Reading François Jullien’s THE INCOMMENSURABLE (2): Introduction – conceptual figuration, noetic duplicity

I. The Title: the concept and its figurations

The introduction is titled « You, what have you done with the incommensurable? »

This is an evocative title, and it could almost have been phrased « You, what have you done with your incommensurable? Except that we quickly learn that the incommensurable fissures the unitary subject and its possessivity towards objects, and so the one excludes the other.

The unitary subject is self-commensurable, and self and world co-commensurabilise each other in a vicious circle of reciprocal covering.

The title evokes Paul Verlaine’s famous poem, known by virtually every French schoolchild:

« The sky is, over the roof »

This title is in fact the first line, and the first half of a sentence, which in full reads:

« The sky is, over the roof, So blue, so calme! »

We have here the incommensurable sky soaring above the commensurable roof that covers over the fissures of the real and closes us off from the sky.

The concluding stanza of Verlaine’s poem is even more well-known. It reads:

Oh you, what have you done, you there,
Weeping ceaselessly,
Say, you, what have you done, you there,
With your youth?

The title of the introduction («  »You, what have you done with the incommensurable? ») closely echoes the last two lines of the poem: « you, what have you done…with your youth? »

(Note: both Jullien’s title and Verlaines conclusion echo, no doubt consciously, the Biblical parable of the talents, and the question « what have you done with your talent? » The « talent » being literally a sum of money, and metaphorically the incommensurable gift of life, the gift of the incommensurable.

The substitution of a philosophical concept for a poetic figure or a prophetic image allows us to see both of these latter as figurations of the incommensurable and also to begin to give content to the abstraction as youth and life (Lyotard calls the incommensurable, the « différend », « childhood » in his late writings).

II. The argument: the duplicity of the concept

These preliminary considerations (on Julien’s phases of thought, on the intellectual context of the meta-programme of research of recent French philosophy and on the important role played by the concept of the incommensurable, on Jullien’s creation of the concept of decoincidence, on the poetic and prophetic fgurations of the incommensurable) have prepared us for an attentive, both conceptual and participative, reading of the book as a whole, and of the introduction in particular.

The example of Lyotard prepares us even further. In the quote from Appendice Svelte we see Lyotard give a contextual definition of the « incommensurable » in what we may call its extended sense. He cites deconstruction, disorder, paradox, alterity, nomadism and the encounter as dimensions of this concept. There are many passages in Lyotard that make use of the incommensurable in this extended or general sense.

We know, however, that Lyotard uses the term in a restricted, specific sense to refer to the irreducible heterogeneity between regimes of phrases, such as between the normative and the descriptive regimes. Lyotard moves back and forth between the extended and the restricted sense of incommensurable in his writings, in a sort of pulsation or respiration, just as he moves back and forth between the abstract concept (e.g. the differend) and its concrete figurations (e.g. childhood).

Thus forewarned we can read Jullien’s text with a hermeneutic sensitivity to these shifts and pulsations of meaning, which introduce a duplicity (an incommensurability) into the heart of the concept-image of the « incommensurable ».

The title page of the book is preceded by a first half-title page containing the title « L’incommensurable » in the middle of an otherwise blank page, and followed by a second half-title page containing a question 4/5 of the way down of an otherwise blank page: « Un concept peut-il changer la vie? » (« can a concept change life? »). This question is taken up again in the title of the last chapter of the book.

This disposition in its austerity and in its terms orients us more towards the conceptual pole of meaning for « incommensurable », and reminds us not to take a particular figuration as exhausting the sense of the concept. Figuration is, nevertheless, not wholly excluded here, as the disposition of front matter has the allure of concrete poetry, figuring the orientation of what is to come.

This preliminary orientation shows its usefulness straight away, as we begin with a « crack » or a « fissure » that is presented as potentially the structuring characteristic of « Western » culture, a trait or feature that is both « original » and « originary »:

Could it be a first ideological partisan decision to advance that, in dissociating himself from that which then becomes for him « nature », man has fissured himself inside: original crack, there at the beginning of humanity; as well as originary crack, from which stems the human (page 11, my translation).

This initial figuration of the incommensurable as fissure, crack, dissociation is both dolorist and noetic, binding our consciousness to an original/originary suffering. The duplicity of the origin affects another key term that Jullien introduces here in passing, that of « de-coincidence »:

But that which promoted the human … is that he de-coincided from the heart of the living condition … and that from this dissociation from the rest of life, he remains forever cracked, producing a « himself » that is no longer in direct adequation with the world, nor even, and above all, with « himself » (11)

We may note that in this initial rendering of the incommensurable as « crack », it is negatively connoted and presented as producing and stemming from man’s painful separation from a world that is based on commensurability.

Thus, we may surmise that the argument of the introduction, as foreshadowing that of the book, will be to transmute (without denying) this negativity and to revision the world as itself grounded in, composed of, incommensurables such that our own incommensurability is what unites us with the world rather than separating us from it.

This is indeed the case, as we shall begin to see in the next instalment.

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Reading François Jullien’s THE INCOMMENSURABLE (1): Contents – towards a non-sinological hermeneutics of the Jullienian text

The book is 233 pages long, and contains an unnumbered introduction (6 pages) and 7 chapters (each from 30 to 40 pages long).

Table of contents from L’incommensurable by François Jullien, Editions de l’Observatoire/Humensis, 2022.

You, what have you done with the incommensurable?

I. Drawdown

II. Of the incommensurable

III. Avoidance

IV. There is the incommensurable (enjoyment, the intimate, death)

V. De-commensurabilise

VI. That which is not of this world, but which is not of another world

VII. Can a concept change your life? (the incommensurable unfolds existence)

Comment: to me this has a Feyerabendian/Deleuzian/Lyotardian resonance as we invoke the birth of the incommensurable in childhood and its omnipresence in the real, its fading and repression, its encounter or re-discovery in key experiences, and ethics and heuristics of de-commensurabilising, and ultimately the potential of this concept, or of any philosophical concept worthy of the name, to change us by unleashing the living that has been enclosed in the folds of the commensurabilised life.

Echoing Socrates’ « the unexamined life is not worth living », Jullien tells us in effect:

The commensurable life is not worth living.

A further resonance is with Badiou’s THE IMMANENCE OF TRUTHS, where he argues against the ideology of the finite and the commensurable, in favour of freeing the incommensurable infinities from their finitist « covering ».

These thinkers provide the context for my non-sinological hermeneutics of Jullien’s text and general project.

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Reading François Jullien’s THE INCOMMENSURABLE (0): From extro-comparatism to decoincidence

I have been reading François Jullien’s work, off and on, for a little over 33 years – since the publication in French of his PROCESS OR CREATION An introduction to the thought of Chinese literary scholars, published in 1989 and still untranslated. His books are quite popular in France and he has published at least 47, many of which are available in cheap paperbacks.

François Jullien is a French philosopher-sinologist, grounded also in Hellenistic studies, who chose to effectuate a long detour from his original formation in philosophy and from the presuppositions implicit in Western philosophy by means of an immersion in Chinese thought, and then proceeded to a return to philosophical creation.

Jullien’s published works can be divided into five stages, representing a chronological evolution:

  1. Literary studies of traditional Chinese texts
  2. Extro-comparatist studies of Western and Chinese thought. (Note: Jullien claims not to be practising « comparatism », but of course he is. No self-respecting French philosopher ever admits to belonging to a particular category such as « structuralism » or « comparatism ». Jullien compares Western and Chinese thought from a point of view « outside » Western presuppositions, so we can call this practice « extro-comparatism »
  3. Inter-cultural studies. Jullien develops a set of concepts that allow him to move back and forth between Western and Eastern modes of thought
  4. Philosophy of existence. Jullien philosophises in his own name, creating a assemblage of philosophical concepts that allow him to think in new ways, thanks to his sinological detour
  5. Decoincidence. Jullien’s most recent thought has come to turn around the concept of « decoincidence », and he has even created the « Association Décoincidences », whose mission is to use this concept to analyse the way way ideology functions to entrench coincidence and its concomitant obedience

My interest is in phase 4, François Jullien’s own philosophy and concepts, and their a contribution to the ongoing philosophical dialogue. In other words, I am interested primarily in what he brings back from his travels, not in the first instance in his travels themselves and in its value for Western contemporary readers. Is the voyage worthwhile to us?

I have decided to liveblog my reading of L’incommensurable, published in 2022. This book can be seen as a conceptual culmination of the fifth, or « decoincidence », phase of Jullien’s research.

I have been interested in the concept of the « incommensurable » for over half a century, ever since first encountering the concept in the work of Paul Feyerabend and Thomas Kuhn. It is also a key concept in the thought of Deleuze and also of Lyotard. Indeed, Lyotard makes « incommensurability » not only the major concept of his « book of philosophy » (THE DIFFEREND) but also the underlying concept of the forefront of French thought.

Apostrophising Habermas Lyotard in 1982 declares:

« What you call recent French philosophy, if it has been in any manner postmodern, it is in that by way of its reflection on the deconstruction of writing (Derrida), on the disorder of discourse (Foucault), on the paradox of epistemology (Serres), on alterity (Levinas), on the effect of sense by nomadic encounter (Deleuze), it has thus placed the accent on incommensurabilities » (Appendice Svelte, in Tombeau de l’intellectuel et autres papiers, my translation).

Thus François Jullien’s recent book is situated squarely within what I have analysed on this blog as the meta-research programme of recent and contemporary French philosophy. It will be interesting to see what contribution he will make to this ongoing meta-project, and how his own project will singularise itself.

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THINKING IS (SURPLUS-)ENJOYMENT: Preface to Logic of Sense (1)

In this video I give a detailed analysis of and commentary on the first paragraph of Gilles Deleuze’s LOGIC OF SENSE in relation to the question: in what sense can we be said to be Deleuzian today?

Subjects discussed: Foucault’s review « Theatrum Philosophicum », Badiou’s LOGICS OF WORLDS, the Alice books, Zizek’s THE PARALLAX VIEW, mainstream culture and counter-culture in the reading of Lewis Carroll, enjoyment and surplus enjoyment.

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ARE FLUXES FLOWS? A Deleuzo-Guattarian Conundrum

In Deleuze and Guattari’s collaborative works in the original French the word « flux » crops up constantly and is a central technical term in their philosophy. The English translations render this one French word randomly as « flux » or « flow », jumping from one translation to the other even within a single paragraph.

In English the word « flux » is a term appropriate to more technical, more quantitative (even vaguely so) discussions, « flow » is employed in less technical, or more qualitative contexts.

On the technical side, we may think of thermodynamics and its vocabulary of fluxes, and this is indeed relevant to Deleuze and Guattari’s network of multi-disciplinary references, but for « flux » I think the intended reference is at least as much to history, sociology, and economics as to physics.

In the preface to the Italian edition of A THOUSAND PLATEAUS Deleuze sketches out a three point summary of ANTI-OEDIPUS. Point 3 is about fluxes:

« Universal history indeed exists, but it is a history of contingency (the fluxes, which are the object of History, are canalized through primitive codes, the over-coding of the despot, and the decoding of capitalism which makes possible the conjunction of independent fluxes) ». Two Regimes of Madness page 309.

Note 1: the translation has « flows », I have replaced its two occurrences in this passage by « fluxes ».

Note 2: two commas present in the French text are missing in the English translation: after the first use of « fluxes » and then again after « History ». I have restored them so that the passage reads: « the fluxes, which are the object of History, are canalized » (instead of « the fluxes which are the object of History are canalized ». This radically changes the sense. With the commas we have a definition of « fluxes » as the object of history. Without the commas we have a limitation or selection of the fluxes.

Note 3: Deleuze’s prefaces to the English and Italian translations of his books are of extreme value, given that he explains himself so rarely.

Thus, for Deleuze and Guattari the « fluxes » are the « object of history », even if the meaning of this term is generalised to encompass an ontology of fluxes. The reference in the first instance is directed more to the work of Fernand Braudel and Gabriel Tarde than to that of Charles Fourier.

To sum up and push further my thoughts on the flux/flow conundrum: the term « flux » is both more quantitative (broadly defined) and more technical in connotation than « flow ». This quantitative/technical acception of « flux » is what is relevant to Deleuze’s use of the term. This conjecture is confirmed by Deleuze’s remarks on « fluxes » as the object of history and on the need to quantify fluxes, including writing.

On this idea of the quantification of fluxes, one may turn to the first paragraphs of RHIZOME where Deleuze and Guattari speak of the need to « quantify writing », taking it as one flux among many, and so the need to quantify the fluxes of any assemblage: speed, acceleration, viscosity, sedimentation, etc. Writing as more than literature

The quantifying criteria that Deleuze and Guattari enunciate at the beginning of RHIZOME concern all fluxes, including writing, and situate these fluxes within and between assemblages. Thus the habitual translation of « flux » as « flow » tends to nudge the apprehension and reception of ANTI-OEDIPUS in English more towards the literary pole than the original French text authorises.

A second problem is that the preference for the term « flow » makes us lose the intrinsic link between fluxes and assemblages (or better « arrangements » or « set-ups »). We move easily from « flow » to « free flow » and to a naive anarchistic interpretation of ANTI-OEDIPUS as « anything goes » or formlessness.

A further consideration, only implicit in ANTI-OEDIPUS but one that emerges very clearly in KAFKA (1975) and RHIZOME (1976) before receiving fuller expression in A THOUSAND PLATEAUS is that for assemblages there are no purely machinic fluxes, fluxes are also always also semiotic, and thus not only quantified but « indexed ».

« the flow and its quanta can be grasped only by virtue of indexes on the segmented line, but conversely, that line and those indexes exist only by virtue of the flow suffusing them » (A THOUSAND PLATEAUS, 218).

Terminological note on the quasi-synonymy between fluxes and lines:

Fluxes are both machinic and semiotic, they are situated between the ideal poles of pure sensations and pure representations, they are lines, becomings, percepts and affects. Deleuze and Guattari distinguish 3 lines: segmented, supple or molecular, and line of deterritorialisation (primary over the two others).

One must also distinguish the line traced (actualised) and the line that is tracing itself (virtual). Fluxes are quasi-synonymous with lines as they are being traced. F

We can say that fluxes and lines are « quasi-synonymous » because Deleuze and Guattari discuss them in the same terms and the same contexts, but that « flux » has a more active, material, hyletic, connotation and « line » a more orientational, conceptual, noetic connotation.

The fluxes both follow and trace the lines.

I am grateful for a discussion with Yan Grenier and Brooks Brown for pushing me to clarify my ideas on this subject.

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THE MYTH OF FRENCH RELATIVISM: liquidationists vs affirmationists

Far from trail-blazing a new paradigm in the comprehension of Nietzsche, Domenico Losurdo, with the publication of his book NIETZSCHE THE ARISTOCRATIC REBEL is a late-comer to the actual battle for hegemony based on an ongoing « radical » ressentiment against post-68 French thought.

For the last 50 years there has been a growing flood of books and articles trying to caricature, denigrate, and liquidate the heritage of May ’68 as both intellectually and politically deleterious.

From Luc Ferry and Alain Renault’s polemic « French Philosophy of the Sixties » through former French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s condemnation of the heritage of May ’68, and on and on, the accusation has been repeated of moral, political, and intellectual relativism.

A number of French philosophers, contemporary to the event and trying to inherit from the theoretical and practical creativity preceding, accompanying, and stemming from May ’68 had a very different type of response to the accusation of relativism indistinguishable from nihilism.

They responded also to the related critiques that they were guilty of « textualism » (reducing real life to mere textual play and of « differentialism » (as partisans of the so-called « philosophies of difference » and of its permissive « anything goes » attitude).

Gilles Deleuze’s whole evolution after DIFFERENCE AND REPETITION is driven by the need to resolve this dilemma of serving the doxa and the status quo or defending an impotent relativism.

Deleuze dropped the vocabulary of difference in his next book LOGIC OF SENSE in favour of that of multiplicities, and proceeded to collaborate with Guattari on the formal arrangements of desire as a way of critiquing and escaping the oppressive, exploitative status quo and its legitimating doxas. This book was misunderstood as propounding formlessness and a relativism of desire (and it must be kept in mind that all such misunderstandings are political, in the concrete sense of the struggle for hegemony and its fruits). Deleuze and Guattari indirectly responded to these critiques by de-emphasising (not abandoning) the concept of desire in favour of a two-pronged concept of arrangement (agencement) as both machinic and enunciative, in A THOUSAND PLATEAUS.

Even this precision that desire is always machined and semiotiically formed was not enough to avoid the accusation of re-producing relativism at a higher order of abstraction, in a sort of meta-relativism. This pitfall was obviated by their increasing recourse to ideas of an absolute: resistance as primary, absolute deterritorialisation, the outside, the infinite. This conceptual line is pushed to the forefront in WHAT IS PHILOSOPHY? where the vocabulary of the « absolute » (noun and adjective) and the infinite is deployed in a constant critique of the relative and the finite.

Jean-François Lyotard is another key thinker in this response to the dismissal of « May ’68 thought » as textualist, relativist, and nihilist. His insight that « difference itself » could never be instantiated as such led him to a far-reaching critique of Freudian and Marxist problematics and strategies, resulting in his LIBIDINAL ECONOMY. This book too was criticised for its supposed relativism, which led Lyotard to traverse a long series of conceptual experimentations culminating in THE DIFFEREND. His key insight was that « relativism » is correlative to metaphysics, the privileging of the machinic signified over the semiotic regime and of the descriptive and cognitive over the prescriptive and the vocative. There is a turn towards the « authority of the infinite » and towards an absolute interiority.

Derrida’s path is in appearance more complicated, but in attempting to respond to the ever-present accusations of textualism, relativism and nihilism, he turned towards an absolute of « justice » as that which is undeconstructable.

Alain Badiou sees the problem of the spectre of relativism, but his response is once again the opposite of that proposed by those critics. His most recent systematic work, THE IMMANENCE OF TRUTHS, deploys the mathematics of infinity, in the wake of Deleuze, Lyotard, and Derrida’s use of this concept to save French thought from the accusation of relativism.

Badiou is trying to inherit from the thought of his predecessors and to push it further. His analytical and critical remarks on Lyotard, Derrida, and Deleuze are not radical negations aimed at the liquidation and abandon, unlike Losurdo and Rehmann, but are geared towards transformative prolongations.

Losurdo is liquidationist, Badiou is affirmationist. I see noone working with Losurdo who rejects his easily refuted accusation of post-’68 thought as relativism. Losurdo’s followers are in the liquidationist camp.

Badiou is clearly in the transformationist camp. Badiou tries to preserve the Deleuze-Lyotard-Derrida line from the spectre of relativism, Losurdo abandons them because of their putative relativism.

An instructive example of this liquidationist line is to be found in Jan Rehmann, who is an inheritor of Losurdo’s Nietzsche critique. The very title of the book gives the game away: « DECONSTRUCTING POSTMODERNIST NIETZSCHEANISM Deleuze and Foucault ».

Rehmann is not at all concerned with Nietzsche, or even Nietzscheanism (whatever that may be), but « postmodern nietzscheanism », in plainer words the left-Nietzscheanism of Deleuze and Foucault (and by implication the other French thinkers of their ilk). But even this is misleading. Rehmann does not give a damn about Deleuze’s thought, and his « scholarship » on that subject is lamentable and lacunary, he is in fact concerned with the struggle for intellectual hegemony between an oldstyle Marxism and the inheritors of French post-structuralism that have already critiqued the avatars of that Marxism.

What strikes me about the debunkers of a left-Nietzscheanism such as Losurdo and Rehmann is the bad quality of their thinking. They are unable to see a move of conceptual creation (as in Deleuze’s linking of Spinoza and Nietzsche) as anything other than a historical « error ».

They accuse Deleuze and Foucault of being guilty of « textualism » (i.e. to be the exemplars of everything they fought against, really kids!), nothing counting except the text, yet all they do is limited to the text, to the historical archives. They are the true textualists.

Losurdo is so deeply buried in the archives trying to prove that left Nietzscheanism is an impossibility, an argument based on Nietzsche’s left-wing partisans’ own supposed misinterpretations, conceptual confusions and category mistakes that he never considers that there is perhaps an empirical question to investigate.

Just how many contemporary readers of Nietzsche (and I’m not talking about academic experts) are left-wing in orientation? How many are extreme right readers? What are the relative proportions? Losurdo and Rehmann do not even remotely envision the question. Yet their project presupposes the answer:

there are many such left-wing readers of Nietzsche, and of Deleuze, Derrida, Foucault, and Lyotard. To attempt to stigmatise that vast array of intellectual and political forces as being the victims of relativistic confusionism is ridiculous.

Indeed, why pose the empirical sociological question, or even just look around themselves in the diverse academies that they wish to purge of rivals, when they can use the reductionist readings deriving from their own textualism to validate the prejudices of their own pressure groups?

Rehmann’s case is the worst as he deliberately misreads Deleuze’s texts, misunderstands their stakes, conflates passages from radically different phases of his work, fails to consult Deleuze’s well-known and very explicit discussions of these different phases and of their conceptual evolution.

For example, Rehmann perpetrates the fable of Deleuze as a « philosopher of difference » rather than of multiplicities, basing himself mainly on the title DIFFERENCE AND REPETITION, despite the rarity of « difference » in Deleuze’s work prior to that book and its almost complete absence after.

In conclusion, Rehmann’s book is insignificant and deleterious as a contribution to the understanding of contemporary « left-Nietzscheanism » in that it is permeated by bad scholarship, bad arguments, and bad readings.

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« The task of modern philosophy has been defined: to overturn Platonism [which] means denying the primacy of original over copy, of model over image; glorifying the reign of simulacra and reflections ».

(Cited on twitter by Justin justin (@nonpedagogy) from Deleuze DIFFERENCE AND REPETITION)

In defence of @nonpedagogy‘s quote it must be noted that overturning Platonism is only superficially and provisionally to invert Platonism. To invert Platonism is only the first step (and remains only as a mask) in overturning the philosophy of division, of demarcation.

The « simulacrum » is a transitional term in Deleuze’s work, that drops out once it has done its job of « contesting both the model and the copy », i.e. of contesting the absoluteness of such a demarcation.

What follows, in Deleuze’s later works, is a situational use of the demarcation where sometimes the model is privileged and sometimes the copy, and at other times the fuzziness underlying the division, its permeability.

It should be noted that in his publications in the 1960s Deleuze is heavily influenced by and reliant on the terminology of Pierre Klossowski, but he abandons this terminology of the simulacrum a few years later as not very useful.

On the situational use of these divisions:

Deleuze does not hesitate to condemn the « imitators » as doing normatively « better » than the creators because they are only copying the products of the creative act. So here he de-inverts Platonist division.

Thus the full path of Deleuze’s « overturning » of Platonism is

1) rising to the level of the method of division (demarcation),

2) inverting the terms of the division,

3) uncovering the permeabilities,

4) returning to the division while keeping hold of the permeability,

5) situationally inverting, de-inverting, or bridging and crossing according to the circumstances.

Thanks to Justin for prompting me to clarify Deleuze’s path.

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DEPTH AND RELATIONAL ONTOLOGIES: OOO – provocation, incomprehension or projection?

The problem of ontological depth: « If entities are defined by their relations, this deprives them of any depth beyond their current deployment in the world, and there is no reason that anything would ever change » – Graham Harman

This provocative affirmation is far from obvious and calls for deeper analysis.

First remark does Graham Harman mean « defined » or constructed? Harman is using a personal definition that is semantically loaded in favour of his conclusion, but it still does not work. This formulation is pure assertion, often repeated, and easily shown to be wrong.

For example, in physics force implies acceleration, and thus change in the deployment of velocities and positions. This means that relations between forces define a configuration that deploys change.

In fact, the same argument applies to the relations between velocities, as velocity is itself a rate of change. An assemblage defined in terms of multiple velocities is constantly changing its « current deployment ».

In Deleuzian terms, the kinetics (latitude, velocities and positions) define the current deployment and the dynamics (longitude, forces and power to affect and to be affected) of a configuration define the « depth » or potential modifications of that actual deployment.

Thus the notion of a static « current deployment » conceals a radical incomprehension, it involves the reduction of configurations to non-kinetic properties and non-dynamic properties.

Thus relational ontologies can easily accommodate depth and change in a unified account, whereas objectal ontologies cannot.

Harman’s OOO splits the object between depth and change, between deep object (real but unchanging) and changing object (sensual, but superficial).


The Problem of Change in Harman’s OOO: How can a withdrawn object « de-withdraw »?

BARAD AND HARMAN: avoiding a-temporal dichotomous dualism

This whole argument is part of Harman’s rhetoric of projection: isolate a flaw in his system (in this case the inability to handle time, change, and becoming) and then project it onto rival ontologies. The actual argument does not matter, what counts is bare assertion, bold projection.

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PROAMNESIS: forgetting Badiou’s maths

This post is part of my ongoing discussion of Alain Badiou’s IMMANENCE OF TRUTHS and allows me to give an overview of my general approach to philosophy in this blog.

To be clear, I think we must seriously and thoroughly work through Badiou’s maths, no short cuts, but with the foreknowledge that we will actively forget it at the end (unless maths is our thing). I call this the Principle of Proamnesis.

As I argued in a previous post, maths is one conceptual character among many, albeit an important one, in THE IMMANENCE OF TRUTHS. Just as we need to read the book’s non-math discussions (which are quantitatively dominant in the book) in constant anamnesis of the maths, we must read the maths in constant proamnesis. And the same for the other truth procedures.

Mathematics is heuristically privileged because it constitutes the easiest path to the Absolute. Badiou constantly emphasises how easy and clear, because explicit, maths is. The other truth procedures are much more complex. There is no monopoly of the Absolute by maths.

Lovers, militants, and poets have their own access, their own paths up to the Absolute and down into finitude bearing its traces, re-indexing its classes and classifications.

Heraclitus tells us « The way up is the way down ».

If we ascend to the Absolute by way of the mathematical path without the necessary proamnesis we will descend by the same path and have only a very one-sided understanding.

This is like the blind men in the Buddhist parable, who touch an elephant and describe it in terms of the part they touch, saying it’s: like a snake (the trunk), a fan (the ear), a pillar (the leg), a wall (the flank). They violently disagree and each suspects the others of stupidity (ideology) or lying (propaganda).

Without proamnesis, whatever the path, we have reductionism. The mathematicists take at face value Badiou’s declaration that « mathematics is ontology », while the militants, the psychoanalysts, the artists find resources for their own perspective’s privilege.

We find the same one-sidedness on the meta-level. Badiousians who are self-identically Badiousian (the formula for turning philosophy into ideology is self-identity) and so anti-Deleuzian, Deleuzians who are self-identically Deleuzian and so anti-Badiousian, etc.

A simple criterion is given in Badiou’s distinction between the « waste product » (that I have argued may be translated as « crap ») and the « work ».

Anytime someone is discussing Badiou and claiming he is right as against for example Deleuze, who is « wrong », we are in the crap, unless this discussion is accompanied by a proamnesis that allows them to go on to use both thinker’s concepts and writings freely, in a « work » of their own.

For my part, my proamnesic approach allows me to read Badiou in terms of Deleuze, Latour, Laruelle, Zizek, Stiegler, and to read all these in terms of the overarching meta-ontology of metaphysical research programmes.

This proamnesic reading and re-thinking of contemporary (mostly French) Continental Philosophy is what I have been doing on my blog for the last twelve years (today is the 12th anniversary of the blog), and I hope to continue as long as I can.

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BADIOU’S LAW: the waste is the product

Badiou in IMMANENCE OF TRUTHS speaks of the difference between the « déchet » (finite) and the « oeuvre » (infinite).

« Déchet » poses a difficult problem of translation. In the recently published English translation it is rendered as « waste product », which is correct but softens the sense, and so weakens the insight.

An alternative translation for « déchet » would be « crap », in the sense of Sturgeon’s Law:

« 90% of everything is crap ».

According to the legend this was SF author Theodore Sturgeon’s reply to criticisms of science fiction as mostly crap. It first appeared in print in 1957, and so Sturgeon anticipates Badiou’s theory of works and waste.

Note – this law is close in import to Antonin Artaud’s maxim:

« All writing is pig shit ».

This slogan was endorsed by Deleuze and Guattari in ANTI-OEDIPUS, and so we have another passage between their philosophy and Badiou’s system.

For Deleuze and Guattari, the neurotic

makes at least an economic error, an error in tact, and does not spread his values. Artaud puts it well: all writing is so much pig shit—that is to say, any literature that takes itself as an end or sets ends for itself, instead of being a process that « ploughs the crap of being and its language, » transports the weak, the aphasiacs, the illiterate (ANTI-OEDIPUS, 134).

Another « law » of Sturgeon’s was

« nothing is always absolutely so ».

I myself take this to be virtually synonymous with the first law, and also with Badiou’s insistence that V, the Absolute, the Universe of all sets, is a class and not a set. No set is the Absolute, but a set can bear the index of the Absolute, and be a work, or it can contain or be referenced by no such index, and be crap.

To translate « déchet », « waste », « trash », « crap » are all valid options at the level of sense (as are detritus, rubbish, junk, garbage, dross), but there is a difference at the level of syntax. These words are noncount nouns in English, whereas « déchet » is countable in French.

The translators are being overzealous here, as by trying to preserve both aspects (sense and syntax), they introduce a dummy count noun « product », so as to make a countable expression (« waste product »), i.e. one that can be put in the plural. Unfortunately in doing so they are adding connotations not present in the original.

« Déchet » etymologically comes from the same root as the verb « déchoir » (to fall) and is cognate with « décadence ». It designates that which falls from a material that is being worked on to produce a product, and also the degradation of a material (a work, a person, a reputation).

Badiou’s insight is that the waste is the primary product, not a secondary unwanted result, i.e. the waste is the product (and not a waste product).

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