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 technĂȘ. 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.


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