transcendental illusion

The more I think about the recent discussion surrounding Life After People and narrativity (here, here, here, and here), the more it seems to me that what is at stake is something similar to what Marx denounced under the title of “commodity fetishism”. Initially, this suggestion might sound very strange coming from an object-oriented ontologist, for commodity fetishism occurs when relationships between people are treated as relations between things. However, a bit of reflection reveals that what is at stake in the hegemonic fallacy and commodity fetishism are isomorphic to one another.

David Harvey gives a nice illustration of what is at stake in commodity fetishism in his latest (which is really quite good, by the way). There Harvey asks,

…what’s going on here [with commodity fetishism]? You go into a supermarket and you want to buy a head of lettuce. In order to buy the lettuce, you have to put down a certain sum of money. The material relation between the money and the lettuce expresses a social relation because the price– the "how much" –is socially determined. Hidden within this market exchange of things is a relation between you, the consumer, and the direct producers– those who labored to produce the lettuce. Not only do you not have to know anything about that labor or the laborers who congealed value in the lettuce in order to buy it; in highly complicated systems of exchange it is impossible to know anything about the labor or the laborers, which is why fetishism is inevitable in the world market. The end result is that our social relation to the laboring activities of others is disguised in the relationships between things. You cannot, for example, figure out in the supermarket whether the lettuce has been produced by happy laborers, miserable laborers, slave laborers, wage laborers or some self-employed peasant. The lettuces are mute, as it were, as to how they were produced and who produced them. (39 – 40)

Note that while the supermarket situation disguises collective relations insofar as all we’re confronted with in the market is the price and the empirical properties of the head of lettuce, it does not follow from this that this disguise is an illusion in the ordinary sense. The lettuce, the price, and the cashier are all things that are really there. What is absent are the collective relations this lettuce embodies as congealed or crystallized labor.

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I am still experimenting with the diagram below, but as I was teaching the concept of translation in Harman’s Prince of Networks today, I found it to be a useful heuristic device for thematizing just what is new or interesting in Latour’s concept of translation. Scroll past the Scribd diagram for a bit of commentary.

Clearly I have adapted this diagram from Hjelmsleves model of the sign. All of us are familiar with the relation between the signifier and the signified in Saussurean linguistics (to the left). In naive theories of linguistic translation (NTTs), the idea is that the concept remains the same (content), while it is only the signifier (expression) that changes. There are any number of reasons that this concept of translation is mistaken. I outlined some of these shortcomings in a previous post, so I won’t repeat them here. Latour’s concept of translation is broader than that of translation as it applies to linguistics or the transposition of texts from one language to another. The key point to take home from his analysis– and he doesn’t spell these implications out himself –is not so much the fact that a translated text always differs from the text that it translates, but rather that the process of translation produces something new, regardless of whether the relation is between texts in different languages, conscious minds to world, or relations between objects. What Latour wishes to do, I think, is generalize the concept of translation, such that translation is no longer restricted to the domain of language, nor requiring the involvement of living beings of some sort, but rather involves any relations among actants, human or nonhuman, living or material.

Hjelmslev’s key innovation in the domain of linguistics and semiotics was to recognize that both the plane of expression (loosely the signifier) and the plane of content (loosely the signified) have a form and substance that can enter into different relations with one another. Here I am partially basing my analysis of Deleuze and Guattari’s treatment of Hjelmslev’s model of expression and content as developed in “The Geology of Morals” in A Thousand Plateaus. This discussion would require a far more developed analysis than I’m capable of giving at the moment. For those who are interested, it would be worthwhile to refer to DeLanda’s early work on this essay (here and a number of Delanda’s articles, podcasts, and talks can be found here), as well as the first chapter of A User’s Guide to Capitalism and Schizophrenia by Brian Massumi. While I don’t entirely share the ontological commitments of either of these thinkers, their works nonetheless provide some pointers in the direction I’m thinking.

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70106_duchamp_nude_staircaseFor the last few weeks I’ve been teaching Leibniz in my Intro to Philosophy courses. In my view, Leibniz has to be one of the most audacious and creative metaphysicians that ever walked the earth. Regardless of whether or not you vehemently disagree with him, it is difficult, I think, not to come away with a deep appreciation for his philosophical creativity and ability to think outside constraints of “everydayness” or lived common sense. As you first begin reading texts like the Discourse on Metaphysics or the Monadology it is difficult to escape the impression that these are the ravings of a lunatic. Yet as you begin to understand the logical considerations that motivate his position (in particular, the principle of identity and the principle of non-contradiction as criteria to which any substance or object must conform) you start to appreciate his line of reasoning and what leads him to such strange conclusions.

Take, for example, §13 of the Discourse on Metaphysics. Leibniz calmly remarks, as if it were obvious, that,

We have said that the notion of an individual substance includes once and for all everything that can ever happen to it and that, by considering this notion, one can see there everything that can truly be said of it, just as we can see in the nature of a circle all the properties that can be deduced from it.

In short, Leibniz is claiming that every substance, every thing that exists, already includes all of the qualities, events, and properties that will ever occur to it. When my hair turns completely gray, as it is beginning to do now, this is not a new property of my being, but was already contained in my being from all eternity. Even more bizarrely, when I get into a frustrating flame war or blog battle, there is not someone else that is impacting my being in a particular way, there is no causal interaction between myself and other persons and objects. Rather, these events that befall me are already contained in my being for all eternity and arise from me in a movement from the virtual to the actual. As Leibniz puts it in the Monadology, the monads (substances, objects, entities, etc.,) have no windows by which anything could come in or go out (§7), and any change that takes place within a monad is the result of an internal principle (§11), not a cause and effect interaction between substances. For Leibniz, then, substances are a bit like compact disks. As I listen to my favorite CD, I might think something new is taking place as I hear the notes unfold (especially if I’ve never been acquainted with this technology). Moreover, I might think the notes disappear as the song continues to wind its course throughout time. However, this is only a sort of illusion. The notes are already all there inscribed on the CD and remain the same through each performance. This analogy, of course, breaks down when we observe that the CD has to be played on a stereo. That aside, for Leibniz substances are something like CDs in that just as CD’s already contain all their music on them, each substance or entity in the universe already contains all of the events, properties, qualities, etc., within it.

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duchamp_bride1Based on the recommendation of my friend Jerry the Anthropologist, last week I picked up a few books by the neuroscientist Gerald Edelman. Yesterday, during the day and on the flight from Dallas to Dayton, I was able to get through about half of A Universe of Consciousness: How Matter Becomes Imagination. Like most of Jerry’s recommendations, the book does not disappoint, and presents a rich and sophisticated discussion of consciousness at both the phenomenological level and the neurological level, which is informed by debates surrounding mind in the history of philosophy and contemporary philosophy of mind, along with a vast array of material from neurology and psychology (Edelman himself is a Nobel Prize winning neuroscientist). Edelman and Tononi are at pains to develop a neurological account of consciousness.

If their approach is so interesting and provocative, much of this has to do with a simple shift in how they pose the question. I have been taken to task by some for claiming that the neurological foundation of consciousness is a done deal or largely established conclusion. It has been pointed out to me that this remains a hotly debated issue and that, as of yet, we do not yet have a neurological account of how consciousness emerges from neuronal activity. I am, of course, aware of this. If I am led to claim that there is no serious dualistic contender for the physicalist hypothesis, then this is not because we have an account of how consciousness arises from the brain, but because massive bodies of observational evidence have emerged with respect to various brain injuries and whatnot showing that consciousness is a physical phenomena. The state of neurology with respect to its ability to account for consciousness is analogous to the state of biology following Darwin’s revolutionary theory of evolution through natural selection. All of the evidence gathered in the wake of Darwin’s theory indicated the truth of his account (broadly construed). What was lacking was an account of the mechanism by which traits could be passed on. Despite Mendel, we would have to wait nearly a hundred years before that mechanism was discovered and before we began to understand how, precisely, it works. The situation with neurology is very similar. We largely know that brain produces consciousness, but there are a number of big and mysterious “x’s” as to how the brain does this.

One of the things that makes Edelman’s approach so promising– and such a departure from many other assumptions about consciousness –is that he shifts the issue from the question of how consciousness is produced, to the question of when consciousness is produced. To be sure, an answer to the question of “how?” is still the ultimate aim, but if the question of when is so promising, then this is because it helps us to zero in on those processes and their structures generative of consciousness. Edelman’s enquiry proceeds along both phenomenological and neurological axis. Phenomenologically he is attentive to the lived experience of consciousness, its indivisible unity, our sense of self, its internally differentiated nature (not unlike Bergson’s description of multiple durations in Duration and Simultaneity), etc. But most importantly, he is attentive to when consciousness arises at the phenomenological level of experience and when it passes away or disappear. The issue here isn’t simply one of falling asleep, but ranges throughout a number of states in our lived experience. Thus, to take a trite example, when I was learning to type I was highly conscious of the movements of my fingers, the letters on the keyboard, the screen, and the text that I was transposing on to the computer screen. Now, unless I am typing about typing, I am non-conscious of most of these activities, simply doing them in an automatic way.

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scotland-ezine-may2005-francis-bacon-imageIn a very nice response to my post on Schizoanalysis and Psychoanalysis, Ian writes,

Point taken, I hope my response was not taken too strongly, perhaps my wording of it was poor. I agree with you that portraying lack as simply a production of the analyst is inadequate and the remarks on fascism in Anti-Oedipus would seem to suggest that Deleuze and Guattari would agree. But I can’t help but wonder, and this is a personal thought, that the absence of any real mechanical discussion concerning the production of castrated subjects is not a low-point on the part of Deleuze and Guattari, but is rather their resistance towards any kind of metapsychology. No doubt they play some favor towards a kind of transcendental field, but, at least in Anti-Oedipus, I’m not as convinced that this transcendental field exists apart from the social field in any defined sense; the transcendental field (say, the body-without-organs) does not transcend the social field created from it. I would be very skeptical towards the idea that Deleuze and Guattari are after some kind of reinvigorated Plato or Kant.

That said, and possibly this is in part due to personal bias, I don’t see it as any fault of Deleuze and Guattari that this metapsychology is not accounted for; I think it rather a strength. Much of Guattari’s “clinical” work is based around stripping from analysis any kind of metapsychology that would give instruction as to the manner within which affirmative desires are coded into repressive desires, instead being concerned with how to provided an arena for the expressions of desire as political action. I would guess (and this is always dangerous) that Deleuze and Guattari would hastily resist any kind of metapsychology of this process or interaction between analysand and analyst, as if to finally diagnose the real problem. Thus my question, do you think the metapsychology or ‘transcendental analysis’ you are looking for can contain the intersection between Deleuze and Guattari and Lacan that you wrote about, or might it, rather, “cross out” the ‘avec’ between schizoanalysis and psychoanalysis? Could this transcendental analysis of the creation of castrated subjects in fact be a recoding attempting to produce a universal trajectory for a process that has formally the same outcome, but might always takes place in highly “individualized,” contextualized means?

Despite this all, I think you’re on to something and my personal biases towards the aims of the book shouldn’t detract from admitting its shortcomings. Even suggesting that castration could be intimately contextual still sidesteps the question of the mechanics of that production. Very interested in your thoughts.

I suppose, for the sake of clarity, I should explain just what I mean by the transcendental, just so it’s clear that we’re talk about the same thing. The great enemy of Deleuze’s thought, of course, was the transcendent. In his earliest work, this can be seen in his critique of anything resembling Platonic form or unchanging essences, but also of his critique of the self-identical subject as in the case of Descartes’ cogito. Deleuze’s thought begins from the position that, on the one hand, all being is becoming and therefore is the result of a production or a process of individuation. In Difference and Repetition he will perpetually emphasize that individuation is not the individual insofar as individuation is the differential process by which the individual is produced. Likewise, he will staunchly oppose any position that begins from an unchanging identity whether in the form of the subject or God, as well as any position that posits invariant and ahistorical forms. Deleuze is, above all, a process philosopher.

However, the transcendental is not the transcendent. Rather, the transcendental, following Kant, refers to a set of conditions thoroughly immanent to being. While it is certainly the case that Kant is one of Deleuze’s philosophical enemies, there is nonetheless a deep Kantian inspiration or influence in Deleuze’s thought. However, Deleuze radicalizes or transforms the Kantian position in three ways: First, where Kant’s transcendental merely conditions the field of sensibility, imposing a priori (and invariant) forms on the matter of sensation, Deleuze’s transcendental conditions are genetic conditions. As Deleuze will emphasizes endlessly, the virtual or transcendental, unlike Kant’s transcendental, does not resemble the actual, but instead as a set of genetic potentials that produces something entirely new in the course of being actualized. Deleuze will take Kant and many other transcendental philosophers to task for “tracing the transcendental from the empirical”, which amounts to both a circular argument (the conditions are supposed to account for the conditioned, yet we arrive at the condition by tracing them from the conditioned), and to arriving at the transcendental based on its resemblance to the actual or the condition. fractal_4-blueThus we get a strange sort of operation where we begin with the actualized object of experience, trace its abstract form from this object, and then treat this abstract form as an a priori, invariant, ahistorical necessity, effectively covering over any process of production, becoming, or genesis and treating philosophy as an apologetics for the status quo. Only a genetic account of the relation between the transcendental and the field of material being can, according to Deleuze, break out of this vicious circle. In this connection, the transcendental will share no resemblance to individuated entities.

Second, where Kant locks the transcendental or condition in a transcendental subject (the ultimate form of identity), Deleuze instead theorizes the existence of a transcendental field where, as you rightly point out, subjects are actualized, individuated, or produced, rather than presiding over actualization emerging from subject’s as in the case of Kant. The transcendental field is something anterior to the subject and far more extensive than the domain of the subject. If, as Meillassoux argues in After Finitude, correlationism is intrinsically tied to a subject of some sort such that the world would not exist were there not a subject, Deleuze’s transcendental fields would exist regardless of whether there were any humans or living entities. Finally third, and in a closely related vein, Deleuze’s transcendental genetic conditions (the virtual) are not a product of mind, but rather belong to being or existence itself (I develop this thesis in greater detail in my forthcoming article “Deleuze’s Transcendental Empiricism: Notes Towards a Transcendental Materialism” in Thinking Between Deleuze and Kant: A Strange Encounter with Continuum, edited by Edward Willat and Matt Lee). You can find a more thorough development of Deleuze’s transcendental field and the difference between the transcendent and the transcendental in my book Difference and Givenness: Deleuze’s Transcendental Empiricism and the Ontology of Immanence, Northwestern University Press.

venus-in-furs01An excellent example of the necessity of the transcendental and the transcendental field can be found in Deleuze’s essay on Masoch and Sade, Coldness and Cruelty. There, Deleuze, like Lacan (Lacan actually praises this book as the finest study of sadism and masochism yet to be written in seminar 13 or 14), rigorously argues against the thesis that the sadist and the masochist are complementary, such that the perfect partner for any masochist is the sadist and the perfect partner for any sadist is a masochist. Deleuze skillfully demonstrates that sadism and masochism are completely different assemblages and have entirely different geneses through which they are actualized. However, here’s the key point: So long as we remain at the level of actualized entities– at the level of what Deleuze had referred to as “species, parts, and qualities” in Difference and Repetition –this is impossible to see or understand. When we look at the sadist and masochist we will note that the one likes giving pain and the other likes receiving it (empiricist positivism), and will therefore conclude that the structure of the two is complementary. Based on their spatialized resemblances to one another– that they both appear to belong to the common species “human” –we will assume they belong to the same relational network, embody the same singularities, and embody the same differential relations. It is only when we reach the dimension of the virtual or transcendental field, the dimension of singularities (potentials) and their differential relations, that we can begin to discern that these two forms of life and desire are entirely different assemblages with very different organizations that are in no way complementary.

fig181If beginning with the actualized entities leads to this impasse, then this is because, as Deleuze had carefully argued in chapter 4 of Difference and Repetition (and elsewhere), difference erases or veils itself in the process of being actualized, such that we’re left with species, parts, and qualities (the end results of the process of indi-different/ciation), rather than the process of individuation or differentiation through which these elements are formed. Another way of putting this would be to say that we fall into spatialized difference or multiplicities, where everything resembles everything else. Deleuze consistently charges Kant (as well as a number of the phenomenologists), with tracing the transcendental from the empirical and then finding resemblances where there are none. Only the virtual, he argues, can save us from this fate. What is revealed in his study of Sacher-Masoch and Sade is that the two occupy entirely different topological spaces. This is part, I think, of what interests Deleuze in Francis Bacon in texts like The Logic of Sensation. It could be said that Bacon attempts to directly paint the virtual field of forces and singularities rather than the empirical objects among which we dwell.

blue-velvet-earWith this caveats in mind, I would argue that Deleuze and Guattari’s Deleuze’s three synthesis– the syntheses of connection, disjunction, and conjunction –constitute the beginnings of a transcendental analysis. Indeed, these syntheses Kant’s three syntheses of apprehension, reproduction, and recognition in the “A” edition of the Deduction in the Critique of Pure Reason, however, beginning from difference rather than identity. Moreover, where Kant’s syntheses pertain to operations of the mind, Deleuze and Guattari’s three syntheses belong to being as such. It is on the ground of these distinctions that Deleuze and Guattari are able to unfold their critique in the five paralogisms, for each of these paralogisms pertains to an illicit tracing of the transcendental from the empirical, where fully actualized objects are projected back into the machinic unconscious as forms. Deleuze and Guattari, by contrast, will show how desiring-machines only operate on partial objects, not fully formed persons, thereby undercutting a number of claims from orthodox psychoanalysis. In this regard, Deleuze and Guattari enact their own “return to Freud”, though one which certainly transforms Freud. As Freud had argued, the unconscious knows no negation, contradiction, opposition, or objects, but instead only knows connections and productions. This was the surprising result he had already attained in his early unpublished Project essay, where the functioning of the primary process becomes unmoored from any sort of representational realism or instinctual and natural relation to sexuality. Yet somehow all of this falls apart with the introduction of the Oedipus where, instead of relating to partial objects and flows, the primary attachment becomes an attachment to fully formed objects (the father, mother, brother, sister, etc.). Nonetheless, Deleuze and Guattari do not give much in the way of an analysis of just how these paralogisms are possible from the standpoint of active and affirmative desire. Here we would need to look to Nietzsche and Philosophy, as well as, I believe, the work of Lacan. We can thus think of the relationship between schizoanalysis and Lacanian psychoanalysis as being like two sides of a severed egg. The latter explores the domain of the actual and all of its illusions, coupled with their genesis and strategies for escaping these sad passions premised on an installed lack and castration (for Lacan it was always a question of moving beyond these things as I argue in my post on the Borromean knots), whereas Deleuze and Guattari explore the productive realm of the unconscious and its desiring-machines perpetually manufacturing the real.


When we look at an object or at another person we necessarily apprehend them in space. There they stand before us, alongside other things, in three-dimensional space. This phenomenological presentation of persons and objects thus gives the impression that those things are in space together, that they are side by side in space, but also, under the order of temporality, that they are simultaneous. Before my apprehending gaze I encounter the entities there, together, as being “at the same time”. Perhaps this would be one of the basic premises of structural approaches to social formations, for the structuralist tells us to approach the social formation in its synchrony, as a set of interdependent relations that are simultaneous with one another.


Perhaps the problem with this view is that social formations are accompanied by archives, whether in the form of texts or in stories, such that they do not follow a trajectory of simultaneity, but rather are punctuated, like staves of a musical score, at a variety of different temporal levels, interacting in highly complex ways. Here it is worthwhile to recall Freud’s famous description of the topology of the mind in Civilization and Its Discontents. There Freud writes,

…[L]et us, by a flight of imagination, suppose that Rome is not a human habitation but a psychical entity with a similarly long and copious past– an entity, that is to say, in which nothing that has once come into existence will have passed away and all the earlier phases of development continue to exist alongside the latest one. This would mean that in Rome the palaces of the Caesars and the Septizonium of Septimius Severus would still be rising to their old height on the Palatine and that the castle of S. Angelo would still be carrying on its battlements the beaitufl statues which graced it until the siege by the Goths, and so on. But more than this. In the place occupied by the Palazzo Caffarelli would once more stand– without the Palazzo having to be removed –the Temple of Jupiter Capitolinus; and this not only in its latest shape, as the Romans of the Empire saw it, but also in its earliest one, when it still showed Etruscan forms and was ornamented with terra-cotta antefixes. Where the Coliseum now stands we could at the same time admire Nero’s vanished Golden House. On the Piazza of the Pantheon we would find not only the Pantheon of to-day, as it was bequeathed to us by Hadrian, but on the same site, the original edifice erected by Agrippa; indeed, the same piece of ground would be supporting the church of Santa Maria sopra Minerva and the ancient temple over which it was built. And the observer would perhaps only have to change the direction of his glance or his position in order to call up the one view or the other.

Where in space one thing can only occupy one place at a single time, mind, claims Freud, is such that all these different periods or strata co-exist together exactly as they were, continuing their processes just as they did in the past. Thus, in the present, I can simultaneously be frustrated with my boss for perfectly legitimately work related and administrative reasons, while also reliving a childhood drama with my father for which he is an effigy, stand-in, or surrogate. It is not that one meaning of the strata is the true meaning of the other meaning (the past version being the truth or the real meaning of the first version), but rather that these two temporalities are tangled together, intertwined, unfolding together simultaneously in this present.


The case would be the same with social formations. Rather than a space of simultaneously structure that overdetermines all social relations, perhaps instead we have different levels of temporality, different temporal rhythms, that form a temporalized structure playing itself out at different levels. This point can be illustrated with reference to the current democratic primary elections in the United States. As has often been noted, older and middle aged women have disproportionately broken for Clinton, while younger women seem to be breaking for Obama. It is not unusual to hear these older women complain, claiming that these younger women are betraying sisterhood and the feminist cause. Indeed, it is not at all unusual for younger women to abjure or reject the title “feminist” (much to my dismay) altogether.

Could it be that the explanation of this difference has to do with different rhythms of intertwined temporality governed by very different problematic spaces? On the one hand, the feminism of the older women seems to revolve around gender inequality, victimhood, and a pressing desire to break or undermine certain boundaries. Yet on the other hand, when we look at popular culture, we see a very different image of the feminine that speaks to an entirely different set of issues. Battlestar Gallactica depicts women as commanders and fighter pilots that bunk with the men, compete with them vigorously in sports, and who seem to recognize no marked difference between masculine and female characteristics. Quentin Tarantino’s recent films (Kill Bill and Death Proof, as well as Rodriguez’s Planet Terror) depict women as entirely capable of handling themselves, or depict women who shift from positions of dependence on men (Planet Terror) to leadership and confidence. We have had an entire slew of female super-heroes such as Electra and Lara Croft.

A recent series of Cadillac commercials depicts Kate Walsh (Grey’s Anatomy) sardonically repeating a variation of Julie Andrew’s list of her favorite things from The Sound of Music. On the one hand, Julie Andrews’ character in The Sound of Music is an iconic image of woman as caregiver, while on the other hand, Walsh’s character on Grey’s Anatomy is an intelligent, attractive woman in command of her own career and who does not draw her identity primarily from caring for children or men. The slogan of the commercial asks “when you turn your car on, does it turn you on?” When she arrives at a stop light she looks over and sees a couple of men driving a sports car. A satisfied smile crosses her face, she hits the gas, and she leaves them in the dust. She competes directly with men, rather than being a victim of men or subordinate to men.

Perhaps, within this universe of symbols and meanings, something like the presidential race is no longer conceived as a gender issue or as a gender struggle. Yet nonetheless, these different problematic fields or spaces, these different temporalities, co-exist together in the present and weave themselves in a variety of ways, forming something like a temporalized structure or a structure composed of different time-space vectors (“space-time worms”). Paradoxically, they are both present and past, preventing us from arguing that they are strictly synchronous. An adequate social theory would have to think these complex forms of temporality, their structures of meaning production, and their tangled interrelations.


Periodically, or not so periodically, I go through a crisis, wondering what it is that I do and why it is that I do it. On the one hand, I perpetually feel as if my thought is haunted by chaos or an inability to think. Where to begin? What questions to ask? For what purpose or end? I feel as if my thought proceeds by sudden bursts of insights, perpetual new beginnings, but lacks in systematic elaboration, a guiding question, or even a sense of what it is that I’m supposed to be doing. I am able to try on philosophies in much the same way that one might try on different outfits. The equivalent would consist in dressing now like a chef, now like a doctor, now like a police officer, now like a judge, now like a hippie, now like a punk, where each of these garbs implies a particular code and grammar pertaining to a social identity. On this day I am a phenomenologist, the next a rationalist, the next an empiricist, the next a pragmatist, the next a semiotician, the next a Hegelian, etc. The only constant is an abiding love of Lucretius, Spinoza, Whitehead, and Deleuze, coupled with an abiding distrust of those philosophical approaches which make the subject, language, or various cultural formations the lens through which everything else is filtered.

On the other hand, I perpetually feel crushed by the impotence of philosophy. I confess that I should know better. I confess that I should know that reason and persuasion are impotent. Yet I can’t help but yearn for these things. I can’t help but entertain the dark Platonic desire that philosophy have the power to transform the world and society through the power of persuasion and discourse. I wonder why it is that discourse is so fraught, why it seems to be perpetually so hostile and contentious. I have answers or hypotheses to these questions. I think I know why based on what I understand about the human passions, desire as elaborated by psychoanalysis and Deleuze and Guattari, and ideology. Yet I can’t quite accept my own answers. I still yearn for it not to be this way. I think of the earnest and beautiful Spinoza, that prince of philosophers who only lived for forty five years yet still managed to say so much and with such elegance and brevity. I think about the Theologico-Politico Treatise and what he was trying to accomplish with that magnificent text. I marvel at how he managed to be so naive in his ambitions with that text despite his account of the human emotions in Book III of the Ethics.

Whether in heated philosophical discussions or political discussions, the same principles can be observed everywhere. In the Ethics, Spinoza writes, “Each thing, as far as it can by its own power, strives to persevere in its being” (3p6). From this, it follows by implication that “The mind as far as it can, strives to imagine those things that increase or aid the body’s power of acting” (3p12). As a consequence, “When the mind imagines those things that diminish or restrain the body’s power of acting, it strives, as far as it can, to recollect things which exclude their existence” (3p13). Within these three propositions is really contained the entire comedy of “communicative reason” or its perpetual failure. Just as massive stellar objects bend and distort movement in their vicinity, intense love (Spinoza’s name for our attachment to those things we believe enhance our body’s power of acting) functions like a gravitational singularity that bends and twists thought with respect to everything in the vicinity of the beloved object. As Freud puts it, we overestimate the worth of the love object such that thought swerves in the vicinity of the beloved object, endeavoring to ignore or miss any negative features attached to that object. This would be the root principle of the criticism of those who support Obama, arguing that they are hypnotized or have fallen into a cult in their idealized love of him. Likewise, when confronted with one who does not share our love, thought endeavors to imagine those things that exclude the existence of the thing threatening the beloved object. “From the mere fact that we imagine a thing to have some likeness to an object which usually affects the mind with joy or sadness, we love it or hate it, even though that in which the thing is like the object is not the efficient cause of these affects” (3p16).

It would thus appear that thought is haunted by a two-fold unreason that perpetually undermines the possibility of dialogue from within. On the one hand, in its love it idealizes what it loves, seeking to exclude in thought those things that detract from the action enhancing qualities of the beloved object, such that it is unable to properly evaluate the beloved object. On the other hand, in its hate, thought is unable to attend to the claims of the hated, seeking instead to imagine what would exclude their existence. Often the situation is a bit like that depicted in The Sixth Sense. The boy can see the ghosts, but everyone else is blind to them. Likewise, in our love (and why would we pursue anything without loving it?) or in our hate, entire segments of the world become downright invisible, as if they don’t even exist, such that their effects is only discernible by the neutral observer, watching in perplexity at the odd behavior of those involved. One could write an entire theory of the various rhetorical techniques and informal fallacies, a physics of sorts, showing not how they are the products of the malicious and dishonest manipulator of language, but are rather effects, similar to gravitational effects on motion produced by mass, that arise from various distributions of love and hate in the Spinozist sense. It turns out that one cannot trust one’s own thought (as it is always love and hate that spur thought) nor the thought of the other, nor trust in the possibility of consensus, as thought is always plagued by its passionate (dis)attachments.

Yet if this is the case, if truth is an infinitely receding horizon by virtue of the swerves produced by the love and hate that haunt thought, what possibly can be the aim of philosophy? What is it that philosophy ought to do?

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