July 2016

vomitsThere was a time when philosophers used to write treatises on friendship.  One translation of the “philia” of “philosophy” is friendship.  Aristotle devotes two chapters of the Nichomachean Ethics to friendship.  Friendship is a key concept in Epicureanism; so much so that a life without friendship is not a life that’s not worth living.  Just imagine the loneliness of the protagonist in Cast Away.  It is not a lover that he imagines on the Island, but Wilson that allows him to go on.  I won’t write a treatise on friendship here– though I believe it is an essential concept in philosophy; both friendship to the concept and friendship to the other –but a few things do come to mind as to why friendship is so crucial.  There is, of course, the obvious dimension of friendship, especially in our alienated time where it seems that all relationships of sociality have collapsed:  The world is a little less lonely, a little less dark, in friendship.  In our alienated times, friendship is a space against the darkness and the nothingness; a space where there is a little bit of light.

00000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000005558877875123We often speak of friendship as a certain sort of closeness or proximity, but it seems to me that the best friendships are those of distance or difference.  A friendship where one heard only what is the same as oneself would be rather stale.  “Malkovich!  Malkovich!  Malkovich!”  No.  A good friendship cracks your world, so that you discover the earth.  A good friendship is one in which you have an encounter with alterity, difference, distance…  That your world is not all that there is, that there is difference.  Around that sand of difference, something accretes or comes into being that was unanticipated.  A friendship is a repetition of difference, not the same.  It produces something that neither could have expected out of that difference.  It is an accretion-point where something else comes into being; a swirling vortex that generates an aleatory pattern.

And in friendship you find out who you yourself are.  Every subject is ex-centric, decentered, other to itself.  In the alterity of friendship, across that distance, you discover the values or teloi that animated you, that you didn’t even know were you, as a result of that difference or distance that somehow you surmount through dialogue and laughter and tears.  Who was I?  I never knew until I encountered the strangeness of my friends!  And in encountering that strangeness of my friends I encountered the strangeness of myself; that what I took as obvious and for granted was itself a distance or a new continent or extraterrestrial.  I came to myself through this encounter with alterity, through this distance, through this difference and could only know what it was across distance.

Of myself, this I know:  that without dialogue, which is another name for difference, I am unable to think and that my thought unfolds in the dimension of friendship or that difference with others with whom I talk.  I come to know that even in my soliloquies, I am talking with an-other in friendship or across a difference.


DeLanda’s latest with Edinburgh University Press.

Manuel DeLanda provides the first detailed overview of the assemblage theory found in germ in Deleuze and Guattari’s writings. Through a series of case studies DeLanda shows how the concept can be applied to economic, linguistic and military history as well as to metaphysics, science and mathematics.
DeLanda then presents the real power of assemblage theory by advancing it beyond its original formulation – allowing for the integration of communities, institutional organisations, cities and urban regions. And he challenges Marxist orthodoxy with a Leftist politics of assemblages.

Manuel DeLanda accomplishes what few thinkers ever manage to achieve: he renders the world interesting and thoroughly transforms our perception of what it is and how it came to be. This new book is destined to generate much debate and discussion, reconfiguring the way we pose social and political questions and the coordinates of legitimate ontological thinking. After reading this work, the world never quite looks the same and things that seemed to have only marginal importance take on an entirely new significance.
– Levi R. Bryant, Collin College
Assemblage Theory, the culmination of 25 years’ work, presents for the first time in one text a unified realist ontology spanning sub-atomic physics, chemistry, biology and social history. Simultaneously DeLanda has reoriented European philosophy, and given a remarkably lucid interpretation of Deleuze and Guattari. An extraordinary achievement.
– Alistair Welchman, University of Texas at San Antonio

Issue 30 of  Rhizomes, devoted to Karen Barad, is now available here.  I have a highly sympathetic article in there that’s probably somewhat dated now as I wrote it a few years ago and have moved on to an ontology of folds that puts me much closer to her thought.  The article is entitled “Phenomenon and Thing:  Karen Barad’s Performative Ontology.”  Many thanks to  Karen Sellberg and Petra Hinton for all the hard work they’ve put into this!

Natural_transformationLet’s play a game.  You give me a number and I’ll give you another in response.  We start.  You say 7, I respond with 9.  You say 132, and I respond with 134.  You say 3, and I say 5.  Now I give you a number.  I say 23, and you respond 25.  We’re now beginning to get bored, for we’ve deciphered to rule behind the game.  We can even formalize it mathematically:

f(x) = x + 2

“For any number x, add 2.”  Of course, we could come up with other mathematical descriptions or theories of this game, but regardless, it’s a simple game.  It’s a peculiar game, for it really isn’t so much a game that you might win.  While it is indeed played with someone, it is not played against someone.  If this game has any allure at all, it consists in discovering the law, rule, essence, or pattern behind the game.  That is, the object of this game consists of the theory of the game.  The theory of the game is the discovery of the rule or law behind the game.

read on!


How-to-Understand-Federal-Tax-FormsIt seems to me that there’s a certain way of citing (and in this I include the very style or method of citation chosen), a certain fetish for jargon, a certain style of writing abstracts and composing sentences in philosophy and the humanities that very much reminds me very much of bureaucratic speech and administrator-speak; especially with respect to the jargon we find in various forms of the education reform movement.  This style simultaneously functions as a shibboleth, defining insiders and outsiders, while also making a pseudo-claim to clarity and precision.  Perhaps this style is independent of the content of what is written and argued, but I’m not so sure.  It seems to me that this style already expresses an entire worldview, an entire system of values, an entire teleology or set of goals functioning as a machine or an apparatus of capture.

universityDIt is a writing similar to that of the accountant– but without as much pizzaz –that aspires to be objective, universal, univocal, and without the interference of the passions.  In its style of citation (Rawls 1997; 4:17), it has the structure of a fetish; not for the figures it cites, but for the style of citation itself.  The form of this style seems to rebound on the content, seeking an erasure of all difference and alterity, functioning to capture everything in its net.  Any singularity, any difference, is implicitly and unconsciously encountered as an affront.  Even where its surface level intentions claim another set of aims, perhaps even emancipatory aims, the form of the style and the fetish for shibboleths belie those surface level enunciations.  It is here that the paradox of this style reaches its core, for this style claims to distance itself from all effects of poetry, from all “literary effects” (and this style, in philosophy at least, is legendary for reducing poetry and literature to meaningless “emoting), yet everywhere with this style we find libido at work.  Like the priest that everywhere will denounce sexuality, lust, and any form of passion even in the space of marriage, while simultaneously having found a new form of libido, of sex, a new way of getting off through the law, the regulation, the denunciation, and the discipline; this style that denounces the singular, differential, and literary is itself a style of literature– yes, there’s even a poetry of the tax form and the latest article in the analytic journal –and everywhere in this style we sense the libido at work:  a fetish for a style of citation, for a certain apparatus of jargon, for a certain way of constructing sentences.  For this style even the abstract is a form of foreplay, a form of desire.  And what a strange desire this is, with its abbreviations, its love of jargon, its claim to be clear (though in a way befitting of Kafka), its claim to be free of the idiosyncrasies of emotion and particularity!  For it is simultaneously masochistic and sadistic, yet without being a sado-masochism.  It is a masochism in the manner in which it requires a complete submission and abnegation of the author, but it is a sadism in how it wishes to capture and subdue.  Is it just to denounce something on the basis of style alone?  Probably not.  But how else is one to respond to those who would bring the bureaucratic image of thought into thought itself?  How else can one respond to those who have made a norm of the form for all other forms of thought?  The style itself is objectionable and reflects a form of power, of thought, of sovereignty.

fabric-folds-23257825This afternoon I came across an Atlantic article entitled “Why Do So Many Graduate Students Quit?”  The first hypothesis, offered as the “standard rationale” (!), suggested mental illness, but then pointed out that this research is debatable.  The article concludes, instead, that it is the “culture” of graduate programs that leads so many graduate students to quit:

The culture of Ph.D. programs can make some students snap, according to Karen Kelsky, a former tenured professor and academic career coach. In fact, she said in an email, “it isn’t usually a snap so much as a gradual disintegration.” Ph.D. programs are extremely lonely and based on a culture of critique rather than support in which professors and peers constantly look for weaknesses in the doctoral student’s arguments, she said.

During Kelsky’s 15 years as a tenured professor and advisor, she witnessed many students toil in solitude on their dissertations while sacrificing their outside interests. “You become overly fixated on what your professors think of you,” she said. “Paranoia is quite rampant in Ph.D. programs because Ph.D. students can get so isolated and so fixated on whether or not the people in authority [committee members] approve of what they’re doing since they have total authority to grant the degree.”

While this is often true of the culture of graduate programs, what is remarkable in this explanation is the absence of any discussion of the political dimension of graduate degrees.  Nowhere does the article discuss the tremendous poverty graduate students live in, the massive debt they often accrue over the course of their education, and the extreme paucity of jobs for students once they graduate.  All of this unfolds for the graduate student while they witness their peers begin their lives, getting jobs, starting families, and all the rest.

read on!


cubistInchoate thoughts.  Lately I’ve been spending a great deal with thinkers of antiquity such as Epicurus, Lucretius, and the Stoics for reasons that aren’t entirely clear to me.  I suppose that I’m looking for a naturalistic ground of value and ethico-politico thought that wouldn’t appeal to anything transcendent or otherworldly.  I’ve found myself simultaneously exhilarated and repulsed by Epicurus.  Exhilarated because of his model ethics– shared by these other thinkers –of ethics as a sort of therapy of the soul, a therapy of desire, that frees us of the desires that plague us while also advising us to pursue those relations, those objects, that are most conducive to our well being.  How could a psychoanalyst fail to be delighted with Epicurus.  Here it wouldn’t be a matter of agreeing with the letter of Epicurus’s doctrines, but with the core idea that animates them.

On the other hand, I find myself repulsed by Epicurus due to his conception of human desire.  In the Letter to Menoeceus, Epicurus writes:

We must also reflect that of desires some are natural, others are groundless; and that of the natural some are necessary as well as natural, and some natural only. And of the necessary desires some are necessary if we are to be happy, some if the body is to be rid of uneasiness, some if we are even to live. He who has a clear and certain understanding of these things will direct every preference and aversion toward securing health of body and tranquillity of mind, seeing that this is the sum and end of a happy life. For the end of all our actions is to be free from pain and fear, and, when once we have attained all this, the tempest of the soul is laid; seeing that the living creature has no need to go in search of something that is lacking, nor to look anything else by which the good of the soul and of the body will be fulfilled. When we are pained pleasure, then, and then only, do we feel the need of pleasure. For this reason we call pleasure the alpha and omega of a happy life. Pleasure is our first and kindred good. It is the starting-point of every choice and of every aversion, and to it we come back, inasmuch as we make feeling the rule by which to judge of every good thing. And since pleasure is our first and native good, for that reason we do not choose every pleasure whatever, but often pass over many pleasures when a greater annoyance ensues from them. And often we consider pains superior to pleasures when submission to the pains for a long time brings us as a consequence a greater pleasure. While therefore all pleasure because it is naturally akin to us is good, not all pleasure is worthy of choice, just as all pain is an evil and yet not all pain is to be shunned. It is, however, by measuring one against another, and by looking at the conveniences and inconveniences, teat all these matters must be judged. Sometimes we treat the good as an evil, and the evil, on the contrary, as a good. Again, we regard. independence of outward things as a great good, not so as in all cases to use little, but so as to be contented with little if we have not much, being honestly persuaded that they have the sweetest enjoyment of luxury who stand least in need of it, and that whatever is natural is easily procured and only the vain and worthless hard to win. Plain fare gives as much pleasure as a costly diet, when one the pain of want has been removed, while bread an water confer the highest possible pleasure when they are brought to hungry lips. To habituate one’s se therefore, to simple and inexpensive diet supplies al that is needful for health, and enables a person to meet the necessary requirements of life without shrinking and it places us in a better condition when we approach at intervals a costly fare and renders us fearless of fortune.

When we say, then, that pleasure is the end and aim, we do not mean the pleasures of the prodigal or the pleasures of sensuality, as we are understood to do by some through ignorance, prejudice, or willful misrepresentation. By pleasure we mean the absence of pain in the body and of trouble in the soul. It is not an unbroken succession of drinking-bouts and of merrymaking, not sexual love, not the enjoyment of the fish and other delicacies of a luxurious table, which produce a pleasant life; it is sober reasoning, searching out the grounds of every choice and avoidance, and banishing those beliefs through which the greatest disturbances take possession of the soul. Of all this the d is prudence. For this reason prudence is a more precious thing even than the other virtues, for ad a life of pleasure which is not also a life of prudence, honor, and justice; nor lead a life of prudence, honor, and justice, which is not also a life of pleasure. For the virtues have grown into one with a pleasant life, and a pleasant life is inseparable from them.

Epicurus distinguishes between three types of desire:  natural desires, of which there are two:  the necessary natural desires and the non-necessary natural desires, and groundless desires.  Necessary natural desires, non-necessary natural desires, and groundless desires.  The necessary desires consist of our desires for things like food and water.  Without these things we suffer a great deal, but, Epicurus contends, these desires are easily satisfied.  The natural non-necessary desires are desires that arise from our nature, but we don’t suffer if we don’t fulfill these desires.  This would be our desire for things like sex. Much later, Lucretius will argue that we should cut erotic desire out of our lives as much as possible because of the turmoil that so often accompanies it.

For Epicurus, it is the “groundless” desires that cause us the lion’s share of our turmoil and from which we need to be cured.

read on!


2254531_origAt approximately 10:30 EST tonight, the Juno spacecraft will enter the orbit of the largest planet in our solar system, Jupiter.  Juno has been traveling there at 60,000mph for 5 years.  When she enters Jupiters orbit she will be moving at a speed of 165,000mph; faster than any device made by humans in history.  To put this into perspective, a bullet speeds through the air at about 1,700mph.  When Juno enters orbit, she’ll encounter more radiation than any technology we’ve ever built.  Background radiation on earth is about .39RAD.  In orbit around Jupiter it is about 20,000,000RAD.  You can listen to a hint of this hellish nimbus here.

read on!


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