Fields afford and constrain what a thing can do, the capacity of a thing to effectuate its powers, potentialities, or capacities– its affects, in the Spinozist sense of the term –but are also folded into things.  We have a tendency to abstract things from the fields in which they dwell, to think them as independent; yet, as I’ve been trying to argue, all things are dividual, rather than individual.  The minimal unit of being is not the thing, but the thing and its field.  There is no being that is not a being-between, and there is no thing that is not a pleat between thing and field.  That’s the working hypothesis, at any rate.

We see this clearly in the case of our own bodies– though perhaps we don’t see it clearly until we’re able to situate our bodies in very different fields.  At the naive, common sense level we take are bodies to be what they are as a feature of their own intrinsic being.  I just am these legs, these arms, this torso, these bones, this flesh and all the rest.  My body just has the capacity to do these things; capacities, to be sure, that fluctuate with my health and levels of energy, but capacities that are my body’s alone, nonetheless.  Isn’t it John Locke that says our bodies are our first property, because they are ontologically ours alone?  This would be the naive or abstract view of our body.

However, when we situate our bodies in different fields, we very quickly discover that this isn’t the case.  At the level of what we can do, there is no aspect of our action that isn’t a collaboration, a pleating, of our body and field.  My ability to walk as I do, to grasp things as I do, even to go to the restroom as I do, are all dependent on the Earth’s gravity.

The astronaut on the moon now discovers that walking is a very different affair.  Not only must he devise a new strategy for walking– what I have elsewhere called a sort of “crallop”; a portmanteau between walking like a crab and galloping –but stopping becomes particularly challenging.  As I walk I pleat my body with the earth, affording the possibility of moving as I do.  But this is not all.  It is not merely that my actions, what I am able to do, are a pleat between my body and the field I inhabit, it is also that the very nature of my body, its features and qualities, are the result of how my body is pleated with the Earth.  Astronauts that spend a significant amount of time in space suffer a variety of different health problems:  muscles and bones deteriorate, there’s a weakening of the cardiovascular system, we produce fewer red blood cells, and other things besides.  It turns out that that which I take to be my “ownmost”, the very flesh of my body in its materiality, is, in reality, a sort of pleat or fold with the world.  My heart and cardiovascular system function as they do not merely because of my genes and how well I take care of my body, but also in dialogue with the earth itself.  And so it is with all things.  There is no thing that is not a dialogue.

read on!

Yet the field is often lost for thought.  It is if the fields out of which things are pleated are, for thought, a sort of radical unconscious.  They are there, operating everywhere, yet thought perpetually overlooks them.  Everywhere things exist and live from fields, yet everywhere fields become invisible or unconscious for thought.  No doubt, this is because fields are so pervasive, so constantly operative, that they are lost to thought as real dimensions of the being of beings.  It is not until there is a change in fields, a shift form one field to another, that the importance of fields to the being of beings becomes visible.  Perhaps this is why people who have suffered traumas, who have had fundamental life shifts, who have travelled extensively or moved a great deal are so prone to becoming philosophers, scientists, psychologists, and novelists.  Their shifts in fields, the trauma of weightlessness, of social fields falling away from beneath their feet, places all fields in question for them, leading them to seek out the secret of the ground or the earth.  They struggle to create a field or ground for themselves; their own gravity.

It is no different with language.  There is, of course, speech; yet speech is like movement in a field.  There is a gravity of language that, as Foucault said in The Archeology of Things, affords and constrains what is sayable.  Just as the gravity of the earth is not a prohibition against certain forms of movement, but that which affords and constrains movement, the gravity of language is not a series of prohibitions on what one can and cannot say, but is rather a sort of flesh of the word that affords and constrains what is utterable at any given time in history.  We aren’t prohibited from saying this, we can’t say this because of how the field of language or discourse is organized.  I scarcely know how to express this point– and many others have expressed it far better –but the gravity of language, language as a field, is something that is itself never said or uttered, but is rather that through which anything is said or uttered.  It is the unsaid that renders all saying possible.  And it is something that shifts and changes.

It was these inchoate and poorly expressed thoughts that led me to recall a passage from Zizek today.  Zizek writes,

The true victory (the true ‘negation of negation’) occurs when the enemy talks your language. In this sense, a true victory is a victory in defeat:  it occurs when one’s specific message is accepted as a universal ground, even by the enemy.  (Say, in the case of rational science versus belief, the true victory of science takes place when the church starts to defend itself in the language of science.)  Or, in the contemporary politics of the United Kingdom, as many a perspicuous commentator observed, the Thatcher revolution was in itself chaotic, impulsive, marked by unpredictable contingencies, and it was only the ‘Third Way’ Blairite government [in the US it was the Clinton government who carried out this operation with the Reagan revolution, fulfilling it; me] which was able institutionalize it, to stabilize it into new institutional forms, or, to put it in Hegelese, to raise (what first appeared as) a contingency, a historical accident, into necessity.  (Slavoj Zizek Presents Mao:  On Practice and Contradiction, 17)

Bill Clinton was not a triumph of Democrats over Republicans, but of Reagan’s political philosophy over all other alternatives.  For the next few decades it would merely be a debate over just how far one wished to take these principles.  Alternatives were unthinkable.

Or, since this is a controversial example, let’s take the example of science over the Church instead.  We can imagine someone responding to Zizek’s claim by angrily pointing out that even after the Church began to speak the language of science, it nonetheless had many triumphs in the sphere of governance founded on religious grounds.  To be sure, this is true.  But the point is that despite this, there is a sort of power of the signifier (in this case, scientific language), a sort of ineluctability, grammar, or logic behind the signifier that nonetheless entailed that the Church’s prior way of comprehending the world was dead.  That world, that enchanted universe– and here The Secular Age is rewarding reading –became “the walking dead”.  It would take time for it to realize it was dead– as Nietzsche observes in the parable of the mad man in The Gay Science –but it was dead.  Like Neo in the first Matrix— yes, I know you’re all groaning at that reference –the decision had already been made, it just had to be registered and understood.  Perhaps there’s a sort of ineluctability of the signifier.  There’s a fabric of language; or better yet, language– the unsaid at the heart of everything that is said –is akin to ocean currents that carry you along without being discernible.  In this respect, the gravity of language would be like a parasite that takes over its host and uses it for its own ends, despite the intentions of the host.  We might here think of the parasite that invades the nervous systems of ants, leading them to climb up stalks of grass so they’ll be eaten by livestock and reproduce themselves.  Possession.

I’m not entirely convinced, but as I look with despair at our current political situation here in the United States I nonetheless try to remind myself of this thesis.  As I watch Democrats, I’ve noticed a dramatic shift in the last decade.  Increasingly terms like “moderate” and “centrist” have become dirty words.  No one wants to call themselves these things anymore.  No, they all wish to call themselves “leftists” and “progressives”, even when they are center-right as Hillary Clinton and her partisan supporters were.  The French have an expression:  The habit, they say, makes the monk.  The claim here is that for others, if you wear a habit people will treat you as a monk and project all sorts of knowledge and beliefs upon you, even if you don’t inwardly possess these beliefs.  This seems to be how it is with the moderates or the neo-republicans.  They want the habit, without the interiority.  But perhaps we can give a more radical reading to this proverb.  Perhaps it is not merely a cynical thesis about how others will treat you if you done the appropriate “habit”.  Perhaps it is that the habits we adopt– in this case, at the level of the signifier –have a power that pulls us along kicking and screaming, forcing us to change and become other through various operations of pleating despite our own intentions.

Perhaps this small shift in the ocean currents of language already indicates the possibility, the potentiality, of a revolutionary shift.  If there is indeed a grammar to the signifier and the signifiers we use– a grammar that pulls us along like a parasite possessing its host and using it for its own ends –then this small shift would be a trajectory of becoming where another form of politics other than that of the Third Way or the Reagan revolution becomes possible and discernible in the world.  The question would then be that of how to intensify this vector of becoming and transformation; how to make it more real and present and the world; how to make certain ways of thinking and certain forms of practice more unsayable and thinkable?  In this I find hope, though I still can’t help but feel despair because, in the age of the anthropocene where we face environmental catastrophe that will bring about the collapse of society as we know it, I wonder if we have time.  We live today in a wasteland where the temporal dimension of the future is quickly being foreclosed.  We can’t continue to live as if the future or tomorrow will always be there because we’re quickly running out of time.  Now, more than ever, we must accelerate these gravitational coordinates to respond to the world we’re living in.  If “anthropocene” means anything, it means the closure of the future as a dimension of our collective experience; the end of the future.

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