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Tuesday, 25 September 2012


Today we finished the discussion of Deleuze´s Le Pli in my Leibniz course. Deleuze ends up presenting elements of what can be called Neoleibnizianism that revolve around capture instead of clausure. The notion of predicates as events, as well as that of actualizing the virtual that is in darker zone (i.e. in an extensive continuum), is preserved as part of an ontology of folds. Additionally, the barroque or neobarroque element expressed in some sort of musical composition associated to the way series are disposed - the way an event opens up to the virtual. Leibniz introduced the (recaptulationist) idea that individuals are an allegory for something bigger - namely for their world. Ontological allegories are preserved in Neoleibnizianism even if wholes are exorcized. Deleuze then goes on to say that the two main differences between Leibnizianism and this Neoleibnizianism that attempts to turn Leibniz inside out. First is that selection of worlds has no longer a place. As a consequence, monads are no longer closed, enclosed, in a clausure but rather they are half-open, as if kept open by sticks. This is because they have to find out what else is happening, they have to find out about the world they´re in. Compossibility is an affair to do with the rest of the world and the rest of the world is not preestablished.

Maybe the difference can be put in terms of the nature of individuals (i.e. monads). Individuals in Leibniz are fully attached to a world. In fact, in chapter 5 Deleuze sketches a version of a counterpart theory of individuals in different possible worlds - the Adam that doesn´t sin is not the one from this (possible and actual) world. Neoleibnizian individuals that are half-open are rather associated to several worlds and capable of transworld identity. The difference then would be the one between a Lewisian notion of individual and a Kripkean one. Process philosophy in general could be made to fit this idea of individual. But it has no much room for singularities that are preserved in different worlds. Latour, for instance, has that an actant as a singularity is established in each test of force. However, if an individual is made to remain fixed, it can be taken to another possible world. In any case, half-open monads are such that they can act in ways that open different courses of events while being the same individuals. The relation between any individual and any other is such that it admits of a plurality of worlds.

Monday, 24 September 2012

An anarcheology of the polemos

My book on Heraclitus and anarcheology is almost out. As a taster in English, a bit of an article I wrote about the polemos:

Heraclitus developed a resolute taste for fire. For him, since his old days, things are inherently flowing. His ontology was one of interactions, of contrasts, of perspectives and also of the polemos. His old fragments (2009) are often presented with struggle or conflict – sometimes war – figuring in the place of the polemos. Fragment 53 talks about it as what made some slaves while making some masters. It is like the burning of the fire. But the polemos is not presented as a ex-nihilo creator – but rather also what made some gods while making some mortals. Slavery but also mortality is driven by the polemos. It is the vulnerability of all alliances. All things come to being through polemos, says fragment 80. I take it to be an overall centrifugal force that ignites what it finds. It is the force of dispute, the engine of all polemics. The force of polemos is that of disruption that can come from anywhere. It is no fixed arché but rather an element of displacement and disturbance that acts as an insurance against any ontology (or politics) of fixed ingredients. It is a force of friction that has no fixed ontological status, no fixed place in any chart of beings. Heidegger (see Heidegger & Fink, 1979) translates polemos with a German word for dispute, Auseinandersetzung – what moves out to another position. It is an interesting way to portray controversy. Polemos is dissolution. It belongs to a realm of displacements, negotiations, disputes and frictions that stops nowhere short of ontology itself.

Heraclitus, a philosopher of shape-shifting fashions, survived his own mutations according recent anarcheological work (see Bensusan et al. 2012). Not that he remained himself, but he survived. He lived to be a world-traveler and aged to cherish his widespread anonymity. Due maybe to his mountain herbs, he had strength to leave Ephesus for good and carry on alive for millennia. Anarcheology, the study of what is not established, with its preference for versions and subversions, has thoroughly considered his late output. Those an-archeological efforts (an anarché-ological endeavor) date his last texts from his days in Deir Al Balah, Gaza, before the bombings of 2009. Rumors have that he was planning a second edition of his book on physis to be published in the several languages he spoke in his late years. He used to say that in him lived the philosophers who didn't intend to have their grip on things but rather would approach everything in their tiptoes. The manuscript that he was carrying with him in his last years disappeared after the Israeli attack and no more than about two hundred new fragments remained. Some of these new fragments that circulate in different versions provide an aggiornamento of the doctrine that the polemos ties ontology and politics together. Heraclitus´ account of the polemos appears as a way to bring together ontology and politics that encompass some of the tenets that process philosophy, speculative materialism and facticity attempt to capture. It appears as an alternative to the bedrock image and to all efforts to make politics alien to ontology.

Polemos is presented as a political plot inside everything. It is not something that can be contemplated from the outside as it also acts through our awareness of it. It is thoroughly situated. It is as if Heraclitus were saying that no matter is immune to fire – one can maybe contemplate things from beyond anything inflammable, but one wouldn't then be able to breathe there. Among the many ways the polemos finds to spread its disruption, our knowledge of it is one of them. He writes:

130. Whenever something comes about, a polemos comes about and then there is politics.

131. Polemos often lies where we don't expect. It lies not only in the catapults, but also in the surprise that meets the polemos, in the temptation for polemos and in the knowledge of polemos.

Polemos cannot be controlled through knowledge because it is present in the very cage that attempts to cage it. Any exercise in ontology takes on a political stance. The polemos is the force of resistance against the establishment of realms and dominions – an arché and what springs from it. Dominions require subjects that act as inanimate subservient instantiations of something else whereas the polemos opens up a plan d'instantiation akin to a plan d'immanence where no arché is implemented in anything but on inflammable stuff. Polemos brings about a vulnerability to fire, an incapacity to be merely following orders. It is the spark of things, rather than what subjects them. The kingdom of polemos, an-arché, anarchiste couronné. Heraclitus has several fragments on the polemos and an-arché:

138b. The powerful of the time ends up claiming that the polemos is asleep. It sleeps, but doesn't obey.

155. I keep meeting people that act as if disputes are about poles. Polarization distorts the polemos – polemos has no poles. Its force lies in the sliding of the poles. […] only when we get tired, we choose sides.

178*. There are no archés. What we take to be archés are often no more than the slowest things to change. Like a turtle that holds the world. Or laws of nature that guide the world. Or a unitary cosmos that ground all its parts. Slow things are not always a metronome setting the pace for the orchestra. Often, they are just another instrument. Polemos, on the other hand, is just about a lack of archés – it is an an-arché.

198*. [...] [On the other hand,] attachment to archés springs from an interest in control: find out who is the boss and we shall deal with him. Find the laws of the land and we will crack our deals. But no empire lasts because no realm lasts. Not even the realm of all things. There is no principle that could prevent any other beginning. Bacteria, worms and viruses as much as roaches and rats didn't surrender to the alleged human victory over the animal world. Human gestures are themselves full of anomalies that resist the humanizing principle imposed to all things and mainly to whoever happens to be born in the human species.

252. The polemos doesn't do anything, but it doesn't leave anything done either.

259*. The polemos is no demiurge. It gives birth to no chaos, to no order. It leaves a trace of exceptions behind it. Eventually, they germinate...

Polemos is a capacity to disrupt, just like doubts. To say that it is not in our heads but at the kernel of things is to say that there is no non-slippery core to anything. Fragment 145 says:

145. It is quite common to exorcise the polemos from the world by holding that each thing has its core. A core is a conquered territory where battles have already been fought and everything is properly trained and tamed. In order to persuade us that the world is rid of any polemos, we posit a world that has no more things than the ones that seem to be still. And then we can say, with the sort of philosophy that is most popular in the last centuries,that the polemos is in our heads.

In contrast, Heraclitus sees physis as polemos, the force of the inachevé. It is a force that lies in the weaknesses of the alliances, on their vulnerability. Disruption is not an incident, but rather what he prefers to see as characters in his ontological plot. He diagnoses what is lost in the translation of physis as a realm of natural laws:

141. When physis, which is polemos, was replaced by a realm of laws – and nature stopped being strong to become merely ruling – it freed itself of wild dispositions and became merely an instrument of order and progress. What was left of the polemos itself was then thrown into the realm of chance.

And then he sees the laws of nature as something that is conveniently left outside the scope of politics:

157b*. Nature, by contrast, is no more than our scapegoat.

271. [it often seems as if we are] taming nature in order to tame people. The world is presented as a universe of servitude. Sometimes of inescapable servitude. The open possibilities are no more than concessions. So people fight for concessions. [but, in fact,] no one has ever anything to lose other than their chains. To win or to lose are things that happen only to those who are ruled.

There are no hierarchies (no archies) other than the ones determined by the existing alliances, by the current political configuration of things. Heraclitus takes necessity and contingency to be equally up for grabs, not derived from archés and not held by bedrocks.

196*. […] While the river changes, it changes what it drags and what can swims in it. Nothing is necessary or contingent once and for all. The flowing of the river changes not only what there is but also what there possibly is. No law is immune to flooding. Some of them are just too costly to challenge at the moment.

Heraclitus' conception of the ontological as something that has little to do with fixity and his suspicion concerning the politics of bedrock ontologies are expressed by fragments like the following:

210. While everything is connected to everything, there is no whole

212. Borders are where the war stopped. Being? It cannot be anything but a cease-fire.

213. [They say, someone says] that words are prejudices. So are things.

223. In the middle of all there is polemos.

237. I hear people asking what the world is made of. It cannot be made of anything but of world, I want to say. They want a list. There are things that cannot be in a list. There are lists of things that wouldn't fit in the world, the world wouldn't fit in any of them.

277b*. Thought cannot strip off the garments of the world. It is itself garment. Nothing, not even the world, is ever fully naked – nor fully clothed. Physis loves to hide itself – it cannot be fully unveiled. Thought has nothing to do with the naked universe. Physis, and the polemos that infests it, is rather in the undressing.

The description of an ontology cannot be itself more than an intervention on how things are. Ontology is not in the description, but rather it is in the performance of describing things. It fits no narrative, it requires a performed gesture, a situated intervention. Ways to describe motivate political movements – the polemos acts through them. See differently and you will act differently. Ontology is not about faithful accounts, but about teasing the world. In that vein, Heraclitus writes:

222. A friend once explained to me that ontology is politics viewed from above. I never stopped thinking about that. But I feel the vertigo.

147. In the beginning there was no politics. Neither was there polemos. Nor was there a beginning.

228*. […] No description of the world can afford not to stir it. Don't read me as if I was saying that there are polemos or logos or anything. I don't deal in catalogues. Everything can be ripped apart. When I talk about what there is, I want to unlock something. This unlocking matters. What matters is what escapes from one's words.

286. When I talk about the polemos, I'm not describing the underground of things, I'm rather inserting underground on them.

286a. [...] I don't do geology, I dig tunnels.

286b. Words are actors. They perform different characters in different acts. At most they carry a style throughout. Polemos is a style of acting.

Heraclitus argues against formality in ontology. We cannot consider the difference between reductionism and non-reductionism, or between monism and pluralism, without considering the difference between saying that everything is a rock and saying that everything is fire. While not in the business of taking everything to be one thing – fire, polemos or whatever – Heraclitus points at the difference between an ontology inspired by layers of rock and one that draws on flames and burst. He certainly wouldn't take all ontology to have a similar architecture – not only each monism entails a different sort of reduction but also each pluralism (or even each way to conceive the world as made itself of fragments) carries a different multiplicity. Each ontological performance produces a different gesture towards what there is. His gesture would rather mostly be one of asserting the polemos as something that cuts across ontology and politics – and as such has a formal element – in order to play it against their ready-made forms. His gesture is to look across what there is while digging tunnels, inserting movement and igniting the inflammability of things. At the same time, his gesture is to avoid the fire to be seen as lava that will solidify and, instead, point at the ubiquitous molten rock.

Sunday, 9 September 2012

Desire beyond the pale (or virtuality and the extensive continuum)

The image of feuds and government contention is a good one to consider the virtual (and the contingent). Governments operate within borders, they are devices of limited scope and they make use of centrifugal and centripetal forces. Governments are unable to flee from internal rebellion as their focus are within their department - inside their feud. They have to engage in diplomacy (or external war) in order to do so. They craft alliances with outer governments whose governed areas overlap with their feuds. There is no government that is fully alien to a government area - to assemble a working machine among governed cogs, one needs virtual collaborators.

Nick Land, in Machinic Desire, presents Anti-Oedipus´ desiring machines as if they promoted an industrial revolution in process philosophy. No cosmos but a technocosmos where everything is production. The socius acts as a self-preserving machinery that reproduces instead of replicating by trying to be isolated from the forces of the virtual - of the rest of the world. Land brings up Freud´s image that a nervous system attempts to be eliminate all stimuli from outside to picture the socius with its Oedipian devices that turn the unfamiliar into family. The Oedipus operation is already an operation of alienating the virtual (in previous posts I have toyed with the idea that what is contingent is contingent to the virtual and depends on the rest of the world). The Oedipus operation turns family into a necessity by decoupling it from the rest of the world. It produces necessity by enforcing a skin - macropods, Land´s term - to keep the rest of the world out or filtered. It is a reproducing machine that keeps the world out by coding it all into the family figures. The Oedipus turns desire itself into a macropod force, turns interaction with the world into a closed circuit in a centripetal direction.

The virtual, thought in terms of the rest of the world affecting something as an assemblage of parts and therefore as the material for contingency, makes for an interesting contrast with the potential. Consider dispositional properties like solubility. Sugar is soluble in water. That means that it will dissolve provided that the rest of the world offers the good conditions. The conditions for something to be actualized are virtual (this is the central difficulty for ordinary conditional analyses of dispositions). It is a contingent matter of fact that the sugar dissolves, to talk about potentialities or dispositionals is to make something independent of the rest of the world (i.e. the solubility). Those blocks of independence - of closed circuitry - are like Ceteris Paribus Devices (as Manuel and me used to call them) or, rather, like black boxes. They have to do with laws of nature and, to use Cartwright classical phrase, their lies: they hold only in lab conditions when the virtual is isolated.

The Oedipus device is likewise. It creates potentials and necessities by isolating the external world from the family circuitry of desire. It operates by short circuiting the unconscious in a way that it reproduces its relation to the rest of the world, to the productive technocosmos. In fact, the unconscious in this way is like the extensive continuum of Whitehead (see previous posts where I compare it with the plan d´immanence). The extensive continuum is open to be prehended by any actual entity. It can be thought (unconsciously) in an indefinite variety of ways. But the Oedipus device enforces one circuitry. It reinforces a network of individuated and familiar actual entities. (This is why the sanctioned discourses on sexuality are so full of dispositionals...)

Friday, 7 September 2012

The ontology of recursive feudalism

One of the greatest contributions to the crossroads (or similarity) of ontology and politics that Laibniz provided is the idea that each substance has a scope for its expression, a jurisdition, a governed area. A body. It is, clearly, a robust way to resist materialism and, as such, I guess it is a useful ingredient for all sort of process philosophy. Each substance governs a territory (a department, is the suggestive terminology used by Deleuze) by making alliances with the local autorities. It is an ontology of colonial powers ruling over local Maharajas or, if we want, an ontology of recursive feudalism. Government is a crucial element of such an ontology. Leibniz had that relations were preestablished and that made the whole (world) prior to each substance as each relation depends on the rest of the world. In a process philosophy take, this virtuality is rather built through alliances and alliances themselves appeal to networks of further alliances recursively.

The government of matter. Monads are there to provide the government of matter. Matter is still merely governed, but it is always full of local governments that have to be taken into consideration in order to govern. It is already an ontology of recursive networks. A feud is a contention, or an enmity expressed by borders: a territory understood in terms of a hostility to what is outside. A border. Surely, in this recursive feudalism, apart from tree-shaped networks, there are all sort of other configurations of alliances. In any case, it is a form of holism.

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

Contingency and the plurality of logics

I´ve been rehearsing, at least since Beirut, the idea that there is a link between contingency and some kind of dependence. The link can be presented in terms of the notion of virtual that Deleuze uses to understand Leibniz´s notion of contingency in Le Pli (see previous post here). A judgment is virtual if its truth depends on the rest of the world - and not if it depends on an infinite series. So, "Adam sins", Leibniz´s example, is true due to Adam, to sin but also to the Eden, to the serpent, to whatever else is there in the world. The stronger way to understand this - which I take to be the most interesting - is that contingent truths are truths which truth-maker is the whole world. In contrast, necessary truths display some degree of independence: their truth-makers is less the whole world. We can maybe think of logical truths as independent of all circumstances (like Kant wished ethical necessity to be). We don´t need to appeal to the whole world to find out that 2 + 2 is 4, the demonstration can be done in a number of steps somehow smaller than the cardinality of the world. I said somehow because, for Leibniz, we are dealing with infinities in both cases, as Deleuze stresses.

This account of contingency - that is occasionalist if we take occasionalism as the thesis that all relations need mediators - is certainly Couturatian enough. The difference between contingency and necessity is a difference of degree, as Couturat understood, such that God could contemplate contingent truths in the same way as we contemplate necessary ones. One could then proceed to defend a process philosophy by claiming that there is no such thing as necessary truths - as there is nothing that is independent from the rest of the world (no furniture of reality beyond processes). Necessary truths would be (more) independent from the rest of the world. If it is a matter of degree, we can think of them as primary folds that hold the weight of subsequent folds but have an independent shape.

This account of necessity makes me think of logical truths (assuming some of them are necessary) in the context of the plurality of logics. Surely, if something is logically true, it is independent of other features of this possible world. This world is made possible by the logic that makes something true independent of the other features of this world. In other words, this is a world that belongs to a constellation of possible worlds associated to a logic. Now, the problem posed by the plurality of logic - the crucial concern of universal logic as I take it - is the decision problem. In fact, this is a central problem posed for all sorts of pluralities (the plurality of fruits, as much as the plurality of geometries). I take it is a contingent matter of fact that this world belongs to such a constellation (and not another). It is contingent that logic L is valid in this world - and not logic L´. What necessary truth could determine that this world is, say, classical and not paraconsistent? So, it is contingent and this shows up in discussions about dialeteism (see Priest or Bobenrieth, for example).

But now we can think further of this contingency. If a contingent truth is one that depends on the rest of the world, we can say that the classicality (say) of this world depends on everything in it. This reminds us of the Quinean sphere: it is as if the choice of a logic is independent from the rest of the world only if we make it so by fiat. But we can go perhaps further and say that the logic associated to each world (those that are possible in our logical standard and those that are impossible in our logical standard - but possible in another) depends on all the other worlds, on the way these constellations of possible worlds are assembled together. Perhaps when we ask questions about the plurality of logics we point towards contingencies that lie beyond a single world.

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

Virtuality and the rest of the world

After months of a disturbing strike I´m back to the lecturing business and discussing the beautiful early chapters of Le Pli. Deleuze has an interesting account of the virtual that connects with the ontology of the fold that he reads in Leibniz and also with what I have been calling (in my work with Manuel on holism without priority monism) global occasionalism. An ontology of the fold is presented as an alternative to the appeal to ascriptions and instantiation: the connection between basic undefined elements and things is one of folding and refolding and not of instantiation. Interesting to compare this with the relation between eternal objects and the rest of the world in Whitehead (but I guess Whitehead is closer to the idea of instantiation). By the way, last week I went to the Metaphysics conference in Natal where I presented some remarks on how to build a process philosophy by turning Leibniz inside out. It is interesting to notice that in the movement of turning Leibniz around - in a way inspired by Whitehead - some features are preserved. I talked about the appeal to infinity, the account of multiplicity and the rejection of all forms of haecceitism to deal with singularity. But Deleuze´s account of the virtual - it it can really be appropriate for Leibniz - is another feature that would be preserved (and in fact it will be part of the process philosophy I´ve been calling global occasionalism).

Anyways, contrary to what a lot of people were led to think by direct of indirect influence of Couturat´s reading, Deleuze thinks the the difference between contingent and necessary truths in Leibniz - being the former virtual or implicit identities - has little to do with that between infinity and finitude. He rather claims that contingent truths are those that require the aid of the rest of the world. This is why they are difficult to grasp in knowledge: they require grasping the totality of the rest of the world. If God can take contingent truths as analytic it is because God can see the whole world (the many infinite series). This is why not only truths about substances (singular monads) but also those about conditionals (about gold or water) are contingent. They depend on the rest of the world and therefore they cannot be known but problematically. They contrast with necessary truths that enjoy some independence to the totality of the world. (In a sense, in Whitehead the prehensions of an actual entity depend on the rest of the world - the extensive continuum - while eternal objects are indifferent to the extensive continuum.) Of course, an argument to the effect that there are no necessary truth will hold that nothing is independent of the rest of the world.

This is very close to global occasionalism. I take non-theistic occasionalism as the thesis that all relations need mediators. A relation needs at least three things. Global occasionalism holds that the rest of the world is involved in any (external) relation between any A and B. On Deleuze´s account of the virtual, all relations are virtual identities - but only virtual. If the relations were internal, as in Leibniz, we would have a priority of the whole. But if the relations are external, there is no whole to appeal to and knowledge of the contingent truths concerning those relations would depend on knowing the rest of the world in a way that can only be done after the fact. Global occasionalism, I believe, understood as process philosophy, should also bite the bullett and claim that all truths are contingent - virtual identities. All depends on the rest of the world - nothing is established once and for all. But I´m not sure Deleuze´s account of virtuality can really be applied outside Leibniz (baroque) walls...