Games


N.Pepperell has written a beautiful tribute to Larval Subjects for its first year anniversary.

Jumping forward from this post to the present, we see Sinthome currently deeply engaged with unfolding a series of philosophical concepts intended to grasp how abstractions or identities might be generated – but seeking to understand such entities within a resolutely materialist framework that can grasp such identities precisely as products or effects – as things that have arisen, and that can fade away. In a recent post, Sinthome expresses this in the following way:

The arabesque is like a unity or a figure that emerges out of a heterogeneous background and maintains itself in time. This would be one way of thinking about N.Pepperell’s abstractions: Namely as unities that emerge in a complex field, that “select themselves out” as it were, and maintain some stable unity in time or against plurality, forming a particularly potent tendency within the field out of which they emerge. All of this is still very vague and the dynamics would differ from system to system and would have to be approached from a variety of different perspectives depending on whether we were talking about social systems, physical systems, psychic systems, etc, but perhaps it is some small start in simultaneously thinking these buzzing networks and the unities, along with the material reality of those unities, that emerge out of them. I end with an enigmatic remark by Whitehead that underlines my thesis that rhetorics aren’t simply about something, but are something: “…[A] proposition is the unity of certain actual entities in their potentiality for forming a nexus, with its potential relatedness…” (24). Note that he does not say a proposition represents the unity of certain actual objects, but that it is the unity of certain actual objects.

So we have here the unfolding of a set of philosophical concepts – however preliminary – based on capturing multiplicity, which are intended to support a notion of practice based on a conception of the materiality of communication: would it be fair to characterise this as a response to the sort of challenge with which the blog begins?

Sinthome describes the blog as a space in which philosophical larvae may safely unfold:

Larvae are creatures in a process of becoming or development that have not yet actualized themselves in a specific form. This space is a space for the incubation of philosophical larvae that are yet without determinate positions or commitments but which are in a process of unfolding.

It feels to me as though the recent posts show a growing determinacy in relation to some of the blog’s early questions – as though perhaps some of Sinthome’s larval subjects are gradually assuming a more definite shape, hinting to us the forms into which they will grow. It will be exciting to see how this and other trajectories of thought develop in the coming year – through which combinations of continuities, breaks, and – especially – novel creations.

It is overwhelming and deeply moving to be read in this way. Honestly it just makes me want to run away and hide. Thank you N.Pepperell.

You can read the rest of the post here.

Lars and company have invited me to speak at Newcastle University in the UK for the 3rd Symposium in the Music, Philosophy and Vernacular series in November. I suppose I’ll finally have to get a passport now and come up with something to say about music from a suitably hip continental perspective. Actually I’ve been wishing to discuss the symptomatic role that music plays in Plato’s Republic and up through the writings of Augustine and Plotinus for some time now, as there music seems to occupy an odd position between the fallen material world and the world of logos or the intellect. Music, in this view, inhabits the edge of materiality or that point of materiality where the material transcends itself and ceases to be material. Not only is music the most mathematical of all the arts, but it is that art that is least attached to the five senses due to the unique temporal structure that renders a musical refrain simultaneously something that unfolds in time while nonetheless being a unity with itself that can only be grasped through operations of thought. As such, the musical requires an operation of the intellect to be grasped or a movement beyond appearances. It will be recalled that Plato, in the Phaedo, will argue that all philosophy is a preparation for death and that the philosopher lives his life as if he were already dead. By this Plato is referring to the necessity of cultivating the soul through a purification of the soul that separates it from the body, where the body refers to anything having to do with the sensations and the passions. This will lead to elaborate discussions of what sort of music and poetry is permissible in the Republic, and a categorical rejection of certain rhythms and the flute due to the manner in which these meters and instruments excite the passions and incite a sort of madness. Augustine will later make similar points about music, discerning the study of certain musical structures and grammatical patterns as a necessary stage in the cultivation of the soul that separates it from the body. You didn’t think Catholic church services were so somber and boring because the early founders of the church lived in boring times, did you? Of course these are only vague thoughts and I’m not sure what the cash value of all this would be. The question would be one of pushing past this dualistic tradition and discerning, in this strange relation to music, a symptom that both belongs to a certain metaphysics and upsets that metaphysics. I’ll have to wait and see what the actual theme of the series will be this year. It appears I need to send Lars, the Newcastle staff, and the students even more love letters than I already do. Perhaps Anthony will stop being angry with me and we can share a pint. I’m both tremendously excited and honored. It’s nice to be appreciated. Especially when it isn’t deserved.

The new issue of the International Journal of Zizek Studies has been released. You’ll find my article, “Symptomal Knots and Evental Ruptures: Zizek, Badiou, and Discerning the Indiscernible” (warning PDF), in there as well. Be gentle, I wrote the vast majority of it in a 24 hour period.

N.Pepperell, over at Rough Theory, has written a spectacular post on questions of immanence and self-reflexivity that has generated a nice discussion about different senses of immanence and critical inquiry. As she articulates the conceptual knot,

One of the questions that comes up often in the reading group discussion of my project is why I don’t simply treat core concepts like immanence and self-reflexivity as something like a prioris – as posited starting points, from which the other theoretical moves can then be derived. Everyone involved in the reading group discussion presumably understands the logical contradiction involved in doing this: immanence posits that there is no “outside” to context, and therefore logically rules out the existence of “objective” grounds from which other trusted propositions can then be derived; self-reflexivity follows from immanence, and posits that the theorist remains embedded within the context they are analysing.

Both of these positions carry implications for the form of a theoretical argument, as well as for its content: to be consistent with the principles of immanence and self-reflexivity, the theorist must find the analytical categories that apply to a context, within that context itself. This is sometimes phrased in the form “categories of subjectivity are also categories of objectivity”: the theoretical categories in terms of which the theorist apprehends a context, are generated by the determinate properties of the context itself. Treating concepts like immanence or self-reflexivity as a prioris is an intrinsically asymmetrical approach, which deploys theoretical concepts whose determinate relationship to the context they grasp has not been explained. This asymmetrical move is therefore a performative contradiction, undermining the very concepts whose importance it seeks to assert.

The rest of the post is well worth reading for both the richness of its questions and concepts, but also the clarity with which the problematic is developed. It has been very exciting to watch N.Pepperell develop this line of thought in recent months, even if I don’t agree with all of it.

Read on

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It seems to me that there are different types of works of philosophy that do very different types of things. Some works, like those of Epicurus, Epictetus, Lucretius, or Spinoza are almost like user manuals. They were written to produce a transformation in oneself, in ones values, how one feels, how one sees, and how one lives, as well as a transformation in one’s readers. Lucretius’ De Rerum Natura, for instance, is a poem written to his friend Memmius. You pick up Epictetus or Spinoza to figure out how to weather this world and perhaps even prosper in life. When you come out the other side you have a different set of values. You might end up doing little more than tending to your garden and taking pleasure in the study of the stars or flowers or the creatures that swim about in tidal pools.

Other books are like weapons or bombs. They target the social space or a configuration of common thought, a sensus communis, and shatter a set of conceptions. These are books like Hume’s Enquiry, Voltaire’s Candide, de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex, Freud’s Interpretation of Dreams, Three Essays, Civilization and Its Discontents, Nietzsche’s Geneaology of Morals, Marx’s Das Kapital, Foucault’s Discipline and Punish and History of Sexuality, Deleuze and Guattari’s Anti-Oedipus, etc. These books do something. They explode conceptions. They change configurations of human bodies, generating new collectives and groups. They reverberate.

Yet other books are like moves in a game of chess in long discussions that span thousands of years. These are the academic books, addressed to other scholars, like Brandom’s Making it Explicit, or Searle’s Construction of Social Reality, or Gadamer’s Truth and Method. I tend to feel these books are cancerous, even though I’ve written such a book and such books often contribute something. Nonetheless, I can’t help but have suspicions about the whole publishing industry attached to universities and what it produces.

This is not an exhaustive catalogue, just a stab. I often wonder what sort of book I would write were I not bound up with the academy and if I had no intention of ever publishing. Is there a book that I would like to rewrite, to repeat, today? What would such a book be for? What would it seek to do (to me, not to any readers)? What would it mean to write in a way that forgets all scholarly debates and options and simply attempts to distill the essence of something (which is very different from suggesting something outside history)? Is it possible to write such a book today? What would it be to write a book that wasn’t a move in the game of chess, that like Spinoza, refrained from any such engagement in the world of letters, and strove simply to transform oneself in and through the act of writing? What would it be like to spend ten, twenty, thirty years writing, without the intention of ever releasing such a work, of ever being recognized for such a work, and without worrying over such debates? What book would you repeat or rewrite?

Joseph has written a very nice response to my post declaring all of you mad.

So far, so good. But what about the more personal issues at stake here, which LarvalSubjects links to his obsessiveness, his problems with sleep and enjoyment, his abuse of his body, and his dark fantasies?

I imagine that, outside of public matters of disagreement that preclude difference, LarvalSubjects is thinking about self-defeating phenomena. All of the work I’ve done writing for this blog, and all of my own experiences with the bitter alienation he is describing, persuade me that the essential symptom/syndrome of this moment in Western life is undecidability and indeterminacy. That means, with respect to individual neuroses and psychoses, that all of them are acquired secondhand, and dropped or revised with startling ease.

Is there a single way of abusing one’s body that has not been chronicled in films, television shows, medical handbooks, websites, and so on? Is there a single pathology of sleep that is not known, catalogued, campaigned against, satirized, and vindicated? If, right now, eighteen people are singing simultaneous versions of “Folsom Prison Blues,” is it really possible to talk about a dark fantasy of murder in a shocking manner?

I’m too exhausted to say much of anything. Between marking and faculty council I hardly have a moment to think these days, but I think Joseph here hits on something very interesting. As Nietzsche puts it in his famous parable of the madman from The Gay Science,

‘Wither is God?’ he cried: ‘I will tell you. We have killed him— you and I. All of us are his murderers. But how did we do this? How could we drink up the sea? Who gave us the sponge to wipe away the entire horizon? What were we doing when we unchained the earth from its son? Whither is it moving now? Whither are we moving? Away from all suns? Are we not plunging continually? Backward, sidward, forward, in all directions? Is there still any up or down? Are we not straying as through an infinite nothing? Do we not feel the breath of empty space? Has it not become coler? Is not night continually closing in on us? Do we not need to light lanterns in the morning? Do we hear nothing as yet of the noise of the gravediggers who are burying God? Do we smell nothing as yet of the divine decomposition? Gods, too, decompose. God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him.

The madman’s declaration is not a happy declaration. It is the declaration that the world has lost its arche, its ordering principle. It is the declaration that we have lost our naivete and no longer believe that beneath the chaotic flow of experience there is some law or order. There has been a collapse of our sense of who we are as individuals, (the “selfness of our self” as Kierkegaard might say), the orderliness or lawfulness of the world, and of purposes and goals. Or maybe this is just me. I cannot seem to find any fixity for my identity. I am suspicious of any goals I set for myself, suspecting some hidden catch behind them. And the world appears chaotic to me. Where is the joy in schizophrenic processes of desiring-production promised to me by Deleuze and Guattari? Why do I experience this as so anxiety provoking?

I received the signed contract from Northwestern today for Difference and Givenness: Deleuze’s Transcendental Empiricism and the Ontology of Immanence. They even sent it ultra-official via UPS. It’s due to be released in Fall of 2007. Now if they could just get me the galleys for editing, things could get moving. Of course, now that it’s going to press I find myself itching to make all sorts of changes. I suppose this is what second books are for. What are the chances this will be chosen for Oprah’s book club and I’ll never have to work again?

In his forward to Anti-Oedipus, Foucault points out that fighting fascism does not simply consist in fighting fascist social organizations, but rather it above all consists in fighting the fascism within: Our own fascist desires. In this vein, I’ve begun to notice that I think all of you are lunatics. That’s right, I think you’re all absolutely crazy, off the wall, and completely nuts. I’m not proud of this, and it certainly doesn’t make me a very good Lacanian. After all, as Lacan says at the end of The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis, the desire of the analyst is not a pure desire, but is rather a desire for absolute difference. The thought that makes me shudder, the thought that makes my stomach burn with acid, is the thought that I don’t desire difference.

Of course I can say abstractly that I desire difference, that I aim for difference, that I would like to promote difference. But the simple fact that I, for the most part, encounter each and every person that I talk to as being mad reveals, I think, the truth. I confuse the symptoms of others– or better yet, the sinthomes of others, their unique way of getting jouissance –with insanity. I am confusing difference with madness. What I am interpreting as madness– in my bones, in my gut, in the fibers of my being –is in fact difference. And, of course, if I think all of you are mad in your desires, your fixations, your obsessions, your persistant fears, themes, and anxieties, then this must mean that I believe myself to be sane. That’s right, I must believe myself to be normal and healthy. Yet in reflecting on my day to day life, with the way I obsess, the things that I fixate on, the dark fantasies that sometimes inhabit me, the way I don’t allow myself to sleep or enjoy, the varied forms of abuse I heap on my body, and so on, I can hardly say that I am a model of health. No, I don’t have a particularly nice sinthome. I don’t suppose that this is a sinthome that many would want or care to exchange with me. Of course, as Lacan says in Seminar 23: The Sinthome, we are only ever interested in our own symptoms… Which is another way of saying that we never hear the symptoms of others. The symptoms of others are always filtered through our own symptoms.

Perhaps this is “progress”. Perhaps the fact that it is dawning on me that what I so often consider a bit of madness in other persons is really difference or an encounter with otherness qua otherness, is in a way, a traversing of the fantasy, such that I’m recognizing that the frame through which I view the world is just that: a frame. Yet no matter how ashamed I am to admit it as it thoroughly undermines any “theory cred” I might posses (which is scant, to be sure), I wonder if I will ever be able to desire difference. It is one thing to recognize that what one takes as madness is an alternative organization of jouissance. It is quite another thing to find the other’s jouissance tolerable or desirable.

I notice just now, as I write the preceding sentence, that I have not capitalized “other”. In Lacanian psychoanalysis, of course, the typographical convention between “Other” and “other”, makes a vast difference, as “Other” refers to, among other things, the abyss of others or the inscrutability of their desire. The neurotic attempts to convert the desire of the Other into the demand of the Other so as to escape an anxiety producing encounter with the enigma of the Other’s desire. By contrast, “other” refers to the semblable in the imaginary, the logic of identity, or what I take as being the same as myself. The other is my sense that others are like me or the same as me. This failure to capitalize thus marks the work of repression in these ruminations, as it marks a disavowal of the Otherness of the other or the recoil I experience when confronted with the Other’s sinthome. Is it truly possible, I wonder, to ever desire the difference of the Other, or is this simply impressive sounding talk? Perhaps there are others that truly desire Otherness and I’m simply a fascist pig. Lacan liked to poke fun at philosophy, calling it a paranoid discourse striving to establish a regime of the same and identical: The hegemony of the imaginary, striving for the whole, completeness, and an eradication of difference. Perhaps my sickness has been produced by philosophy, or perhaps my sickness, my inability to desire difference, is what has drawn me to philosophy. I would like to stop thinking everyone is insane. Or perhaps it’s just my singular misfortune to attract the company of people who really are lunatics!

I’m sick. Sniffle, cough, sneeze, shiver, moan. This is what I get for driving myself into the ground with no sleep.

Well folks, it looks like I’ve just been tired, as I feel terrific today. Here I thought I might be experiencing early symptoms of cancer or some other nefarious illness. But after actually getting enough sleep and changing my eating habits a bit I’m feeling much better. I guess I’m not dying after all. A good Lacanian analyst, of course, would be keen to discover why this was the first thought or interpretation that occured to me. I can see Fink now:

Scratches chin, peers at me intently without emotion or any sign of what he’s thinking.

“You would like to die?”

“No, no, I didn’t say that! Would you listen?!? I said I think I’m dying.”

“A doctor told you this?”

“Well, no” a sheepish sideways look on my part.

“You would like to die?”

Changing subject, annoyed by his observation. “I started reading Kittler today?”

“Death made you think about Kittler?”

I make an exasperated sigh.

At any rate, after years of being browbeat by my friend Melanie, I finally have started reading Kittler’s Gramaphone, Film, Typewriter. What do I find in the translators introduction?

A widespread interest cutting across all disciplinary boundaries started to focus on the materialities of communication. At a time when the term ‘media’ either was still missing from many dictionaries or conjured up visions of spiritualism, numerous scholars were attempting to bring into focus the material and technological aspects of communication to assess the psychogenetic and sociogenetic impact of changing media ecologies. Such attempts set themselves the tasks of establishing criteria for the examination of storage and communication technologies, pondering the relationships among media, probing their social, cultural, and political roles, and, if possible, providing guidelines for future use. (xiii)

Somehow Jon Stewart’s voice keeps echoing in my mind, grandly bellowing “Damn you Kittler! Those were my questions!” Well, at least I have good instincts.

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