June 10, 2012

Deleuze’s method is proliferation. Say something, create, imagine, dream

The “History of Yoga” (editor: Satya Prakash Singh) is a massive work comprising 40 chapters spanning about 900 pages written by 19 subject experts. It traces the origins and development of Yoga starting from the Vedas to the modern times. These are some interesting tidbits from the book. Continue reading 

philosophy and physics from Object-Oriented Philosophy by doctorzamalek (Graham Harman) A New York Times opinion piece, HERE, that quotes the likes of Hawking and Weinberg saying unflattering things about philosophy.
In one sense it doesn’t matter. There will always be people who disrespect philosophy, or the type of philosophy you or I do, and you can keep on doing it anyway without their approval. (What the physicists say here about philosophy is no worse than what analytically and continentally trained philosophers say even about each other.)
In another sense, I think it’s philosophy’s own fault for being too deferential to the natural sciences on questions concerning the inanimate world.
And in yet another sense, you can read Feyerabend’s remarks about how philosophically barbaric physicists became from roughly Feynman forward, quite unlike Einstein, Bohr, & Co. I’m on the road away from my books, so I’m afraid I can’t give a citation for that. But Hawking’s proud and self-congratulatory claim to be a “positivist” gives a glimpse into that barbarism.
I also couldn’t disagree more with the Russell passage cited here, to the effect that philosophy aims at knowledge, and that once knowledge is achieved in an area it ceases to be philosophy. I’m with the Meno on this one. Philosophy does not aim at knowledge. That’s even the whole point.

Paul Ricoeur famously called these approaches to thinking “hermeneutics of suspicion,” and he rightly saw them as ultimately deriving from the self-questioning reflexivity of the late 19th century critiques presented by Freud, Marx, and Nietzsche. Darwin has been added to the list by some. 20th century suspicions of traditional forms of philosophy simply built on those of the late 19th century, and the general suspicions and reflexivities that were unleashed in the culture in general at that time… And this is why for the last 40 years or so, since post-structuralism came on the scene around the failed revolutions of 1968, we’ve all been skeptics of a sort…
Deleuze’s skepticism was in this sense broader than that of his peers. Rather than see language, or the economy, or power, or the unconscious, as the source of simulation, he sees the world itself as one giant simulation of itself, a world-cinema in which all are images, and all images are real, but none as real as that agency which produces images and yet is captured fully by none of them. The virtual, Deleuze’s name for this force, is everywhere actualizing, but nowhere fully actualized. And this is the opening to freedom. It’s all false, which is why at points Deleuze speaks of the “powers of the false” which is to say, the wonderful power to produce new worlds.
But rather than deconstruct these worlds very quickly, as Derrida does, or let them linger, so long as we keep in mind that they will ultimately self-deconstruct, like Foucault and Lacan, Deleuze is the only thinker in the bunch that emphasizes the freedom and creativity that unravelling brings. Rather than put the emphasis upon the skepticism whereby everything deconstructs, Deleuze puts the emphasis upon giving rise to the new. While sometimes this requires deconstructing the past, this act of destructive shouldn’t be glorified for its own sake. This would be to idealize skepticism, and in its way, death. While death is essential if there is to be new birth, the birth is where the emphasis should be. Creation. And while some have argued that Deleuze fetishizes the new for its own sake, and in this way mirrors the capitalist push for continually new products, Deleuze is quick to show that he criticizes capitalism for not being new enough, for always giving us new seeming versions of the same, which is, ultimately, profit. For Deleuze, the new can never just be more of the same, it needs to be qualitatively new, beyond quantitative increase…
Deleuze’s method is to keep mutating. Rather than be reduced to silence, he takes the other path, proliferation. And so long as there is within one’s system a site for pure proliferation, one which in theory can unravel your system, then you have an anti-system that passes the skeptical attack of post-structuralism. But rather than simply try to name this process of unravelling, and say nothing more in your works than name this process, one can slow down a bit. Say something. Create. Imagine. Dream. So long as there is a navel within the dream that can unravel it, and which connects your dreams in a series of mutations, then there’s a potential for creation which isn’t just naive. But which is dreaming of new worlds, ones which are as open to change as the Derridean system wants to be, but without the self-enforced quietism. 

First, it misses the fact that for Spinoza, all bodies are similar in some respect or other.  In other words, it misses that our capacity for identification with others is, in principle, infinite.  This is an argument that Bennett makes as well in Vibrant Matter in her defense of conatus.  She sees the potential of conatus and the sympathies it can generate as extending well beyond morphological similarity.
Second, this misses the point that in Spinoza (and Spinoza misses this point in his own thought), that our ability to identify with our fellow humans is every bit as fraught and difficult as our ability to identify with nonhumans.  Spinoza feels that he must give an argument to show that we should have regard for other humans?  Why?  Because all humans have different constitutions and are therefore as dissimilar as they are similar.  It is as hard as it is to identify with your fellows as it is to identify with your dog.  Indeed, it’s often easier to identify with your pet.  Spinoza’s argument as to why we should have regard for our fellows is that “nothing is more useful to man than man”.  In other words, he tries to show all the ways in which others benefit our conatus.  If we ought not harm our fellows, then this is because we benefit from them in all sorts of ways and harming them tends to produce disruption in ways that disrupt the flourishing of our conatus.  It’s notable that this is precisely the sort of argument that Marx makes in his political writings.  Far from making a case for pure altruism, Marx shows how the common benefits us far more than pursuing our own isolated self-interest.  Marx makes an argument from enlightened self-interest.  It takes knowledge and an imaginative leap, however, to see why this is so because it’s necessary to see how we benefit from the work of others as well as their flourishing.
Now why is all this important?  It’s important because the case is no different from nonhumans.  In a state of ignorance we only see the shark eating the fish we’d like to catch to eat or coming at us to eat us.  When, by contrast, we understand the nature of ecosystems and our place in ecosystems, we come to understand both how our exploitative actions can be destructive of ourselves and of the world on which we rely.  This can heighten regard for these nonhumans and perhaps lead to different practices.

It is precisely such an ecological approach that Hasana Sharp proposes in her reworking of the concept of ideology in her remarkable book Spinoza and the Politics of Renaturalization.  As Sharp writes, “…I argue that in Spinoza we find an alternative “renaturalization” of ideology whereby social critics and political activists can grasp how ideas grow, survive, and thrive, or shrink and die, like any other natural being” (55).  While I don’t share all of Sharp’s Spinozist theses– though Spinoza is one of my six most important thinkers, the others being Lucretius, Deleuze and Guattari, Lacan, and Luhmann –her thesis is that 1) ideas have an autonomousreality of their own, and 2) that we are in and among ideas (among other things, such as material bodies), rather than ideas being in us.
Drawing on Spinoza’s theory of conatus, whereby all beings have an endeavor to persist in their being, Sharp argues that this is true of ideas as well.  In other words, ideas, texts, signifiers, and signs, independent of us, can be understood as striving to persevere in their being.  Here we should think of the way in which ideas strive to persevere in their being in the same way in which viruses or microbes strive to persevere in their being.  There need not be any conscious intentionality involved, just a set of aggregate results.  Such a claim amounts to claiming that ideas, texts, representations, signs, and signifiers, develop strategies for both getting themselves copied or replicated throughout a population and defending against other ideas by insuring that they remain marginal and scarcely present within the socius.  Ideas defend against critique and the development of new ideas.
A materialist rhetoric and critique of ideology examines these strategies of replication and defense and develops techniques for diminishing these powers so as to introduce other ideas. 

Polanyi’s stock is currently running high (Hann and Hart 2009). In The Great Transformation (1944) he traced the disaster of two world wars and the Great Depression to the installation of a “self-regulating market” in Britain during the nineteenth century, culminating in several decades of financial imperialism (Polanyi preferred to call it haute finance) underpinned by the gold standard, which came to an end in 1913-14. His critique was aimed both at the subversion of social institutions by market economy and at its ideological justification by the free market economics of the day. With this in mind, Polanyi inverted the liberal myth of money’s origin in barter:
The logic of the case is, indeed, almost the opposite of that underlying the classical doctrine. The orthodox teaching started from the individual’s propensity to barter; deduced from it the necessity of local markets, as well as of division of labour; and inferred, finally, the necessity of trade, eventually of foreign trade, including even long-distance trade. In the light of our present knowledge [Thurnwald, Malinowski, Mauss etc], we should almost reverse the sequence of the argument: the true starting point is long-distance trade, a result of the geographical location of goods and of the “division of labour” given by location.  Long-distance trade often engenders markets, an institution which involves acts of barter, and, if money is used, of buying and selling, thus, eventually, but by no means necessarily, offering to some individuals an occasion to indulge in their alleged propensity for bargaining and haggling (1944: 58).
Money and markets thus have their origin in the effort to extend society beyond its local core. Polanyi believed that money, like the sovereign states to which it was closely related, was often introduced from outside; and this was what made the institutional attempt to separate economy from politics and naturalise the market as something internal to society so subversive.
Polanyi distinguished between token and commodity forms of money. “Token money” was designed to facilitate domestic trade, “commodity money” foreign trade; but the two systems often came into conflict. Thus the gold standard sometimes exerted downward pressure on domestic prices, causing deflation that could only be alleviated by central banks expanding the money supply in various ways.  The tension between the internal and external dimensions of economy often led to serious disorganization of business (Polanyi 1944: 193-4)…
In a later article, “Money objects and money uses”, Polanyi (1977: 97-121) approached money as a semantic system, like language and writing. His main point was that only modern money combines the functions of payment, standard, store and exchange and this gives it the capacity to sustain the set of functions through a limited number of “all-purpose” symbols. Primitive and archaic forms attach the separate functions to different symbolic objects which should therefore be considered to be “special-purpose” monies. Polanyi is arguing here against the primacy of money as a medium of exchange and for a multi-stranded model of its evolution. I will return to this later.
Marcel Mauss’s position on markets and money (Hart 2007b) is an even more persuasive contribution to institutional economics than Polanyi’s. The Gift (1925) is an extended commentary on Durkheim’s (1893) argument that an advanced division of labour is sustained by “the non-contractual element in the contract”, a largely invisible body of state-made law, custom and belief that could not be reduced to abstract market principles. Mauss held that the attempt to create a free market for private contracts is utopian and just as unrealizable as its antithesis, a collective based solely on altruism. Human institutions everywhere are founded on the unity of individual and society, freedom and obligation, self-interest and concern for others. The pure types of selfish and generous economic action obscure the complex interplay between our individuality and belonging in subtle ways to others.

Agamben Symposium: Joshua Dubler Political Theology blog Posted 7 June 2012
For the meantime, however, in this protracted cosmic interregnum, God’s agency is through the government of men wielded only vicariously. Consequently, Agamben argues, the problem of governance is paradigmatically not ontological but economic. Vis-à-vis the acts of governance, power is always allusive. Because every power “deputizes for another…there is not a ‘substance’ of power but only an economy of it.” (141). As far as power is concerned, that is to say, the pressing question is not what, but how.
If not a substance, power might be said to possesses a currency. That currency is glory. For the sustenance of both the divine Kingdom and Christian government, the flow of glory is necessarily wholly reciprocal. The government depends on the glory of God for its survival, but for his nourishment, God too needs glory, which he receives through the acclamations of men and women. And in this process of production and exchange, “the economy glorifies being, as being glorifies the economy” (209). Indeed, it is in this very velocity of circulation that glory is glorified. But this circulation on which both God and State so desperately depend is all that there is. In one of his big reveals, Agamben writes: “Government glorifies the Kingdom, and the Kingdom glorifies Government. But the center of the machine in empty, and the glory is nothing but the splendor that emanates from this emptiness, the inexhaustible kabhod that at once reveals and veils the central vacuity of the machine” (211). No gold standard props up this currency. The only thing backing it, rather, is a form of collective faith.

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