Yesterday I proposed the possibility of an ecological writing. Ecological writing is not writing that writes about ecology, but rather writing that thinks about itself ecologically. A writing is the emergence of a new species, the emergence of a type. In its essence, it is mutant or subject to mutation. Like any species– as conceived within a post-Darwinistic framework –it exists only in and through its instances or individuals. In the biological sphere there is no type or form, felis catus, that exists over and above individual domestic cats, there are just individual domestic cats. What we call a “species” is thus a normal probabilistic curve where there is a generality among members of a population. Domestic cats produce offspring as simulacra or copies of themselves that are more or less the same, but always with a difference. No two domestic cats are ever the same, no copy is ever identical to the “original”. Being, in the domain of biology, is nominalistic, consisting only of individuals such that a species refers only to generic similarities among simulacra. And if each cat is a simulacrum, then this is because they are copies without an original. As a consequence, each individual cat harbors the possibility of a new speciation, of the genesis of a new type through the formation of a new population, forming a new type.
Already we here sense a means of distinguishing two types of writing, at least within academia. This distinction would be based on the nature of the iteration involved in the writing. All writing, is, of course, iterative. Writing is obviously iterative in the manner in which it repeats the language within which it is expressed. Each time we speak or write we are iterating or repeating the language within which we are enmeshed in a way that also reproduces that language. Like capital, language must be repeated to live. It only exists in its activity. Nonetheless, there are different forms of iteration. There is what Deleuze refers to as brute and differential repetition. Your average student paper or journal article is a form of brute repetition. In the order of lineages, it is a writing that strives to be true to its lineage, producing a veridical copy or a similitude of its “original”. This is the paradox of student papers and many journal articles. When we ask students to write a paper we tell them not to plagiarize, yet we are also asking them to remain true to the original about which they are writing. “Explain Descartes’ arguments for the existence of God in your own words.” Our request is a sort of “double bind”. “Plagiarize”, we say, “but not too much.” Student writing is often a request to maintain a species. In this case, the species or lineage of Descartes. “Repeat, but with a slight difference.”
Then there is mutant writing. Mutant writing occurs when differences become appreciable. In his commentaries on Heidegger, Kiesel suggests that Heidegger’s Being and Time is a commentary on Book VI (or was it VII?) of Aristotle’s Nichomachean Ethics. Like a biologist pointing out how the chicken is a descendant of the dinosaurs, Kiesel thus traces an evolutionary lineage. Yet what a difference! While Heidegger was, indeed, deeply influenced by Aristotle, he reproduces Aristotle with a number of differences. Aristotle becomes something other in the work of Heidegger, generating a new, yet related species. Undergraduates like to point out that Descartes filched his argument for the certitude of the cogito from Augustine’s Confessions. This, I suppose, is an argument designed to diminish the novelty of Descartes. Yet isn’t Descartes’ theft a sort of metonymy that sends Augustine’s argument flying in an entirely different direction? In biological terms, wouldn’t this be a sort of exaptation, where an organ used for one function comes to take on an entirely different function when placed in a new context? For example, those organs that preceded lungs and from which lungs descended might not have served the function of breathing, but rather might have been bladders certain sea going organisms used to float. So too with lines of argument and concepts. In another context they might have served an entirely different function, only to later take on a very different function. This is why arguments to the effect that “thinker x already did y” are generally facile. They are a form of trumpery that strives to assimilate each repetition to brute repetition, failing to note how a aerosol spray mechanism put work in a fuel injected engine is an entirely new beast. In terms of McLuhan, they fail to explore the way in which the argument or concept is being used to extend things in a new way.
In reality, mutant writing is the truth of all writing. All writing is mutative, rendering the telos of much hermeneutics just plain silly. Writing is doomed to produce mutations. The biologists like to say, in response to those rubes that ask where the missing links are (many have been found, incidentally), that every individual is a transitional link. This is because every individual harbors differences that are, in principle, capable of producing new generic populations. All writing is mutation– just ask Pierre Menard –insofar as all writing is repetition with a difference. Yet a good deal of writing resists its mutant nature, despising, in a manner worthy of Costner’s Waterworld, any and all mutation. Us academics have a nasty tendency towards the flagellation of the mutant, either striving to dismiss it through the demonstration of a lineage (hermeneutics: “that chicken is really a dinosaur!” “Heidegger is really Aristotle!”), or by dismissing it as aberration and misinterpretation. It’s our favorite game.
We often judge the worth of a writing by how well it is able to replicate itself. “Do others repeat it and take it up?” “Did it develop a school of thought?” “Did it get itself copies?” There’s something to this, but if we’re thinking ecologically about writing this shouldn’t be the only measure of a writing. When a mutant or new species emerges it has an effect on the rest of the ecosystem in which it emerges. This is why evolution is not teleological and is without an end point. Each new solution to the problem of existing, each mutant differences, causes problems for all the other solutions, thereby generating new mutant becomings. The shark was an exemplary solution to getting around in the world that has managed to get itself copied or repeated for millions of years, yet think of all the differences the shark generated in other species as they strove to find new devious ways to get around the prowess of the shark? This, of course, generated new problems for the shark that led it to its own mutant becomings.
So it is with a writing as well. From the standpoint of repetition or iteration, Berkeley is an abject failure. You’d be hard put to find many iterations of Berkeley in the form of followers or those who carry the Berkeleyian flame. Yet Berkeley is far more devious than that. Berkeley persists not by getting his work copied— though somehow he manages to do that too –but by forcing others to respond. His ghostly existence persists by posing a problem or question– esse est percipi –that must be responded to again and again. In this respect, he’s like a microbe or virus that flares up now and then, calling for yet another response. Ironically, many of us even infect our students with a dose of Berkeley in introductory philosophy classes, not unlike a rite of immunization that needs to be repeated again and again.
Some of us measure the success of a philosophy by its arguments. Again, there’s something to this. The problem is that it fails to account for why philosophies with poor or no arguments persist in the world. Why do they continue to propogate? Argument is one way in which philosophies manage to propogate themselves. Stunning and intense metaphors are another (think of Wittgenstein’s reference to “language games”, or Deleuze and Guattari’s talk of “rhizomes”). In a number of respects, arguments are like antibodies. They are ways in which a philosophy defends against the microbes of other forms of thought. Yet they are not the only ways in which a writing propogates itself. Judging by the history of philosophy, they aren’t even the most effective (take the example of Plato’s allegory of the cave which has been repeated in Apocalypse Now and the Matrix, as well as countless other cultural artifacts).
To think ecologically about a writing would be to also judge a writing by its effects. What other speciations does a writing catalyze? How does it catalyze these other inventions? How does it drift beyond itself producing unexpected mutant becomings?