Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Viva Las Concept

How do we conceptualize? Or do we? Why would we want to do so? How is conceptualization different than, say, innovation? What is distinctive about those mental acts which are designated conceptualization? Is conceptualization a specifically mental act? Does giving conceptualization a new kind of primacy lead those who do so into a new instantiation of psychologism within philosophy? Why would conceptualization not be a subjectivity? ( In that old-fashioned sense of the word Is there anything about conceptualization which would free conceptualization from being yet another form of organization, and therefore repression? Is there any particular reason to believe that when we desire to conceptualize we are not desiring, not a form of resistance, but yet another form of our own repression?

I want to approach these questions while continuing on in trying to explain why I think that Deleuze and Guattari’s strategy of resistance requires a saturation of the social field by concept creation.

I have to try, very briefly, to indicate Deleuze and Guattari’s understanding that the social field in which our resistance is to be enacted is almost entirely unlike the one in the nineteenth century in which Marx theorized resistance:

“In comparison to the capitalist State, the socialist States are children—but children who learned something from their father concerning the axiomatizing role of the State. But the socialist States have more trouble stopping unexpected flow leakage except by direct violence. What on the contrary can be called the co-opting power of capitalism can be explained by the fact that its axiomatic is not more flexible, but wider and more englobing. In such a system no one escapes participation in the activity of antiproduction that drives the entire productive system. ‘ But it is not only those who man and supply the military machine who are engaged in an anti-human enterprise. The same can be said in varying degrees of many millions of other workers who produce, and create wants for, goods and services which no one needs. And so interdependent are the various sectors and branches of the economy that nearly everyone is involved in one way or another in these anti-human activities: the farmer supplying food to troops fighting in Vietnam, the tool and die makers turning out the intricate machinery needed for a new automobile model, the manufacturers of paper and ink and TV sets whose products are used to control the minds of the people, and so on and so on.’( Baran and Sweezy, Monopoly Capital, page 344.) […] The definition of surplus value must be modified in terms of the machinic surplus value of constant capital, which distinguishes itself from the human surplus value of variable capital and from the nonmeasurable nature of this aggregate of surplus value of flux.”– Anti-Oedipus, pages 236,237.

This fantastic hallucinatory and horrifying admixture of production and anti-production leads Deleuze and Guattari to pose these questions:

“So what is the solution? Which is the revolutionary path? Psychoanalysis is of little help, entertaining as it does the most intimate of relations with money, and recording – while refusing to recognize it—an entire system of economic-monetary dependences at the heart of the desire of every subject it treats. Psychoanalysis constitutes for its part a gigantic enterprise of absorption of surplus value. But which is the revolutionary path? Is there one ? –To withdraw from the one world market, as Samir Amin advises Third World countries to do, in a curious revival of the fascist ‘economic solution’? Or might it be to go in the opposite direction? To go still further, that is, in the movement of the market, of decoding and deterritorialization? For perhaps the flows are not yet deterritorialized enough, not decoded enough, from the viewpoint of a theory and practice of a highly schizophrenic character. Not to withdraw from the process, but to go further, to ‘accelerate the process,’ as Nietzsche put it: in this matter, the truth is that we haven’t seen anything yet.” Anti-Oedipus, pages 239-240.

I am pushing toward a direct linking of the ideas of concept creation and what it means to “ go still further, in the movement of the market, of decoding and deterritorialization” to accelerate these processes…

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Between Spinoza and Kant

Among the various philosophers who influenced Marx, Nietzsche, and Freud, I want to single out, for now, Kant and Spinoza. Kant and Spinoza stand out because they adopted radically different solutions to a common problem, and because both solutions were attractive to Marx, Nietzsche, and Freud.

The problem concerns how to think about the place of humans in the natural world, a problem that took on new form and importance in the intellectual and cultural upheavals of the 17th century (the scientific revolution, the fact of religious pluralism, and the rise of bourgeois capitalism).

The Spinozistic solution is to think of humans as nothing more than a piece of the natural world. At the beginning of Book III of the Ethics, Spinoza denounces those who want to think of humanity as "an empire within an empire" -- as something distinct. Spinoza then goes on to use his theory of physics (how bodies affect other bodies) to develop a theory of the emotions, virtues, and vices.

The Kantian solution is to think of humans as not merely outside of the natural world but also as (somehow) creating it. Space and time are "forms of intuition"; cause and substance are "categories of the understanding." The world as it is in itself -- including "the real us" -- is non-temporal, non-spatial, non-causal, and non-substantial -- and so entirely unknowable and yet thinkable (indeed, necessarily thinkable!).

Thus, while Kant might concede to Spinoza that, with respect to knowledge, humans are only a bit of nature, nevertheless we also stand outside of the natural (=knowable) world. Kant shows how our capacity to stand outside of the knowable (=natural) world is deeply connected with our "spontaneity," i.e. our capacity to judge, to evaluate, and to think.

So, on the one hand, a picture of human beings as nothing other than bits of nature and entirely knowable in those terms (Spinoza); on the other, a picture of human beings as standing outside of nature in some way that we can think but cannot know (Kant).

To borrow terms from John McDowell's Mind and World (1991), there is here a forced choice between "bald naturalism" (Democritus, Spinoza, Quine) and "rampant platonism" (Plato, Kant, Husserl). Yet McDowell wants to discern a neglected alternative, "naturalized platonism," and to this end enlists Aristotle and Hegel.

I think that Marx, Nietzsche, and Freud might also be thought of as "naturalized platonists," in the following sense: on the one hand, each wants to recognize the distinctiveness of human cultural achievements; on the other hand, each wants to stress that these achievements are made possible due to conditions which differ in degree, but not in kind, from conditions that hold elsewhere in the natural world.

Nature and Spirit

In the Germanic tradition, a great deal of weight is placed on the concept of "spirit" (Geist), esp. in the post-Hegelian tradition. Spirit is what sets human beings apart from all other animals. Spirit includes individual psychology, culture, law, morality, art, religion, science, and philosophy.

Marx, Nietzsche, and Freud each wanted to show how spirit emerges from nature. That is: as materialists (or naturalists), nature has a sort of ontological priority. But they weren't reductionist (although they are often read that way!). Rather, they wanted to appeal to science in order to develop a "bridge-concept" -- some concept that would allow them to understand how "spirit" emerged from "nature."

This is the role played by labor in Marx, by power in Nietzsche, and by libido in Freud. And each offers a developmental theory that explains the transition from nature to spirit in terms of this central concept. (The developmental theory is a theory of history in Marx and in Nietzsche, and a theory of individual psychic development in Freud.)

It's remarkable that none of them thought much about language -- whereas language is often regarded, by most philosophers today, as one of the most important distinguishing characteristics of human beings. If this emphasis is correctly placed, then the philosophers of suspicion -- and the traditions they initiated (Marxism, post-structualism, critical theory, psychoanalysis) should be read together with pragmatism (Peirce, James, Dewey, Wittgenstein, Davidson, Putnam, and Brandom).

Friday, May 26, 2006

Suffering and Justice

In Negative Dialectics, Adorno wrote:

Black shrouds cover the horizon of a state of freedom that would no longer require either repression or morality, because drives would no longer have to be expressed in destruction. It is not in their nauseating parody, sexual repression, that moral questions are succinctly posed; it is in lines such as: No man should be tortured; there should be no concentration camps -- while all of this continues in Asia and Africa and is repressed merely because, as ever, the humanity of civilization is inhumane towards the people it shamlessly brands as uncivilized. (p. 285)

Five years after Adorno wrote these words, John Rawls published his monumental A Theory of Justice. Rawls' work transformed the academic practices of economics, law, and political and moral philosophy. Since 1971, he revised and refined the picture of justice developed in TJ, with Political Liberalism, Justice as Fairness: A Restatement, and an exercise in international political theory, The Law of Peoples.

It has been said (by me, actually) that A Theory of Justice is a transcendental deduction of the New Deal. (I presume that readers of this blog will not need to have that joke explained.) Although Rawls attempts (in Justice as Fairness) to distance himself from that interpretation, I suspect that much of the continuing allure of Rawls is owed to the thought that the New Deal required a transcendental deduction, and that Rawls provided it.

And yet it has largely escaped notice that the world has not become a more just place since 1971, that the explosion of "the Rawls industry" has done precisely nothing to halt or even slow the dismantling of the welfare state, that Adorno's lines are as true today as they were forty years ago, and that even fewer seem to care about that truth than did forty years ago.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Marx, Nietzsche, Freud, Part II

The contemporary "culture wars" are fought on numerous fronts. But there are two basic alliances: the Enlightenment, and the forces of reaction. (Both the fomer and the latter have both intellectualist/elitist and anti-intellectual/populist versions.)

The Enlightenment Underground sides with the spirit of Enlightenment against the rhetoricians of reaction and true believers. This may appear to make us seem less radical and militant than we are. Make no mistake: the Enlightenment Underground is a militant and radical Enlightenment. We are not reformists, or if we are, it is as a matter of tactic, not temperament.

Marx, Nietzsche, and Freud have become known as critics of the Enlightenment. This is so foolish that it can hardly be credited to anything other than historical short-sightedness. They are critics of what was formerly known as "the bourgeosis" -- but no Enlightenment which could be simply identified with the bourgeosie could be worth having.

The Enlightenment Underground understands that Marx, Nietzsche, and Freud have carried forwards the radical Enlightenment, which (alone?) has the power to keep the moderate Enlightenment honest and true to itself.

The radical Enlightenment has always been materialist, radical, and militant, from Spinozism and the Diggers and Levellers down to our own time. Marx, Nietzsche and Freud criticize the instabilities and tensions of bourgeois subjectivity from a position within it -- in this way they best exemplify the very spirit of Enlightenment, of critique, and the possibility of utopia.

Marx, Nietzsche, Freud, Part I

I'm working on a synopsis of what Marx, Nietzsche, and Freud have in common, what distinguishes them, and the respects in which they do and do not have something to tell us about ourselves in contemporary society.

Marx, Nietzsche, and Freud all attempt to develop a different kind of science that will yield knowledge of the transcendental structures that constitute contemporary subjectivity. In all three, the transcendental is re-cast in material, naturalistic, and historical terms. (As labor, will to power, or libido.)

Contemporary ("bourgeois") subjectivity can be characterized in terms of a contradiction between the transcendental category and its means of self-realization; labor is alienated, power is twisted in on itself (asceticism, nihilism), and libido is subverted (repression, neurosis). (But here, too, the accounts offered by Marx, Nietzsche, and Freud have clear antecedents in Kant and in Hegel.)

So, the Kantian distinction between the empirical and the transcendental is retained, but thoroughly modified . . . since the transcendental cannot be conceptualized through rational argument, but through scientific inquiry. Yet this cannot be same kind of science
as the Bacon-to-Newton tradition would have it. (Cf. Horkheimer's distinction between "traditional" and "critical" theory.)

And this kind of science is supposed to be normative, in that it would be both critical and emancipatory (Marx's analysis of capital, Nietzsche's call for a "gay science" and a "geneaology," Freud's "talking cure").

In each case, the core commitments of German Idealism are thrown open or contested or transformed through a conversation with a branch of empirical science: political economy (Marx), philology (Nietzsche), and psychiatry (Freud).

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Marinade o' Conceptuale

The only thing that interests me in philosophy is concept creation.

Fortunately, everything in philosophy relates to the creation of concepts - I experience no constriction. In reading Deleuze, I make everything he says relate to his ideas of concept creation... I see those ideas as the way of reading all else. Deleuze's ontology of difference, his ontology of the " and," along with every other thematization of Deleuze's work that has been proposed are useful to me only because I see in them potential tools for making new concepts.

I want to back track a little bit through Deleuze and Guattari's Anti-Oedipus to pick out some ideas which relate to the discussion we've begun about the nature of critique and which support some of the ideas I've previously explored regarding the way that concept creation offers some alternative to critique and may be a basis for a form of political resistance which has yet to be deployed within the workings of social assemblages, ( desiring machines.)

Please bear with me - this is going to take more than one post. I hope that my point of departure is not too idiosyncratic, ( or just plain idiotic.) We'll have to see.

Deleuze and Guattari claim that both capitalism and desiring-production operate through decoded and deterrritorialized flows, but if this is so, then why is capitalism not a desiring-production? Why has the enormous burst of energy and production and capability witnessed in capitalist production not also been a riotous and joyous outburst of human happiness?

"Once it is said that capitalism works on the basis of decoded flows as
such, how is it that it is infinitely further removed from desiring-production
than were the primitive or even the barbarian systems, which nonetheless code
and overcode the flows? Once it is said that desiring-production is itself
a decoded and deterritorialized production, how do we explain that capitalism,
with its axiomatic, its statistics, performs an infinitely vaster repression of
this production than do the preceding regimes, which nonetheless did not lack
the necessary repressive means?" Anti-Oedipus, page

Capitalist production not only does not work in concert with desire in the furtherance of desire, but extinguishes desire, submerges it, forgets its importance, and this extinguishment of desire has been true of revolutionaries, who for this reason among others do not truly offer an alternative to capitalist production.

" Revolutionaries often forget, or do not like to recognize, that one wants
and makes revolution out of desire, not duty. Here as elsewhere, the
concept of ideology is an execrable concept that hides the real problems, which
are always of an organizational nature." Anti-Oedipus, page

What is called to attention here by Deleuze and Guattari is not only the submersion of desire, but also conceptual structures which make this submersion seem irrelevant or trivial. The postive task of their work comes to be the challenge of these conceptual structures which have served to ensnare even the most intrepid revolutionaries of the past:

" If Reich, at the very moment he raised the most profound of
questions--"Why did the masses desire fascism?" --was content to answer by
invoking the ideological, the subjective, the irrational, the negative, and the
inhibited, it was because he remained the prisoner of derived concepts that made
him fall short of the materialist psychiatry he dreamed of, that prevented him
from seeing how desire was part of the infrastructure, and that confined him in
the duality of the objective and subjective. ( Consequently, psychoanalysis was
consigned to the analysis of the subjective, as defined by ideology.)" Anti-Oedipus, pages 344-345

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Drenched in Concept

Writing in Anti-Oedipus, Deleuze and Guattari make a very interesting and provocative suggestion which to the best of my knowledge has not been taken up or even scrutinized very seriously. They suggest that as a form of political resistance we attempt to create concept after concept, concept upon concept, until we become saturated with concepts.

I think that it is very unusual that their suggestion has not received much commentary - and I don't know how it can be that other parts of their work even can receive attention without greater elaboration of this point - for example, their concept of " becoming minoritarian," which has been extensively remarked upon, would rely, in my opinion, on the development of this idea of saturation of concepts.

The political problem, and this is a psychological, sociological, and aesthetical problem as well,( heck, let me go whole hog - it's an ecological and environmental problem, too,) is that only an artificially restricted number of vital connections have the capacity to get made in our society. In previous societies, the restriction of the numbers of vital connections could be traced to the codings of these societies. In our society, however, these codings have to an enormous extent been decoded... we might expect to see a powerful explosion, a proliferation, of new vital connections in their absence, but we don't.

What we do see is a disturbing uniformity and standardization of connections - which seems, ( and is,) in our lifeworld of decoded flows, inexplicable. Maybe instead of saying inexplicable I would be better to say absurd - I believe that Deleuze and Guattari do explain this uniformity and standardization pretty well - I just don't want to get into that here.

If we began to build these vital connections - ( what prevents us?) - we would get some of them lodging into and wedging into the blander, wellworn ruts of the older "connection world," and begin a creative and stimulating disruption of this monotonal monolithic monumentally alternative-lacking situation.

What prevents us? Well, I am not sure that I can make even one concept, let alone create such numbers as to induce a saturation. But I want to get to work on finding out whether it is true that I can't make concepts, and if it is, what I can do about it... And get going.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Concept Creation/Critique/Capacity

I want to offer, very briefly, a look at the way that concept creation supercedes critique and the idea of capability removes the need for a testing of claimants and the role of rules within ethical systems.

In this little leading sentence I see that I am going to bite off more than I could ever chew in a short post, but I am going to bite away, because I want to get moving. I hope that Dr. Spinoza and those who are viewing the blog will be willing to help me expand the ideas of this very cursory note.

Critique relies on a demarcation of limits. Concept creation, on the other hand, does not. Critique works on something that is pre-existing, and this gives critique a kind of conservatism and a bit of the air of reaction. ( Although this isn't entirely fair - critique can be creative in its own right, I think, but maybe this is the key point - it can't be revolutionarily creative.)

Anyone can critique. Anyone can feed off the ideas of someone else. Anyone can give out the verdicts: this is good or this is bad. Critique gives a spurious illusion of capacity. It also seems always to be accompanied with that terrible sense of superiority to the critic - no matter how silly this is - a bad critic criticizing a great artist can still seem somehow superior.

Concept creation requires a positive capacity. You can either create a new concept or you can't. You might utilize the works of the past, but in doing so , these works are changed into something new, something that has never existed before. The new concept doesn't break back down into its old elements, even though these may be seen to compose the new concept. The created concept is offering something different. If it is not introducing something different, there has been no concept creation. Nothing has been created. There has been no capacitation.

We had talked earlier about the testing of claimants, and whether the discarding of the testing of claimants in philosophy exposed those who discard to having now way to make "selections." ( Selecting continues to be important to the thought of Nietzsche, Deleuze, etc. and this might seem to be without a basis in the absence of a testing of claimants.) What exists in the absence of a testing of claimants is what one is capable of and what one is not capable of. One can either do something or they cannot. If you can't act as a master, you aren't one. You don't require a test of your claim to be a master - and it may even be that in looking for one you are confirming your slavery. What you require is the positive capacity to act powerfully. ( Please keep in mind that in this context I do not mean that to act powerfully does not mean to be an oaf or a tyrant or a bully - quite the opposite.) If you do not have this positive capacity, there is a selection based on this discapacity.

I seek a capacity to create concepts. Whatever remains of criticism in what I am doing exists as discapacity to create concepts. Perhaps I will continue to critique once I have developed the power of concept creation, but it will always be retroactively in the light of something new which will provide an alternative.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

In Defense of Radicalism

In both the popular and academic imagination, "the Enlightenment" is a cipher for restraint, intellectual modesty, tolerant open-mindedness, and a willing to be persuaded by what Jurgen Habermas calls "the unforced force of the better argument."

There is a kernel and more than a kernel of truth to this stereotype.

The truth of this stereotype arises from the history of the Enlightenment that begins with Descartes, Bacon, and Hobbes; continues on through Locke and Rousseau; and culminates in Kant's magisterial critical philosophy. The motto he gave to the Enlightenment -- sapere aude! -- is one that we here at the EU have adopted as our own.

But alongside the tradition mentioned above -- the "moderate Enlightenment" -- there was another Enlightenment, a radical Enlightenment. The hero of the radical Enlightenment was a heretical Jew named Baruch (or Benedictus) Spinoza.

In his Theologico-Political Treatise, Spinoza presented the first attempt to explain religion in fully naturalistic terms.

Famously, he argued that when God commanded Adam and Eve not to eat from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, what God really said that was that this fruit would decrease their power of activity and vitality. But Adam, misunderstanding what God said, interpreted what God said as a moral prohibition.

In the Ethics, Spinoza argued that there is only one substance, and that it is God ("Deus, sive Natura" -- "God, that is to say, Nature"). He argued further that there is no free will, that everything that can happen necessarily does, and that God's power is not that of a sovereign.

Throughout the 17th and 18th centuries, to be accused of "Spinozism" meant that one's career was over, and one would be lucky to keep one's freedom. Intellectuals accused each other of crypto-Spinozism in ways reminiscent of red-baiting in the 1950s in America. There was a fierce backlash as philosophers attempted to distance themselves from Spinoza and his followers.

It might be said that there's something reactionary about the moderate Enlightenment -- the Enlightenment of Locke and Kant. Certainly if one compares Locke with the radical critics of capitalism at the time, such as the Levellers and Diggers, Locke looks conservative, at the least. And Kant looks reactionary in contrast with moderates such as Hume, let alone Spinozist radicals. Yet the radical Enlightenment also helped keep the moderate Enlightenment honest.

In the 19th and 20th centuries, the heirs of the radical Enlightenment were Marx, Nietzsche, the American pragmatists, the Frankfurt School, and the antihumanists of the 1960s. Since the 1980s there has been a systematic and terrible backlash against the radical Enlightenment on all sides.

The defenders of the moderate Enlightenment -- of whom Habermas is the best-known in Europe, and Rawls the best known here in the States -- saw no need for engagement with the 20th-century's radical Enlightenment. And the enemies of the Enlightenment could point to the radical Enlightenment and denounce "liberals" and "homosexuals" just as the enemies of Enlightement denounced "Spinozists," "materialists," and "Jews" in earlier eras.

If the Enlightenment is to have a future worth having -- and I do not think I go too far in saying, this means, if humanity is to have a future worth having -- the Enlightenment must once again become radical.

This means less Locke and Kant, more Spinoza and Marx; less Rawls and Habermas, more Adorno and Foucault -- less apologies for "humanitarian interventionism," more power (potentia) for the multitude.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Sapere Aude and Oedipal Constipation

I think what's happening in the US is a gigantic social-wide oedipalconstipation and freezing of action based on everyone's deeplyengrained attitude to our forms of abstract social authority whichmakes it impossible for anyone to " dare to use their own reason," (sapere aude,) and in daring to do so, acting accordingly.Right now, 7 out of 10 people do not approve of the way that theBush administration has been handling the country.I don't think many people see that turning around and headingupward; the real question now is just how low it will go, andwhat'll happen when approval ratings sink to historically low levels.The major political problem of the last six years has been thatpeople are unable to believe just how venal, ugly, and criminal theBush administration has really been. The evidence is in front ofus, but we can't deal with it. We don't want to believe that whatis so is so, because if we do believe it, we'll have to act, andit'll be ugly and disruptive. " Disruptive." Disturbing,unsettling, negative. We may have reached a point now where we are willing to disapprove,but I think we are still far, far away from taking any disapprovingaction.The Bush administration just lies about what's going on, and thatlying has succeeded in stopping people in their tracks. It is as ifpeople think, " well, who am I ( ie what epistemological authoritydo I have?) to say, 'whew, these guys are liars?' " We sit there andlisten to them lie, and it is as if we won't take action until theystop lying, because it will only be if they stop lying that we willunderstand that they are indeed doing horrendous, evil wrong. Ofcourse, they will never stop lying. Lying is no big whiff to them,and they are in it so deep now that that whatever weak knees anyonein the administration might have about lies,lies,lies , is justgoing to seem very minor to the weak knees they have about otherthings they are doing, and - what'll happen to them if they startedbeing honest...We want to apply Kant's motto , "dare to use your own reason," butdo not want to impose, even in so much as to look a liar in the faceand demand that the lying stop. Is there any reason in the world tobelieve that "dare to use your own reason," will never beimpositional, will never be firm? That's psychotic to think that,isn't it? Where is the dare in someone who never holds firm?Hopefully, could find a way to negotiate what form "holding firm"would take, and that this form will be far removed from violence andharmful disruption. It very well may not, however, and I do quiver,waffle, and shirk in this knowledge.I have to get over that. We have to get over that. Otherwise,there will be no advantage for us, no matter how sizable our numbers.