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Wednesday, 31 January 2018

Remarks for the coda

These are some bits for the coda of The deictic universe:

Metaphysics at the age of epistemic injustice


I'm writing this book on proximity and against the usual dwelling with totality in metaphysics. For a reason that is only partly hinted by me, I'm writing this in Potosí, Andes, at a more than 5000 meters above the sea level. The mountain I see more often from my doorstep is the Cerro Rico. I look around town for some information about the silver trade. The number – 16 million kilos of silver between 1503 and 1660 sent to Sanlúcar de Barrameda – is repeated often, the details, including images, documents, traces of various kinds, disappeared from town. Some of these material is in Seville, or in a colonia museum in Madrid, the Cristóbal Colón Museum. There are other numbers too, less widespread – and other minerals. In the beginning of the 20th century, a select number of tin magnates became millionaire around Potosí; the lithium fever and other open-air multi-mining projects are still lingering. The plundering of the place who has enriched the western world and made modernity possible features extensively in a book I've been browsing: the catalogue of an exhibition held in Madrid, Berlin and La Paz – called Princípio Potosí. I wonder whether substantive metaphysics and its attempts to attain a view from nowhere is something like an immaterial colonial museum. Colonial unification, as has suspected Nick Land, is a form of weakening the underlying forces of resistance. Substantive metaphysics renders innocuous the deictic operations behind any thematization of what is around. The accusation could sound brutal, but maybe it is fair. Emanuel Levinas himself remarks:
"La sécurité des peuples européens derrière leurs frontières et les murs de leurs maisons, assurés de leur proprieté (Eigenheit qui se fait Eingentum) est non pas la condition sociologique de la pensée métaphysique, mais le projet même d'une telle pensée. Projet à accomplissement impossible, toujours différé, avenir messianique comme cette présence en défaut. [...] Tout matérialisme en porte la marque, comme tout idéalisme.” Levinas, Noms Propres 88,“Derrida: tout autrement”
Silvia Benso also writes:
“What has made Western philosophy unethical is not the committing of the metaphysical murder, but the denial of the murdered and of the murderous act”. (Benso, The Face of Things, 131).


Then I think of reparations. How would they take place? The silver taken away from the mountain is still circulating somewhere in the planet – and was not thrown in the sees in many quantities. The silver could be packed back here. Maybe then it can be buried in Cerro Rico. Or sold in the local market. The Cerro Rico doesn't need money – its current inhabitants do. The Cerro Rico doesn't need buried silver, once minerals are taken off the ground, they cannot be placed back. This is the fate of the anthropocene: the soil of the Earth is like passion, according to Martin Dysart, the psychiatrist in Sydney Lumet's Equus, it can be destroyed by a specialist, but it cannot be created.


The deictic universe in Potosí

In Potosí writing a book. Working title: "The Deictic Universe - experience and the metaphysics of the others". After a long introduction presenting the ingredients of the plot, the book will have three chapters and a coda. I copy here the first two paragraphs of the intro for No Borders readers. They are still in the works, but they are the current starting point.

Introduction: The Deictic Universe – the ingredients

The universe made of this and that

When considering what there is around me I can resort to some sort of pointing: this and that, or maybe this hand and that mountain. I can proceed this way because I am in the middle of things, in media res to use the latin phrase; my though is about things around, it is de re, that is, about the specific things around me and dependent on my position around them. Resorting to this sort of pointing – this and that – is often taken to be sufficient to present what is around but not more than a starting point in the business of offering an image of the furniture of the universe. There is a line of argument – call it substantivism – according to which the claim that the universe is made of this and that is at best the beginning of an account of what there is without me – it is at most like a vague assertion about everything. According to substantivism, it is incomplete and imprecise: there is more to the universe than this and that and while it is (arguably) true that the universe is made of whatever is denoted by 'this' and 'that', it is not made by this and that themselves. An account of what the universe is like should rather involve something like a description of whatever 'this' and 'that' denote – at least a partial and tentative description of the hand and the mountain I'm pointing at. Substantivism favors nouns and not demonstratives when it comes to give an account of the universe; there are hands and mountains and, as a consequence, this hand and that mountain. In terms familiar to the discussions in the philosophy of thought, an account of the universe should not be made in de re terms, but rather in de dicto ones: it should be free of the inextricably positioned character of talk of 'this' and 'that'. The perils of positioned talk, the subjectivist line continues, are manyfold. I can miss the point of how things are “out there” by confusing them with what is around – confusing the furniture of the universe with my own surroundings, maybe my own perceptions or perhaps my own way to relate to what is outside. The perils go by names such as idealism which is different from subjectivism which are both different from correlationism. In order to make sure that what is out there is properly considered, the substantivist recipe is that any positioned talk must be exorcised in favor of an impersonal view from nowhere that is the only way to account for how things are “out there”. To be sure, subjects, positions and point of view could be considered as they are part of the furniture of the universe in a subjectivist approach, but they would have to be treated in a de dicto, impersonal way in the language of substantives. One could describe subjects in terms of their capacities, or in terms of their qualities or relations, with substantives. To describe a position, a perspective or a point of view, according to substantivism, is neither to endorse it nor to accept any other.

The main contention of this book is that this and that – and other indexicals – are the ultimate furniture of the universe. (As we will see shortly, they are paradoxical furniture.) The universe is deictic or indexical and therefore demonstratives rather than substantives are best equipped to describe it. I reject, as a consequence, substantivism: although nouns can be used to provide useful accounts of great part of what exists, they provide no more than a façon de parler. The thesis is that the starting points of any metaphysical account of the universe are neither substances, nor actual entities, neither objects (or subjects) nor material items, neither neutrinos nor forces but rather this, that, in, out, same, other, here, there, horizons and other indexicals. As a consequence, it is not only thought or language that are arguably mostly de re, but to be is to be an indexical; or rather, to be is to be indexed. In other words, to be is to be capable of being pointed (and by that mean to be determined and somehow individuated). The ultimate realities of the universe are concrete indexicals – the very structure of what is concrete is deictic. The contention – call it indexicalism – is that everything is constituted by deictic elements including around and away, internal and external, farther, outer and different. One can find a possible precursor of indexicalism in Plato's Stranger in his Sophist where five μέγιστα γένη (greater kinds) are posited: Same, Other, Rest, Movement and Being. Being appears surrounded by four indexical kinds that are external to it but affect it from without. One can find here a process whereby indexicality shape being – whatever there is occupies a position with respect to what else co-exists. The Stranger promotes the parricide of Parmenides by holding that not being could be if it is other than being; nothingness is not a greater kind but a product of Other applied to Being. It is as if the Stranger comes from outside to provide Being with an address: it is only in relation to what is other than being that being is. Nothing precedes these ultimate five kinds, there nothing substantive underneath them. They are, the five of them, equally ultimate. In any case, indexicalism is far from a standard view in metaphysics. To spell it out and argue for it – which will be done in a more or less intertwined way – will involve a non-standard combination of input from different traditions in a composition that will bring together some central ideas of Emmanuel Levinas, elements of the philosophical reflection on demonstratives and de re language, attention to perceptual experience and insights coming from process philosophy, especially from Alfred Whitehead.

Sunday, 21 January 2018

Remarks on the anarchic in Levinas

The strong commitment to externality and to exorcise the many forms of totality lead Levinas to a rejection of many forms of archai, especially the ones that take some subjectivity to be a founding identity. He writes about the anarchism and the an-archic elements that are related to substitution (one for the other) and infinite responsibility in Autrement qu'être. The very notion of recurrence as a (perhaps transcendental) structure of psychism takes him to the anarchism of substitution where one is taken by any other and (eventually) returns to oneself through exercises of consciousness of that require freedom. There is no system that is not overhauled by substitution, by the infinite responsibility one has with the other, a responsibility that grows when one accepts it and, by that means, comes closer to the other.

I was thinking about this anarchist responsibility in Levinas. Three remarks:

1. The central notion for his an-archism (and in the landscape of the book) is that of proximity. Proximity is associated with sensibility which is taken to be vulnerability: the proximity of those who come after me, the proximity of those that could be me and the proximity of my neighbors in a the space where I sense the others (their appeal). Proximity itself contrasts with an organized structure where some things have priority over others. It is close to contact and contagion, to use words Deleuze and Guattari privilege in Mille Plateaux precisely to introduce an element of disturbance alien to the order of a plan d'organisation. Levinas is adamant that infinite responsibility and substitution comes from an obsession in psychism that is disordered and that cannot be placed in an order unless it is betrayed (by becoming a theme). Proximity (like contact, contagion) introduces an element of disorder in any theme - in any organization. To be driven by proximity is to be driven in a manner that is alien to order and system. The contrast is strangely close to the one Heidegger draws in the Einblick: Nähe versus Ge-Stell. Nähe, for him, introduces an opening of things on their own pace and the Kehre that intends to reject Ge-Stell would reject thematization along with totality. Levinas' path is very different, but even in Heidegger we can see the Kehre as against an order of things (that make them available).

2. Through the idea of proximity and infinite responsibility, one can think of familism as it appears in the Deleuze and Guattari's Anti-Oedipus as a system to invest all concern with the other (together with all erotism) in the mother-father structure. The oedipian operation is one where my obsession with the other is fed by having the family close, by forcing a proximity with those that are structured in the oedipian way. This would be the effort of psychoanalysis, the management of an obsession; obsession that is itself unconscious and that precedes any investment one does in consciousness and freedom. The operation acts on the unconscious to make the wound of the other, the primeval wound, to focus on something centripetal and organized, in a system of society. By doing that, all dreams and desires become translated to a focus on the family - proximity becomes familiarity. Levinas wound and anarchist infinite responsibility gives us elements to understand how the operation is not only one on libido but also one in substitution (on hosting the other and feeling responsible). The family-based structure of capitalism (according to the Anti-Oedipus) makes it predatory because proximity with its anarchic dimension is exorcised in favor of a system, the system of family. One therefore concentrates the subjective effort of being for another to the other members of the family. An-archic proximity would in contrast dissolve that focus.

3. Consider proximity beyond the human limits. We can think of anarchist proximity in contrast with ecological systems - infinite responsibility is not organized in any ecological structure that, like families, precedes the investment of each subjectivity oriented by the recurrent structure of psychism (one leaves oneself and comes back, one is never always oneself). So infinite responsibility makes one focus on different things that come to one's proximity and not to kinship organized in ecological pre-structured orders; perhaps something close to what Haraway calls "making kin" as opposed to being guided by one's (pre-existing) kin. Infinite responsibility leads to the possibility that any ecological system can be revisited by anarchic substitutions - anyone can be for any other. Proximity is what makes the necessary impossibility of infinite responsibility feasible. One does whatever one finds fit to whatever comes one's way. There is no immanent ecological order that is not reinforced by forcing some proximities. But proximity itself is anarchic.