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Tuesday, 24 December 2013

Janne Teller's Pierre Anthon and his object-oriented classmates

In the last day of our last month's exhibition o.o (object-oriented) we had a closing debate about what we had there. The debate was very nice and moved slowly through the patient objects of Francis Ponge (brought up by Gê Orthof) to the allagmatics that make objects acquire the status of stability and the appearance of being in themselves. My friend Luciana finally managed to hear the whole 9 minutes of the recording one hears inside the coffin of the piece by Victor and me, No Object. She came back to the discussion saying that she finally understood what the whole exhibition was about. In No Object, one enters the coffin and hears a nine minutes collection of extracts from Janne Teller's Nothingness. Luciana then said: this exhibition, with all these objects in a gallery, is a true pile of meaning. In fact, this is what an object is, an item in a pile of meanings - outside the pile it makes sense because it is inserted in a context that gives it a sense. In the pile, an object is no more than something that is alive in a network, it is maybe there playing the strangeness of being part of a context even while it has a withdrawn element that leads it to death. In fact, my friend Aharon asked me the other day what would be a dead object. Well, that's an answer: a dead object is an object removed from any connection that gives it credentials to be in the pile of meanings - the pile of meaning is the object's coffin. Objects are alive when they are in the middle of a complicated allagmatics of relating their vicissitudes with those of the rest of the network. They die when they are moved away and put in a pile. In a gallery, or in MOMA... Objects don't get to be moved alive outside the network to which they happen to be connected.

In this sense, No Object is a key for all objects - they die without relations and they are strangers in a world that put them to play with other agents. They are amphibious like this: they are hubs in a network, but they transcend the network for they could be somewhere else. This is the trans-world-ness objects display. To be dead, for an object, is to have no place. (One can also imagine a pile of events or occurrences, and then it becomes clear that death is complete withdrawal from all networks.) In the plum tree, Pierre Anthon is withdrawn, is moved away, he is put in a pile. But in the tree, he still preserves his meta-stability as an agent (and not a network). It is in the border - just like objects in an exhibition.

Friday, 20 December 2013

On accelerationism

After last Friday live debate, Phil and I are trying to get a focused debate on accelerationism going here. As I say there in my comment, there are three possible responses to the charge that anti-capitalism is conservative: to bite the bullet and defend a conservatism of what is worth preserving, to dissolve the question and denounce it as promoting the idea that we cannot do anything but move forwards or backwards and to accept the challenge and come up with a non-conservative anti-capitalism that could take the form of finding something that erodes institutions faster than capital. I try there to explore the advantages of the third alternative. (See also my post about accelerationism and allagmatics).

Tuesday, 17 December 2013

Translation and disconfort

Been to Amanda Casal´s viva. She writes about how Blanchot conceives the translation work in contrast both to the Lévinasians and to Heidegger. The central idea is to have a guiding fidelity to the strangeness felt by thought with respect to the words - in whatever language. Thought is foreign to the word. So translation is already built-in in the process of writting for there is a gap of foreigness where a foreigner can intervene. The idea that translation is grounded on such disconfort enables one to challenge the idea of a home language, of the translator´s fidelity to a growing culture. Translators ought to find ways to betray languages and words in order to be faithful to this gap. It is an important political point - translators are diplomatic agents that are to be placed beyond domestication of a foreign language and beyond strangification of the target language. But it is an interesting ontological point if we think of Latour´s monads in networks. He says somewhere in Irréductions that monads were born free and everywhere they are in chains. We can extend Blanchot´s disconfort by speculating that all actants are foreigners to the network that encompass them. This disconfort is what makes new translations always possible. Actants are foreigners to chains.

Maybe this foreigness can be understood as something akin to the withdrawal ascribed to all objects by Harman. The experience of withdrawal is felt by thought with respect to where it supposedly belong - to language. The type of attention Blanchot recommends is to the gap between thought and language. Thought could have a territory, but it is always an immigrant. The move towards withdrawal could be presented as a speculation from thought being foreign in its only homeland.

Substances and being in the parricide tradition

In this last part of my metaphysics course I'm bringing together the features we explored from Plato's Sophist all the way to Simondon and Latour through Aristotle, Leibniz, Kant and Schelling. The idea was to sketch a history of the notion of substance and of its gradual erosion. The first operation that makes this whole history possible - maybe the founding gesture of the way we think of substance - was the parricide. Parmenides' exorcism of nothingness amounts to an exorcism of non-substantial being - something that has no self-sufficient interior that makes it stay what it is (like nothingness) cannot be. If nothing is, there is something nonsubstantial that reaches to existence. The parricide opens the way for a less-than-substantial being, a being that is not independent, is not self-sufficient and has no interior. In fact, Plato's Stranger's move was to address the relationships that make nothingness be - the parricide untangles being and substance. A being can therefore be dependent on something that is more substantial - relations enter the scene. In Plato, some beings were because other beings were substantial. There is, just like in Aristotle, more than one mode of being. For Plato substance is in the super-sensible while non-substantial beings are sensible - they acquire substance by relating to the substances (in a relation of metexis etc). In Aristotle substances and non-substances are sensible and it is in this realm that we find both primary and secondary substances as well as relations, quantities etc. Many modes of being. This plurality is possible because of the parricide. (This shows how Emanuelle Severino's endeavor to reject the parricide and go back to Parmenides can reinstate a different path altogether in metaphysics.)

In monadologies, like in Leibniz, substantiality is really distributed. Leibnizian monads have interiority but only because they are connected through their kernels to the world where they belong. They have no independence or agency in themselves - in fact, they are worldly to the point where their world is what stabilize them. Stabilization, the Simondonian take on how substances are kept what they are, is already prefigured in Leibniz's monadology. Substantiality is therefore hostage to the relations that a monad enjoys - and ultimately substance is spread into the world through relations. The source of being - that was substance in Aristotle - is now fully moved towards relations. Relationality - being in the world - becomes central while substances themselves fade away becoming both lacking in substracta and hostage to the world where they are placed. Leibniz still takes the world to be interior to the monads - there are maps that represent the bits of the world that are known to each monad. Monads are representational devices and they represent the bits around them that they can access. They cannot understand why this is the best possible world, they think locally while acting globally (as every monad is worldly). Non-Leibnizian monadologies are not representational: they are Brooksian in the sense that their best model is the world itself (cf. Rodney Brooks famous motto that the best model of the world for an intelligent being is the world itself). They do know and their knowledge has to do with what they are - and their connection to their world. But their knowledge is not representational, it is achieved through trying to establish relations (alliances, prehensions etc). Yet, they still do that locally while the effect of their action is global (worldly). In any case, monads derive their being from relations. Dependency, and not substantiality, is the main feature of being. (If we take a whole world instead of a monad as the paradigm of being, it is relationality, and not substantiality, the main feature of being - it is the world architecture, and not its constitution that makes it what it is.) We are moving in parricide territories.

Kant himself had an account of substance - one that made it dependent on a transcendental subject. Here it is not nonsubstantial beings that depend on substance, but the other way round - the so (mis-)called Copernican revolution. Substance becomes dependent on something else. Things can be something else for us because there is an operation - akin to the ones that stabilize phenomena - that make them be what they are for us. The operation has no necessary link to how things are and therefore there could be an absolute illusion. There are different modes of existence: that of things in themselves (that could be independent of the transcendental operation) and that of things for us. We are very far from monadological lands, but still we are hostage to the parricide: there is more to being than substantiality. It is interesting to extend this considerations to Schelling: there a transcendental nature stabilizes substance. Substance is not only non-unique but also dependent on something else. Here, it is not a subjective but a natural operation that makes substance stay what it is. The transcendental operation opens the way for allagmatics. Allagmatics is the generalized account of stabilization operations. According to Simondon, these substance-producing operations are everywhere. They lie at the very place where individuals come to life. It is a place that can only be entered through the parricide

Sunday, 15 December 2013

"Drink with the dead without a revealed God returning to spoil the party (and trouble our intimacy with tombstones)" - anarcheology, immanence and monadology

Meillassoux's boutade (DI, 232, in Harman's appendix) on not welcoming a revealed God in a World of justice has an interesting echo in Jabès thoughts about divine (in)hospitality. I compiled bits of his Livre de l'Hospitalité here. The issue of hospitality brings about, as I pointed out in a recent talk about Jabès, the issue of subversion - God is subversive, but his creation (and faithfulness to it) is not. Hospitality opens up the space of availability. Availability contrasts with achievement - it is not about completeness-to-be neither about completeness-that-was. Jabès and Blanchot seem to be attempting to go ahead with Heidegger's project of understanding Nietzsche's death of God in terms of breaking up with archés. Heidegger is still hostage to the idea that thoughts have an origin, that language can be revealed through etymology. It is as if the notion of Verlassenheit were bounded by a ready-made (original) past,that pre-exists all events and shape them. It is a ghost of a principle of individuation: a hauntological arché expressed in the originary language that is present in the workings of thought. Blanchot (and Jabès) seem to break away with this boundaries: no etymology to spoil the party - or, as Jabès has it, if truth existed, it would be an enemy, but as it doesn't, we can make enemies up (Le petit livre de la subversion hors de soupçon, Gallimard publication, 83). There is no knowledge that is not renegotiated with each new event, no original order independent of all existing struggle, no transcendent source. (This has to do with Latour's connection between irreduction and hosting new non-humans, explored in my previous post on this blog).

Blanchot (and Jabès) find then the path of fragment. Fragment is not to be thought in terms of a previously existed composition, nor as steps towards a coming achievement. Thought is rather committed, through its fragmentary nature, to glimpses. Knowledge is then thoroughly distributed: no piece is deprived from an element of alliance where knowledge resides. Distribution of knowledge is one of the key features of a monadology as I take it - not only Leibniz's but all the many forms of monadological thought that would draw on his original formulation (Tarde, Latour, Whitehead but also Simondon, for reasons aired in the past few posts). Blanchot's fragments seem to be up for recomposition. It has a monadological element in this sense: it is a part of a world - even though the world doesn't exist not will it ever exist. The monadological feature of distributed knowledge can be formulated by a slogan: je suis donc je sais. Knowledge is not alien, there is no transcendental distinction haunting anybody's alleged capacity to know something about the world. The slogan is reminiscent both of the original cogito and of Th. Nagel's attempt to encapsulate Davidson's idea: je pense donc je sais. I am therefore there is something I know. There is a whole world in a glimpse, as in a fragment. Glimpses are not illusions, they are monads - they point at something, at a world (that could even be thought as a World in Meillassoux's terms) even though the advent of such a world is up for grabs. Monads are like glimpses, like fragments: they are units of commitment - and they can become weaker or stronger as such. Glimpses and fragments make a connection that can turn into a full-blooded alliance or just disappear in the safety of the margins (of the subversions, of the questions). Like allegories or parables, fragments express thoughts that are still looking for a context. Or rather, they don't come to a context attached to them - they just make an appearance (and this is their main similarity with all thought).

Cabrera on biopolitics: how to make people servile to their survival

Cabrera (see info about him in his blog) has an ethics based on the non-value of life. It has many consequences concerning life and survival - to do with attaching one's life to something else that is not life itself. The idea that life is a value in itself - not a mean but an end - is presented as a way to make people servile to their survival. I attempted to explore this consequence in an article that is just out. It is a biopolitics of making people's survival transcend to their lives (their choices, their ways) and therefore making one's own life alienated.

Antenna Rush

Dialogue composed by Fabi and me on the rush, in outer space, for signals
is out in O-Zone.

It is a dialogue between two cleverbots - Nenaunir and Oxumaré.

Wednesday, 11 December 2013

Irreduction, dependencies and hospitality

I often come back to Latour's first proposition in Irréductions. It is puzzling: nothing is by itself reducible nor irreducible to anything else. I wrote an article on horizon and irreducibility years back where I compare this existential limbo Latour seems to put everything in with the image of the horizon that Eudoro de Sousa uses to analyze Anximander and Anaxagoras. But 1.1.1 is still puzzling. It states, in Schaffer's categories, that neither priority monism or pluralism nor priority nihilism holds: no priority, no dependence relation is there by itself among things. They need to be constructed. It is a strong, maybe the strongest of all process-oriented efforts to deconstruct ready-made reality. In the paper I talk about the existential limbo as if it is a pool of things that hold no dependency relation with each other - they are neither dependent nor independent from each other. The pool could be a world prior to any individuation. Things are brought to the fore by operations of individuation before which they are neither mixed with the others nor self-standing - like things in the night, before the horizon brings up the light. They are not created by the horizon, but the horizon bring them to the fore in a specific form (reduced or irreduced, identical or different, dependent or independent) by paying the cost of transport. The horizon is the sponsoring agent. The borders and contours of something brought about depends on the lights shed on it.

It also helps, I believe, to think in terms of hosting (and hospitality). Latour talks about an expanding community that tries welcomes newcomers. To seek knowledge about something is an exercise in hospitality - and it is a way to bring it to the fore. Now, hospitality and horizon go together - because they come in indefinitely many quantities. There are many guesthouses, many horizons. Pre-individual elements can be composed (and decomposed) in different ways. Latour chose to start out not by saying that individuals are up for grabs in the process of individuation but rather that relations of dependency are never ready-made, they are also built on the fly.

Monday, 9 December 2013

The abundance of representations

One way of critiquing the view of knowledge as building an image of something already there is to criticize representations. In fact, the point of view according to which a subject tries to attain an object that pre-exists it is hostage to the Kantian image of a subject that can be fully cut off from the world. The monadological perspective contrasts with that not because it appeals to no representations, but rather because it postulates many of them. They are everywhere - there is no being without a representation attached to it. I believe this is also the case in Simondon's monadology without monads: a collection of relations account for a subject while another collection of relations account for an object. These relations host (and eventually perform) transductions. Information flow is such that the overall representation is no more than the assemblage of all the small representations, each relata does - like a string reflecting what is around it without taking into consideration the big picture emerging. Transduction is also an issue in calibration: living being, at least, are able to tune to the information flow so that they capture what they can and improve to get better at this. The evolution of the species is, according to Simondon, a giant endeavor in transduction. In fact, transduction is capture and not clausure - and it occupies the place of pre-established harmony in Leibniz's monadology. It is transduction that connects the different bits of the universe together - and they are all representation-rich.

I was thinking of Latour's picture that non-humans are brought in to a community by being (scientifically) researched. It is not about looking for a representation (let alone looking for the representation). It is rather about assembling the many representations that come together with actants that are either among humans or among non-humans. The assemblage of representation is capture - it is post-established harmony, as Latour says in Irréductions. So, science is not looking for an image but rather crafting deals and alliances among a plurality of representation devices. This abundance of representation could look weird if the monadological view is read in Deleuzian eyes, and indeed Deleuze's take was to actually completely dilute the notion of representation by emphasizing repetition and other elements that are also reminiscent of Simondon's transduction. But Latour, I take, gets his monadology from Tarde. Science, therefore, is looking at the best possible agreement between the actants - in terms of truth, correspondence meets consensus if we consider the non-human elements of the community. Within this community, it is a matter of what is politically possible.

Meillassoux: transcedent contingency sets the stage for (rational) faith

Last week I spoke about Meillassoux's Divine Inexistence to an audience of philosophers of religion. I suspect that to them, transcendent contingency (that is not itself up for grabs and cannot therefore become non-contingent) sounded like a perhaps traditional way to deal with the problem of evil. Of course, once we appeal to contingency, an existing God becomes something difficult to accommodate. Meillassoux offers to concede to the atheist the argument from the existence of evil to the inexistence of God while making the existence of evil the starting point of a hopeful World of justice that is the real object of faith. The existence of evil (in a contingent universe) and the (possible) existence of God (in a contingent universe) are therefore reconciled. It is as if Meillassoux were saying that the Atheist gets her modality wrong: evil doesn't imply the necessary inexistence of God, maybe necessary evil would, but not contingent evil. If contingency is in both sides of the implication involving evil and God, the converse (that there is God and therefore no evil) is also made possible. In fact, if God and evil are contingent, all he affirms is that God precludes evil (if and when He exists).

This is Meillassoux's account of faith: hope in a world with God for that will be the Fourth Advent. Hope, of course, is itself contingent, but he holds it is a rational attitude (that would go together with the principle of unreason). Otherwise, there is no ontology (at least in Badiou's sense that contrasts événement - what seems like a counterpart of Meillassoux's surgissement - and ontology). This anontology is also familiar to the philosophers of religion, I gathered. I associated it with Job. The omnipotence of God has no limits (even if He doesn't exist) and therefore no ontological (nomic, natural) necessity can restrain it. No local necessity is on the way of the (possibly) upcoming God, so the stage is set for God's advent. Contingency is sewed up in heavens, not by ordinary, immanent procedures. There is no need to have faith in an existing God if one believes in such a widespread, safe and assured facticity. For the philosophers of religion, existing hyperchaos is enough of a good substitute for an existing God (notice that the position according to which since God exists hyperchaos can exist is a familiar one). I realized Meillassoux - with his humanist anti-correlationism - is really swimming in their waters.

Friday, 29 November 2013

Allagmatic accelerationism (and the very power of deterritorialization)

I sometimes think the debate around about accelerationism picture the position in an unfair way. It is, as I understand it, about flows and their speed (and yes, about production and registration). Accelerationism is not a defense of capital nor is it a defense of any other flow in particular - it is not about territories but about their dismantling. Accelerationists are not in any sense committed to the recognized revolutionary power of capital, unless in the sense that revolutions should learn something with it - what I take to be very much in line with what Marx and Engels write in about the bourgeoisie in the Manifesto. Capital corroded despots, states, written traditions as empires corroded land-based powers, oral tradition and patriarchs before it. (Corrosion, of course, has never gone to its complete end.) To praise acceleration is to praise dismantling - the kind of action that revolutions often do. Capital itself became an individual - a territorial machine, a code, a somehow bordered entity. It has its allagmatics - the set of operations that keep constituting what it is - that involve work as a way to produce, market as a way to distribute, pricing as a way to register. Its allagmatics also involves, I believe, persons, human individuals, and the capacity they are supposed to have of taking individual responsibility. Capital depends on these grounds to have a territory. Maybe it depends on a centripetal family around which it revolves, as Deleuze and Guattari argue in Anti-Oedipus. Capital tends to concentrate. Of course, maybe it is not necessarily dependent on family and the Oedipus structure that privatizes fantasies. But I think individuals are central to its territory. Ready-made individuals are the very basis of the flow of capital - they are the poles around which capital can flow. Accelerationism focuses on the allagmatics that produces these individuals and keeps them going. It looks at the sub-individual and at the super-individual - singularities within the individual and outside it, in groupings and networks - as corroding forces that dismantle the individual human. Accelerationism, in this way, waves to the possible forms of human life that is not organized around stabilized human individuals, but rather emphasizes elements that cross them. It makes room for the political role of the multitudes, of the masses as agents that are different from a mere assemblage of individuals (an assemblage of pockets that are hubs for the flows of capital). One can buy (or sell) individuals within the mobilized masses but one cannot commodify the force that brings together the masses - when they are not just revolving around individuals.

Capital takes care that each thing is at the reach of someone who has a pocket. It is stricken by anonymity, black blocks, piracy. The biopolitical fight on capital is the struggle against the daily sponsors of individuals and their pockets - it is an allagmatic struggle through desires, miasmas, gift-giving. Anything that flows indifferent to the network of pockets. To accelerate is to go in a speed no individual can flow - the speed of gestures, of the masses, of the viral, of repetitions that are go through indifferent to the boundaries of individuals. It is about the economy of what runs more than pockets.

One of the best criticisms of the accelerationist political project I heard is one of the things Benjamim Noys told us in Anarchai last year. He reckons the whole ontological framework required to think accelerationism through is doomed to infect it with undesired commitments to the capitalist state of things. Noys thinks that a revolution ought rather to thought in terms different from production, registration, speeds and flows. He suggested loads of interesting Bataille-like alternatives but I'll consider only a simple one: the planning stance. The planning stance could be thought as the individual or as something else - say communal planning, confederation planning, global planning etc. The issues there are who plans and for whom. Planning, I take this to be the idea, is inevitable. Why can't we think in terms of plans instead of flows? I think this could be a different way altogether to base a politically revolutionary project. Plans, taken as organizations, introduce different individuated units. What I find attractive in this criticism, though, is that to a great extent its practical consequences amount to de-individuation - to challenge the sacred territory of a human with a pocket. It is, if I understand it, an allagmatic criticism.

Friday, 22 November 2013

Object-oriented and allagmatics

The erotics of allagmatics is erratic (from my exhibit Two Objects in the Object Oriented Exhibition 2, open until the end of the month in Brasilia, Galeria Espaço Piloto).

Individuation. Whatever makes an individual an individual. To give an account of it, one can appeal to primitive individuals (atomism, monism) or to selected substantial individuals (like Aristotle). Aristotle seems to connect individuals to substances - the mutilated, for instance, in Metaphysics, Delta, 27 - and hence some individuation is no more than derivative. Derivative individuation is such that the operation (the alagma, the cost of transport) that produces the individual is made invisible in favor of pre-existing principles of individuation. Substances guide individual from outside the workshop of things - from outside the processes of individuation. They act like form and matter. Simondon wants to shift the attention to the underlying process of individuation that is to be found connected to any individual. Individuals are not ready-made. Not even derivative ones. (Simondon stresses the difficulties that both monists and pluralists - his examples involve Spinoza and the Stoicists for the former and Leibniz and Epicurism for the latter - have to individuate derivative items, those that are not substantial. They end up presenting them as created by an external intervention.)

Now, an object-oriented ontology is perhaps an ontology of substrata without substances. Objects have an hypokeimenon but as ontology is flat, there are no derivative individuals. There is no problem with given individuals as everything can be taken as an object. The object-oriented approach can therefore avoid Simondon's charge against substantialism that takes it to be unable to individuate. Objects are individuated, one by one. None is derivative. The allagmatics, to be sure, is to some extent still made invisible as ontology still is about individuals. But individuation can be explained through objects - objects individuate objects. Whenever there is something, there is an object. No privilege of relations but also no privilege of substances. In that sense, it can face Simondon and makes him concentrate his fire against non-substantial and still somehow born individuated individuals.

Friday, 8 November 2013

Reference-fixing as an allagmatic operation (Kripke meets Simondon)

In December 2010, in Gize, I wrote an entry on this blog on the individuation of camels. There I do mention Kripke and Simondon. In fact, one can see reference-fixing procedures as allagmatic operations - operations that take place in the preparation of an individual. Surely, proper names are introduced by baptism, and name-giving is an individualization operation. But reference-fixing could be for instance, introducing the name Hesperus as the evening star or the name Cat for a (natural) kind of animals (no matter if they end up turning out to be also the morning star or robots instead). Descriptions can be wrong and yet work as reference-fixing. If it is so, a wrong description (or an incomplete one) could work as an allagmatic operation that individuates (cats or stars). Of all things, a description picks up one - or what it takes to be one - and this is enough for something to be individuated, and treated as an individual, that can be further investigated later on.

Reference-fixing produces individuals. It is a way to carve the world in individuals, to the extent that we can further say, for instance, that there is not (in the actual world) entities individuated as phlogiston. Analogously, descriptions in fiction (but not only descriptions) individuate things. We can talk about unicorns or Holmes. One of the many meta-stabilizers needed for an individual to be such is reference-fixing. Why is this camel different from all the others? Because it was given a name, and a name, as I said in the 2010 post mentioned above, provides the individual with importance, the importance of being an individual distinct from all others. I guess what is crucial in Kripke's gesture - or in the direct reference theory gesture in general - is not really the defense of the indiscernibility of identicals (or the move to make some kind of substracta theory plausible) but it is rather to show the (allagmatic) complexity of reference-fixing. It is not about satisfaction of description. Rather, it is about point at a part of the world and attempting to provide it with borders.

Object Oriented exhibition in Brasilia

I'll have three works there: No Object, One Object, Two Objects.
Photos soon.
Opening on the 13th. We'll have round tables with the artists, Carol Marin, André Tonussi, Luiza Günther, Erick Felinto and Marilia Panitz.

Queer ontology and sexual allagmatics

I'm trying to write a paper on queer ontology, putting together elements of Althaus-Reid's indecent theology, (Mortimer-Sandilands') queer ecology and bits and pieces of Sara Ahmed's work on orientation (that she calls queer phenomenology). I thought of including a section on the operations of sexual individuation, on the different sexes (to use Deleuze and Guattari's motto à chacun ses sexes) that act like singularities individuating each body capable of desire. Sexual identity is only possible through an (erratic) sexual allagmatics. The operations that produce sexual identities involve the way sexual norms are taken but also the devices that create and maintain desires. Psychoanalysis, as well as schizoanalysis as ways to deal with the emergence of structures of desire within bodies, do no more than (fragments of) sexual allagmatics. A structure of desire is always composed by singularities such as contagions, performances, clothes, gestures, emotional links - the biography of anyone is a sculpture made by these operations on the vicissitudes of all contact with the world and of the insertion in a demography of subjective items. Operations of all kinds give shape to a sexual matrix - and it is only from a hylemorphic point of view that one can recognize in one's life patterns that ought to generate a cis, a trans, a hetero and a homo person. Allagmatics is about erratics - it is about looking primarily into the clinamina (I'm thinking of calling the paper "Bodies in Clinamina").

In fact, sexual difference has itself an allagmatics. Most of the gender performances can be viewed as operations that end up giving rise to individually sexed bodies - natural man and women are no more than the form that is to be specified outside the workshop (to use Simondon's metaphor). The construction of rules bodies and normalized desires is always unfinished, always incomplete. Sexuality is meta-stable: desires disappear only to come back in a different way. No desire is fed only on itself - and no body is in a perennial flow of desires. There is, to be sure, degrees of crystallization depending on whether different operations act on the body. Degrees of instability within a meta-stable structure. Looking at the allagmatics (that involve the norms issued outside the workshop), one sees how identities are always exposed to the vicissitudes of what seems to be a simple instantiation.

Monday, 4 November 2013

Allagmatics: a proletarian metaphysics

Simondon’s focus on the processes and operations that generate the sunolos with singularities is a way out of a substance ontology. He compares individuation through a principle – either through matter or through form – as the individuation conduced by those who are outside the workshop and only see what comes in and what goes out. To understand individuation in its energy allagmatics one has to leave the command position and get into the workshop (and in fact, he adds, into the particular mold that allegedly is doing no more than fabricating a shaped matter out of brute matter). Individuation, thought in this allagmatic manner, is in a sense to be placed within the genesis of the sunolos and therefore neither in the matter nor in the form. This genesis makes the individual inextrinsically relational: it is not in relation, it is the relation. Now, when Aristotle (which is undoubtedly his point of departure) talks about substance as having (a specific) form and matter and opposes them to accidents (see form instance Metaphysics, H, 5), he is thinking about what makes something something. What makes something be wine, say. His answer involves what is at work (en-ergeia) but also what is present potentially. To think about substances involves already normativity: a position of command. Wine should be wine (and not simulacra), a book should be a book (no matter what special thing happened in its production, in its allagmatics). Substances contrast to relations because they are not about operations. They are about what is and not what is becoming through the action of operations. The view of things from their constitution is the worker’s view: the view from the vicissitudes of matter and form. Allagmatics.

Allagma is an interesting word. It comes from allos, another, the other. It is translated as vicissitude but also as change (allag-hé) – to become something else. It is vicissitude because it is connected to meeting another, to pay the price or go towards the prize. It could be associated to paying the costs (cf. Latour’s insistence on how often we have to pay the price of transport in a re-duction). Allagmatics is the action of operation, the acts of change. Allagmatics is process itself, not the cataloguing activity of ready-made substances. As such, allagmatics contrasts with what I called in my 2008 book Excesses and Exceptions an ontology that harbors a kernel of fascism. It is not about a single agent giving rise to shaped matter (a demiurge) but rather about the processes coming from all agents. To be is to operate.

Through operation, repetition takes place from one instance to another. There is no model that presides what has to be. Repetition contrasts with a commnand position (and a substance ontology) because it takes place thoroughly on the ground – it makes no reference to what is beyond the sensible. It takes the sensible in all its vicissitudes (and all its virtuality). Individuation is the emphasis of allagmatics – it is not about what is produced, but rather about how it is produced. This has also echoes in D&G’s Anti-Oedipus emphasis on the how, on the operations. In fact, Deleuze and Guattari were inspired by this change of perspective: look at what promotes the individual, look at what mechanisms and operations make the individual stay put. They follow this road to consider desire, sexualities, natural objects, laws and representations. Foucault, in his introduction to the American edition of the Anti_Oedipus translate part of what the book intends to do in terms of injunctions, one of them reads: Don’t base your action on individuals, individuals are a product of (operations of) power.

Allagmatics is about production, about operations. It opens a key to a metaphysics beyond the market place that is rather grounded on the actions associate to work (at work) and on the viewpoint of the working person. It is a concern with production and not a concern with produced substances. It is not about what is commissioned, but about how the substance choreography gets executed. Simondon opens up a whole path away from substantiality thought in terms of commodities. It is not about what can be the object of the fetish associated to things that got done (notice that substances, secondary substances, can be always assigned a price, as workers can be priced but only through their results, not through their path through vicissitudes). It is also a way to think beyond the individual, beyond the ready made subject and its relations – Simondon dives into the world of how and by means of what relations hold (and individuals, including subjects, arise). The focus on operations is a way to think beyond the (slowing down) limits of the constituted individuals. It is a way out of objects that present themselves as already individuated. It is also a way to find what can be faster than the flow of capital between pockets (individual pockets of physical persons and corporations). Maybe there is a Simondonian accelerationism that would rather look at the way pockets are individuated. But this only shows how far-fetched can be the consequences of an allagmatic take on the world.

Friday, 1 November 2013

Kripke: nested existence, sponsored existence

In the third lecture of Reference and Existence (John Locke Lectures, 1973), Kripke presents details of his account of fictional characters. They do exist, not in a vast weak Meinong-land because there actually have been many novels in the actual world. The existence of these characters are nested in a pretense - Doyle's novel creates a pretense in which Holmes exists. It exists in a pretense, in that nested way - sponsored by something concrete that created it (a performer, a writer, a director, or a phenomenon of light and darkness that can create ghosts). I always thought that fictional characters were partly sponsored by writers and readers (creators and consumers). The sponsoring, however, is not enough to make them plainly existing or real. Sponsoring, here, I use to translate Souriau's instauration (see old posts in this blog). Kripke is saying less than that: they have a different sort of existence, not weaker but dependent on something else concrete. Being fictitious is a way to exist - and being fictitious (like being made of this wood for a table) is something essential to Holmes (or to unicorn, to Zeus etc). As such, being fictitious is something that cannot be changed when the concrete item moves to different possible world. Fiction is world-invariant.

It is interesting that after his second lecture, he got asked when was Frankenstein born. If he had a taste for boutades, he could have answer in a Latour-like way: since the publishing of the novel (1818), Victor Frankenstein existed since 1771 (the date when he was born according to the novel). Kripke doesn't do much different - he talks about two senses of coming to existence. One is nested, another is not. Only one depends on the other, or rather both depend on each other in different ways - a novel cannot be published unless something is said about its characters. Kripke is really moving here in a territory where Souriau finds his different modes of existence.

Thursday, 24 October 2013

Il, Ile, Illeité

Been in a Jabès event with the presence of his grand-daughter, Aurèle Crasson. Yesterday I gave a talk in portuguese. Today we were discussing the first lines of Jabès Récit:

Il et son féminin Ile

Il n’existe pas Il est Ile
Seul l’océan existe

The question that arises is that of an third person outside the dialogue - outside the I-thou. The il is an island, isolated and away. The only thing that exists is the ocean, the gap between us and the island. This gap is the substance of otherness - of the distance that constitutes otherness. The stranger doesn't exist in itself, only as an island kept apart by the ocean, the ocean that keeps it apart and makes it reachable only by crossing what is strange. Il and île are connected to Lévinas illeité.
He writes that "illeité - néologisme formé sur il ou ille - indique une façon de me concerner sans entrer en conjonction avec moi."(Autrement que l'être, 1, 6). The contrast is with Buber's thou: il is not in a conjunction with me, it is away, alien, separated from me - an island at a distance.

But the ocean is not an island: it is in conjunction with me. It is a mediation, a process by means of which I connect with the third person as an other. It is the otherness of others that do exist for me. It is the non-familiarity - maybe like Whitehead's extended continuum that surrounds all entity that I can meet. Otherness precedes any other - like an otherness that surrounds any object. This otherness is in conjunction with me.

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Rhythms and transductions

Simondon can be described as fulfilling the project Schelling put forward: look at nature as the realm of processes of individuation by focusing on transcendental questions concerning individuals. Those questions lead to the pre-individual - the scope where individuals are being formed. Simondon cherishes two notions that he deems crucial for his (maybe transcendental) endeavor: metastability and transduction. The first one I take to play a role similar to Souriau's unfinished instauration: things are stable because they are made stable by something else - they are not stable in themselves. (Incidentally, Simondon says that the ancients couldn't think beyond stability and instability because they lack the knowledge of the prototypical physical analog of metastability - the process of individuation of crystals. Still, they could have taken rivers (sponsored by their margins), living beings or fire to be metastable.) The second notion is transduction. Transduction has to do with information flow and therefore moves from things to thoughts. Transduction is part of the transcendental story to be told about the connection between what is represented and what is presented: presentation infects representation by transduction. That is, there is an intensity that makes the thing being thought affect thinking. (This can give rise to the contrast between thought guided by a philosophical decision and unguided thought, in the vocabulary of Laruelle's non-philosophy.)

Transduction provides an insight concerning the connection between rhythms and objects. The latter is a byproduct of the former and the events that form them are processes of individuation. Objects are compressed rhythms, and the latter have priority over them. There is a transmission of rhythms that form and preserve metastable objects for their duration. Objects are crystallized rhythms (and the rhythmite is the paradigm). They are phases in the process of individuation, formed by the intensity of rhythms. Forms are also dependent on information, on how an intensity is transmitted - and information itself can be taken as an intensive variable. Space and time are intensity transmitters - events can be seen as objects in time, they crystallize processes of individuation that gave rise to what took place. They are predicates, associated with a duration. In Leibnizian terms, they are part of a concert - but if we move from enclosure to capture (see Deleuze's Le Pli) the concert becomes a jam session. Events are crystallized durations captured by processes of individuation (that is, by rhythms, by transductions).

Friday, 18 October 2013

Bayer and Pritchard on perceptual access (without cognitive access...)

Benjamim Bayer (in Acta Anal (2012) 27:383–408) tries to put together a (accessibilist) internalism with direct realism in perception. The attempt is daring and therefore caught my eyes. He seems to dwell on Duncan Pritchard's idea that disjuntivists (who take episodes of real perception to be completely different in content from those of deception) do have an access to the real object they perceive and, in Bayer's words, "we might say that the normal subject has perceptual access to real objects, and the deceived subject does not, but that even though neither could discriminate the normal case from the skeptical scenario, discriminability is not a prerequisite for justification." (my emphasis).

Direct realists are often disjuntivists - a natural choice to deal with deception. What is interesting here is that the disjuntivists, according to Pirtchard-Bayer, have access to the real object but cannot discriminate it is real. If this is the case, one can have perceptual access without discrimination. Howard Wettstein chose a motto for the direct reference revolution he advocates (in Magic Prism): linguistic contact without cognitive contact. Accessibilism without discrimination (that to me is still no more than externalism in disguise) would have that it is possible to have perceptual access without cognitive access. (I take the kernel of cognitive access is really discrimination - think of what Evans calls the Russell's Principle: we cannot think (or speak) of something without discriminating it from others.) Accessibilism without discrimination is an odd form of epistemic internalism. Access to the real object is not to what is normally thought to be awareness but to something else. Bayer says this model of awareness (and consciousness) is old-fashioned because it assumes we can discriminate what we think (and what we are aware of). But this far I cannot help thinking that if the internalist thinks of awareness without discrimination she's already giving in too much to the externalist (a move that, to be sure, I myself take to be quite right).

Truth and process

This is an avant-première of something I'm writing on Latour and truth. Comments, criticism and suggestions welcome.

Une phrase ne tient pas parce qu'elle est vraie;
c'est parce qu'elle tient qu'on la dit vraie.
(Latour, Irréductions, 2.4.8)

I'm going to do no more than to unpack this epigraph. My unpacking, however, will carry a metaphysical baggage which I will motivate but will be likely to do less than fully defend. The baggage is strongly shaped by a framework provided by process philosophy, inspired by Whitehead, Souriau and Latour himself. This will take me to a substantive account of truth. If the account is plausible, it will place truth (and some parts of logic) outside the places reserved to it by the maneuvers of the linguistic turn in its heyday.

Latour's dictum together with the metaphysical baggage will take me towards a very rough attempt to look at truth in terms somehow akin to those we use to think about natural phenomena. It is very sketchy and it only points towards a vague direction that I believe is plausible. It is some sort of physicalist take on truth that seeks to somehow place (at least parts of) logic within the scope of physics. Its physicalism, however, is one that is closer to Plato’s ‘physics of the all [tou pantos phuseos]’ (Tim. 47a9, 27a5) than to any commitment to physics as a a current scientific discipline either as it stands or as it could eventually become.

Hartry Field's work on truth could be taken as exemplary of the journey through darkness that a physicalist undergoes when trying to approach the nature of truth. Field (1972) started out proceeding in a courageous and yet straightforward manner. If truth is to be physical, there ought to be a physical property that at least correlate with it in the same manner that an extensionally equivalent physical property was given for valence in order to make it acceptable from a physicalist point of view. If such a property was not found, and only a description of the equivalence at each instance (potassium is +1, sulphur is -2 etc,) was possible, physicalism would have to be abandoned in favor of something like chemicalism. Analogously, he claims, if there is no physical extensional equivalent for primitive denotation – based on which truth is defined – we would have to allow for a sui generis semantical domain. Field provides a diagnosis and then a programme. The diagnosis: Tarski's definition of tuth was a step in the right (physicalist) direction but it was not enough. The programme: once we define truth in terms of primitive denotation we can then hope to find a physical extensional equivalent for it. Truth then would be reduced to something physical that ties together linguistic expressions and their primitive denotata. It is a property and a physicalist approach to properties is to show that they are reducible to physical properties. The rest of the journey is to some extent dismal. Field (1986), following a general tide against substantive conceptions of truth, gave up this strategy and retained physicalism while adopting a deflationary account of truth that would hold that truth is something short of a property.

Since then, deflationism was served in many flavours – disquotational, prosentential, minimalist à la Horwich. The basic idea is to keep to a general schematic notion of truth such as Tarski's. (Or to Ramsey's scheme requiring quantification over propositions.) Very roughly, truth is taken to be no more than an instrument to assert something, to provide a tool for anaphoric expression and to enable semantic ascent in a hierarchy of languages. In other words, it names no property. Typically, truth bearers are then supposed to be sentences or statements but Horwich (1990) holds that truth is a (deflated) predicate of propositions. Deflationist accounts help doing justice to the intuition that to say that something (a sentence, a statement or the content of a belief) is true is a recommendation on its behalf. Truth is often taken to entails good assertibility conditions - the reverse not being in general accepted as something could be safe to assert (within a context) – while being false. There is room, therefore, for some transcendence of truth with respect to assertibility – truth is not only something you get away with saying. It is something else beyond assertibility. Deflationary approaches can also make space both for the idea that truth is a value and that it transcends assertibility.

The transcendence of truth is a point that deserves some pause here: the epigraph points at some lack of transcendence in truth. Traditionally, adequatio accounts (correspondence and identity) but not epistemic and pragmatic ones do justice to transcendence of truth (with respect to assertibility, agreement, widespread opinion or belief). Epistemic and pragmatic accounts, taking truth to be the result of inquiry (or agreement) and not self-standing independently of human practices, maintain that truth is not transcendent, being no more than the result of the way we seek it. Putnam in his brief internal realism phase has put forward a notion of truth based on the ideal of inquiry. There truth transcends our current epistemic state because it is some kind of human ideal. Notice that truth can be a human concern and yet be transcendent to the human ways: Davidson famously opens his Truth and Predication (2005) saying that “[n]othing in the world, no object or event, would be true or false if there were no thinking creatures”. A central issue concerning truth – and concerning in particular the nature of logical truth in its elusive connection to provability – is how human truth is.

Now Latour's take on what there is draws from basic tenets of process philosophy. Nothing exists without something else making it exist. Souriau talks of ontological instauration. In my paper in Speculations 2 I used the English phrase “bringing about” to translate it stressing that nothing is brought about once and for all for Souriau. In recent writings I have been using the word sponsor to translate it (Harman's gestiftet from Heidegger etc.). Then the idea is: to be is to be sponsored (and to sponsor). Nothing is sponsor-free and therefore the existence of something is always dependent on the existence of something else (its sponsors). Not only us, humans, sponsor the existence of what there is for us but everything else is for-something. Plus, we cannot sponsor something on our own – something holds if there is enough sponsoring behind it. Ontology would be then a study of sponsoring relations. Process philosophy is a way to be a realist about the constitutive relations that the anti-realists talk about: we sponsor things-for-us as river banks sponsor rivers, the water of Earth sponsors the clouds, bees sponsor flowers etc. Existence is somehow a matter of agreement between sponsors. We cannot sponsor anything on mere human agreement – except, of course, for characters of fiction, rumors, widespread falsehoods etc – because we need other parts of the world. (Latour talks about agents in a deliberately vague way because they are not individuated before agreements are put into test.) What there is transcends our human interests and yet it doesn't transcend the sponsor's interest. Existence is immanent to sponsoring.

There is a number of consequences to this ideas. Concerning what is necessary, we can say that nothing holds, say, because it is necessarily full stop; all necessity is itself sponsored by something. We can bring to fore a use of the word 'contingent': something is contingent on something else. When we say “arms sales contingent on the approval of congress”, for example. Likewise with necessity: it is necessary on something, because of something, given something. Maybe all modality would have to be thought as conditional modality. Further, we can say that the temporal order of events is relative to a sponsoring scheme that somehow limits time travel – if we find sponsoring (in tachyons, in cosmic space or somewhere else) for a time shuttle enabled to reach the past, the sponsoring scheme will change in a way that the past will be altered by the present or future. Laws of nature themselves are contingent on some configuration of things – they are the result of a stable agreement between sponsors rather than something that forces the sponsors to agree on. If it seems that the sponsors are forced to agree on something, it is because we need to take into account some other sponsors who are strong enough to impose it. In other words, laws hold because they are held and not because they are necessary in themselves. Process philosophy doesn't assume a metaphysically fixed framework where everything takes place, no established order of things – there is no underlying structure that transcends all the sponsors and their activity. It could resemble some sort of anti-realism: it's all up to us – except us ranges not over us humans, but rather on the class of all sponsors. (It is interesting to ask the difficult questions concerning membership in this class: do abstract objects belong? Numbers? Proofs? It is also interesting to try and answer affirmatively to these questions. Surely, however, abstract objects cannot sponsor anything on their own, they need to be part of a sponsoring pool. I will not proceed in these lines here but I do believe there are several promising avenues to be explored in this area.)

I'll now go back to truth – and the epigraph. I’ll try to show that we can bring together both the intutitions behind adequatio accounts and the insights of the so-called antirealist takes on truth. We can now understand the epigraph as stating that a sentence is true because it makes explicit the scheme of alliances promoted by a sponsoring pool. We can begin to disclose what I call a sponsoring account of truth. We say that the “snow is white” is true because it reports a state of affairs involving the snow sponsored by the cold weather, its whiteness sponsored by luminosity and reflection on pigments etc. Truth is then akin to a report on the agreement between sponsors – the agreement is the truth-maker. But truth is not only a matter of reporting. Truth is also a way to make agreements – and this is where the antirealist insights also have a room. Truth lie in the agreement between sponsors – but it is always subject to new tests of resistance, as Latour would put it. The agreement is always up for grabs: any sponsor, including those who can state truths (and falsities), can affect it. A statement of what is true has a performative character – and not merely a descriptive one. To state that something is true is, in some cases, a way to interfere in the agreement.

But I will start with considering the sponsoring account in contrast with adequation ones. The agreement between sponsors is in this case something close to a state of affairs and we can then take this idea of truth as very close to that of a correspondence between sentences and states of affairs. Correspondence accounts typically don't yield that truth is what makes things hold, something is correspondence true simply because it corresponds to what holds. While corresppndence-truths transcend our beliefs and expectations about it, they could be either transcendent or imanent to how things are. They command beliefs rather than negotiate with them – beliefs have no say about what is true, they just report on what, in virtue of something else, is true. The correspondence typical truth-maker is the state of affairs. If we understand state of affairs in terms of facts, facts can either make something be true – in this case truth is immanent to them – or they can conform to something that is true – in this case truth transcends them. One could say that snow is white is correspondence-true because facts, including mostly the property of snow to be white, make it correspondence-true but also because the facts conform to something else – namely anything that has that snow ought to be white. In other words, facts can be as they are per se, or they can conform to a law or a principle that make them how they are. Correspondence truth is indifferent to whether truth transcends facts or not because truth-makers are facts – and not whatever make them what they are. In correspondence accounts, truth is a property of a sentence (or a proposition) that depends on a feature of the world. Something is true because it reports what is going on independently of the report. Truth is human to the extent that language and though are human – and therefore sentences and propositions are human. The content of what is true transcends language and though as truth makers transcend true sentences or propositions. Something similar can be said about other adequatio conceptions of truth – namely identity theories. Identity-truths are also transcendent to beliefs while they can either be transcendent or immanent to the facts. The truth maker is independent of any act of thought even if it constitutes the content of thought (see McDowell, 1994: 2).

In adequatio accounts, truth is not defined as a force affecting things. It is also an important feature of the image of truth we're trying to grasp that truth is dependent on what holds it true. Truth is not an agent (it is not, therefore, a sponsor). In the sponsoring account, truth is the name of a sponsoring agreement – the sponsoring agreement that makes whatever is true hold. Agreement is a relation between all the sponsors that make something hold. Like in adequatio approaches, truth is a relation involving the truth-bearer – but not by being in agreement with something but rather by being in an agreement with several relata. A crucial difference between adequatio accounts and the sponsoring account I’m sketching is that in the latter, the relation is not between the truth-bearers and the state of affairs as such, but rather the relata are rather all the sponsors of the agreement including the statement of the truth-bearers. While truth is not an agent – a sponsor – the bearer that conveys it is. It is an agent within the pool that sponsors the state of affairs. Truth is not the property of the truth-bearer but rather a global property of the state of affairs that includes the truth-bearer. This is the performative element of truth that is not captured by adequatio accounts – when truth is made by asserting it. Asserting is a form of holding something true. In some cases, as we shall see, the influence of asserting something over its truth-value could be comtemptible, but for the sponsoring account of truth nothing is held (by whoever asserts) because it is true but rather it true because it is held (by the sponsors, including eventually whoever asserts it).

In the sponsoring account, there is no ready-made truth before the act of stating it (or formulating it, or getting to know it). This has an antirealist ring to it, as truth is to some extent produced by arriving to it. To hold something as true is never simply a description – phrases or thoughts involving truth are not declarative sentences, but entertain a performative character: they involve undertaking a commitment. To hold p as true is to be part of an alliance that makes p true. The sponsoring account of truth harbous this antirealist element: truth-bearning is not indifferent to truth-making. But truth bearing doesn’t make truth on its own – stating something (or getting to know it) doesn’t by itself make it true. Truth bearing is not the sole constituent of truth. In fact, truth bearers are always proper parts of truth makers.


Thursday, 10 October 2013

Transcendental substances

My computer is dead and some of my data lost in the darkness of organized matter. It is good to know that it is all there. But matter has no simple doors to open.

Meanwhile, I´m teaching about substance. My metaphysics course this term is all framed in terms of the adventures of substance from Plato to Simondon. We have now stopped in Kant for few classes, talking about substance as a postulate (note 24 in the Prolegomena) and substantiality as having a normative structure. Kant moves substance out of the in-itself (where Plato and Aristotle placed is). Substance is in the for-X; it is intrinsically relational - something with a Leibnizian inspiration. Substance is a necessary postulate for experience that doesn´t extent father than the realm of experience. Substance is in the sub-sensible, not in what is experienced (or in what is beyond experience shadowing it) but rather in what makes experience possible - how experience is experienced. Such an account of experience paves the way to a conception of substance where necessity arises not from itself but rather from something else. The transcendental can be evoked outside the anthropological sleep - what makes it possible for something to be experienced (or, if we want, prehended) by something else. The transcedental dimension of something is the dimension that makes it available by a perspective.

Transcendental substantiality is also about translation - it resides within the tools of translation. It is about the way objects are received and therefore substantiality has to do with modulation. It is in the infra-sensible because it is what makes perspectives possible - what makes the sensible sensed. Schelling insinulates that viewed as substantiality in the infra-sensible, the transcendental was already in Leibniz. Schelling take is to look for substantiality in the pre-thing, in the dynamics of individuation. Nature is not what is viewed but rather what makes things and representations take the shape of individual items. Things, and not only representations, demand transcendental explanations - and the method envisaged by Kant (and followed or perverted by Schelling) is to provide these explanations with an appeal to substantiality. (This is why there is no empirical substantiality in Schelling, like in Aristotle. Empirical objects get substantiality from below.)

Sunday, 29 September 2013

Leibniz, Aristotle and the unsubstantial sensible

This week, in my metaphysics course, I have been steadily contrasting an Aristotelian and a Leibnizian world. In fact, they could be seen as two answers to the charge Aristotle (Metaphysics, M, 4) makes of Plato (no matter whether it is a fair one) of giving up the impermanent within the realm of the sensible. Plato, as the charge goes, has accepted a Heraclitean view of the sensible that makes it accidental, transient, flowing and harboring no more than contingencies. Aristotle's attempt was to find necessities (and substantialities) within the sensible. (In Kit Fine's taxonomy of necessities, such necessary connections would be metaphysical or natural - and Aristotle is not clear they should all be uncoverable a priori, even though we normally take them to be.) Leibniz's take, on the other hand, was to take substantiality to be a mathesis universalis - substances are no more than their discernible properties and those are no more than what boils down to the substances. In Aristotle there are genuinely concrete, sensible substances while in Leibniz the model is mathematical: each substance has something impermanent to it. As a consequence, the indiscernibles are identical and the identicals are indiscernible. There is no identity (or substantiality) apart from the entity's property (apart from what occurs to the entity). In other words, Leibniz answer to Plato would be: infinite mathematics brings the sensible to the realm of the intelligible through the notion of virtual - what is unknown to finite minds that cannot take everything into consideration and yet part of what makes the world as a whole what it is. In both cases, the Heraclitean character of the sensible is exorcized.

But I wonder whether the two approaches map into Williamson's distinctions between necessitism and contingentism in ontology. (Would Aristotle be the former while Leibniz the latter?)

In any case, we can think of the way process philosophy (being, I believe, Leibnizian in spirit) thinks of the sensible in terms of an approach to infinity. The infinite is thought as the realm of the open, where there is no room for clausure - just enough room for series of captures. And then, a different infinite means a different virtual, a different conception of what the world is, of what dependence is.

Objects being singled out: le ballon rouge

Being oriented to objects - to the point of singling out one among all the others. In Le Ballon Rouge (Albert Lamorisse, 1956), a kid pets a balloon and the balloon responds by following the kid - that ends up being known by the balloons as a balloon-protector. The force of singling out is such that the object is ascribed with an integrity - the balloon together with its string composes a body capable to preserve its integrity and to be challenged. The film upgrades balloons to a status of a being that cares for their borders, and who's life could be chosen against all other objects. These objects are brought to the realm of politics because they receive singled out ethical attention. When other kids capture the balloon to destroy it, they attach a second string to it - this string is the string of capture, not part of the balloon's body. It is not animated like the first one - it is external to the body of the balloon and holds it. Ethical attention, like an alliance, determines the borders of the object. Singling out cannot be general and indiscriminate because a world where everything is singled out is undifferentiated, it is a world of white ethical blindness. A world requires indifference. Singling out means being indifferent to the background around. What is not object of attention is object of disattention. Something has to be a mere object for another object to be the focus of an effort of orientation.

The short film is not about orientation towards objects, but rather of orientation towards balloons. Balloons could be treated like pets or fellow humans - and become such (for us). But this is not like a state of flat ethical attention where everything is equally important. The very idea of such a re-enchantment of the world would require rethinking or rejecting the idea of importance - and of singling out. It would be attention itself that would have to be challenged.

Tuesday, 17 September 2013

More on ftonosophy as a Stimmung towards wisdom

My article with Carol about ftonosophy is about to come out. It presents ftonosophy in a script for a screen-dance. Characters involve Novarina, Ftonos, Lacan, Kakia, Maguy Marin, Ben Woodard, Plato and Duchamp. I've been thinking about friendship with wisdom to define the overall Stimmung of what we do. I do like friendship, but closeness to wisdom could yield to pride. Envy - and jealousy - is an antidote to pride. It corrodes pride: I'm nothing, I know nothing. I suppose envy is one of the many faces of friendship. It is a dazzling and unsettling form of love. I would say: beware of what you criticize because criticism opens your gates to whatever comes from the object of your criticism. This makes me think that philosophy should be closer to speculation: it is a form of amor fati - turn your gaze to the unknown. Now, envy doesn't require any intimacy. It is a love at a distance, for what is inaccessible and yet can be somehow seen from afar. It is not about criticizing others, but a constant state of instability and insecurity of one's own thoughts that seems a precondition for hospitality within thinking. Envy a wisdom that is unattainable and the openness of vistas would make any current position insufficient. Of course, it all depends on how we think wisdom is. In the text we say it is precarious, naughty, self-transforming, violent and elusive.

Wednesday, 11 September 2013

Being a foreigner to what there is

I always suspect there is too much between the lines of Plato's Sophist. Severino, for example, sees there the origin of Western Nihilism as the Stranger ends up spousing the idea that being can be other (in fact, non-being) and that it changes (turns into something else, other than what it is). The existence of movement appears as the existence of an other to what there is and therefore as a proof that what there is can be other. If it can be other, it has to be able to not-be (what it is). This is the parricide thesis: it is possible to predicate of an S that is not P that it is P. It is possible to say, of (this yellow) banana, that it is blue. Parmenides claim, on the other hand, appears elusive. The claim seems to entail some sort of necessitism (in the Williamson's sense: whatever exists, exists with necessity). But what does it mean that we cannot say or think (supposedly because it cannot be) that the non-being is? Maybe that appearances are meaningless - to say the false is meaningless. Is it about predication or about existence? If it is about existence, it might seem more harmless: falsity is basically just like fiction (just like pretense, in Kripke's approach). The only thing that exists is a banana that is not blue, to say that the banana is blue is not to talk about a banana, it's to talk about nothing. It can be taken as form of extreme descritivism: to talk about Adam is to talk about a sinner (a non-sinner Adam is not Adam, the discernible are not identical). Or can a Parmenidean be less descriptivist?

But Plato's (the Stranger) option for privileging the vocabulary of the same and the other. A way out all together is to avoid all talk about negation (or opposition) in favor of mere differences. Deleuze himself (in D&R) doesn't go that far as to replace all opposition by difference. This shows how hard it is to think beyond the Sophist options. To think of difference as basic would require exorcizing completely the thoughts based on the Same and the Other.

Tuesday, 27 August 2013


Reading Kit Fine's old paper on the varieties of necessity. He claims, with provisos, that there are three kinds of necessity irreducible to any of the other two. Metaphysical necessity, natural necessity and normative necessity. It is interesting that each notion of necessity yields a way to conceive of metaphysics. I'd also add what Fine calls logical necessity in the narrow sense - as opposed to logical necessity in the broad sense that would coincide with metaphysical necessity - necessity associated with identities. In fact, metaphysical necessity is connected to a project like Aristotle's ontology of substances: metaphysics as

an a priori necessary endeavor concerning things in themselves and about matters of fact.

A logical necessity in the narrow sense would be associated to the idea of metaphysics as logic:

an a priori necessary endeavor concerning things in themselves and about matters of reason

(a priori knowledge understood either as conventional or as guided by intellectuelle Anschauung). Fine takes natural necessity to be what is typically taken to be necessary and a posteriori. If cats are animals, this is naturally necessary. Fine argues that still there could be, say, Putnam-cats in another possible world that wouldn't be cats but something else that would necessarily be robots. Cats are (naturally) necessarily animals in this world but they are not (metaphysically) necessarily animals because this (natural) necessity doesn't preclude the existence of Putnam-cats in a possible world. If this is so, natural necessity is not metaphysical necessity. Then we can conceive of metaphysics based on natural necessity and take it to be

an a posteriori necessary endeavor concerning things in themselves and about matters of fact.

To complete, we have the Kantian notion of metaphysics based on normative necessity according to which it is

an a priori necessary endeavor concerning things for us and about matters of fact.

Thinking of M4 in Aristotle's Metaphysics, we can take Kant's conception of metaphysics as dealing with the absence of substantiality that makes all sensible things be in a perpetual flow. If there is no knowledge of the accidental because it carries no necessity (no substantiality) - and that means it carries no metaphysical necessity and arguably no natural necessity - then the only necessity left in normative. If there is no knowledge of the non-necessary we make it necessary by norms - at the price of making the judgments limited to what there is for us. We somehow impinge necessity on things (on phenomena) to make them intelligible to us - and known, to us.

Friday, 23 August 2013

Peformance and thought

Been reading Avelina Lésper, a Mexican anti-performance writer. She claims that performances don't add anything to the knowledge, experience, courage and sense of body accumulated by art, science, philosophy and activism. She compares, for example, Marina Abromovic with some Greenpeace actions favoring the latter for the courage of being exposed to a real vulnerability. I think performance deals with the ordinary. It is about bringing stuff to the fore and doing it in the midst of things. I tend to think of it as being crucially stage-less even though Abramovic's (for example) stuff is often protected by the stage-like setting of a gallery. In any case, it has few features that I find interesting. (And, indeed, performances sometimes add nothing to the pile Lésper presents, but surely they're not about adding something to the pile, let alone adding something to any pile in particular.) The features:
1. It starts out with a goal but then gets disturbed by whatever else is around (in galleries it becomes indeed more immune).
2. It interferes in a space of co-existence and therefore is affected by co-exiting with other events.
3. It invokes a possession - it is not a representation but an incorporation of a character. It is a vehicle to convey its theme. Possession could occur in different degrees but the act sets the stage for it to happen.
4. It can go astray - it is no implementation of a plan or a script. It drifts.
I guess these features are also features of thought. Surely, there are different kinds of thought (I was thinking of Laruelle's image of a philosophical decision providing a stage-like setting for thought). But in all cases, thought is not scripted, it doesn't deal in representations and it doesn't interact with other thoughts through as if they were fictional characters to be dealt with through descriptions...

Friday, 16 August 2013


In a beautiful conference on undoing gender in Natal, Brasil. Full of trans activists and academics with all sort of different takes on hospitality towards each other. I presented something on dermativity, or rather on dermactivity - a phenomenological chapter of speculative dermatology: what is it like to be an enclosed skin. Thinking of skin could be a way of focusing exclusion and recognition - issues to do with allowing or forbidding entrance. But the skin is also about receptivity: about what is about to go in or out and the spaces of hospitality. Things with skin - and the skin of things - are capable of hospitality: they can receive and be received as touching is receiving both in the sense of receiving a signal as in the sense of receiving an impact (including a power, an affect). I wonder whether thinking - capable of hospitality and of exclusion (which I think is, for example, present in what Laruelle diagnoses as philosophical decision) - is just an instance of skin. Maybe thinking is crucially dermatological - think of logos, legein, understood by Heidegger as a landing that welcomes. This could be why it is often taken to be about criteria, and about gate-keeping. But it is capable of other dermatological acts. It akin to an antenna because it is like skin - an interface between bodies that think and contents being thought. And an interface capable of hospitality.

Tuesday, 6 August 2013

Sketching a speculative dermatology

Hume’s attack on necessary connections (and powers, causes, forces) starts out with the remark that while distinct things can be perceived by our senses, the connection between them is always unclear and seemingly unavailable to unaided sensible intuition.
We can use the lever of Hume’s remarks concerning necessary connection and extend his attack to substrata and substances – the permanence of things over time and over changes in the quality space. If we then point out that there is less to the content of sensorial experience than distinct things that remain, we can postulate that our senses give us no more that the joints. Joints that could be borders between things or articulations of parts of things. These joints are the differences between things, not substances but rather the sunekes between substances (the contact between them). They are arguably what is directly sensed (if one accepts the Humean idea that the content of sensorial experience has a fixed form). In fact, we sense no more than surfaces. We then posit some substantiality that those surfaces cover. We understand that the wrap is no more than the skin of something else. (Or we abstain from any postulation as Hume would recommend.) But those surfaces could also be the starting point of a speculative ontology of articulation, of joints, of membranes: a skin-oriented ontology.

Instead of substances (or objects, or things, or individuals), we should look at the divide between them. The divide - the skin - is what ends up producing them by selective permeability. The thesis: Skins are ontologically more important than what they cover. Things are rather made of a skin that divides them from the rest of the world. They have a skin that sponsor a separation between what is inside and what is outside. Membranes are filters that enable elements in and out and also antenna decoders that regulate the interface between signals coming and what to do with them. They determine what difference makes a difference - differences that matters matter to the skin. The skin is what is deepest - as said Valèry. A skin ontology has got also to do with floor (etymologically related to "pele" - related to skin - and to "plane"). It's also connected to contingency, to non-substantial forms. In Aristotle, ousia is already somehow connected to necessity, as the accidental (katà symbebekòs, for instance, in Metaphysics H, 5) contrasts with the substantial.
Membrane ontology - speculative dermatology - could be an way to deflate the ontological import of individuated ready-made substances.

Wednesday, 31 July 2013

The Millnong project and descriptions with no author

Kripke's take on fictional characters is in line with the idea that those characters are description-dependent. They don't have in themselves the modal open horizon of life. They have no world other than the one fixed by their defining descriptions (if they live in a world at all). They are like monads: worldly beings. On this account, there is a clear difference between fictional and non-fictional characters. To be sure, there are many ways to be in-between - one of them is when we don't know whether the character is fictional, in which case there is a sheer (maybe incorrigible) ignorance about the character. Another intermediary case would be characters around whom there are many legends. I guess then one can say: what is true of the legendary character could be untrue of the real one. If we insist in the principle of indiscernibility of the identicals, they would be two different entities. Proceeding like this, one could maybe always determine the crucial question concerning about what the term is - about a fictional or a non-fictional character. And maybe (if we still go with Kripke here) it doesn't matter whether we can answer this crucial question. (For example,the crucial question about a gospel is whether it was written with the intention of being about Jesus or not.)

The idea of the Millnong project (direct reference for non-concreta, especially for non-existing objects) is that fictional objects could be accessed in ways that dispense (and revise) descriptions. There could be a revision about fiction, and we are not slaves of descriptions (I do want to make the analogy with the contrast between descriptive and revisionary metaphysics vivid here). The project - maybe impossible to be executed - is to find a way to enable characters to escape from their original fiction. The first trick that comes to mind is to make use of the multiple description associated to a fictional character so that the character satisfies most but not all of them (like in Searle's cluster theory). So, if someone looks like Holmes, it is enough for him to be Holmes in another world (where other things could happen to Holmes). From Kripke's perspective, this won't do. I'm looking for other ideas to pursue the Millnong project. It is not enough to postulate a separate realm of objects (mental or otherwise) and claim that they are not just description-satisfiers.

The Millnong project seems important for me because there are cases where there is no fact of the matter about what the description was about. Maybe all fiction is somehow about things the author is unaware of - like in a shamanic revelation. Markus Gabriel's ontology of senses would make a lot of sense for these cases. But it makes everything hostage to their corresponding (multiple) senses - or descriptions. The alternative would be to find a way for a description to fix a reference without caging it. In non-fictional characters, we appeal to the features of the concrete - mostly spatio-temporal. These features compose a plane, a space where things happen, where everything else is - concrete things co-exist (somewhere). The Millnong project asks whether there is anything like this plane of haecceities for non-concreta.

Monday, 29 July 2013

The necessary a posteriori and the synthetic a priori

In the last meeting of my course on (introduction to) metaphysics, I found myself lecturing on two different ways to unbind factual necessity from what it has been usually connected: the analytic and the a priori. These two ways to unbind the necessary correspond to two ways to reinvent metaphysics - the Kantian and the Kripkean. In other words, given a Humean critique of the availability of necessary connections known a priori about the world (there are no accessible necessary a priori judgements about the world), we can either give up that they must be about the world or give up that they must be accessible on a purely a priori basis. Kant reinvents necessity as something to do with our obligations as subjects of experience while Kripke insists that it can be found in whatever truth is found about an otherwise fixed denoting term. In both cases, necessity stops being attached to analyticity - either because it is more closely linked to the a priori or because it is more closely linked with being about the world. One could think that in both cases metaphysics is replaced by something lesser. Kripke's take is considered to pave the way for a metaphysical resurgence (an ontological turn) while Kant's take is seen as the renunciation of metaphysics because giving up the a priori seems today less drastic than to have the world in itself (the great outdoors) well lost.

In a sense, the fate of metaphysics depends on that of necessity. Can it renounce necessity altogether? A way to formulate the question is in epistemological terms: is there a science of the symbebekos - of the accidental? Aristotle, of course, would take the question on whether there is metaphysics beyond necessity as the question on whether there is a science of the accidental. The two questions could be distinct: there could be no science, and yet there could be a metaphysics of the accidental. (This is Lévinas approach: metaphysics ought to be not science, not cognition, not based on ontological thinking). Metaphysics, in this sense, could be something different from the access to the ontoscape. Maybe it is another type of ontotechnics, another kind of getting close to what it is - maybe something like ontodrama or diplomacy. This is maybe an easy way out. Another way around the question is to think of metaphysics as disolved in the observations concerning the contingent, the perennial flow - and consider the time of apprehension as much as the time of flowing (the Doppler effect). The question then becomes a question about thinking: for how much time one apprehends something.

Saturday, 20 July 2013

Some remarks on Aristotle's Metaphysics, book M

1. Aristotle introduces his intensional account of universals in Z, 10 (to be extended to dunamis in book H, and to mathematical entities in M, 3). In book M he compares his take to the Pythagorean one - that numbers (or other mathematical entities) are parts of sensible things and therefore themselves to be counted among sensible things - and the Platonic one - that numbers (as ideas and mathematical entities) are separate from sensible things. Aristotle proposes that mathematical entities are, like universals, aspects of things - in fact aspects of substances and, as such, enjoy a mode of being (tropon) which depend on what is substantial. Aristotle held that ousia protai to onton (substance has priority over other modes of being). Aspects are associated to his intensional turn in ontology, so to speak. He's explicit about that in M, 3: mathematical entities are aspects of sensible things just as, for geometry, it is an accident that a circle is white but not that it is circular while if we study the whiteness, the shape is to be treated like an accident. Aspects are out there and this is why we can have a perfect knowledge of them. In fact, this is maybe the hidden inspiration for McDowell's idea of de re senses and for his response dependence account of the content of perceptual experience - requiring conceptual capacities to have contents. Aspects are in the world - things harbor affordances.

2. Book M clarifies further Aristotle's idea of substances, especially of sensible substances when he discusses the Pythagorean and the Platonic alternatives to his intensional view of abstracta. Incidentally, these two alternatives are the ones commonly mentioned now-a-days as typical forms of realism about mathematics if we accept the similarities between the Pythagorean view and Quinean or Millian naturalisms. In both cases, abstracta are somehow among sensible things. But going back to Aristotle's substance-oriented ontology: substances are the units of reality. They are not like objects in OOO because their parts are not necessarily substances and there are things that are not as prior as substances but do exist - his ontology is not flat. Otherwise, there are similarities. Substances are everywhere and the fundamental relations are between are the important ones. It is pluralist - there are many substances and many types of substance. They have priority (ousia protai to onton) over all other modes of being and they are units that (supposedly) carve the world in its joints.

3. M, 4 presents explicitly an attempt to debunk Plato's doctrine of ideas in terms of its Heraclitean roots. Aristotle says that Plato's theory of ideas comes from his acceptance of a Heraclitean doctrine of the sensible according to which every sensible thing is in a perennial flow. No knowledge or science is possible without the aid of a separate intelligible realm with immutable realities. It is an interesting diagnosis. In fact, one can then compare Plato's move with Hume's conception of the sensible as unpredictable actuality - and the next steps are to criticize metaphysics (as the study of anything necessary within the sensible) and to appeal to our efforts for second creation to provide stability, predictability and some kind of knowledge. Aristotle's answer to Plato can then be put like this: we cut the evil by its roots by proposing a substance-oriented account of the sensible.

Wednesday, 10 July 2013

Laws of nature as immovable animators

Discussing Book Lambda in my course on Aristotle's metaphysics. A central element of the book is the idea of an immovable substance and the associated notion of pure act (en-ergeia gar). In chapter 6 he says that without something which is capable of doing things but that it is not actually doing anything, then movement would not happen as nothing in act would putting things to work, making things active, in activity (am Werk). The immovable mover introduces movement into things that would be otherwise inanimate. Movement (kinesis) and also change in general (metabole) - movement is one of the three types of change according to Book Kappa, 11 - has to start somewhere, if it doesn't the universe would be no more than potentiality resting asleep (something akin to merely finkish dispositions). There should be a starting point (to avoid the infinite regresses that Aristotle dreads) and this cannot be something potential but has to be an act, a pure act, with no dunamis and therefore no matter. The idea of an immovable mover (or an unchangeable changer) that is always in activity but not primarily over itself could sound odd. Aristotle had his reasons for positing it. He claims that a chain of events has to start and a genuine start cannot be preceded by anything that was already potentially present. It is like a genuine deliberation explained through autonomy (Kant's Kausalität des Freiheit), if your deliberation is explained in terms of something else other than a starting point (say, your psychological predispositions etc), then it is not genuinely autonomous. The chain has to start with the deliberation and not be preceded by any tendency, capacity etc. The same for pure act: no potentiality can precede it without damaging its character of a starting point responsible for the chain (and for instilling animation in an otherwise inanimate world).

It is fruitful to compare the immovable mover to a nomological realist view that was quite popular in the 20th century. Ellis and Mumford claim that this is the typical metaphysics behind nomological realism. Mumford, for example, writes: "this view is an essentially Humean one where the laws animate an otherwise inert world of discrete qualities and particulars"(Laws in Nature, 151-2). Here laws introduce what is not actual and therefore not inert in a Humean world. For Hume, a world of actualities is not a world in work, in activity, but rather a disconnected discrete mosaic of items. For Aristotle, act is connected to activity and mere potentiality could sleep for ever. However, putting aside the differences, we can see the laws of nature in this nomological realist image as typically unchangeable, immovable, non-material, non-sensible and yet capable of animating the rest of the world. The laws of nature would be the immovable animators of a world otherwise inert made of a mosaic of particulars and qualities just as pure act in Aristotle is constantly in activity while never being subject to any change (movement, corruption or generation). Laws would also be quite a special element in the ontology - thought typically as transcendent to the governed rest and always as something that is immune to whatever else changes in the world. (It does sound like something made of immovable substance...).

of the laws of nature that

Sunday, 7 July 2013

A hinge of the ontological turn

Finishing up my lectures on Naming and Necessity (that we read together with my novel Southern Pacific - A general theory of reference). It became clearer to me how Kripke is a crucial hinge or a crucial fold in the ontological turn of the last 40 years or so. Maybe he started it all, as some people say. We can think roughly in terms of three poles: a term, its denotation and a description. To be sure, fixing a reference is often done by means of a description (Hesperus is the evening star, Cats are animals, Gold is a yellow metal etc). This far Kripke is surely in a descriptivist territory. The Russell-Frege theorists would add that when we fix a reference by means of a description, the denotation is necessary tied to it. There is a necessary connection between the description that fixes the reference and the denotation. This cannot be anything other than a conventional connection, one that establishes a relation of synonymity or definition. It is not a necessity in the world but rather a linguistic one. It belongs solely to the definition of our terms. Kripke's point is that a description, by fixing a reference, doesn't become necessarily connected to the denotation of the corresponding term. Gold is not necessarily connected to "yellow metal", but yellow metal fixes the reference and now the denotation can be tracked (through its name - or another suitable indexical or rigid designator) independently of any appeal to the description and eventually prove the description wrong. Importantly, Kripke agrees with the necessary connection between description and denotation. If the description is true, it is necessarily so. If cats are animals, cats are necessarily animals and something about the essence of cats is stated. Cats, of course, can prove to be not animals (but robots, automata, whatever), we don't know that cats are animals a priori, but if they are, the description is necessarily tied to the denotation.

Necessity becomes not an issue of our linguistic convention but something that can be assessed a posteriori - that can be discovered - and that reveal essences. These is done because we, in language, contact things independently of what we know or believe about them. Descriptions that fix reference are such that they can be utterly false - they act as reference-fixer, they are used in a referential way. Attributively use of descriptions are restricted to those that do express essences. Not all descriptions capture necessities - they do when they are true but they can be false. Because of this, our subject matter doesn't depend as much on us - and our descriptions - than the linguistic turn descriptivists thought.