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Thursday, 31 May 2012

Materialism as in materials

Jonathan Kemp came to visit Anarchai last week and discuss matter. The discussion involved processes and procedures, matter as a locus for a plural ontology, the diversity of materials and the politics of decrystallisation. Joni holds that "Procedures are ways of understanding processes. They can also create processes. They are implemented in systems whose defining ability is to execute series of changeable rules and iterations. They can be non-symbolic and intuitive, as in the case of humans and animals going to sleep at night, and they can generate novel behaviours, like dreams. Or they can stop and begin again when a new day dawns. Whatever they do, they involve some matter, some configuration of matter as apparatus that somehow delimits procedures. We can add a coda here in playing with a celebrated Graham Harman quotation on the nesting of objects within objects within objects , by saying that processes are wrapped in procedures that are wrapped in matter that are wrapped in processes and so on."

Interestingly, the discussion points at the chemistry of abstraction. Decrystallisation is a good example: how things get less solidified and acquire new solid forms. Thinking in terms of a chemistry of all - to echo Hamilton Grant´s phrase from Plato - we think of procedures in terms of processes and ultimately in terms of matter. That is, in terms of materials. When we consider the fold, for example, in its role within thinking about the constitution of the world, we are considering the properties of some materials. If the world is some sort of origami, there should be something like paper available to be folded once and again. It is about materials - and how they affect each other. A chemical ontology - or rather a chemical ontogenesis. Another case to the point is Malabou´s ontology of plastic. She wants to understand negation in terms of plasticity, abreviation in terms of folded plastic and she builds an ontology (including an ontology of thought) in terms of this material. She reasons with an eye on the capacities of plastic. Materials somehow guide the walk among possibilia.

Joni´s report on his stay in Brazil: (including the papers we gave here in Brasília):

Friday, 25 May 2012


Sometimes thought is strongly triggered by Nemesis - by envy and jealousy of whatever makes itself present. Jealousy of what was chosen to happen: why on earth has this and not something else taken place? It had to be driven by undeserved luck. Thinking is moved by a jealousy towards happening. It makes thought boil with despite, contempt and obsession with issues of merit. It drives criticism - the skeptic, the rebellious and the explosive ones. It feeds the taste for nothingness. It feeds the lack of taste. Or rather, the envy that nothingness holds towards being. Leibniz´s insistence that this was the best of all possible world was in a sense addressing that jealousy: one can expect whatever for the future, but concerning the past, no jealousy is to be allowed. It is an attempt to tame wild jealous thoughts. To guide imagination through a principle of sufficient reason. There is a reason why he left me for somebody else so that I don´t have to go back to black, I don´t have to collapse in the pot of my acid juices and cook my flesh forever. Reason, that handler of wild thoughts, gives me a special dispensation: I don´t have to squeeze myself in the ditch between what has happened and what I stood for.

Discussing with Leonel the thesis that Deleuze finds in Proust: jealousy makes one think more than friendship. Jealousy triggers all kinds of thoughts, it ferments the imagination. It provokes thoughts that tear apart their objects. It is no friend of wisdom, no friend of the wise - the wisdom doesn´t deserve to be wisdom. It is about suspicion. It looks for conspiracies. It makes sure there is a hair of the devil in our gaze. Phtonosophy rather than erosophy, rather than philosophy.

Sunday, 20 May 2012

The extensive continuum and a space of contingencies

Whitehead´s notion of extensive continuum is a very interesting one. It satisfies the obligation of transmutation - that Whitehead deems important to explain Leibniz´s idea that monads have a confused perception of the whole universe. It is connected to the potential, to what takes place in each actual entity - in each monad - before actual individualisation takes place. Each actual entity starts out with the extensive continuum and brings about (or sponsors) actual individual entities who would be the staring point for a next round of generating contemporary actual entities out of the extensive continuum. It is like a potential complicatio of the available world. It is in the continuum that different actual entities co-exist - like an Anaximander´s apeirón more than Anaxagoras´ pool of things which is an assemblage of ready-made, individualised items (his fragment 10: how could hair come from anything but hair and flesh from anything but flesh?). Whatever is an actual entity inhabits the extensive continuum. It is also a pool of elements for ontogenesis - in the sense of individualizing actual entities. Ontogenesis is achieved through sponsorings (objectifications, is Whitehead´s term in this case). In the continuum, things get deindividuated, decrystallized and loose their borders so that they can get recrystallzed later. The continuum is perceptual and is real, it is the constant origin of all new contemporary actual entities. (It is like the night, if we think with the Miletians, the night that gives rise to a new day of actual entities.)

The continuum is the space where entities are. It is the locus for what there is. Not a whole, but a locus. I take it to have the role of providing a kind of address to the plurality. In that sense, I compare it with three other notions: a) Souriau´s surexistence, defined as a crossroad of modes of existence; b) Deleuze and Guattari´s plan d´immanence, understood as a place where contact and contagion between what is organized takes place and c) Kit Fine´s überreality, understood as the assemblage of what is seen through all perspectives. In all those cases, different from each other and from the extensive continuum, what is at stake is a place that puts together the different existences, organizations or perspectives. I´d like to think of those four concepts as pointing at what I would call the space of contingencies. In Leibniz, because of the identity of indiscernibles and the indiscernibility of identicals (Leibniz´s law), there is no room for something like Whitehead´s concrescence. All monads are unique and yet defined by their features (and historical trajectories in the best and therefore uniquely existing world). They are like mathematical objects: anything that happen to them follows from their (infinite) definition. A space of contingencies (or a contingency space) is needed, though, whenever things can happen to monads just because they occupy the space of what exists (they are concrete, as opposed to abstract). The four notions (extensive continuum, surexistence, plan d´immanence, überreality) vary in how much the pluralities that inhabit the contingency space interact with each other. In the case of Deleuze and Guattari´s notion, contact is central while in Kit Fine´s or Souriau´s it is no much more than insinuated. What is important in the four cases is that this space doesn´t precede the pluralities, it is built out of the pluralities (because they happen to be plural). It follows from the plurality itself. So, for Whitehead, the extensive continuum is not the starting point - which is always the actual entities - but a step of transmutation. It follows from the actual entities and is not like a receptacle but rather space created (maybe sponsored) by the actual entities.

I´ve been thinking of matter as something that could be compared with this contingecy space. It can be seen as one of these four things above - and, yes, it is a device to decrystallize and recrystallize entities (or objects). Big difference is that often it is thought as preceding the plurality of objects (but see posts in this blog considering a post-object matter). Matter can be thought as a locus of transmutation as things have to be material in order to exist as concrete items. Nothing can avoid borrowing clay. While in Leibniz there is no space for the contingencies of matter - any piece of matter is under the influence of monads - if there is the contingencies of matter, there is a room for what can affect through contact. I then wonder what does it mean for something to be in this contingent space - if it is not merely being contingent simpliciter (that I suspect is never the case with anything, things are contingent to something else, and not contingenct tout court, as I wrote in a previous post). In any case, the sheer plurality seems to point towards a space like this, a space of implementation, maybe, where things are more than their definitions.

Saturday, 19 May 2012

Time for life?

This week I went to a conference on fantasy to talk about the principle of reality (which loves to hide), cross-dressing, Agamben on liturgy and mundus imaginalis. In a session with Peter-Erwin Jansen and Andrew Feenberg I heard two expressions (Marcusean in spirit, I suppose) that caught my attention. They were calling for actions that would allow people to have "time for life" and find ways to "actualise their potentialities". The expressions assume that there is a hidden tendency for something to flourish in humans. For which life should people have time? Which potentialities are worth releasing (or actualizing)? Even though I asked a question concerning the underlying political optimism behind the expressions - the belief that things are easy to mend - the issue that caught my attention is the unreconstructed assumption that there is a human realm - a human substance bearing (fixed) properties along with accidental features brought about by current predicaments). I tend to believe, rather, that there is an open space for composition where life and potentialities are in dispute. I realised how distant I became from the idea of a purely human political sphere where the starting point is an implicit anthropology. My starting point is rather some sort of experimental or speculative transanthropology or rather ananthropology - informed by facts and versions about the dissolving anthropos but also by other ecologies that go through the humanscape. In any case, I suppose politics is rather about how to live - and which transitory us one is attending. But are Marcuseans incorrigibly humanists?

Quietism and non-philosophy

I´m lecturing a course on poet Manuel de Barros and his philosophical insinuations. We covered his praise to garbage in many forms and his confort with idiocies (his idiolect is a dialect for idiots to speak with walls and flies) and his love for the useless compared with some dimensions of Rilke´s open (in the elegies and in the Stundenbuch). Yesterday we covered a character he talks about: Bernardo. Quiet, he doesn´t talk but with frogs and birds come to nest in his shoulders. He doesn´t think but he finds himself in a state of tree, of pebble, of a stream of water. Shapeshifters are pleased with him. We then covered quietism, non-thinking and Laruelle´s nonphilosophie. The space of thought is like a medium, open to be invaded like an open city, not owned. It is a space without sovereignty, guided by no decision, like a territory without a government. Non-philosophy looks at this state where the space of thought is available for things - hosting them, welcoming them, as if it were a guesthouse (the guesthouse of Rumi´s poem, welcoming meanness and delight). It is a space to host the passers-by, not a place to grab them. It is not about autonomy, it is about being disposed towards what comes: a disposition. A dispute: something is put there and then something else dis-puts what was put there. Something dis-positions what was positioned somewhere. Something deposes what was posed there. Auseinandersetzung: dispute (and Heidegger´s translation of choice for the polemos).

Such quietism is a state that cannot be forced (or ruled) but that could be encouraged (or insinuated). It is about not governing the space of thoughts and then leaving it to be up for grabs, left to the devices of receptivity. Hosting involves some resignation, but the resignation in question is like the floor´s: it swallows everything, it doesn´t accept whatever is placed to cover it. Quietism is really about the politics of thought with respect to its objects. It suggests that thought leaves its space loose, to be occupied - an open space where things can come and nest. A space with no barbed wire fences, no borders. We then compared Manuel de Barros with Pessoa´s heteronyms, Alberto Caeiro. He preaches non-thought, thought is an obstacle to receptivity drawn from a desire to govern, a desire for autonomy. He goes on saying that nature, just like a territory for thought, doesn´t exist as a repository for things. Thought and nature are no more than assemblages. And yet, he thinks non-though is natural.

Saturday, 12 May 2012

Dismantling absolute contingency

I´ve been wondering about whether we can formulate something about contingency along the lines of a principle of irreduction: aucune chose n´est par elle-même contingent ou necessaire. The principle asserts that necessity is always contingent on underlying fixed things: something is physically necessary (or contingent) given the fixed laws of nature, something is deontically contingent - allowed - or necessary - mandatory - given the fixed ethical rules (or laws of the land). Finally, something is logically necessary (or necessary simpliciter) given a fixed logic. The irreducible diversity of ethical rules, the absence of eternal laws of nature and the plurality of logical systems, if accepted, makes necessity relative to those parameters. An aggiornamento of Heraclitus would have that nothing is necessary comes what may. Surely, of couse, if there is no absolute necessity, there is no absolute contingency. We can then say that in a broader, more abstract level, things are up for grabs. But this is just a starting point. Following the analogy with Latour´s irreductibility, one can make something necessary (or contingent) - or mandatory, or allowable, or physically necessary etc - but one then has to pay the price of holding them or letting them loose (in analogy with Latour´s cost of transport). Latour also says (Irréductions, le principe de réalité, c´est les autres, what in his mouth means anything else in the world and we can say: the principle of necessity,
it´s the others. Something is holding something else necessary (or contingent). This is a starting point because then we can ask whether we should assume that whatever makes something necessary is going to be fixed for all the temporal and modal variations that we are concerned. It looks like a decision.

Of course it could be a decision imposed to us. What would impose it to us? Quine´s sphere in the end of the Two Dogmas has a geography of what is to be held fixed imposed by pragmatic considerations. From the metaphysical point of view (and not the correlationist point of view, viz. typically the Kantian point of view that would take impositions from a transcendental structture in the subject - or simply from the way we go on, as Jonathan Lear once put) the imposition has to come from the world. But how can that be?

Meillassoux defends the necessity of contingency. Towards the end of chapter 3 of After Finitude (around page 78 of the English translation) he considers the plurality of logics. He concentrates on paraconsistent logics and tries to make sure that there is a sense of consistency that is preserved in those systems. He wants to make sure that the principle of non-contradiction, associated with his principle of facticity or unreason, is not restricted to classical systems. He goes on talking about real contradictions as opposed to contradictions within the system. Surely, one can make sense of all this by having in mind that paraconsistent logic (or most non-classical logical systems) are importantly dependent on classical logic - classical is the metalogic in which those systems are presented and investigated. However, from the metaphysical or speculative point of view (as opposed now to the merely logical point of view) what could a real contradiction be? Maybe the idea is that there could be contradictions in the world independently of any logical system. It is a bizarre idea. Logics are there to capture general metaphysical structures about how things are. Maybe then he means that we should pick classical logic as the logic of reality. That makes more sense. But then, of course, given all the alternatives - including a conception of reality that preserves a neutrality with respect to the different logics (Kit Fine has studied these alternatives considering perspectives and tense) - one
would need an argument for that. Otherwise, absolute contingency would have to go. But, again, this is just a starting point.

Friday, 4 May 2012

All particulars could bear a name

Elisabeth Anscombe says that a particular is what bears a name. Surely, there are names that are not bore by particulars (think of the Morning Glory cloud in Australia or streams like El Niño or La Niña, those are likely to be types of event rather than particulars). Yet, things can be treated as particulars. In fact, any universal can be given a name or rather, as the nominalist would have, can be treated as a name. The nominalist gesture is to make an expression particular (typically a predicate) by treating it as a name. It is the name of various different things and of course that one name shares different bearers is no threat to the particular character of those bearers - a green leaf and a green lime just happen to bear the same name, "green". This connection between particulars and names is in fact playing a crucial role in Kripke's dismantling of descriptivism: Socrates is a rigid name bearer and, as such, he can afford not to be a philosopher - we can think of him beyond all descriptions and enable him to travel to different worlds where there is no philosophy but he still holds his name.

I take Anscombe's dictum to mean that a particular is what can bear a name. In fact, I was thinking, we give names to particular objects, to particular places and to particular times (rather eras or ages) but not to more than a very few of them. Events rarely bear names. We don't give names to our afternoons, to that tea in the company of dear friends, to this moment of contemplating the moon, to that (common) quale associated to a shade of green in the sea... Things that bear names are things that can be known by acquaintance. They have a particularity that can be grasped independently of their capacity to satisfy a description. To give a name to something is in fact to respect it beyond its descriptions - it is not an ugly, filthy, overweight limping dog, it is Atman, we hear. A name would give respectability to events, they will be singled out as unique - an identity beyond any discernibility considerations.

A metaphysics guided by name-giving would be very different from our current one obsessed with predication. A world where we guide ourselves by names and not by what each thing somehow is. (The old motto: "one thing is one thing and not another" would be in principle vindicated.) Our thinking would be more like navigating between particulars - maybe a version of a nominalist dream - rather than the effort to bring all Others to some common Same. Thinking would then be like orientating. Also, what is known by name can be known further, but no particular can be known but by heart.

The image is of a name-giving cerimony. Among the Wolofs.

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Holism and the priority of the part

In my Chocoleibniz course today (Leibniz cum Tarde, Whitehead and Deleuze´s Pli) we covered the way Tarde turns Leibniz´s monadology inside out. Each monad has a world inside it, but a different one, a projected world. And they express themselves in bits of the world through contact with other monads - monads themselves are open, independent and autonomous units of beliefs and desire and act as relata of external relations. Tarde is a militant reducionist and pluralist while his atoms, like in any monadologism, are infinitesimals and capable of a perspective on things. In his monadologism, most things are not known a priori and most statements are synthetic - events are open to alliances and products of social interaction and not following from any pre-established harmony. And yet, each monad contributes to the state of the world in the sense that without it the configuration of the alliances (and of the social orders) would be different. It makes a difference because it exists and it makes a difference in the world once pieces are all interconnected.

In Wozu Dichter Heidegger contrasts security (connected to sine cura, without care) and care. A secure environment requires no care as things are fixed, held, secured while without security things have to be reckoned with all the time. This contrast is in the kernel of process philosophy: reality is not only shaped by its sponsors but it is always deserving of care. Things are not secured - there are no self-standing necessity. In Tarde, there is an ultimate ontology to this openness: the infinitesimals, all different from each other and all having their own nature. All the rest is not secured, it is up for grabs through the politics of things. Open. The world is no puzzle, rather it is a mosaic but as no piece is equal to any other, the absence of one makes the overall picture different.