Monday, March 16, 2009

The Shadows of Totalization, Part XV

In Orla’s post of March 1, 2009, he describes his activity in this way,

"I am not a philosopher. I don’t do philosophy. But I spend a lot of time listening in (through osmosis, diffusion, inspiration, etc) on those who are and do, trying to free my own thinking from 'the formidable school of intimidation which manufactures specialists in thought'."

Orla emphasizes that he spends a lot of time trying to free himself from “the formidable school of intimidation which manufactures specialists in thought.” The quoted phrase comes from Deleuze. Orla believes he is engaged in an activity which frees him from an intimidation and a specialization of thought (which comes to be synonymous with philosophy, apparently), in accordance with what Deleuze thinks.

But here is the full quotation by Deleuze, as given a little later in the same post,

“The history of philosophy has always been the agent of power in philosophy, and even in thought. It has played the represser’s role: how can you think without having read Plato, Descartes, Kant and Heidegger, and so-and-so’s book about them? A formidable school of intimidation which manufactures specialists in thought – but which also makes those who stay outside conform all the more to this specialism which they despise.”- Deleuze: Dialogues II, (Continuum, 2006)

The conformity of the specialist is not the only one—those who stay outside of the specialism also are forced into conformity. In other words, the nonconformists conform, they succumb to this agent of power.

This conformity is all the more frightening to me in that it is experienced as nonconformity. As Goethe said, "None are more hopelessly enslaved than those who falsely believe they are free." Trying to free one’s own thinking from “the formidable school of intimidation which manufactures specialists in thought” entangles thought all the more thoroughly and hopelessly. That Deleuze notices this and comments on it is overlooked even though Orla must have seen it—he quoted it.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

You are right, Yusef, that this seems like a double bind: escaping from one prison only to find oneself in a new cell. The binary machine has struck again. There is contagion, linkages (or chains) between the two in a fatal attraction.

There doesn’t seem to be any exit, while you are hammering your fists against the bars in the new prison.

As we know (from conventional philosophy!) thinkers have grappled with oppositions and dialectics since Plato who of course tied it to “the art of conversation” = dialectics in the service of the matter or case being debated. The practice of creating opposites to any view in games of words was what the detestable sophists made their money from.

In Plato’s definition dialectics is a method through which the flow of questions and answer in a ”moving” (my emphasis) conversation destroys and transcends opposites in a mutual process to approach a knowledge of reality (the world of ideas).

Aristotle was stricter, insisting on dialectics as being part of logic requiring adherence to formal rules which the Scholastics of the Middle Age were only too happy to cultivate to perfection in stern schoolmaster fashion.

In “The Critique of Pure Reason” Kant stuck to his guns declaring that there is a series of theses and anti-thesis which can both be proven when reason crosses the line of any possible experience. But there is no possibility of reconciliation (synthesis) of opposing claims.

It was up to Fichte and Schelling to herald “the synthetical method” of overriding opposites into the third category of synthesis and declaring that this triad was also driving nature as well as history.

Since Kant’s motto "Sapere aude!” is the credo of our blog and “prison” has been used as metaphor, let’s repeat a few lines from his famous 1784 essay,

Enlightenment is man's emergence from his self-incurred immaturity. Immaturity is the inability to use one's own understanding without the guidance of another…

…Dogmas and formulas, those mechanical instruments for rational use (or rather misuse) of his natural endowments, are the ball and chain of his permanent immaturity. And if anyone did throw them off, he would still be uncertain about jumping over even the narrowest of trenches, for he would be unaccustomed to free movement of this kind.

That would describe my present predicament, I guess :-).

But returning to overcoming, transcending or just transforming opposites: Derrida famously suggested that it was never a level playing field, one set is always privileged and figures as central to discourse, and one is marginal. So first we do a reversal and then (speaking Deleuzian) we reterritorialize the new opposites, shifting the ground beneath them, watching deconstruction at work.

I think this is somewhat helpful in our discussion of “conventional” versus “unconventional” thinking (noting the etymology of “convention” = “coming together”) since it opens up the possibility of Plato’s “moving” conversation which is really a dynamic process of flows and ebbs, not quite an assemblage (we need to get to the destination!)

What if we refuse to be intimidated or - at the very least - are cognizant of the power games “the formidable school (of intimidation)” plays?

What if know we are infected by the virus but still insist on our health? And act accordingly?

What if we play along, but try to rig the game?

What if we insist that there are more than two in opposites, there are many?

What if we look for the cuts, the cracks, and the ruptures in and between the dichotomies?

What if we choose another plane or field and ignore “OR”?

What if we reject the conventional as well as the unconventional?


You only escape dualisms effectively by shifting them like a load, and when you find between the terms, whether they are two or more, a narrow gorge like a border or a frontier which will turn the set into a multiplicity, independently of the number of the parts. What we call an assemblage is, precisely, a multiplicity (Dialogues II, p. 99)

What if we replace syllogisms with streams-of-consciousness?

What if we change the localeof thinking from the courtroom to the salon?


3:21 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh, I forgot to react to Yusef's Deleuze quotes,

Yes, I read the whole quote, but lets also remind ourselves of the rest of the quote from my March 1 post,

An image of thought called philosophy has been formed historically and it effectively stops people from thinking.


Even reflection, whether it is alone, or between two or more, is not enough. Above all, not reflection. Objections are even worse. Every time someone puts an objection to me, I want to say: “OK, OK, let’s go on to something else.” Objections have never contributed anything. It’s the same when I am asked a general question. The aim is not to answer questions, it’s to get out, to get out of it. Many people think that it is only by going back over the question that it’s possible to get out of it…

But getting out never happens. Movement always happens behind the thinker’s back, or in the moment he blinks. Getting out is already achieved, or else it never will be…During the time while you turn in circles among questions, there are becomings which are silently at work, which are almost imperceptible…

Whatever the tone, the process of question and answer is made to nourish dualisms…

There is always a binary machine which governs the distribution of roles and which means that all the answers must go through preformed questions, since the questions are already worked out on the basis of the answers assumed to be probable according to the dominant meanings…


4:22 PM  

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