I’m feeling pretty demoralized this evening, so the only thing to do is try and distract myself so I don’t have to think about things.

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about transcendental arguments and their status. I have written this post a few times already in the past, but like a person working through a trauma who must repeat it endlessly in the form of nightmares or neurotic symptoms, I believe I must go over this ground once again. And if I must repeat, then this is because I am myself a reformed transcendental idealist who must therefore marshal arguments convincing to myself. In many respects, the transcendental argument is Kant’s central contribution to thought, his ultimate secret ninja judo move. Outside of philosophy I get the sense that there’s a lot of confusion as to what a transcendental argument is. I often hear it confused with an appeal to the transcendent. However, in many respects, the transcendent and the transcendental are opposites. When we appeal to, for example, Platonic forms to account for justice or to God to account for moral laws we are making an appeal to the transcendent or that which is beyond and independent of both the world and the subject or mind. Take the standard Platonic argument for the existence of the forms (and here I’m presenting a vulgar, cereal box version of Plato).

The argument runs something like this: When faced with all the the things to which justice pertains, we note that they are very different and share no resemblance to one another. For example, in what way do serving one’s function within the polis and getting a coke out of a coke machine when you put a dollar in the machine resemble one another. Both of these events are instances of justice, yet when we examine the properties or qualities of these events, we find no quality shared by the two. Similarly, when we enter into debates and discussions about justice, we seem to all approach justice in different ways. However, apart from the crassest Protagorean relativist, we all nonetheless agree that while we might not know what it is, there is a truth of the matter or fact of the matter concerning justice. In short, justice is not simply a subjective sentiment or opinion, but something real that exists in its own right. But what is this real thing that exists in its own right? Plato’s proposal is that the just is a form, a universal, that exists in its own right, independent of all instances of the just and all opinions about the just. The form of the just is ideal, but its ideality is not a subjective ideality. Indeed, as Derrida likes to point out, the ideal is the most objective of all. It is neither an object in the world (a material object), nor an idea in the mind (a subjective entity), but an ideal entity that is entirely real, eternal, universal, and so on. For Plato, even if all humans ceased to exist, even if there were no individual objects in the world, the form of the just would continue to exist for all eternity. The forms are thus transcendent to subjects and objects. They are the most real things of all.

read on because having arguments for abstruse and abstract issues is concretely important!


68Z0aBelow is the paper I presented at the RMMLA this morning. We had large audiences for the two Deleuze panels, great discussions, and my paper was very well received. My only regret is that I couldn’t really get into the details of Deleuze’s understanding of simulacra as “signal-sign systems” as the paper would have been twice as long, so I had to focus on his critique of Platonism. It’s absolutely gorgeous here in the mountains of Utah, though I’ve had a wicked headache since arriving as a result of the altitude. Hopefully that will go away by tomorrow. I should also add that I wrote this paper at the airport and on the flight here, so a number of my allusions are unreferenced. Go easy on me! At any rate, without further ado…

Interpretation hits the real.
~J. Lacan

The simulacrum enjoys a short life in Deleuze’s thought. Appearing primarily in Difference and Repetition and The Logic of Sense, the concept then disappears in his later thought. This is not, of course, so unusual in Deleuze’s work. As has often been observed, each of Deleuze’s texts creates a new conceptual constellation. However, later, in interview, Deleuze will remark that the concept of the simulacrum was a poorly formed, while nonetheless giving no explanation or account of just how this concept was poorly formed. In my view, if Deleuze was led to abandon the concept of the simulacrum, this was not for reasons pertaining to the endo-consistency of the concept or its ability to attain a coherence and consistency allowing it to stand and support itself, but rather for rhetorical reasons pertaining to phenomena of resonance and echoes within the philosophical tradition of representation. This rhetorical situation or set of exo-relations within the tradition of representation only intensified with the appearance of Baudrillard’s work which made the simulacrum its key concept, but in a sense directly opposed to Deleuze’s own intentions in mobilizing the concept. Where Baudrillard mobilizes the concept of the simulacrum diagnostically as a symptom of our times in a war against representation and the real, Deleuze, while sharing Baudrillard’s war against representation, mobilizes the concept of the simulacrum in the name of the real. In short, Deleuze mobilizes the concept of the simulacrum in the name of a realist ontology. If, then, there is a problem with the concept of the simulacrum, this problem is to be found at the level of the plane of expression where the signifier “simulacrum” continues to resonate all too easily with both the logic of representation and anti-realist thought that has dominated philosophy since the late 17th century.

From the beginning of his work until the end, Deleuze dismisses the thesis that metaphysics is at an end or that it has exhausted itself. This affirmation of metaphysics should be taken seriously. Since Heidegger, there has been an unfortunate tendency within Continental thought to conflate metaphysics with onto-theology and philosophies of presence. Rather than following a path of thought that would metaphysically overturn onto-theology and the primacy of presence, the decision was instead made to either a) abandon metaphysics altogether in favor of humanist correlationism, or b) attempt to achieve, as in the case of Heidegger, a passage beyond metaphysics to something called thinking. By contrast, to affirm the possibility of metaphysics is to affirm realist ontology against the correlationisms that have come to dominate philosophy, suturing being and the world to the condition of the human. Within the constellation of French thought arising out of the late 60s, Deleuze is singular in this affirmation of metaphysics.

read on!

duchamp_brideIn preparing my talk on Deleuze’s overturning of Platonism and his theory of simulacra for the RMMLA on Friday, I came across the following terrific interview with Deleuze on A Thousand Plateaus and assemblages:

If there is no single field to act as a foundation, what is the unity of A Thousand Plateaus?

I think it is the idea of an assemblage (which replaces the idea of desiring machines). There are various kinds of assemblages, and various component parts. On the one hand, we are trying to substitute the idea of assemblage for the idea of behavior: whence the importance of ethology, and the analysis of animal assemblages, e.g., territorial assemblages. The chapter on the Ritornello, for example, simultaneously examines animal assemblages and more properly musical assemblages: this is what we call a “plateau,” establishing a continuity between the ritornellos of birds and Schumann’s ritornellos. On the other hand, the analysis of assemblages, broken down into their component parts, opens up the way to a general logic: Guattari and I have only begun, and completing this logic will undoubtedly occupy us in the future. Guattari calls it “diagrammatism.” In assemblages you you find states of things, bodies, various combinations of bodies, hodgepodges; but you also find utterances, modes of expression, and whole regimes of signs. The relations between the two are pretty complex. For example, a society is defined not by productive forces and ideology, but by “hodgepodges” and “verdicts.” Hodgepodges are combinations of interpenetrating bodies. These combinations are well-known and accepted (incest, for example, is a forbidden combination). Verdicts are collective utterances, that is, instantaneous and incorporeal transformations which have currency in a society (for example, “from now on you are no longer a child”…).

These assemblages which you are describing, seems to me to have value judgments attached to them. Is this correct? Does A Thousand Plateaus have an ethical dimension?

Assemblages exist, but they indeed have component parts that serve as criteria and allow the various assemblages to be qualified. Just as in painting, assemblages are a bunch of lines. But there are all kinds of lines. Some lines are segments, or segmented; some lines get caught in a rut, or disappear into “black holes”; some are destructive, sketching death; and some lines are vital and creative. These creative and vital lines open up an assemblage, rather than close it down. The idea of an “abstract” line is particularly complex. A line may very well represent nothing at all, be purely geometrical, but it is not yet abstract as long as it traces an outline. An abstract line is a line with no outlines, a line that passes between things, a line in mutation. Pollock’s line has been called abstract. In this sense, an abstract line is not a geometrical line. It is very much alive, living and creative. Real abstraction is non-organic life. This idea of nonorganic life is everywhere in A Thousand Plateaus and this is precisely the life of the concept. An assemblage is carried along by its abstract lines, when it is able to have or trace abstract lines. You know, it’s curious, today we are witnessing the revenge of silicon. Biologists have often asked themselves why life was “channeled” through carbon rather than silicon. But the life of modern machines, a genuine non-organic life, totally distinct from the organic life of carbon, is channeled through silicon. This is the sense in which we speak of a silicon-assemblage. In the most diverse fields, one has to consider the component parts of assemblages, the nature of the lines, the mode of life, the mode of utterance…

In reading your work, one gets the feeling that those distinctions which are traditionally most important have disappeared: for instance, the distinction between nature and culture; or what about epistemological distinctions?

There are two ways to supress or attenuate the distinction between nature and culture. The first is to liken animal behavior to human behavior (Lorenz tried it, with disquieting political implications). But what we are saying is that the idea of assemblages can replace the idea of behavior, and thus with respect to the idea of assemblage, the nature-culture distinction no longer matters. In a certain way, behavior is still a countour. But an assemblage is first and foremost what keeps very heterogeneous elements together: e.g. a sound, a gesture, a position, etc., both natural and artificial elements. The problem is one of “consistency” or “coherence,” and it prior to the problem of behavior. How do things take on consistency? How do they cohere? Even among very different things, an intensive continuity can be found. We have borrowed the word “plateau” from Bateson precisely to designate these zones of intensive continuity. (Two Regimes of Madness, pgs. 176 – 179)

Supermassive-Black-Hole-Gets-a-039-Close-Up-039-2I take three key points from this interview:

1) Assemblages are composed of heterogeneous elements or objects that enter into relations with one another. These objects are not all of the same type. Thus you have physical objects, happenings, events, and so on, but you also have signs, utterances, and so on. While there are assemblages that are composed entirely of bodies, there are no assemblages composed entirely of signs and utterances.

2) I think the idea of different kinds of lines is particularly fruitful. This is especially the case of those lines that tend towards ruts, black holes, and death. Posts about minotaurs, trolls, and gray vampires are really posts about black holes. The black hole or, as Einstein called it “dark star”, is an entity whose gravitational force is so strong that nothing, not even light, can escape from it. Minotauring, trolling, and gray vampiring are forms of engagement that suck all discussion into their orbit, preventing it from moving on. As such, they tend to prevent the formation of assemblages. One aim in cultivating and evaluating assemblages lies in finding ways to escape ruts, black holes, and lines leading to death.

3) Deleuze’s claims about coherency and consistency are particularly important. Consistency and coherence are not qualities that precede assemblages, rather they are emergent properties that do or do not arise from assemblage. It is noteworthy that the term “consistency” is not being used in the logical sense, but in the sense of solutions and substances. Deleuze and Guattari’s notion of consistency is closer to the way we use it when talking about cement, referring to it as “soupy”, “dry”, “lumpy”, “coarse”, “consisting of stone and lime”, etc., than the logical sense of “lacking in contradictions”. An assemblage can be riddled with contradictions as in the case of the economic and ethnic divisions that divide the North and South side of Chicago, while still producing consistency and coherence. Consistency and coherence are thus not about being without logical contradiction, nor about harmony, but rather about how heterogeneous elements or objects hang together.

Only slept for about an hour last night. Bleary eyed and can hardly see straight. At any rate, Jeremey Dunham, Mark Edward, and Nick Srnicek’s reviews of my Difference and Givenness are now available on Global Discourses: A Developmental Journal of Research in Politics and International Relations. I am truly humbled and full of gratitude for their thoughtful and positive reviews. I am also gratified to have been selected for a book symposium in this way. In addition you will also find my response to their reviews.

As I have repeatedly remarked, the “foundation” of my ontology is difference. My basic claim is that if something makes a difference, then it is. Or as I articulate it in the ontic principle, “there is no difference that does not make a difference.” The first point to note is that when I begin from this hypothesis, I am not making a normative claim or a value judgment. “Making a difference” should not be understood as a synonym for “being important” or “being valuable”. Nor am I making the precious claim that everything is important or special or unique. There are very small and minor differences, but they are no less for this. All I am saying when I assert the ontic principle is that to be is to make differences. Note, when I say that to be is to make differences, I am taking no stand on whether or not a being makes a difference to you or me or any other living being in the universe. In short, the phrase “making difference” should not be elided into the phrase “making a difference to…” Even if a being is not observed, even if a being does not act on any other being, it nonetheless produces differences purely in and through its being. It is for this reason that I claim that objects are activities or doings.

The question, then, is what exactly is meant by “difference”? I am still trying to work this out. However, I think one key point to keep in mind is that difference should not be confused with distinction. In ordinary language we often say “x differs from y”. Or we say that to differ is to not be something else. Under this view, difference is treated as a comparative term, and is run together with the concept of distinction.

When I evoke the concept of “difference” I am not evoking difference in the sense of comparison between two entities, nor in the sense of distinctions. In my view, difference is a condition for comparisons, and is also a condition for distinctions, but difference as such is prior to comparisons and distinctions.

read on!

pariswallsIn relation to my post on Speculative Realism and Scientific Naturalism, Deontologist and I have been having a stimulating discussion on the ontological status of signs. I advocate the thesis that symbolic entities have real existence and are entities in their own right. Deontologist holds that this is a “trivial”– a truly unfortunate use of language –use of the term “existence” and that only material or physical beings can be truly said to exist.

The discussion began as a discussion about the ontological status of fictional entities like Harry Potter. I hold that fictional entities like Harry Potter are real. In making this claim, I am not making the absurd claim that there is a material referent to the novels depicting David Lewis where a physical Harry Potter exists in one of David Lewis’ possible worlds. Rather, following basic principles of phenomenology, I contend that Harry Potter exists qua fictional entity. Harry Potter is real as a fictional entity. The important caveat here would be that where phenomenology might make this entity dependent upon a sense-bestowing intuition issuing from the cogito— at least in the Husserlian formulation –I hold, following Harman, that Harry Potter, as an object, enjoys independent existence once he has come into existence. To be sure, Harry Potter had to come into existence through the agency of an author, but once he has come into existence his existence is as independent as any other entity that might exist.

We could similarly draw on Derrida’s “Signature Event Context” and Limited Inc. to make this point. In these texts Derrida arrives at conclusions that are surprisingly congenial to object-oriented ontology. Meditating on the conditions under which the grapheme or sign are possible, he notes that in order for a grapheme to function as a grapheme, it must be iterable. As he works through the logic of iterability, he shows that it follows that the being of the grapheme or sign cannot be dependent on the intentionality of the person that uses it or enunciates it. In order for the grapheme, mark or sign to be iterable, it necessarily, as its condition of possibility, presupposes the absence of both the speaker, the referent, and the addressee. Derrida puts this point dramatically, remarking that every grapheme, text, or sign presupposes the death of the subject insofar as it is iterable beyond the intentionality of any subject or any context in which it might have been produced. Thus, like Kant’s famous glove turned inside out, the object-oriented ontologist need only give positive formulation to Derrida’s negative thesis. To say that the grapheme, sign, or text presupposes the death of the subject and absence of the referent is to say that the being of the sign, grapheme, or text is that of an independent and real object that is irreducible to the intentionality of the person that employs the sign or the referent to which the sign refers. Neither concept, context, intention, idea, or referent, the grapheme enjoys an independent existence tracing its course throughout the world in excess of any relations it might happen to enter into. Hopefully I will be forgiven for considerably condensing Derrida’s transcendental argument here.

read on!

For those who have online access to Project Muse, Ronald Bogue’s review of Difference and Givenness is now available volume 16 of Symploke. From the final paragraph:

His argumentation is dense, yet pursued with rigor and systematic coherence. His reading of Difference and Repetition is one of the finest now available and a significant contribution to the growing body of serious engagements with Deleuze as a philosopher. Bryant’s study will be difficult going for anyone unfamiliar with the Deleuzian corpus, but for those who have struggled with Deleuze’s complex works, this book will prove an invaluable guide and an essential stimulus to further discussion of his thought. In every way, Difference and Givenness is a major achievement.

This is a truly gratifying review, not only because it was Bogue that first introduced Deleuze to the English speaking world and because he has done so much excellent work on Deleuze (particularly his three volumes on Deleuze and the arts), but also because Ronald Bogue’s work has been so influential in my own thought. Difference and Givenness would not have been possible without his book Deleuze & Guattari, and especially the chapters on Difference and Repetition and The Logic of Sense.

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