Tuesday, June 26, 2007

The Materiality of a Bird of Prey


That's all I have to say.

"The materiality of a bird of prey."

What comes from this will be shocking.... SHOCKING.

For years, I have hoped to offer some kind of corrective to Leftist asceticism, Leftist elitism, Leftist aestheticism, Leftist idealism, Leftist narcissism, Leftist solipsism.... but without leaving my own Leftist orientation behind.

"The materiality of a bird of prey."

Monday, June 25, 2007

Toward an Affirmation of Materiality, Further

I’ve repeatedly stated that my goal at the Enlightenment Underground is to better understand how there might be a repetition, with difference, of the Enlightenment.

This repeated statement of my goal finally prompted from Carl Sachs the question: just what would such a repetition with difference of the Enlightenment be?

I’ve written that I see the Enlightenment as rearticulation, or revaluation, of the value of human material reality over and against human spiritual reality, which, though related, is not the same.

Human spiritual reality interacts with human material reality in ways which can either stifle human energies or help them be released….allow them to become, and to become productive.

Therefore, I see the repetition with difference of the Enlightenment as occurring through a more radical and far-reaching rearticulation away from the remnants of "spirituality" in the direction of a more vital and viable materiality.

I consider this shift towards human material reality, which requires actual creativity, to constitute an affirmation of materiality.

The eighteenth century Enlightenment, considered against the medieval backdrop from which it emerged, was an affirmation of materiality and a revaluation of the primary importance of the “spiritual” or religious, in life.

It was a “secularization.”

I haven’t succeeded here in giving Kant enough credit for his anti-clericism, and his destructive energy and creative violence – but this aspect of Kant’s work must be acknowledged. It’s just that as the backdrop from which our own thought must emerge, Kant’s thinking serves, in intricate and complex ways, to prevent our own wresting of an affirmation of human material reality.

I think that it becomes important for me to outline how I think a furthering of affirmation of human material reality is possible.

The following are the crucial unexplored elements of this furthering: 1) multiplicity-mechanics; 2) “outside”-“other”; 3) “affirmation”; 4) "difference" ; 5) “subjectivation”.

I’m saying that multiplicity thinking or practice is crucial to the furthering of the development of materialism.

I’ve said before that multiplicity thinking is actuated by the thought of the outside or the other – I’m therefore making the outside and other part of my list for practices of creating a viable materialism.

I’m now saying that affirmation is a practice of materialism, a "material" practice... materialism requires “affirmation, ( and how this works is very important to what I have to say, later.)

Subjectivation isn’t some weird “superstructural” effect of material infrastructure – or worse, a dispensible and trivial side effect – I now assert that subjectivation is a crucial cog, valve, or relay ( i.e. is a mechanical component) of a working concept of materiality.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Towards an Affirmation of Materiality

In an early attempt at Enlightenment Underground to confront the event of Enlightenment, (the reactivation of a philosophical ethos which occurred in eighteenth century Europe,) Carl Sachs made the following comments,

“Enlightenment is the overcoming of myth through critique. However, the predisposition to mythic thinking is inscribed in the cognitive structures through which any complex, hierarchical society is produced and reproduced. Therefore, the task of critique is without end. An infinite and incompleteable critique.

Myth is totality: the total and complete picture of the real. The temptation to totality. (“From Ionia to Jena,” as Franz Rosenszweig puts it in his The Star of Redemption – that is, from Parmenides to Hegel.) Myth does not cease to be myth when it is rendered in a conceptual form, and at the heart of all myths is something that refuses to be conceptualized. ( This is true for conceptual myth-makers like Plato and Hegel. And in our own day, the thirst for conceptual myth-making, such as that of Ken Wilbur or Richard Tarnas, remains unquenchable.)”

These comments were made on this blog on February 16, 2006, and I’ve been haunted by them ever since.

They demand development of some sort… I don’t believe that they were offered or intended to stand as “totalities-truisms,” even though a statement such as “Enlightenment is the overcoming of myth through critique,” is surely an exemplification of the very totalizing structure it appears to be attacking.

When I first read these comments, I simply assumed that Carl was framing the Enlightenment in terms of its creation and privileging of epistemology ( via Kant) – wherein anything which can be labeled myth is understood to have been devalued and trivialized and to be cast aside as useless to serious thinking or praxis. I assumed that Carl was affirming, with reservation, this casting aside of “myth”, while simultaneously wishing to resuscitate and stimulate the spirit of critique, by which to fight the encroachments on the accomplishments of the Enlightenment by a resurgent American religious uncritical and mythologizing fundamentalism.

There is indeed a brief and powerful theory for a reactivation of the philosophical ethos of the eighteenth century Enlightenment to be found in this excerpt from Carl: reactivate critique and critical thinking to reactivate the philosophical ethos.

I don’t take issue with that.

What I might take issue with is that the renewal of a spirit of critique would involve a revival of Enlightenment epistemological thinking, where there is a clear bright line between mythological thinking, “totalizing” or otherwise, and some other kind of thinking, which is somehow purer, clearer, light-filled.

Carl seems to be indicating a similar attitude when he says, “However, the predisposition to mythic thinking is inscribed in the cognitive structures through which any complex, hierarchical society is produced and reproduced.” I miss the point that he’s trying to convey in this because I don’t believe that mythic thinking is inscribed in the cognitive structures of the human brain – I object to this on a number of levels. I think Carl does indicate a kind of necessity and compulsion to “mythologizing thinking,” which I think is real, but I conceive of the nature of this “necessity” and compulsion in a very different way.

I don’t believe in “cognitive structures” if that’s a reference to some innate, immutable, biologistical determinism of the bounds and limitations of what human thinking can do at any given time. I don’t think that mythic thinking emanates as a “given” from any essential feature of the human thought process, or the brain, or from human anatomy or physiology. I admit that part of the reason I don’t think that this is the case is because if it were so we as a human race admit to a kind of defeatism, wherein our thinking is going to be largely a “guilt trip.”

In order to convey my difference with Carl’s theory, I rephrase his passage this way,

“Enlightenment is the coming to grips with human material reality, and the overcoming of the notion that there is a separate human “spiritual” reality which exceeds this human material reality in importance and significance. However, human “spiritual” reality contains, or has to be included in, any coming to grips with human material reality… human “spiritual” reality is a not insignificant part of human “material” reality. Mythologizing is in part a vital material practice of human beings, and couldn't so far in history be eliminated entirely without damaging human material practice. The two realms relate through power and knowledge, power/knowledge. What’s more, there’s no easy way to demarcate the realm of human “spiritual” reality from human “material” reality, even though the two are different, and therefore, the task of critique is endless.

The processes and practices by which humans come to grips with human “material” reality is not totalizable in anything resembling the way that human “spiritual” reality becomes totalized. It is a feature of the usurpation and diminishment of the significance of human material reality when the appearances of totalizations of human material reality in the manner of human spiritual reality are observed in human culture. These usurpations can take virtually any form, including the conceptual.”

The crucial point of difference, for me, is that the reactivation of philosophical ethos occurs, not through "clear" or even "better" or "more intelligent" thinking, or through some epistemelogical breakthrough, but when material reality is accorded greater value, and that according of greater value must be an ongoing process if the reactivation is to continue.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Towards a Materiality of Affirmation, Further

Affirmation would be any time a force did do what it was capable of doing. Repression would be happening any time a force was separated from what it was capable of doing and this separation was in some manner willful by the repressed.

A swooping eagle scooping up a tender lamb and devouring it hungrily could be said to be acting affirmatively. The eagle is a force, scooping and eating tender lambs is what it is capable of doing.

An eagle voluntarily forgoing the scooping and eating of tender lambs would be said to be repressed. Such an eagle has been separated from what it can do.

We would say that an eagle in this state is unable to affirm, to act affirmatively -- no matter what this eagle's psychological state, which might be happy, fun-loving, or joyous -- the criteria of affirmation has nothing to do with any psychologistic interpretation -- affirmation is to be defined based on a force doing what it can do, and the ascetic eagle doesn't do what it can do -- it can't affirm and not eat tender lambs, no matter how the eagle "feels" about not eating tender lambs.

Affirmation defined as above is not a matter of opinion, of doxa. There is a force, there is what a force can do, and there is a force separated from what it can do. Affirmation is when a force does what it can do. The definition is a positivism.

If we could find the forces which are human forces, determine the capacity of these forces, we could gauge in which cases a human being or humans were living in affirmation or repression based upon whether or not these humans were separated from what they could do. I think it would be better and clearer in this instance and in general to speak of human forces rather than human beings... In a sense, to speak of "human being" is already to imply a separation of the humanly as force, and what those forces can do. And fascinatingly, this instantiation of the separateness of the human and its forces and what they can do is known as "the ethical." However, I will not be blithe here.

I pause. The gravity of this is enormous.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Towards a Materiality of Affirmation

We are in the process of exploring the “desiring of one’s own repression” as a social, political, and even geological force shaping our sense of the world.

We attempt to understand “desiring of one’s own repression” in terms of force.

We attempt to understand this “thing” ( a concept is a thing - the concept which is named by "desiring of one's own repression" is a thing,) along the lines Deleuze describes as, “the force which appropriates the thing, which exploits it, which takes possession of it or is expressed in it. A phenomenon is not an appearance or even an apparition but a sign, a symptom which finds its meaning in an existing force. The whole of philosophy is a symptomatology…..”

In this manner, we are attempting a symptomatology of “desiring one’s own repression,” but at the present time, I want to concentrate a little more seriously on the notion of force upon which this symptomatology would ultimately rely.
If we succeed in understanding the "desiring of one's own repression" in terms of force, we'll have gone some distance toward achieving a capacity for affirmation which will be more than a capacity for empty gesture.

“Desiring one’s own repression,” understood in terms of force relies upon, among other things, these Nietzschean-Deleuzian conceptions of force: 1) that there are some forces that can be appropriated or dominated by other forces; 2) there are forces which can do what they can do; 3) forces can be separated from what they can do; 4) there are forces which can be ( or have been) separated from what they can do.

Although I want to get to work grinding my axes and gathering my pounds of flesh and giggling with lunar intensity at my own imaginary mind appreciating its own imaginary superiority, I will reserve this for later. What I want to do right now is marvel at the bold move Nietzsche and Deleuze make by naming these above items as characteristic of “force”; at how central this conception of “force” is for making the whole Deleuzian-Nietzschean conceptual apparatus swing into motion; its deep cover within the whole “hermeneutics of suspicion” apparatus; and how utterly preposterous these characteristics of “force” are, at least on the face of it.

I’m calling these characteristics of “force” preposterous: I hope I will be able to give reasons for that strong accusation, later. One thing I want to say now is that perhaps it isn’t so preposterous to think that there are forces which can be appropriated or dominated by other, stronger forces, but the appropriation or domination by stronger forces isn’t what concerns Nietzsche, ( or Deleuze so far as I can tell.) Nietzsche is primarily concerned to portray the appropriation or domination of stronger forces BY WEAKER forces, which nevertheless do not cease to be WEAKER. Nearly everything in Nietzsche collapses if such a peculiar, preposterous action or relation of forces proved to be impossible.

When Nietzsche speaks of the eagle and the lambs, he sees nothing whatsoever wrong with the strong eagle sweeping down from the skies to pluck up a tender lamb with his iron talons (and neither do I); he sees nothing wrong with the lambs hating eagles for subjecting them to this treatment (and neither do I); Nietzsche only sees wrong in the lambs getting together and convincing the eagle that the eagle SHOULD NOT do this. How exactly lambs ever could do such a thing to eagles is not something that I will bother myself with quibbling about – I’m not a literalist. I do however think that there is a terrible theoretical problem here which we can’t allow ourselves to skirt, and that is how problematic it is that a force (the eagle) COULD in any unmetaphorical form be separated from what it can do( carry away and devour tender lambs.)
When we began to consider "things" in terms of the forces which dominate, exploit, and appropriate them, it seemed as if we were making a huge stride in the direction of thinking of "things" without recourse to an idealism, but when we began to change our understanding of "forces" to include the feature that they can be separated from what they can do, I wonder whether we took one step forward in order to fall backwards two.

In other words, we need to carefully consider the possibility that to believe that a force can be separated from what it can do is to believe something which is simply absurd.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Richard Rorty (1931-2007) - In Memoriam

About twenty years ago I first became aware of the thinking of Richard Rorty through a friend and family member. I was attracted to the (novel) idea of an American philosopher who seemed to draw as much (maybe more) on Continental philosophy as on American philosophy (whatever THAT was). I tried to get a grip on his central concepts but found it difficult to tie him down until one day I came across a dictum of his that struck like thunder and has since stayed with me like an echo from Hume, Kant, and Nietzsche.

The truth isn't found. The truth is made!

It was not only to become a motto of Post-Modernism but also a deft summing up of his concept of contingency.

The world does not speak. Only we do. Rorty reminded us (me) that nature is mute without the narrative or lyrical interference of the human subject. We must make a distinction between the claim that the world is out there and the claim that truth is out there. Of course the world is out there, but to claim that “truth” is out there, according to Rorty, is like arguing there is a vocabulary out there waiting for us to discover it.

Truth cannot be out there—cannot exist independently of the human mind—because sentences cannot so exist, or be out there. The world is out there, but descriptions of the world are not. Only descriptions of the world can be true or false. The world on its own—unaided by the describing activities of human beings—cannot.

Rorty’s account of language and truth chimes with Nietzsche’s definition of truth as “a mobile army of metaphors.” Therefore, he understood his work as a philosopher as a companion of the poet rather than the partner of the physicist or metaphysician, for he was convinced that there is no intrinsic nature of either the world or the self that analytical language can finally and fully “get right.”

Our language exhibits sheer contingency, thus we are not forever bound to the vocabularies of our ancestors or their gods. We need not worship the corpses of their dead metaphors. Like Romantic poets, we can now claim that imagination, not mimetic reason, is the central human faculty. This will free us to develop a talent for speaking differently rather than for arguing well. Then we will discover that it is rhetorical innovation, not the old myth of the mind as the mirror of nature, which will indeed become the chief instrument of cultural and political change.

Because we come to consciousness within the contingency of language, Rorty believed Nietzsche taught us that we need not become mere replicas or copies of someone else’s story, poem, or model of the moral self. According to Nietzsche, to fail as a poet—and thus as a human being—is to accept someone else’s description of oneself.

The self as a narrative, or as Rorty put it: We are drafts always being rewritten.

And philosophy is a literary genre.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Fleeing From Nihilistic Repression - Part 2

In our project of exploring "desiring one's own repression" we have returned to Nietzsche's "birds of prey" versus (no - parallel to) "lambs" metaphor. We also need to investigate the HAPPINESS of "desiring one's own repression". Repression is generally understood as negation, although it may just as well be affirmative as in the sedate contentment of the Nietzschean "last man". Fleeing from nihilistic repression might also morph into an embrace of the pleasures of the petite bourgeoisie in its continuous quest for uninterrupted hedonism. We need to move beyond.

When Zarathustra had spoken these words, he again looked at the people, and was silent. "There they stand," said he to his heart; "there they laugh: they understand me not; I am not the mouth for these ears.

Must one first batter their ears, that they may learn to hear with their eyes? Must one clatter like kettledrums and penitential preachers? Or do they only believe the stammerer?

They have something whereof they are proud. What do they call it, that which makes them proud? Culture, they call it; it distinguishes them from the goatherds.

They dislike, therefore, to hear of 'contempt' of themselves. So I will appeal to their pride.

I will speak unto them of the most contemptible thing: that, however, is THE LAST MAN!"

And thus spake Zarathustra unto the people:

It is time for man to fix his goal. It is time for man to plant the germ of his highest hope.

Still is his soil rich enough for it. But that soil will one day be poor and exhausted, and no lofty tree will any longer be able to grow thereon.

Alas! there comes the time when man will no longer launch the arrow of his longing beyond man--and the string of his bow will have unlearned to whizz!

I tell you: one must still have chaos in one, to give birth to a dancing star. I tell you: you have still chaos in you.

Alas! There comes the time when man will no longer give birth to any star. Alas! There comes the time of the most despicable man, who can no longer despise himself.

Lo! I show you THE LAST MAN.

"What is love? What is creation? What is longing? What is a star?"--so asks the last man and blinks.

The earth has then become small, and on it there hops the last man who makes everything small. His species is ineradicable like that of the ground-flea; the last man lives longest.

"We have discovered happiness"--say the last men, and blink.

They have left the regions where it is hard to live; for they need warmth. One still loves one's neighbour and rubs against him; for one needs warmth.

Turning ill and being distrustful, they consider sinful: they walk warily. He is a fool who still stumbles over stones or men!

A little poison now and then: that makes pleasant dreams. And much poison at last for a pleasant death.

One still works, for work is a pastime. But one is careful lest the pastime should hurt one.

One no longer becomes poor or rich; both are too burdensome. Who still wants to rule? Who still wants to obey? Both are too burdensome.

No shepherd, and one herd! Everyone wants the same; everyone is equal: he who has other sentiments goes voluntarily into the madhouse.

"Formerly all the world was insane,"--say the subtlest of them, and blink.

They are clever and know all that has happened: so there is no end to their raillery. People still fall out, but are soon reconciled--otherwise it will spoil their stomachs.

They have their little pleasures for the day, and their little pleasures for the night, but they have a regard for health.

"We have discovered happiness,"--say the last men, and blink against the sun.
(THUS SPAKE ZARATHUSTRA (Prologue, section 5))

Monday, June 04, 2007

Fleeing From Nihilistic Repression - Part 1

Because there is eagle will-to-power and lamb will-to-power, eagle and lamb are not OPPOSED in the dramatic, culturally-conditioned manner to which we’re accustomed. It is important to understand what this difference from opposition means, what this addresses, PHILOSOPHICALLY.

This is a constructive beginning of a possible “line of flight” – moving beyond the “molar” line that forms a binary, arborescent system of segments, and onto the more fluid, although still segmentary, “molecular” line from which the line of flight potentially can rupture the other two lines. But in Nietzschean thinking the “lamb will-to-power” is demonstratively in a power struggle with the “eagle will-to-power”. The ascetic’s ressentiment is aggressive, vindictive, and revengeful – and winning!

The invalids are the great danger to humanity—not the evil men, not the "predatory animals." Those people who are, from the outset, failures, oppressed, broken—they are the ones, the weakest, who most undermine life among human beings, who in the most perilous way poison and question our trust in life, in humanity, in ourselves. Where can we escape that downcast glance with which people carry their deep sorrow, that reversed gaze of the man originally born to fail which betrays how such a man speaks to himself, that gaze which is a sigh. "I wish I could be someone else!"—that's what this glance sighs. "But there is no hope here. I am who I am. How could I detach myself from myself? And yet I've had enough of myself!" . . .

On such a ground of contempt for oneself, a truly swampy ground, grows every weed, every poisonous growth—all of them so small, so hidden, so dishonest, so sweet. Here the worms of angry and resentful feelings swarm; here the air stinks of secrets and duplicity; here are constantly spun the nets of the most malicious conspiracies—those who are suffering and plotting against successful and victorious people; here the appearance of the victor is despised. And what dishonesty not to acknowledge this hatred as hatred! What an extravagance of large words and attitudes, what an art of "decent" slander! These failures—what noble eloquence flows from their lips! How much sugary, slimy, humble resignation swims in their eyes! What do they really want? At least to make a show of justice, love, wisdom, superiority—that's the ambition of these "lowest" people, these invalids!

And how clever such an ambition makes people! For let's admire the skillful counterfeiting with which people here imitate the trademarks of virtue, even its resounding tinkle, the golden sound of virtue. They've now taken a lease on virtue entirely for themselves, these weak and hopeless invalids—there's no doubt about that. "We alone are the good men, the just men"—that's how they speak: "We alone are the homines bonae voluntatis [men of good will]." They wander around among us like personifications of reproach, like warnings to us, as if health, success, strength, pride, and a feeling of power were inherently depraved things, for which people must atone some day, atone bitterly. How they thirst to be hangmen! Among them there are plenty of people disguised as judges seeking revenge. They always have the word "Justice" in their mouths, like poisonous saliva, with their mouths always pursed, constantly ready to spit at anything which does not look discontented and goes on its way in good spirits.

Among them there is no lack of that most disgusting species of vain people, the lying monsters who aim to present themselves as "beautiful souls," and carry off to market their ruined sensuality, wrapped up in verse and other swaddling clothes, as "purity of heart"—the species of self-gratifying moral masturbators. The desire of sick people to present some form or other of superiority, their instinct for secret paths leading to a tyranny over the healthy—where can we not find it, this very will to power of the weakest people! - (On the Genealogy of Morals, Third Essay: What Do Ascetic Ideals Mean?)

Affirmation as Repressed Nihilist Despair, Part I

By taking Nietzsche’s parable of the eagles and lambs out of context, I have succeeded in destroying some of the most pertinent points Nietzsche makes about ressentiment as it relates to our inquiry on “desiring one’s own repression.”

I’ll try to make this up to you now, Mr. Nietzsche – honest I will! Honest!

Mr. Nietzsche said this,

“That lambs dislike great birds of prey does not seem strange: only it gives no grounds for reproaching these birds of prey for bearing off little lambs. And if the lambs say among themselves: "these birds of prey are evil; and whoever is least like a bird of prey, but rather its opposite, a lamb—would he not be good?" there is no reason to find fault with this institution of an ideal, except perhaps that the birds of prey might view it a little ironically and say: "we don't dislike them at all, these good little lambs; we even love them: nothing is more tasty than a tender lamb."

To demand of strength that it should not express itself as strength, that it should not be a desire to overcome, a desire to throw down, a desire to become master, a thirst for enemies and resistances and triumphs, is just as absurd as to demand of weakness that it should express itself as strength.”

As I have explained, my usual way of relating to this story is to form various identifications with eagle or lamb, and then to dramatize the identifications to see how they play out. Doing this has been great fun within the “theater of the mind” I stage by myself, for myself, but as my real aim is a productive thinking and a “factory of the mind” with exteriorizing production rather than a theater of mind with its endless interioristic fantasizing,continuing to indulge in this form of reading and relating is becoming more and more counter-productive.

Therefore, I don't want to comment much further on interiorized dramas, but there’s one salient feature of these dramas ( and possibly of all drama, interiorized or not,) I want to point out: drama relies on stark binaristic lines for its effects… in real drama, between audience and performer; the good and the bad; between subjects and objects; etc.

I want to combine this notion of drama with what I find to be absolutely crucial in Nietzsche’s concept of will-to-power: its power to philosophically address the ancient philosophical problem of these very stark binaristic lines…The way that Nietzsche’s concept specifically and philosophically addresses this purely philosophical problem. ( The idea that this is philosophical is emphasized because it is of the utmost importance to break the strong conventional connections existing between Nietzsche’s concept of will-to-power and numerous concepts specific to the fields of psychology and politics which condition the conventional understandings of Nietzsche's concept of will-to-power .)
There is no “drama,” in any ordinary terms, between Nietzsche’s eagles and lambs.

This is because: (and this is the difficult part) – there is an eagle will-to-power AND a lamb will-to-power. (Once again I question Nietzsche’s choice of example for getting this point across – most people, I believe, read the story and too quickly identify will-to-power with the eagle, never considering the existence of a lamb’s will-to-power; they can hardly be blamed for this – culture has conditioned these symbols and their associations…) Because there is eagle will-to-power and lamb will-to-power, eagle and lamb are not OPPOSED in the dramatic, culturally-conditioned manner to which we’re accustomed. It is important to understand what this difference from opposition means, what this addresses, PHILOSOPHICALLY.