Sunday, October 29, 2006

Good Bread for Six Reasons

I recently heard a story from an acquaintance of mine.

When he was nineteen, he went to work on a big construction project.

He lied about his age.

He said that he was thirty-four, not nineteen.

When asked about why he did that, he said that if he said he was thirty-four, he’d be allowed to think and do things which required thinking.

If he’d admitted the truth, that he was only nineteen, he would for that very reason alone been disallowed from any participation in any mental, or responsible, project activity.

He was very successful on the job during this construction project, and today, he is a millionaire.

I think he’s a millionaire today both because he is very smart and capable, but also because he never let’s these IRRATIONAL social constraints and IRRATIONAL power structures of society block him, keep him from what he wants and needs to do.

See, his desiring was to think.

In general, our desiring is not for these wild, reckless, and irresponsible and disordered and (properly-called) madnesses.

Our desiring is toward exercising our fully-human capacities. We don’t destroy or mar or wreck the world by wishing to ‘go the distance’ with what we can do.

An interesting contingency to this man’s “untruth” was that during the project, he met and married a woman who was thirty-four years old, truly thirty-four years old.

It wasn’t until they’d been married for four years or so that she discovered the truth about her husband’s age. I believe she was doing his wash and discovered legal papers he’d accidentally left in some pockets.

She cried. She was horrified. She was married to a man fifteen years her junior.

However, this was many, many years ago, and they are still married, and are still happy together.

The age doesn’t matter a damn.

It doesn’t matter.

There’s a lot of shit that doesn’t matter, and it is IRRATIONAL to pretend that it does.

I want to relate this phenomena of making shit that doesn’t matter so important and so NECESSARY to our lives to the phenomena of ‘ideals’ and how they mess our minds and lives, but I’ll do it at a later time.

I want to briefly mention what I want to call ‘academic molarization,’ and its insidiousness.

The academy is all about getting a credential so that you can be licensed to perform some activity you desire to do.

Basically, you are getting permission to do something you want to do.

This is especially aggravated and egregious in the humanities – the humanities, har har.

The more degrees you get, the more you’re allowed to play.

If you get a PhD, you’ll not only be allowed to play, but you’ll determine how much and in what ways others will play.

Having that kind of IRRATIONAL and (yes!) ARBITRARY power is probably the major incentive for being a PhD.

Let’s be honest.

Of course there are all sorts of 'justifications' for this ‘system.’

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Enlightenment Haeccity

I want to treat the Enlightenment as an event, as what Deleuze and Guattari have called a ‘haeccity.’

I want to make clear that in doing so, I am not treating the Enlightenment as the collective creation of a relatively small number of European geniuses living and working in the eighteenth century. I am making what I think of as a sharp contrast with that view of what the Enlightenment is.

I also want to distinguish treating the Enlightenment as an event from thinking of it as a time of great sharpening and clarifying of themes and concepts which had existed prior in other forms, mainly religious ones, and then become desacralized, ( de-sanctified ?), and thus ‘humanized’ and made ‘practical.’

Earlier in our blog conversation, Dr. Spinoza identified several other ‘enlightenments’, and gave them dates. I have come to think of these other ‘enlightenments’ as also being haeccities, and which could also be studied as such. For some reason, though, I am really only interested in the eighteenth century Enlightenment… I think that looking at this one will be the most fruitful for CREATING the problems I want to create in the seamless and increasingly homogenized thought horizon enclosing us.

I want to challenge how much that view of the Enlightenment, wherein the changes can be seen in what I think of as epistemological terms, does much more than disguise what’s happened.

I want to look at what happened during the Enlightenment in terms of what changes… In order to look for differences. Specifically, I want to look at the changes which occur to the concept of repression, which I see as pivotal, as it serves as a general concept of power.

I believe that such differences can be mined for the purposes of concept creation, and the key to that mining is not to blur the differences into some sort of unitary or unified ur-thinking. In the transformations of the idea of repression in time, I want to hold on to the SHOCKS of these ideas of repression, and to think them through, because to do that is to create concepts, and to create concepts is now vital.

Friday, October 13, 2006

A Brief, Preliminary Explanation and Antidote for those who find Shock

I like parody and pastiche. I like satire. I like sarcasm. I like popular culture. I like politics, and I’m not shocked that most of what happens in politics and most of what we find in popular culture is far from ideal.

What I dislike is the idea that we need to hold up some imaginary ‘ideal’ against popular culture and politics from which to judge, devalue, and scorn them. Part of what I dislike about this upholding of ideals in judgment of what actually is, is that it is always so hypocritical. The upholders of ideals don’t match ideals any better than those they hold their ideals against – though it seems to be that part of the attraction of upholding ideals is that one becomes blinded to one’s own short-comings… I think this is because consciousness of these is being displaced on to others: they become the ones with the serious and “shocking” deficiencies.

I also think that the upholding of ideals is a way of identifying with the ideal – one thinks that by upholding ideals one is coming closer to them, or maybe will be more likely to come close to them in the future. Again, I don’t think so… Especially if I am correct in thinking that the primary effect of this upholding of ideals is the displacement of attention on to others, who then get considered to be “shockingly bad.” A threat. And by the by, if the “upholder” gains sway, will be dealt with accordingly.

I think that there will always be “upholders of ideals” as part of the big mix of popular culture: they have their place, somehow. But popular culture and politics are too rough and tumble, with too much give and take, for the “upholders of ideals” to become the dominant force there. Actually, from the point of view of most of the big mix of popular culture, “upholders of ideals” appear quite ridiculous – they quickly become ripe for parody, satire, and sarcasm – they are the best targets of these. In a healthy popular culture, there will always be lots of parody circulating… This is a very vital function.

If people stopped laughing, or wanting to laugh, or wanting to ridicule the ridiculous, bad things would happen. You know? Under those circumstances, where for whatever reason people weren’t laughing anymore, “upholders of ideals” COULD dominate. Rest assured, the “upholders of ideals” won’t be laughing. They are too preoccupied with being shocked, too busy marshaling their forces against those who aren’t living up to the ideals and who are shocking them.

Maybe Charlie Chaplin was the one man in the world who posed a serious threat to Adolph Hitler – a comedian was the only one who saw the ridiculous as the ridiculous. As soon as enough others saw that Hitler was ridiculous, his politics would have dissolved then and there. Hitler was, and I think this is forgotten, an “upholder of ideals.” That’s exactly what he was.

I think Bill Maher and other American comedians who had the audacity to laugh and ridicule and not allow fear and shock to become sacrosanct after 9/11, were the first to be put down and suppressed, not because they were easily dismissed and powerless ( and this is really my point – that these comedians are not at all powerless – they may be the most powerful,) but because they were precisely the ones who could prevent people from stopping to laugh and starting to take the ridiculous with an unnatural seriousness… They were precisely the ones who could have prevented the formation of ‘organization’ against ‘evildoers’ … could have prevented the shadow-chasing of those who found themselves shocked, or were manipulating shock, and required reverence for shock to replace normal, scrappy political exchange.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

From the Apes to the Enlightenment

Lately I've returned to reading Richard Rorty. Rorty is an odd sort of duck; at one time the leading light of analytic linguistic philosophy, he wrote one of the most effective critiques of analytic philosophy yet made, Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature. (Incidentally, the reviews at Amazon are revealing; some appreciate it for its analytic clarity, some hate it for relying on Darwinism, and some dislike it for not having appreciated how Hegel and Heidegger and Derrida leave behind the Dewey-Carnap tradition. I find it striking and amusing that creationists and deconstructionists can agree in their vehement rejection of naturalism.)

Since then Rorty's shown himself to be one of the very few hard-core analytic philosophers who find somehing of value in Nietzsche, Heidegger, and Derrida. At the same time, and unlike Heidegger and Derrida, Rorty takes natural science seriously. His main intellectual hero is John Dewey; although Rorty likes everyone (or almost everyone), Rorty's master thought is to continue doing what he thinks Dewey did. (Needless to say, he's provoked much ire among Dewey scholars.)

In his "Is Truth a Goal of Inquiry?" in Truth and Progress: Philosophical Papers, Vol. 3, Rorty makes the following side comment:

... as good Darwinians, we want to introduce as few discontinuities as possible into the story of how we got from the apes to the Enlightenment. (p. 40)

I find this thought -- "from the apes to the Enlightenment" -- powerful and inspiring. It's a crisp way of indicating the sort of story that I want to tell, drawing on hominid paleontology, archeology, comparative psychology, and "the history of ideas" -- although perhaps I would prefer Foucault's notion of "history of thought" over "history of ideas." (More on that distinction later.)

Telling this story would require further fleshing out the bare bones of Rorty's "non-reductive physicalism" or what McDowell calls (provocatively) "naturalized platonism" -- showing how the space of reasons -- the space of ethics, logic, and science -- evolved from the realm of merely causal bits of nature -- some of them in the shape and form of the Miocene apes that were the last common ancestor of chimps and humans. Like Rorty, I want to show how the emphasis that the Enlightenment rightly places on autonomy and rationality is not incompatible with thinking of humans as, in the words of paleoanthropologist David Pilbeam, "a rather odd African ape."

Both creationists and post-structuralists are betting that these two pictures can't be reconciled, and that the former is irredemiably flawed to boot. So the lines are drawn: fundamentalists of all stripes and colors, together with the post-idealists (post-Hegelians and post-phenomenologists), have declared an opposition to both humanism and naturalism. As for me, I've with Dewey and Rorty; we're looking for the synthesis of Kantian humanism and Darwinian naturalism.

De-Sanctifying Reason

Last night I started reading The Victory of Reason: How Christianity Led to Freedom, Capitalism, and Western Success by Rodney Stark. Stark started off as a sociologust specializing in cults. He turned his attention to a sociological investigation of the rise of Christianity, and since then he's been writing about the sociological impact of monotheism in general and Christianity in particular.

If it weren't for Stark's name on the cover, I would have been turned off -- it sounds like another apology for the "bourgeois" status quo. And I may conclude that it is. But for now, I'm hooked on the main thesis.

Stark argues that the concept of a personal God not only fueled Christian theology, but that science and capitalism grew out of the same inspiration. The key thought here seems to be that if God is a person -- and not an impersonal force or "being-ness" -- then God must be rational. But God is the creator of all things out of nothing. Therefore, reality must have a fundamentally rational structure and this structure is progressively revealed to us.

These assumptions grew out of the Greco-Roman assumption that reality is rational and the Jewish assumption that history is linear, with a beginning and perhaps an end. (I say perhaps because eschatology was not a dominant theme in ancient Judaism, although messianism is.) These two assumptions are combined in Christianity to yield the doctrine that human reason can progressively understand the structure of reality.

By contrast, Stark argues, the "Eastern" religions embraced a love of paradox and contradiction that prevented them from even wanting to investigate the essencee of the real. Judaism and Islam, he claims, treated all revelation as already over and done with, requiring only intepretation. And the Greeks, he notes, had both engineering grounded in experience and observation (trial and error), and metaphysical speculation, but they lacked the assumptions necessary for a theory informed by observation and observation informed by theory. That is, they had engineering and metaphysics, but because they were isolated, they did not have science. And Stark claims that Christian theology was the crucible in which science was formed.
This coheres with a few other things I've read about the origins of modern science (Pippin, Funkenstein, Dupre). But I need to sit down with a historian of science and see how well Stark's thesis stands up.

Stark's thesis suggests that we're badly amiss in thinking of the Enlightenment in terms of the triumph of reason over faith. It would be more accurate to say that the Enlightenment was a de-sanctification of reason (and also a "de-deification of nature," as Nietzsche puts it in Gay Science 109).

In future posts I will explore how the de-sanctification of reason makes possible, but also demands, the "rational critique of reason" that Adorno announces in Negative Dialectic.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Back in the Saddle

I've been gone for a long, long time. Now I'm back, and it already feels good. I'm looking forward to seeing how my projects and Yusef's intertwine, communicate -- and fail to communicate -- the silences will be deafening.

In the past several months, since I've been gone, I've been thinking and writing about issues in contemporary neo-pragmatism (e.g. Rorty, Putnam, McDowell) and in critical theory (e.g. Adorno, Habermas) -- about objectivity as an ideal for rational actiivity, about the relation between virtue and reason, and about the status and content of "naturalism," a much-contested term. (One of the things I like about Deleuze is that he shows a genuine respect for natural science, and for the thought that science does reveal a face of being.)

I've been thinking about the idea of "a decent society," recently developed by the
Israeli philosopher Avishai Margalit, and how this differs from the idea of a just society, as developed by John Rawls -- and I'll be thinking about the institutionalized and psychic restrictions which prevent us from having a decent society.

I'm now teaching Locke and Leibniz, and trying to understand how the sweeping breadth and depth of Leibniz's metaphysical vision brings him into conflict with Locke's proto-pragmatist epistemological humility. In the course of working out where I see the stakes in the conflict between empiricism and rationalism, I'll be setting up my own reading of what Kant does and doesn't do, and what it would take to have an epistemology of modernity. The course is supposed to tell a story about the rise and fall of the idea of objectivity, from Plato through Descartes and Kant to Nietzsche and Rorty, and in due time I'll have a lot to say about the relation between objectivity, rationality, and ethical maturity.

Apart from these staid, if not stale, issues, I've been thinking about the intelligent design movement as a sort of anti-scientific scientism, the problem of "disenchantment of the world," and what it is in the idea of "modernity" which is worth saving.

In the next few days and weeks I'll come back to all these issues, I hope. But if you're reading this, and you're interested in a conversation about something specific mentioned above, let me know.

Thanks for dragging me out of retirement, Yusef.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Body Politic's Center of Levity Precessing Dangerously

Maggot: “I’ve rocked, and I’ve rolled, I’ve tumbled, and I’ve groveled…. but the strangest I ever did grok, was the night of the Ides of Augustus, when I alimented and phallagoed the Blue’s legend of hookamacook.”

Cyber-boy: “I’m not required to make sense of that.”

(Author’s Note):

They are on a bald Golgotha, with the wind whispering and roaring, and there is no way they can stay attached there, no matter how firm their center of gravity, their rootedness, their commitment to the ground, their anchorings in faith, or their belief in the basic goodness of their fellow men… they are going to be ‘ blown away…’

Maggot: “I’m lifting off… Mission control, give me T minus 10, 9,8,7…”

Cyber-boy: “Are there swells?”

Maggot: “There are, and I can’t ride them.”

Cyber-boy: “Why the Hell can’t you?”

Maggot: “Well, I can’t.”

Cyber-boy: “We gonna have lift-off today, or not?”

Maggot: “What is this, Cyber-boy? Do you expect me to be responsible for: love, or aggression, or pain, or indifference? I was twenty-five before I could tie my own shoes, wipe my own bottom, or ask for a bottle of a decent wine. I ain’t cut out for responsibility, don’t you see? Nowadays, it is the carpal tunnel syndrome that keeps me down.”

Cyber-boy: “I want you to be careful about your own perceptions, as though perceiving while lifting off were indistinguishable from monuments to infinity, or at least next Wednesday, or late for dinner, or you know, something good enough to get you laid, ugly though we all may be, and not funny enough, either.”

Maggot: “Oh, the crystal palace… But didn’t the windows there get greazed up with London’s fog? A woman’s parts are crawling like the shell of a snail, but we want it anyway, don’t we? My worm is shanked, uglier than burbot feed, and it’ll never be any different.”

Phlegmatico( flown in from garden of Gethsemane): “ Gentlemen! Let’s exert a bit of order on this disorder! Don’t you know what order and organization is?”

Maggot and Cyber-boy speaking together: “We didn’t care about that as long as we were peaceful, calm, and enjoying ourselves in an expansive way.”

Phlegmatico: “What about your brethren?”

Author’s Note:

The brethren don’t need or want the kind of help and comfort Maggot and Cyber-boy are able to give, and Phlegmatico knows that. The brethren might even envy Maggot and Cyber-boy their being on a bald Golgotha with the wind whispering and roaring, and the best thing might be their joining the two up there, feebly hoping for lift-off or at least a ‘hair-raising’ – THE GOOD just being a dismissal of any pleasure and hope available anywhere, but the GOOD is actually always a little strange, a little disordered, but ready to be plucked, as long as a Phlegmatic VOICE doesn’t suggest that such a GOOD is not “ the best” and as such, not worth ANYTHING... (only the best satisfies, and you, little man, can never know the best, and therefore, little man, can never be satisfied…)

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Deleuze-sion #2: Enlightenment

I am real because I bear a burden; I am important because that burden is unbearable; I am a genius because it is heavy; I am art because I have known pain.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Where It is At, Now

"I adhere to the Socratic vision that philosophy should be premised on an encounter, preferably in public spaces, involving exchange and dialogue, and hopefully in such a way as to irritate the priests and the statesmen. Following Spinoza, Deleuze, and Badiou, I agree that the dream of philosophy since its inception with Thales is immanence, or the idea that we need not refer beyond the world or to special authorities to explain what is and value, and with Socrates that what matters is what is said, not who says it. Philosophical claims are claims that should be addressed to all, regardless of identity, nation, gender, religion, etc., or should be truly kosmopolitan claims premised on a subject that is void of its identifications. Following Lucretius, I hold that philosophy seeks to escape superstition and ideology. Philosophy seeks the conceptual technologies through discourse which might complete this dream. " - Sinthome

The above is from Sinthome's profile from the "Larval Subjects" blog :

I knew I had to steal this fast... I don't know how much longer these pretty pebbles will be found strewn about on the beaches of virtuality.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Body Politic Suppository Extrude Organ

Maggot: “Wild, wild, wild… I had to go ahead and do it… I didn’t even know what it was, or what I was doing… these were important design requirements of it, of doing it, you understand…”

Cyber-boy: (peeved): “Yeah, I know about you guys… You think that ‘revolution’ means ‘getting wild’… What you guys have is a purely romantic vision of ‘revolution’ and how to make ‘revolution’, and on the ground, (the underground or the overground or even the groundless – also known as ‘the abyss’), what you guys do is to make a big mess… You don’t make revolution, you make big do-do…”

Maggot: “Do you really believe that you can plan the revolution? Aren’t there some theoretical problems with that? Is it a revolution if it has been planned to begin with?”

Cyber-boy: “See, the bourgeois nature of your thinking shows through here… you don’t want to work… that’s the main thing for you – you don’t want the pain or the sweat or the toil…that’s what you want to cast off… But, you see, to make revolution means to toil, to sweat, to bleed – it requires the very ‘character structures’ you seem to abhor…What you want is what the bourgeoisie already had, already had accomplished, a complete blurring of work and play… That blurring is not revolutionary…it is reactionary.”

Maggot: “The kind of revolution which is planned and which is foreseeable, is merely reformist…It isn’t revolution at all. I think what happens is that there is movement, and that movement goes somewhere, but not that far; not far enough to escape the gravitational fields of the territory it is escaping ( revolutionizing, changing); failing to escape these gravitational fields, it merely falls back into them.”

Cyber-boy: “Even if there is a falling back, a failure to achieve goals, ( and I concede that there is such failure,) there has been tremendous, glorious effort expended to break away…What has been accomplished subsists no matter what…At least things cannot be considered worse than before…”

Maggot: “I don’t know whether there is a kind of subsistence or not. I think it is at least possible that there is not. An incredible ‘stake’ of human effort, labor, and suffering has been placed on the idea of ‘progress’, and if all of that ‘stake’ has been on something as flimsy and potentially ridiculous as this idea that what has been progressed ‘subsists no matter what’, I have problems with that…”

Cyber-boy: “ You think that what I am really doing is vouchsafing the entire history of twentieth century revolutionary activity on what is no more than negativism, the value of ‘suffering’ and the fantastically abstract concept of ‘work’, don’t you?”

Maggot: “We need to get down to brass tacks on some of these categories we use, Cyber-boy. I don’t call it ‘work’ unless it is a praxis… that you would dare to do so makes you a ridiculous figure to me…A more heedless romantic than me…as much as you would deny that.”