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The other day Cecily and I watched Captain Fantastic.  I still find myself mulling over the film– which means I got something out of it –though I’m not sure how I ultimately feel (spoilers ahead, you’ve been warned).  In a certain respect I found the film deeply depressing and perhaps, even, reactionary.  This is not a review, but rather some general impressions.  It take it that the husband and wife were attempting to create a line of flight from contemporary society.  They had moved out to the wilderness to raise their children with an alternative set of values and in a very different way.

What made the film interesting is that where this story is often told from a rightwing perspective– often these groups are depicted as withdrawing from society for conservative religious reasons to save their children from the corruption of the world –this film imagines a left version of that escape.  The children intensely read the great works of literature and philosophy.  The oldest son has an ongoing debate with his father over variants of Marxism.  He corrects Vigo’s character at one point on the finer points of Trotsky, and then adds that he’s moved on from Trotsky to Mao.  At one point, I believe, the parents even express pride that they’re the only ones to have ever genuinely attempted the experiment of Plato’s Republic.

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Today I came across an article on Voyager that raised a number of questions for me.  No, not that Voyager:

Rather, this Voyager:

Reported by The Atlantic, the article asks when we’ll stop receiving messages from the Voyager?  In the course of her exploration of the question, Marina Koren causally remarks that,

After the Voyagers completed their tours of the outer planets in the 1980s, giving humanity its first real look at Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune, they continued on to the outer reaches of the solar system. In August 2012, Voyager 1 left the system entirely, emerging from inside the protective bubble formed by the sun’s wind and exiting into interstellar space. Voyager 2 is on its way out; the spacecraft is currently coasting through the heliosheath, the outermost layer of the sun’s bubble. Voyagers 1 and 2 are currently about 13 billion and 10 billion miles from Earth, unfathomable distances that mean little more to us terrestrials than giant numbers on a page.  (my underlining)

Observations such as this ought to provoke ontological reflection.  What exactly defines the boundaries of an object or being?  What individuates one object from another?  Here, of course, I am not asking what allows us to individuate objects.  The question isn’t one of epistemology or knowledge.  Rather, it is a question about objects in and for themselves, regardless of whether or not we recognize them, know them, or identify them.

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I’m pleased to see this translation of the introduction to onto-Cartography in Russian.  A full translation of The Democracy of Objects should be out in November.

Perhaps there are two phenomenological senses– that are strangely opposites –in which time can be said to stay still.  The first is the time of those small events that often punctuate life.  There are moments where you see your beloved walk across a room and it’s as if all time stops.  Alternatively, many of have been in a car accident report experiencing a similar halting of time.  There’s that moment where, as you look out the window, you see the other car barreling towards you and everything stops.  Many other examples could be given.  Perhaps this is the time of Nietzsche’s eternal return, the third synthesis of time in Difference and Repetition, where time is fundamentally split between past and future in an event to which we must become equal.

Where the ordinary flow of time in lived experience is charactered by a continuity of the past and future in the saddle of the present, past and future become asymmetrical when we are seized by these events.  These events, as it were, are crystals of time.  Perhaps it is that these events are so singular, so extraordinary, that they can’t be synthesized with the flow of lived time.  As a consequence, they stand outside of time as the extraordinary events that they are, such that it is perpetually possible to re-mark them, without being able to syn-thesize them.  Or perhaps it is that these events are bifurcation points in a life, splitting before and after into a fundamental asymmetry.  Here these events would be condensations of pure becoming where something fundamental is changed in our being.  In any case, when faced with these events, they are always accompanied by a particular affect unique to that singularity:  love, wonder, enchantment, disgust, horror, shame, etc.  These crystals of time standing still punctuate our lives in memories that cannot be erased.  Everything slows down and takes on a sort of ultra-clarity.

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My Fall seminar with The New Centre for Research & Practice.  It will probably begin the first week in October.  Please consider joining us!

Ontologies of the Fold:  Leibniz, Simondon, and Deleuze

This seminar explores Simondon’s concept of individuation and Deleuze’s account of the fold as models of how being is to be thought. Responding to Graham Harman’s object-oriented philosophy and his thesis that beings are withdrawn and never relate, it is argued that the concept of the fold avoids the twin perils of undermining and overmining by preserving the singularity of beings, while also accounting for their relatedness and providing a rich account of subjectivity. It is argued that beings are pleats or folds within being that integrate other beings in their ongoing processes of individuation. For example, a sun tan is a sort of origami where sunlight is pleated into the body producing a quality in the form of the shade of the skin. What emerges is a profoundly ecological conception of being where entities can never be thought in isolation, but rather must always be thought in communication and relation to other beings.

I once had an encounter with Stacy Alaimo.  It was years ago.  She had kindly invited me to speak of my philosophy at University of Texas, Arlington.  I don’t know what phase it was in; whether I was in the object-oriented phase, or whether I’d entered the machine-oriented phase.  I don’t know that it matter.  I had written about her trans-corporeality on the blog here, under the title of “porous bodies” (which would later grow into the idea of bodily pleats).  As I was fielding questions, something about the relationship of our thought came up.  I gave a very utilitarian interpretation of her claims in Bodily Natures, amounting to the thesis that since our bodies are dependent on the bodies of other beings, we should attend to them.  It was something to that effect.  My memory is unclear.  She looked at me in consternation and said something like “that’s not at all what I mean.”

How long ago was all of this?  I don’t know.  It was years ago.  And for these many years I’ve thought of that moment.  What could she have meant, I’ve wondered?  What was all of that about?  I was truly traumatized by this moment.  Here was one of my heroes, someone who’s work has so much influenced my own thought, someone who has taught me so much, reproaching me.  What was she speaking about?  I was pulled to a complete stop, to a bifurcation point.  Cecily and I have spoken about this on many occasions on one evening or another even though she wasn’t in my life when this happened, though not always in these words, ever since.

For the last couple of years I think Stacy was making a point about values.  I don’t wish to put words in her mouth, so I’ll say that this was my response to this encounter.  My gloss on Stacy’s trans-corporeality was about use.  I had comprehended atoms, minerals, microbes, animals, and all the rest in terms of their use to our bodies.  This, I think, was what Stacy objected to.  This subordination of everything to use.

In the time that’s passed since this encounter, I’ve thought endlessly about the ontological status of values, but also the many different wastelands that we live in.  The anthropocene is not just the transformation of what I call the “earth” into a wasteland, but it has also been the transformation of values into a wasteland.  This latter wasteland, this wasteland of values, has been something that’s been going on for a long time.  I wish I had a better word than “values”.  But what is this wasteland of values?  It’s a wasteland that reduces the valuable to that which serves a purpose or a use.  Everything must be for the sake of profit or health or political justice or any number of things.  So many other values have become dim, have become indiscernible, as a result.  There is beautyrarity, singularity, friendship, knowledge that is for the sake of nothing other than mere curiosity (not even Heidegger could honor this one), love, conversation, and all the rest.  We can scarcely discern these things anymore…  To such a degree that increasingly we live to work, rather than working to work.  What a shameful ethos.  One radical gesture we can redeem today is all those values that are “valueless”.  We can strive to refuse that which has to have a purpose, instead loving it for its singularity, for its irreplaceability, whether it be the mantis shrimp or a neighborhood or a particular species of orchid.  We can refuse, at long last, all eschatology and teleology, and live life for living.  We can strive to create oases everywhere that would refuse economic and utilitarian reasoning, instead valuing that which is valuable in itself, rather than that which is valuable for the sake of something else or which is subordinate.  We can refuse the wasteland.

I feel as if I’m always in search of metaphors as machines for working through what I’m trying to think.  A metaphor is no mere ornamental device, no mere parergon; though Derrida taught us that the supplement of parerga are far more significant than they might first appear.  Nor are metaphors useful descriptive devices that allow us to pedagogically explain concepts to others.  No, metaphors are sparks of thought and lines of flight that move faster than thought.  We become, I think, enmeshed in our metaphors and other than we were as a result of the larval transformations they force us to undergo.  Metaphors initiate vectors of becoming, pleating thought in unexpected ways.  And as a result, there is always a danger in metaphor as you don’t know where they will ultimately take you.  One day you wake up in New Orleans and say to yourself, “everything is a machine!”  You’re not sure why this thought occurred to you or where it came from.  Yet as a consequence you spend the next few years reconceptualizing all of being in terms of machines.  “If I say that all is a machine, then how am I now to conceive of human made technologies?”  “In what way is life a machine or pedagogy or a book or a theory?”  “If all things are machines, then this theory I am developing is itself a machine.  How am I to think the relationship between this theory, which is itself a machine, and all of the other machines it attempts to comprehend?”  “Is this machine a horrifying, imperial machine?”

An entire adventure is initiated with this metaphor , with this improbable thought, and in the end you’re transformed as a result of it.  You don’t know whether it will turn out well or where it will ultimately take you; and for this reason metaphors are dangerous.  Another morning you wake up and suddenly everything is a pleat or a fold.  Now, suddenly, you’re in a different universe of being.  What does it mean to conceive of all of being as a form of pleating or as a form of origami?  What is the logic of the pleat, of the fold?  What is the subject when conceived as a pleat?  How about objects?  What sort of origami is knowledge, or ethics, or politics?  Now everything must be reworked, but that’s not so bad because even reworking is a form of origami:  you fold what you thought before into the adventure that this new pleat is taking you on and in the process it becomes something other than it was.

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