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Thursday, 30 December 2010

The peace of the polemos

Been thinking a lot about peace - result of being in Beirut, crossing middle east borders, watching the last interview with Edward Said (by ICA) and having experiences like stepping on a giant Israeli flag placed in the floor of a crowded street in Damascus (official and compulsory hatred, of course). Peace not as an absence of conflict but rather as a mode of the polemos, a style for conflict (in the beautiful phrase suggested yesterday to me by my friend Monica Udler). Peace as something that is constantly weaved, not the peace of heavens or that of cementaries (those two often seem the same).

Any conflict can be unproductive or merely destructive. In this case, of the conflicting part at most one will have the chance to survive or come to light. Peace could be thought not as the opposite of violence, but as the opposite of prevailing. Like being in line with the productive character of the polemos, the disruptive capacities of conflict. Yes, it is there to disrupt, not to make any fixed thing prevail. It is not about imposing, it is about proposing. A love for piece as a love for many paths as opposed to just the single strongest.

This is what I like in the secular state solution championed, for example, by Said. No national property of the land - let the microconflict expose their micropolitics. Less nations, less states, less army wars. Peace comes easier when the conflict is spread throughout and new ways around emerge in different instances of it, instead of a single macropolitical solution coming up from a bunch of corporate-driven statemen and generals that are used to think that conflicts are opportunities to prevail.

I can't resist adding some lines of my favorite Amichai piece in a very free translation - I once thought I wanted to get married to this poem:

In the place where we are right
Flowers don' t grow in spring
The place where we prevail
is barren and useless

Sunday, 26 December 2010

Jones By The Way in Beirut

Last week I met Ray Brassier in the By The Way bar in Hamra, Beirut. He is quite an admirer of Sellars and has misgivings with the word speculation as it appears in expressions like "speculative realism", Didier Debaise's "speculative empiricism" or "speculative turn". He doesn't seem to share a lot of enthusiasm for the works of Latour and Stengers. Yet, he somehow believes that metaphysics is unavoidable.

The interesting conversation around Sellars made me remember my problems with the myth of Jones. I tend to think that Jones would be either a genius who introduced mental vocabulary in the Rylean ancestor's language or he would be a discoverer of mentality but in the latter case not so much of a genius. In order for Jones to be a discoverer, there should be mentality there in the first place, in the Rylean ancestors and that could not be a private issue as that would fly on the face of the basic Wittgensteinian points. I do like the idea that the Jonesian contribution introduced mentality into the Rylean ancestors but I suspect Sellars' brand of realism plays him a trick here. Mentality was in a sense "instauré" (Souriau's term) by Jones, it didn't have to pre-exist his endeavour as discernible items (say thoughts, perceptions etc).

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Becoming the enemy

Beware your enemies. They slowly become part of you,

An enemy is somebody who is too intimate, too close, with whom you exchange your hate, and your fear, and with whom you make alliances in order to keep fighting. one cannot be at an arm's distance with their enemies, as they compel, they force their presence, they are engaged in a relation of becoming. Becoming has no contract and takes place through contact - and intimate contact triggered by a sustained and focused hate is sometimes all it takes. Anthropologist Viveiros de Castro has a piece on groups in the low Amazon that are aware of their choice of enemies: they will end up eating them up.

In Cairo and Beirut I keep bumping into a lot of the gestures that I find in the Israelis, those who eat (Lebanese) Houmous with (Egyptian) Tahine. Beware of your enemy, beware of what you eat. The israeli is also a product of their enemies.

It is common now to point out that the Israelis act in ways that resemble the Germans. In particular, the state itself is still built on race-based lines (I like the analysis Schlomo Sand does of all this). It is supposed to be the homeland of the Jews, understood pretty much as a race (the conversion issue is something that makes all the Israeli government uncomfortable, see the reaction their reaction to Sand's book). The Jews, like nomadic Zeligs, endorse the gestures and mores of those who host them - in peace or in war.

Now, The Israelis have become amazingly like their neighbours-enemies, they act like them. So I find our how much like Beirut is Tel-Aviv. Maybe a bit of the low Amazon wisdom will help them understand that, for instance, there is indeed bliss as there are blindspots in becoming increasingly middle eastern.

Monday, 20 December 2010

Lessons from a desertic ontology

A Cairo white taxi took us from Talat Harb to Gize, the last bit of boiling urban life before the three pyramids that still draw a border between the crowded town and the desert. We were then dragged into riding two camels, call them Bahr and Ocean to avoid their tourist sounding given names of Mickey Mouse and Ali Baba that they cutely didn't deserve. Fabi starting riding the Ocean while I was getting acquainted with Bahr. Bahr had a colourful woollen necklace and was the most resistant to kneel down to be burdened and unburdened. Ocean had an elegant tattoo in his back legs and had a subtle way of moving the feet to avoid stepping on the stones. They took us around the three pyramids, us eventually getting down and up again, guided by Muhammad, a boy who would crack all the language-free jokes he could, and Ali, the grown-up worried with time, money and other things that fill up the most expected quarters of a conversation. Eventually we swaped camels and I was then ridding on Ocean. Was I?

Discernibility of the camels clearly depended on attention – their singularity could have gone unnoticed. We can then consider Simondon's dicto that individuation precedes individuals. We can then feel that we could welcome recognition-centred questions like this: how did I know that I was on top of Ocean and not Bahr? Well, leaving aside my own possible mistakes, which are by no means unimportant, the coloured necklace could be removed from one camel and placed in the other, the subtle walking pace of Ocean can certainly be mimicked by Bahr as much as Ocean could start moaning whenever put to go down on his kneels. Also, given some time, tattoos could be copied from one camel to the other and even removed from one of them. Yet, I rely on some qualities to carry on an individualization. Then, the necklace is more essential than the position in space or who is riding the camel, the tattoo is more essential than the necklace and their camelhood of both camels is more essential than the tattoo (in case the tattoo now appears in a horse, say, Fox, the one who was transporting Ali).

Now, the question that bewitches some people (including, sometimes, Kripke) is: what are the essential qualities of Bahr (and Ocean)? What are their essences? I would like to simply answer none, and add that individuation is an indeterminate process, as it is unbound and indeed perspective-laden. Then, I think, some people would take my answer as not taking Bahr and Ocean seriously. Well, they are serious for me, I care to individuate them. Further, they are serious for Ali, I suppose, and they are serious to other camels (their siblings, parents, comrades) who also care very much to make sure they don't loose Bahr in the middle of the changing qualities of the camel herd. Eventually, they matter also for a bundle of bacteria that is used to share the sandy cloth where Ocean, but not Bahr, uses to sleep and who are in good terms with some of Ocean's micro biotic communities. In other words, the world itself individuates: something, while individuated by something else, individuates something else. I would avoid the issues to do with how things got started. There are essential qualities for an individuation process, not essential qualities for all individuation process. Now, of course, individuation processes can dissent. Yes, as far as the grain of sand that is squeezed by a camel is concerned, little hangs on whether Bahr or Ocean did the squeezing. There are different levels of fine-grainess in individuation – and these different levels co-exist in the world. Plus, there are different routes of individualization, if you start caring for camel heads or camel legs your individuation could end up looking very different with no room for Bahr or Ocean.

Kripke advises against thinking that possible world are like distant countries or alien planets seen by a telescope. I think they are somehow instaurated (to use a Souriau word) by the actual world: the configuration of possible worlds would change in different individuation tracks. For instance, we can bet on the holder of the name 'Bahr' since he was baptized, but this matters very little for the grain of sand where Bahr stepped. Individuation is a matter of importance and importance is not a pragmatic term, the world itself can be described in terms of a matrix of importances...

Friday, 17 December 2010

Every object is a transcendental subject?

I'm in Cairo. Had lunch, almond tart and wine with Graham Harman. Recorded him answering questions for my project of a cartography of the current metaphysical renaissance with a camera. We were in a place called Estoril. The interview is going to come up soon, in some format.

Been considering whether we can read some of the Kantian ideas as examples (or as first steps in a speculative operation, as Didier Debaise would prefer). Then talk about things-for-ourselves as opposed to things-in-themselves would be as much about us as about any other "us" (any other "ourselves"). Hence, things-for-bees, things-for-trees, things-for-ticks, things-for-a grain of salt. The distinction itself doesn't have to be human-centered: everything could be seen as a transcendental subject. Analogously, we can understand the old Vaihingen "as if" idea as applying to everything: it is as if blood is manioc beer for the jaguar and there is nothing else to blood but what it is as if for something else (apart, maybe, from the conjunction of everything that beer is for something else).

We can take many features of our own phenomena building as an example (pace Didier) of something more general in the world. Our capacity to construct objects – for instance, taken as black boxes – can be seen as shared by eagles, rivers and bacteria. It could be that we are only examples of transcendental subjects, that being a transcendental subject is our specific way of being something more general – say, an object.

Additionally, as I wrote elsewhere, the very definition of human "us" (as it appears when we talk about human experience, human conceptual capacities or human subjects) is itself not obvious. Surely, there is a gap between things-for-me and things-for-us and that is bridged by an appeal to what is common to us - but what us? The problem is that the metaphysics of things-for-us becomes hostage to the assumed commonalities between humans. It also stands on the supposition that these commonalities are more important than anything else to the constitution of things-for-me; while it could be that my experience (or my phenomena, or my conscious life) is more informed by my contact with non-humans - say cats, or toys, or mice, or beer - than by my common conceptual Bildung.

Maybe we should stop privileging one among many correlations...

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Nothingness is the rubbish bin of metaphysics

Yes, creation is everywhere. But not ex-nihilo creation. To think of reality without a starting point is to think that the creation of something only happens from something else. It is to Darwinianize creation, if that makes sense: to think that there is no absolute raw material, everything can be used as building material, but nothing is raw.

The idea of pure nothingness makes me think of the idea that we through things in the rubbish bin and they cease to exist. Nothingness is the rubbish bin of metaphysics. We through something there and it disappear from everyone's sight. When people say, prefer nothingness to being and therefore don't procreate, they are merely saying prefer to produce something instead of something else. I guess people would say that this way of understanding is blind to the ontic-ontological difference. I can grant that there is a difference. But if it is put in terms of pure nothingness, the difference collapses in the postulation of an external border for reality.

Instead, I think a reality without arché posits that all bins are recycling ones. There is no pure nothingness as there is no absolute rubbish. Why would we postulate that the layers of recycling that take place everywhere we go would eventually meet an end?