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Monday, 31 October 2011

Melancholia and the existential crossroad



Went to see Trier's Melancholia again last night with my friends Monica Udler, Lorraine de Fatima and Julio Cabrera. I wanted to see some details again, like the exact moment where Claire starts moving her arms in the last scene and the way Justine initiates things, including the plan that leads to the last scene. Julio thought the flick was about the ontological difference. Justine, to whom nothing happens, is like the being whereas Claire is all involved with the ontic. Leo, on the other hand, is like co-belonging, as he closes his eyes and feels protected not by the right shield but by the atmosphere of a cocoon. Monica sees the Dasein in Claire and points out how John is the one mixed with the varieties of the beings. To be sure, things do happen to Justine, she goes through phases of letting go: the abandonment of things, the abandonment of self and then some sort of emergence of care. Maybe those are ontological events that contrast with what happens to John and Claire. Interestingly, if we think in terms of intensities, the trajectories of the characters are different - and they react differently to the way their path collides with the others. Those different trajectories facing the imminence of Melancholia (or of nothingness) include those of the horses, the air, the grass.

These are maybe different ways of negating (or relating to a nothingness) as there are many ways to exist. I thought of the expression Souriau uses when he talks about surexistence: un carrefour existentiel. It is not about an ontological common factor (say, existence or, rather, the nothingness) but the modes of existence are irreducible to a common element and yet they are in a crossroad where each bump into each other. The relation between what exists and existence (or between being and the beings) is an external relation - they happen to be in a crossroad, not that they have a relation to maximal common denominator of existence that would make them disappear without it. Each thing exists as such, as a mode of existence that relates to surexistence in the way people bump into others in the street. A plane and not a plan: an issue of immanence.

Then, even in the imminence of the end of everything, the responses are wild open. The open doesn't require any amount of time. Claire couldn't think beyond her ritualistic plan of sipping wine and listening to music. This is at the same time the ultimate loneliness of beings and their self-standing glory: they don't carry in themselves the common seed of existence, they don't carry any common seed at all - they only carry themselves.

Friday, 28 October 2011

Somatism and individuated objects

The other day I was thinking about my way in the perdurantism vs endurantism debate (the former holds that this table now is part of a whole composed by the table now together with this table a second ago, this table two seconds ago etc - mereology of objects depends on how we carve up time - and the latter holds that each of these tables are one and the same (whole) object). Then I stumbled on the question of how do we want ready-individuated itens, like objects (or particulars in general). It is maybe a somatist intuition guiding us here to attend to individual bodies rather to their genesis. Objects are the bodies of the universe and we somehow tend to think in terms of them.

Maybe somatism concerning mentality has to do with the idea championed by Brentano that we intend objects. It is as if thinking about their genesis would be to lapse into the dark space between the thoughts (Dieter Roos' poem that I quoted in my book: «thoughts are like the stars at night, we see the stars, but the space between them remains in the dark»). Maybe there is a space between the objects that require another kind of thought, a thought that is not intentional but rather somehow dynamics, like when we track escaping singularities focusing at their paths rather than looking at their integrity. But this sounds too vague, too sketchy...

I thought ontology in the Lévinas sense (the reduction of the Other to the Same) maybe has to do with ready-individuated objects. There is another poem, this one by Pat Ingoldsby, that I mention in my book when I talk about Lévinas: «"But I'm not. ""What?""A tin-opener." "I am delighted to hear it but tell me, have people in the past attempted to open things with you?" "Why would they when I'm not a tin-opener" [...] Then she picked him up and lit her cigarette with him. » An ontology of objects is an ontology where individuation processes come somehow too late, only after individuated items. When Lévinas talks about attending to the other's face, this attention could be thought of as different from intentionality. Maybe he is pointing at a different way to look at what there is without taking individuation for granted.

The genetics of contingency

Discussing Hamilton Grant in the Speculative Philosophy course. Comparisons between the two kinds of speculative materialisms (his and Meillassoux's) were the high points. Hamilton Grant makes use of Schelling's Unbedingt (unconditioned, but maybe also "unthinged" - which points at the pre-aristolelic anti-somatist physics that Schelling wants to usher in, a physics where bodies are not assumed to be the starting point but the question of how to fold up matter into bodies is part of the endeavour). The Unbedingt is somehow like an absolute - it is not conditioned, it is not in a correlation and therefore it would not lead to any kind of metaphysics of the subjectivity (or metaphysics of the correlation). This is what makes Naturphilosophie different from process philosophy, in the former there is an unconditioned while in the latter there are no more than biconditionalities (correlations). (We were playing with words like Zweibedingt or Beidebedingt for correlation.). There is someting beyond all correlations: the history of matter, that is nature. For Schelling - and for Hamilton Grant - natural history or the physics of all could play the role of disclosing the origami of matter. This endeavour shows matter continuously in the making - and materialism has matter to be unconditioned.

How does the natural history of matter compare with the absolute contingency of Meillassoux as strategies to go beyond the correlation pale? The Unbedingt of nature is not mere facticity, it involves a genetic element. Schelling opposes history (and nature) to regularity - when there is regularity there is no history (the orbit of the stars are history only in their clinamens). History makes some foldings cheaper than others - some occurrences easier to take place. There is a genetics added to the contingency in the Hamilton Grant's absolute. I can become Genesis P. Orridge and I can grow older but the second has a lower cost of transport. Schelling introduces history to the business and that affects the notion of contingency (and that of necessity) to a considerable extent. In a sense, the absolute is contingent - in this terms: nature is Unbedingt. However, everything else depends on nature, they are correlated, bedingt, they are contingent on nature. All the foldings of matter depend on matter. Matter itself is ungrounded but bodies are grounded on matter. In other words, there is a genetics of contingency.

This genetics has to do with the generalised recaptulation account of nature that Kielmeyer wanted to extend beyond the organic. It is an account of the eternal return of the same in different shapes. Clinamens are the engine of history (and the factory of bodies). The (small) differences are the purpose of the repetition - Deleuze quotes Blood in Difference and Repetition saying that the same comes back to bring about the different. There is no regularity, there is history - and genetics. Matter is folded and the refolded, the folding is contingent but acts not on a blank slate but rather an already formed origami. This is the genetics of conditioning. Not moved by necessity, but still pointing at an absolute.

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Fiction and the existence threshold

The other day when I was lecturing on Souriau and Latour's notion of "instauration" someone asked me whether we can help bringing about something by claiming that it doesn't exist. Today we considered the issue of bringing things about in connection to some solutions to the Plato's beard aporia. Take Latour's conception of truth: it is not that something holds because it is true but rather that something it is true because it holds. It gets interesting if we consider what we do when we, say, write fiction. We can say that fiction we provide descriptions associated with characters and go in some length in the direction of making them credible. Consider, for instance, Russell's theory of descriptions. We can say that by writing fiction (and providing descriptions for, say, Sherlock Holmes or Gregor Samsa) we do everything humans can do with bare language to make something (like a person) exist. We don't go further, the characters don't cross a threshold, a further test of force that makes them exist. Fictions, then, are just a matter of descriptions - they hold but not enough. They are false, as Russell would have.

This threshold of existence can be also understood in terms of borders between modes of existence, in the plurirealist way. In any case, the threshold seems to provide some measure of independence with respect to the descriptions. Fiction is description-dependent. This is the challenge for our (6 months) old Millnong project. Fiction is a negotiation among humans only (or, rather, humans mostly, as surely there is a fauna in the text and in the brain that has to cooperate). The threshold - a threshold of a test of force - ushers in what holds by a stronger alliance.

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Sponsoring, reduction and haecceitas

Reduction is one of those things that is interesting to rethink under the light of some process philosophy. It is a good starting point to consider the world in terms of processes - as Latour does in Irréductions. The point is not quite to do with what is reducible, but rather to the very process of reduction which is crucially related to bringing things about - to "instaurer". In fact, things are brought about to play a role, to be treated as someting, as black boxes. Hence, a tick picks on the horse (and the cow, and the human) while reducing it to a mammal, a river brings about its banks reducing the complexity of the mud into something that holds its flow. To bring about is to reduce what is around into something else - and it has to pay the cost of transport. The starting point is gunky, that is, there is no ultimate staring point for composition - and to compose is to reduce. Reduction points at the process of creating something from something else. When we reduce temperature to kinetic mean energy, we are making kinetic mean energy available from temperature: we are bringing about more kinetic mean energy. We open the gates to turn temperature into something that can be treated as energy. Thinking in terms of transport (cost of transport etc), it is a road that is open and even though it needs maintenance (we cannot change, for example, what we take to be energy too much because then we can loose the road), it is available to be travelled.

However, I've got many problems in the area of creation of something out of something else (composing). I'll mention two. First, I have a temptation then to consider Molnar's generalization of intentionality as aimed at explicating not the notion of disposition but rather that of bringing things about. If everything is a composer, everything is bringing something about – in the beautiful and inspired translation of Heidegger's gestiftet by my friend Gerson Brea as sponsored, everything that exists is sponsoring something else. When a is sponsoring b, it is reducing it, it is treating it as something – I would say: b is sponsored as an exemplar (not as a singular item). This is equivalent to the third feature of Brentano's take on intentionality. The fourth feature – what is intended is intended in a specific mode of presentation – can also make sense when we talk about sponsoring. I sponsor my impressions qua impressions – not qua events in my brain (even though they are likely to be events in my brain). The bees sponsor a forest qua forest, not qua ex vitro genetic repositoire. Now, the second feature of the Brentano-Molnar characterisation of intentionality bugs me. I can only make sense of sponsoring the non-existent if we consider the capacity to sponsor – an animal can sponsor a prey who is not around etc. But then the ghost of dispositionalism comes back unless I use possible worlds to dispell it: there is a possible world in which the animal is preying on something that happens not to exist (or to be present in the vicinity) in the actual world. Maybe this is the way forward but I'm not sure.

The second problem has to do with my old obsession with singularities. Duns Scotus thought that if singularity is left to the hands of what implements the forms (i.e. typically matter), it would become contingent on its implementation. Deleuze arranged the ingredients for implementations into a plane, and took it to be a plane of haecceities. It is not matter because Deleuze (and Guattari) takes form and matter to be together both in content and in expression – see, for instance, The Geology of Morals in Mille Plateaux. Those haecceities are singularities on the run, they are not organised (often they are barely ordered) and they are ingredients for composition. But if things are composed as exemplars, how can a singularity come about? I then tend to flirt with bundles. A singular item is a bundle of compositions. Each composition – involving more than one composer – inherits some singularity from its composers who are producing no more than compositions (i.e. exemplars). There are still problems with the identity of the indiscernibles but maybe (only maybe) we can somehow sweep them aside.

Friday, 14 October 2011

Quick note on desiring machines and the ontology of flows

There is a sense in which the speculative method of Whitehead is somehow applied in Deleuze and Guattari's sketch of an ontology of desiring machines in Anti-Oedipus. Deleuze took his take in metaphysics to be close to the style of Whitehead (see Robin Mackay's article in the Collapse volume on Speculative Realims). Desire is an immanent connecting force that acts as a centrifugal element by connecting items indifferent to their ranks, orders or species. The psycho-analytically blessed nuclear family as it appears in the Anti-Oedipus is an institution that preserves a centre by making the flows (in the capitalist territorial machine) always come back to a nuclear unit of dream and desire. The flows are the flows of capital and those of desire that are turned centripetal by the Oedipal devices. Instead of letting the capital flow in a riverbed of centrifugal desire, capitalism makes room for accumulation by making it return home which is always where desire ought to remain.

When we think of an ontology of desiring machines, we think of an centrifugal ingredient, such as contact itself, that makes order transient. Desire is not subjected to any sexual order, it unties the nodes, it produces flow. The capitalist territorial machine controls the flow by making desire controlled, and directed to a private unit. If desire is everywhere, there are many articulations of flow. It acts like Eros and like Eris, a force of dissipation.

Meillassoux and Latour on irreduction and contingency

Discussing Meillassoux in my Speculative Philosophy course. We just came out of three sessions on Latour and Harman's take on him and we're still full of that atmosphere. Latour's principle of irreduction (1.1.1 in Irréductions) says that nothing is either reducible or irreducible to anything else in itself. That means that it is neither the case that in itself each thing is one thing and not another thing - a world of arche-atoms - nor that there is a blob of interconnections or intercorrelations that is all-pervasive - a world of an arche-blobject postulated by monists like Horgan. Instauration (bringing things about) is what produces both individuation (irreduction) and connections (correlations) and it ought to pay the cost of transport both to bring things apart and to connect them together (to make them sui generis and to make them reducible).

Consider the two branches of metaphysics of the subjectivity that Meillassoux seems to be unhappy with - because they fail to take seriously the facticity of correlation. One goes from the correlation we have found (with correlationism, or with the so-called Copernican revolution) to the idea that there is nothing beyond that correlation, something akin to claim that to be is to be in this correlation (say, to be is to be mediated). The other goes from this correlation we have found to the idea that there is nothing beyond a correlation, the world is a world of correlations (in the form of prehensions or proofs of force), something akin to say to be is to be in a correlation.

Now, Meillassoux's rejection of those alternatives could share the spirit that drives Latour's principle of irreduction. But of course it goes in a very different direction as he makes room for no process as prior but simply a world of (absolute) contingencies. Still, there are no atomic correlations and no blob correlation. Any correlation we engage with - and maybe we are bound to engage in one - is out of our own risk (our own second creation, maybe) because everything including our (home) correlation is contingent. In other words, we ought to pay the cost of transport both to postulate a privileged correlation with the world or to consider a world of correlations (or even to consider an über-reality that brings together all correlations in a cubist or fragmentalist image as Kit Fine suggests). Correlations are not absolute, Meillassoux insists. They ought to be brought about and paid for. The emerging picture of contingencies is somehow interestingly close to the idea that nothing is in itself reducible or irreducible to anything else.

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Quick note on Souriau and the ontological difference

A quick note, I'm off to lecture on mereology. Talking about instaurer (bringing about, in my translation in The Cubist Object) with Luciana today, it occurred to me that we could find the difference between all the bringing about acts (the one that makes this table, or this city) and the act of bringing about itself. The existing things as opposed to the act of making them exist. Room for an ontological difference where being is an act. (Is this pointing at Souriau's surexistence?)

Occasionalist causes and substances

Latour claims that substances have no substrata. They are like threads that hold the pearls in a necklace. They are, I understand, like black boxes. Anything that is acts like an actant is good enough - if it can be treated like a pearl holder (a ground for a bundle of alliances or an assemblage), well, it is a pearl holder. There is no substrata, there are no dispositional properties, no potentialities, no vorhanden-heit.

And no causal powers. This is where Harman takes occasionalism to be close to Humean scepticism. Actualism is the common ground: something in act has to bridge the gap between causes and effects. The causal gap - like the existential gap - would disappear without a plurality of mediators: the world is animated because there is a plurality of agents eager to pay the price in alliances to get things done. For Hume, our habits alone do the job of bridging together the causal gap. The future is conceived by us to resemble the past. For Latour, our networks work in the present and the past to bring about a future - create lab-like conditions. Surely, something in the assemblage can break it apart and the sun can fail to rise tomorrow. It is a contingent matter, but this is not the end of the story (as there is much more to be told for Hume also). But the version of occasionalism espoused by Latour seems to imply that there ought to be always a mediating agent responsible for a causal link or the absence of one. If the sun fails to rise tomorrow, something in the network went rotten. This is, as it is expected, much more than what Hume would be prepared to say.

What bridges the gap? Other agents in a network that host substances like black boxes. Anything - what ever it is - that keeps, says, the pool table smooth. Now, there are assemblages of black boxes that seem like objects - they would be my cubist objects. Like the microbe that assembles the beer-brewer box, the milk-rotting box etc. (Cubist) objects need to be brought about, they don't hang out on their own. I thought they are not vorhanden but something like nachhanden. In any case, (cubist) objects are at most a special case of asseblage, of networks brought about.

Monday, 3 October 2011

Four corners of the world?



Been using the four corners of the Marseille Tarot card World to explain some metaphysical projects in my classes. These are projects that take the four predicates Universal, Particular, Abstract and Concrete as special features of the world - its four corners. The top left corner, with the angel, points at the abstract, the eagle corner to the universal, the bottom left to the concrete and the bottom right to the particular.

Then we try to make do with less than four corners - making others dispensable. Some classical projects try to ally either both corners on the bottom to make the other two dispensable (the nominalist projects) or the top corners to make the bottom ones dispensable (the bundle-ist project). The general difficulties of these projects lie at trying to get the bottom out of the top and vice-versa. How to get particularity, for example, out of bundles of properties without having to swallow the undesirable consequences of taking indiscernibility to be enough for identity. The problem in this case is really how to build particularity out of any other corner. That stimulates a metaphysics of tropes (or modes) that would take shades of properties to be an ingredient of the world and therefore abstract particulars to be enough to replace universals and concretes. It also stimulates projects to take concrete universals as primitive and get what abstracts provides and take particulars as parts - indiscernible ingredients are not the same, they are part of the same whole.

The exercise is interesting because it tells us something about how the tarot card folds - what can you get with an origami made of the World Marseille card. It reveals how difficult, for instance, it is to get concreteness (in terms of co-presence of tropes of properties) out of the other corners. Even if particulars are taken care of by tropes. Also the abstract is very difficult to make redundant even if properties are taken care by concrete universals. In fact, all corners are equally difficult to dispense, but for very difficult reasons.

Actualism reclaimed

Been digesting further and further Latour's process philosophy and looking at ways in which there is no genuine correlationism there. But feel more and more attracted to some version of actualism like the one process philosophy and my ontology of fragments affords. Placed in a proper network of alliances I can play the zither and speak Javanese. Talk about capacities and skills is talk about soft biases in the following sense: they are all ceteris paribus claims, they are claims about the current network of alliances I am inserted. Alliances can be made with the whole universe. A given network could have skills but it depends on being kept as such by the rest of the world. (A zither player can undergo, say, a traumatic experience of any sort that would wipe off his skills.) Then I feel more sympathetic towards conditional analyses: to be fragile is no more than to be broken in neighbouring possible worlds. Finkish dispositions? There are loads of antidotes that can stop a possible course of events to take place, even for good. But there is no potentiality harboured inside anything in a brute state (see Deleuze's take on coupling for he posits no dispositional properties).

I just claimed that alliances can be made with the whole universe and I made use of possible worlds - how do I understand this modal talk? I think talk of possible worlds is fine, they imply individual actants (or fragments) and their possible alliances. In other possible worlds there are no counterparts but also there is no individuation that is done once and for all. Nothing is forever either an entity or a network - only tests of strength can decide that, Latour says in Irreductions. Only with respect to an actant - a fragment - we can conceive of a possible world. Therefore, no concretism. Naming: Socrates is Socrates if the network of alliances that constitute it is close enough to the actual one. If Socrates became wind or fire or ashes thrown in the Aegean sea, the name would barely have a holder.

More on this soon.