Monday, May 26, 2008

Rationality and Totality, Part III

The skepticism of totality rests on some basically vague fears and misgivings which it might be possible to enunciate and evaluate. I think many of them center around some feeling of an enclosing action in totality—some sense of an enclosure, a loss of alternatives or choices, and thus a loss of freedom of movement of thought and body. A totality or system of totalization leads to Totalitarianism,(a thought from somewhere suggests,) with Totalitarianism understood as any political form anywhere on the political spectrum which radically restricts human freedom.

If we associate rationality with totality, it must be because we suspect rationality contributes to this enclosing action—that rationality, rather than being liberating, helps to radically restrict human freedom. Therefore, valuing our freedom, we might not embrace a rational political policy or program no matter how efficient or effective. It’d be totalitarian. We can’t be expected to rationally demonstrate this is a “rational” fear if what we fear is rationality itself, can we? And yet most of us would distrust our distrust if we couldn’t make more of a case for it than, “I don’t know why, but I don’t feel good about this,” even though most of us will give our intuition some credibility.

Is there some sense in which rationality is enclosing—self-enclosing? This leads me to the question I really want to ask: what are we doing when we reason about reason? What are the prospects in doing so? Do we have the prospect of overcoming reason by doing so? Do we have the prospect of sharpening and improving reason this way? Do we learn about reason by reasoning about reason? Is it possible to get outside of reason and get a perspective or an angle on reason through reasoning? That doesn’t seem very likely to me because we are still within the realm of reason if we are still using reason, even if we are using reason on reason. Therefore, if our only manner of evaluating reason is through reason, if we are to be rational, we cannot leave reason. If the only manner of evaluating reason is through reason and we are to be rational, then rationality is enclosing.

I’ve often wondered about Freud: was he a rationalist? Was Freud a rationalist who wished to reason about the irrational, about the irrational aspects of life and the psyche? But I have had to note—Freud doesn’t merely reason about the irrational—he doesn’t even primarily reason. He primarily collects data. He engages in empirical studies. He then fits this empirical data to various provisional theories. This “fitting of the data” appears reasonable to me—I think it is rational. But the theories do not fall or give way because of reasoning about this reasoning…They fall or give way due to their relationship to the data. In other words, Freud reasons as a scientist; scientists’ reasoning is not enclosing in the same way as the reasoning of anyone who considers nothing but reasoning.

What is recalcitrance to data? Does rationalism contribute to recalcitrance to data or ameliorate (alleviate) it?

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Rationality and Totality, Part II

My plan is to cast about in oceans, mud puddles, and witches’ brews in order to catch onto any strands of “rationality”, “totality” or any of the other key concepts we’ve identified as important to us, (for example myth, autonomy, overcoming, critique,) not to come up with a best meaning or relationship or theory, or the “true” definition of rationality, but in order to discover what we want from the historical Enlightenment. This is similar to what I wanted to do by examining “myth is totality” as desire. I didn’t, and maybe couldn’t, finish that. What I wanted to say is whatever fault I may have found with “myth is totality”, as desire it is perfect. (Even if I did conclude “myth is totality” is a metaphoric desire, which for me is a suspect desire, it is still, as desire, perfect.)

I register a nearly immediate, but vague, association of totality with unity, and further, I think of the drive to unity, the drive for union—which brings to my mind the thought of eros and thus an association of totality with the erotic. And I wonder—is totality a rationalized eros? Is totality something like a rationalized love? And thus, a “love gone bad?” (Because to my mind a rational love is a sickened love—does anyone agree? I would like to return to this, later.) Returning to our very brief theory of the Enlightenment, we could now have, “Enlightenment is the overcoming of 'love gone bad' through critique.” Not so bad!(But I don't think it represents the historical Enlightenment.) I’d also like to tie “love gone bad” to the Enlightenment’s concepts of autonomy, because I think the Enlightenment’s concept of autonomy is loveless, and that's ruinous.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Rationality and Totality, Part I

If we equate rationality and totality, then our brief theory of the Enlightenment becomes, “Enlightenment is the overcoming of rationality through critique,” and that won’t do at all. But does rationality involve (and I wish I had a more accurate verb than “involve” to indicate a relationship between the two concepts—I require a technical vocabulary here which I do not have,) totality, and if so, how? If rationality “involves” totality, and we do wish to overcome totality, is there any way to remove totality and still have something salvageable of rationality?

I’m attempting to sidestep the whole issue of what totality and rationality are—and I doubt, even though I give myself all freedom and license, I will yet be able to let myself get away with that. Carl had once indicated that what he meant by totality was “the total and complete picture of the real,” and I had at once noted that he had thereby used the term he wished to define as part of its own definition…Thank God we all know what we mean when we mean it…Even if no one else does!

I have some guilty conscience about the use of “completeness” as part of a working definition of totality, too. We have at our disposal some of the greatest intellectual accomplishments of the 20th Century—the completeness theorems of mathematical logic—which we could bring to bear upon what totality means, how it might work…I’m of a divided mind about our neglect of these if we imagine we really are serious about “overcoming totality.” On the one hand, don’t these theorems indicate that in certain ways “totality” is already overcome? And on the other hand, I suspect that whatever our concerns and fears about totality really come to, if they come to anything, they remain untouched by the insights which might be garnered from these theorems. I hope, though, we will examine this latter thought with more diligence at some point.

I have felt frustrated trying to put myself into an empathic relationship with the thinkers of the historical Enlightenment in order to think what they meant by rationality. When we are talking about Kant and his ideas, I find it hard to remember he worked before Darwin, before Freud,before Goedel, before Quantum Mechanics. I find it hard to remember-- and to take into account. Is it possible we would ever really find Kant valuable as if he were our contemporary rather than, because of his historical placement—naïve—of interest to us as a step in the history of ideas rather than for valid ideas? I also struggle because of Kant’s relationship to the cutting edge of science as he found it—in other words, of Kant’s relationship to Newton. Kant reacts to Newton. That Kant reacts to Newton seems to me to be part of what’s wrong – this reaction defines philosophy as reaction. A little ray of light in philosophy today (oops! An Enlightenment metaphor!) are those (I refer to Deleuze and Guattari,) who show for the first time how to philosophize by using Newton productively.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Myth Is Religion, Ideology, And - False

What Deleuze is creating in this quote (thanks for the reference, Yusef) is a definition of blogging which he, sadly, didn’t live to experience. He would have been appreciative of the rhizomatic nature of blogs.

“The new archivist proclaims that henceforth he will deal only with statements. He will not concern himself with what previous archivists have treated in a thousand different ways: propositions and phrases. He will ignore both the vertical hierarchy of propositions which are stacked on top of one another, and the horizontal relationship established between phrases in which each seems to respond to another. Instead he will remain mobile, skimming along in a kind of diagonal line that allows him to read what could not be apprehended before, namely statements. […] Such multiplicities have no set linguistic construction, yet they are statements.

The copulative statement: myth is totality is just that: a vain attempt to remain immobile. Nothing is immobile. Everything is becoming.

Now THAT is totalitarian, too. But within the prison of linguistics we are locked in binary thinking and simile.

What we should be engaged in is concept creation – an escape from prison.

The concept is (therefore) both absolute and relative: it is relative to its own components, to other concepts, to the plane on which it is defined, and to the problems it is supposed to resolve, but it is absolute through the condensation it carries out, the site it occupies on the plane, and the conditions it assigns to the problem. As whole it is absolute, but insofar as it is fragmentary it is relative. (D&G: What Is Philosophy?, p. 21)

This is Chaosmos like the drop into water. There can be no fixed trajectory, no anticipation fulfilled, no wish granted, but still a statement made.

Coming back to a previous quote from you, Yusef:

As Jean-Francois Lyotard said, “Postmodernism should wage a war on totality.”

Of course.

Apart from the bellicose (and moralistic) semantics here, Lyotard is right. And we will – hopefully – never return to totalitarianism.

A drop, or a tear, into the water creates rings of desire. Just as a thought or an idea builds a fragment of a whole that refuses to be absolute.

Let’s move beyond the vertical and delve into the horizontal: there is NO underground, only an ever building rhizome, no up, no down, no gravity. Only statements.

This has just been one.

Maybe it still is.

Copulation forever.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

“Myth is Totality” as Desire, Part V

As an engendering venture of the Enlightenment Underground, Carl greeted us with this admirable, identificative copulative: myth is totality.

“Myth is totality” is a metaphoric configuration suggesting one idea, totality, may be used in place of the other, myth, positing a likeness or analogy between them—a similitude.

As such “myth is totality” is useless to us as we grope our way towards—not an understanding of the Enlightenment—I don’t think we are interested in a scholarly or historical understanding of this important era— but towards a creation which we can conceptualize only by accentuating and agitating our difference from the historical Enlightenment.

Instead of instantiating difference, “myth is totality” may token a process of homogenization—a destroying of distinction.

Instead of allowing for rhizomatic burrowing, the Underground of this Enlightenment collapses on the miners working the “myth is totality” vein—the rough timbers of the Underground tunnel which had “myth is totality” above its lintel gives out under the burden of an enormous load--the underground becomes ground into the ground –-a stifling blackness overcomes the last carbide light-- the cows become black, the cats become gray--

"I never thought that I would find myself
In bed amongst the stones
The columns are all men
Begging to crush me
No shapes sail on the dark deep lakes
And no flags wave me home

In the caves
All cats are grey
In the caves
The textures coat my skin
In the death cell
A single note
Rings on and on and on"-R Smith

...gray moles, black rats, gray-black worms—all are dead and gray...

But enough of all that—enough!!

“Myth is totality” will work well for us, I think, if we discard the metaphoric configuration and use “myth” and “totality” (and “overcoming” and “critique”,) to form a pragmatic of multiplicities – to name statements, with the word statement to be used in precisely this way,

“The new archivist proclaims that henceforth he will deal only with statements. He will not concern himself with what previous archivists have treated in a thousand different ways: propositions and phrases. He will ignore both the vertical hierarchy of propositions which are stacked on top of one another, and the horizontal relationship established between phrases in which each seems to respond to another. Instead he will remain mobile, skimming along in a kind of diagonal line that allows him to read what could not be apprehended before, namely statements. […] Such multiplicities have no set linguistic construction, yet they are statements. […] Statements […] inhabit a general realm of rarity within which they are distributed begrudgingly and even inadequately. No sense of possibility or potentiality exists in the realm of statements. Everything in them is real and all reality is manifestly present. All that counts is what has been formulated at a given moment, including blanks and gaps. It is none the less certain that statements can be opposed to one another, and placed in hierarchical order. Foucault rigorously demonstrates that contradictions between statements can be measured only by calculating the concrete distance between them within this space of rarity. Comparisons between statements are therefore linked to a mobile diagonal line that allows us, within this space, to make a direct study of the same set at different levels, as well as to choose some sets on the same level while disregarding others (which in their turn might presuppose another diagonal line). It is precisely the rarefied nature of this space which creates these unusual movements and bursts of passion that cut space up into new dimensions. To our amazement, this ‘incomplete, fragmented form’ shows, when it comes to statements, how not only few things are said, but ‘few things can be said.’ What consequences from this transportation of logic will find their way into that element of rarity or dispersion which has nothing to do with negativity, but which on the contrary forms that ‘positivity’ which is unique to statements?” – from Foucault, by Gilles Deleuze, pages 1-3, “The New Archivist.”

Thursday, May 01, 2008

“Myth is Totality” as Desire, Part IV

As an inaugurating gesture of the Enlightenment Underground, Carl confronted us with a bold, idenficatory copulative: “myth is totality.”

Myth is linked to totality: myth becomes a version of totality and totality becomes a version of myth. The copulative makes an assimilation of two very different phenomena —they become equated. Does the equating within “myth is totality” represent the creation of a concept or, on the other hand, a collapse of distinction—a leveling of difference, a blurring, a “making the same”?

Is the desire of concept creation the same as the desire for creating similarities, of making the same? (Similarities must be both created and desired.) Is the desire of the historical Enlightenment characterized by one or the other of these? To what extent does our confusion of two very different desires, if such they be, prevent us from seeing what happened in the historical Enlightenment and thus fail in making Enlightenment happen now?

We could test the veracity of “Enlightenment is the overcoming of totality through critique” by trying to determine whether the objective of the historical Enlightenment was to overcome totality.

Did the thinkers of the historical Enlightenment (Hobbes, Locke, Voltaire, Hume, Kant) conceive of totality as something which required overcoming? Surely not. Though they would not have described what they were doing in this way, these thinkers were attempting to shore up or build totalizations, not tear them down.

If the thinkers of the historical Enlightenment were not the ones who rejected totalization, which ones do? The thinkers of postmodernity. As Jean-Francois Lyotard said, “Postmodernism should wage a war on totality.”

By seeing Enlightenment in terms of an overcoming of totality, Carl saw Enlightenment as a form of postmodernism. “Myth is totality” as an element of Enlightenment overcoming identifies the Enlightenment project as the postmodern project,as if Enlightenment were postmodern in intent.

If we say “Enlightenment is the overcoming of totality through critique,” we’re postmodernists with Enlightenment pretensions. Why the Enlightenment pretensions? Why would we want them? Why would we disguise ourselves with Enlightenment masks? Is it not because we want to share in the prestige of Enlightenment rigor, precision, and effectiveness, and escape the sharply contrasting disrepute and notoriety of postmodernist thought and thinkers)?

If that’s what we want—to be associated with Enlightenment prestige—but to carry on with what is really a postmodern way of working and thinking—I find this a desire I will not affirm.