Truth


In a generous response to my post “Realism Through the Eyes of Anti-Realism“, Lee Braver writes:

Your discussion of translation is very intriguing and, when applied to mind-world interactions, it does sound a death knell for passive correspondence. This seems to be a version of Kant’s position–our mind’s activity (A5) in organizing experience rules out capturing (R2) the way the world is independently of our experience of it (R1). Then the question becomes, what sense can we attribute to the existence of this independent world (R1) if it remains forever closed off to us. Even the bits and pieces are heavily constructed and interpreted. I take your response to be something like, the existence and nature of an object consists in its interactions with other entities, something like some of Nietzsche’s musings on WTP, and this includes the mind, so that what an entity coughs up in our interactions with it is part of its very nature. Is that right? Of course, if an entity is the totality of its interactions (a la Leibniz), then it isn’t truly independent of us, since interactions with our minds make up 1 of its essential properties. Also, how do we differentiate between accurate/true/illuminating bits and pieces and false/misleading ones? Why go to all the trouble of setting up experiments if my mundane interactions with a thing are just as valid and real? But maybe I haven’t got your idea at all. BTW, Joseph Rouse is also really good on the construction of artificial environments in science.

This is an important and deeply challenging question that I am still working through myself. A couple of points are worth noting here. As I have articulated it, Latour’s Principle states that there is not transportation without translation. This is to say, there is never a transport of a difference from one entity to another entity where the target entity functions merely as a vehicle for the difference from the source entity. The first point to note with the Anti-Realist project would thus be that Anti-Realist positions consistently violate this principle. Here we get a curious inverted mirror between Anti-Realism and Realism. Where Braver rightfully criticizes a certain variant of realist positions for treating the mind as a passive locus (R5) that merely reflects the world as it is (what I would call “naive realism”), Anti-Realism falls into a similar positing of passivity, but with respect to the object. For the Naive Realist the relationship between world and mind, object and subject, is uni-directional and uni-lateral, such that the object does all the “work” and the mind merely receives and registers the object. Similarly, for the Anti-Realist, the relation between mind and world, subject and object, is uni-directional and uni-lateral, such that the object, now, is a passive vehicle of the mind’s synthetic activity, contributing nothing of its own beyond the manner in which it “affects” the mind providing it with matter for intuition.

In other words, for Anti-Realism the mind is not “translated” by the object and for Naive Realism the object is not “translated” by the mind. In both cases, these claims are based on certain assumptions about the nature of identity. In the case of Naive Realism, identity is placed “in” the object (R3), such that the object is exactly what it is and knowledge consists in discovering or reflecting this identity. Knowledge cannot change this identity in any way as to do so would be to distort the nature of the object. Identity-in-the-object is thus a sort of inert and unchanging identity. We are supposed to get to the object as it is beyond any of its shifting changes. We find a similar thesis with respect to identity asserted by the Anti-Realist position. Where it is the object that remains the same in the case of the Naive Realist position, it is the mind that remains the same in the Anti-Realist position. The mind does not become something other in its encounter with the object, but the object does become something other in its encounter with the mind.

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co-op-20th-eyes-february-112eyes1The epigraph to the second section of Lacan’s “Function and Field of Speech and Language in Psychoanalysis” reads “Advice to a young psychoanalyst: Do crossword puzzles” (Ecrits: The First Complete Edition in English, 220). If this is good advice for the psychoanalyst, then it is because formations of the unconscious– dreams, slips of the tongue, jokes, bungled actions, symptoms, etc. –are often themselves encrypted like the hints of a crossword puzzle. The hints of a crossword puzzle– roughly equivalent to formations of the unconscious in this analogy –are organized around a lacuna or the missing signifier that is to be found. These hints are traces of that signifier. However, in successfully completing a crossword puzzle it is often necessary to practice a horizontal or lateral relationship to language, an associative relationship, where one draws on equivocations, homonyms, and other figures of rhetoric to discover the missing signifier. Freud gives a nice example of how the symptom is organized around a lacuna or a missing signifier when discussing the case of a young woman during the initial stages of schizophrenia in his article “The Unconscious”:

A patient of Tausk’s, a girl who was brought to the clinic after a quarrel with her lover, complained that her eyes were not right, they were twisted. This she herself explained by bringing forward a series of reproaches against her lover in coherent language. ‘She could not understand him at all, he looked different every time; he was a hypocrite, an eye-twister, he had twisted her eyes; now she had twisted eyes; they were not her eyes any more; now she saw the world with different eyes. (SE XIV, 197 – 198)

Part of the significance of the schizophrenic from a metapsychological perspective is that processes that are ordinarily unconscious are all there on the surface. Where the neurotic might have a deep phobia of having his eyes “twisted”, this woman experiences her eyes as being literally twisted, as being unable to see the world as she would normally be able to see it. Granting that there is nothing physiologically wrong with her, the mystery then becomes why she has come to experience the world in this way. Taken literally, her words are unintelligible and have the feel of nonsense. The symptom makes no sense. But when we adopt a floating, horizontal, or lateral relationship to her speech, the lacuna or hidden signifier organizing the symptom begins to come into view. The key signifier in her speech is “eye-twister”. In German, the young woman’s language, the word for “eye-twister” is ‘Augenverdreher‘, which figuratively means “deceiver”. Through the work of the unconscious, the woman had “literalized” her relationship to her lover in a series of symptoms effecting her eyesight. Her symptom was a trace of the “desire of the Other”, a materialization of the desire of the Other– in this case the desire of her boyfriend –insofar as it was a set of symptoms embodying her lover’s desire to deceive her.

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Keith, of Metastable Equilibrium, has done a very nice translation of Meillassoux’s gloss on Badiou’s Being and Event and his forthcoming Logics of Worlds. Although it has been around for a while, I thought I would cross-post it here anyway. For me, the key question can be found in this passage:

The prime objective is to adjoin to a theory of Being , a theory of appearance. It acts in effect, for Badiou, as the confrontation of a problem left in suspense in EE, namely: how is it that Being – pure inconsistent multiplicity – somehow manages to appear as a consistent world? The ontological multiples in themselves are deprived of the order manifested for us in the empirically given: they are only multiples composed in their turn of multiples. A building is a multiple of bricks, which in turn are a multiple of molecules, made of a multiplicity of atoms, themselves decomposable into a multiplicity of quarks – and so on to infinity, since the ontology of Badiou does not hold to the data of current physics – to make of any entity a pure multiple in which no fundamental unit is ever encountered. It is always the count which introduces the One: a house, a brick, a molecule are one because they are counted for one. But this introduction of the One by the count is done setting off from a being in which thought never meets anything other than multiplicities without end. The problem is then to understand why Being is all the same not presented through any such inconsistent multiplicity: because there are many things which come to us through bonds intrinsic between them in the given, as stable units on which we are able to construct a background: material objects, communities, institutions, bodies. These units are not provided in their entirety by an arbitrary act of the subject who brackets them by exterior unity in the count, it really governs if not Being then at least its appearance, its sensible donation.

It seems to me that in this question we encounter a sort of Charybdis and Scylla between, on the one hand, Leibniz’s principle of sufficient reason, and, on the other hand, infinite dissemination. Leibniz’s principle of sufficient reason eventually leads us to posit the existence of God to explain the necessary existence of this world and no other (despite it’s contingency and the possibility of other worlds). The premise seems to be that order cannot be found in this world itself, but requires a transcendence to be explained. Clearly it is desirable to avoid this conclusion, which often functions unconsciously in thought… This is one way of interpreting Lacan’s thesis of our belief/fantasy that the Other exists. However, it is difficult to see how any consistent multiplicities could arise from Badiou’s infinite dissemination or inconsistent multiplicities. In short, how is it that order ever arises from chaos? It seems to me that this issue arises in Meillassoux as well. What is needed is some way of avoiding the forced alternative between a supremely individuated being governed by the principle of sufficient reason and God as guarantor of order and unlimited chaos and rhapsody of being from which nothing can emerge.

For those who have not been following his posts, Shahar, of Perverse Egalitarianism, has been writing a very thoughtful and clear series of posts on Meillassoux’s After Finitude. The most recent post can be found here. You can find links to the earliest posts embedded therein.

Somewhere or other Lacan remarks that the love of truth is the love of castration. By this, of course, Lacan is remarking that truth is the real or the bar characterizing the existence of the Other. Yet it could also be taken more literally to refer to the divide between rhetoric and truth. The commitment to truth seems to undermine rhetorical efficacy and thereby undermines political power. Effective rhetoric seems slavish by nature as it seems to require attending to one’s audience in a way that pays homage to their illusions so as to persuade them and gain their endorsement. Could we imagine, for example, an American politician who spoke the truth of American history and the American political situation? All too often, I think, I’ve conflated philosophy with rhetoric. That is, I’ve conflated the necessity of speaking efficaciously with the question of truth. I was horrified, for example, to find that it was Kucinich who brought articles of impeachment against Bush not because his claims were false but because he couldn’t possibly be an effective rhetor due to who he is and the lack of credibility he possesses.

In this reaction, I was willing to sacrifice truth for the sake of effective rhetoric. Someone like Kucinich couldn’t be an effective rhetor because he lacks credibility and would therefore make it more difficult to propagate the truth in the public sphere (his lack of credibility would infect, in viral fashion, the nature of his claims, imbuing these claims themselves with a lack of credibility). What was needed was another rhetor who had the credibility to speak the same claims. In short, my problem wasn’t with what Kucinich was charging, but with who was making these charges. If, as I reasoned, the speaker hadn’t achieved the status of a “Statesman” whose words therefore had power, the speaker couldn’t but undermine the credibility of the charges themselves. Kucinich, in my view, has done much to undermine his credibility as a speaker through his actions and therefore could only do a disservice to the credibility of these charges. Having Kucinich speak these charges couldn’t but be a strategic blunder, regardless of whether he thereby “got them on the record” (a rationalization and convenient consolation no matter how you cut it). I could not see how this particular speaker could use words in a way that was powerful enough to create congressional consensus or public consensus to accomplish anything through the truth of his speech, and felt that his speech could even work to the detriment of the truth of that speech (Incidentally, I think this is a common failing of the left: it trusts in truth and ignores the necessity of creating consensus. This tendency to ignore the rhetorical dimension except in its capacity as critique is logically entailed by the love of truth insofar as the rhetorical dimension often involves a great deal of untruth, irrationalism, and injustice). Those who defended Kucinich ignored how the claims were spoken and who spoke, treating these things as irrelevant and secondary, instead focusing entirely on what was spoken. This denigration of the “how” and the “who” seems to be a constant misstep in leftist politics, as if it believes that these dimensions have no material efficacy. But if truth if what is loved, the speaker and the manner of speech should be irrelevant to the claim. I’m ashamed of this gut reaction on my part.

It seems that it’s no mistake that the Greeks simultaneously discovered political theory, rhetorical theory, and philosophy. The divide between rhetoric and philosophy seems to speak to an originary split at the heart of language between language as reference and language as persuasion or addressed to the other. The rhetor recognizes that dimension of language that must speak to local customs, the credibility of the speaker, the poetic power of language, etc., in order to produce persuasion. The effective rhetor cannot ignore these dimensions of language if they are to be successful in their rhetorical act. The philosopher, by contrast, attends only to relations of entailment, inference, and reference within language, without regard for an addressee. Clearly the two dimensions can never be separated as speech always presupposes an addressee, yet also contains internal relations of entailment independent of any relation to an addressee. Perhaps philosophy is this very tension or gap between the two dimensions. Forever more the two dimensions of language find themselves in tension and at odds with one another. Perhaps the question would be whether there is a form of rhetorical practice that is not slavish, that does not betray the truth, but that simultaneously respects the other while striving to speak the truth.

There are works of philosophy and theory that help clarify the thought of a particular philosopher or a particular concept without unsettling our presuppositions about the nature, key assumptions, and primary aims of philosophy. There are then works of philosophy that remind us what philosophy itself is, which call us to philosophy, and which have the effect of unsettling those assumptions that are so proximal, so basic, that they are all but invisible. Quentin Meillassoux’s After Finitude: An Essay on the Necessity of Contingency certainly belongs to the latter category. Regardless of whether one agrees with his conclusions (and I am not at all decided), should Meillassoux never write another book– this is his first –he will have already made a substantial contribution to the history of philosophy.

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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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This is the most hilarious thing I’ve heard in some time (click on the pic for full effect). Wish I’d been there.

Saturday May 26th the VNN Vanguard Nazi/KKK group attempted to host a hate rally to try to take advantage of the brutal murder of a white couple for media and recruitment purposes.

Unfortunately for them the 100th ARA (Anti Racist Action) clown block came and handed them their asses by making them appear like the asses they were.

Alex Linder the founder of VNN and the lead organizer of the rally kicked off events by rushing the clowns in a fit of rage, and was promptly arrested by 4 Knoxville police officers who dropped him to the ground when he resisted and dragged him off past the red shiny shoes of the clowns.

“White Power!” the Nazi’s shouted, “White Flour?” the clowns yelled back running in circles throwing flour in the air and raising separate letters which spelt “White Flour”.

“White Power!” the Nazi’s angrily shouted once more, “White flowers?” the clowns cheers and threw white flowers in the air and danced about merrily.

Read the rest of the story here.

In Seminar 23, Sinthome, Lacan remarks that the equivoke and homonym are the central tools of the analyst. In short, the analyst is the person who routinely practices what is commonly referred to as the lowest form of humor. The idea is to break up the illusory unity of the analysand’s speech (what Bruce Fink refers to as “ego-discourse”, or that form of discourse that assumes mastery of its own intention or that meaning and intention are one and the same thing) so that desire might be set back in motion. Somehow I never quite envisioned this particular deployment of that principle.

Jodi Dean has recently written an interesting post on sarcasm, irony, and parody.

I was thinking about forms of defense, particularly self defense. Irony, sarcasm, and citationality first came to mind.These seem to be mechanisms to establish distance. Zizek mentions something like this, “I love you,” as they say in the movies, or something like that. I defend myself by diffusing my feeling, making it less mine than ours. Everyone feels this way or, it’s hardly surprising that one would feel this way. I can always add–oh, I was joking or that was meant sarcastically.

What about humor, parody, cynicism? Do these require a lack of commitment, a distance and amorphousness, a denial, refusal, or foreclosure of ownership? I’m thinking of the Daily Show, a blog, and Peruvian presidents. Are the utterances, performances, predicated on a refusal of an underlying belief or conviction? Or, are they premised on its constitutive absence? On a smooth ability to drift and flow, catching on nothing and open to anything? Are these about distance or perhaps more properly about defense? If the latter, perhaps it is defense of nothing or of nothingness, defense against an underlying lack or foreclosure?

I’m too worn out from editing (hey, maybe I can get Anthony to do the indexing later… he seemed to enjoy it with the journal issue he put together recently. Kudos to Anthony)… To resume my thought, I’m too worn out to build on Jodi’s fascinating observations (why can’t I deploy theory with respect to the day to day like that?), but I wonder how this example of parody might fit with the model she suggests in her post. It seems to me that Jodi’s remarks revolve around the perspective of the speaker and the way in which they strive to defend against some desire. For instance, I might use sarcasm or irony as a way of managing uncomfortable desires with respect to the person I’m talking to. These desires might be something as simple as the desire to be recognized and the worry that I won’t, to more profound desires pertaining to love and friendship. Sarcasm can then function as a sort of defense by allowing me to diffuse the powerful jouissance that threatens the integrity of my being in relation to the person I’m speaking with. In the clinic, descriptions of such jouissance often come up when the analysand is describing their relation to certain privileged Others in their interpersonal relations. They might talk about feeling overwhelmed by these feelings, as if their bodily integrity has somehow been pierced or invaded. Certain rhetorical maneuvers then set in to diffuse this tension and re-establish equilibrium or a safe distance. All of this, of course, can be deeply paradoxical as the jouissance can be experienced as pleasurable yet overwhelming, like an intense feeling of love that is too much to bear. I once heard an analysand worry over whether his face might “blow off” (an interesting choice of words) during certain moments with his lover. He took tremendous pleasure from these encounters, but also felt that he must flee them.

At any rate, the parody and humor at work in this demonstration seems to be about something different. Here the clowns do not seem to be defending themselves, so much as they seem to be distancing the neo-nazis from their own signifiers, causing them to slide this way and that through a series of equivocations and pseudo-homonyms. Not only does a recoding of the hate speech take place, but something like the analytic discourse institutes itself by virtue of the clowns not receiving the neo-nazi’s messages (thereby underlining Lacan’s aphorism that “all communication is miscommunication” in a rather pointed way). What are we to make of the way the message strategically fails to be received in this particular protest? Lacan argues that all messages have their ideal receiver or Other– the person to whom that message is addressed. By undermining the reception of the message, do the clowns also undermine the Other for whom the neo-nazis stage their message? Finally, what role does a third observer– neither clowns nor neo-nazis but those witnessing the event –play in this encounter, and how does the clown’s strategy transform the neo-nazis relationship to this third? At any rate, I’m tickled to see such inventiveness in a protest.

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