Thursday, July 31, 2008

The Shadows of Totalization, Part IV

After my last post, I realized I may appear to be creating a symmetrically opposing position to Carl’s in his earliest posts. At that time Carl said, “Myth is totality,” and now I am saying something similar to, “rationality is totality.”

If we interpret the mythic as the irrational, and the irrational as a feature of the unconscious, while we also interpret the rational as a feature of the conscious, I am afraid our discussion will reduce to tedious and pointless questions about the conscious and unconscious such as, which is better? Which is more creative? Which provides access to reality? Which is more “effective”?

If our conversation did become polarized along the lines of these questions, no doubt it would soon enough become antagonistic—it would be based on an antagonism, the antagonism of conscious versus unconscious. But I don’t think either of us believes such an antagonism exists in reality—I know I do not. There is in fact fluidity, reciprocity, and interplay between conscious and unconscious…maybe even a “dialogue” of sorts. An eros. It is the eros I want to develop, not the antagonism.

I don’t want to crash heads, I want to go some place interesting.

However, because I do accept repression as a scientific fact, I in fact acknowledge some sort of antagonism between the conscious and the unconscious--some sort of suppressive function of the conscious over the unconscious and a subversive action of the unconscious on the conscious. These antagonisms—if such they be—greatly antedate emerging doctrines of rationality in the age of Reason or the age of Enlightenment, both very recent. Is there any particular reason to believe that rationality would sharpen the antagonism, make it deeper and more pronounced? Or, conversely, some way in which rationality could be used to harness the unconscious to reorient it to be a function of totalization? Any sense to the idea that rationality tilts to repression? Must it?

Sunday, July 27, 2008

The Shadows of Totalization, Part III

I am making a very important assumption: that rationality and consciousness are strongly linked if not exactly identical. I am also making my concept of totalization be a process of rationality and thus of consciousness as well—I am making totalization be a drive of consciousness, (if "drive of consciousness" can even be sensible.)

I want totalization to be considered a process by which everything comes to be under conscious control, a way of bringing everything into the realm and reign of the conscious mind. Sex, death, labor, desire, emotion, belief—any aspect of biological or psychological or other area of life, or of existence in general, (it’s significant to discover I cannot without much additional effort think of a way of describing or listing “life” phenomena without using a “study of” suffix “—ology”) is shaped and formed so that it may be apprehendable by consciousness.

I take for granted that such processes as examination and study can be considered conscious processes. (Or else nothing can be taken as a conscious process. Right? See, I feel a little shaky.) I also take for granted that actions such as making a choice require the participation of consciousness. (An unconscious choice isn’t really a choice, I think.) I can’t conceive of rationality without including processes of examination (of evidence, of reasons, of reasoning, questioning,) and study, and of the weighing of options in making choices. Therefore, I can’t conceive of a rationality which isn’t a process of consciousness.

Once the requirement for examination, study, and the weighing of options is recognized (as it began to be in the age of Enlightenment, when “belief” becomes no real reason or basis for very much of anything,) I don’t see how or why it would ever stop being required, until everything had been examined, studied, and investigated. (Which happens when? Ever? But in my opinion the significance of this being a never ending requirement can’t register within rationality as such, and in a way gets treated as if it is not significant, somehow.) The requirement for consciousness, of consciousness, becomes total.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

The Shadows of Totalization, Part II

As we use them in our conversation, these appear to have an overtone of totality or totalization,

Gestalt cognition;
Anything claiming a power to resist critique.

These aren’t the same, and not all seem closely related or easily connected to each other, (though no doubt we could connect them should we wish to do so.) But I think some of our confusion regarding the extent of the Enlightenment’s totalizing tendencies arise because we don’t distinguish them very well. For example, Kant is clearly anti-dogmatic, and yet is also a systematic philosopher of the "grand Germanic tradition."

The Shadows of Totalization, Part I

Rationality bears some relationship (or could these be one and the same?) to the idea of consciousness—it is as if whatever is not conscious is not rational and cannot become rational, though it may perhaps be rationalized,(Egads!)

The idea of totalization represents an objective-- a goal—of rationality, by which everything is brought into consciousness, and thus into rationality. Whatever resists the process of totalization (the process of orienting whatever exists within a framework of the conscious) can still have a place within rationality (and thus, paradoxically, within totalization, the very process which it resists) through a cordoning off into a remarkably “catch-all” dumpster, garbage can category defined as the dualistic opposite of what it is resisting. In this case, the dumpster is the the category of the irrational.

To make everything conscious--to allow nothing to lurk within the shadows of the unknown-- to catalogue everything within comprehensive databases, summonable as needed for conscious purposes--a totality of consciousness--(where there was id, now there will be ego)--to banish the shadows--to drain the swamps--seems both a noble and straightforward aim. I can't find "conscious" "reasons" to not give it my full support.

And yet—those flickering shadows cast by this wondrous luminous “totality” which consciousness and its rationality meticulously forms and organizes—those shadows against the cave wall, where the benighted affix their unenlightened gaze and waste away their hours and their days in a life not worth living—those shadows continue to exert their fascination even for the enlightened, do they not?

(“If we are asked, ‘Do we now live in an enlightened age?’ the answer is, ‘No,’ but we do live in an age of enlightenment.” -Immanuel Kant, 1784; “If we are asked, ‘Do we now live in an enlightened age?’ the answer is, ‘No,’ but we do live in an age of enlightenment.” -Yusef Asabiyah the 1st, 2008; “If we are asked, ‘Do we now live in an enlightened age?’ the answer is, ‘No,’ but we do live in an age of enlightenment.” -Yusef Asabiyah the 38th, 2884.)

Would an enlightened age be an age when the task of rationality accomplishes its goal of totalization? An age when everything has been either brought into full consciousness or is sealed, airtight, into the dumpster category—AND MOST SIGNIFICANTLY-- the attraction of the dumpster category, its power—if only of seduction—fails to elicit any desire whatsoever from anyone anywhere? In this enlightened age, does no one want to look into the shadows (through the knowledge these are "only" shadows, insubstantial,not worth the time?) or does the light of rationality burn so brightly no shadows are cast,anywhere,at any time?

If the latter, do I lament my life in an age of enlightenment rather than an enlightened age, or thank my lucky stars? If enlightenment becomes universal,is vision extended to everyone, or do we all go blind through too bright a light and no visual contrast? Is it a curse or a blessing to discover we are not totally enlightened?

Friday, July 25, 2008

Why Habermas?

It's impossible to do justice to the complexity of Habermas' thought, for several reasons. One is that he is a systematic, or system-building, philosopher, in the grand Germanic tradition. Another is the comprehensiveness of his system: it touches on philosophy of language, epistemology, social theory, ethical theory, philosophy of history, political theory, and philosophy of law. It's probably not an exaggeration to call Habermas the most systematic German philosopher since Hegel.

This already raises some questions -- for example, is there a tension between the systematicity in defense of the Enlightenment and the notion of the Enlightenment as a ceaseless critique of totality?

Habermas, of course, presents his systematicity as a signal virtue of his approach. As he sees it, the Frankfurt School generation of critical theory ran into a dead-end, and they did so because they had an inadequate (because one-sided) theory of rationality. This already indicates something fascinating and controversial about Habermas's approach. He claims that

(1) Adorno and Horkheimer and Marcuse ran into a dead-end;
(2) They did so because they had an inadequate theory;
(3) The inadequate theory was an inadequate theory about the nature of rationality.

These claims are all indispensable for Habermas' attempt to revive critical theory on the basis of a new theory of rationality. Someone who disagrees with these assertions will not be getting on board the Habermas Express.

At the heart of Habermas' version of critical theory is the thought that critique necessarily presupposes normative standards. Thus the question is raised, where are those norms going to come from? On the one hand, they cannot be transcendent, God-given norms -- if the norms do not come from ourselves, then we not truly autonomous, in the Kantian sense, when we apply those norms to ourselves. (Critique, norm, and autonomy are closely intertwined here!)

On the other hand, the norms deployed in the work of critique cannot be grounded merely in particular communities at particular times and places, Habermas argues, because they would give in to relativism. (Habermas and Pope Benedict XVI share a hatred of relativism. The disagreement between them is whether relativism can be rejected without rejecting secularism.) Critique requires a moment of universal validity -- when we say that cruelty is bad, or that torture is wrong, we're not saying that it's bad for us -- we're saying that it is bad as such.

The defense and continuation of the Enlightenment, Habermas thinks, requires a commitment to these two theses: that the norms of critique must be immanent rather than transcendent, and they must be universal rather than particular. The question therefore arises: how can we think of the norms of critique as immanent universals?

His solution to this problem lies in his "theory of communicative action." The immanent universals which underlie social critique are the structures of human language. He calls such structures "quasi-transcendental." They are not purely formal and a priori in the Kantian sense, because they can be empirically investigated by linguists and sociologists, but they are trans-historical, i.e. they operate in history but are not transformed by historical events. The quasi-transcendental structures are the norms that underlie different types of "speech acts" (here Habermas borrows from Austin and Searle). We are oriented through language in three directions: objectively, intersubjectively, and subjectively. Our objective orientation is regulated by the norm of truth; our intersubjective orientation is regulated by the norm of rightness; and our subjective orientation is oriented by the norm of sincerity.

Habermas argues that the Frankfurt School project failed, or ran into a dead-end, because it neglected the intersubjective dimension of human language. The Frankfurters correctly criticized the subject-object model of rationality, but without attention to the intersubjective dimension, they couldn't see that there is another model of rationality -- rationality as dialogue. In Habermas' theory, the problem with modernity is that "rationalization" is one-sided -- we've rationalized our relations with the natural world through science and technology, but we haven't rationalized our relations with ourselves through dialogue oriented towards mutual understanding.

In other words, Adorno was wrong; rationalization is not the problem. The problem is a one-sided, insufficient, inadequate rationalization.

Habermas' attitude towards Foucault changed somewhat over the course of their interactions. At first Habermas thought of Foucault as an irrationalist, and one can see this also in how Habermasians have criticized Foucault and Foucaultians. By the end of Foucault's life Habermas had come to see that Foucault was not an irrationalist, but was continuing the Enlightenment project in a very different way.

From my vantage point, I would say that the real issues between Habermas and Foucault concern norms and rationality. Is there such a thing as "Reason" as Habermas maintains in the Kantian-Hegelian tradition? Or is there only a plurality of "rationalities" (of medicine, of psychiatry, of law, of punishment, of biology) as Foucault argues? And: does the work of critique require the presupposition of quasi-transcendental structures? Or can it get by with a much weaker claim?

Ultimately, I would like to be both a Habermasian of a sort and a Foucaultian of a sort, but I haven't yet figured out how to do that. I also think that Habermas misses out on something of fundamental importance in Adorno and Marcuse -- but that's a subject for a later post.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Rationality and Totality, Part XV

Hey Carl,

I would like to invite you to do a "guest" spot at Enlightenment Underground on Habermas-- I want to give his critique of the Enlightenment and of Foucault's Enlightenment a better representation than I would be able to do on my own. I don't want what's happening at the Underground to become dominated by my own biases, on whatever level.

I have recently mused on one of your old posts where you speak of a Habermasian critique of the Enlightenment from "within" the Enlightenment, contrasted with those critiques of the Enlightenment from "without" (e.g. Nietzsche's,) and of your favoring the former. One over the other becomes very significant if you proceed, as you once did, to make Enlightenment an overcoming of totality.

Some ambiguity arises in understanding what you meant by "within" the Enlightenment. It is impossible to know at this point in time what you include as within. Of the utmost importance to determine is whether "totalization" is within. I think where you stand with regard to this needs to be elaborated, and if you could take the time to do that, our discussion would be enriched.

I think you are correct to read Nietzsche's (and others--all of whom I am biased in favor of,) critique of the Enlightenment as drawing on a critical terminology not used by the Enlightenment. That Nietzsche and these others are able to do so is also what makes their philosophies an overcoming of totalization, as I understand overcoming of totalization to occur. On the other hand, it would be extraordinarily exciting and delightful to see how an overcoming of totalization could occur where such a drawing on the "without" was disallowed. (As illegitimate, irrational?) At the very least, we might be able to get a better picture of where the differences lie in these two readings.



Friday, July 18, 2008

Rationality and Totality, Part XIV

-Meret Oppenheim,Etwas unter einem Heuhaufen,1969

The power of the combi-permu modality is to be able to draw upon and utilize any force from anywhere at any time in any way in order to “get things moving.”

Constraints on the method aren’t part of the modality—they are not rules, standards, or conditions which determine which connections may or may not be made, as is the case in the recti-method.

The "constraints" which appear upon the interplay of the combi-permu modality are the result of the interactions of forces becoming discovered in the course of the application of the combi-permu modality. The discovery of these interacting or interlocking or even sedimented forces is one of the most positive outcomes of the combi-permu modality. The “constraint” is discovered and its discovery is a delight, though undoubtedly upon further reflection one can become frustrated by its existence, but only if one lapses back into passivity, which is probably precisely what “upon further reflection” indicates—lapsing back into passivity.

The “constraint”, which is the discovered block of incapacity to combine and permute, actually opens up all sorts of new realms for combination and permutation. In this sense, it is wrong to call it a constraint—and we could call it an “affirmation”, without being in error or guilty of putting a smiley face on in the face of adversity. For example in the case of Meret Oppenheim’s fur-lined tea cup, one must ask oneself why be unsettled, disturbed, and surprised? Why does the tea cup have cognitive effects? Such an object is not really very strange—not really that far from objects used in our everyday life—it’s only a tea cup, a strange little tea cup…So what? What’s artful about that? But this tea cup is actually a great work of art, and thank god someone had the soul to see it as such, to pass it on to us. The tea cup does "get things moving." It discovers geographical features within our psyches of which we were unaware. (And of which I believe we would have remained unaware if we restricted our investigatory practices to those within rationality.) It is surprising and revelatory because it hits up against a “constraint” within our shared practices of combi-permu. It locates a block of incapacity and is a protest against it.

Surrealism—it has been reduced to a freaky genre. But I think we return some of its seismic potential when we see it as opening European rationality to combinations and permutations European rationality had forcefully excluded for centuries,

“We are still living under the reign of logic, but the logical processes of our time apply only to the solution of problems of secondary interest. The absolute rationalism which remains in fashion allows for the consideration of only those facts narrowly relevant to our experience. Logical conclusions, on the other hand, escape us. Needless to say, boundaries have been assigned even to ex- perience. It revolves in a cage from which release is becoming increasingly difficult. It too depends upon immediate utility and is guarded by common sense. In the guise of civilization, under the pretext of progress, we have suc- ceeded in dismissing from our minds anything that, rightly or wrongly, could be regarded as superstition or myth; and we have proscribed every way of seeking the truth which does not conform to convention. It would appear that it is by sheer chance that an aspect of intellectual life - and by far the most important in my opinion � about which no one was supposed to be concerned any longer has, recently, been brought back to light. Credit for this must go to Freud. On the evidence of his discoveries a current of opinion is at last developing which will enable the explorer of the human mind to extend his investigations, since he will be empowered to deal with more than merely summary realities. Perhaps the imagination is on the verge of recovering its rights. If the depths of our minds conceal strange forces capable of augmenting or conquering those on the surface, it is in our greatest interest to capture them; first to capture them and later to submit them, should the occasion arise, to the control of reason. The analysts themselves can only gain by this. But it is im- portant to note that there is no method fixed a priori for the execution of this enterprise, that until the new order it can be considered the province of poets as well as scholars, and that its success does not depend upon the more or less capricious routes which will be followed.

It was only fitting that Freud should appear with his critique on the dream. In fact, it is incredible that this important part of psychic activity has still attracted so little attention. (For, at least from man's birth to his death, thought presents no solution of continuity; the sum of dreaming moments - even taking into consideration pure dream alone, that of sleep - is from the point of view of time no less than the sum of moments of reality, which we shall confine to waking moments.) I have always been astounded by the extreme disproportion in the importance and seriousness assigned to events of the waking moments and to those of sleep by the ordinary observer. Man, when he ceases to sleep, is above all at the mercy of his memory, and the memory normally delights in feebly retracing the circumstance of the dream for him, depriving it of all actual consequence and obliterating the only determinant from the point at which he thinks he abandoned this constant hope, this anxiety, a few hours earlier. He has the illusion of continuing something worthwhile. The dream finds itself relegated to a parenthesis, like the night. And in general it gives no more counsel than the night.”-- ANDRÉ BRETON, From Le Manifeste du Surréalisme, 1924, First Surrealist Manifesto.

Surrealism—a bunch of freaky nonsense and BS and so naturally I am very fond of it. However I do think Breton’s comments bear directly upon the serious matters we wish to and need to investigate. I don’t plan to put on my “aesthete’s hat” while doing so. I’m going to put on my hard hat. A granitic pluton trembled and shook the European plateau…There was a whole lot of shaking going on. I want to feel those shakes to rediscover something about the “constraints” of rationality—what those "constraints" indicate about the relationship of rationality and totality.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Rationality and Totality, Part XIII

In a recent gold-tinged fog (or was it silver-tinged?) I mused on these statements by Carl,

“Habermas insists that there is a distinction to be drawn between those who subject the Enlightenment to critical scrutiny from within it, and those who attempt to step outside of the Enlightenment by positing some standpoint that does not itself fall back into an Enlightenment problematic.” –Carl Sachs, On the Very Idea of Enlightenment, March 4, 2007.


“On the other hand, what I have absorbed or accepted is the thought that the Enlightenment not only can but must be criticized from within the resources that are made possible by the Enlightenment itself. This is not to say that the Enlightenment owns a monopoly on critical self-reflection -- rather, that the Enlightenment can be read as a cipher for the attempt to democratize critical reflection.” –Carl Sachs, On the Very Idea of Enlightenment, March 4, 2007.

I assume that to subject the Enlightenment to critical scrutiny from within it means to subject the Enlightenment to a critique which would be considered rational such that rationality is understood as it was understood by Enlightenment thinkers.

Of course, the “very idea of Enlightenment” is something which we broach only tangentially at the Enlightenment Underground, even now. My opinion is that part of the reason for this is that the relationship between rationality and totality has been too frightening for us to directly take up. We suspect this relationship to be very strong, and as we are for the one, rationality, and against the other, totality, we practice Enlightenment kiss and tell. The kiss is okay, but what’s best is telling about it.

I note the peculiarity of this attitude, here,

“What has me perplexed and fascinated at this point in the conversation is how to connect James and Wittgenstein (also Adorno) with "the Enlightenment." Part of the trick, I now think, is to see how the critique of "absolutism" and "intellectualism" in James is a critique of totality that belongs to a conversation shared with Wittgenstein, with Foucault, and even with Adorno.”—Carl Sachs, Pluralism as Critique of Totality, December 20, 2006.

I think that the critique of “absolutism” and “intellectualism” in James is indeed a critique of totality and that James’s critique of totality matches up with some ideas within Wittgenstein, Foucault, or “even with Adorno.” However, I would call it more than a trick if anything resembling James’s critiques of “absolutism” and “intellectualism” can be pulled from out of “the Enlightenment.”

If in order to pursue whether there is a critique of “absolutism” and “intellectualism” in the Enlightenment, I think we first need to be aware that we are on somewhat less than solid ground if we shift from the terms absolutism and intellectualism to the term totality. There is also tremendous danger of equivocation in trying to scrutinize the Enlightenment in terms of its attitude towards absolutism. If absolutism is to be understood in terms of monarchy and church (neither had many democratic features back then,) and the ideologies underlying them, there is no doubt of the existence of a critique of absolutism in Enlightenment thinking. On the other hand, I think there are very strong features of absolutism in the concept of rationality as rationality was understood by the Enlightenment. The problem of absolutism presents itself in Enlightenment thought, in a very different-- I would say disguised-- way. We miss this, though, if we think of absolutism ONLY as absolutism was thought back then.

This is the key problem we face at Enlightenment Underground: can we or can we not bring these strong features of absolutism to light if we MUST restrict ourselves to criticizing the Enlightenment using the critical terms of the Enlightenment?

We are asking ourselves, or trying to ask ourselves: to what extent is the rationality of the Enlightenment rational? If we MUST make the assumptions made by the Enlightenment thinkers themselves about what is or is not rational, the answer to our question comes back rather suddenly, if not instantaneously: of course Enlightenment rationality is completely rational! And then,if this is the answer, all of my own probing discontent, doubt, and dissatisfaction with the Enlightenment (amounting to aversion) is exposed for what it is: IRRATIONAL.

One thing more I want to add: whether we can or cannot be allowed to go “outside” the Enlightenment to question, challenge, and criticize the Enlightenment, has everything to do with whether the Enlightenment was or was not totalizing. If I can't allow myself to leave off with the critical resources provided by the Enlightenment to criticize the Enlightenment, I don't know about anyone else,but that sounds totalizing to me.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Rationality and Totality, Part XII

I am presenting two thought-production methods (or concept creation methods): a recti-method which I think may be a predicate calculus, and a combi-permu method which is a probabilistic method, a rigorous method of imagining and accounting for all possible associations.

The two methods don’t exactly compete: to some extent they co-exist. But let me cut to the chase: I think the recti-method has pretensions to being the method, of being the way to generate the best representation of reality(of thought, to think?)—it is fancied as the significant, or important, method. My position, which I am just now stating (and am far from demonstrating or proving) is that the recti-method is just one of a myriad, a non-denumerable,set of combinations or permutations to be generated via the combi-permu method; it has its advantages and disadvantages, it is useful in some situations but harmful in many others; the recti-method is not, by any predicate assignable to predicate calculus, above and beyond the other calculi: it is not a regent calculus reigning honorably and nobly "above or beyond."

Yesterday, Christoffer said,

“One thing is for sure, we need some way of treating our thoughts differently. If we were to treat them all equally, we would go nuts, and I mean that in a bad way: suicidal, unable to function.”

I agree: we need some way of treating our thoughts differently. However, my point is that the recti-method is not only treated differently, it is treated as if superior. It is treated as if it is warranted with the power of domination—the literal power to exclude thoughts generated via other pathways from entering consciousness.

In regard to the dominating recti-method, I found this comment by Jacek Malinowski and Andrzej Pietruszczak to be evidential,

“When we look at any system of formal symbolic logic, they all have one conspicuous feature in common. All involve the possibility of predicating properties of objects. In Aristotelian logic we have what by modern standards are relatively opaque ways [note by Yusef: optical metaphor!] of formulating such predicates as “All men are mortal”, “Socrates is a man,” and “Socrates is mortal.” Symbolic logic permits formulations that exhibit the internal logical structure of these sentences, that makes it even more perspicuous [do I need to note these metaphors?] that the basis of all logic is the possibility of true or false predications of logically possible properties to logically possible objects. Standard first-order or predicate-quantificational logic permits a detailed formal representation of the way in which object terms are combined with property terms, regardless of the ontic status of the objects or properties. In defining a semantic domain of logically possible predications, which is to say of logically possible propositions, predicational combinatorial possibilities provide the propositional building blocks for a formal theory of deductively valid inference.

Logical formalisms express more rigorously and precisely, some better than others, a corresponding basic concept, without which we cannot undertake the study of ontology or any other subject. Nothing is meaningful, true or false, except by virtue of a property being truly or falsely predicated of an object or objects. We cannot even say that a combinatorial ontology is correct or incorrect without attributing a property to an object. The logical possibility of combining objects with properties, represented in the most articulate logical notations as the combination of object terms with property terms, is the foundation of every system of logic. To the extent that logic represents the structure of reasoning [!!!] it equally underlies the possibility of thought [!!!!], and as we shall see, of reality insofar as it is thinkable. If we are to consider pure philosophical ontology exclusively as a discipline, then this is the explanatory level at which we should expect to discover its most fundamental concepts [!!!!!!!!!!!!].” -- from, Essays in Logic and Ontology, By Jacek Malinowski, Andrzej Pietruszczak, Published in 2006 by

Today I am unable to comment on this excerpt as extensively as I would like and can only rather simplistically draw attention to the rhetoric of this passage(which I am taking as an excellent example and representative of its kind—and if anyone thinks I am in error in doing so, please let me know,)some of which I’ve indicated with exclamation marks, above.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Rationality and Totality, Part XI

As an example of a production of the combi-permu modality, I offer Meret Oppenheim’s fur-lined cup, Le Déjeuner en fourrure, 1936.

Nothing original, unconventional, or surprising about a tea cup or some fur—nothing unusual about lining something with fur—but something entirely startling, unsettling, hilarious and delightful about lining a tea cup with fur…a choice of combination which does not suggest itself from within the framework in which we usually operate.

This framework from within which we usually operate is, I believe, a framework of functionality. If we were to attempt to deduce (via recti-method) a new tea cup, I think we would attempt to design a tea cup which would give “better,” or perhaps “more,” functionality. It’s easy to judge why the fur-lined tea cup is not a part of our practical reality but comes to us via the surrealists. “It isn’t very functional.”

“I wouldn’t like that,” I think, imagining myself drinking tea from a fur-lined cup, putting a fur-lined spoon into my mouth, licking the food from off of the hair. “And then I wouldn’t like cleaning up the mess afterwards, as that would be difficult to do and would cause a lot of the hair to come out, ruining the implements quickly,” I reckon. “How unhygienic,” I judge, as I think of bacteria growing in the food particles I would be unable to completely clean from between the hairs.

Beyond the functionality of a porcelain tea cup, there is something reassuring about its cold hardness. I think I prefer, as a matter of actual aesthetic experience and taste, the cold hardness to the soft warmth of the fur-lined alternative. But that’s probably not true. It probably is not a matter of "actual aesthetic experience and taste," but rather of convention. Never in my life have I used a furry utensil. I'm not accustomed to them. If I try to think, purely in terms of sensation, what it would be like to use furry utensils, I could imagine that as pleasant. I seem to derive an inordinate pleasure from licking hair in the one case where I do so. I also like warmth. The tea itself is warm to hot; it would be warmer from an insulated cup. One could come to prefer, as a matter of actual aesthetic experience, a fur-lined tea cup.

What then of the practical difficulties of a fur-lined tea cup (cleaning up afterwards, etc.?) We could, if we decided we preferred the actual aesthetic experience of a fur-lined tea cup, devise techniques, instruments, and technologies for making these practical difficulties much less so, for alleviating or even removing them, if we so choose. Even if these newly devised techniques, instruments, and technologies involved some greater expense, (not necessarily the case,) we could choose to bear those costs as the cost of our pleasure. We do that all the time. In an age of technological prowess, we have the power to make way for all manner of impractical and dysfunctional combination and permutation, using our technology to remove the impractical and dysfunctional barriers of these different combinations and permutations.

Rationality and Totality, Part X

In my last “rationality and totality” post, I very briefly described what I take to be two “thought-productive” methods or modalities, which I distinguished as the recti-method and the combi-permu method. (In the previous post, I called the latter method “comb-perm”, but because that sounds too much like something from a hair dresser, I’ve made a change.) Upon reflection, I realize I may be trying to take up the Deleuze-Guattarian concept of tree versus rhizome; or, I may be trying to compare a predicate calculus to the thought processes underlying probability, (is that a combinatorial ontology?); or both; or maybe not. Is a “tree”, or “arborescence,” as thought of by Deleuze-Guattari, a thought-production of predicate calculus? (A systematic deduction.) Does a Deleuzean rhizome refer to the thought-productions of a combinatorial ontology? Is the Deleuzean concept of virtuality a variant of combinatorial ontology?

Why does a system of deduction feel clear and clean? Why does probability seem messy and dissolute, lacking “integrity”? Is there not almost a moral distinction between the two, as if deduction were upright and sound and workmanlike, while dealing in probabilities, no matter how scientifically and strictly, retains a feeling of the gambling tables, the casino? Descartes becomes a thin, hollow glow; Pascal yields to the heart. You can’t trust the heart.

Now, switching gears and changing directions in a way which may indicate deep underlying psychic unsoundness in my brain, I want to communicate one of the reasons I am trying to interrogate these “thought-productive” modalities in the first place: I want to understand how and why one thought comes to dominate other thoughts. Why would one thought, or one type of thought, come to be considered to have more value or validity or correctness or oomph or quality or whatever you want to call it, than others? This is, I think, a remarkable phenomenon.

We don’t believe, even in our most idle zombie-esque moments of mental lassitude, in a natural aristocracy of thought-kings and queens presiding over lower-born ones, the thought-serfs. We do believe that some kinds of thoughts deserve authority. We do believe we have good ideas and bad; we are aware of a lot of mental sludge lulling around up there in the cranium. Where would these moral-like qualities attributed to thinking come from? Did the good ideas raise themselves up from the primordial sludge through hard work, ritual purifications practiced rigorously, through self-improvement programs, through proving themselves “useful”? Is the mental sludge packed with precious metals which can be mined and smeltered and sculpted or autopoetically self-molded into the new good ideas which will preside (or reign, or look down upon and govern) over the future? Is it fertile? In fact, is it used as fertilizer?

I sit on my stoop in idle reverie, taking way too long to lace my boots. I stare into space and see other worlds taking form there. A sudden judgment cuts through my gold-tinged fog: you’re wasting time! There is better to be done than this dreaming! If you don’t get a move on, you’re going to be in big trouble, buddy boy. And I do get a move on…I do obey. I move from my pleasant dream into the real world, which really had better not reveal itself to me as, rather than opposed to dream, opposed to pleasant; in other words, an ugly dream. The sudden judgment needs to have the authority to banish the ill-formed clouds from my mind.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Return Redux Return

Andre Pierre Colombat generously offers us a candidate for “Deleuzian” affirmation. He says that it is an active negation,

“…according to Kant a distinction must be made between passive and active negations. So, for instance, if a proposition states that “A believes P,” its passive negation would be “No (A believes P),” while its active negation would be “A believes non-P”. The negative reigns over the former, but in the latter the negation appears only as the shadow of another affirmation. In a Deleuzian context, the first “passive” negation constructs a relation between being and nothingness with the difference characterized as a nonrepetition. The second “active” negation renders thinking as a battlefield of forces continually affecting each other. The “active” negation would mark only the point where two different or even opposite powers of affirmation come into contact with one another.

All of Deleuze’s work revolves around active negation and denounces the myths and illusions of representations based primarily on passive negation.”

(The above quotation comes from Colombat’s wonderfully titled essay,Deleuze and the Three Powers of Literature and Philosophy: To Demystify, to Experiment, to Create, which invites us to consider affirmation as an infitival power. My copy of the essay is contained in A Deleuzian Century? Volume 96, number 3, of the South Atlantic Quarterly, Summer 1997, which I bought at a used book store for $0.50. The Quarterly was repackaged,republished, and reissued in 1999 as A Deleuzian Century? by Duke University Press. If you buy a copy from, currently expect to pay $22.95 new,or $21.00, used. Repetition with price difference!)

First, notice that Colombat’s notion of Deleuzian affirmation operates under the auspices of negation—it is explicitly negation-- even though admittedly the negation is considered to be “active.” However, was not Deleuze's intention to make a “positive” affirmation—in other words an affirmation which did not first require “ox eye” inversions through precursors of negation?

Second, notice that Colombat’s notion of Deleuzian affirmation does not require “eternal return” or “difference” to work… Colombat's concept of Deleuze's concept of affirmation abandons the distinctive of Deleuze's concept. Colombat has taken "active negation" from Kant and the neo-Kantians. Is it plausible that a Deleuzian notion of affirmation would unburden itself of “eternal return” or “difference” to reconnect with the Kantian tradition?

Perhaps the qualification of active negation as “active” is meant to remove active negation from the realm of the negative, to qualify this kind of negation as affirmation. I think that’s the explicit intention because Colombat says that in active negation, the negation appears only as a shadow of another affirmation. How does Colombat know his portrayal of the relationship and interplay of negation and affirmation in "active negation" is more than "shadow play"?

Are there good reasons to call one form of negation "passive" and the other "active"? Only in the realm of the metaphorical, I think. We could as easily call the Kantian passive negation active or the Kantian active negation passive—-what actually changes if we switch things around? There’s only word play in this-- a whiff of propaganda and of rhetoric in the air. As a matter of energy discharged in brain, the thought of “active negation” versus a thought of “passive negation,” are equivalent. One is as active or inactive as the other. We could call them "smigler" and "fpigler" negation if we wanted. The distinction of “active” and “passive” negation revolves within verbal and symbolic circuitries-- it's not real. We're easily fooled because we are all biased in favor of what's active over what's passive. It's "natural" for us to associate the active with affirmation. This does not necessarily make "the active" be "the affirmative," however.

We need a non-metaphorical affirmation; we need an affirmation within which the divorce from negation is more than purely verbal or symbolic.

The terrible trouble, and the crucial risk, is that if we cannot devise or conceive of systems of affirmation which DO NOT essentially require negation, we CANNOT think difference; we CANNOT make difference, (make a difference.) Difference only appears as negation. In these systems,difference IS negation;negation IS difference. What’s at stake is that within systems of negation, we don’t get affirmation or difference…Sure, we have the words affirmation and difference...But we are stuck... We go round and round in symbolic fools’ play, in bland repetitions, we don’t return within the eternal return (or however else one might wish to phrase this. The point is extremely important and it is sad how difficult it is to phrase the point vividly.) THERE IS NO CHANGE, NO BECOMING.

Saturday, July 05, 2008

Negation, Affirmation: More Than A Rhyme.

Expanding or contracting, flowing or ebbing on our discussion about negation and affirmation here’s a collage of quotes by Deleuze creating Nietzsche,

The negative becomes a power of affirming: it is subordinated to affirmation and passes into the service of an excess of life. Negation is no longer the form under which life conserves all that is reactive in itself, but is, on the contrary, the act by which it sacrifices all its reactive forms. In the man who wants to perish, the man who wants to be overcome, negation changes sense, it becomes a power of affirming, a condition of the development of the affirmative, a premonitory sign and a zealous servant of affirmation as such.

There is no other power but affirmation, no other quality, no other element: the whole of negation is converted in its substance, transmuted in its quality – nothing remains of its own power or autonomy. This is the conversion of heavy into light, of low into high, of pain into joy. This trinity of dance, play, and laughter creates the transubstantiation of nothingness, the transmutation of the negative and the transvaluation or change of power of negation.

We are now perhaps in a position to understand Nietzsche’s texts concerning affirmation, negation and their relations. In the first place, negation and affirmation are opposed as two qualities of the will to power, two ratios of the will to power. They are both opposites, but also wholes which exclude their opposite. We can say that negation has dominated our thought, our ways of feeling and evaluating, up to the present day. In fact it is constitutive of man. And with man the whole world sinks and sickens, the whole of life is depreciated, everything known slides towards its own nothingness. Conversely, affirmation is only manifested above man, outside man, in the Overman which it produces and in the unknown that it brings with it. But the superhuman, the unknown, is also the whole which drives out the negative. The Overman as species is in fact “the superior species of everything that is.”

Zarathustra says yes and amen in a “tremendous and unbounded way”, he is himself “the eternal affirmation of all things”.

While the negative reigns it is vain to seek a speck of affirmation, either in earth or in the other world: what we call affirmation is a sad, grotesque phantom, shaking the chains of the negative. But at the moment of transmutation, negation is dissipated - nothing remains of it as independent power - neither as quality nor ratio.

(Gilles Deleuze: Nietzsche and Philosophy, 1962, (English translation, 1983, p. 176ff.)

(Picture of Deleuze embraced by youthful affirmation)

Return of the Rerun

We intend to discover or invent an affirmation worthy of the project of creating a repetition with difference of the Enlightenment, or to say it with more specificity (and risk), to create a multiplicity-Enlightenment.

Very recently, Orla had this to say about Deleuze’s powers of affirmation,

“In much the same manner Deleuze’s philosophy is an absolute rejection of the powers of the negative. His theory of the event, his redefinition of the concept, and his open system of thought protects his work from nihilism.”

Deleuze is here thought to achieve the affirmative because of his “absolute rejection” of the powers of the negative, and the workings of his “open system” of thought, which protects his work from nihilism.

However, this characterization of affirmation fails to take into account the negation and denial of “absolute rejection” or to consider how we can speak, (if we can,) of a Deleuzian “open system” which is based at least in part on actions of “absolute rejection.”

I think my own philosophical preoccupations become clear quickly enough to anyone reading this blog, but I want to point out that I do not consider this activity I frequently engage in where I point out the negativity of this or that form of “affirmation”, or the closure of this or that “openness” to be of my true concerns.

I think what Orla’s concept of affirmation comes down to in the above-quoted statement is a negation of negation—affirmation is seen as a negation of negation…We get to the affirmative by absolutely rejecting (negating) the negative. Whether this is the best concept of affirmation does remain contested on many levels but what I do know is that this conception of affirmation is not Deleuze’s, and to take it as such is a mistake.

The role Deleuze appears to play (and Nietzsche, too) in this Orlaen (at least it’s not Orwellian!) psychodrama of affirmation is revealing: he’s the Thunder God who has hurled bolts of lightning down upon the dirty, weak, insolent, and unwashed “negative forces” and banished them from his own wondrous Kingdom of Heaven.

Orla elaborates what he meant by Deleuze’s powers affirmation, quoting from André Pierre Colombat(in Three Powers of Literature and Philosophy from A Deleuzian Century? ed. by Ian Buchanan, 1999, p. 207),

“He combines the affirmative forces of Nietzscheanism with the active powers of Spinozist thought so as to strive for Rimbaud’s reinvention of life itself. Death is not characterized in a negative manner. To use a neo-Kantian and constructivist distinction, death is not considered the passive negation of life, but rather to be endorsed as the active negation of actual forms of life.”

I don’t think it would be fair to criticize Colombat’s lack of specificity in speaking of Nietzsche’s affirmative forces or the active powers of Spinozist thought—maybe he does elsewhere in this essay—I don’t remember. For our purposes, it is dangerous to take examples from anyone’s philosophy—Deleuze’s,Nietzsche’s, or Spinoza’s—and declare they are indeed affirmations, because we don’t yet own the power to make the distinction between affirmation and negation and therefore can’t know what is or is not an example of one or the other. I think Deleuze does better than to take what he likes from Spinoza, combine it with what he likes from Nietzsche, and declare it a reinvention of life itself, but how he does better is not really in our sights yet. We must remain critical of claims that even these,our philosophical or poetical heroes,achieve a mode of affirmation. And we must question much further and more deeply whether active negation works as an understanding of affirmation, for Deleuze or anyone.

Friday, July 04, 2008

Rationality and Totality, Part IX

I can take any work of philosophy or literature and identify themes or memes or ideas or concepts which I can equate to a letter symbol. To these thought elements (however I wish to describe them, or cut and dice them,) I can attach logical operators (according to any scheme of logical operation, or all schemes of logical operation, applied successively,) which I could then analyze to observe whether the work worked correctly, according to the rules governing the use of the logical operators.

Alternatively, I can identify the thought elements of the work, which I can then combine or permute according to the well-established procedures of combination or permutation, to “create” or “produce” a stunning array of new works, which become a garden of forking paths within which, indistinguishable, the first or “original” work reposes as one among the many. My five-year old laptop computer is capable of performing the operations of combination or permutation (or the logical operations mentioned above,) in less than a second, even on the most complicated works of culture. Instead of using my computer to perform combinations or permutations, I could use my scissors to make a “cut-up” in the manner of Burroughs and Gysin, which manner I believe to be one of permutation-combination I am talking about.

Personally, I have enjoyed what results from either the first or second methods, (as applied by low-tech or high-tech laborers of thought.) The first method, which I will call a “rectification” method, can be electrifying in its lucidity; the second method, which I will call a “combperm” method, may give a result which is delightfully unexpected and “innovative and new,” (even though all elements of final result were given beforehand—that there can be such surprise in such a case is part of what I am hoping to be able to investigate.) Both methods may result in the production of humor: in the latter case it might be slapstick or silly, while in the former, it would be the laughing at blunders—something which I like not to indulge in or else I would have to allow others to laugh at me almost nonstop.

But: isn’t there something grotesque and unsettling in allowing either the first or second method being called “creative” or “productive”? Does this sense of the grotesque and unsettling need to be affirmed as a gesture of amor fati (or whatever,) or may we allow ourselves to hope creativity and productivity include something more, something more “vital” (apologies!) and that something more is where the real fireworks happen? (It’s July 4, 2008—no apologies!) Is that hope for something more from creativity and productivity the slip from immanence into faux transcendence (or true transcendence, what do I know?), into ressentiment of life for not giving more than it gives, (stingy, mean, suffering-inducing life!) If there is a dissatisfaction with what the combperm method can create and produce, could that stem, not from its mechanical aspect, but from its inability (which comes from where? From its human upstream feed?) to fully pull in all which would or could be available for combining and permuting?

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Returning to The Eternal Return, Part II

As we have seen The Eternal Return is neither repetition without difference (the naivistic interpretation) nor the cyclical return which Nietzsche himself warns us against,

One should not as a false analogy use the cycles that arise and perish as for example in stars, or ebbs and flows, day and night, the seasons, as a characteristic of The Eternal Return.

In another note he comes closer to a definition,

To IMPRINT(my emphasis) upon the character of becoming as being – that is the highest form of the will to power.

That everything returns is the most extreme approximation of a world of becoming (eine Welt des Werdens) to a world of being (die des Seins) – the summit of reflection!
(my translation).

Ontologically speaking The Eternal Return announces there is only one world, one reality = the one that IS (continuously changing) and that human beings must return to in order to avoid nihilism.

It is also a critique of the whole project of The Enlightenment (very apt for this blog) of viewing history as a series of progress and spreading light and celebrating, in Kant’s words, “man’s emergence from his self-incurred immaturity”.

Nostalgia as well as utopianism are rejected by Nietzsche as illusionary. Man must be fully present in every single Moment of his existence. The Eternal Return is the ultimate affirmation of the Now, as the formula of the German "das Werden" = the continuous creation, the eternal becoming, the flowing dialectics of active and reactive forces.

The Eternal Return is Nietzsche’s call for the endless “repetition” or “return” of every single moment simultaneously fulfilling and renewing, ending and beginning in the fullness of The Moment. The return in the form of the eternal presence of the Now. Ever new.

In Nietzsche and Philosophy Deleuze writes,

From afar we can hardly see the summit. The eternal return is the being of becoming. But becoming is double: becoming-active and becoming-reactive, becoming-active of reactive forces and becoming-reactive of active forces. But only becoming-active has being; it would be contradictory for the being of becoming to be affirmed of a becoming-reactive, of a becoming that is itself nihilistic. The eternal return would become contradictory if it were the return of reactive forces. The eternal return teaches us that becoming-reactive has no being. Indeed, it also teaches us of the existence of becoming-active. It necessarily produces becoming-active by reproducing becoming (p. 71f.)