Total Pageviews

Monday, 31 August 2015

Importance (and the myth of the given)

I guess Whitehead's considerations about importance enable us to generalize the bite of the myth of the given. I wrote about this in a post in Philosophical Percolations

Whitehead and Marx

Marx efforts to present fragments of a history of class struggles (especially in France, in his booklets on the years between 1848 and the 18 Brumaire of Napoleon 3rd) were an attempt to illustrate a method in historical explanations. This method could be described as that of avoiding the fallacy of misplaced concreteness. One could explain things in terms, say, of the existing legislation or in terms of the current institutions. Marx urges us to avoid that for the ultimate source of the events is to be found in their class agents - to whom a law or an institution (or a tax, a campaign, a candidacy) is of interest? The method is to track down what happened in terms of class agency. Marx procedures also illustrate something else: that events have a perspective that are intrinsically connected to the way things are perceived by each class. There is no sense of history disentangled from a matrix of importances: Marx's writings have to do with a proletarian (perhaps universal, but universal because proletarian, according to Marx) take on what matters. To use the image made famous by Judith Butler: it is not only about the matters (about the facts of the matter or rather matters of fact) but it is about what matters. (Incidentally, Butler's analyses of the body reflect an oscillation between the agency of the body and what is important for it, and the importance of engaging the body in the material agencements of sexuality - in the latter, matter is not the agent, but the place where the effect of the agents take place.)

The appeal to class agents - and to economic agents in general - is (speculatively) extended by Whitehead to deal also with non-human agents. In Whitehead's picture, agents are always impressed by the determination of facts (where they exercise a receptivity) and a matrix of importances - that is embedded in the nature of experience. It follows that in the history of the universe at large, it would be an episode of misplaced concreteness to provide explanations based on laws or institutions (or spaces, or temporalities, or constraints). Concreteness is to be found in agents and their experience mediated by importance. To be sure, Marx's appeal to class agency is not the ultimate explanans either for classes themselves are formed by economic processes. Marxist analyses of politics would evoke interests (importance) and agents. Whitehead would consider everything from this point of view. It is a point of view that makes a large space for perspectives and their frictions.

Friday, 28 August 2015

A fifth mode percolation

I'm now collaborating in the Philosophical Percolations blog. My first post was on Aenesidemus' fifth mode which is here.

Thursday, 27 August 2015

My talk on God tomorrow

Drawing on this post from some months ago, I'll talk in a conference on Natural Theology and the Existence of God tomorrow, after hearing Swinburne's take on God and natural laws. Here is the text of the talk:

Rethinking God
Hilan Bensusan

Believing in God is often understood as an attitude whose content can be expressed by at least these three propositions:
1. God currently exists (perhaps necessarily so);
2. God has a definite nature or essence and therefore can be finitely described (say, as the most perfect being that can be thought or as a unique omniscient, omnipresent and omnipotent being);
3. God is independent of the rest of the world – God is prior to all other things (either as its Creator or not).

1-3 are the basis of what is frequently taken as natural religion, for it is commonly held as the minimal common core among any recognizable religion. 1 is part of this core because if God does not currently exist, there could be no difference God could make on the course of things (although God could make a difference in our thoughts, as Pascal´s wager somehow explored). 2 is included in the core because otherwise 1 would make no sense and believing in God would be vacuous, would be no more than a promissory note. Finally, 3 is vindicated by claiming that God is self-standing – like a classical substance – and does not rely on anything else; God has no need of anything else. The three propositions relate to each other in different ways – 3 can be said to ground 2 and these two can be said to ground 1. In any case, they together spell out what is commonly meant by believing in God.

Yet, in the last hundred years or so, there have been advocates of the negation of each of these propositions. God has been conceived as not independent of the world – and therefore not as substance but rather as necessitating something else; as necessarily deprived of an assimilable definition (or essence) and as not currently existing – albeit not necessarily so. To be sure, this recent opposition to these three propositions didn't come from atheists or agnostics who would either attempt to exorcise God from their picture of the world or to show that God makes no difference. Rather, the opposition to 1-3 came from three philosophers who were engaged in trying to make sure God had a crucial place and play an important role in the world. The three independent opposition to each of the propositions attempted to ensure a respectable role and a special role for God in their conception of things. The denial of each of these three central tenets of what is normally taken as believing in God didn't come, so to speak, from outside but instead was entrenched in their robust but reformed belief in God. Denying 1, 2 or 3 was for these philosophers a way to improve belief in God – make it sounder, more robust, more sui generis or more important. As I won't be primarily interested in the detailed argument that based the opposition to each of these propositions, I will only briefly introduce the three characters.

Chronologically, I start with the denial of 3. Whitehead intended to take God not as “an exception to all metaphysical principles, invoked to save their collapse” but as “their chief exemplification” (PR: 343). He conceived the world as composed of actual entities, God among them, that enjoy an interdependence between them. Each actual occasion – actual entities that are not God – have their creative process inscribed in the consequent nature of God, he claims that such nature is “the fluent world become everlasting by its objective immortality in God” (PR: 347). As “the objective immortality of actual occasions requires the primordial permanence of God” (PR: 347), God is only completed with the presence of an always fluent world. God needs to perceive the world in the interdependence of the actual entities in order to gain actuality for, according to Whitehead, there could be no vacuous actuality – something that exists actually while affecting nothing else in the world. God's nature is given by the world and therefore God as such, and as an actual entity, cannot be devoid of anything else. It is precisely because we need God to attain objective immortality – so that our deeds don't vanish and our creative gestures contribute with the growing complexity of the world – that God's nature has to depend on worldly actual occasions. In Whitehead's scheme, it is not God who wrote the world up but rather the world that makes God what God is. God's nature depends partially on what goes on in the world – God, as much as the world, cannot be defined by anything once and for all for God's nature is determined by actual occasions. As a consequence, God cannot be independent from the rest of the world. Whitehead's theology of process goes ahead to reject 3 and make God an immanent part of a society of actual entities.

The rejection of 2 was put forward, perhaps in a less explicit manner, from the contrasting point of view of Levinas. He purported to make sure God is “infinity” and therefore “unassimilable alterity, absolute difference with relation to anything that is shown, signaled […] or recalled – with respect to anything that is presented and represented and is akin to the finite and the Same” (DH: 74). Levinas conceives of God as the irreducible other that cannot even be understood or described without betraying the sui generis element of an encounter with the divine other. God is completely extraordinary. Levinas' movement is to place God utterly out of reach for any attempt at definition – God transcends any definition for an appeal from the Other is always an appeal from an irreducible third person and this is why the appeal has a force. God's call is neither about reasoning and calculation nor about presentable essences, it is about what moves us to look towards something out of this world. Based on some Talmudic traditions, Levinas understands God as outside the scope of theory, it is in the movement of faith that one ought to think about God – in the practice of being driven towards God and not in any theoretical exercise. That is, in the practice of being centered on an Other, and relying on a God that cannot be described in anything that resemble my own terms. Levinas thus rejects 2 claiming that no finite amount of words could possibly describe God.

Finally and more recently, Meillassoux has famously argued that God does exist yet, but this is contingent. He contrasts this idea with that of the atheist who “is satisfied with the unsatisfied territory that religion cedes to it” (DI: 226) for she accepts the world without God in the terms religion pictures it and tries to make this territory acceptable. Meillassoux rather recommends believing in God because God doesn't exist – belief itself brings in exactly the territory which is deprived to the atheist by religion. He claims that God does not exist and has no responsibility concerning the evil currently found around – in this the atheist is correct for “no one can really wants to be saved by a currently existing God against whom […] [heavy] charges are lodged” (ID: 228). But the hope for a world of justice cannot be exorcized all together – one should not agree with the atheist that God's non-existence is necessary. For Meillassoux, it is only a contingent matter of fact that makes God absent and we can hope for a future where God will come to exist and no evil will persist. For him, this hope is reasonable because everything is necessarily contingent and the only thing reason can assure is that there is no sufficient reason for anything to be the way it is. It follows that God's non-existence is also factual and nothing could possibly prevent the advent of God's existence – for nothing can revoke the principle that makes facticity necessary. Meillassoux, therefore, rejects 1 and holds that believing in God is sounder and easier if God doesn't currently exist.

Indeed, rejecting 1 in a non-atheist manner seems to entail the acceptance of 2 – some definition of God would have to be accepted for one to say that God could come to exist (and hope that would be the case). It could, however, be taken together with a rejection of 3 – although Meillassoux rejects that any action can bring about the existence of God (there are no necessary connections for everything is necessarily contingent). It could be that God will come to exist if, say, the circumstances in the world were favorable, so we could have the rejection of 1 combined with the rejection of 3 (and the acceptance of 2). Also we could have the rejection of 2 combined with the rejection of 3 – God could depend on the world and have no essence whatsoever. To be sure, our three characters were examples of rejection of each proposition on their own – Whitehead accepts 1 and 2 (while making a qualification on the last one), Levinas accepts 1 and 3 and Meillassoux accepts 2 and 3 (because God would only come to exist by chance). Also, if we reject 1, 2 and 3, we would have a position that is either unintelligible or irreversibly close to atheism. I'll concentrate on how the three propositions can be denied one by one.

Rejecting 1 has the advantage of dissolving the problem of evil. A (current) non-existent God is exculpated from any ill-doing or injustice in the world. There's nothing God could do because in order to do something, someone must exist. Removed from existence, God is exempt from any demerit (and any merit). Believing in a non-existent God is a purely messianic gesture: it is an exercise in hope. As far as religious belief in God is concerned, rejecting 1 allows for a space and a figure of hope without the onus of explaining how hope mingles with a present state of calamity and misery. Hope is kept intact no matter what happens in the world – and it is associated to the name of God. In fact, messianic hope was often invoked to help dealing with the misgivings of the present; a time of redemption was often associated with the existence of God. Because God exists, claims the argument, better times may come. The revised argument, rejecting 1, will rather go: because God can exist, better times may come.

The rejection of 1 also brings about two issues that is seldom made explicit: the issues of necessity and permanence associated to God. First, existence claims concerning God seem to be taken as necessary judgments. Perhaps because proofs of the existence of God are normally taken to be a priori – if not derived from mere reflection on terms – and persuasive proofs to the contrary are rarely presented as empirical, they have been considered as carrying necessity. This can be read as a legacy from the coupling of the a priori and the necessary and once this coupling is undone, there is room for something to be both a priori and contingent. It is well-known now that Kripke has shown how reference-fixing descriptions can be known a priori and contingent: “cats are animals”, “Adam was the first man” or “Venus is the first star to appear in the evening” are reference-fixing descriptions that can prove to be false; cats, for example, could be shown to be robots and if this happens it could be unnatural to claim that there are no cats. Analogously, one could use the claim “God exists” or “God doesn't exist” as a reference-fixing device (as one can use any predication of God to stipulate what one is talking about). Once we establish with “God exists” what we're talking about – perhaps because God does exist in this possible world – we can try and find God in other possible worlds. And, possibly, fail to find God even in this world for we have defined God as existing only in order to fix the reference of the term. In this case, the existence of God would be contingent albeit a priori. One could also claim that the existence of God is contingent because is an a posteriori judgment – for instance, justified by inductive arguments. If inductive arguments from perceptual data concerning what goes on in this world, the conclusion is dependent on the data used and therefore on the possible world where this data comes from. The existence of God would therefore be contingent as a consequence of being grounded in empirical, for instance, inductive arguments. Or, at least, it would be logically contingent or metaphysically contingent – while still being physically (or factually) non-contingent. This is a position open to advocates of inductive arguments for the existence of God, such as Richard Swinburne. In general, God has been often conceived as a necessary, trans-world entity. But if we take God as worldly, it is possible to compare a Godly world with a Godless world and this again can inspire hope. In other worlds, it could be desirable to understand God as contingent.

The second issue brought about by the rejection of 1 is the permanence of God – God's subsistence in time. The issue now is not about the trans-world presence of God but rather about his presence in all epochs. Neither the atheist is ready to contemplate a future where God has come to existence, nor the believer considers seriously the possibility of God's death. Yet a temporary God is a possible article of faith: God could have ceased to exist after creation – or after an equally suitable remarkable event – and could be, as we saw, a promise for the future (or could be intermittent: a recent novelty with days counted, for example). A provisional God would be less of a substance – understood as self-standing or as a variation of something that is causa sui (Meillassoux's God is not causa sui because there are no causes in his universe). A God with an end and a start surely raises problems concerning sovereignty; Meillassoux himself is clear that his principle of facticity according to which everything is necessarily contingent cannot be affected by (an eventually existing) God. A non-ever-lasting God cannot be omnipotent for there ought to be other forces that would have brought about God's commencement or promote God's end. Although less than omnipotent, a non-ever-lasting God needs not be contemporary of bad times. Tim Williamson has hinted that there are connections between permanentism – the thesis that everything that exists, exists permanently – (and temporarism, its negation) with necessitism – the thesis that everything that exists, exists necessarily – (and contingentism, is negation). Similarly, the contingency of God's existence strongly suggests is temporary nature – and this is the case in Meillassoux. A temporary God is one that can be associated with the best of times, in the future or in the past

Rejecting 2 separates out one's belief in God and one's beliefs about God. There could be a contact and a relation to God – for instance that of faith, reliance or obedience – not mediated by any cognitive access at all, for there is nothing to be known about God, apart from one's acquaintance with God. Faith is made independent of any theology in the broad sense of the term for there is no room at all for any theological knowledge – there is nothing to be known. There have been many movements towards asserting the priority of a relation of faith and reliance over knowledge or belief concerning religious matter: asserting a certain primacy of the religious practice. An explicit rejection of 2 places the force of an appeal from God – and the strength of faith – before any theoretical effort in a strong basis as there is nothing about God to be known. If 2 is rejected while 1 is accepted, the only fact about God is that God exists – and maybe relates personally with some (other) persons. God appears as transcending any theory or any attempt at understanding for there is nothing to be understood. A religious rejection of 2 makes impossible for God to be known without being felt – God is solely an object of acquaintance or rather of a non-cognitive access. There are several ways of conceiving such access that dispenses any contact related to knowledge or belief – Levinas' being one of them. From the point of view of believing in a personal God, such access can be considered as a form of direct inter-personal contact where no description is ever required. The descriptions of God offered by religious texts, for example, could here also be considered as contingent a priori reference-fixing expressions that enable us to know what we are talking about without necessarily committing us to any cognitive access to God. Rejecting 2 enables an account of people's relation to God where nothing could ever supersede personal contact – and one can compare one's relation to God as the one one should entertain with a neighbor: not one of theoretical understanding, but rather one of engagement and concern.

Rejecting 3 would have God as dependent on the world, not as something unrelated to anything else but as something that is affected by whatever else exists. If God is not independent from the world, God can be affected by our acts – for God´s life and even God's nature (as in Whitehead) is dependent on worldly events. Indeed, God is said to feel rage, compassion, love and solidarity towards worldly beings and therefore is deemed to engage in personal and familiar relations with them. Rejecting 3 would take seriously this idea and understand God as in fact to some measure prey to our acts for God is not immune to what goes on among us. Hence, God's rage or compassion, love or solidarity are not just façons de parler, but rather express modifications in God's (emotional) life caused by worldly agents. Religiously rejecting 3 is rejecting that God can be indifferent to our sufferings and achievements. Denying aseity could sound close to rejecting God's necessity (or permanence) for, as we have seen, if God is not always and necessarily there, there should be something else on which God depends. Rejecting 3, however, as we saw, doesn't lead to rejecting 1. Whitehead would have God's nature as contingent on the world but would assert God's existence along with the world. In any case, without 3, God is tied to the world by relations of mutual dependence – the world is not simply a product of God's power, but rather the two are interconnected as if they had a common fate. That would inspire a relation of mutual responsibility where more symmetry replaces the presence of an overarching power.

Rejecting any of the three propositions pave ways for a revamped belief in God (and, arguably, a reformed theism) that dialogues with the positions held by the non-believers. I could not do more than indicate sketchily how this three (or more) alternatives could be construed and how they could be advantageous. In any one of them, something like a mid-way house between classical theism and the many faces of the non-believer could be attempted. I intended to do no much more than to claim that these alternatives are worth pursuing.

Wednesday, 26 August 2015

Levinas and the non-human

I constantly think of a Levinasian stance on what is not human, what cannot be recognized as holding a face. The call, appeal of the Other, is sometimes itself a face, it is the appealing Other that constitutes a face - in its singularity and in its alterity. In my disputatio with Adriana Menassé I think I thought this through as far as I could (at least for the moment being). The exchange of letters is now out in Stoa.

Friday, 14 August 2015

Shaviro and the Lévinasian challenge to Whitehead

I'm well impressed, as many people are, with Shaviro's new book on Whitehead ("The Universe of Things, PostHumanities, Minnesota UP 2014). It makes the awaited movement of explicitly connecting Whitehead and the current discussions among the speculative philosophers and in the new materialim scene. When I first got in touch with the speculative realists, through Harman´s first book on Latour, I thought the movement revolved around an aggionamento of process philosophy that I myself was expecting and working towards. I soon realised that there was much more at stake, specially because of the way Meillassoux maps the available post-correlationist positions and because of Hamilton Grant´s take on nature and Naturphilosophie. But, to be sure, Whitehead was in the center of the stage and Shaviro nicely places him explicitly there. Plus, it is a good contribution to the growing contemporary literature on Whitehead; it focuses on interesting concepts and on suggestive meta-philosophical moves Whitehead deploys and enables.

One of these concepts - and meta-philosophical moves - is associated to the idea of "contrast". Self-enjoyment, for instance, is thought in terms of a contrast with concern, in the Quaker sense, as Shaviro´s first chapter stresses. It is also based on a contrast between the public and the private in a way that something has to be negotiated at all stages. Shaviro then argues that concern is to be accommodated within self-enjoyment - and ethics within aesthetics, the transcendence of the other within immanence. He invokes Lévinas to talk about the issue of the appeal of the other and the priority of concern over self-enjoyment (and therefore of the appeal of the other over one´s freedom). The contrast between Lévinas and Whitehead is sharp and I have myself been struggling with it. I think Shaviro´s remarks there are a bit frustrating for there is no room for more than Whitehead´s impossibility to deal with Lévinas´ concern in any way that is not ultimately reductive. Lévinas would be doing no more than pointlessly insisting on a "grand narrative" (23) that privileges concern over self-enjoyment. Once concern is properly placed side by side with self-enjoyment well understood, Lévinas worries simply fall into an overvaluation of the Other as the locus of an absolute capable of desmantling the expanding ego.

I couldn´t help but remembering the painstaking efforts of Derrida in his "Violence et métaphysique" to understand the friction between Lévinas and Husserl. He starts out saying how much of a stranger Lévinas is in the Greek context where Husserl (and Heidegger) speak. Lévinas is offered, by Husserl, a quite reasonable - in Greek terms - and quite respectful account of the Other - and quite a monadological one - in terms of an alter-ego. Derrida makes clear that if the Other is not an alter-ego, there is little sense in talking about victims and perpetrators, no sense in talking about violence. The monadological approach offered to Husserl is the best one can do to understand that the Other has the force of the Ego but comes from outside, from a Great Outdoors. The Other has her own self-enjoyment and, to be sure, her own sense of concern, at least in the Quaker sense, where concern is coupled with self-enjoyment in a way that there is no real tension as one complements the other. And yet, Lévinas finds this not satisfactory and indeed violent. There is no Other that can be both ethically appealing and structured in the same way as the Ego. The appeal of the Other is, Lévinas would say in his heavy-accented Greek, incompatible with understanding her in terms of an alter-ego - even though this could be the only way that an ontology of violence is possible. Lévinas just insists that ethics precedes ontology, precedes even any ontology of violence. The monadological approach has no room for the Other as an absolute other. Indeed, the point is close to that of Meillassoux: monadologies are subjectalist, there is no absolute apart from the subject. Lévinas (and Meillassoux, for different reasons) is looking for something entirely different.

My Lévinasian friend Adriana Menassé (we have a debate about all this coming out soon) would have that monadologies - and I think Whitehead is playing this game, as I claim in my forthcoming book Being Up for Grabs - are too pagan for Lévinasian sensibilities. There is no absolute that appeals for any Other is understood from a common structure of everything. Monadologies are too close to panpsychism to have a genuine role for something different and too close to generalized immanence to have a room for genuine transcendence. To be sure, I tried to think the appeal of the Other beyond human terms. This cannot be done in straight monadological terms - Husserl is not enough, Whitehead is not enough. And yet, this tension is an important one to attend. This was, I guess, the point of Derrida: Lévinas´ accent brings in something that the Greeks on their own could not think through.

In my book Excessos e Exceções I proposed a way to understand the appeal of the Other as absolute in terms of escaping singularities. The idea was to understand singularities in terms that would be akin to contrast, to friction between what tries to be attained by a thinker and what is already established. This friction and this contrast could be understood in Whitehead´s terms. But that would require more than just accommodating Lévinasian worries in a general Whitehead scheme. In the anarchai discussion group where Lévinas is always coming back, we have been also toying with the idea of a Lévinasian restricted economy, in Bataille´s terms. In any case, I think Shaviro dismisses Lévinas too quick; not in terms of few pages, but in terms of not deploying what is at stake when Whitehead deploys the idea of contrast (between self-enjoyment and concern, for instance). There is, I believe, more to contrast than just plain accommodation.

Friday, 7 August 2015

Instituted secrecy and withdrawing as a process

Been thinking about secrecy and withdrawal in the context of the Secret Life of Objects here in Rio. I presented my rhythm ontoscopy in my talk and talked a little bit about a secret life of rhythms. I also asked Richard Grusin, who talked after Antoine Hennion brought in Souriau's existential pluralism, whether in his MOO (Mediation-oriented ontology) there is space for withdrawal. Something like a withdrawn element in a mediation.

To be sure, secrecy could appear as a mode of existence. I make this point when presenting another ontoscopy in the book, that of fragments. I understand an ontoscopy - a manner in which things present themselves - is a lure for feeling. In the fragment ontoscopy a monadology is presented where monads exist in three different modes of existence - as in Souriau's pluralism - and where withdrawal is thought as world-bound. Monads exist as fragments, as compositions and as composers. They can be viewed qua these three things, pretty much like a substance or a number in Aristotle's metaphysics could be seen he different things (see this post from 2013). These multiple modes of existence enable the dynamics of withdrawing to be thought in terms other than that of a true substratum indifferent to all discernibility (to all qualities, relations or appearances). I quote some paragraphs of the book:

Harman conceives of objects as having secret lives, withdrawn not only from us but also from any other object. Reality for an object is to resist, to escape, and to withdraw. Objects supersede, they transcend. Harman talks about the fission and the fusion that together create something new from the tensions involving objects and their qualities.1 An object goes through fission into several sensual or real qualities. Interestingly, such fission is not in embryo in the object, which is always estranged from its qualities. These qualities then go through a fusion that establishes them and maintains them as objects. Fusion and fission express the internal contrast between real and sensual objects on the one hand and their qualities on the other. [...] Harman makes clear that it is tensions that bring together the four dimensions of an object – they are neither internal relations nor separations with incidental connections. He names them time, space, eidos and essence. The first is the tension between sensual objects and sensual qualities, the second between real objects and sensual qualities, the third between sensual objects and real qualities and the last between real objects and real qualities. They all have to do with a dynamic of unveiling and withdrawing.

This dynamic also appears in the articulations between the three existential poles of the monadology of fragments. The tension between fragment and composition is deployed in time; a composition is fusion of several fragments – the tension is expressed in the duration of the process of composition. The tension between composition and composer requires a distance in space, for just like the withdrawn real object, the composer is not disclosed by the forthcoming composition. The composer as such is not revealed in the composition – like Berkeley’s concept of the spirit, which doesn’t appear in the ideas available for perception, the composer is separated from the appearing composition. Finally, the tension between fragments and composers can be understood as something akin to Harman’s eidos. The composer makes the fragment as it is, but this again is not expressed in any fragment. The last tension in Harman’s quadruple structure, the one of essence, finds no immediate equivalent in the monadology of fragments. This is because there is no internal structure to the monads; they exist in three modes, and they are composed of further (existentially threefold) monads. To be sure, Harman himself asserts that the real object doesn’t possess his real qualities, for they are as external to it as its sensual qualities.1 In the monadology of fragments, there is no essence of a fragment, because there is no ultimate substratum to distinguish identity from indiscernibility.

Monads are worldly things, though there is some transcendence, because no monad in the world fully captures what a monad is – none can see beyond its field of vision, so to speak. Withdrawal, therefore, has to be worldly as well – what is withdrawn about a monad from any other monad is the composition associations it has with all the others. Each perspective opens up a blind spot. Because there is no view from nowhere, each monad always has something withdrawn from each of the others, but doesn’t hide the same secret from all of them. Its secret life comes not from inside, but rather from the (baroque) vastness of the intertwined connections. In a sense, the inner reclusion that takes place is not from the intimate chambers; it is instead from far away. This is an interesting displacement: withdrawal does not have to be thought of in terms of what is too hidden to be exposed, it can be simply what is too distant to be brought into focus.

The idea of a dynamic of withdrawal can be thought in terms of black boxes: mediation often work like black boxes (think of how one travels the world with a credit card, to use an example of Latour). In a black box, things are concealed in order to work as they work in the mode of existence that Latour called DC (Double Click) in this AIME project (the 2012 book). Yet they are not concealed for ever and in all of their mode of existence - they can be exposed in to an expert's eye and fully open while existing as, say, matter or material. Still, black boxes afford the experience of withdrawal - they are what they are because of what they conceal.

In the event, the open life of secrets and privacy was many times exposed. Wendy Chun (in line with others like Roberto Simanowski or Fernanda Bruno) talked about the open life of subjects talking about allegedly personal devices that are thoroughly surveilled and therefore work pretty much out in the open. Arguably they are in place partially at least to make accessible what is presented as private, personal or secret. When a device is sold as private, secrecy is constructed - sponsored, maintained. Constructed secrets are leaky devices, as Chun would say. If withdrawal is understood in terms of a construction, it can always come undone. When Heraclitus says that phusis loves to hide (Phusis kriptestai philei, DK 123) he's not saying that there are hidden things, he is pointing at a dynamic of concealing. Objects have a withdrawn elements to them because tensions are operating - and they are maintained, continuously being instituted.

In a more Whiteheadian line, mediations can be understood as actual occasions but also as prehensions. Prehensions are like perception, but they also include perception of the absent and not noticing the present. Prehensions are creative in their translation of something into something else - of actual entities into subjective forms. Prehensions can come up with things that are not present while concealing what is. Whitehead talks about avesion and adversion when he talks about conceptual prehensions: in the first, something that is physically prehended is eliminated while in the second something not physically prehended is included. It is a dynamic of concealing and revealing. The secret life of a mediation doesn't have to be about the withdrawn, it could just be about withdrawing.

The secret life of rhythms

This is the text of my presentation in the Secret Life of Objects last Wednesday.

1. I'll start with mineral media. The slowest of all broadcasting devices, the slowest capturing device. Mineral antennas. They carry traces, traces of events in stones, in fossil, in sediments, in orogenesis, in floor below our feet. Philosophical stones. Geophilosophical fossils. And still, geontological media.

2. The National Park of Yasuní in Ecuatorian Amazon is an area of rainforest home to 20 threatened mammal species and several groups of indigenous peoples who live in isolation, the Tagaeri and Taromenane clans of the Waorani. The park together with the Waorani reserve covers an area of more than 10 thousand square kilometers. There are more species of trees there than in the totality of the US and Canada combined.

Now, there is a secret life of petrol underneath all this. 846 million barrels of petrol. Dig this petrol would mean tons of CO2 spread in the atmosphere. It would mean placing Yasuní in a global fuss that makes life, death and other tupenny aches an affair of capital. That would entail the insertion of the crude below the feet of those who live in Yasuní in the antropocene.

Yasuní ITT initiative: the secret life of petrol. Started in 2007. The trust fund was created about 5 years ago, August of 2010. Aimed at collecting 3.6 million from pledges of the global community dollars to keep the petrol buried. In 2012 the pledge added to no more than 200 thousand.
To pay to maintain – sponsor, sustain – a secret life. To keep it covered, in a sense recovered. To keep the fossils secret, veiled, non-removed, withdrawn. Out of reach. This far, our interaction with objects revolves around spending our energy to put them at our disposal. The Initiative asks us rather to spend energy to keep it away from our disposal. It is the price of withdrawal. The price of sparing. Sumak kawsay against growth: Bataille says that only when growth is limited there emerges a real excess. The commodity turn in mineral life orchestrates the acceleration of the anthropocene – there is only one direction to go, that of coding life of all objects into capital. Yasuní ITT attempts to vow that other senses of novelty could come and repetitions can drift in other directions. It is about a community around the withdrawn oil. The Initiative is one of self-restrain of a capital-centered economy in favor of a bio-geological secret. Whatever is not manifest is secret. Dispositions are secret – to preserve the park is to preserve the unknown.

The contrast with the excesses coming from the buried fossil there is the cursed abundance of the fossil drilled for fuel. Acosta traces the diagnosis of this curse to Humboldt when he came to Ecuador: non-human is abundant attracts human poverty. Stiglitz refer to it as the paradox of resources – resources, to be sure, for growth. Growth is a geoeconomic endeavor: it is an ecology where the resources are whatever is irrevocably enlisted. As for human poverty in non-human abundance, it reveals how human communities are full of foreigns to the race: they include the flesh of the domesticated animal and the secrets of the minerals. To bank sumak kawsay is to bank on the unmanifested oil. Acosta is suspicious of the compensations asked for keeping the mineral buried: is capital the only alternative media? It is as far as it is the only beat in town.

3. Elizabeth Povinelli is involved in another mineral media project. The Karrabing living library is a media project where events in the interaction between the Karrabing hord in Northern Australia and the stones will be broadcast live. The media project would support and propagate their geontology. It is not about a cultural tradition about nature – it is about the link between the geos and the bios. It is also not about how to deal with the inanimate – it doesn't assume a carbon imaginary according to which the animate and the inanimate are sharply distinguished. Once a stone is part of a community, it is part of its geontology – part of the atmosphere that supports life. The atmosphere that supports life is life itself. It is enough to remember Lovelock's insistence that what is outside a living organism – or a plethora of them – is somehow part of its cybernetic system through air interchanges, temperature control and maintenance of functioning systems.

Povinelli is motivated by three women in her media project. One of them is Chippel in Karrabing. A geotic structure that comes with a secret life of a girl being abused who pretended to be dead. She is pretending. The geotic structure is a camouflage perhaps because each thing is human deep inside – at least for each thing's perspective. But more likely because she had to withdraw. Hers is the secret life of an object of rights. She is the geotic structure, but she needs a narrative to survive even withdrawn. Again come the miners. Them and the resource-seeking devices. Like the crude in Yasuní, Chippel meets the curse of the resources. The ordinary practice of depriving a rich community of its rich elements. Chippel is geotic to hide from a hostile surrounding: better live pretending she doesn't live. Better withdraw. Mineral life is fragile – maybe it was described by Rilke when he talks of the nostalgia of the gold coin for its stone mountain. Maybe it is a life of refuges – the stone pictured by Szymborska as having no doors, and therefore no great outdoors. Still, minerals are part of a living community. Chippel doesn't strive for a non-qualified life, she can only thrive if she's not in a miners field. But minerals broadcast slowly.

4. An element of mineral media is resonance to its surroundings. Karkowski spoused a noise account of ontogenesis. “All the forms existing in the universe” he wrote, “plants, trees, minerals, animals, even our bodies have their shape created by resonating to some specific frequencies in nature. In a very real sense then, at the core of our physical existence we are composed of sound and all manifestations of forms in the universe are nothing else but sounds that have taken on a visible form. [...] There is no doubt that the body metabolism functions primarily via a combination of electrical frequencies, pulse rates and biochemical hormones. […] There is nothing else but sound, all that exists is vibration.”. I take him to usher in a rhythm-oriented ontology. And I take resonance to be a first ingredient of what goes across humans and non-humans.

It is interesting to look at a particular form of sedimentary rock very common where I come from – the ancient ground of Brasilia. Many of the rocks in the region are rhythmites. A rhythmite is composed of layers of sediment laid down with a periodicity. They register rhythms of the local events, rhythms that can be seasonal, of shorter-term processes such as tides or of longer-term processes like regular floods. The rhythmites around Brasilia register patters reminiscent of sea tides and, as such, they reveal that the area may have been home to a prehistoric sea. The sea, which might have been around millions of years ago, left its vestiges on the ground because it had rhythms. The geology of rhythmites is the study of the periodicity of past events. It studies how what takes place around rocks marks them. Sedimentation is rhythm-oriented. It takes place at the pace of what is in the vicinity – and provides a condensed register of its neighborhood as its layers keep track of what has happened there.

Sedimentary rhythmites are philosophically interesting. They are, perhaps, philosophical stones, for they overtly illustrate what it is to be oriented by rhythms. In fact, as sedimentary rocks, they are clear registers of the pace of past sedimentation. They explicitly solidify the rhythms around them – their shapes register the periodicity of what is happening. They are also speculatively interesting: they are constituted in a way that is perhaps not sui generis. Maybe rhythmites and their paced sedimentation are not unique; maybe they represent a more widespread vulnerability to surrounding rhythms. Things are shaped and composed by patterns around them. Rhythmites receive repetitions that form beats surrounded by intervals. These rhythms shape sedimentation, which registers the surrounding events as beats; they contract the repetitions in a materiality that stores the patterns of the events taking place around them. Sedimentation is indeed an antenna. It captures the beats it is capable of capturing – these sedimentary rocks have a pace that is up for grabs for the events around it. But sedimentation is also a broadcaster. Rhythmites both capture and transmit. They keep traces. Store and exhibit. But traces are no more than a secret life. Minerals like rhythmites have a secret life of traces. They keep their previous resonance that shaped their folds. Rhythmites of the anthropocene keep the traces of the human empire: the anthropocene is the time where mineral media is biased in human favor.

Chippel stores her folds. Her folds are made of traces: her ontogenesis recapitulates something. Minerals keep the secrets of the floor below our feet. Floors are rhythmic. They are the meeting point of a rhythm from the one side – the vulcanism, the genetic code, the non-manifest life, the first potentialities – and from the other side – the atmosphere, the environment, nurturing processes, the space of actulities. Chippel may have no doors, but she has floors. Everything does.

5. Delanda understands rhythms as intensive time. Intensities are distinct from qualities in that they can affect their surroundings, like how a colored paint transmits its color to the surfaces it touches. If something metallic is placed close to a piece of wood, its qualities will not transmit by simple proximity – its shape, its size, its volume – but its temperature will. Temperature is an intensity: closeness to something cold is enough to make something else colder. Some properties become intensities under particular conditions – the flavor of spices, for example, affects whatever is cooked with them. Intensity is about contamination without a specific transmission agent; it is broadcasting and reception without a dedicated antenna. So the rhythms of one’s body affect each other – locomotion influences digestion, breathing affects the heartbeat, hormone cycles interfere in sexual peaks. Similarly, the surrounding rhythms have an impact on the internal rhythm of a body. Rhythms impact other things by the force of resonation. A rhythm from the streets resonates in my body, makes my feet move, changes my breathing, alters my digestion. Rhythms interfere in the timing of things. Rhythms set the clock.

Delanda calls the process by means of which a rhythm resonates in other things entrainment. The pace of one cycle entrains others. The rhythms in the street entrain my pace of working, music entrains dancers. Entrainment, to be sure, is always dressed, as opposed to naked. It happens through mediations. Different people are entrained differently by the same music, depending, for instance, on the different marks left in their bodies by the rhythms they have been entrained to in the past. Yet on the dance floor, they synchronize. A common rhythm is in fact what makes a dance floor what it is – different responses to a common entrainment. People on a dance floor can be compared to organisms acting together through nothing but a common rhythm. A geontology, as I take it, is a regime of entrainment.

6. Deleuze and Guattari diagnose a way to understand the recapitulation between the geotic and the biotic that has to do with floors: the double articulation. Two operations are not only simultaneous but also provide materials one for the other. The first is sedimentation where stuff thrown in the floor gives shape to the surface – it is the process by which stones are formed from what is around them and the surface of the Earth is covered by the debris of what has taken place here. Sedimentation is a form of entrainment because it informs the floor; the past is coded by the traces it leaves fro the future in the common plane where both happen. This first articulation is understood as chiefly molecular as it aggregates all kinds of dust that fall in the floor and does no more than pile them up. There is a sense in which sedimentation creates a surface for it provides the elements with which it is composed – it provides a substance to the floor, a substance that shapes it. The second is that associated to the orogenesis, the folding that takes place when mountains are formed. They describe it as a folding that brings in a functionally strable structure which makes room for the sedimentation to take place. This second operation is one where the existing forms – products of sedimentation – consolidate into something substantial. The second articulation is what gives the Earth its topography that conditions what takes place next. It is an affair of sediments accommodating themselves, but it gives shape to further sedimentation. This is why the second articulation is molar, it provides structure for what comes next.

It is clear how the two articulations are intertwined. One provides the materials where the other indicate where these materials will be placed; one is matter and the other is form but matter itself produces form and form modifies matter. This geological double articulation where sedimentation produces the surface and matter if modified what has already taken shape is then speculatively extended to various sublunar issues. The two articulations take place around the stratum that is the skin of living organisms in the form of most exchanges of energy that sustain life – the skin is the basic bodily feature, but it has to be itself without organs. The articulations around a surface are common to what is living and what is not – it could be seen as a general dimension of animation that takes place in different speeds, in different paces, in different rhythms. As such, it is the fine structure of intensity. Further, the interaction between an environment that sediments organisms and a genetic makeup that organizes these sediments on the basis of previous processes of sedimentation is thought in terms of the double articulation. Genotypes appear as a collection of folds that would shape the acquisition of behavior. They are shaped by the sedimentation history of the species where the environment left its traces. Genetic structure and environment contributions are therefore intertwined in a double articulation. But they exemplify a broader structure of interaction between earthly things and their surroundings – those things are formed within their surroundings and carry on in an interchange with it. Eventually some of this interchange is condensed in a molar form that will affect the incorporation of elements from the environment, elements that in turn will affect the molar structure. The surface of a stratum is therefore a regulation device – it makes the inner and the outer correlate.

This intertwined double articulation is rhythmic. The output of two coupled rhythms; a beat gets louder when, say, more and more people start clapping their hands to it but as more people join in, the beat itself changes. Any interaction of rhythms – and any interaction of double articulations – follow this pattern of co-existence: a rhythm incorporates others but not without eventually being affected by them. The plurality of rhythms meet in a common plane. Nothing that crawls in the floor is alien to the resonances of the rhythms. But rhythms are plural and therefore there is a border between them. A border between two entraining rhythms is a land with no government. An anarchaic land.

7. There is also a secret life of rhythms: traces. Rhythms themselves withdraw either in merging with others or by slowing its traces. The pace of the waves are hidden in the rhythmite, resources (seeds, crude under the Park) conceal their abundance, Chippel stores traces of a geontology that the community of Karrabing strives to restore. There is then a secret life of traces. It is an ontology – or a hauntology. It is about specters which have objective immortality, if anything is. Traces are media because they have themselves a rhythm. But traces are the secret politics of rhythms.

Tuesday, 4 August 2015

Contingency as the plural of necessity

One of the thesis I like in my upcoming book Being Up for Grabs (BUG) is that the plural of necessity is contingency. Plural as in singulars that accumulate. I'm watching wildlife docs and wondering how different felines lions and cheetahs as territorial animals interact. I also think of fleeing and mating, two governing forces that interact. There is a land that is not under the control of either lions or cheetahs, this is where disputes take place - polemos, auseinandersetzung. It is up for grabs how an animal would behave if both mating and feeing are pressing it. The idea is that either there is an over-arching necessity or force, or there is some kind of plane of accidents.

A bit in the end of BUG:
We can understand that the relation is one where one is the plural of the other; namely, contingency is the plural of necessity. Or rather, contingency emerges from the plurality of necessities. Whenever there is genuinely more than one necessity – and not an ultimate overarching necessity ruling over all others – there is contingency. If we have, say, an irreducible physical necessity and an irreducible psychological necessity, there is a grey area of intersection between these necessities. Physical laws and psychological laws are such that they have to interact somewhere. Analogously, if there is more than one government, there is an an-arché area between them.

This is explained in different ways in BUG. It comes down to smaller and smaller forces and necessity. If there are small necessities, in the plural, there are an-arché areas.