Monday, October 31, 2011

Conversation II and the representational content of "99%"

I had another excellent conversation today, this time with some men I met in Dunkin Doughnuts. They were each commenting on the economy, on its causes and on our general lack of understanding of esoteric content of politics. For the sake of those in need of an image, these were two older black gentlemen, one with a slight African or Carribean accent. Just before I had been spending time with a friend, talking about certain things while remaining silent about others, it was a consistent sort of speaking. When he left, I sat in Dunkin Doughnuts nursing a coffee until my 8:30 train came, next to these two men.

One was quite astute about absent average understanding of tax laws. He laid out a clear set of ideas surrounding the tax laws. His thought was that we take necessary loans, the FED sets interest rates and the government and banks collude to produce a surplus. 'There is never not enough money, have you seen those sheets of money coming out one on another, they can just print it.' There is a direct materialism in this. Money is an actual object whose representation is modified by its actual circulation; this creates inflation wherein a set of necessarily independent institutions take this real circulation and abstract it into a revised value. The transition between these abstractions actualizes itself as a new relation between money and goods. Given the apparent closeness of goods, especially necessary goods to the West, is consistent with his disregard for 'economics professors...a load of bullshit.'

But soon his conversation diverted; it was not simply the economic situation at hand and its modulations in history, but the Jews that produced this fact, whom for him have a direct coercive relationship with black people. He points to the music industry, to banking, etc. The basic sentiment is true. Banking and business in general have enacted racist, or at best socially indifferent methods--predatory lending, loan offices; and the racism of the music industry and its use of blacks to reproduce American economic principles, trapping artists in crippling contracts and a lack of protection for its cash cows--everyday I miss Sly Stone--equally involves the culpability of the industries.

Nonetheless, I had to intervene, which is rare for me outside classes, given my shyness. I said something like, 'there is nothing Jewish about what you describe, if there are a Jews behind this, they certainly don't do it out of their Jewishness. Blacks should identify with Jews, these are races who have both had repeated violence enacted on their being of some origin, and before that they were not even recognized as humans. And what about Martin Luther King? He was steeped in rabbinical studies.' Then the other man chimed in, 'now you can talk about it being about being everyone's problem, just money, like you're the 99%...' to which I responded, "I have nothing to do with that movement." And immediately the conversation opened up, he spoke of TIFF funds, needing about 10,000 bodies to stop G8, various changes in income laws, Rahm's destructive relations with Unions.

For this reason the 'Occupy' protest methods are implicitly flawed. They produce a transcendental category, the "99%" by which they bestow upon themselves an inhumanity which had previously been forced upon others. There is an appropriation of a visceral and violent experience which most never get, now worn as a badge of pride and moral superiority. However horrific things are in Oakland, its use as material for political transformation is plainly self-contradictory. The violence is very easily taken into a narrative form, identical to media practice. Take for instance the image of the beautiful young woman bruised by whatever object, the 'two tour veteran wounded by the police'. These are methods used by the most base media outlets to coerce viewership and interest, but only in the mode of entertainment. The movement has shown the media savvy of a corporation.

This is in no way a justification of the police behavior in Oakland. Every non-violent political practice has protection from violence Quid Juris. However, the police are an essential function of public life, and the range of their authority is explicit and extensive. While these images of police violence may initiate those who are unaware of its extent and essential force; those who have direct experience of local politics, of discrimination, of the prison system, and of most of all, of police brutality will find it more difficult to experience themselves as part of a 99%.

Heidegger says that a thing or truth is 'unconcealed' as it 'presences' itself; as one intuitively experiences an object, the object autonomously presents an aspect of itself to the subject. The economic reality was unconcealed at a time after it had been machinating below the surface, concealed or appearing only in prophetic flits. It was unconcealed in a natural way, as the abstract concepts of corporations began to fall in on themselves--Enron, the "dot com bubble" among others. But Heidegger also notes that any unconcealing includes a concealing aspect. A way in which some aspect of the thing is hidden, or, worse yet, simulates the appearance of something else. The media conceals extensive economic thought because it is itself corporate, and therefore a large portion of information is effectively hidden. But the "99%" simulates the actuality of our political situation. While the media is the consistency and form of concealed truth, the "99%" is the representational model which acts on this plane, and alters the consistency of the media. The media requires an object to create narrative content; the notion of the "99% "and its implicit problematic, resign its concept to being a simple representation in collusion with corporations, all the while reducing the basic proposition about our political situation. That there is a huge economic disparity between different groups of people in the country is the natural predisposition which justifies the "99%"; but time, history and empirical account demonstrate a much more heterogeneous and singular form of discontent that is outside of our present.

The police first and foremost should be asked to change their tactics, quite simply. The "Occupy" movement has a much more difficult task. How to find a sign immanent to the motivations and histories of the movement; one which opens the movement to more heterogeneous participants as well as acknowledging its own finitude and crisis? How to convert passion and desire into planning and enacting? These are difficult questions that will likely take many more articles to begin to answer, but we all must start if we aren't interested in playing the game that we naturally critique. There is no good protesters and evil police, backed by evil corporations an evil politicians. But instead indifferent subjectively motivated protests related axiomatically to a police presence. The result is dependent on specific factors by which one can assign blame or goodness and badness, to whatever degree they wish. What separates corporations and politicians from the evil, aside from its impossibility, is that American democracy and world capital operate in a corrupt way that is natural to power. Natural corruption is implicit to natural freedom, but we must end our own freedom, ex post facto, the moment at which we realize our own dominance. The end is in simply affirming our right to police politicians so that they may police corporations. We must destroy the stupidity of the media first and foremost so that we no longer sit idly as the problem develops, and can have the foresight to predict the next fall of our economy, be it capitalism or any given name.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

New thought about Deleuze. The naive tendency is to interpret him as pre-critical and ontological.  I get a different reading from his works.  His metaphysics and ontology is one of pragmatic relations and, as such, describing Being as unfolding through combinatory and transversal events. Ontology is then an indifferent ordering of chaos and a description of an object's dissimilarity of itself in time.  This is essentially an epistemology of the ontological tendency of our thinking. It is not that a given ontology is real, but rather that it produces a specific sort of ordering out of which one must evaluate its conceptual consistency, interpret the sense of its thought-events and construct its immanent prephilosophical image of thinking.  This is critique in the Nietzschean sense.  A critique of value as constituted by the prephilosophical image that determines our common concepts.  They become uncommon only insofar as we ontologize critically about ontology.  An immanence communicating with others in the midst of implicating itself in this whole game of thinking. Deleuze's greatest move is to present the most powerful aspect of philosophy as its own construction of that which precedes it but does not exist. It offers philosophy to anyone who thinks things through fully, and recognizes the natural philosophical tendencies that generate our place on earth.

...just thinking out silent.

Deleuze from Difference and Repetition

I have begun reading Eric Alliez's Signature of the World ~or what is Deleuze and Guattari's Philosophy? and the introduction includes a great quote from difference and repetition that essentially inverts and negates my commentary on Foucault--or rather, since I do not so much as believe Foucault as much as don his mask in parody, it clarifies a difference that I was trying to draw but couldn't.

"A new Meno would say: it is knowledge that is nothing more than an empirical figure, a simple result which continually falls back into experience; whereas learning is the true transcendental structure which unites difference to difference, dissimilarity to dissimilarity, without mediating between them - not in the form of a mythical past or former present, but in the pure form of an empty time in general."

It is not that knowledge extrapolates from humanity and enacts itself outside of humanity, but rather that learning is a normative process which extrapolates from knowledge an axiom or law, by which the differential aspect of an object is excised and reduced to the continuous formal time of the transcendental subject.  I have to look for this page directly, because I cannot tell if this is said as affirmative of transforming Meno with this new thought-event, or rather in critiquing the tendency to treat knowledge as a transcendental. I assume the second.

Thursday, October 27, 2011


I had a great conversation today.  Synchronously I am reading What is Philosophy?, in which  Deleuze describes a 'thought-event', by which the Greek prephilosophical consistency and its philosophical concepts are conjoined.  The figure he uses is that of "the friend", as in the Socratic 'friend of wisdom'. The question for him becomes what is the relation of friend to friend, in philosophy. It is one of rivalry and claim.  The friends become claimants of a mutual wisdom, through which their bond inheres; they are rival in their claim to this mutual intensity.  I bring this up because of my actual conversation.

The major proposition became that there was a certain betrayal in Deleuze's making this prephilosophical field itself textual, thereby recapitulating it into a series of reproducing texts--an accrual of information upon itself. Not in a Derridean sense in which one accepts the fact of text as truth, divested of content outside of its interpretation; but rather the whole process of text, the economy of academia and its competition make any attempt at a text an impossibility without reinscribing transcendence.  Text begets text, text establishes a network of texts--this texts can feign intensity toward objects but they also resist it. I called this Bergsonian and he said, 'Bergson did it too'.

And this is all so real to reading and living out philosophy. This pathos of self-contradiction and self-questioning; of taking something to its maximum and being left to say, 'what force has appropriated me, prior to this freedom.' And the problematic becomes, when a philosophy lays out a prephilosophical field as its presumption, when will philosophy be unnecessary? Is it the end of Deleuze that you forget him and this whole game once and for all?

The friend had suggested that we must master the language of a thinker and then immediately forget it, or at least that was his imperative.
And so as a friendship, what do we mutually lay claim to?  An absent object.
What is our rivalry?  A rivalry of our own historicity.
No! The energy came from none of this.
It was a tit-for-tat; a parry and a one-two-two-four-seventeen.

I said near the end. We are really on divergent paths, 'I am moving in a direction that is more concrete'; he replied, 'no, it is more complicated'.  That is true.

Friday, October 14, 2011


Drugs and alcohol are something so strange.  For a moment one chooses life in them.  There is a moment of self-affirmation, a 'me against the outside'.  Why feel this, why experience this when I can experience something else?

As Kant says, and Deleuze is one of the few to note this; time is the auto-affection of the subject.  Kant says, 'space affects us and through time we affect ourselves'.  Well drugs are at the limit of this auto-affection. How to absolutely transform the time emerging from us?  How to grasp the time once appropriated by private suffering--by our own personal suffering and internalization?  But soon time becomes a hell.  It becomes a wait or a search for something to bare this load. How to get it next, how to acquire the proper means.  Maybe its once you cannot remember a prior mode or state of your body.  Or when the world comes to take on all the qualities of your muscles, emotions and thinking.

The drugs become their own force and take you up in them.  You are grabbed up by their hand and dropped somewhere else. Anyone who has used consistently knows what I mean; you sit up, look around and ask, "where am I?"  And it is just as he says in this.  The limit is a non-identity, the end is the "penultimate".  We identify or desire an end, but we stop only at the point which will allow us to continue on the next day.  And then we really stop when everything breaks below us and the bottom falls out. Today things must change!  But not always in our own voice. Although often of the choir of voices.  A friend's voice in one's own voice, or one's own as the mother or father, etc.

This is why I am so skeptical of OOO's thesis that time emerges from objects.  What does this mean?  That the heroin is the emergence of its slowing of time, that it has this time as a property?  That use of acid at such and such a time has that historical moment emerging from it, in itself?  "This is only a manner of speaking," one has to say. Rather any object may have some internal relation within itself that is it's private means of translating the world; of grasping transformation.  Maybe if that internal process includes a brain, it also may include time.  Animals can do drugs, I have seen first hand...but can they say "today things must change"?

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Being critical of the protests

There is a general abhorrence of critique amidst the energy of the "Occupy..." protests.  This is understandable to the extent that the critique is one of the reflected corporate interests in the media, whom reduce the matter to two questions. The first is the neo-liberal question, "what are your individual demands?" The immediate self-identification and reduction of demands is meant to separate the groups participating in the protest. The second question is reflective of specific corporate interests, when the media asks in so many words, "what is the consistent narrative of your movement?" so that even the protests may be recapitulated into commodity and communication.  At the same time this general resistance to leftist critiques, which have ranged from comparison to various other protest movements (the anti-Iraq or World Trade Protests come to mind), to critiques of methods, of the involvement of certain groups, or the representation of movement--the "99%" "women are the niggers of the world"--is somewhat frightening.

This brings to mind Nietzsche's notion of the orgy of feeling. The Priest, who attempts healing through one's self-identification of sickness, weakness and lack, corrals his subjects into a Dionysian festival. The violent and joyous masochism of this state reduces the assembly to depression; if only because in momentarily living an ideal the return to the world negates their biological-ecstatic truth actualized in the festival, sucking the participants of their force.  Zizek, for all of his problems, slid this into his speech; imploring that the protest not become something spoken of over beer or fondly remembered as a nostalgic joy.  And in a converse way, there is an equal demand from the protesters that one be with them, participating, or opposed to them.  That you mark yourself as one of them, be recapitulated into their mode of protest, or be cast off as indifferent nobility. This too indicates the delirious effects of the rhetorical practice.  It is like Socrates commentary in Phaedrus; we are often so ecstatic about a rhetorical position that we turn away from truth.

The purpose of the critique is not to curb the force of the movement, but to complicate it and funnel its active energies into a sustainable form. This does not necessarily include a reduction to political form, but it does require a pedagogical interest in the law and institutions. It is essential that this movement construct an alternative tax policy, an alternative oversight of corporations and speculate about its own industry and potential for sustaining life. Learning the internal complexity of markets and political relationships, and confronting them on their own plane will allow for the fog to be lifted from it. If the acts are ritualized and divested of their actual transformative political interests, they will degrade into the subjective resistance that has plagued protest movements from the late-60s onward.

There is a strange way in which the participants seem actualized into their liberalism, only through the demanded ritual violence of the police. To put it another way, the actions of the police, which are automatic in relation to the protest, are turned into a ritual for the identity of the protester. Here, just as in their original reasons for protest--a collective realization of economic crisis--they find themselves able to join a "99%" from which they had so long been excluded in middle class alienation.  But they remained mum on the violence perpetrated by police everyday, both in relation to Capitalism or not.  And there was not this sense of emergency, despite the equal abjection of the urban poor, while people participated in the housing markets of the 90s.  It is only once the trickle down floods the floor that the middle class realizes that they too are standing beside a levee.

The most important aspect of this is that we must remain as distant from revenge as possible. It is easy for expressions of outrage to become a malaise of ressentiment.  If these protests become a railing against Wall Street as the problem, we forget the inactivity that gave them power for so long.  We forget the true violence that these protests should be focusing on, which is the sustained and endemic poverty of much of the population that preceded this economic crisis and followed the last.  It is our economic system that must be reformed; not the practices of particular individuals, nor the ideology of Capital.  It is a set of laws and policies, algebraic formulas and oversight panels.  Once we lose sight of that we fall back into idealism, and with it the religious absence that the day after brings.

Kant's Pragmatism

It is the way of the spirit now to treat Kant as a "correlationist." This is derived from Kant's belief that we do not experience the "in itself" of objects but rather intuit their "appearing" as a phenomenon.  Correlationism then refers to two beliefs; that humans can only know an intersection of thought and the world and not the world itself and that human knowledge is necessarily finite, given that which appears is in constant flux. The former of these applies to Kant.  I generally agree with this interpretation, but one must resist its polemic content to understand the pragmatic aspects of Kant's thought. Kant is a correlationist in the best sense, as it relates to the ontologist.  He clears up the difficulties of imagining through our interpretive relation between other objects; he allows the human object as subject to understand the ways in which we are appropriated by other forces: forces of desire, of habit or of simple taste as much as by beauty, understanding and legal judgment. The positive sense of correlationism is that it maximizes our objective self-relation. It reads our thought out of objects, as the ontologist reads the objects out of us. While some may point to the Critique of Judgment as his most pragmatic work, I find his description of the dialectic in Critique of Pure Reason to show how representation is used to demonstrate a reality that is other than the dialectic.  Adorno states this explicitly at the beginning of Negative Dialectics, when he says, "Identity and contradiction of thought are welded together.  Total contradiction is nothing but the manifested untruth of total identification." Though he never takes it quite seriously enough to critique his own dialectical results against actual events, as in the revolutionary aspect of jazz; his answer is simply, there may be this non-identical surplus, but it is irrelevant without the dialectical hammer.  This may be true, but unless there is an interplay between the dialectic as immanent self-critique and as transcendental, as Kant treats it, one remains susceptible to the illusion of the form of the dialectic, as much as any of its sides. Anyway, here is Kant's take on the matter:

"Now we may note (as a sure and useful warning) that general logic, when regarded as an organon, is always a logic of illusion, i.e., it is always dialectical.   For general logic teaches us nothing whatever about the content of cognition; it teaches us merely the formal conditions for the agreement [of cognition] with the understanding, and these conditions are wholly inconsequential otherwise, i.e., as regards the [cognition's] objects.  Hence the impudent use of general logic as an instrument (organon), in order (at least allegedly) to broaden and expand one's knowledge, comes down to nothing but idle chatter, where anything one wishes is--with some semblance of plausibility--asserted or, for that matter, challenged at will.
     Such instruction is in no way compatible with the dignity of philosophy.  For this reason the name dialectic has been defined [redifined so that a dialectic is] included with a logic as a critique of dialectical illusion; and this is how we want it to be understood here as well." (Kant, 115, Pluhar)

It is apparent that Kant is warning against a danger in applying logic as if they are simple tools that produce things. This runs against the popular ontological appropriation of Heidegger's equipment. For Heidegger, equipment is the relation of an object, used as tool for an end, to the human that uses it. The object inheres in time. Its formal identity remains internally consistent as long as the material of the tool may produce its desired end.  A hammer is a hammer insofar as it may complete its ends as a hammer. As it is a hammer it is within the human's world, but it follows that once it loses its qualities of being a hammer, it still remains materially the same, or at least similar.  This is its relation to the earth. A tool withdraws from the world of the human into an earth of actuality. Recent ontologists have extended this concept to all objects. The logic runs that every object in its relation to another object, is in the process of withdrawing from that other object's world, and that as one object transforms, the sense of the other object is also transforming. Everything is then an object with a complex internal coherence and a given external sense, which may withdraw from the presence of another object. Each is translated as accorded by its external formal coherence, and is recognized by another object according to its own form of interpretation, which internalizes some qualities of the object. I am reminded of von Uexkull or Sebok's biosemiotics. Wherein each organism has a particular internal system of synthesis which derives from objects particular signs from other objects.

But this leads to a generalization that any logical apparatus also functions in this way; that they are objects that do, that may take us up simply as an object to do. But this is at best a will to falsehood as Deleuze puts it, a thing that is real insofar as it is treated real. Rather, logic is a means of clearing up our translation of external objects. Along side my evaluation of Foucault's notion of knowledge, it is suggestible that logic is not knowledge, it is not ideally active in objects, but instead is a means of interpretation peculiar to humanity.  One must use a logic as a resistance to the natural disposition which an object produces, otherwise the logic loses its interpretive function and becomes externalized as an object.  Logic is not an object but an internal aspect of human interpretation. It may become an object, but this dissociation causes it to be reified and invalidated. Our current economic and political situation bares this out.  The dissociation of logic from interpretation to being an object in itself subjugates humans to abstract objects. This is the imperative of critique, to destroy the ridiculousness of reified logical objects. The ontologist skirts this demand by describing a logic as a dynamic self-differentiating object. But this is the most destructive and undesirable form of logic; that is a logic that has become knowledge and acts independently of the truth. In the attempt to free objects from humanity, the ontologist often loses sight of the need to free humans from objects, and the way that this process entails the use of epistemological and critical means.

The dialectic should be used primarily to demonstrate the actual impossibility of its content.  To propose two dichotomous elements is to say 'these elements do not exist as they function in this form, they only exist in thought'. That it exists only in thought is in line with the notion of a human as an object at the level of other objects; the difference being that it reads out of our interpretation of actual objects a form predetermining that object. It is then coherent to say that each thought has an objective relation, but that all objective relations are not necessarily thought. One thinks through the dialectic the diagram or non-identity of being. One constitutes out of the ambiguity of being an image that gives it consistency.

As I said before, the critical is the objective self-relation of a human, its inherence in itself. This self-relation may be experienced in a natural way or in a critical way.  But the unhistorical and natural way of thinking can fall into two traps; that it treat a particular empirical belief as a formal contradiction of another belief, or that it uses a logical form in general, the dialectic, to produce the truth. This danger calls upon a particularly human demand, something quite outside of ontology. No matter how austere a logic, how functional its use; it must also account for reification and for the objectification of logic.  It must be able to differentiate between the inherence of an object within the world of other objects and the internal coherence of the human as an object translating other objects.  This is an immanently human need. That we produce a functional philosophy, but that we also account for the gaps of its description; in the failures of logical axioms as what they produce becomes other than what they state. It is doubtful, however austere the descriptive consistency of an ontology, that it will be able to skirt the critical demand, because that demand is in itself a major aspect of our interpretive relation to the world.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Foucault on Nietzsche

I finished Foucault's Nietzsche, Genealogy, History a bit ago. The text was written for a tribute to Hyppolite, which gives it a second valence; in the first it transforms Nietzsche into a Hyppolite's Hegel, but in another opposes them.  Nietzsche in his interpretation becomes an interpreter of "forces" which appropriate historical actuality and produce historical "events"; but at the same time he reads Nietzsche to show a new way for historicism, in that, if one follows the genealogical method, checks the content of an apparent historical event, one will find a chaotic a avaricious underside in contradiction with the apparent order of things.  Nietzsche is both other than Hegel, as for Foucault forces are necessarily multiple and moreover, truth is always subordinated to forces. But at the same time, Foucault's Nietzsche simply reverses Hegel's philosophical history. Instead of moving from an individual level, consisting of desires, interests and unconscious activity to a general image of Spirit in laws, institutions, art and religion; the process is reversed, where the genealogist begins with a continuous historical event and derives from it the complex of factors which precipitate it.

Foucault focuses on Nietzsche's critique of the historical origin, a notion against which he counterposes the method of genealogy. The two primary concepts wherein genealogy is actualized, according to Foucault, are descent, which he defines as the actual embedded qualities of a social assemblage that may be traced through history--an actuality  opposed to the notion of heritage--and emergence, which he classifies as the singular event through which forces (social institutions, governments, revolutions, etc.) engage one another, and therein determine alterations in the a social body, through conflict.  These two terms, descent and emergence are effectively the same as becoming or event, and to analyze them out of history, allows for the historian to create a sense of the past that is non-metaphysical and dynamic.

The genealogical method generates three historical positions, related to the Nietzsche's own historical categories (that I mentioned in my last post), which undermine the historicist's sense of Absolute History. The first is parodic history which plays on monumental history--the genealogist is to manipulate the monumental figures of the past, donning their masks and revealing in them the finite drama's which they mask. The second is dissociative history, which relates to Nietzsche's antiquarian history.  For Nietzsche, the antiquarian sense of history is one in which a person or group of people codifies a lineage or an identity through a notion of state or a heritage in contradiction to their space.  This process is one which slows creativity and change, as a means of giving stability to a people in transition, alienated form their history.  Dissociative history is a means of turning this force against itself, by showing that what is perceived as a stable history is actually a complex of factors and interactions which can only modify and complicate a group identity.  The third genealogical transformation is of critical history. It searches for moments in which history is turned against itself, and where it sacrifices its own identity as a means of a knowledge that is independent of human self-interest.  This is the most interesting aspect of the essay, as for Foucault, knowledge is clearly something outside of humanity, and whose interests realize forces which precede humanity and transform it unconsciously.  Knowledge is an indifferent and destructive force and in many ways is a movement that cannot not be separated from its subject.  In other words, the aspects of things that are understood as independent of humanity or our image of what humanity is are as much a part of knowledge as the knowing subject that participates in them.

Knowledge acts as an a priori in two senses, both as a transcendental category virtually and as an actual object, simultaneously; this is much different than the popular realist interpretation of Foucault would have you believe.  Knowledge is a real occurrence in the world, which does. A book is an event of knowledge, a machine is an event of a particular axiom of knowledge, which is then appropriated by a subject into a function, or conversely a subject may be appropriated by knowledge into a particular function.  Wall Streeters come to mind as subjects appropriated into action by the knowledge of a superior or by a system erected by external entities of knowledge. They remain objects pushed by forces external to them, they act as minor components within a mathematical continuum of abstract objects, to which they are simply cogs; that is if we project a consciousness onto the market. Without this metaphor it is difficult to describe this type of appropriation, because we reason out of the particular translation of our relation within a field of objects. The objects aren't the idea, rather, our knowledge is in objects which means that as it is thought it must necessarily exist.  There is no thought which does not relate the human as object to another object, though there are objects, or a potential knowledge which remain unthought and may never be thought.

Through out it is apparent the shared sense that body, event, singularity and force takes on for Foucault and Deleuze.  One difference however, and I recently read an interview with Vattimo in which he makes a similar claim, is that for Foucault, the appropriation of a force for a different end (for instance, the reversal of a system of laws under a revolutionary regime), effectively transforms the "truth" of a genealogical history. By identifying force with truth, one effectively negates the possibility of truth as ever being opposed to an appropriated force in the present.  I agree with Vattimo's assertion that this is an essentially conservative proposition. I have always found Deleuze's tendency to avoid these sorts of proclamations, to be a reason why he so effectively avoids the reactionary tendencies of his more post-Heideggerian peers, Derrida and Foucault, though this may simply be bias. Nonetheless, as a point of argumentation, I found Foucault, like Deleuze, to often fall into a repetitive tendency in which each point is the same description of how whatever categorical and absolute notion is really a dynamic and violent singularity.  This is the argumentative fallacy of their work; that in each case of a historical transformation is a violent overthrow, and that each scientific advancement includes some coercion of a happy ignorance.  I wonder how many times there is new knowledge that both generates large scale societal effects, while also remaining relatively unknown to the populace.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Descombes on Modernity, Reason and Ontology

In the last few days I have been reading Vincent Descombes' Barometer of Modern Reason.  I cannot quite put my finger on its point of origin; there is clearly a Hegelian historical bent, but there is also something else.  At times, despite being the work of a French writer commenting on Kant and Hegel--and whom repeatedly extols incredible insight into the logic of French thought--there is a pragmatic aspect that synthesizes well with his historical interests. I haven't yet gotten to the chapter on Epochal Metaphysics, in which I assume he takes Heidegger and the 'ontologists of the present' to task; but he has already taken down Foucault and Habermas in opposite regards. 

The critique of Foucault is one similar to Adorno's criticism of Heidegger; essentially, for Foucault the task of present philosophy is to derive a history of the present, or rather to treat the present in a historical way; uncovering its mechanisms with an eye of neutrality.  For Descombes this is interesting enough, but he wonders why Foucault refers to a "history of the present" as an "ontology of the present" or "ontology of ourselves."  Descombes asks, how is an essentially metaphysical category accessed through the intellectual practice of history? His answer is that ontology requires the treatment of the present in a redublicative way.  The present is treated as present, time is treated as time.  Ontology thus has a reductive or formalizing effect, the "being" of the present is recognized only through abstracting its substance to a formal level (this may synchronize with Deleuze's description of Foucault as a transcendental, rather than pragmatic philosopher).  This issue of "ontology of the present" bears on a second question for Descombes, if we are to treat the present, and with it the political event (I assume a critique of Badiou is latent in this) as the event and treat it as if it has a certain fatedness, then how is one to be responsible for their own speculative suggestions.  He points to Foucault's response to critique of his support for the 1979 revolutions, wherein Foucault states in the voice of 'power', "What does one death, any one complaint or any one uprising matter when compared with the overarching necessity of the whole?  On the other hand, what does any one general principle matter to me in the particular situation we now confront?" For Descombes, this position is untenable and essentially skirts the problem of responsibility in political speculation.  Through Foucault's ontologizing, he essentially hypostatizes the notion of a "whole," against which is opposed the rupture of the political revolt, or a "singularity." The singularity, or revolutionary, is always by virtue of their contradiction of the ancien Regime, right, irregardless of that revolution's end. The whole functions as a political tyrant against which one must automatically treat the singularity as real, active and possessing truth.  The tyrant is consigned to represent the transcendental or general law, while the singularity (revolutionary) is with the natural forces of desire (for freedom and emancipation).  The tyrant is thus deprived of its own singularity and with it, the political actor is deprived of the "I" in an ontology of ourselves, since the whole process of a political event is automated.  A political philosophy which treats its critical agency in this way has no possibility of responsibility, as the state and its organization is necessarily a false appearance, so even failure is always overshadowed by the dominant and intrinsic failure of the state.  Descombes finds this to be a form of radical philosophy, in which the mores of the community are inverted and the margins are emphasized; this general disinterest in philosophical questioning is fundamentally a form of antiphilosophy. Instead, for Descombes, a philosophical appraisal of historical events will use both the critical standpoint as well as the antiquarian or the monumental (or to use Kant's categories instead of Nietzsche's, the critical, the skeptical and the dogmatic)--it will enter the mindset of "the whole" so that it may speculate an alternative in which the singularity is considered, so that one may also question, 'is the state or revolution specifically legitimate?"  Descombes says "the role of a philosophy of historical events is not to present another--philosophical--report on the course of those events.  Rather, it is to help us to understand and judge what is reported in the press (and repeated by the public), and it can do this only by improving the conceptual apparatus through which we attempt to understand, in any given situation, what is going on in the world."  Philosophy must avoid formal, apolitical and unhistorical interpretations of events; it must instead enter into the manifest image of the present and develop through past means an increasingly complex moral and epistemological critical apparatus for living in the present.

Descombes similarly finds a static means of political critique in Habermas' rehabilitation of the "modern project", but to different ends.  While Habermas identifies his activity with Baudelaire's category of the modern, Descombes describes his conception of the modern project as an academic process, wholly different from the lived modernity which Baudelaire describes.  Habermas' treatment of Baudelaire is, like Benjamin's, entirely aesthetic. Or rather the critical theorist treats, in harmony with Kant's autonomy aesthetic judgments under the condition of their communicability, Baudelaire's modernity as an aesthetic or poetic modernity autonomous from a scientific or political modernity.  The problem with this interpretation, is that for Baudelaire, modernity is not a distinctive property of things; it is not adjudicated through formal conditions of modernity (in the case of art as freedom from moral and representational means); but is instead a substantive and lived kind.  For Baudelaire, Romanticism, which he would later call Modernity, is a direct expression of the moral sense of a time and that beauty itself and critique of beauty is not determined by formal aesthetic criterion, but by poetic and heroic criterion, which relate the quality of the beautiful and the modern directly with the moral flux of an epoch. Critical theory will always have a difficulty in grasping this, because in their appraisal, the modern is dialectically tied to the demystification of the morality of the past; but in Baudelaire's conception, the categories of the past retain a "mysterious" coherence, relating directly to the peculiar modern mythology that generates its own inspirational quality. An academic modernity becomes philosophistic--modernities are transformed into ahistorical general law, whereas they are real processes of becoming, whose ends remain unforeclosed.

As per my own research, the book has opened up considerable points of departure.  First off, there is a beautiful passage in which Descombes confirms a critique I have considered, or at least peculiarity that I have observed in the negative Analytic and Rationalist interpretations of French philosophy (Habermas, Pippen, Chomsky, Dennett, etc.) Descombes says, "we in France do not reason within the perspective opened up by a modern project. Rather, our thinking is determined by what one might call a modern accomplishment.  We do our thinking in the wake of our Revolution, the legacy of which deeply unites use even before dividing us from one another. And this can only mean one thing: we reason in the wake of the (French) Revolution's failure to liberate humanity."  The difference between Francophone philosophy and others is quite pronounced here, one cannot think of the critique of history, the critique of rationalism without considering the failure both of Revolution in its unfolding--the terror, Napoleonic violence, etc; but also its misapprehension of the possibilities of modernity, in the forms of "nationalism" and "populist demagogy." The French have a different meaning of reason in this sense, and their abstractions have a demonstrative role immanently tied to their specific historical development; wherein metaphysical philosophy is opposed to the rationalist intellectualism of the Philosophes.  Reason is rather the rationality of progressivist and positivist optimism, and its critique derives from these positions a political and ethical discourse.

Descombes also draws on a historical category which Habermas describes as a third (flawed) alternative to leftist and traditional forms of Hegelianism, which he calls Nietzscheo-Hegelianism.  This means that reality is no longer treated as optimistically potentiating historical progress (the leftist position), or as slowly assimilating individuals tied to "immediacy" into the self-reflection of religion and the state (the conservative position), but instead as being too rational and thereby uncreative or masked--in other words, that which we constitute as reality is predetermined by our contingent desires and our internalized and individual values.  Habermas denies this position any merit, as he says for an argument against rationality to be intelligible one must appeal to reasons predicated by that rationality being critiqued.  As far as I am concerned, this is an inadequate critique.  For one, it is questionable if the Nietzscheo-Hegelian method calls upon reasons at all, or if it dissolves reasons into ways of thinking and therefore never explicitly asks that you treat the critique as real in a conventional sense; that is, if Reason has become hyperrational, change is only determined by an aesthetic function which appears as a logic.  But also, Habermas seems to conflate the concept of reason and rationality.  As in Hegel reason is not recognizable (though it can be) in empirical or individual experience; instead reason is a non-physical order that often acts counterinuitively to thinking. A rational explanation is thus reached ex post facto.  The rationality which is being critiqued is a more general existential rationality, in which a particular justification or reason is read into the present instead of ambiguity; as Wittgenstein says in critiquing the legal conception of motive, "people sometimes say: "No one can see inside you, but you can see inside yourself", as though being so near yourself, being yourself, you know your own mechanism.  But is it like that?"  In other words, the motive is something to be read into one's own actions, motive is a self-reflection which effectively alters the image of things and maybe the causal efficacy of human behavior itself.  It is in no way contradictory to critique the rationality of common sense, the state, etc. and also draw upon reasons, as there is an essential gap in a rational justification and the reason that the real state of affairs consists in.  The critique of reason doesn't suggest that causes or motives do not exist, but rather that a Hegelian concept of Reason creates two problems in empirical settings.  (1) That it permits the assumption that a projected rationalization is better than acceptance of ambiguity (a tendency explicit in Hegel's notion of providence)  and (2) that it creates a ontological reduplication--"rationalization" or "Reason" as a distinctive quality independent of scientific cause--by which the order of the present is justified by an implicit and transcendental (though immanently transformative) reason, which aligns naturally with the state.  In other words, the present may seem miserable, but there is a reason for it.  The important part of overcoming this problem of reason, is in not hypostatizing the revolutionary "singularity" as a reactionary response to the rationalizing impulse; this is a problem in Foucault as well as Adorno. It is, instead, to say, what complexity can we read out of our set of materials.  What does the evidence say or not say. (I have yet to decide if Deleuze's formal notion of difference as a virtual affection of an actual state of affairs, or in more simple terms, the idea that there is a non-repeatable change that is implicit to the present, but at the same time does not effect it, has the same problem.) 

Anyway, Descombes finds this Nietzscheo-Hegelian tradition as problematic as Habermas does; but he instead points to Kojeve, rather than Nietzsche, as the genesis of the problem. Moreover, he notes that Habermas should instead think of a bizarre "dark Hegelian" tradition which consists of Blanchot and Klossowski as well as Foucault, Derrida and Bataille (and one can likely include Lefebvre, Quenaeu, Hyppolite, Lacan, Wahl and Genet among others); a tradition which indicates a massive disturbance in French thought between 1930-1960 .  In another unrelated section, Descombes references an early text written by Schelling and Hegel, in which they describe philosophy as an idealist "mythology of Reason", through which the proverbs of a time are transformed into mythological philosophical images so that Reason be made intelligible (as it is essentially non-physical) in the institutions of art, religion and politics.  I find it hard to separate, as many would, the function of "dark Hegelianism" from the work of Benjamin or some of Adorno's work (Minima Moralia), wherein mythological imagery is used to intuit an epoch reflectively and symptomatically; nor should their conclusions--(1) the self-destruction of logical systems when pushed to their conclusion, (2) the transformation of the profane and esoteric into means of emancipation and (3) the image of a society in essential crisis, caused by, as Descombes terms, ultramodern identity, or identities of class or racial conflict--be rejected.  It might be that the materialist and differential conclusion of Nietzscheo-Hegelian thinking was as much a necessary myth as that of Hegelian Reason.  That not only is their an organization which precedes and overcomes individuality in the form of Reason, but there is also a contingency that cannot be reduced to the expectation that the present be rational. The subject may be the substance of reality, but the reason of reality is caught in a becoming of inhuman forces that will not ever appear as rationality--the many violences between the 30s and 60s, be they Stalinist, Fascist or American, serve as examples.

The contemporary question, which is especially prescient in America is, if physics can eventually predict the causal order of things to infinity, will the inhuman forces--the non-subjective and unaffected by Reason--be rendered empirically rational; therein destroying both the Differential and Hegelian reason in a single movement. I assume that this scientific projection is one similar to the philosophical role of Reason for Hegel and Schelling; that the myth of an absolute physics, of a universe rendered entirely rational is a means of supplementing religious superstition with a realistic myth.  The problem then arises when the ideals of this myth inevitably fail and Reason's misgivings play out in unforseen ways.  For this reason I think the category of Dark Hegelianism will function as a large part of my thesis research on Deleuze. Descombes mentions Deleuze as being so preoccupied with trying to escape the "melan-Hegelianism" of the time that he came to be seen as a sort of anti-Hegel; one cannot recognize Deleuze's ingenuity without also recognizing its process of development out of that milieu.  Descombes comments also reminds me of Zizek's contention that Deleuze, unlike Derrida, was the only philosopher to fully escape Hegel's concepts of contradication and identity.  If I am to grasp Deleuze in full, it will be useful to read the self-destruction of Hegel which predicated him.  And it doesn't seem as if this strand of thought has stopped. Both Fukuyama and Zizek use the same mad logic, but one whose distorted lens complicates living and thinking and may supplement our own natural descriptive motives with another that clarifies the potential of life.