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As Cecily and I made our pasta this evening, we noticed something different.  The recipe was the same as always.  One cup semolina, one cup all purpose flour, a teaspoon of salt, and three eggs.  Then you let it rest for an hour in the refrigerator.  The recipe is always the same, though we vary the sorts of flour from time to time; or the proportions.  Yet tonight, as I worked the dough, things were different.  Where usually the dough starts rather stiff and flaky, only gradually becoming silky and integrated– often requiring a bit of water to be added –this evening the dough was soft and pliant from the start, moving to the age of silkiness or integration very quickly without need for small amounts of water to be added along the way.  Why this difference?  The recipe was the same, yet the qualities of the dough were very different.  A mystery.  Today it is incredibly humid in the Dallas area.  Our hair was full of glorious and frustrating curls.  This, perhaps, is the essence of an ontology of the fold.  The field in which something emerges, its conditions, impacts the qualities that the thing will possess.  In this case we were rewarded with silky, pliant pasta dough and big hair.  The field was folded into the thing, giving rise to surprising qualities or properties.

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A standard centrist criticism of economic politics is to point out that racism, religious mania, nationalism, and other forms of hatred and bigotry don’t arise from economics.  The inference to be made is obvious:  if economics is not the cause of these things, then addressing economic injustice will have no impact on various forms of hatred.  Therefore, the argument runs– in its more extreme versions, anyway –there’s no good reason to address economic injustice.  Indeed, some even contend, addressing economic injustice is even dangerous in that it diverts attention away from the various struggles against hatred.

In other words, the liberal or centrist– the two are the same –wants to treat the domain of economics and the domain of various hatreds as entirely distinct.  Expressed this starkly, I’m sure we’ll hear some voices that rise up in protest; yet everywhere we’ve seen this line of argument.  Of course, the centrists are not entirely wrong.  Regardless of the degree of prosperity, there are religious manias, forms of hatred, and subtle nationalisms that haunt the social field.  However, they do so in a far more subtle– one could say virtual –state than they do in other circumstances.  The question, really, is that of the circumstances under which these phenomena intensify?  What is it that brings the transition of the low level anti-Semitism of the Germans prior to the rise of the Nazis– an anti-Semitism that certainly treated Jews and other minorities differently, that was far from equal, and that was pervaded by all sorts of low-level hate speech –to the open violence against these groups that came the rise of the Nazis?…  A violence that included people being rounded up, brutal violence on the streets, the theft of property, and all the worse.  Why did they transition from one form to another?

Deleuze provides a helpful way of thinking about this in his account of actualization.  In Difference and Repetition he writes that,

[t]he world can be regarded as a “remainder”, and the real in the world understood in terms of fractional or even incommensurable numbers.  Every phenomenon refers to an inequality by which it is conditioned diversity and every change refers to a difference which is its sufficient reason.  Everything which happens and everything which appears is correlated with orders of difference:  differences of level, temperature, pressure, tension, potential, differences of intensity.  (DR, 222)

Elsewhere Deleuze refers to these intensive factors, to these inequalities, as “singularities” (I know many strive to distinguish singularities and intensities– including myself –but Deleuze is often inconsistent in his use of terminology).  In the Logic of Sense he writes, “[s]ingularities are turning points and points of inflection; bottlenecks, knots, foyers, and centers; points of fusion and condensation, and boiling; points of tears and joy, sickness and health, hope and anxiety, ‘sensitive’ points” (63).  It would appear, then, that there are two sorts of intensities or singularities, two sorts of differences:  there are physical singularities or differentials such as pressure and temperature, and then there are affective intensities or singularities like intense emotional states of joy or terror or horror.

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The other day I wrote the following on Facebook:

The job of a president or presidential candidate is not that of an administrator or manager. It is not to provide a detailed policy platform or function as a bureaucrat. The job of a president or candidate is to be a rhetor or orator; to provide a vision and constitutive a people or group in solidarity. I’m not sure why democrats endlessly fail to understand this: Gore, Kerry, Clinton. Managers, each. Candidates that all failed to understand the audience they were competing for and their duties. Political malpractice. Read my book? Check out my website? I have the most detailed policy platform in American history? Are you fucking kidding me? You chose an ethos/logos based campaign after the financial downturn? What’s wrong with these people? We have 2500 years of outstanding rhetorical theory. Drop the consultants and start talking to the rhetoricians. One thing has been true my entire life: the better rhetor always wins in presidential elections. The “qualifications” argument is complete nonsense and a rationalization. This qualification is not optional: ethos, pathos, logos.

In response, a good friend of mine– a cultural anthropologist or ethnographer, no less –responded,

Not convincing. The day after the election everything changes. That day mere rhetoric will fail. Surely vision helps. But you have to know how to move money, people and other sorts of tangible material or what you’ve proposed is exactly what we see now. No offense meant, I hope none taken.
What I find so striking in this remark is the description of rhetoric as something that is merely something.  Early in my intellectual education I was fortunate to encounter two rhetoricians:  Timothy Richardson and Carlton Clark.  I met Tim in graduate school and he was interesting in that he desired to be a philosopher whereas I wished to be a rhetorician.  Our discussions endlessly revolved around the intersection of rhetoric and philosophy.  When I landed my position here at Collin, I met Carl, another rhetorician, and we quickly became fast friends; though our friendship, as in the case of all friendships, has often been fraught with debate.  My first year here– it’s 14 years, now, this year –we had an epic, and sometimes painful, discussion about the relationship between philosophy and rhetoric.
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Without endorsing his particular picture of the good life, I have always taken delight in the opening pages of Aristotle’s Nichomachean Ethics.  Aristotle begins by remarking that, “Every art and every inquiry, and similarly every action and pursuit,  is thought to aim at some good; and for this reason the good has rightly been declared to be that at which all things aim.”  According to Aristotle, we are teleological through and through.  Our action is goal oriented.  I am not now sitting in this chair on my patio because I was blown here by the wind.  No, I am here for the sake of writing.  It is a goal that governs my activity now.  In the next paragraph he continues,

If, then, there is some end of the things we do, which we desire for its own sake (everything else being desired for the sake of this), and if we do not choose everything for the sake of something else (for at that rate the process would go on to infinity, so that our desire would be empty and vain), clearly this must be the good and the chief good. Will not the knowledge of it, then, have a great influence on life? Shall we not, like archers who have a mark to aim at, be more likely to hit upon what is right?

Aristotle here draws a distinction between what we could call relative ends and absolute ends.  A relative end is something that we do and value for the sake of something else.  For example, cooking is not a valuable activity in and of itself– though I think it is –but is rather valuable for the sake of the meal that it produces, and the meal that it produces is not valuable in and of itself, but is valuable for the nutrients it gives us and, above all, the companionship we enjoy in a proper meal with friends, lovers and family.  Indeed, the telos of the meal, its purpose, its end might not be nutrition at all, but rather the forging and continuance of our relationship with others.  We break bread with others and share our lives together as we eat the meal.  There seems to be something deficient in a meal eaten alone.

On the other hand, absolute ends would be things that are valued for their own sake, rather than for the sake of anything else.  They are not for something else, but valuable for themselves.  The relative ends are done for the sake of these absolute ends.  And these absolute ends, whatever they might be, would be those things that make a life worth living or a life excellent.  Absolute ends would be things like friendship, love, health, beauty, knowledge and a variety of other things.  These are things that we value not because they serve some other function like creating profit or improving society, but because they are intrinsically valuable and are enjoyed for their own sake.  My friendship with my dog Zoe is not valuable because she guards my house or me hunt (I don’t hunt) or because she pulls my sled, but it is valuable in and of itself just as a friendship is valuable in and of itself.  Zoe brings many inconveniences with her.  The money that I must spend on food.  The fact that she wakes me up around four or five in the morning, licking my face or crawling on my back to sleep, so I’ll take her outside.  She sometimes barks at people passing by or beings a crazy dog in play.  Yet these inconveniences are not inconveniences.  They are part of life with my companion; a life that would be deficient without her.

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I am incredibly excited to be involved in the Institute for Interdisciplinary Research into the Anthropocene founded by David Cole, Karen Malone, and McKenzie Wark.  I look forward to seeing where all of this goes.

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

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

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

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

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A friend of mine, who presumably didn’t realize I was witnessing the discussion, recently wrote the following:

Nah, he’s (Timothy Morton) a sort of post-modern shaman of the academic treadmill: he was a Romantic Scholar originally at Rice University doing the Shelley thing… Then got into Ecology, then attacking Nature, then found Harman and OOO, then Dark Ecology, and Hyperobjects, and finally Techno-Magic – Technic and Magic: The Reconstruction of Reality, then Non-Human Buddhism…  I know I have the same issue with Levi Paul Bryant whose gone from Deleuze to OOO to Machines to Folds to? It’s like this OOO crowd can’t quite figure out exactly what philosophy is yet…
I confess that I felt a little hurt by these comments, though there’s certainly truth to them.  I shift and I change.  At the level of character or my psychology, the simple reason for this is that I get bored.  I can’t imagine a philosophical life where I develop a philosophical doctrine or position, and then spend the rest of my life repeating that set of positions in talk after talk, article after article, book after book.  I think that we should undergo becomings and transformations through the things that we think and the adventures in ideas we endure.  And we do endure these adventures.  This is the reason for the title of this blog:  larval subjects.  In a variety of places, Deleuze remarks that there are becomings and adventures that only an embryo, only a larvae, can undergo.  If there were a primary affect of my thought– or maybe a primary telos –I’m always seeking, it is those unbearable torsions that you undergo in trying to think.  Artaud says that the main thing is to think anything at all.  Thinking is painful.
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