Corollary.–Hence it follows that the mind is more or less liable to be acted upon, in proportion as it possesses inadequate ideas, and, contrariwise, is more or less active in proportion as it possesses adequate ideas.

I’ve decided I’m going to start a series on Spinoza. So without further ado, here are the definitions and axioms of book 3 of the Ethics, entitled “The Origin and Nature of the Affects”.

DEFINITIONS.

I. By an adequate cause, I mean a cause through which its effect can be clearly and distinctly perceived. By an inadequate or partial cause, I mean a cause through which, by itself, its effect cannot be understood.

II. I say that we act when anything takes place, either within us or externally to us, whereof we are the adequate cause; that is (by the foregoing definition) when through our nature something takes place within us or externally to us, which can through our nature alone be clearly and distinctly understood. On the other hand, I say that we are passive as regards something when that something takes place within us, or follows from our nature externally, we being only the partial cause.

III. By emotion I mean the modifications of the body, whereby the active power of the said body is increased or diminished, aided or constrained, and also the ideas of such modifications.
N.B. If we can be the adequate cause of any of these modifications, I then call the emotion an activity, otherwise I call it a passion, or state wherein the mind is passive.

POSTULATES.

I. The human body can be affected in many ways, whereby its power of activity is increased or diminished, and also in other ways which do not render its power of activity either greater or less.
N.B. This postulate or axiom rests on Postulate i. and Lemmas v. and vii., which see after II. xiii.

II. The human body can undergo many changes, and, nevertheless, retain the impressions or traces of objects (cf. II. Post. v.), and, consequently, the same images of things (see note II. xvii.).

I received the signed contract from Northwestern today for Difference and Givenness: Deleuze’s Transcendental Empiricism and the Ontology of Immanence. They even sent it ultra-official via UPS. It’s due to be released in Fall of 2007. Now if they could just get me the galleys for editing, things could get moving. Of course, now that it’s going to press I find myself itching to make all sorts of changes. I suppose this is what second books are for. What are the chances this will be chosen for Oprah’s book club and I’ll never have to work again?

In his forward to Anti-Oedipus, Foucault points out that fighting fascism does not simply consist in fighting fascist social organizations, but rather it above all consists in fighting the fascism within: Our own fascist desires. In this vein, I’ve begun to notice that I think all of you are lunatics. That’s right, I think you’re all absolutely crazy, off the wall, and completely nuts. I’m not proud of this, and it certainly doesn’t make me a very good Lacanian. After all, as Lacan says at the end of The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis, the desire of the analyst is not a pure desire, but is rather a desire for absolute difference. The thought that makes me shudder, the thought that makes my stomach burn with acid, is the thought that I don’t desire difference.

Of course I can say abstractly that I desire difference, that I aim for difference, that I would like to promote difference. But the simple fact that I, for the most part, encounter each and every person that I talk to as being mad reveals, I think, the truth. I confuse the symptoms of others– or better yet, the sinthomes of others, their unique way of getting jouissance –with insanity. I am confusing difference with madness. What I am interpreting as madness– in my bones, in my gut, in the fibers of my being –is in fact difference. And, of course, if I think all of you are mad in your desires, your fixations, your obsessions, your persistant fears, themes, and anxieties, then this must mean that I believe myself to be sane. That’s right, I must believe myself to be normal and healthy. Yet in reflecting on my day to day life, with the way I obsess, the things that I fixate on, the dark fantasies that sometimes inhabit me, the way I don’t allow myself to sleep or enjoy, the varied forms of abuse I heap on my body, and so on, I can hardly say that I am a model of health. No, I don’t have a particularly nice sinthome. I don’t suppose that this is a sinthome that many would want or care to exchange with me. Of course, as Lacan says in Seminar 23: The Sinthome, we are only ever interested in our own symptoms… Which is another way of saying that we never hear the symptoms of others. The symptoms of others are always filtered through our own symptoms.

Perhaps this is “progress”. Perhaps the fact that it is dawning on me that what I so often consider a bit of madness in other persons is really difference or an encounter with otherness qua otherness, is in a way, a traversing of the fantasy, such that I’m recognizing that the frame through which I view the world is just that: a frame. Yet no matter how ashamed I am to admit it as it thoroughly undermines any “theory cred” I might posses (which is scant, to be sure), I wonder if I will ever be able to desire difference. It is one thing to recognize that what one takes as madness is an alternative organization of jouissance. It is quite another thing to find the other’s jouissance tolerable or desirable.

I notice just now, as I write the preceding sentence, that I have not capitalized “other”. In Lacanian psychoanalysis, of course, the typographical convention between “Other” and “other”, makes a vast difference, as “Other” refers to, among other things, the abyss of others or the inscrutability of their desire. The neurotic attempts to convert the desire of the Other into the demand of the Other so as to escape an anxiety producing encounter with the enigma of the Other’s desire. By contrast, “other” refers to the semblable in the imaginary, the logic of identity, or what I take as being the same as myself. The other is my sense that others are like me or the same as me. This failure to capitalize thus marks the work of repression in these ruminations, as it marks a disavowal of the Otherness of the other or the recoil I experience when confronted with the Other’s sinthome. Is it truly possible, I wonder, to ever desire the difference of the Other, or is this simply impressive sounding talk? Perhaps there are others that truly desire Otherness and I’m simply a fascist pig. Lacan liked to poke fun at philosophy, calling it a paranoid discourse striving to establish a regime of the same and identical: The hegemony of the imaginary, striving for the whole, completeness, and an eradication of difference. Perhaps my sickness has been produced by philosophy, or perhaps my sickness, my inability to desire difference, is what has drawn me to philosophy. I would like to stop thinking everyone is insane. Or perhaps it’s just my singular misfortune to attract the company of people who really are lunatics!

As those of you acquainted with the scholarship on Deleuze and Guattari know, there is next to nothing on Anti-Oedipus. Anti-Oedipus, like The Logic of Sense is one of those strange books in Deleuze and Guattari’s corpus that is almost never spoken about. Lately I’ve been reading Eugene Holland’s Deleuze and Guattari’s Anti-Oedipus: An Introduction to Schizoanalysis, and cannot recommend this book highly enough. The first thing to note is the clarity of Holland’s prose. Unlike so much of the work out there, Holland does not attempt to emulate the style of Deleuze and Guattari, nor is this work an “experiment” designed to produce monsterous offspring, rather it is a very straight-forward analysis of Anti-Oedipus.

Holland begins his study with an analysis of the three syntheses of the unconscious (the connective, disjunctive, and conjunctive synthesis), and then proceeds to a discussion of the paralogisms of psychoanalysis that Deleuze and Guattari trace in the first chapter of Anti-Oedipus. The second chapter of the book analyzes the different structures of society investigated by Deleuze and Guattari (savage, despotic, and capitalist), and the various ways in which they regulate desire and the forms of social theory that emerge from them. The final chapter is devoted to universal history and schizoanalysis. For me, one of the more exciting features of the book is its discussion of the relationship between individual desire (psychoanalysis) and the social, and how the two interprenetrate. This book is worthwhile, I believe, for those seeking to tackle Anti-Oedipus for the very first time, but also those who have spent a good deal of time with the work already. Anti-Oedipus is, no doubt, the most political of Deleuze and Guattari’s work. In this regard it is indispensible for debates currently emerging surrounding figures like Negri and Hardt, Badiou, and Zizek.

I’m sick. Sniffle, cough, sneeze, shiver, moan. This is what I get for driving myself into the ground with no sleep.

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