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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that is alive in a network, it is maybe there playing the strangeness of being part of a context even while it has a withdrawn element that leads it to death.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 In the plum tree, Pierre Anthon is withdrawn, is moved away, he is put in a pile.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.