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?


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for your refreshing productivity, Yusef.

However, I think you should have stayed in your search through oceans, mud puddles, and witches’ brews instead of hunkering down in the bunker of rationality.

Let me join in with a few streams of thought.

We must move from the "either-or" to the "and-and-and" in the fluidity of expressions.

The concepts of rationality, totality, freedom, totalitarianism, The Enlightenment, etc are blocked concepts and as such are prevented from being fully comprehended, while unblocked concepts may be infinitely comprehended.

As you know Deleuze argues that a natural blockage may be due to a discrete extension or finite comprehension of a concept, while an artificial blockage may be due to a logical limitation in the comprehension of a concept.

Ideas, on the other hand, express a form of difference which cannot be represented merely as a lack of resemblance between concepts. Ideas may also be distinguished from concepts in that ideas have a mode of internal differentiation which is not blocked by finite extension.

I think we should treat the historical Enlightenment as Nietzsche's eternal return in Deleuze's interpretation as affirming that difference and repetition express the nature of being and that reality is in a continual state of becoming.

The Enlightenment is NOW.

Pour on the witches’ brew.

I'm differentiating (creating) and repeating (changing) you text into another field of intensity, just as we are doubling up or down Kant's answer to the question he posed to himself.

This is beyond any historicity - this is now.

Am I making any sense?

Also, "have the courage to use your own reason" is an imperative trying to convince itself with two blocked concepts = enclosing upon itself, like a ball of stone.

Yet, it is also progressive = pointing forward by command, like a general shouting at his troops. In that sense it is productive and creative, calling us into action.

Let's kill the General, also our own small generals calling us to arms and categorizations.

Your "using reason on reason" reminds me of "using the mind to understand the mind" - yep, what else? This is sophism. We can do better.

Instead of trying to stop the leakage from a concept by using circular reasoning to contain it, I think we should let it flow, mix, and blend.

All the best,


3:08 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Your "using reason on reason" reminds me of "using the mind to understand the mind" - yep, what else? This is sophism. We can do better."

This would be true only if reason and mind were equated. I think the Enlightenment made such an equation--but I don't. (And out of the Enlightenment came the equation of the rational with the real, which goes further and is much worse.)

Other powers of mind than rationality, and for one I am thinking of schizophrenia, become pathologized. I am trying to argue against this pathologization, not for it. I am also simply trying to find a concrete way to make these other powers of mind work--


3:27 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

No, that's not what I was referring to, simply that "using reason on reason" equals "using language to speak about language" or similar "eating your own tail" statements.

But I follow you along the lines of yet another categorization as in schizophrenia versus rationality, etc.

That could be fruitful to pursue.


3:37 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Rationality and totality, which both represent hope and progress for Enlightenment thinkers,represent something else to us...There's a difference. How and why? I don't know how to "make a difference" without exploring this ...I'm not sure why what I am doing looks as if I wish to make things into yet another either-or dilemma.


4:10 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yusef, I agree (or at least that's how it has been understood in the canonical history of philosophy) that rationality represented hope and progress.

But totality? In what sense or in which texts did that represent hope and progress?

Isn't it almost immanent in the development of concepts that they morph into other meanings and planes and status?

Maybe we should have a graveyard for them, and just give birth to new ones.

I remember Kierkegaard's sigh, when he wrote that he wished we could send old and used-up concepts to the cleaner's and have them back, new and fresh.


4:53 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"But totality? In what sense or in which texts did that represent hope and progress?"

This is a very sketchy way of putting it, but as the subject-object duality came to present new problems for the theories of knowledge,the concept of totality, as subsumption of subject and object, presented itself as a solution. As achievement and working out of the dialectic,totality is seen as a kind of "higher plane".


5:03 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Isn't it almost immanent in the development of concepts that they morph into other meanings and planes and status?"

I think what's immanent is that the concepts ARE this morphing.

That's why I am trying to look (oops!an optical metaphor!) at the morphing.


5:06 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"As achievement and working out of the dialectic,totality is seen as a kind of "higher plane"."

Yes, you're right Yusef. I didn't quite think that far. Good point.

"I think what's immanent is that the concepts ARE this morphing."

That's an inspiring avenue to take. And very Deleuzian, too. That would be interesting to explore. I look forward to your thinking about that. I want to grope my way along those lines, too.


5:43 PM  
Blogger Christoffer said...

Orla, you are sounding like a broken record.

Or an advocate of some new-age selfhelp manual.

Or both.

1:33 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi again, Christoffer,

Well, a "broken record" means, I guess, that you think I'm repeating myself, right?

But how do you define repetition? Does it even exist? Isn't there always change involved?

And boy, if you read my comments as coming from an "advocate of some new-age self-help manual" I have REALLY expressed myself terribly poorly.

I loathe new-age self-help manuals.

Could you elaborate a bit?

Best wishes,


4:36 PM  
Blogger Christoffer said...

Orla, maybe you are confusing repetition with iteration. A mistake that may have some truth to it regarding your own discourse.

A definition of repetition is "A poetic device that repeats its self over and over again."

Show me where your poetry transcends itself and I will stop calling you a broken record.

9:35 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Christoffer,

Thanks for your response. What I'm trying to think and live through is a different interpretation of repetition. Let me try to follow the thoughts of Deleuze and explain - as best I can - how he reintroduced the concept which I find very inspiring.

The concept of repetition in the Deleuzian sense is indeed transformational. It is not a matter of the same thing occurring over and over again. For him repetition is connected to the power of difference (cf. his 1968 book Difference and Repetition) in terms of a productive process that creates variation in and through every repetition. It is to be understood in terms of discovery and experimentation. It allows new experiences, affects and expressions to emerge. To repeat is to begin again, to affirm the power of the new and the unforeseeable. In so far as life itself is described as a dynamic and active force of repetition producing difference, the force of which Deleuze encourages us to think of in terms of “becoming”, forces incorporate difference as they repeat, giving rise to mutation.

As a power of the new, repetition calls forth a terra incognita filled with a sense of novelty and unfamiliarity. In other words, repetition is more a matter of coexistence that succession.

For me that changes (about!) everything in its celebration of continuous becomings.

Best wishes,


2:54 PM  
Blogger Christoffer said...

Too much becoming is unhealthy for life. (Nietzsche)

1:49 AM  

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