One of the things I’ve always appreciated about Harman’s work is his courage in trodding unusual grounds in the world of philosophy.  Who else makes Gasset a centerpiece of a theory of metaphor or digs up obscure, scholastic Aristotleans?  I’m very much looking forward to this one on Dante.

Water abstract

Water abstract

For anyone who’s interested, here is the English version of my article “For an Ethics of the Fold” (ethical bodies) to be published in the French journal Multitudes.  It’s mercifully short.  This marks a shift in my ontological thinking that is far richer.  I hope to develop it into a more robust ontology, epistemology, ethics, politics, aesthetics, and perhaps even a theology (the last of which is strange for an atheist).  People keep asking me about Deleuze, Leibniz, and Merleau-Ponty in context of the concept of the fold I’m trying to develop.  I’m studiously avoiding all of this at the moment.  If it converges, great.  If it diverges, all the better.  For the moment, however, I need to avoid getting bogged down in scholarly engagements.  At any rate, be gentle!

Discourse compositeMichael Flower was kind enough to make me graphs to depict the universe of capitalism that I’ve been developing.  I’m still playing around with names for the additional three discourses I derive from Lacan’s discourse of the capitalist.  By a “universe of discourse” I mean the form that the social link or structure takes in a given society.  These universes can be thought as somewhat akin to a Foucaultian episteme, though more formal and abstract.  Foucault’s epistemes define what is visible, thinkable, and sayable within a given historical epoch.  These universes, by contrast, define the structuration of social relations and the deadlocks that attend these social relations.

man opening curtains in the morning

man opening curtains in the morning

A few days ago I suggested that psychoanalysis poses a fundamental challenge to Epicurean and Spinozist frameworks of ethics.  Some responded by pointing out that perhaps we can establish a consistency between psychoanalysis and Spinoza on the ground of inadequate ideas.  The symptom, says Lacan, is a sort of unknown knowledge.  As he remarks in The Other Side of Psychoanalysis, “…it is not certain that knowledge is known…” (30).  The symptom expresses a knowledge that is not known.  Drawing on Freud’s Studies on Hysteria, Jonathan Redmond gives a nice example of this in Ordinary Psychosis and the Body:

in…the case of Fraulein Elizabeth von R. shows how a conflict concerning the emergence of erotic ideas was pivotal in the development of conversion symptoms.  In this particular case, Freud states that Elizabeth’s conversion symptom– a localized pain to her right upper thigh –first developed when a series of ideas concerning her duty to care for her sick father conflicted with an erotic desire for another man.  Her self-reproach became a prelude for repression, which was subsequently the basis for her hysterical pain…  Localization of the hysterical conversion symptom to her right thigh correlates with the place her father would rest his foot when Elizabeth was bandaging his ankle during his convalescence; these memories provided the ‘content’ for the dissimulation of erotic wishes via the construction of the symptom.  (75)

Elizabeth’s symptom, her localized pain in her right thigh, embodied a “knowledge that was not known”.  That knowledge was knowledge of the desire or wish.  Her conscious self was unaware of the wish, but still that knowledge was there in the symptom.  As such, the symptom here is a sort of inadequate knowledge in Spinoza’s terminology.  As she engaged in the work of free association, bringing the knowledge expressed in this symptom to the fore, she gradually developed a more adequate knowledge of her desire.  This, in turn, is accompanied by a disappearance of the symptom.  The signifiers mutely expressed in the conversion symptom of the body are exchanged for signifiers in speech and as a consequence the symptom disappears.

read on!

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Perhaps it could be said that with the shift to the universe of the capitalist there is a generalized collapse of trust.  All institutions become suspect.  All experts are seen as harboring a disguised motive.  Climate scientists, for example, are seen as politicized, as making the claims that they make to get grant money or become famous or because they have a hatred of big business.  Doctors are seen as being in the pocket of big pharma.  Suspicion reigns supreme.  This is embodied in the second permutation of the universe of the capitalist:

S1/a —> $/S2

On the left-hand side of this discourse we see the relation S1/a; the master-signifier over the objet a.  In the position of “truth”, beneath the position of the agent, we find the objet a beneath the master.  Every S1, every master-signifier, every term of authority or group identification (such as mass movements organized around a signifier), is seen as harboring an obscene jouissance (a), or a disguised interest.  Recognition of this hidden interest behind every agency undermines trust in these movements, institutions, experts, and authorities.  One suspects, and not without reason in many instances, that these S1’s are animated by an aim or interest quite different than the one they explicitly articulate.  And with this collapse of trust at the heart of the social relation, we see that it becomes difficult to mobilize any action because one assumes, a priori, that one is being duped by S1.  Cynicism reigns supreme and we all become paralyzed.

We thus see, in this discourse, the discourse of the obscene master, S1 addressing the divided or alienated subject.  S2, knowledge, is the product of this strange social relation where suspicion reigns everywhere.  But what sort of knowledge?  A knowledge of the obscene supplement, the obscene jouissance (a), that animates our institutions, experts, authorities, governments, etc.  Everywhere ($), the alienated subject, seeks out the hidden jouissance behind S1 as the truth behind S1’s gestures.

discourse-of-the-capitalistI should probably wait to write this post until I can develop these points more, but I just want to get these thoughts down, no matter how abbreviated they are.  Notice something about the discourse of the capitalist (right) outlined by Lacan in his Milano discourse.  There is no point at which you see a direct relation between the S1 and S2 (S1 –> S2).  In each of the permutations of the universe of the capitalist that we can imagine, there is always a term that intervenes between the S1, the master-signifier, and S2 the battery of signifiers or knowledge.  Here are the additional three discourses we can derive from the discourse of the capitalist.

S1/a —> $/S2

a/S2 —> S1/$

S2/$ —> a/S1

fig6-4At some point I’ll provide commentary on these four discourses or what I call the universe of the capitalist.  Perhaps someone would be so kind, at some point, as to make me a schema such as this for the universe of the capitalist.  Of course, I still have to come up with names for the other three, though I suggested some possibilities in the article I wrote back in 2007.  For the moment, I just want to tarry with the significance of the fact that nowhere in this universe do we find the relation (S1 —> S2).  How does Lacan derive the elementary schema for the discourse of the master (left)?  “The signifier (S1) represents the subject ($) for another signifier (S2).  In the universe of the master we have a direct relationship between S1 and S2 (S1 –> S2) and for this reason we have a social structure where not only– for that society –there is a unified world, but also defined identities.  Even though identity is a sham in the universe of the master, there is still an S1 that sustains that sham.  Even though the idea of a unified world is an illusion because “the big Other does not exist”, there is still a “world” structured by S1, the master-signifier…  So much so that in the 17th century architectural theorists still believed that there were aesthetic truths that presided over design, that there was a correct way of doing it, and that one could be mistaken about these things and that it was possible to discover these principles and write treatises on them.

read on!

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I’m always suspicious of theory that doesn’t make use of a rich reservoir of examples; not because this is a mark of good writing in that examples assist readers in understanding the concepts, but because I worry that the theory is unmoored from anything in the world, that it bears no responsibility for explaining anything in the world (which might also function as a ground from which to contest the theory), and that the theory might instead just be a castle in the air.  What is an epistemology, for example(!), that gives no concrete examples of knowledge production?  We are told all about knowledge without ever being given a single example of what the author sees as an instance of knowledge.  How are we to know, in these instances, of whether or not this epistemology maps on to anything that takes place in the world of knowledge production among scientists, doctors, lawyers, craftsmen, psychoanalysts, etc?  A theory that sought to conceptualize literature without speaking of any instances of literature would be strange indeed.

An example is not a simple ornament, but is that to which the theorist bears responsibility in their theorizing.  In this regard, I think that it’s noteworthy that prior to the twentieth century, so many philosophers were not first and foremost philosophers.  Descartes, for example, was a mathematician, scientist, and soldier.  Leibniz was a mathematician, diplomat, engineer, and many other things besides.  Spinoza was a lens grinder.  Locke was a physician.  For all of these thinkers there was something else, a sort of “matter”, that introduced a little bit of the real, a little bit of alterity, and which constrained their speculation.  Would the postmodern (I hate that term) idea of a universe composed entirely of flowing signifiers that construct reality however one likes have ever been possible prior to the age of the professional theorist, the professional academic, that isn’t attached to any matter like the body as in the case of Locke or the obstinance of the matheme as in the case of Leibniz?

However, the example is also important for another reason.  The example says a great deal about just how a theorist thinks about a certain type of thing.  Deleuze repeatedly suggests that we ask not “what is it”, but rather “who?”, “which one?”, “how many?”  Speaking of mathematics, Kant continuously evokes the example of 7 + 5 = 12.  Is this a good or representative example of mathematics?  I think both Badiou and Deleuze rightfully chastise this choice for the conception of mathematics it reflects.  How about Harman?  His favorite examples are fire, cotton, and hammers.  How might these archetypal examples inform his entire conception of objects?  Would that theory be different if one chose a flower or waves or a factory?  When a theorist wishes to write about architecture and uses the home as their go to example, how does that example come to inform their entire theory of architecture?  Examples express intuitions about the nature of broader categories like “being”, “knowledge”, “truth”, “normativity”, etc.  They are not secondary, but are at the core of theoretical work.