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Friday, 24 October 2014

The optimist aggiornato

Watching an interviewwith Antoine Wilson about his beautiful Panorama City. He says that he tried to write about the Quijote, which led him to Paul Renfro, a character in the book, which has a whole outsider view of life and people in his medium-sized urban assemblage. He views thinking as something that is proscribed and engages heroically in finding time and environment to do some of it - and in a systematic way. Renfro, for instance, when asked about the basic questions that guide his thought, says he hasn't gone so far as to be able to really know what the basic questions are. But Wilson confesses that he lost interest in the thoughts of Renfro, so he became the occasional companion of the main character of Panorama City, Oppen Porter. Porter is a Sancho Panza but also comes out as a Candide of sorts - Wilson says he discovered he was doing a Candide and not a Quijote in the middle of the process of writing. In any case, the book navigates the space of the optimists and investigates what does it take to be an optimist these days.

Maybe Porter's high dyslexia drives him towards his optimism: he is obliged to find in people what others find in books and in social networks and in otherwise reading-dependent media. He lives an oral life. Replacing talking by reading is the topic of Emmanuel Egudu, character in Coetzee's Elizabeth Costello. Egudu argues that in Africa people interact so much that there is no time for novel reading. It is also what makes Joyce remark that an evening in a pub in Dublin would provide conversation worth of a novel he would then not write. Porter seeks oral life - he doesn't write, he records his deeds and thoughts in a tape for his unborn son Juan-George (thinking that he, Porter, will die before Juan-George is born). It is meant to be a written book registering an oral life by oral means. It is like literature spying on non-written life. Thought - praised and stimulated by Paul Renfro - is one of the many things that appear in Porter's life and thinkers tend to bundle together just like professionals, or cyclists, or owners... After forty days in Panorama City, Porter goes back to his natal Madera where he decides he can be a man of the world - and not a 9 to 5 worker. (When in Panorama City, a job in a snack chain shop made him feel discouraged without ever loosing his optimism.) To become a man of the world is, for him, to become a fully aware optimist. Men of the world is something that makes sense mostly in oral contexts, where people had to travel to be acquainted to places and peoples. Back in Madera, he can be a man of the world. The book itself is thoroughly sweet and uplifting but it leaves this bitter taste: is orality and optimism being put at the service of producing commodities for those who live among the written letters?

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Whitehead´s symbolic reference and qualia taken qua qualitons

Eros and myself published a paper in Acta Analytica few years back defending the idea that qualia should be taken as tropes. They would be like abstract particulars, objects of perception and yet not universals - universalisation would come with conceptual abilities that introduce resemblance of qualitons amid the so-far bare particulars of qualia. These bare particulars are not themselves perceived, but they are the stuff on which perception (which is taken by us as fully conceptual) works. We don´t go as far as saying that these abstract particulars have causal efficacy (for this would be a strangle claim for causation is normally thought as taking place among concreta). However, we were responding to the inclination to give an external reality associated to our qualitative perception - an external reality independent of the workings of our conceptual abilities. To be sure, we were probably quite realists about the outcomes of the perceptual process, but that realism depended on some sort of response-dependence argument that establishes (or assumes) that our concepts are suitable. But we added an element of non-conceptual external element in perception in the form of qualia understood as tropes, as abstract particulars.

It is interesting to compare the move that made us consider qualia as qualitons with Whitehead´s drive towards a Lockean (indirect) realism concerning perception. Whiehead posits actual entities as the subject of perceptual experience. Those actual entities are the subjects when they are the content of perceptual experience - but they are also the experiencing suprajects, the ones that have the percpetual content. Actual entities are not abstract particulars, they are the ultimate ingredient of anything concrete (of any concrescence, as Whitehead puts it). Those actual entities affect each other by perception in the mode of efficient causation (see Process and Reality II, chapters 6, 7 and 8). Notice that efficient causation is for Whitehead a mode of perception together with presentational immediacy. The latter, though, comes later in the process of complexification. But the comparison with our qualia qua qualitons comes when we consider that these actual entities are the very basis of his ontology and therefore he is crucially sensible to the inclination that perception has to capture some reality. This is where he admires Locke for he never fully gave up the idea that in perception we are in contact with something. We are in contact with something that is partly constituted by our perceiving - together with all other perceptions (prehensions) that makes it a subject (and with all acts of perception where it is the supraject). It is interesting to notice that both the postulation of qualia as abstract particulars and the postulation of actual entities constituted by acts of perception are responding to this fundamental Lockean intuition that there is reality to what is perceived. (Even when the perceiving actual entities are not in a position to say anything about the reality they perceive - that is, even when perception is no more than an exercise in efficient causation and symbolic reference and language are still far for the perceiving actual entities don´t have yet anything to say.)

Friday, 10 October 2014

Syllabus for a future ecology that will be able to present itself as a politics

I´ve been finding myself discussing Latour´s predicament for a political ecology, stated in his Politics of Nature and assumed in the Enquiry (AIME). If one looks at the erratic history of some Green Parties around, it becomes clear that the ecological demands are not suited for the political institutions as they stand. Teaching Descola´s book makes me think of how politics is normally practiced - and of the several forms it excludes the non-human. Yesterday we were discussing totemism, and one of the translations of the word "totem", which is native from North America, is friend. It is interesting to consider nature from the point of view of philia: which non-human elements agree with me, where are my friends, who are the ones I form a frindship community with. (I´ll maybe write more about totemic nature as a space for non-human friendship.) That made me wonder about a syllabus for a future political ecology. I thought it should start with three foci, or three deconstructive efforts. First, as Latour himself claims, science studies. Second, as Latour tried to do, an anthropology of the moderns that tells us what really matter for them. Third, an anthropology of nature because after the first two, we are ready to let some received images of nature go. What else whould be in the syllabus?

Thursday, 2 October 2014

Parmenides and the dispositions of being

In my Descola's course today we were discussing the way animists see metamorphoses and camouflage. I suggested that, if an interiority can be, according to an ethnography of the Orokaiva (by André Iteanu), the same expressed in many physicalities, there is less room for a false discourse (to say of what it is that it is not, of what is not that it is). Or at least, there is an animist way to deal with the issue. In fact, myths are taken as (simple or qualified) lies because we are the offspring of Plato's Strager's Parricide (in the Sophist). A person can be a pig and a human and oscillate between these poles. No (physical) predicate of a subject are necessarily to be taken as false. A myth says of what it is that it is. It is interesting to wonder how much the Parricide of Parmenides is an opening gesture for naturalism. (Would the parricide sound the same in different dispositions?)

Anthropocentrism as a special case of animism

Descola's book (Par-delà nature et culture) is a quite extraordinary, it often makes you feel Wagner's motto (that anthropology is becoming philosophy with people inside) in the skin. It feels that the various groups mentioned are like schools of thought - for instance under the umbrella of animism (as much as naturalists have developed several schools within their overarching umbrella). It also gives the impression that anthropology is a tool for a proper jump into abstraction - at least to suggest strategies to dissolve problems we often put to ourselves.

Animism admits of varieties and degrees. If we accept the founding (Durkheimian) idea that persons are always composed of physicality and interiority, physicality could be such that there is no interior associated to a portion of it. So, one can think that my finger doesn't have an interior, is only part of my person and therefore what is expressed by my interiority. This is why some animists take only (some) animals to be non-human persons while others would include more animals, plants etc. Individuation can take place in many different ways - but the individuation of persons depends on finding the double structure of physicality and interiority. If it is so, anthropocentrism is a special case of animism: only humans are persons with full interiority and their environment is no more than their physicality, no more than something to express themselves - like their niches. In a scale of few interiorities to many interiorities, anthropocentrism is at a low level: only humans have interiority and all the rest is to be seen as (their) physicality. At the highest level, we find something close to Leibniz's monadology: every portion of matter, no matter how small, is a garden or a lake and has entelechias (monads) in them, as is stated in section 67 of the monadology. Every portion of physicality has interiority in them. Then, of course, there are intermediate positions where some physicalities have interiority. (It is, however, a debate remarkably like the one Bartolomé de las Casas was involved: who (or what) has a soul? This is what places the debate in my concern in the project of Politics of Predication: what distinguishes a who from a what, a no one from a nothing.)

Monday, 29 September 2014

Is God an anarcheologist?

Amirouche Moktefi posts an interesting question in a list: is there any representation of Adam navelless?

An interesting element in (some) creationist credos is that God created the past together with the rest of the present world (so that human's faith, presumably, could be tested - or teased as it was). So fossils of older animals and remnants of plants and rocks were allocated in the planet about 5775 years ago so that an impression of ancestry could be provided - and the real believers would stick to the right path in spite of all recalcitrant evidence. The virtue praised here is being stubborn, loyal to a credo come what may. The means, however, are interesting: recreating the vestiges of the past. I wonder whether all tales of origins aren't always doing the same: building an original past that exorcises vestiges as meaningless (but somehow important to be present). It is as if the marks of past repetition are just not real (just marks of a rehearsal, a répétition). This is maybe because origins are imposed as a force that shakes everything else.

Adam's (and Eve's) navel is the best example. Botero makes both naveled. God probably wanted to tease our faith in the creation by making those first humans with navels provided. There is no ancestry, but there are marks of an ancestor. Humans are created with their ancestry, with their past. A creation is a construction and therefore it is real: after 1864 the germs have been around since ever, has a boutade by Latour in Pandora's Hope. In any case, this is the power of creation: a human has a navel. To be sure, some images, like Klimkovics's, opt to hide the navel area - yet making them sufficiently human-looking. It feels like Adam was supposed to be a prototype, a prototype of a person - and a person has ancestry. But then, ancestry has to be invented.

Friday, 19 September 2014

Superposing regimes concerning the human and ignorance

Hume took modal connections to be second creation. A modal superposition on an otherwise modally disenchanted world (where everything is actual). Ampère, apparently, had a reading of Kant according to which noumena was law-like and the anthropocentrism of the phenomena meant no (weak) correlationism: the absolute can be known in itself through the laws of physics. In such laws, there would be no human part, humans would themselves be non-anthropomorphic. These are examples where regimes concerning the humans (dispositions of being, to borrow Descola's terms) that are superposed: the presence of humans produce a second creation. We can envisage different superpositions of regimes, including an anthropomorphic first creation followed by an anthropocentric second one. (We can also discuss whether the second creation envisaged by Hume was anthropocentric or anthropomorphic - in fact, on my reading of Deleuze's D&R every spirit capable to contemplate repetition and be changed by it is a second creator.)

Now, there is room for understanding Hume as postulating that we are doomed to be ignorant about first creation. Also, this understanding can be extended to Kant's transcendental distinction and would have that we can only know from an anthropocentric (allegedly Copernican) point of view but we ignore how things in themselves are. Ignorance, however, is itself anthropocentric: things are such that cannot be known by humans. There is something about everything with respect to humans that can be known - they are all (equally) unknown. The anthropological sleep becomes a proposition about the world if we consider that knowledge (and ignorance) is two-sided. To claim that no human can know things in themselves is to claim that all humans are equal in their incapacity (or rather that everyone is human in their incapacity) and therefore that no thing in itself can be revealed to humans. This is so especially because we could imagine an intelligible intellect capable to have intellectual intuitions of things in themselves - according fro Kant in the KU. So, things are not known to us but they can be known by other intellects. Maybe we can say that positing such an alternative intellect is to appeal to some degree of anthropomorphism: things are such that they can be captured by us and there are other imaginable (and to some extent anthropomorphic) intellects that prove that they are capturable. In any case, Kant seems to have endorsed this two superposing regimes alternative: the anthropocentrism of ignorance superposed by the anthropocentrism of phenomena.

The idea of a global ignorance is prey to that of a correlation with us, and to the idea that we are all the same (the anthropological dogma denounced by Foucault). On the other hand, the idea of a local ignorance is prey to the thesis that all things are capturable even though they could be not captured by anyone. Anthropomorphism, and its associated metaphysics of subjectivity, projects ignorance (and knowledge) everywhere. To think in terms of ignorance is already to measure things in terms of capture, and therefore in terms either anthropocentric or anthropomorphic.