Sunday, February 11, 2007

My Philodendron's Contemplative Soul

"Organisms awake to the sublime world of the third Ennead: all is contemplation!" (Difference and Repetition, p. 75). I have a problem acknowledging my philodendron's contemplative soul. At the same time, I wouldn't want to absolutely deny that the philodendron's life has meaning. What exactly is Deleuze asking me to believe (not without irony) with respect to the philodendron? In the first place, I would have to believe that the philodendron experiences passive synthesis, a prereflective consciousness of the living present. This living present would have to include a retention of whence it's been and an anticipation of whither it's going. Minimally, the philodendron would have to know that it's alive. This would seem to resemble a practical sort of knowledge, a knowledge based on habitus. However, Deleuze suggests that habits are acquired not through action but through contemplation (p.73). For Deleuze contemplation means "to draw something from" the contraction that is habit, the fusion of elements (tick tick) or cases (tick tock) in a contemplative soul (p.74).

In the second place–and it is not at all clear to me that Deleuze would extend this analysis to plant life, except that he would have me acknowledge the contemplative soul of the plant–Deleuze says that "[e]ach contraction, each passive synthesis, constitutes a sign which is interpreted or deployed in active synthesis" (p.73). At this point I have to balk. It is one thing to say that my philodendron has a knowledge of its own life; it's quite another to say that is capable of active synthesis, of signifying, or questioning (which is another meaning Deleuze gives for contemplation (p.78)). To be fair to Deleuze, he is offering a special definition of signs. He says, "Signs as we have defined them–as habitudes or contractions referring to one another–always belong to the present," and he distinguishes a class of natural signs, based on passive synthesis only, from artificial signs which imply active synthesis.(p.77). This is a bit confusing. What would be the role of interpretation in the case of natural signs?

Finally, what power of imagination does the philodendron possess? How are its repetitions thinkable? Deleuze says that repetition is essentially imaginary (p.76). He also says that "[t]he constitution of repetition already implies three instances: the in-itself which causes it to disappear as it appears, leaving it unthinkable; the for-itself of the passive synthesis; and, grounded upon the latter, the reflected representation of a 'for-us' in the active synthesis" (p.71). If the philodendron's repetitions are not unthinkable, then it must have a power of "spontaneous imagination" (p.77), an image of its own life. Again, this is a problem for me, because I don't want to anthropomorphize my philodendron, and yet I can't be certain that it's life doesn't mean something to it.

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posted by Fido the Yak at 11:46 AM.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I do refer to this in the concl to The primacy of semiosis. In DR Deleuze does not distinguish btwn persons and plants (or electrons for that matter). It is a non-semovient 'contemplation'. Playing around with Plotinus.

February 11, 2007 4:03 PM  
Blogger Fido the Yak said...

Yes, well I still wonder what a personal philosophy, to which I am so habitually drawn, would have to say about the existence of my philodendron. I want to ask you though, since you stopped by, do you think any of my philodendron's relations with its world can be fairly characterized as sign relations?

February 11, 2007 4:47 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes, Phytosemiosis as Deely (and von Uexkull - in his own way) would say (see esp. Deely, Basics of Semiotics).
But that doesn't make plants or oysters - or anything without a dielectric organ a person.
Philodedron's do not initiate causal series - they react to or continue them. They are not semovient....

February 11, 2007 9:11 PM  
Blogger Fido the Yak said...

I'm not convinced that it isn't a contradictory position to say that a plant is capable of interpretation but not capable of semovience. I understand that the plant has no dialectric organ, and no organs of sensation, yet the plant appears to be sensitive to light and water. I take it your position would be that this appearance is a mirage, and that the plant isn't truly aware of its own movement toward the light for example. I'm not fully comfortable acknowledging the subjectivity of the philodendron, but I see this as an implication of a belief in phytosemiosis.

February 12, 2007 9:58 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Fido, I prefer to treat Deleuze's language of "contemplation" as metaphorical, though maybe I shouldn't. To say that something contracts a difference is to say that it becomes responsive to that difference or sensitive to that difference. For instance, the leaves of a plant turn towards the sun and an oyster shuts when something comes near it. I do not get the sense that Deleuze believes active synthesis belongs to all such habitudes, only those that are capable of representation.


February 12, 2007 8:43 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You're quite right to note the contradiction.
I'm not quite sure why I wrote that. Maybe semi-consciously i wanted you to notice it!!!
A year ago Mario proposed we write something on this but it never happened.
Fortunately I don't labour the point in the bk. Mario also appeared late in that story.

Deely probably fails in his attempt to secure Peirce's 'grand vision' (the whole universe is perfused with signs). Semiosis cannot be extended beyond persons.
The plant continues or reacts to causal series -it does not semoviently inaugurate new ones. There needs to be a causal break...
Can't continue now (Palindrome covers this).

February 12, 2007 9:52 PM  
Blogger Fido the Yak said...

Paul, I don't know whether it's anything you've written or whether it's the way I'm choosing to interpret things. For me the existential finitude and uniqueness of my philodendron has become an issue, though I'm not settled on any of my usual ways of imagining such a thing.

Sinthome, I think you are partially right with respect to active synthesis. Deleuze doesn't mean for it apply to all organisms, but only organisms with a certain capabality. I'm not sure he means that capabality is representation though. I think that it's action-- but I may just be looking for the safe thing to say here.

On interpreting "contemplation" metaphorically, I'm seeing that Deleuze deploys a lot of metaphors and the play of metaphors is an essential aspect of his philosophizing. As a reader of Deleuze, my challenge is to think these metaphors through, to follow the entailments and implications and see where they lead. The literal meaning of "contemplation" is a stumbling block. I tend to think of contemplation (erroneously from the point of view of dictionary etymologies) as something that takes place between the temples. If I set aside what I think "contemplation" means and attend to Deleuze's usage, intertextual ironies and all, I feel that I am still left with a philosophical problem regarding my philodendron.

February 13, 2007 10:02 AM  
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February 13, 2007 8:20 PM  

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