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Tuesday, 4 October 2016

Towards a non-ontologist monadology

I'm thinking how to develop the monadology of fragments, presented in Being Up For Grabs, which is described as a monadology of hospitality as it avoids what I call the problem of the selfish monad in the recently written book Diáspora da Agência (hopefully out next year). The problem of the selfish monad can arise when we consider Levinas criticism of Husserl's alter ego in the fifth Méditation. Shaviro, in the first chapter of The Universe of Things considers a similar problem when he contrasts Whiteheadian satisfaction and Lebinasian concern. The general problem, as I see it, is that monadologies and process philosophy are often done from the point of view of the agenda of the agents. Whitehead, for instance, builds a lot on subjective aims that are taken as conditioners of the life of an actual entity. There is a zeal with oneself present in each monad (and each actual entity) that cannot be completely taken away without making it perish. In Modes of Thought 8 ("Nature alive") Whitehead states the three characteristic of life: absolute self-enjoyment, creative activity and aim. Now, the organism as a unity of life (or of agency) is guided by these features - its movements and interactions with others are guided by its (subjective) aim. The aim makes it what it is - the agenda makes the agent.

Reading Levinas' contemporary text (contemporary to Modes of Thought, as first appeared in 1935, few years before Whitehead's lectures of 1837-8), De l'evasion, it became clear to me that a process philosophy can be derived from it. That would be a non-selfish process philosophy in that it would be a non-ontologist process philosophy (using Levinas understanding of ontologism as the belief that there is nothing beyond the all-encompassing being, we cannot think or conceive of anything apart from it). Levinas claims that if we consider our needs (besoins) we realize that they are different from a structure revolving around lack and that require satisfaction. He claims that needs point at some sort of thirst for evasion, a willingness to get out of a present state and he illustrates that with the state of sickness. A sick person is not missing something, she craves to get out of what she is - through vomiting. This crave is never satisfied, it is not about satisfaction but about a need to escape from being that characterize being itself. There is, in being a pointer to the exit, and that pointer reveals to us in the process of our urges and cravings. Levinas says in some places in the text that this is a general structure of being, an insufficiency of itself. Plus, becoming and creative activity are not good ways to describe this drive out as they are themselves being-oriented - plans are made to be realized. Levinas rather prefer to describe this general element in terms of a will to escape, or an excess in the being itself that is not fulfilled within the sphere of being. His analysis of the needs reveal that satisfaction doesn't get rid of them, it merely takes provisionally one out of an existing predicament. He picture the idea of satisfaction as hostage to an ontologist dogma that he endeavor to exorcize. At this point, his argument rests basically in the phenomenology of needs and in the presence of evasion.

I thought of an alternative process philosophy where instead of characterizing life in terms of self-enjoyment, creative activity and aim, in terms of evasion, insufficiency and excess. Self-enjoyment is limited by the will to evade that is present in needs and cravings - one doesn't die without satisfaction, but being itself seems to be nurtured from elsewhere. Creative activity is an expression of insufficiency, a quite endemic state as when the being created is realized, creativity - or rather, insufficiency - carries on in its pangs. Instead of aim, excess which points towards outside being and not another being. To be sure, Whitehead would try to understand all these new characteristics as derivative from his own ones. He could do that, but this wouldn't solve the problem of the selfish monad and, in this particular instance, would not take him beyond ontologism. What Levinas enables us to do is to posit evasion as a structural element in being, and not an accident that comes out or emerges from a self-satisfied, sufficient and well-contained (and selfish) being. All beings (existants) are such that they point to the exit, not because of something that happens to them in society (Whitehead would claim that changes happen in society, not in the actual entities revolving unchangingly around their aims, as he put in Adventures of Ideas, 204) but because they are constituted, as beings, in a duality where the exit is part of their interior (of their subjectivity).

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