August 2007

Lars has written a fantastic analysis of Deleuze’s analysis of Foucault. This sheds a good deal of light on Deleuze’s understanding of language and his engagement with Hjelmslev.

Deleuze is insistent in his book on Foucault: despite appearances, despite the fact his recently deceased friend placed emphasis on discourse, he was a thinker of what Deleuze calls visibilities (and we should not be too quick to look for a definition of this word).

The elegant, but complex argument of Deleuze’s Foucault shows us how saying and seeing, ‘discursive practices and forms of self’evidence’ are divided – how the articulable and the visible, the forms of expression and the forms of content never quite coincide even as they combine to make possible particular behaviours, mentalities or sets of ideas that belong to particular historical formations (strata).

And not only that. Deleuze wants, too, to show how Foucault thinks their interrelationship as it draws upon a ‘non-relating relation’ such as Blanchot formulated it (albeit in a different context), which will require a unique ontology made up of folds and foldings, of the single plane of the outside that lends itself to particular interiorisations, but periodically shakes them out like a tablecloth, only to allow new crumplings, mutations by way of which new behaviours, mentalities and sets of ideas are distributed.

You can read the rest here.

One of the standard arguments conservative political theorists often level against radical leftist political theories and engagements is that humans, by nature, are corrupt and characterized by a sort of originary “fallenness” or “original sin”. For example, it never ceases to astonish me that my students seem to know a whole host of commonplaces, almost as if these commonplaces were innate or a priori. I suppose they wouldn’t be “commonplaces” if they weren’t, well, commonplace. Nonetheless, it is still astonishing that these things so readily come out of the tip of a young mind’s pen, or float off the lips of the fledgling philosopher. After all, I don’t know that these commonplaces are ever explicitly taught or discussed, rather they seem to float about of their own accord. Perhaps we receive them by osmosis. Or maybe they’re transmitted to us through radio waves. Maybe we pick them up from the antennas of our cell phones. Or perhaps, again, there’s some sort of obscure medical procedure conducted at birth that injects them into the brain. I don’t know. What I do know is that my students all seem to know that “everyone is entitled to their opinion”, that “it is always wrong to be intolerant”, that “all opinions are equal to one another”, that “religion is a private matter without social consequences”, that “nothing can be proven”, and above all that…

Drum roll please

Communism is good in theory but not in practice.

The reasoning behind this commonplace is always the same: Humans are greedy, lazy, and selfish by nature, so communism can never work. The premise of this argument, of course, is that communism is premised on altruism (Marx 101 suggests to me that class struggle is a struggle of interests, so I’m not sure how altruism fits in here, but oh well). All of this, of course, is a variant of the theory of original sin. There are certainly secular and theological variants of such a position. Social conservatives will often remind us that man fell as a result of pesky woman (personally I like it when women try to get me to do things I’m not supposed to do, but that’s me), and that for this reason it is sheer arrogance or pride (sin of sins!) to imagine that we could improve this world. Tend your garden, be devout, and wait for the next. Secular variants might make some appeal to human nature or innate biology as that which renders us intrinsically inimical to such arrangements. Nevermind what ethnography might show about alternative economies and social arrangements. “Nonsense!” screams the self-assured biosociologist. Of course, those bio- psychologists and sociologists never bother much with ethnography or anthropology– After all, humans are biologically identical regardless of when and where they live, demonstrating that human nature is the same in all possible universes.

The rhetorical dimension of these arguments are clear enough. By appealing to a fundamentally flawed nature, we bar any attempt to transform society a priori. All social transformation is necessarily doomed to failure and horror because humans are necessarily flawed and horrible. Often I’m inclined to agree. Between what I’ve heard from my patients– you do learn a thing or two about people in analysis –and what I’ve observed, we’re a pretty vile lot. Nonetheless, I am not convinced by claims that such social transformations are doomed to horror. I do, however, find myself wondering whether psychoanalytic political theory does not end up unwittingly repeating this narrative of human nature. Is not the psychoanalyst saying precisely the same thing when he claims that there’s an irreducible real, that there’s always the swerve of drive, that we’re always duped by the unconscious? As a result, is not psychoanalysis an inherently conservative ideology? The question isn’t rhetorical.


Joseph Kugelmass has written an interesting post (and here) criticizing N.Pepperell’s focus on self-reflexivity over at Rough Theory. I would like to offer a few remarks as to how I understand these issues, without, hopefully mutilating N.Pepperell’s own views too much (i.e., my views are creative appropriations and translations into my own theoretical universe). Hopefully I’ll be forgiven the lack of grace with which I develop these themes as I’m really falling over from exhaustion today.

Joseph writes:

The production of knowledge without any specific expectation of change also happens intersubjectively. N. Pepperell takes a strong stand against theories that emphasize intersubjectivity. In a comment to this post, she writes:

I am specifically critical of attempts to centre critical theory on analyses of intersubjectivity – and of the tendency to equate “the social” with “the intersubjective”. Realising that this won’t mean much at this point, my position would be that central dimensions of contemporary society – dimensions that are important for understanding shapes of consciousness, patterns of social reproduction, and potentials for transformations – simply won’t be captured adequately by the attempt to transcend the limitations of theories of the “subject” via theories of the intersubjective constitution of meaning.

If I had to venture a guess, I would guess that NP’s problem with theories of intersubjectivity, that they don’t provide a consistent methodological framework, and don’t take into account the phenomenology (and relevant ideological structures) of our encounters with objects. I can’t be sure because I don’t know exactly what she means by the “central dimensions of contemporary society.”

In the sciences, the scientific method is certainly intersubjective, but also consistent: it is an agreed-upon method for producing uniform and objective results. It is true that scientists do not always peer closely into the motivating forces behind the scientific method, and it is also true that psychological and historical analyses of the scientific method have not altered it. If a scientist were to write not only a description of her method, but also a full account of the historical, cultural, and personal factors condensed in an experiment, the analytic question would still not disappear. It would merely become different: “Why these details? Why this confession?” Anthropologists who live amongst their subjects, rather than surveilling or interviewing them, are not necessarily more knowledgeable anthropologists. They are simply creating a different, and possibly less hostile, “clearing” (Martin Heidegger’s term, from the Greek aletheia) in the name of knowledge.

I cannot speak for N.Pepperell, but if I had to hazard a guess as to what she’s getting at in her concerns about intersubjectivity, it is not their lack of objectivity (she’s worked diligently to critique the role such ahistorical notions play in a good deal of sociology and the social science), nor that these accounts fail to give us a consistent methodology, but rather I would say that talk of intersubjectivity is still talk of a subject to subject relation, and as such fails to get properly at the domain of the social embodied in social structures, forces, history, etc., which can’t properly be uncovered in the phenomenological experience of the subjects involved. It was a similar line of reasoning that led Lacan to systematically abjure any and all talk of “intersubjectivity” following Seminar V. In Seminar V and prior to this, Lacan had often used the term “intersubjectivity” to describe what he was up to with his graphs and so-on. Lacan very quickly found that his students took this to be referring to an ego-to-ego relation or a relation between dual subjects constituting meaning with one another (i.e., a primacy of phenomenological subjects of lived experience and their reciprocal impressions). As a result of this assimilation of intersubjectivity to a relation between two phenomenological subjects, the domain of the social or the symbolic and its autonomous functioning was effectively lost (something like Levi-Strauss’s autonomous functioning of structures). Thus, when Lacan writes the summary of Seminars 4 – 6 in the Ecrits article, “Subversion of the Subject”, all references to “intersubjectivity” disappear so as to emphasize that the Other is not another subject, but the functioning of the signifying chain according to its own immanent principles. This should have been clear already in Seminar V. As Lacan there says at one point, “the subject is cuckold by language”. This should be taken to mean that the subject is enmeshed in a logic of language that exceeds his phenomenological intentions, his direct social experience of other persons, and that functions as a determinant of his relation to self, world, and others. As Lacan will say in Seminar 20, “the universe is the flower of rhetoric”. Certainly this is not something one grasps or discerns in their phenomenological experience.

Read on

I’m too tired to say much of anything today (first day of class and stress or anxiety that’s apparently impeding my sleep), but I came across this quotation from Althusser in Jameson’s Political Unconscious which frames questions of immanence in a particular clear way:

The epistemological problem posed by Marx’s radical modification of Political Economy can be expressed as follows: by means of what concept is it possible to think the new type of determination which has just been identified as the determination of the phenomena of a given region by the structure of that region?… In other words, how is it possible to define the concept of structural causality?…

Very schematically, we can say that classical philosophy… had two and only two systems of concepts with which to think effectivity. The mechanistic system, Cartesian in origin, which reduced causality to a transitive and analytical effectivity, could not be made to think the effectivity of a whole on its elements, except at the cost of extraordinary distortions (such as those in Descartes’ ‘psychology’ and biology). But a second system was available, one conceived precisely in order to deal with the effectivity of a whole on its elements: the Leibnitzian concept of expression. This is the model that dominates Hegel’s thought. But it presupposes in principle that the whole in question be reducible to an inner essence, of which the elements of the whole are then no more than the phenomenal forms of expression, the inner principle of the essence being present at each point in the whole, such that at each moment it is possible to write the immediately adequate equation: such and such an element (economic, political, legal, literary, religious, etc., in Hegel) = the inner essence of the whole. Here was a model which made it possible to think the effectivity of the whole on each of its elements, but if this category– inner essence/outer phenomenon –was to be applicable everywhere and at every moment to each of the phenomena arising in the totality in question, it presupposed that the whole had a certain nature, precisely the nature of a ‘spiritual’ whole in which each element was expressive of the entire totality as a ‘pars totalis’. In other words, Leibnitz and Hegel did have a category for the effectivity of the whole on its elements or parts, but on the absolute condition that the whole was not a structure…

[The third concept of effectivity, that of structural causality,] can be entirely summed up in the concept of ‘Darstellung’, the key epistemological concept of the whole Marxist theory of value, the concept whose object is precisely to designate the mode of presence of the structure in its effects, and therefore to designate structural causality itself…. The structure is not an essence outside the economic phenomena which comes and alters their aspect, forms and relations and which is effective on them as an absent cause, absent because it is outside them. The absence of the cause in the structure’s ‘metonymic causality’ on its effects is not the fault of the exteriority of the structure with respect to the economic phenomena; on the contrary, it is the very form of the interiority of the structure, as a structure, in its effects. This implies therefore that the effects are not outside the structure, are not a pre-existing object, element or space in which the structure arrives to imprint its mark: on the contrary, it implies that the structure is immanent in its effects, a cause immanent in its effects in the Spinozist sense of the term, that the whole existence of the structure consists of its effects, in short, that the structure, which is merely a specific combination of its particular elements, is nothing outside its effects. (Jameson 23-25, Althusser, Reading Capital, 186-189)

When I set out to write Difference and Givenness I had three primary questions before me: 1) What is specific to the thought of Gilles Deleuze (as opposed to the thought of Deleuze and Guattari)? 2) What is transcendental empiricism (in contrast to empiricism, transcendental idealism, and absolute idealism)? and 3) In what way is Deleuze’s thought a critical philosophy (rather than a dogmatic metaphysics)? The first question might appear strange; however, in my experience the secondary literature tends to treat the thought of Deleuze and Deleuze and Guattari as identical and interchangeable. Yet whenever Deleuze and Deleuze and Guattari speak of multiplicities, they are quick to emphasize that the addition of dimensions leads the multiplicity to change in nature. Consequently, when Deleuze and Guattari encounter one another it is necessary that this new multiplicity differ in kind from their independent thought. Yet this change in kind or nature can only be determined by becoming clear as to what Deleuze is up to in his own independent work. This is not, of course, to suggest that Deleuze is somehow opposed to Deleuze and Guattari or the reverse. To suggest such a thing would be to misunderstand the logic of intensive multiplicities. Such an approach would provide a way of properly determining what is new and vital in Deleuze and Guattari’s thought, and of measuring the field of problems that motivated this prodigious body of conceptual creating (concepts never emerging ex nihilo out of the mind of a “genius creator-artist”, but always emerging as a function of a field of extra-personal problems belonging to the field of being and the social).

In the course of my work, one of the conclusions I came to was that the early Deleuze of Difference and Repetition and The Logic of Sense was, in part, an attempt to develop the ontology proper to structuralism. This, of course, will sound like a strange claim for we are accustomed to thinking of Deleuze as a post-structuralist philosopher hostile to structuralism. Indeed, when Deleuze encounters Guattari, they will develop a significant critique of structuralist thought– as is immediately evident in their concepts of deterritorialization and reterritorialization and “becoming-animal” where a “theft of a fragment of a code takes place”, i.e., operations that can’t be contained or governed by a “structural totality” –yet in his earlier work Deleuze was very sympathetic to structuralist thought. This is evident in his essay “How Do We Recognize Structuralism?” (cf. Desert Islands, pgs 170 – 192), written between Difference and Repetition and The Logic of Sense. There Deleuze discusses the theses common to structuralist giants such as Saussure, Levi-Strauss, Lacan, Barthes, Foucault, and Althusser, and provides an account of structural genesis nearly identical to his account of actualization or individuation in chapters four and five of Difference and Repetition. To be sure, Deleuze’s structuralism is a dynamic or a genetic structuralism, but it is nonetheless an attempt to provide that ontology proper to structuralist thought. It might be assumed that Deleuze is here simply applying the principles of individuation he had developed in Difference and Repetition to the structuralists so as to “get these thinkers from behind and create a monsterous offspring”. However, this ignores the fact that Deleuze refers to Ideas or multiplicities as structures in Difference and Repetition, and refers to Saussure, Althusser, and Todorov as prime examples of virtual multiplicities (DR, 186, 203 – 206. Deleuze also makes constant positive references to Lacan throughout Difference and Repetition and The Logic of Sense). Structuralism and structuralist thinkers enjoy a similarly central role in The Logic of Sense as well.

The point here is not to defend Deleuze’s early structuralism. Deleuze and Guattari develop powerful critiques of structuralist thought in their work together; however, these critiques cannot simply be treated as “abstract negations” that simply reject structuralism tout court. A good deal is preserved in new form. Rather, the point is to think a form of relation causality, immanent causality, where causes are not outside their effects and effects are not outside their causes: a properly systemic or structural causality that would be neither mechanical causality, nor an expressivism where every actualization or individuation is simply a reflection or expression of an unchanging internal essence.

Rolling Stone has an article on Iraq war profiteering and the way the U.S. government has swindled the taxpayers, guaranteed to incite your outrage-meter. Read it here.

Lars has written an excellent post on Blanchot, Foucault and language. A teaser:

For the early Levinas, the relation to being is impersonal; it does not allow mineness to be hollowed out, but, when it is encountered directly, undoes the form of the ‘I’ that Heidegger’s being elects it to be. Dense formulations! A paragraph where there should be a book! But the ‘I’ for Levinas emerges out of a prior field – emerges, but can also fall back there, into the pell-mell that precedes the subject and that always threatens to return.

This is why, for Levinas, being is a threat, and is to be thought of in terms of possession, of impersonal participation; existence is not a leap into the future, a projection on the basis of the prior leap of transcendence, but the result of a struggle, ever active and ongoing, whose achievement is the sense of a future we as human beings hold before us precariously and, too often, in delusion.

Something similar holds for Blanchot, but the tone is different – being, existence without existents, is encountered not only in horror, but in a kind of melting delight – there is joy (as Bataille might say) in the little deaths that deliver each of us over to possession, to dispossession. Which is, perhaps, only to say that Blanchot revives the ancient sense of inspiration as it implies another, stronger force with which the artist must be in contact: an alien power, masked by figures of gods or Muses, that asks of the would be-creator that he or she must first undergo a loss of self, an exposure.

It is only by returning from this initial detour that creation can begin; the stamp of the artist upon the work depends first of all on that contact – possessing, dispossessing – with what Blanchot also calls (confusingly, provocatively) the work, meaning by this (paradoxically) being as it draws the creator from existence, as it interrupts that projection, that plan, according to which the finished artwork is to be made.

It would be worthwhile to relate all of this to Deleuze’s various discussions of the impersonal, the prepersonal, and the pre-individual in his account of individuation. There are a number of instances where Deleuze makes reference to Blanchot, especially in Foucault. Read the rest here.

For those who missed it, last week CNN ran a six hour series on fundamentalist forms of religion throughout the world. Here are some of the clips on Christianity. The other four hours were devoted to Islam and Judaism. I caught the series on television so I haven’t watched the youtube clips myself. I apologize if there are any repeats. The clips on the group “Battlecry” are especially interesting.

You can view the clips:

here (Jimmy Carter),
here (Battlecry),
here (Environmentalism and the NEA),
here (Homeschooling and Battlecry),
here (Battlecry),
here (Battlecry),
here (Church and State, Liberty University),
here (Fallwell, Republican Candidates),
here (Impact on Elections),
here (Lobbyists),
here (Zionist Christians), and
here (Christians for the social gospel. This guy is really interesting).

Are we not, then, at the center of what Jean-Francois Lyotard calls the postmodern condition, which I, unlike him, understand to be the paradigm of all submission and every sort of compromise with the existing status quo? For Lyotard, postmodernism represents the collapse of what he calls the grand narratives of legitimation (for example, the discourses of the Enlightenment, those of Hegel’s accomplishment of the Spirit and the Marxist emanicipation of the workers). It would always be wise, according to Lyotard, to be suspicious of the least desire for concerted social action. Any promotion of consensus as an ideal, Lyotard argues, is to be regarded as out-dated and suspect. Only little narratives of legitimation, in other words, the ‘pragmatics of linguistic particles’ that are multiple, heterogeneous, and whose performativity would be only limited in time and space, can still save some aspects of justice and freedom. In this way, Lyotard joins other theorists, such as Jean Buadrillard, for whom the social and political have never been more than traps, or ‘semblances’, for which it would be wise to lose one’s fondness.

Whether they are painters, architects, or philosophers, the heroes of postmodernism have in common the belief that the crises experienced today in artistic and social practices can only lead to an irrevocable refusal of any large-scale social undertaking. So we ought to take care of our own backyards first and, preferably, in conformity with the habits and customs of our contemporaries. Don’t rock the boat! Just drift with the currents of the marketplace of art and opinion that are modulated by publicity campaigns and surveys.

But where does the idea that the socius is reducible to the facts of language, and that these facts are in turn reducible to binarizable and ‘digitalizable’ signifying chains, come from? On this point postmodernists have hardly said anything innovative! In fact, their views are directly in keeping with the modernist tradition of structuralism, whose influence on the human sciences appears to have been a carry-over from the worst aspects of Anglo-Saxon systematization. The secret link that binds these various doctrines, I believe, stems from a subterranean relationship– marked by reductionist concepts, and conveyed immediately after the war by information theory and new cybernetic research. The references that everyone continually made to the new communications and computer technologies were so hastily developed, so poorly mastered, that they put us far behind the phenomenological research that preceded them.

Here we must return to a basic truism, but on pregnant with implications; namely, that concrete social assemblages– not to be confused with the ‘primary group’ of American sociology, which only reflects the economy of opinion polls –call into question much more than just linguistic performance: for example, ethological and ecological dimensions, as well as the economic semiotic components, aesthetic, corporeal and fantasmatic ones that are irreducible to the semiology of language, and the diverse incorporeal universes of reference which are not readily inscribed within the coordinates of the dominant empiricity… (The Guattari Reader, 111)

Much of this passage reads as if it could have come directly out of Badiou, when he rails against the sophists that placed philosophy under the poem. How did language come to be seen as the “transcendental condition for the possibility of x” any? One says, “you must use language to express any thought therefore language is a condition for all beings in much the same way that Kantian categories are conditions.” Yet I have to use my lips, teeth, tongue, and ears as well, but I do not treat these as conditions in this way. I use my brain as well, yet I do not treat this as a condition in this way. There must be oxygen for the sound waves to travel, yet this is not a condition in this way. How did this move occur? What grounds it?

I am thoroughly exhausted and should be falling into bed, yet somehow I won’t let myself rest. There are times, especially when fatigued or sick that I’ll will myself to stay awake as if I resent the implication or thought that life is being robbed from me. I stubbornly go on, as if in defiance of my physical limits. Or again, perhaps this stubbornness arises from knowing that next week I’ll be returning to classes and will be exceedingly busy.

In preparation for the After Music conference at University of Newcastle, I’ve been rereading A Thousand Plateaus, with fresh and excited eyes. The “Geology of Morals” plateau, while obscure in parts, is especially good… Or perhaps I only think this because it deals heavily with questions of individuation or morphogenesis, which seem to be my obsession. Deleuze and Guattari mobilize Hjelmslev’s linguistics, rereading it in a highly original fashion, to develop a metaphysics of matter undergoing morphogenesis. It seems to me that this particular schematization nicely thematizes a number of points N.Pepperrell has made about abstraction and her critiques of demystifying approaches and ideology critiques.

Read on

Protevi has written an excellent critical review of Hallward’s Out of this World.

Hallward’s dualism and positing of uni-directional virtual dominance prepares him to say that Deleuze’s orientation “out of this world” vitiates his politics, leaving it “little more than utopian distraction” (162), one that “inhibits any consequential engagement with the constraints of our actual world” (161). Instead of a supposedly extra-worldly preference for the virtual, Hallward writes — eloquently and certainly not without justification — that “the politics of the future are likely to depend less on virtual mobility than on more resilient forms of cohesion, on more principled forms of commitment, on more integrated forms of coordination, on more resistant forms of defense” (162). But it’s only Hallward’s identification of the intensive and the virtual and consequent evacuation of all creativity from our world that leads him to think that, of his desiderata, “resilient cohesion” and “integrated coordination” are not Deleuzean concepts. I would submit that these are more aligned with what Deleuze and Guattari recommend — experimentation with intensive processes — than with either “virtual mobility” or its alleged counterpart, “actual fixity,” to which Hallward seems attracted here.

I have insisted enough, I think, on the fact that we live in an intensive rather than (or at least in addition to) an “actual” world, so I will conclude only by saying that Hallward has missed the “toolbox” element of Deleuze’s work. (I’m referring here to the well-known conversation between Foucault and Deleuze, “Intellectuals and Power,” available in English in D. F. Bouchard, ed., Language, Counter-Memory, Practice [Cornell, 1977]; see 208 for the “toolbox” remark.) In his conclusion, Hallward verges on the polemical, warning us against the futility of reading Deleuze politically. But his reading is theoretical, all-too-theoretical. To examine Deleuzean politics is not so much to read the singular logic of being that allegedly subtends the many analyses of the structures of territorial assemblages, the detailed theory of capitalism and the state, the many pragmatic cautions about experimentation with social interaction found throughout A Thousand Plateaus, but to see how these can be and have been used to find points of transformation and intervention in a system. When Deleuze and Guattari write, “we know nothing about a body until we know what it can do, in other words, what its affects are, how they can or cannot enter into composition with other affects, with the affects of another body” (A Thousand Plateaus 314F / 257E), we have to consider their philosophical writings in this respect. In other words, we have to see how they’ve been put to use (and there is certainly no “progressive” guarantee here, as Hallward himself notes [163]). So in this regard at least, it’s to the positive attempts at “applying” Deleuze and Deleuze & Guattari that we must turn in order to evaluate the potentials for compositional affects offered by these thinkers, rather than to the critical work of Hallward, as noteworthy and thought-provoking as that might be in many other aspects.

Read the rest here.

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