In the Prolegomena Kant speaks of a form of difference, intuitive difference, that is not of the order of an opposition between concepts. These are felt differences, differences that can only– as Deleuze says in chapter 3 of Difference and Repetition –that can only be sensed, and that cannot be inscribed discursively in a concept. Kant gives the examples of handedness and enantiomorphs (images in a mirror). Conceptually the image in the mirror is identical to what it reflects, yet try as we might we cannot superimpose the image over what it reflects because the image is inverted. Yet this inversion, this reflection, is a difference that can only be felt or sensed. It was features like this that led Kant to claim that there must be a transcendental aesthetic, to claim that the aesthetic is irreducible to the conceptual, or that there is a domain of differences that are outside the conceptual and that must be lived to be known.
In this spirit, it is perhaps the case that there is an affective dimension to every philosophy. Philosophy, as the invention of concepts, is always populated by a discursive or a conceptual field; yet perhaps there is also an affective field, a field of affective or sensible volumes, that haunt every philosophy as well. Is there maybe a way there is a dimension of sensible volumes in philosophy that can only be felt? These volumes of affect would be intertwined with the concepts that populate a philosophy, but would not themselves be of the discursive order.
If this were true, to visit or inhabit a philosophy would be to occupy a field of affects. Here there would be an attractive dimension of philosophies that is not derived from the rigor of its arguments or persuasion, but rather the affects or jouissance that the thought fills us with. Did we first have this form of jouissance and then find a philosophy appropriate to it? Or is it that we inhabit the concepts of a philosophy and then come to have this sort of jouissance or affectivity? I don’t know. It is likely that there is a feedback loop here, with dispositions of jouissance we already have drawing us towards particular philosophies, and with philosophies cultivating and intensifying a particular sort of jouissance in us. However it is, it’s difficult to escape the impression that different philosophies are also different forms of jouissance.
There are those philosophies that seem pervaded by a sort of joyous wonder and delight in the world. These philosophies are philosophies of lassen sein, of letting be, that delight in things not for any particular purpose or utility, but simply because of the beauty of what they are. Here we might think of the thought of Lucretius and his delight in nature. As Jessie Hock observes, there is everywhere in Lucretius a de-sexualized libido, a pan-sexuality, that draws profound gratification from the entire chaosmos. This is seen throughout in the erotic lushness of his prose, the vividness of his observations, and the sense of pleasure or joy that pervades everything he writes. We might also think of Spinoza and his intellectual love of God. To be sure, these philosophers have a telos governing their thought at the discursive level– beatitude in Spinoza and freedom from superstition in Lucretius –yet we sometimes get the sense that these are rationalizations justifying a form of jouissance that would be enjoyed anyway even if that telos weren’t there. Whitehead is another thinker that comes to mind as being pervaded by these sorts of affective volumes. There is a delight here, a love of the world.
There are other philosophies that seem populated by a delight taken in organizing and whittling things down to their precise essence, like the sort of jouissance the bureaucrat draws from a well organized filing system. The bureaucrat, of course, has a purpose for filing things in this way. Yet it is difficult to escape the impression that he enjoys his filing system and forms for their own sake; that the organization is an end in itself. Here we might think of Hegel in the Science of Logic, or Husserl’s endless distinctions, Brandom’s endless distinctions in Making it Explicit, or Sellars. We might also think of certain moments in high scholasticism. Here we get the sense that the baroque system of ever expanding distinctions is an end in itself, that this is the enjoyment at the heart of the philosophy. We might also think of Peirce here with his ever growing taxonomies of objects. This jouissance seems to be an enjoyment of dissection, of rendering hidden and interior things visible and cut open, distinguished, divided. Somewhere Husserl tells a story of a pocket knife that he received as a gift as a young boy. He sharpened it until the blade disappeared. This anecdote seems to embody the essence of Husserlian jouissance; to sharpen until the thing disappears. Yet here it is not the wet stone that sharpens, but ever proliferating baroque distinctions.
Other philosophies are pervaded by affects of humor. There is an irony and humor that pervades these philosophies that is a form of jouissance. Plato’s thought is pervaded by this sort of humor, as if it were the joke and the ironic turn that were the ultimate aim rather than the maiuetics of reaching the forms. The doctrine of recollection and the imperative to know the forms would be the machine for attaining not knowledge of the forms and purification, but for reaching this plane of humor and irony. Lacan is a similar thinker in this regard.
Other philosophies fill us with a jouissance of indignation, resentment, or despair. Indignation, resentment, and despair are also forms of jouissance or enjoyment. Here we might think of the way in which Adorno leads us to see the world as a grand conspiracy in which we’re perpetually being exploited. We begin to rage against everything about us. Schopenhauer and Sartre fill us with volumes of despair, leading us to see it all as meaningless. There are also those philosophies that fill us with a crushing sense of responsibility and guilt; with a sort of moral mania. Again Sartre comes to mind here, but also Kant with his categorical imperative, or Brandom with his call to always articulate our normative commitments. With Kant and Brandom we feel as if we’ve fallen into one of Kafka’s great novels, condemned for reasons we know not why and enjoyed with tasks we know not what. With Sartre, by contrast, we feel responsible for the world without any ground upon which we could justify our commitments. These are first and foremost affective universes.
We could develop an entire diagnostics of the affects populating philosophies. I am not sure why I am thinking of any of this, except to remind myself that when you engage with another philosophy, you are not simply engaging with their concepts and arguments, but also with a specific mode of jouissance and enjoyment. This jouissance is every bit as much the rationale behind the philosophy as its conceptual plane of immanence. Perhaps the first question to ask of any philosophy is “how does it enjoy?”. Perhaps such a science of the jouissance haunting philosophies could be call “affectosophy”.