Friday, August 31, 2007

Sovereign Being

As I'm breezing through Giorgio Agamben's Homo Sacer, my ignorance (of Aristotle chiefly) seems to be keeping me from appreciating what he is trying to argue. Let's start with a simple premise: "The originary relation of law to life is not application but Abandonment" (p. 29, Agamben's emphasis). He goes on to say that "[t]he ban is the pure form of reference to something in general, which is to say, the simple positing of relation with the nonrelational. In this sense, the ban is identical with the limit form of relation." (p. 29). Agamben's ties this idea into his thinking about Aristotle: "the sovereign ban, which applies to the exception in no longer applying, corresponds to the structure of potentiality, which maintains itself in relation to actuality precisely through its ability not to be. Potentiality (in its double appearance as potentiality to and as potentiality not to) is that through which Being founds itself sovereignly, which is to say, without anything preceding or determining it (superiorem non recognoscens) other than its own ability not to be. And an act is sovereign when it realizes itself by simply taking away its own potentiality not to be, letting itself be, giving itself to itself" (p. 46). And, further, he says that "potentiality and actuality are simply the two faces of the sovereign self-grounding of Being. Sovereignty is always double because Being, as potentiality, suspends itself, maintaining itself in a relation of ban (or abandonment) with itself in order to realize itself as absolute actuality (which presupposes nothing other than its own potentiality). At the limit, pure potentiality and pure actuality are indistinguishable, and the sovereign is precisely this zone of indistinction" (p. 47).

Is there anything like an absolute actuality, pure actuality or pure potentiality? Are potentiality and actuality distinguishable in practice? If we can isolate a moment when a painter choses not to paint, I wonder if drawing an inference about the separablitiy of potentiality and actuality from this case doesn't represent a species of what Pierre Bourdieu would call the "occasionalist illusion, which consists in directly relating practices to properties inscribed in the situation" (Outline of a Theory of Practice, p. 81). Abilities flourish in practice. Even the ability not to do something, such as the cessation of a habit, grows stronger with practice. Potentialities lean towards actualization, assuming that cessation is an activity, and this is why it's hard for me to think of the nonrelation of abandonment instead of a relation of application. My feeling is that Agamben's negative intellectualization isn't serving his project, but as I'm only a third of the way through Homo Sacer, I'll reserve judgement.

Now I've questioned whether the merger of potentiality and actuality occurs at the limit. Perhaps being has all kinds of limits, or no limits whatsover. The first seems more likely, yet either way I am not sold on the sovereignty of being. However I wouldn't want to say that being is fully determined.

Does being live, or has it abandoned life? Is there a logic of practice, or does the logos abandon everything that would make practice meaningful? Well, it seems I am oblivious to Agamben's point. He would perhaps advise me to attend to the nonrelation between logos and life, or being and practice, or Being and being, if those are my terms. How would I know that being isn't groundless? How would I know that it isn't grounded in something stickier than its own sovereignty? If I say "being is arbitrary" I mean that being works itself out, or that it's a work in progress. But what does being work on? Abondonment? Does abandonment make sense outside the domain of Agamben's perspective on the law?

Agamben says that "language also holds man in its ban insofar as man, as a speaking being, has always already entered into language without noticing it. Everything that is presupposed for there to be language (in the forms of something nonlinguistic, something ineffable, etc.) is nothing other than a presupposition of language that is maintained as such in relation to language precisely insofar as it is excluded from language....As the pure form of relation, language (like the sovereign ban) always already presupposes itself in the figure of something nonrelational, and it is not possible either to enter into relation or to move out of relation with what belongs to the form of relation itself. This means not that the nonglinguistic is inaccessible to man but simply that man can never reach it in the form of a nonrelational and ineffable presupposition" (p. 50). If I were to enter into another language, I would notice it. Language is acquired. Agamben's thinking here doesn't resemble any thoughts I've had about language. It kind of makes sense in relation to what Agamben is arguing about the law, but the precise meaning here is opaque to me.

"Sovereignty is, after all, precisely this 'law beyond the law to which we are abandoned,' that is, the self-presuppositional power of nomos. Only if it is possible to think the Being of abandonment beyond every idea of law (even that of the empty form of law's being in force without significance) will we have moved out of the paradox of sovereignty toward a politics freed from every ban. A pure form of law is only the empty form of relation. Yet the empty form of relation is no longer a law but a zone of indistinguishability between law and life, which is to say, a state of exception" (p. 59). Does being presuppose itself? Why would it do that? I think if I were to presuppose myself I would tear myself into shreds. I suppose myself at the point at which I find myself, if "point" is the right word for the stretch of my existence. Jean-Luc Nancy says, "nothing preexists; only what exists exists" (Being Singular Plural, p. 29). Now I don't know whether I'm more bothered by thought of existence presupposing itself or the notion that the presupposition is some kind of intellectualistist maneuver. In either case, since I mentioned Bourdieu, I might want to think of the problem in terms of "genesis amnesia." (If I'm coming down against intellecutalism in this post it's because I think the problem Agamben wants to address is eminently practical.)

Is there really a paradox of sovereignty then? Perhaps we should look at abandonment on a case by case basis. This is of course not what Agamben argues.

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posted by Fido the Yak at 12:25 PM. 0 comments

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Sens Sauvage

László Tengelyi's The Wild Region in Life-History teems with ideas. (Daniel Dahlstrom offers good review.) Here I will be reading the prelude to the book and honing in on the idea, recovered from Merleau-Ponty and rehabilitated by Tengelyi, of a "wild sense" (sens sauvage). I will examine Tengelyi's sens sauvage in relation to the problem of cadacualtez, a problem which Tengelyi understands though he lacks the word "cadacualtez." To begin with the latter, Tengelyi points to Heidegger's discussion of Jemeinigkeit and cautions against conflating self identity with life history. In his view the two are inseparable but not interchangable. Tengelyi defines life history as a "region where a spontaneous formation of sense takes place," whereas self identity is what is at stake "in every attempt at a retroactive fixation of a spontaneously emerged sense" (p. xxvii, Tengelyi's emphasis). The spontaneously emerged sense is a dispossesed sense, beyond the control of a subject (p. xxvi.) Tengelyi says, "experience shows that the process of sense formation repeatedly escapes from our grasp, challenging over and over again even our rectified stories and breaking up, from time to time, the supposedly hard core of our identity" (pp. xxvi-xvii).

Although Tengelyi departs from Husserlian phenomenology in attending to a Sinnbildung (development of sense) instead of a Sinngebung (bestowal of sense) by a subject (p. xxiii), he values phenomenology for its first-person access to concrete experience, and he proposes a method he calls "diacritical phenomenology." The field of investigation is not the self-identity of the subject, but a no-man's land of the "wild" sense (p. xxxiii). On the one hand this means Tengelyi will pursue a kind of phronesis that may be opposed to a dialectics; on the other hand, it means he will offer an interpretation of difference, a "diacritical difference" that is like the difference that is found in langue, "the system of differences on which the cohesion of meaningful expressions is based" (p. xxviii). Tengelyi means to employ this method, in the footsteps of Merleau-Ponty, without committing to a structuralism.

Tengelyi is not talking about a system of fixed differences, or differences between fixed values, but a "proliferating multiplicity. . . of heterogenous sense formations" (p. xxxii). He talks about the emergence of new sense thwarting expections and opening up new beginnings in life history (p. xxx), and he says that "sense in the making is always a multiple and fluctuant sense, containing, in itself, some refractory shreds, which are discarded by the retroactive fixation of sense without, however, being prevented thereby from exerting an underground influence" (p. xxxi). He makes a series of claims on this basis:

First, we may claim that a spontaneously emerging sense is accompanied by a continuous formation of a surplus. Second, it may be added that this process cannot be regarded as an accumulation of any well-defined and accomplished ingredients of sense, but it must be interpreted rather as a proliferation of some inchoate, fluctuant, and indeterminate shreds of sense [here Tengelyi cites Marc Richir]. Third, it may be asserted that, at every moment, these germs of sense are integrated into a diacritical system by their differential interrelations with each other, as well as with the already fixed sense. Finally, we may reply to Merleau-Ponty's question [about "my being set up on a universal diacritical system"] by pointing out that the reason we are not in a position to consider the totality of these differential interrelations from the outside (why, in other words, we find ourselves always already included in this diacritical system) is that we adhere, from the outset, to some meaningful sequences of life events, and whenever we see ourselves constrained to abandon or modify them, we single out, once again, some of the inchoate and fluctuant shreds of sense, discarding at the same time all others, in order to construct and fix another meaningful sequence of the same life events.

(p. xxxii, Tengelyi's emphases)

Tengelyi holds that "we are struck by the repeated occurence of an inchoate shred of sense" (p. xxxii). We are astonished. We should not see the return of the same as the source of our astonishment, as an unambiguous manifestation of self-identity–Tengelyi has already mapped out a notion of ipseity that "has sufficiently been separated from the identity and permanence of substantial entities" (p. xvii)–rather, our astonishment is related to the emergence of a dispossessed sense, and, he adds, "the supposition of a hidden unity in life-history is attached to this astonishment rather as a reassuring belief" (p. xxxiv). The retroactive fixation of sense is literally a fix, a response to something that is "broken." In Tengelyi's view the emergence of sense is most evident in experience at times of crisis, in "critical situations" or "stances of crisis" (p. xxii). It would seem that Tengelyi means a "crisis of identity," yet he doesn't mean to point to self identity by its lonesome, but to the critical rift between self identity and a life history devoid of closures (p. xxiii).

Returning now to the problem of cadacualtez, Tengelyi explains his commitment to the first person singular of phenomenology not as a commitment to the cogito or to any notion of ipseity, but rather as an expression of the difference between oneself and another. This difference, he claims, does not rest on any personal characteristics, and is therefore not substantive but merely positional (p. xxxiv). This is an interesting way of formulating the problem. It overcomes an impasse we face when we recognize that self-identity is mutable and to a large extent co-authored. Yet I wonder what kind of existential reality resides in the merely positional. Tengelyi leans on a Levinasian notion of singularity. He says that self identity "is neither the main source, nor an indispensable condition of our singularity, i.e., our irreplacable unicity. It is our singularity that finds its expression in the purely positional fact that we remain ourselves even if we do not remain the same as we were" (p. xxxv, Tengelyi's emphases).

To sum up, the theory of narrative identity may be charged with a certain confusion of self-identity and singularity. However, this confusion may be the result of an illusion one often falls victim to in one's quest of narrative identity. From time to time, we find ourselves compelled to reconsider and rectify the narratives by which we have fixed the identity of ourselves. In most cases, we cannot help thinking that it is our singularity, our irreplacable unicity, which is at stake in vital situations, in crisis-stricken moments. It is important to know that this is not the case; it is important to know this, lest we lose sight of the drama of life, which besides, or even, before narration, calls for acting as well.

(p. xxxvi, Tengelyi's emphases)

I have to point out the difference in language between Tengelyi's singularity and Crocco's cadacualtez. The latter is "circumstanced," the former is "positioned" within a "diacritical system of intersubjectivity" (p. xxxvi). Nevertheless I see both ideas as covering much the same territory, and I am intrigued by Tengelyi's designation of this territory as a wild region in life history, not the least for its accessibility to thought. I do have some questions though. As I read Tengelyi's account of this region, will I be allowed to be astonished at my irreplacable unicity? What thoughts can I have about my position? And if my position as a singularity is related to a diacritical system of coexistence, what relation is there between this system and the system that includes my fluctuant, indeterminate shreds of sense? Is the reality of these shreds of sense something other than positional?

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posted by Fido the Yak at 2:35 PM. 5 comments

Monday, August 27, 2007

A Semiotics of Empathy?

Is empathy grounded in the play of signs? I'm putting the question to Jesper Hoffmeyer even though others (Donald Favareau, for instance) have already expanded on his work and reformulated the problem. Hoffmeyer remains, however, an exemplar of the semiotic point of view on empathy. He sees empathy as a therapeutic response to a uniquely human existential terror stemming from the thought that one could be replaced, a thought that creates a split between an emotionally whole self and an emotionally neutral player who is free to contemplate his or her mortality (Signs of Meaning in the Universe, p. 132). He says:

The interchangability of the players implies an emotional and cognitive relationship between them. Human beings could never have learned to put themselves in someone else's psychological place if they had not already learned to see themselves reflected in that other person, to see the other person as a creature just like them.

The terror and the empathy go hand in hand and language is their medium. In actual fact it was not humanity, much less erectus, who engendered them. It was a little child. Lacan's reflection theory holds the key: the mutual empathy between mother and child provided the protection necessary to cope with the unleashing of the awful isolation inherent in the idea of "not."

(pp. 132-133)

Phenomena like atruism in chimpanzees suggest that either chimpanzees are more intellectually capable than Hoffmeyer gives them credit for (calling into question the uniqueness of the existential terror of imagining oneself as interchangable), even though they lack language. Such phenomena might also call into question the notion that empathy emerges as response to a kind of cognition. We needn't turn to the behavioural studies of primates however in order to philosophically question this premise. Kojima, for instance, talks about the ontic meaning of the other being present to us immanently prior to any perspective that would allow for an exchange of viewpoints, and he speaks of an ontological anticipation of alterity that precedes any introjection of one's own being into other bodies. Favareau might tell us that such ontological anticipations are also a kind of neurological interpretation (and therefore also "cognitive"), but I wonder if instead we might question the semiotic nature of empathy.

If empathy is semiotic in anything like a Peircean sense, it would seem to involve multiple interpretants. The stubbed toe affects its owner and any empathetic witnesses at once. I can't say whether Peirce ever provided a satisfactory account of empathy or compassion, but the very idea of com-passion challenges my understanding of the idea that sign relations are purely triadic. Sign relations in empathy appear to be tetrahedral, at the least. I see meaning in the relationship between interpretants, but I don't know what semiotic model would be capable of exploring it.

I've quoted Jean-Luc Nancy before as saying:

Meaning is the exhibition of the foundation without foundation, which is not an abyss but simply the with of things that are, insofar as they are. Logos is dialogue, but the end of dialogue is not to overcome itself in "consensus"; its reason is to offer, and only to offer (giving it tone and intensity), the cum-, the with of meaning, the plurality of its springing forth.

(Being Singular Plural, pp. 86-87).

Now I want to ask whether meaning is always meaning towards something, or more simply meaning something. (A secondary question concerns whether meaning is always for somebody–I'll leave that aside for the moment.) Is meaning towards a thing qualitatively the same as meaning towards another person? Nancy invites us to roam in a region of meaning between singularities. Can this meaning of the with also be thought of as a meaning towards, or would that necessarily imply a kind of foundation that Nancy rejects? I'm not sure.

All told the semiotic depiction of empathy feels a little cold to me. Perhaps there are senses in which empathy is grounded in the play of signs, but I'm having a hard time envisaging a semiotic approach that doesn't obliterate the meaning of the other or, alternatively, the meaning of being with others. What sense of meaning, if any, does the phenomenon of empathy call for?

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posted by Fido the Yak at 10:32 AM. 0 comments

Friday, August 24, 2007

Windowless Monads?

"The Monads have no windows," says Leibniz. Kojima's monadology offers an alternative view of the monad, yet it is not so easy to disect his argument. He says, "Transcendental consciousness cannot enter and be confined in my monad without windows, contrary to the traditional opinion of Leibniz and Husserl, insofar as transcendental consciousness is essentially intersubjective (or intentionally associative) and open to the other" (Monad and Thou, p. 115). However, Kojima does not conclude that because transcendental consciousness is intersubjective therefore the monad must have windows. Rather, he argues that "in order to perform the ownness [Eigenheit] reduction and realize the enclosed monad, it is necessary not only to exclude the entire intentionality of the other ego and the other ego as transcendence, but also to constitute the 'world with unseen sides' through suspending my own transcendental consciousness itself" (ibidem, my emphasis). That is, he argues that the agent of the ownness reduction is not the transcendental consciousness but "the pregiven Leib [lived body] with its own consciousness" (ibidem). Transcendental consciousness has the ability to constitute the body as object (Körper), but never the body as it is lived. Yet if the lived body is able to discover that it belongs to somebody exclusively, it still is not clear to me in what sense we can talk about the lived body as being enclosed, or as being essentially windowless. Before jumping to the argument that life is essentially open, I'd like to take a closer look at what Kojima is saying to clarify the scope of our disagreement, if there is in fact one.

Of course, in the natural world the intentionality of the other is made anonymous in many cases, and it is even less likely to appear as pure immanence in the monad like the body of the other did. However, as a matter of fact, in order to make the intentionality of the other emerge in its proper mode, precisely the ownness reduction to my primordial sphere is indispensible. Then the monad is completely closed to the intentionality of the other except in its ontic meaning, insofar as, and only insofar as, the monad is the pregiven world centered on the Leib (and not on the Leib-Körper). Against this closedness of the monad the intentionality of the other appears, not simply as intentionally transcendent meaning, but rather as something breaking through its closedness, or as the penetration from transcendence into immanence. This is the phenomenon called the "look." The look is the emergence of the intentionality of the other itself by way of its meaning, as it is recognized most evidently in the case of penetration into my monad.

(p. 112, my emphasis)

It seems that here Kojima is saying that the monad has windows onto the ontic meaning of the other, though it cannot be interpreted except by passing through an ownness reduction that does not take place in the transcendental sphere. (This is Kojima's main disagreement with Husserl, who holds that the ownness appears in a transcendental sphere; see Cartesian Meditations, § 44.) So I note here one exception to the enclosure of the monad. There is, I think, another.

Now the transcendental other emerges as the "look" to my deepened monad as the genuine primordial sphere; it breaks through the completeness of my monad from the outside. Immediately corresponding to it, my transcendental consciousness breaks through the wall of the monad from the inside, mediated by my somatic ego, which has been dormant in the monad, holding the ontic meaning of the other, and posits the Körper of myself and others upon the There in cooperation with the invading transcendental others in order to establish the common objective world. At this point everything is objectified in the open horizon and even my monad disappears and appears only appresentively as mood.

(p. 116)

Kojima says in a footnote, "Mood is the monad appresented through objective space. Therefore it always contains the nuance that expresses one's accessibility to one's own concealed monad" (p. 236, No. 22). I find this very suggestive. Is it possible that the monad not only has windows onto the ontic meaning of others, but also a door (mood), a way of stepping in and out of the monad?

The following passage shows what Kojima sees as being at stake in a reduction to a primordial ownmost sphere of the monad:

[T]ranscendental intersubjectivity (with its sole objective world) and monadic individuality are not completely mediated by the Leib-Körper ego. Rather, these two strata embrace and influence the somatic ego from the top and bottom respectively, so to speak, in an immanent-transcendent way. Thus the life-world is not the simple field of the incarnation or the self-realization of transcendental reason, as Husserl thought. No light of reason could illuminate the very depths of monadic individuality. The dark foundation that supports the life-world from the bottom allows no simple rationalization. The life-world, or the somatic ego inhabiting it, is nothing other than the "contact point" of rationality and irrationality, as well as the "field of struggle" of both.

(p. 118)

In this passage it seems that there is a windowless quality to the monad since no "light of reason" can penetrate it. To talk about the openness of life in Kojima's terms we would be dealing with the somatic ego and not the monad. On the other hand, Kojima's monad appears to be pervious to the ontic meaning of the other, in the form of the look. And we can step out of the monad in the form of a mood that always carries the nuance of the monad's accessibility to us. I am ultimately unable decide whether Kojima's monads have windows (or doors). If they do have windows, they are not windows in the ordinary sense of allowing all light to pass through them. They are screened, allowing only the ontic meaning of the other to pass through.

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posted by Fido the Yak at 11:33 AM. 0 comments

Thursday, August 23, 2007

The Poetic Subject

I'm having trouble with Deleuze's account of individuation in Empiricism and Subjectivity (Chapter 5) because he seems to imply that the problem of uniqueness is merely a problem of unique mental contents. I'll return to this problem in a moment.

Deleuze discovers that subjectivity is a practice (p. 104), and rightly thematizes the inventiveness of the subject. One of the conditions of possibility for invention that Deleuze pinpoints is the subject's ability to transcend its own partiality (p. 86). I'm not so sure about that.

I'd like to reimagine a poetics of the subject, one that sees the subject as practice, but a practice more akin to poiesis than technê. A poetics of the subject will be ameniable to the problem of existential uniqueness, and also to an empiricism of sorts. The poetic subject constitutes itself within the given, and the given is "movement and change without identity or law" (p. 87). In a sense the poetic subject is its own logos, its own poetry. However, the subject is not therefore solely regulative. Regularity emerges from the ongoing touch with the movement without identity, but regularity is only one timeline of the poetic subject's rhythm. Rhythm dances on the threshold between regulation and spontaneity. The regularity, the ensemble of movements in a straight line, is only one many of the senses of rhythm. Rhythm also opens the door to a prosody of the contour. It's sense is that it strives (sinnan), and in its striving the way is never set beforehand. The way opens.

Deleuze says, with reason, that "we can understand the phenomenon of the passions only through the corporeal disposition" (p. 98). To follow where Deleuze is leading with this argument, it is necessary to note that the mind is not the subject. The mind is not transcendent; the subject is. The mind is what is given, and Deleuze's reading of Hume's empiricism means essentially this: "if the subject is indeed that which transcends the given, we should not initially attribute to the given the capacity to transcend itself" (p. 88). Here I won't question the poetic subject's capacity for transcendence of the given, but I will question the nature of its transcendence, and whether it also thereby transcends its own partiality. "The impressions of reflection," Deleuze says, "consititue the subject in the mind" (p. 97). Further:

The problem, thus, is knowing which new dimension the principles of subjectivity confer upon the body when they constitute impressions of reflection in the mind. The impressions of sensation were defined by means of a mechanism, and referred to the body as a procedure of this mechanism. The impressions of reflection are defined by means of a spontaneity or a disposition and are referred to the body as the biological source of this spontaneity. As he studies the passions, Hume analyzes this new dimension of the body. The organism is disposed to produce passions. It has a disposition which is proper and specific to the passions in question, as an "original, internal movement."

(p. 97)

The impressions of reflection constitute the subject while the principles of subjectivity constitute the impressions of reflection. Let me just reiterate that the poetic subject is defined by its rhythm, impassioned even in its dispassionate stance, neither purely spontaneous nor purely mechanical, but precisely a disposition, a style of the body.

Suggestively, Deleuze argues that ideas must be designated to somebody.

These ideas [suitable to be grouped into complex ideas] are not designated within the mind without the mind becoming subject–a subject to whom these ideas are designated, a subject who speaks. Ideas are designated in the mind at the same time that the mind itself becomes a subject. In short, the effects of the principle of association are complex ideas: relations, substances and modes, general ideas. Under the influence of the principles of association, ideas are compared, grouped and evoked. This relation, or rather this intimacy, between complex ideas and the subject, such that one is the inverse of the others, is presented to us in language; the subject, as she speaks, designates in some way ideas which are in turn designated to her.

(p. 101, Deleuze's emphasis)

The logos of the subject is neither langue nor parole but poetry. And so we come by way of the association of ideas to the problem of uniqueness.

In his [Hume's] work, the association of ideas accounts effectively for habits of thought, everyday notions of good sense, current ideas, and complexes of ideas which correspond to the most general and most constant needs common to all minds and all languages. What it does not account for is the difference between one mind and another. The specific progress of a mind must be studied, and there is an entire casuistry to be worked out: why does this perception evoke a specific idea, rather than another, in a particular consciousness at a particular moment? The association of ideas does not explain that this idea has been evoked instead of another. It follows that, from this point of view, we must define relation as ". . .that particular circumstance, in which, even upon the arbitrary union of two ideas in the fancy, we may think proper to compare them." If it is true that association is necessary in order to make all relations in general possible, each particular relation is not in the least explained by the association. Circumstance gives the relation its sufficient reason.

(p. 103, Deleuze's emphases)

Deleuze notes that for Hume, circumstance "always refers to affectivity" (p. 103). He continues:

We must take literally the idea that affectivity is a matter of circumstances. These are precisely the variables that define our passions and our interests. Understood in this way, a set of circumstances always individuates a subject since it represents a state of its passions and needs, an allocation of its interests, a distribution of its beliefs and exhilarations. As a result, we see that the principles of the passions must be combined with the principles of association in order for the subject to constitute itself within the mind. If the principles of association explain that ideas are associated, only the principles of the passions can explain that a particular idea, rather than another, is associated at a given moment.


Deleuze says it's "as if the principles of association provided the subject with its necessary form, whereas the principles of the passions provided it with its singular content. The latter function as the principle for the individuation of the subject" (p. 104), and, finally, he says that the subject "cannot be separated from the singular content which is strictly essential to it" (ibidem). I humbly suggest that this is the wrong path to take towards an understanding of the uniqueness of the subject. The problem of existential uniqueness is not one of why this particular idea instead of another, and it isn't really one of why this circumstance instead of another, or even why this mind instead of another. An essential point of Barbaras' critique of sufficient reason as it found its way into the phenomenological epoché was that it surreptitiously made an object out of the world. (Of course I mean to distinguish between the world as it appears in the reduction and the world as it appears in the natural attitude.) Sufficient reason hinders the appreciation of the uniqueness of the poetic subject because it hints that the non-being of the subject might be prior to its being.

Might the passions rather be unprincipled? Might they be so unethical as to transgress the subject's transcendence of its partiality? And might they do more for us than merely sift out ideas to establish a region of unique mental contents?

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posted by Fido the Yak at 3:55 PM. 0 comments

Monday, August 20, 2007

Transcendence and Reification

Representation, according to Donald Favareau, "is a fundamentally creative process of interactionally achieved, massively co-constructed mediation across networks of relation. . . in a complex, open system which ultimately allows the human organism to transcend the brute indexicality of physically present, coextensive and discrete relata and to participate interactively across its own organizational levels–levels which include the intrinsically dynamic elements of neuron, body, sign and world." He continues, "The totality of this systemic and incessant sign activity we reify as 'mind.' An ongoing, dynamic process of sign-exchanging cells embedded in sign-exchanging brains embedded in sign-exchanging bodies embedded in sign-exchanging worlds, the eternal interplay of self-organization and symmetry-breaking that characterizes the moment-to-moment experience of this recursively interactive system constitutes, in a very real sense, the very essences of 'knowing' and of 'the mind'" (Beyond self and other: On the neurosemiotic emergence of intersubjectivity (pdf), Sign System Studies, 30(1), p. 67). The thrust of Favareau's paper is that he thinks he's found a neurological basis (mirror neurons) for intersubjectivity that functions prior to any cognitive distinction between self and other. I want to pause to consider the idea of transcendence and how that might be related to representation and to reification.

Is transendence real? Can we, by means of representation or by any other means, ever perfectly and completely transcend the "brute indexicality of physically present, coexstensive and discrete relata"? If this transcendence is real, does the charge of reification make sense? Alternatively, if the charge of reification is valid, aren't we in effect questioning the reality of this transcendence? It could be said that we are dealing here with two distinct gestures, one that passes beyond the real and another that makes what lies beyond the real the real. Nevertheless I think the one presages the other. Either the passage beyond reality is a problem or there are different orders of reality, which is another way of saying that the real is not singular but multiple, in which case it seems to me that reification would be a pseudo-problem. But I don't know that I'm not missing something, so I'm throwing it out there.

Is there anything that really transcends its conditions of possibility? I read a lot about transcendence but I don't understand it very well. What would it mean if transcendence were always imperfect, always incomplete?

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posted by Fido the Yak at 3:06 PM. 0 comments

The Course of Events

"An event cannot be neatly isolated from previous and later events without losing its essential character as an event, a character of 'emerging from' and 'leading into' which accounts for the continuity of the process. An event is thus not the result of an abstraction out of the flow of time, but a constitutive dynamic element of the flow itself" (André De Tienne, Learning qua semiosis, SEED Journal 3(3), 2003). When I suggested that we could look at something like spacetime as a cosmic event, I basically meant that it has a beginning and an end. Whence it emerged and whither it leads to are a mystery to me. I'm baffled by the thought that there could be a course of events of which timespace is merely one event. Allow me to be baffled for now.

The events of our lives take place amidst a multitude of processes. An event can be seen to emerge from any number of prior events and lead to any number of subsequent events. What holds it together, what makes an event an event, is a narrative. Narratives are eminently contestable, a fact which may be obscured if we take a process for granted, just as it would be if we took events to exist in isolation. On what philosophical grounds can we decide that one process is material while others are immaterial? How do we evaluate narrative choices? By what criteria? For example, is a sophisticated narrative better than a simple narrative? I think what matters is what one can learn by it. One could retell a sophisticated narrative and learn nothing by it because it only touches on what one already knows. This is a question of the practice of narrative, and of the attitude one takes towards narratives, rather than a question of the intrinsic value of narratives. Yet if narratives have no intrinsic value, I'm hard pressed to say how exactly we can learn from them. Do we learn by placing values on processes and events, or by drawing values out? How can we say that we draw values out of our own narrations? There is a possibility that in narrating a course of events we might surprise ourselves. Learning from narration might then be about sustaining the ability to be surprised. Does evaulation have a beginning, a middle and an end?

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posted by Fido the Yak at 3:03 PM. 0 comments

Sunday, August 19, 2007


If the organism (most especially the eukaryotic organism) can be described as a "self-organizing chaos," what then do we make of the biological fact of consciousness? Jesper Hoffmeyer proposes that we think of swarm intelligence as a model for all consciousness (Signs of Meaning in the Universe, pp. 113ff.). According to this view the brain doesn't contain any central processing unit, and rather than the brain being pre-programed to produce intelligence, intelligence swarms out of it (p. 114).

Hoffmeyer holds that the greatest cognitive skill, constantly being developed in life, is to puncture the space-time continuum, to categorize it and render "the whole perspective accessible by means of just those fragments of it that are of relevance" (p. 115). Thus we can say that thinking, in Hoffmeyer's view, is not merely consistent with the construction of an umwelt, it is essentially the same activity that all organisms are engaged in. It is life. What is it then that makes the life of the mind appear different from the life of the mindless organism? And if the origins of consciousness are multiple, why does it seem that we experience consciousness as a unified whole? "At each and every moment our consciousness seems after all to be encapsulating all the complexity of life on Earth in one single narrative, one 'reality,' and one self" (p.119). The answer, says Hoffmeyer, is that what we experience as consciousness is an interpretation that the body effects of its "situtation vis-à-vis the biographically rooted narrative which the individual sees him- or herself as being involved in at that moment" (p. 120).

One implication of this view is an argument against the stream of consciousness being real (though I'm not sure Hoffmeyer is totally consistent on this point):

It actually takes the body almost half a second to generate consciousness. Thus, contrary to what one might automatically assume, consciousness is not one continuous stream but a sequence of discontinuous snippets of content. There might even be spells when it is switched off entirely, though we would never know since one cannot, after all, be aware of one's lack of awareness, far less remember it later.

(p. 121)

When I asked whether the cogito sleeps, I had in mind a notion that the cogito is embodied, that the rift between res cogitans and res extensa wasn't so clear. Hoffmeyer leaves me with two problems. How do I know that my consciousness really ever turns off in sleep? And what is meant by embodiment? Is the body essentially a unity, or is it fundamentally and ineluctably a multiplicity? If the body does have an esemplastic tendency in Hoffemeyer's view it is narratological rather than the work of a unified entity within consciousness:

In saying that the body interprets our umwelt while generating a constant stream of consciousness, I am thinking of course of the body as one swarming entity, the semiotic brain-body system as a whole. The very fact that we think with our bodies means that consciousness (and language) must be narrative. Physical activity, the elementary act, lies at the root of our intelligence and our consciousness.

I would suggest therefore that we look upon consciousness as a purely semiotic relation. Consciousness is the body's spatial and narrative interpretation of its existential umwelt.

(pp. 121-122, Hoffmeyer's emphasis)

How do we move from a semiotic relation to a narrative? Is there here some assumption about the coherence of a life that could be further explored?

Finally, Hoffmeyer expresses a kind of epiphenomenalism: "[i]n a sense our cells are living in the very midst of the semiosphere while we, as conscious individuals, are a kind of epiphenomenon–rather as if the shape of a swarm of bees had the absurd idea that the bees only existed to create that shape" (p. 128). Since we have no evidence of the shapes of swarms having absurd ideas of any kind, while conscious human persons evidently have absurd ideas about themselves and their worlds, perhaps the metaphor of swarm intelligence doesn't in the end explain as much as Hoffmeyer thinks it does. Nevertheless, it's interesting that Hoffmeyer sees the body, or the "body-brain system as a whole" as responsible for the sense that conscious experience belongs to a single narrative.

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posted by Fido the Yak at 11:45 AM. 0 comments

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Do Starfish Have Moods?

Hoffmeyer's discussion of "neuropeptide tone" (Signs of Meaning in the Universe, pp. 125-128; I'll deal with his ideas about consciousness in a later post) makes me wonder whether starfish have moods. Starfish have nerves and neuropeptides, for example SALMFamide neuropeptides that act to relax the muscles. However, starfish don't have brains. Crocco goes so far as to say starfish lack any "existentiality in charge of biological functions." It is unclear to me how the starfish nervous system(s) would interpret consciousness in order to adjust a neuropeptide tone (or vice versa). Perhaps starfish just have moods with no central means of controlling them. Or maybe they don't really have moods. Is mood the actual state of muscle relaxation, for example, or is mood the interpretation of such a state? Is my mood of relaxation is always I'm feeling relaxed, or can a mood of relaxation exist subconsciously, diffusely, without being claimed? I'm mixing together issues of ownness and consciousness because I don't know how to separate them. Could a starfish lay claim to a mood without having some means of being self-aware?

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posted by Fido the Yak at 6:27 PM. 0 comments

Friday, August 17, 2007


I've been playing fast and loose with thrownness. What exactly do I mean by existential thrownness? It's a way we find ourselves being in the world. But what has been thrown into what? Kojima (Monad and Thou) asks us to think of thrownness in terms of an ontological distinction between the whole of a monad and its naked core. Here is a longish excerpt which starts from a problem of monadological empathy:

[T]he appresentation of the other bodily-fleshly subject already has an ontological foundation in my somatic ego as the naked core of the monad. Through the separation from the monadic totality itself and the acceptance of the objectifiable body, the Being of its core (my somatic ego) is thrown into groundlessness and suffers an inner self-negation that brings forth ontological relativization and scattering (pluralizing) of the absolute Here into outside Theres. In other words, the absolute Here becomes the relative Here and recognizes the same relative Hereness in every There as potentiality. To call this phenomenon "empathy" in the usual sense is not appropriate, because this is not a one-sided projection of my absolute Being into others. On the contrary, my ego itself is already passively relativized and altered. Therefore there is already no longer an absolute Here surrounded by Theres, but rather a relative Here (Here = There) surrounded by equally relative Heres (Here = Theres). Thus my somatic ego deprived of the monad always already anticipates in primal belief the Being of others outside it. I do not introject my absolute Being into other bodies, but rather I rediscover an already anticipated alter ego in other bodies. Thus the analogical apprehension of the alter ego introduced by Husserl is only the occasional concretion and reconfirmation of this ontological anticipation.

Through this ontologico-analogical capacity of the naked core of the monad the existence of another core (somatic alter ego) is originally given to it. We are always already living together upon interperspectival, decentered, common ground as naked cores. The other monad (ego) as a totality is never given in such a way, however, for the absolute Hereness of a monad does not lie in its naked core, which is only the already half-relativized Here. What distinguishes the absolute Here from Here = There is the inner totality of the monad, the monadic spatio-temporal continuum. Without this total structure, the human exists as alienated monad like the nucleus of an atom that has been robbed of its electron shell. It exists there as distorted, as spontaneous indeed, but restricted in its freedom. Heidegger called just this way of being "thrownness."

(pp. 91-92)

Kojima designates the (co-)being of the core of the monad as real, and the being of the whole of the monad as potential, or, more specifically, the "potential Being of images" (p. 96). From his analysis of mood, it is clear that Kojima associates ownness (Jemeinigkeit) only with the monad as a whole and not with its naked core.

I have a couple of problems with this approach to thrownness, which goes to show that my existentialism is not at all sophisticated. I don't think of thrownness as debilitating, robbed, inauthentic or anything like that. And since I'm prone to wonder where the monad would be without its core, I have a hard time accepting that this core too isn't my own unswappable being, and that the continuum doesn't somehow derive its ownness from the ownness of its core.

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posted by Fido the Yak at 3:54 PM. 0 comments

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Homo erectus as Alien

I might be willing to think that alienation isn't among the worst things that can happen to a person. But what do we mean by alienation? Alienation of what, from what? No doubt alientation in its various manifestations causes pain. Nonetheless it may still be preferable to the alternatives. I'm not sure.

Jesper Hoffmeyer considers the alienation of one's own world from the worlds of others in the context of the evolution of semiosis. He specualtes on the origin of speech:

And this fact–that the spoken word is common property, that it is a tool with which to share a world is perhaps the real reason for its emergence. The idea that we all inhabit our very own umwelt, an umwelt which we take with us to the grave, must gradually have begun to show up on the mental screens of our well-developed, cognitive erectus forefathers. At some point it must have dawned on them that they were solitary beings, dissociated from the universe that had engendered them but from which they had broken free by dint of their increasingly emancipated models of the ups and downs of life. The dividing line between things, that fundamental "not," must have begun to have an effect: the recognition of the fact that the line between categories is drawn by "someone" (who can differentiate between A and non-A) and that they too were "someone" and, thus, alien. Because to become on with the world, "someone" would necessarily have to cease to be "someone."

(Signs of Meaning in the Universe, p. 112, Hoffmeyer's emphasis)

Hoffmeyer asks us to imagine Homo erectus as a being with language (langue) but no speech (p. 186-187), an interesting twist on the idea of Homo loquens. Does speech actually free us from alienation? Does it ameliorate the psychic effects of alienation?

Hoffmeyer draws an unusual idea from the arbitrary relationship between speech and language. What happens when this arbitrariness breaks down, and what does its breakdown tell us about alienation? Julia Kristeva, who poetically says that uncanny strangeness "irrigates our very speaking-being, estranged by other logics, including the heterogenenity of biology" (Strangers to Ourselves, p. 170), writes about the breakdown of linguistic arbitrariness:

Obsessional neuroses, but also and differently psychoses, have the distinctive feature of "reifying" signs–of slipping from the domain of "speaking" to the domain of "doing." Such a particularity also evinces the fragility of repression and, without actually explaining it, allows the return of the repressed to be inscribed in the reification under the guise of the uncanny affect. While, in another semiological device, one might think that the return of the repressed would assume the shape of the somatic symptom or of the acting out, here the breakdown of the arbitrary signifier and its tendency to become reified as psychic contents that take the place of material reality would favor the experience of uncanniness. Conversely, our fleeting or more or less threatening encounter with uncanny strangeness would be a clue to our psychic latencies and the fragility of our repression–at the same time as it is an indication of the weakness of language as a symbolic barrier that, in the final analysis, structures the repressed.

Strange indeed is the encounter with the other–whom we perceive by means of sight, hearing, smell, but don not "frame" within our consciousness. The other leaves us separate, incoherent; even more so, he can make us feel that we are not in touch with our own feelings, that we reject them or, on the contrary, that we refuse to judge them–we feel "stupid," we have "been had."

Also strange is the experience of the abysss seperating me from the other who shocks me–I do not even precieve him, perhaps he crushes me because I negate him. Confronting the foreigner whom I reject and with whom at the same time I identify, I lose my boundaries, I no longer have a container, the memory of experiences when I had been abandoned overwhelm me, I lose my composure. I feel "lost," "indistinct," "hazy." The uncanny strangeness allows for many variations: they all repeat the difficulty I have in situation myself with respect to the other and keep going over the course of indentification-projection that lies at the foundation of my reaching autonomy.

(pp. 186-187, Kristeva's emphasis)

In Kristeva's view "the sense of strangeness is a mainspring for indentification with the other, by working out its depersonalizing impact by means of astonishment" (my emphasis). Analysis, she says, "can throw light on such an affect but, far from insisting on breaking it down, it should make way for esthetics (some might add philosophy), with which to saturate its phantasmal progression and insure its cathartic eternal return" (pp> 189-190). Thus philosophy has for Kristeva a therapeutic (or even soteriological) function, but on condition that, as I am interpreting her, astonishment is subject to eternal return. Philosophy cannot liberate us from existential alienation; it can perhaps however ameliorate its pain.

I have to wonder what the reification of the signifier does to my own thinking. And I wonder what this might mean for a being with language but no speech. Was Homo erectus any more or less repressed that Homo sapiens? Would such a being have lacked the means of working out any psychic reality?

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posted by Fido the Yak at 3:01 PM. 0 comments

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Mules and Other Living Beings

How do we define life in such a way as to include mules and other non-reproducing organic entities? This debate has found its way into the field of astrobiology. Vera Kolb takes the position (pdf) that we should distinguish between life (zoë) and the living being (bios). Her position is taken in response to a paper (pdf) by Carol Cleland and Christopher Chyba, who argue that if life is a natural kind, there should be a single definition to describe it. I am partial to Cleland and Chyba's view, but Kolb raises an interesting point regarding our old friend ouisa. Kolb says:

In his 'Categories' Aristotle developed a theory of classification of existing things (Aristotle 1963). He introduced the notion of a substance, which is a fundamental ingredient of reality. He proposed ten categories : substance, quantity, quality, relation, place, time, position, state, action, and affection. Substances may be primary or secondary. His examples of primary substances are an individual man or a horse. He terms the species such as 'men' and the genus such as 'animal' as secondary substances. It is fascinating that Aristotle placed an individual living organism higher in the classification than its species or genera. He stated that the individual substance does not lose its qualities as it becomes part of a species and genera. However, this is a one-way road, since the converse is not true. The species and genera are, in today's language, information poor as compared with the individual. Aristotle concluded that manhood, which would be a generic description of the properties of all men in the species, is not contained in the primary substance, which is an individual man. General is not present in specific ; abstract is not present in the real. This approach places the individual above its species and points to the uniqueness of the individual. More on Aristotle's views on substances are found in his 'Metaphysics', Book Z, and also Book H (Aristotle 1979). While Aristotle's concept of substances changed somewhat, for our purposes his original view, from 'Categories', is most applicable. Aristotle's view of the primary substance acknowledges that an individual is unique. In 'Categories' he also stated that the individual substances cannot be ranked. We believe that this principle is still valid. Each individual living organism has its unique place in the Universe. This view assigns the utmost importance to an individual living organism, in contrast with some contemporary reductionist views such that an individual organism is just a carrier of the selfish genes (Dawkins 1989).

(pp. 4-5)

I'm sure some thinkers will see a problem with linking uniqueness to ousia. Should astrobiology acknowledge the uniqueness of every living organism? On what grounds?

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posted by Fido the Yak at 2:40 PM. 0 comments


Professor Marc Cohen teaches that the apeiron (ἄπειρον) of Anaximander should not be thought of as "infinite" but as "indefinite." John Burnet presents the contrary view. Let me stick with "indefinite" for a moment. Cohen calls Anaximander a monist, as most scholars do. Is the indefinite as archê consistent with monism? Can we say whether the indefinite pertains to the one or to the many?

Cohen gives us the Anaximander fragment recorded by Simplicius: " ... out of which come to be all the heavens and the worlds in them. The things that are perish into the things out of which they come to be, according to necessity, for they pay penalty and retribution to each other for their injustice in accordance with the ordering of time, as he says in rather poetical language." The greek for "The things that are perish into the things out of which they come to be, according to necessity, for they pay penalty and retribution to each other for their injustice in accordance with the ordering of time" is ἐξ ὧν δὲ ἡ γένεσίς ἐστι τοῖς οὖσι͵ καὶ τὴν φθορὰν εἰς ταῦτα γίνεσθαι κατὰ τὸ χρεών· διδόναι γὰρ αὐτὰ δίκην καὶ τίσιν ἀλλήλοις τῆς ἀδικίας κατὰ τὴν τοῦ χρόνου τάξιν (Elpenor). The connection between this fragment and apeiron is controversial, but I'll assume that there is one for the sake of argument. Is saying that being has committed an injustice (adikia) tantamount to saying that being operates outside the law? Arguably Anixamander means for apeiron to encompass being, such that any lawless operation would only be temporary. Being pays for its injustice with finitude. But how could being thus be answerable to apeiron? Either aperion is a first principle of being, or being operates outside the law. For both to be the case, we would have to assume something like "being encompasses its own annihilation," and yet Anaximander seems to be saying that anhiliation encompasses being, in the form of a retribution for being outside the law. Does being own its annihilation?

Just supposing that finitude is outside of being, being then would be apeiron, or it would obey apeiron as a first principle. The choice between "indefinite" and "infinite" thus appears crucial. I can say I am indefinitely here more easily than I can say I am infinitely here. Is this ultimately a distinction without a difference? I can't decide.

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posted by Fido the Yak at 1:37 PM. 0 comments

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Mas la Vida Tiene Abismos Insondables

In A Palindrome: Conscious Living Creatures as Instruments of Nature; Nature as an Instrument of Conscious Living Creatures (I'll be referencing the page numbers in the pdf), Mario Crocco gives us a lot to chew on: cosmology, natural science, eschatology, life and death. Here I'll limit myself to exploring the problem of cadacualtez (lit. "each-oneness") that he raises, a problem I've hastily touched on in relation to Bains' The Primacy of Semiosis.

The story of cadacualtez, like the story of its cousin uniquess, is the story of a cover-up. I demanded of Adriana Caverero (For More than One Voice) that she demonstrate an ability to think uniqueness, because I didn't want to assume that the scotamization of uniqueness has been due to a history of bad philosophy rather than a simple situation of there not being much to say about uniqueness. Without being too cavalier I'd like to put the same challenge to Crocco's discussion of cadacualtez. As it happens, there are a few things that can be said about it. Furthermore, attention to its scotomization may be useful in clarifying how not to think about it, a point that I could have made about Caverero's critique of logocentrism had I been completely fair.

Let's start with some simple definitions. "Cadacualtez," Crocco explains, is "the intrinsic unbarterability, unrepeatability, incommunicability and singularity of every existential being" that "manifests as the ontic determination, in nature, of every event of a finite observer's finding herself experiencing in a circumstance rather than, instead, in another" (p. 98). "Natural science," he continues, "finds psychisms that neither self-posit to exist nor self-circumstance to eclose. As their circumstancing is a constitutive contingency for finite observers, its unbarterability makes such event one and the same, even if iterated observationally over the years–one never being shifted or teleported to other bodily circumstances. As a matter of observation, each real observer in nature cannot derive its own place from the physical regularities forming its other empirical findings; less, to account for why the availabilities compounding his or her mental world do not become available to another person" (ibidem). Crocco insists on "the unbarterability of circumstancing" (p. 97), which suggests to me, perhaps wrongly, that cadacualtez is a matter of circumstances, and that as finite existentialities we find ourselves thrown into a circumstancing, which is to say, into a cadacualtic reality. Another way of putting this might be that we are thrown into whoness, a cadacualtically constituted psychophysical unity that cannot be reduced to simply having a brain, for "the cerebral organ only determines some sensory contents of her or his experience, but does not determine–nor could it do this–who will appear circumstanced to use it" (p. 98).

What would it mean to depict ontic constitution in cadacualtic terms rather than fungible terms ( p. 96)? The concepts of individuality, self, ipseity, identity are inadequate to describe cadacualtez, and have contributed to its philosophical ecclipse, or cultural ecclipse, as Crocco would have it, an ecclipse that has befuddled the conceptual understanding of mind-body relations (p. 95). In one sense, cadacualtez isn't conceptual at all, "because the logic of concepts asserts that being one is identical to being not another, the cultural ecclipse of cadacualtez was reinforced" (p. 99). If we question this logic, will it be possible to think cadacualtez? To do so, we must not confuse mental contents or the structure of mental contents with the reality of minds' cadacualtez. Cadacualtez is "a unique affair of existence that does not belong within any realm of essences." It is unlawful, or rather, in a manner of speaking, its logos is unique. The coming into actuality of each and every existentiality establishes a new logos, separate from the domain of essences (p. 114).

Crocco points to a temporal asymmetry of cadacualtic descriptions:

Cadacualtez is postdictable but never predictable. If one's survey goes back from the existence of a particular existentiality, say that of Jane Doe, to her previous nonexistence, the former is already established as a part of the query. In contrast, when the survey is conceptualized in the opposite sense, one comes from the nonexistence therein–say, in a not yet fecondated ovule–of circumstancing relationships with any cadacualtic existentiality (namely, not from the nonexistence of circumstancing relationships with Jane Doe but the nonexistence of circumstancing relationships with any existentiality by then future) to the existence of Jane Doe's particular reality, not another. In this fashion, in one avenue of the survey (the latter, or causal sequence) this non-alterity differs from identity, but merges with it in the other, sequence-reversing avenue. The epistemological time asymmetry that in this way comes to affect the issue cloaks, habitually, the important distinction between one's being one because of one's history, namely the fact that the sequence of constitutive events makes one's instanceable features, and one's being not another because of a different source. In this regard cadacualtez is a converse of ipseity, the latter determining one to be oneself and the former making one's being not another.

(p. 98)

I want to return to now to the question of what it means to be thrown into cadacualtez, or to be thrown into a cadacualtic finite existentiality. How does this condition relate to the condition of embodiment? Crocco argues that in nature we find "cadacualtic semovient observers whose existence is unassailable by the formation, transformation, and obliteration of the bodily circumstances that became theirs" (p. 112). What then is the relationship between semovience and bodily circumstance? When we talk about embodiment, do we mean semovience or do we mean what the phenomenologists would call the body as object? A clarification is in order, as it has been my habit to think of semovience as the awareness of the ability to move one's body, and this is not quite what the Argentian existential neurobiologists, of whom Crocco is a leading figure, have in mind. Mariela Szirko, in Effects of Relativistic Motion in the Brain and their Biological Relevance, nicely summarizes what the Argentinian existential neurobiologists mean by semovience:

The other two kinds of availabilities [besides the varieties of mental contents], namely the inherent abilities (sensing and moving), are not acquired mental contents, but constitutional or primary abilities of every mind. One is gnoseological apprehension or knowledgeability: the ability to experience or have knowledge of one’s own constitutive reality or ontic consistency, even if only of one’s causal changes, and thus of differentiating the demarcations acquired by one’s existentiality through causal efficiency whether of the outer circumstances or of the mind. The other is semovience, the inherent or primary ability of every mind found in nature (i.e., every circumstanced psyche or existential finitude compounding in a personal organism) to start new causal series and not merely continuing causal sequences that are transmitted from elsewhere.

So the two points that need to be made is that where a phenomenology of the body might point to a possible unity of gnoseological apprehension and semovience, a merger of I think and I can, the Argentinian existential neurobiologists see two distinct features of existentialities. Thus even though Crocco might appear to share with phenomenology a sense of the apodicticity of semovience, he has already made the move to what Barbaras calls cosmobiology, and he is fundamentally concened with the relationship between existence and causality.

Crocco's vision, it must be noted, extends beyond that of a natural scientist, as his cosmobiology is concerned with what natural science cannot explain as much as with what it can. He says, "Death is a biological fact, personal existence is not" (p. 111), and, if I'm understanding him correctly, he suggests that semovience has no relation to the death of the body. "I see nothing," he says, "preventing postmortal finite existentialities in a bodyless condition from keeping themselves semoviently operating" (p. 112). In sum, it appears Crocco is asking us to believe in ghosts, or, more precisely, to not rule out the possibility of ghosts. This is a problem for me. Does cadacualtez have a ghostly aspect, an implication of the absolute freedom of personal existence? (This would be another reason for me to question the absoluteness of existential freedom.)

I want to draw attention to the condition of plurality that cadacualtez as "not being another" indexes. If we should not think "as if empsycheable bodies and embody-able minds lacked any intrinsic bond referring them one to another individually" (p. 95), how then should we think of cadacualtez in terms of an intrinsic bond referring minds to one another? Crocco says that minds are "cadacualtic and plural, as well as not point-like but innerly extensive and dififferntiable sinks and sources of causal action" (p. 100). And he advises, "In your imagining that you are the unoriginated portion of reality, you should imagine that you are ontically constituted as a plurality of cadacualtic persons" (p. 106). The "unoriginated portion of reality" is another way of thinking God, a way of imagining the whole of the cosmos from an omniscient point of view. Is the plurality of cadacualtic existentialities only imaginable from this omniscient point of view, or is it an evident aspect of the ontic constitution of existence? What is the relationship between causal sequences, whether transeunt or initiated by a semovience, and plurality, i.e., is plurality a fact of personal existence because it is cosmic?

If cadacualtez is thinkable we will have to work around a certain "logic of concepts" that would equate being one with not being another. On what basis, then, will we think the conditions of possibility of plurality? Another unexplored issue also then arises, the incommunicability of cadacualtez. Is cadacualtez incommunicable? Or do we follow Cavarero in finding the voice as a communication of whoness, an immediate entry into the uniqueness of others?

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posted by Fido the Yak at 1:24 PM. 9 comments

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Immanent-Transcendent to the Continuum

Kojima has gone Zen on me, which compels me to say that I'm as agnostic about Buddhisms as I am about theistic beliefs. However, I wouldn't want my agnosticism to get in the way of my enlightenment. I'll see if Kojima can't shed some light.

"[R]eligiousness," says Kojima, "means, in a specific sense, the immanent transcendence of the ego and of the world, but once these both have lost their common Being, religiousness is necessarily robbed of its ground, for the transcendence of religious intentions occurs only on the firm ground of this common Being" (Monad and Thou, p. 68). Kojima calls this common Being a "potential dimension of religiousness" (ibidem), implying that one can explore this ground philosophically without making a religious commitment.

It might be fair to say that for Kojima the lesson of Husserlian phenomenology is the discovery of life as the being of the ego. This focus on life is not without its problems, as Derrida has indicated. Kojima notes that in the Cartesian Meditations Husserl calls the stream of consciousness the "stream of life," and he notes further the many locutions about life ("original life," "transcendental life," "intentional life," "reflecting life") that Husserl employs; however, in his view Husserl never thematized life but rather treated it as self-evident (p. 72). Based on a quotation from an unpublished manuscript (EIII5), Kojima concludes that what Husserl means by life is a kind of will, something that founds the intentionality of consciousness. That is to say, according to Kojima's interpretation, Husserl grasps life in connection with objective recognition or perception. At the same time, Kojima argues, the life of the ego as such is not mediated by objective recognition or perception, but is an "immediate, nonreflective, living life" (p. 74). He wonders how this life can be thought, and he says that "life as ego can, in my opinion, be grasped only in its own space and time. That is to say, this ego can be grasped only in its original correlation with the world" (ibidem). The problem then becomes one of describing the spatiotemporality of the life of the ego which is irreducible to objective space and time. Kojima asks us to follow Husserl in mapping out a self-essential region to which belong "not only the immanent temporality of the stream of my experiences, but also the kinesthetic habituality of the ego and the spatial objects constituted by the ego," a region called the "monad" (ibidem).

"The spatial objects in my monad are correlated," Kojima summarizes Husserl's view, "not only through sensory perception but also through kinesthetic apperception of the incarnated ego, not unidirectionally but reciprocally, to my body as its only center" (p. 75). Husserlian temporality involves a now that, Kojima corrcetly notes, is not a punctual now, but a thick now with horizons of protention and retention, its thickness "originally constituted by the practical interest of the functioning ego" (ibidem). Kojima finds that in Husserl's "theory of space-constitution there is no argument concerning the temporal (self-accumulating) componets of the inner relating forces of the monad, while in his theory of time there is no argument that addresses the teleological manner of self-presencing of the monad," so he must therefore pursue this problem on his own (p. 76).

In spatiality Kojima discovers a phenomenon of depth. If three-dimensional space is constituted intersubjectively, that is, if the back of thing is understood as being the front of the thing for another (anonymous) person, we still do not know the being of the back, which can be grasped only from the inside of a thing. We intuit the being of a thing's back not by turning it around, but by going deeper into the core of thing.. The back designates the depth of a thing. "Everything present to the genuine individual ego as will has such a Being, namely, its depth" (p. 78). What does this mean for the life, for the being of the ego?

The Being of the ego is never to be grasped from outside, namely in objective space. The Being of the ego, which is to be grasped only from the inside, is nothing other than the will or life. However, we could also call it the (bodily) flesh (Leib), insofar as it is grasped as the nonobjectifiable starting point of praxis. The nonobjectifiable flesh as the practical starting point is my Being, which stands before and in the middle of the Being of things in the monad. My Being as flesh and the Being of things correlate with each other inseparably (I believe that the "inseparable" correlation of the ego and the constituted object in the Husserlian monad has its original source here). When I intuit one, the other is intuited at the same time. Therefore, we can say that both constitute a kind of ontological pairing. All the pairing has a common pole in my (bodily) flesh.

(p. 79)

Kojima's idea of ontological coupling raises, I think, rather than solves a problem of ontological difference. Of course he doesn't see the problem quite this way. He would have us attend to an "infinite" depth of being, a solitary being at home in vast spatial continuum, and he calls this space the genuine monad, the authentically "most primordial region in the Husserlian sense" (ibidem). My reading of this is that continuum may indeed be deep, but its depth is not infinite. That may be because my understanding of existence is naive. But let's proceed with Kojima's argument.

Kojima holds that the thickness of the present, like the size of the monad, is infinite. Furthermore:

[T]he definitive size of the monad and the definitive thickness of the present correspond to each other through the mediation of the kinesthesis of my life. However, it is also the case that without any practical teleology and without kinesthesis, the infinite size of the monad and the infinite thickness of the standing-present correspond to each other through the mediation of my Being as will. Here space and time are not separated from each other. Rather, they are two sides of one and the same matter. We have reached at last the original unity of the ego and the world, or that of space and time. We will call this unity the continuum of life, or the monad in the genuine sense.

(p. 80, Kojima's emphasis)

Well, we have here genuine monad said of two slightly different things, but perhaps that is a trifle. The key idea is that we identify life as being a continuum, and that we then identify this continuum with the monad. Kojima does not appear to be afraid of solipsism at this juncture; indeed, it's as if he thought the problem of solipsism were one of false beliefs rather than one of isolation, for he insists on the solitary nature of existence and the truth of the continuum (p. 81).

Now, here comes the Zen (which one might see impacting all of Kojima's thinking up to this point). Kojima says that Zen Buddhism "is not only transcendent to the continuum but is from the beginning also immanent to it. Zen is immanent-transcendent to the continuum" (p. 82). Immanence, it seems, has to do with the interpenetration of absolute, eternal present moments: the beings of the entire world, following Dogen, "are connected continuously and always live in an absolute present" (p 83). By transcendence, Kojima means transcendence towards the continuum of life. (I don't believe he's even minutely troubled by the circularity of a transcendence of where you are towards where you are, if that in fact is his meaning.) And yet, citing Suzuki's interpretation of the Kegon Sutra, he presents the idea that "infinite time is a moment, and a moment is infinite time; likewise a point is infinite space and infinite space is a point," or, more concretely, the universe is included in the tip of a paintbrush, or when we lift a finger we can cover the whole universe. He concludes from this:

Here we can see that immanence to the monadic continuum and transcendence of it onto the objective world are united. In other words, here the monadic ego identifies itself with a thing in thing and at the same time a monad. I am a corporeal thing and at the same time a monad. We must still pay attention to the fact that all things in the world are also granted their own monads. Absolute individuality is guaranteed to all things, not only to the human being.

(Ibidem, my emphasis)

This is a little unclear to me because Kojima really does say "transcence toward the continuum of life" and "transcendence of it [the monadic continuum] onto the objective world" all on the same page. I would like to question whether the former possibility presumes more harmony of wills than is evident in daily life. If I were to cover your universe with the tip of my finger I might expect you to protest.

I find it comforting to think that my philodendron has its own monad, but I don't think the rock can have a monad by Kojima's definition because I don't believe it has a continuum of life. I'm not sure that the rock has being like a living being, much less depth of being, and I think granting it monad status raises a problem of other monads (monad as other) that bleeds into Kojima's entire monadology. Can the depth (the continuum) of the other monad be transcended? Again, if I were to transcend your depth you might protest more vociferously than a rock. Kojima doesn't intend for us to question the transcendence of depth in this way, but I think the question arises from his approach. Of course it's possible that in raising such questions I am grossly misunderstanding what Kojima is getting at.

Zen Buddhism appears to be helpful if the problem is to find one's place in the universe, and yet if the real problems of living are narrower, such as how to live with others, I'm not sure Zen is very useful. Kojima himself does seem aware of this problem, but his formulation of it is awkward. He asks, "What would a religiousness be like that transcends the immanence of the continuum not onto the thing in general but onto the human, who, unlike the things, casts a free gaze out of itself" (p. 84)? I call this awkward in part because I don't believe the free gaze adequately sums up the problem of the other monad.

So if I reject Zen with its insight into rocks, what am I left with? I have a question of the "immanent transcendence of the ego and of the world," where these entities are considered cojoined in the monad, the continuum of life, and I have the possibility of considering this as a kind of bodily praxis. It follows, I think, that the body does not place limits on my transcendce, but rather enables it. So again I am led to question whether this continuum of life is truly infinite or whether it is in fact limited in any way, even if its depth might be unspecifiable as it is lived. (Is there a mathematical concept of infinity at play here? How can such a concept be squared with existence?)

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posted by Fido the Yak at 9:54 AM. 0 comments

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Against Repetition: Habit

Deleuze (Empiricism and Subjectivity, p. 63) gives us the following quote from Hume's Treatise on Human Nature (Part III, Section VII): "We advance, rather than retard our existence." This is a thought to keep in mind as we explore Deleuze's discussion of habit in the third chapter of Empiricism and Subjectivity, "The Power of Imagination in Ethics and Knowledge." A couple of preliminary considerations are in order. Firstly, I will not be taking a strong stand here against the existence of repetition, but rather I will argue against a preemptive belief that we know what repetition is or that we know how to talk about it. Secondly, it will be necessary to return to the this topic at a later date, for example in relation to the habitus according to Bourdieu and also according to Deleuze's later work. And thirdly, since we are dealing with an early work of a philosopher whose thinking on the problem of repetition became even more embryonic (and also rhizomic) in later works, we should acknowledge that Deleuze felt that only some of the thoughts expressed in this early work were worth pursuing, and in any case we are not dealing with his last word on the topic.

In Difference and Repetition, if you will recall, Deleuze says that repetition is imaginary, or to be exact, "repetition is itself in essence imaginary, since the imagination here alone here forms the 'moment' of the vis repetitiva from the point of view of constitution: it makes that which it contracts appear as elements or cases of repetition" (p. 76, my emphasis). Though Deleuze's thinking here on the problem of habit has been elaborated (involving contraction through passive synthesis), his concern with its relation to the imaginary picks up on a theme from his study of Hume. The imaginary is not to be confused with the unreal or the untrue. Deleuze says that "culture is a false experience, but it is also a true experiment" (Empiricism and Subjectivity, p. 62). This is a key to interpreting his thinking about habit.

The imagination is not cold but impassioned. The passions are reflected in the imagination, and at the same time, the imagination extends the passions. The imagination is affected. It "reflects affection, and affection resounds inside the mind" (p. 59). This is the basis of a complex effect, a "reflection on a previous reflection" that we can identify with culture (pp.60-61). Deleuze asks, "what is the simple relation between the imagination and the passions which will permit the latter to develop inside the former a complex effect" (p. 63)? He answers his own question:

The modes of association give the ideas possible reciprocal relations, while the qualities of the passions give the relations a direction and a sense; they attribute them with a reality, a univocal movement, and hence with a first term. The self, for example, is the object of pride and humility in virture of a natural and original property which confers a tendency or a disposition upon the imagination. The idea, or rather the impression of the self, focuses the mind.

(p. 63, Deleuze's emphasis, my bold)

Is habit primarily confered? Is repetition? Does the advancement of existence occur naturally, or do we advance it by practice, or by the bestowal of disposition mediated by properties? Does existence advance by repetition? Let's look further at what Deleuze has to say.

"[A]ssociation links ideas in the imagination; the passions give a sense to these relations, and thus they provide the imagination with a tendency" (p. 63). So does Deleuze mean that the ultimate source of habit the passions as reflected in the imagination, and not the imagination itself? Perhaps not, since habit, in the form of culture, has to do with a complex effect, a reflection upon a reflection. However, culture is only one manifestation of habit. We may also have to deal with a natural habit, in which case it may be that Deleuze is saying that the passions are the source of habits, of tendencies and dispositions. And yet, he has already said that we are dealing qualities of the passions, or a natural and original property. What is the source of a quality?

Deleuze says, "the imagination follows the tendency which the passions give it; the relation that they suggest, by becoming univocal, has been made real. It is a simple component part, a circumstance of the passions" (pp. 63-64). Now we can talk about tendency in two senses, an original sense that pertains to the passions, and a secondary sense that pertains to the imagination which follows the passions.

[W]e must designate every determined degree of habit as a probability, without forgetting that probability presupposes habit as a principle. This presupposition is based on the fact that each degree of habit is, in relation to an object, the mere presumption of the existence of another object, like the one which habitually accompanies the first object. The paradox of habit is that it is formed by degrees and also that is a principle of human nature.

(p. 66, Deleuze's emphasis, my bold)

So Deleuze is saying here that habit is based on a presumption of likeness. This would be markedly different from his later work if he let it stand at that. However, he doesn't let it stand. Not exactly. He says:

[H]abit is a principle different from experience, although it also presupposes it. As a matter of fact, the habit I adopt will never by itself explain the fact that I adopt a habit; a repetition will never by itself form a progression. Experience causes us to observe particular conjunctions. Its essence is the repetition of similar cases.

(p. 67, Deleuze's emphasis, my bold)

So far, so problematical. The essence of experience is repetition on the basis of likeness, a presumption that things exist in likewise fashion? Once again, Deleuze says:

Repetition by itself does not constitute progression, nor does it form anything. The repetition of similar cases does not move us forward, since the only difference between the first case and the second case is that the second case comes after the first, without displaying a new idea.

(p. 67, my emphasis)

(I mean to underline Deleuze's idealism here, an interpretation which many scholars vehemently reject.) It would seem that we cannot link repetition to existence directly. However, there may still be another way of conceptualizing repetition even in this early work. Deleuze says, "habit is experience, insofar as it produces the idea of an object by means of the imagination and not by means of the understanding. Repetition becomes a progression, or even a production, when we no longer see it in relation to the objects repeated, because, if we do, it changes, discovers and produces nothing" (p. 68). So might there be a kind of repetition that becomes a progression, a repetition in step with the advancement of existence? In Difference and Repetition this kind of repetition is to be found in the eternal return, an idea I cannot fully embrace. But let's pause here on this notion of a bifurcation of repetition, the one branch leading to repetition of the like which can never be a progression, the other branch not being in relation to repeated objects. Does this second form of repetition deserve the name "repetition"? Or rather, are we beginning to see a problem of repetition, even a possibility that it might not exist?

Deleuze says that "habit can feign or evoke a false experience" (p. 69). It can create "phantoms of belief" like language(p. 70). More strongly, he says that "[h]abit is a principle which cannot invoke experience without falsifying it, or without, at the same time, invoking fictitious repetitions" (p 71). Are we justified in asking whether there any other kind of repetitions besides fictitious repetititions? Finally, Deleuze says that "habit is not, in itself and by itself, confined to the reptition of cases observed within experience, since other repetitions can form it equally well" (p. 72).

Do we have here a notion of repetition that is so utterly divorced from existence and from experience (or rather, tied to such an idealized vision of experience) that nothing can be salvaged from it? Or do we accept a broadening of our understanding of the imagination, and also the promise of a repetition that has not yet earned its name? Well, I'm not sure what to make of Deleuze's reading of Hume. I am withholding judgement on the question of repetition.

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posted by Fido the Yak at 8:42 AM. 28 comments

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

λάθε βιώσας

The Beeb is reporting, although the news has been out for many months, that Lipotes vexillifer, commonly known as the baiji or the Yangtze river dolphin, is now extinct.

The baiji had a well developed sense of echolocation. As I was doing a bit of research on the topic, I learned that echolocation in dolphins may not be related to brain size. According to Paul R. Manger ("An examination of cetacean brain structure with a novel hypothesis correlating thermogenesis to the evolution of a big brain," Biological Reviews (2006), 81(2), pp. 293-­338), the large cetacean brain has nothing to do with intelligence but rather has to do with "a combination of an unusually high number of glial cells and unihemispheric sleep phenomenology," making the cetacean brain "an efficient thermogenetic organ, which is needed to counteract heat loss to the water." However, in Cetaceans Have Complex Brains for Complex Cognition, Marino et al. take issue with Manger's study. Barton ("Animal Communication: Do Dolphins Have Names," Current Biology (2006), 16 (15), pp. R598-R599) takes a more cautious position between the two extremes. Resolving the debate will require careful scrutiny of a wide body of evidence and evaluating conflicting interpretations of key pieces of evidence, a process I won't get into at the present. Nevertheless, the question of whether or not encephalization in cetaceans and primates represents a case of convergent evolution invites us to consider the problem of sympathy, for even if we reject Manger's accusations of anthropomorphism among the cetologists, that is, even if we don't believe that the science is affected by the sympathies of its practioners, we may still acknowledge that our sympathies are affected by the science.

In Empiricism and Subjectivity: An Essay on Hume's Theory of Human Nature (available here), Gilles Deleuze says that "[i]t is precisely because the essence of passion or the essence of the particular interest is partiality rather than egoism that sympathy, for its part, does not transcend the particular interest or passion" (p. 38). However, he also says that "[t]o integrate sympathies [in society] is to make sympathy transcend its contradiction and natural partiality. Such an integration implies a positive moral world, and is brought about by the positive invention of such a world" (pp. 39-40). And, finally, he says that "[t]o be in society is first to substitute possible conversation for violence" (p. 41). Thus we can see one way in which cetology affects our sympathies. Cetology informs our understanding of whether it is possible for dolphins to enter into conversation with humans, and this possibility, in turn, colors how we feel about extending our sympathies to dolphins. Even if we take a broad view of the meaning of "conversation" suggested by Deleuze's reading of Hume, cetology still informs our views in that it invites us to imagine the possible forms of interspecies conversation.

There is a thinking, often considered wise, that would hold the mosquito in the same esteem as the dolphin or the human being. Some thinkers who take this view would also claim to be impartial, to merely be informed by science and not be emotionally affected. Without intending to refute such a claim, I suggest that the alternative approach to the esteem of lifeforms, the one that would have us extend our sympathies beyond the boundary of our own species, and beyond species that appear similar to us in some way, presents a far more critical problem for the present day.

It must be admitted that human sympathy for the dolphin is rather feeble. The baiji is, after all, extinct. If we can say that we have invented a world that would esteem the dolphin, we must admit that such a world is not universally shared, at least not with the intensity required to prevent an extinction. The value of the river as a habitat for dolphins is weighed against the value of the river for human commerce, and, in the case of the Yangtze, commerce has won the day. It is not easy to live with such violence. In my previous post on Nancy's idea of the ecotechnological, I did not mean to imply that living through a late holocene wave of extinctions will be painless. And I don't mean to imply now that we couldn't avoid some pain by adopting a more stringent regime of global conservation. I am saying that we should be primarily concerned with the pain suffered not by Gaia but by human beings whose sympathies extend unstoppably towards other forms of life. Now I've talked myself into a contradiction, or a double whammy. Sympathy for the dolphin is unstoppable, yet it is feeble. Why then should we care about the sympathies of other human beings if they are so feeble? Perhaps we should look at the conditions of the enfeeblement of the sympathies.

There is a prejudice we must face. We like to believe that our sympathies are harmonious, while the sympathies of others are discordant, that our sympathies are widely extended while the sympathies of others are narrow. Confronting this prejudice is a first step towards substituting a possibility of conversation for violence. Inventing a moral universe that effectively places the dolphin in high esteem will require the participation of those whose interests conflict with the preservation of dolphin habitats. Truncating the possibiltiy of conversation will contribute to an enfeeblement of the sympathies. This I think is evident if one looks at the (hegemonic) class interests of the spotted owl (Strix occidentalis) debate. A critique of hegemony would be useful, but only to the extent that any initial prejudice that would devalue the sympathies of others is not on full display, because the goal should not be to engage the like-minded in conversation, but to engage all whose participation is necessary to construct a world we would want to inhabit.

Finally, then, I will ask whether the concern for the sympathies of other humans that I advocate isn't ecotechnologically outmoded, whether it is based on a prejudice for the auto that also needs to be confronted. And I will ask what lathe biosas (λάθε βιώσας) means in an ecotechnological age.

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posted by Fido the Yak at 11:25 AM. 5 comments