I feel as if I’m always in search of metaphors as machines for working through what I’m trying to think.  A metaphor is no mere ornamental device, no mere parergon; though Derrida taught us that the supplement of parerga are far more significant than they might first appear.  Nor are metaphors useful descriptive devices that allow us to pedagogically explain concepts to others.  No, metaphors are sparks of thought and lines of flight that move faster than thought.  We become, I think, enmeshed in our metaphors and other than we were as a result of the larval transformations they force us to undergo.  Metaphors initiate vectors of becoming, pleating thought in unexpected ways.  And as a result, there is always a danger in metaphor as you don’t know where they will ultimately take you.  One day you wake up in New Orleans and say to yourself, “everything is a machine!”  You’re not sure why this thought occurred to you or where it came from.  Yet as a consequence you spend the next few years reconceptualizing all of being in terms of machines.  “If I say that all is a machine, then how am I now to conceive of human made technologies?”  “In what way is life a machine or pedagogy or a book or a theory?”  “If all things are machines, then this theory I am developing is itself a machine.  How am I to think the relationship between this theory, which is itself a machine, and all of the other machines it attempts to comprehend?”  “Is this machine a horrifying, imperial machine?”

An entire adventure is initiated with this metaphor , with this improbable thought, and in the end you’re transformed as a result of it.  You don’t know whether it will turn out well or where it will ultimately take you; and for this reason metaphors are dangerous.  Another morning you wake up and suddenly everything is a pleat or a fold.  Now, suddenly, you’re in a different universe of being.  What does it mean to conceive of all of being as a form of pleating or as a form of origami?  What is the logic of the pleat, of the fold?  What is the subject when conceived as a pleat?  How about objects?  What sort of origami is knowledge, or ethics, or politics?  Now everything must be reworked, but that’s not so bad because even reworking is a form of origami:  you fold what you thought before into the adventure that this new pleat is taking you on and in the process it becomes something other than it was.

read on!

I suppose much of what interests me is what I’d call a “philosophical grammar” that I believe runs through us.  Another metaphor.  I was never formally taught grammar until I began to study German and French, and I suspect this shows in my writing.  No, grammar was somehow in me, operating in me as a way of pleating language or as a sort of machine, but I was not reflectively aware of grammar.  I felt when a sentence sounded or looked wrong, but I couldn’t say why.  Well, that is how it is with philosophical concepts as well.  Whether we are formally trained in philosophy or not, we swim in philosophical concepts like dolphins in the ocean, scarcely aware that they are even there.  Derrida calls them “philosophemes”, and Hegel says that even the simplest sentence is pervaded by intricate “notions” that inform every aspect of our thought, relationship to self, experience, and others.  Lacan will say that we are “cuckold by language” in Seminar 5; which is to say that language uses us, rather than we using language.  The same could be said of philosophical grammar:  it informs every aspect of our thought without us being aware of it, informing the questions we ask, our relationship to problems, and how we experience the world.  This, of course, is a form of imprisonment, for the grammar of concepts often leads us in directions which might not be best…  But, then, now to determine the best?

In more Wittgensteinian moments, I then think that much of philosophical work consists in working on this philosophical grammar.  This would be a form of freedom.  We attempt to work on the grammar that works on us so as to find a new space of existence.  This, I suppose, would be where I depart from Wittgenstein; or, at any rate, one version of Wittgenstein.  Where Wittgenstein says that “philosophy is what happens when language goes on holiday” and seeks to dissolve philosophical problems through an appeal to ordinary language usage analysis, I dream of creating philosophical holidays or new adventures of language.  Take the concept of “nature”.  There is an entire grammar of the concept of nature that pervades every aspect of contemporary thought and life.  Receiving precise formulation, perhaps, in Aristotle, nature is phusis, or that which arises out of itself.  The acorn, of its own nature, becomes an oak tree.  It is in its nature to do so.  By contrast, techne, is that which brings something to nature that is not of its own nature.  There is nothing in the nature of the oak tree that strives to be a table or a glorious staff.  Rather, the artisan brings form to the wood from without.

It would not be an exaggeration to say that this simple concept pervades every aspect of our thought, regardless of whether or not we’ve heard of Aristotle (and I am not attempting to turn Aristotle into a bad guy here.  While imperfect, he’s not and you should read him just like you should read Confucius, Mencius, Kant, Hegel, Nietzsche, and all the rest.  We cripple thought when we turn thinkers into taboos.).  It organizes our distinction between natural and artificial food.  It informs every debate on sexuality, drawing– unconsciously –a distinction between “natural” sexuality and “unnatural” sexuality, between “natural” biological genders and “unnatural” genders.  It organizes the distinction between nature and culture, leading us to believe that these are distinct realms that can be treated in isolation from one another, or that the concerns of the eco-philosopher are different than those of the critical theorist.  There is a very difficult to resist philosophical grammar that works in us here that is incredibly different to resist.  It informs our thought and perception without us even realizing it.  There is the wilderness, that which is outside of techne, and then there is civilization or culture.  And we mark both sides of this distinction in different ways depending on our commitments.  Sometimes the wilderness will be “good” and culture will be bad, whereas at other times “they” will be barbarians, creatures of the wilderness, and culture, techne, will be good.

But what if we decide to take the lyrics of the pop-band Love & Rockets seriously, and we adopt the aphorism “you cannot go against nature, because when you do, it is nature too.”  Rather than taking the route of Morton’s “ecology without nature”, we instead say that there is only nature.  At first, the shift seems slight.  But we’ve now begun to work on a deep philosophical grammar that is cross-cultural and thousands of years old.  We’ve set it on a line of flight.  In a stroke, we’ve annulled the distinction between the phusis and techne, the natural and the artificial.  Techne is just one tendency among many others; perhaps more accelerated than processes of evolution, but no less natural.  We annul the distinction between the nature and culture, the wilderness and civilization, the barbarian and the civilized, instead seeing them all as phenomena of nature.  We can no longer appeal to more or less civilized people or more or less natural genders.  Instead, we are presented with only the wilderness.  You are not more in the wilderness when you are in the Rocky Mountains, away from the city.  No, even when you’re in the middle of Tokyo you’re still in the wilderness, because there is only the wilderness.  The wilderness is not a place that you can go to.  Or rather, the wilderness is conceptually the place of all places.  And with this conceptual shift, we find that all other concepts must be reworked, folded in new ways; but we also find that it becomes impossible to think the city, the suburb, the urban and the suburban independently of a broader natural world.  They too are formations of nature and are pervaded by nature through and through.  We find that we cannot distinguish between cultural politics, economic politics, and ecological politics.  They all interpenetrate and belong to the wilderness.  And now, where “nature” was before thought in essentialist terms and the interminable debate between those who thought that some rule “by nature” (Aristotle’s thesis in the Politics) and those who believe that we create society, and the debate between those who believe that men rightly rule over women or that certain races rightly rule over others, we now discover a creative and inventive nature where all of these categories are undermined and appeals to the “natural” can no longer be made.  We work on the grammar and set it in becoming, taking it to unheard of places and hopefully allowing unheard of forms of life to become possible.  If we ask where the wild things are, the answer is everywhere.