LA CO-INVENTION D’UNE ÉPIDÉMIE: Agamben et le réel

PROGRAMME DE RECHERCHE NON STANDARD

Le blog que vous êtes en train de lire, AGENT SWARM, est un blog de philosophiqe. Il est la matérialisation numérique d’un projet de recherche philosophique que je poursuis en ligne depuis dix ans. Le sous-titre du blog est Pluralisme et individuation dans un monde en devenir. Il est consacré à l’analyse des pluralismes épistémologiques et ontologiques dans la philosophie continentale récente et contemporaine.

Ensemble, ces indications constituent l’énoncé d’une mission philosophique, son cahier de charges conceptuel:

Investiguer et expérimenter la multiplicité et l’individuation dans un monde en devenir, dans le cadre du pluralisme épistémologique et ontologique.

Le titre du blog AGENT SWARM constitue un jeu de mots qui le situe dans le cadre décrit par cet énoncé de mission. Il peut être lu comme signifiant « LA MULTIPLICITÉ ACTIVE ».

Après dix ans de travail conceptuel intensif sur ce blog, à mes critiques et objecteurs, je peux répondre:

Avez-vous vu le projet de recherche sous-tendant mes publications? Où, selon vous, est-ce que je m’écarte de cette mission? Qui d’autre voyez-vous qui discute ces penseurs à partir de ce point de vue? Interrogez-vous la personne que vous pensez que je suis – ou la mission, le projet de recherche et ses articles?

Ce n’est pas une mission simple, elle n’est pas très démagogique ou médiatique, elle est assez exigeante, pour moi et pour mes lecteurs.

LA SUFFISANCE PHILOSOPHIQUE D’AGAMBEN

Avec mon travail sur les articles récents d’Agamben sur l’épidémie, je suis dans le cahier de charges de cette mission. Le principal mouvement de l’argument avancé dans mes articles précédents sur son positionnement intellectuel face à l’épidémie de Covid-19 est de fournir une analyse de la suffisance philosophique d’Agamben dans ses dimensions et conceptuelle et éthique.

Je ne peux pas croire qu’Agamben se soit simplement trompé sur la nocivité, la vitesse de propagation et la surmortalité conséquente de ce nouveau coronavirus. Je ne peux pas croire que c’est simplement son attachement à son propre paradigme et à son pouvoir explicatif qui a induit son biais cognitif et éthique, voire son aveuglement, systématique. Il semble y avoir dans ses interventions à la fois une malhonnêteté intellectuelle et un manque de compassion, au service d’un agenda inconnu.

L’AGENDA INCONNU D’AGAMBEN

Je suis également clair sur ce qui dépasse ma compétence (jusqu’à ce que je trouve un moyen de le connecter à mon programme de recherche).

Par exemple, je peux dire que les articles d’Agamben sur l’épidémie de Covi-19 le situent pleinement dans l’époque de la post-vérité et de la Trumpocène, mais je ne vais pas plus loin.

Il y a un agenda implicite dans ces interventions qui m’échappe. L’insistance d’Agamben sur les mêmes erreurs et son insensibilité totale aux réponses, pour la plupart polies, qui ont été apportées à ses précédentes contributions suggèrent son emploi d’une stratégie de provocation délibérée. À quelle fin? Cui bono?

L’ARGUMENT JUSQU’À PRÉSENT

À chaque étape, l’analyse s’approfondit. Sous la réaction du déni de la réalité l’épidémie se trouve le choc noétique et la stupeur, que nous partageons tous. Nous ne savons pas quoi penser ni comment réagir, mais certaines personnes réagissent trop rapidement, sans réfléchir.

Sous le choc noétique et la réaction précipitée se trouve la division entre ceux qui sont le plus à l’aise dans les sciences humaines et ceux qui sont le plus à l’aise dans les sciences. Cette scission entre les deux cultures se trouve accentuée par une forme d’inertie ou de paralysie du paradigme, qui manifeste notre incapacité à étendre ou à transformer notre heuristique conceptuelle par l’invention de nouveaux concepts.

Cette paralysie conceptuelle est enracinée par les succès explicatifs que notre pensée paradigmatique a remportés jusqu’à présent. Nous restons donc aveugles aux concepts et aux idées apportés par le paradigme de l’autre. Cet autre pensée ne peut être, à nos yeux, qu’un vieux réductionnisme recyclé pour fonder une nouvelle religion.

La sortie de l’impasse de cette façon de penser passe par un saut logique qui nous fait sortir de notre attachement dogmatique à nos récits privilégiés et penser hors de nos paradigmes unilatéraux. Nous n’avons pas besoin de changer tant notre contenu que notre grammaire même de la pensée.

Dans notre pensée habituelle (doxa), nous sommes tous dé-conceptés, dé-noétisés car nos concepts autrefois vivants sont devenus des réactions automatiques, des clichés. Le saut que nous devons faire n’est pas seulement éthique mais aussi logique.

PENSER, C’EST BIFURQUER

Michel Serres nous a appris que la pensée ne trouve pas dans le domaine de la répétition d’un paradigme. Penser c’est inventer, bifurquer. Le réel aussi s’invente, il se construit avec et dans la bifurcation. Agamben parle de « l’invention d’une épidémie », mais il feint d’ignorer que le réel aussi est invention. Le virus est d’abord une invention du réel, et l’épidémie est une invention seconde, produit de notre collaboration en tant que société ancrée dans l’Anthropocène avec le virus.

 

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ANTI-OEDIPUS (2): the first paragraph

A) Translation

Published Translation

It is at work everywhere, functioning smoothly at times, at other times in fits and starts. It breathes, it heats, it eats. It shits and fucks. What a mistake to have ever said the id. Everywhere it is machines-real ones, not figurative ones : machines driving other machines, machines being driven by other machines, with all the necessary couplings and connections. An organ-machine is plugged into an energy-source-machine : the one produces a flow that the other interrupts. The breast is a machine that produces milk, and the mouth a machine coupled to it. The mouth of the anorexic wavers between several functions: its possessor is uncertain as to whether it is an eating-machine , an anal machine, a talking-machine, or a breathing machine (asthma attacks). Hence we are all handymen: each with his little machines. For every organ-machine, an energy-machine: all the  time, flows and interruptions. Judge Schreber has sunbeams in his ass. A solar anus. And rest assured that it works : Judge Schreber feels something, produces something, and is capable of explaining the process theoretically. Something is produced : the effects of a machine , not mere metaphors.

My translation

It functions everywhere, at times non-stop, at times discontinuous. It breathes, it heats, it eats. It shits, it fucks. What a mistake to have ever said the it. Everywhere it is machines, not at all metaphorically: machines of machines, with their couplings, their connections. An organ-machine is connected to a source-machine: the one emits a flow that the other cuts. The breast is a machine that produces milk, and the mouth a machine coupled to it. The anorexic’s mouth hesitates between an eating-machine, an anal machine, a talking machine, a breathing machine (asthma attack). That is how we are all tinkerers: each with their little machines. An organ-machine, for an energy-machine: all the time, flows and cuts. Judge Schreber has divine rays in his ass. Solar anus. And be sure that it works: Judge Schreber feels something, produces something, and can make the theory of it. Something is produced: machine effects, not metaphors.

B) Linguistic Remarks

1) There is just one verb in the first sentence, « functions ». I think it is best to keep it that way as D&G are trying for a style faithful to events.

2) The very first word of the book is « it » (« ça »): in this first paragraph « it » is pluralised and dispersed, construed as a multiplicity of functioning its. For this reason, beginning with « it is at work everywhere » is inappropriate as this would unify and universalise « it » where it should be pluralised and particularised.

3) Despite the overtly concrete style, the book’s first point is a linguistic one, concluding: « What a mistake to have ever said the it ». In French it here is the neuter pronoun « ça », the same word used to render the Freudian concept of the id, translated as « le ça ». D&G propose to drop the definite article, thus changing the logical grammar of the concept.

4) I have translated « tantôt…tantôt » as « at times…at times ». The expression is employed to express a succession, an alternation, a dispersion of cases. Its sense is taken up later in the paragraph with « hesitates », predicated of the anorexic’s mouth.

5) For the compact « machines of machines », the published translation has the more long-winded « machines driving other machines, machines being driven by other machines« . This adds something to the text, but inappropriately, as the sense suggests composed of rather than driven by. In the French text there is no reciprocity, but a nesting: machines composed of machines. It’s machines all the way down (and up).

6) « An organ-machine is connected to a source-machine« . The published translation reads: « An organ-machine is plugged into an energy-source-machine« . The word « energy » has been added, it does not fit the example given immediately after of the breast as source of milk. For the same reason « plugged into » is not suited, as the mouth does not plug into the breast. « Branché » is difficult to translate as it is a more generic word than its English equivalents, meaning: plugged into, hooked onto, wired onto, attached to, connected to.

6) The published translation has « For every organ-machine, an energy-machine« . This inverts the order and over-generalises (insertion of « every »). It is tinged with idealism, as if there were a necessary correlate in the world to each of our organs. It should read: « An organ-machine, for an energy-machine« . Of course, the same machine can be both organ (receptor) and source, as the example of the anorexic’s mouth shows, so there is no sharp dualism. There is an asymmetrical complementarity.

Note: I am not criticising the published translation. Translating French philosophy is a daunting near-impossible endeavour. I want to comment on the incipit to ANTI-OEDIPUS (see next post) so I decided to retranslate it for my own purposes. Translation is just as theory-laden as any other experience, as the example of Schreber’s own theorising shows.

C) Conceptual Commentaries

1) The vocabulary is simple and non-theoretical, colloquial, even a little coarse (« shits », « fucks »), which is unusual for a book of high theory. This is in line with D&G’s ambition to create a book of non-academic « pop » philosophy, comprehensible to everyone, to speak in ordinary words, without concepts.

2) The paragraph is an imagistic declaration of D&G’s pragmatism (functions, machine) and pluralism (error of « the it »). The vocabulary and grammar work in the same sense as the imagistic language. The pluralisation of « it » foreshadows D&G’s critique of Freud as a monist thinker submitting concrete multiplicities to abstract unities.

3) There is an opposition between « machine » and « metaphor » that should not be blindly accepted. « Machine » is itself a frequent metaphor in French for talking about the State, and its institutions and apparatuses, and it is used much more often than in English.

The real opposition is between machine and structure. The point of encounter between Deleuze and Guattari was Guattari’s text « Machine and structure ». The polemic against metaphor is subordinate to the polemic with structure and the critique of the signifier.

4) « It breathes, it heats, it eats. It shits, it fucks ». What is implicit but missing from this list? Speech and thought. This is spelled out in the second example that D&G give (after the breast): the mouth, specifically the anorexic’s mouth, which « wavers » not just between different functions but between different machines (including talking machine) as if function constitutes machine, which otherwise is undetermined. The anorexic’s mouth is D&G’s Schrödinger’s cat.

The third example, that of President Schreber, adds thought as he « feels something, produces something, and can make the theory of it ».

5) Writing is also missing from the list. We know from Deleuze’s « Letter to a harsh critic » that his aim was to « treat writing as a flow, not a code » (NEGOTIATIONS, 7).

6) The first word of the book is « it » (« ça »). Deleuze had already posited the impersonal « it » (« il ») as the pronoun of the pure event, a limit-pronoun expressing the fourth person of the singular as dummy subject of the event. The difference between « il » and « ça », both translated as « it », is one of actualisation. The neutral impersonal pronoun « il » of « il pleut » (it rains) is more virtual, the demonstrative pronoun « ça » of « ça respire » (it breathes) is more concrete, more actualised, but still impersonal, neuter, generic, and evental.

7) The book begins with the pronoun »it » in the singular and condemns the Freudian use of the definite article (le ça, the id) as a mistake. It is both too conceptual, in the bad sense of concept that D&G wanted to escape, and too monist (« the » indicating uniqueness).The first move of the book is pluralisation and concretisation.

D&G do not really want to avoid concepts, in the valorised sense that they give to this word in WHAT IS PHILOSOPHY?, but abstractions. Psychoanalysis is too abstract, it has perverted the conceptual grammar of words, making them academic and monist rather than pragmatic and pluralist.

8) Metaphor, in the dualist sense, is not enough to escape from abstraction, nor is an aesthetic use of language. D&G want to change the logical grammar of words, to bring them back to a pragmatic (« machinic ») use. This method is the invention of concepts, but the concepts invented in this first paragraph do not receive a scholarly name, unlike many of the concepts in the rest of the book.

9) The third example, after the breast and the anorexic, is Schreber, who both lives his delirium and theorises it in its own terms. Schreber is a foreshadowing of the notion of speaking in one’s own name, that is in the name of one’s experiences and intensities, of one’s machines and their effects. That is the book that D&G would have liked to write, in their own name, but they have only half-succeeded.The book is full of compromises:

We’re well aware that the first volume of Anti-Oedipus is still full of compromises, too full of things that are still scholarly and rather like concepts.  So we’ll change, we already have… We’re going to stop compromising, because we don’t need to any more (NEGOTIATIONS, 9).

10) The book is « full of compromises », by Deleuze’s own admission. The first theoretical term « machine » is one of them. There is no enduring machine-ontology in D&G, and the word « machine » is backgrounded in A THOUSAND PLATEAUS in favour of the more sober term « assemblage », and in favour of « image » in the cinema books. Each ontology they propose is provisional, and the machine ontology was pertinent to the critique of a certain stage of Freudian and Lacanian theory.

11) In their final collaborative work WHAT IS PHILOSOPHY? D&G privilege an imagistic characterisation or dramatisation of the concept in terms of lines and planes, conceptual characters and landscapes over an intellectualistic definition. This dramatisation was there from the beginning in Deleuze’s work, but was obscured by its specific conceptual instantiations (difference, machine, assemblage). These particular ontologies are not given out as metaphysical absolutes, but as relative to a field of intervention. They are « under erasure ».

12) Deleuze’s project was always pluralist and pragmatist. He encountered the danger of scientistic reductionism in DIFFERENCE AND REPETITION (mathematism, structuralism, differentialism). Deleuze was moving towards an aesthetic reductionism in LOGIC OF SENSE, and his collaboration with Guattari temporarily saved him from that, but the danger of political reductionism emerged.

The turn to the cinema allowed Deleuze to avoid this danger, but the danger of aesthetic reduction returned with renewed force. Deleuze was only able to achieve a provisional non-reductive equilibrium in the final collaboration with Guattari, but at the price of a classical set of ultimately structuralist demarcations between the domains of philosophy, art, and science.

13) In fact the book is more ambiguous on this point of structuralist demarcation than it seems at first sight. It allows for intermediate, composite, transversal, and undetermined cases.

14) « Politics » is not included in the list of modes and practices of thought isolated and analysed, something that Badiou was quick to point out. It would seem that Deleuze was sensitive to this omission of politics as a separate field of analysis (even if it is present as an environing element in the book), and was planning a final work to be called MARX’S GREATNESS. This should probably be seen as expressing a symptom to be transmuted, a compensatory dream to inspire a new creation, rather than to be actualised as such.

14) Deleuze’s path is one of successive instantiations of a pluralist and pragmatist meta-ontological research programme. The positive heuristic was one of increasing concrete theory by means of increasingly imagistic conceptualisation. The negative heuristic was the avoidance of diverse temptations to become fixated with a reductionist formulation of this project.

15) Deleuze was never caught in reductionism (contrary to what pompously self-styled « non-philosophers » may pretend). Rather, he was constantly working in the vicinity of one reductionism or another, proceeding by way of a logic of positive compensations and complementations. The movement is not one of reduction but of amplification.

D) Evaluation

The function of the language of ANTI-OEDIPUS is performative, it attempts to effectuate in its enunciative style the break with (Freudian, Lacanian) psychoanalysis that it talks about in the enounced content. For example, the removal of the definite article from the pronoun (« it » instead of « the id ») and its pluralisation (It breathes, it heats, it eats. It shits, it fucks) constitute a radical conceptual transformation of analytical discourse. However, the break accomplished is a modest, transitional step compared with what is to come.

Let us examine the incipit to A THOUSAND PLATEAUS, published eight years after ANTI-OEDIPUS:

The two of us wrote Anti-Oedipus together. Since each of us was several, there was already quite a crowd. Here we have made use of everything that came within range, what was closest as well as farthest away. We have assigned clever pseudonyms to prevent recognition. Why have we kept our own names? Out of habit, purely out of habit. To make ourselves unrecognizable in turn. To render imperceptible, not ourselves, but what makes us act, feel, and think. Also because it’s nice to talk like everybody else, to say the sun rises, when everybody knows it’s only a manner of speaking. To reach, not the point where one no longer says I, but the point where it is no longer of any importance whether one says I. We are no longer ourselves. Each will know his own. We have been aided, inspired, multiplied.

The same self-consciousness about language (« clever pseudonyms », « it is only a manner of speaking ») and the same move of pluralisation and of de-personalisation (« We are no longer ourselves », « we have been…multiplied ») by means of multiple personification are present, yet much has changed. The de-subjectivation by means of « it » has been dropped, as its allusive transgression of psychoanalytical vocabulary is no longer necessary.

Retrospectively we can see that the transgressive and derisory incipit to ANTI-OEDIPUS is still under the influence of the psychoanalytic problematic. Later in the book (ANTI-OEDIPUS, 161) D&G will tell us that transgression and derision are themselves derisory, and that: « revolutions have nothing to do with transgressions ».

ANTI-OEDIPUS’s first technical term is « machine ». This is immediately differentiated into « organ-machine » and « source-machine », each defined in terms of their action: « one emits a flow and the other cuts it ». The machine ontology is undercut by another ontology, one of flows and cuts: « all the  time, flows and cuts ».

The first example is rather abstract as it is not about a concrete case of anorexia, but a case of « the anorexic in general », reduced to « the anorexic’s mouth ». It’s function is to show that the differentiation of organ-machine and source-machine is not an absolute dualism but a relative pragmatic distinction.Strangely this first example is not so much illustrative of their machine ontology as deconstructive of it.

This poses the question of the relation between the examples given in the text and its theoretical apparatus. If they wish to avoid abstractions and speak concretely (an ideal claimed by D&G in their last book WHAT IS PHILOSOPHY?) D&G should probably have given more space to specific examples and to singular cases, however indirectly and, to coin a term, deterritorialisedly related.

The second example, that of Schreber, is even less of a fit to the machine ontology than the first. True, they talk of « divine rays in his ass », but he is not reduced to his anus in the way that « the anorexic » was reduced to his or her mouth. The Schreber example is set forth to show that his delirium is not metaphorical, too be interpreted by the analyst in terms of his Oedipal drama, but machinic, speaking in his own name of his experiences.

Thanks to the comparison with A THOUSAND PLATEAUS we can see even more clearly the unresolved tensions at work in the incipit to ANTI-OEDIPUS. D&G talk of themselves as multiplicities acted by more than human forces, but these multiplicities and forces are specified in terms of « its » (later spelled out as « partial objects »). There is a self-reflexivity about language, we can already deduce that in their machine ontology a book is a « little machine », and that writing is a « flow », but this is said explicitly only in later works.

There is also the privileging of pathological examples. Machinic ontology is illustrated by the anorexic’s mouth and Schreber’s ass. Later in the incipit to WHAT IS PHILOSOPHY? the examples will be artistic. D&G will speak of how « all the parts of the machine come together » in the paintings of Titian, Turner and Monet, in the writing of Chateaubriand, in the films of Ivens, and even in the third Critique of Kant. Here the « machines » are artistic, and we are situated on a different plane than the reductive one of anorexics’ mouths and paranoiac’s asses.

The pathologising that is rampant in ANTI-OEDIPUS and is relativised in A THOUSAND PLATEAUS, is maintained in WHAT IS PHILOSOPHY?, and rightly so as we need a good dose of pathological experience to free us from the mediocrity of normal experience.

Even here the pathologising is indirect, as D&G talk in the name of the experience of old age, when both of them are physically ill rather than old. No doubt they are right to want avoid the trap of biographical empiricism. Compared to the transgressive language of the incipit to ANTI-OEDIPUS they have gained in sobriety and can « speak concretely » at last. This was their aim from the beginning, but they declare in their own evaluation of their work:

« We were not sober enough »

E) Perspectives

The first paragraph has three examples, or perhaps four if we include « it », let’s call it example zero. The progression is from abstract and generic to concrete and specific:

0) « it » – a pluralisation and concretisation of the Freudian id (« What an error to have said the it »). As used here « it » is ambiguous between the partial object and what will later be called the body without organs. Subsequently, not much use is made of this acception of the term « it ». The first word of the book is « it », but the enunciative impact is to introduce us into a new conceptual universe where the logical grammar of « it » is different.

This new conceptual universe is still very much in the vicinity of psychoanalysis. « It » serves as a point of bifurcation. This confrms Deleuze’s Nietzschean idea that the new mode of thought is introduced under the mask of the old. The bifurcation begins with a minor modification, but the divergence between the new and the old becomes ever more pronounced.

The evolution of D&G’s thought, begun in the vicinity of psychoanalysis, leaves it far behind. Here is the beginning of paragraph 2 of RHIZOME in its original version as a separate book published in 1976 (this passage is unfortunately omitted in the version published four years later MILLE PLATEAUX):

« We no longer speak much about psychoanalysis, even though we still speak of it, too much. Nothing is happening there any more. We were profoundly fed up with it, but unable to stop straight away. Psychoanalysts and above all psychoanalysed bore us too much. This matter slowed us down, we had to speed it up for our own goals – without having any illusion about the objective import of such an operation – we had to impart to it an artificial speed capable of bringing it to the point of rupture or breaking point for us. It’s over, after this book we will speak of psychoanalysis no more » (RHIZOME, page 8, my translation).

There is a line of de-psychoanalysation in D&G’s theoretical development.

1) « the breast » and « the mouth »: introduced as generic examples of machines and of their functional specification into source-machine and an organ-machine. These are partial objects considered outside any personnological determination. Their complementarity (« An organ-machine for every energy-machine ») is a specific case of the complementarity of cuts and fluxes that underlie machines. Later D&G will tell us that in concrete cases of machines there is no mono-flux, and organs are not limited to cutting just one flux, there is no mono-function. Fluxes will be discussed not just in terms of being cut, but of their combination or « conjugation ».

2) « the anorexic’s mouth »: this is still very generic, but « the mouth » has become a little more specific as it is associated with « the anorexic », and its function is seen as in practice more diverse:

« The anorexic’s mouth hesitates between an eating-machine , an anal machine, a talking machine, a breathing machine »

In line with D&G’s de-psychoanalysation, the anorexic will later be discussed without this fixation on partial objects. In DIALOGUES the example of the anorexic is Fanny, Deleuze’s wife. There is no more talk about the mouth as wavering between eating-machine and anal-machine. The important point is not partial objects (« organic regime ») but politics of intensities (« sign regime »):

In short, anorexia is a matter of politics…There is politics as soon as there is a continuum of intensities (anorexic void and fullness) , emission and capture of food particles (constitution of a body without organs, in opposition to a dietary or organic regime) , and above all conjugation of fluxes (the food flux enters into relation with a clothes flux, a flux of language, a flux of sexuality: a whole, molecular woman-becoming in the anorexic, whether man or woman) . This is what we call a regime of signs. Above all, it is not a matter of partial objects. It is true that psychiatry and psychoanalysis do not understand, because they reduce everything to a neuro-organic or symbolic code (DIALOGUES II, page 111, my translation).

3) « President Schreber »: this last example is even more concrete as we have a proper name first, and only then a reference to partial objects: « divine rays in his ass ». This is a new reversal of Freudianism, as Schreber is put forward as capable of theorising his own experience, of potentially speaking machinically in terms of the « effects » produced.As to what exactly speaking machinically could mean, the text has begun both to define it and to exemplify it performatively.

The psychoanalytic « mistake » is to treat these theoretical productions as metaphors of Oedipus. The converse error would be to speak of them in fixed and familiar terms, to speak or to interpret literally, in the sense of unimaginatively.

We have to counter people who think « I’m this, I’m that, » and who do so, moreover, in psychoanalytic terms (referring to their childhood or their destiny), by thinking in uncertain, improbable terms… What does your « reality » have to do with it? Yours is a flat realism…The argument from privileged experience is a bad, reactionary argument (NEGOTIATIONS, page 22, my translation).

The aim is to no longer think in psychoanalytical terms, but in « uncertain, improbable » terms. This uncertain, improbable, or imaginative language is what D&G are searching for in ANTI-OEDIPUS.

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AGAMBEN: SUFFICIENCY AND AGENDA

NON-STANDARD RESEARCH PROGRAMME

The blog you are reading, AGENT SWARM, is a digital research project in philosophy which I have maintained for ten years. Its subtitle is « Pluralism and Individuation in a world of becoming ». It is devoted to an analysis epistemological and ontological pluralism in recent and contemporary Continental Philosophy.

Taking these indications together, they constitute a mission statement:

Pluralism and Individuation in a world of becoming, in the framework of epistemological and ontological pluralism.

The title of the blog AGENT SWARM is a play on words that situates it within this mission statement as it can be read as ACTIVE MULTIPLICITY.

With ten years of work on this blog behind me, to my would-be critics and objectors I can reply:

Can you see the research project subtending my posts? Where do I deviate from the mission statement? Who else is discussing these thinkers from this point of view? Are you engaging the person you think me to be – or the mission, the research project, and its posts?

This is not a very demagogic or media-friendly mission, it is quite demanding, of myself and of my readers.

AGAMBEN’S SUFFICIENCY

With my work on Agamben’s recent pieces I am on mission. The main movement of the argument made by my previous posts on his intellectual positioning on the Covid-19 epidemic is to provide an analysis of Agamben’s philosophical sufficiency in both its conceptual and ethical dimensions.

I cannot believe Agamben is simply mistaken, or that it is simply his attachment to his own paradigm that has induced his systematic cognitive and ethical bias. There seems to be at play here both intellectual dishonesty and lack of compassion, in the service of an unknown agenda.

AGAMBEN’S AGENDA

I am also clear as to what lies beyond my purview (until I find a way of connecting it to my research programme).

For example, I say that Agamben’s pieces on the Covi-19 epidemic situate him squarely within the Trumpocene, but I go no further.

There is an agenda here that I am missing. Agamben’s very insistence on the same errors and his utter imperviousness to the mostly polite responses that have been made to his previous contributions suggest a strategy of deliberate provocation. To what end? Cui bono?

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AGAMBEN AND THE EPIDEMIC

I have written several posts on Agamben’s treatment of the Covid-19 epidemic. However, my first post on that subject was an analysis of a scientific argument seemingly based on « alternative » facts and analyses:

1) BIO-DENIALISM AND THE NOETIC SHOCK

https://terenceblake.wordpress.com/2020/03/20/against-scientific-corona-denialism-thinking-a-noetic-shock/

For me the most important point is contained in the epistemological conclusion:

The noetic shock provoked by the Corona-virus crisis is similar to that administered by the geo-climatic crisis. It demands of us that we think and act in terms of statistical and systemic arguments. Otherwise, disaster ensues.

The Agamben posts can be seen as a further test of this idea:

2) PARADIGM PARALYSIS AND THE INCLUDED THIRD

https://terenceblake.wordpress.com/2020/03/20/against-philosophical-corona-denialism-bio-disruption-and-the-included-third/

Here the important point is made by borrowing the concept of the « included third » from Michel Serres:

We are suffering from a bad syzygy between the Two Cultures, [the sciences and the humanities]. The Real knows no such divide. Biological disruption (like geo-climatic disruption) relays and intensifies economic and social disruption.

3) NOO-DECONSTRUCTION AND CONCEPTUAL INVENTION

https://terenceblake.wordpress.com/2020/03/23/lets-make-more-concepts-isolation-as-the-new-epoche/

Beyond the external analysis of another’s opinions, I include myself within the diagnosis I am conducting:

I myself am in a stupor. I do not know what to think nor how to think. This new bio-deconstruction is also a noo-deconstruction. The old systems and the attitude of philosophical sufficiency cannot help us, we need a wider and more nuanced vocabulary than any one system can provide.

4) BLINDNESS AND INSIGHT: PARADIGM AS PHARMAKON

https://terenceblake.wordpress.com/2020/03/23/agamben-and-the-un-included-third/

It is important to avoid attacking both Agamben the person and the totality of his thought. We are all in Agamben’s case, thinkers trying to assimilate new scientific information and modes of analysis.

Agamben’s own political paradigm is responsible for his mis-evaluating the scientific evidence. There is no infallible paradigm, not even Agamben’s. All paradigms are pharmaka, toxins and medicines combined. These articles by Agamben show him intoxicated, and blinded, by his own paradigm.

5) GRAND NARRATIVE AND THE OTHER’S REDUCTIONISM

https://terenceblake.wordpress.com/2020/03/28/agamben-redux-ionist-how-denying-ones-denial-can-reinforce-it-rather-than-negate-it/

Agamben posits a universal need for religion, he supposes that « the Church » (as if there were only one) does not satisfy that need any more, and claims that science constitutes a replacement-religion promulgating new superstitions.

6) LEAP OF LOGIC VERSUS LEAP OF FAITH

https://terenceblake.wordpress.com/2020/04/15/logical-grammar-vs-unrevisable-concepts-agamben-the-covid-19-virus-and-the-leap-of-logic/

The good old time of the divide between the Two Cultures (between the sciences and the humanities) is long gone. Science without humanity (ethics) is barbarism, but humanity without science is criminal. For all his conceptual power, Agamben does not help us take the (logical) leap.

7) RE-NOETISATION BEGINS AT HOME

https://terenceblake.wordpress.com/2020/05/03/depressive-empiricism-agambens-bad-medicine/

Agamben does not have conceptual tools appropriate to the new situation, and he seems incapable of inventing them. Whatever his « beliefs » and values, beliefs and values are not everything, he has now fully entered the (deconcepted) Trumpocene.

8) SUMMARY: THE ARGUMENT SO FAR

At each step the analysis deepens. Underneath the reaction of denialism lies the noetic shock and stupor, we do not know what to think or how to react, but some people react too quickly, unthinkingly.

Underneath the noetic shock and the hasty reaction lies the division between those who are most at home in the humanities and those who are most at home in the sciences. This scission between the two cultures is accentuated by a form of paradigm paralysis, which is the inability to expand or transform one’s conceptual heuristic by the invention of new concepts.

This conceptual paralysis is entrenched by the successes that our paradigmatic thinking has achieved up to now. We thus remain blind to the concepts and insights contributed by the other’s paradigm, which can only be, in our eyes, an old reductionism recycled to ground a new religion.

The way out of the deadlock of this way of thinking is through a logical leap taking us outside our dogmatic attachment to our privileged narratives and outside of our one-sided paradigms. We do not need to change so much our content as our very grammar of thought.

In our habitual thinking we are all de-concepted, de-noetised as our once living concepts have become automatic reactions. The leap that we need to make is not just ethical but logical.

Note – a very interesting and useful list of resources about the coronavirus epidemic can be found here: https://progressivegeographies.com/resources/geographers-sociologists-philosophers-etc-on-covid-19/

 

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DEPRESSIVE EMPIRICISM: Agamben’s bad medicine

SAD AFFECTS

Giorgio Agamben has been publishing a philosophical chronicle on the responses to the Coronavirus Epidemic for the past couple of months. His articles keep getting worse and worse. Here is his latest thought piece on « Medicine as Religion« . I feel sad when I read his texts. A rudimentary ethics of care has risen to prevent undue deaths being caused by the corona virus, and all Agamben wants to do is to stamp it out as « totalitarian ».

ABSTRACT FREEDOM

There is a curiously abstract aura to Agamben’s interventions. In this new text, Agamben once again makes no mention of the hospital emergency services being flooded with too many cases to handle. Instead, he brandishes the principle of an abstract freedom, that in the concrete case of the epidemic can only amount to the freedom to infect and to be infected.

MEDICINE AS RELIGION

In the name of this freedom to be a link in the chain of contagion, sickness and death he denounces the rise of medicine as a « religion ». Conflating the institution of science with the ideology of scientism, Agamben condemns our trust in science, our trust in medicine as subjectivations of our submission to the rising hegemony of medical power.

UNTOOLED CONVIVIALITY

In fact, what Agamben calls a « religion » is not so much medicine, as he seems to think, as mathematical models. He appeals to the empirical warmth of being with, of being close to our friends and family. He can find no reason to limit our freedom of movement if we cannot see and touch the projected movements of the virus. All such limitations are but forms of violence. For Agamben, conviviality has no tools, it is a spontaneous élan.

SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS

Agamben misreads the signs of our response to the virus, just as he previously misread the symptoms, comparing the new Covid-19 disease to the common ‘flu. In this text he has silently dropped that comparison, turning to a specious analogy with « cardiovascular diseases ». Agamben sees the obligatory practice of isolation, social distancing and masks as signs of a violence done to us by the State under the thrall of the religion of medicine. He cannot see them as pharmaka, dangerous poisons if uncontrolled, curative therapies if guided by medical science.

TOOLS FOR CONVIVIALITY

For Deleuze, nothing is given, everything is tooled. He taught us the equivocity of signs and analysed the variable use of distance as a tool to avoid the ever-present threat of « demolition ». The presence of the epidemic requires a new signification for the same signs, in some cases distance is the best sign of friendship, love, the care of freedom.

CONCEPTS AS TOOLS

Agamben does not have conceptual tools appropriate to the new situation, and he seems incapable of inventing them. Whatever his « beliefs » and values, beliefs and values are not everything, he has now fully entered the (deconcepted) Trumpocene

 

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ANTI-OEDIPUS (1): the first sentence

Reading Deleuze and Guattari’s breakthrough book ANTI-OEDIPUS one can feel lost as to the genre of its prose, the logical status of its assertions and of their relation to the real, and the relation of continuity or rupture between this work and earlier texts by Deleuze in particular, especially to his LOGIC OF SENSE.

We are fortunate that from the start, in the opening paragraph Deleuze and Guattari give us precious indications of the answers to these questions. These indications as to the uses of the book have been largely overlooked or misinterpreted.

Let us examine the first sentence

Ça fonctionne partout, tantôt sans arrêt, tantôt discontinu.

In the official translation this reads

It is at work everywhere, functioning smoothly at times, at other times in fits and starts.

This translation is linguistically correct (although more long-winded), but conceptually unsatisfying. A more literal rendering would be

« It functions everywhere, either nonstop or discontinuous ».

Comments

1) « it »

We shall examine this point in more detail later, from different points of view. Suffice it to say here that Deleuze’s immediately preceding book LOGIC OF SENSE already contains a discussion of the impersonal pronoun « it » (French « il », « cela », or « ça »). Deleuze affirms  that « it » does not designate a subject, but that in combination with a verb functions as a dummy-subject to express an event.

We shall see that « it » in this first paragraph is employed with the « equivocation » between designation and expression that Deleuze analyses in the 4th series of  LOGIC OF SENSE. Deleuze makes use of a striking example taken from ALICE IN WONDERLAND:

and even Stigand, the patriotic archbishop of Canterbury, found it advisable—' »

« Found what? » said the Duck.

« Found it, » the Mouse replied rather crossly: « of course you know what ‘it’ means. »

« I know what ‘it’ means well enough, when I find a thing, » said the Duck: « it’s generally a frog or a worm. The question is, what did the archbishop find? »

Deleuze remarks that these two dimensions of the proposition are like the two sides of a mirror and that there is no relation of resemblance, or even of continuity, between the two:

To pass to the other side of the mirror is to pass from the relation of denotation to the relation of expression — without pausing at the intermediaries, namely, at manifestation and signification. It is to reach a region where language no longer has any relation to that which it denotes, but only to that which it expresses, that is, to sense. (LOGIC OF SENSE, 27)

ANTI-OEDIPUS begins on the other side of the mirror, we are in the dimension of sense, and not of reference. We are in the domain of the creation of concepts, and we shall see that « desire » in this perspective does not designate an a-theoretical real but a noetic real. Desire is not some simple-minded empiricist biological « real ».

Desire is the creation of concepts.

2) « functions »

The official translation reads « It is at work, functioning ». This has the disadvantage of separating the conjoined evental subject from its conjoint evental verb. In the French they are juxtaposed: « Ça fonctionne ». Given the equivocation between the denotative (or actualised) pole of language and the expressive (or virtual) pole, my impression is that the published translation comes down more on the actualised side. We have implicitly a concrete present in BE + -ing (« It is…functioning »).

A translation that emphasises the other pole would be

« Functioning everywhere, nonstop or discontinuous ».

This sounds rather clumsy, but it would highlight the event of « functioning » rather than a putative subject. Given that there are always two poles (expression/event, denotation/ object or state of affairs), I propose « It functions ». The use of the simple present here puts the accent on the intemporality, and the fronting of « functions » highlights its importance in relation to a whole network of related words (functional, functionalism, function –  noun, dysfunction).

3) « non- » and « dis-« 

The translation unfortunately elides the presence of negative particles (adverb: « sans », without; prefix « dis-« ) in the very first sentence, and so contributes to the naive dualist reading of ANTI-OEDIPUS as affirming a positivity without any trace of negation within it. Negation is present from the very beginning, reinforced by the third sentence’s use of « mistake » (« What a mistake… ») and the fourth sentence’s « not » (« not figurative ones »).

One of the key concepts in ANTI-OEDIPUS is « anti-production », which is an integral part of desiring machines – including books, paragraphs, sentences, which are also machines. It is good to have this anti-production on display as a reminder, whenever possible.

So « nonstop » and « discontinuous » have my preference here.

4) « or »

The French expression « tantôt…tantôt » can have either a temporal sense of chronological succession or a logical sense of a distribution of alternatives, different possibilities.

If one wishes to capture the equivocation that Deleuze analysed between denotation and expression, the published translation (« sometimes…sometimes ») does this well enough, but I have given another version « or » to bring out the sense of different cases or states that may be distributed diachronically (succession) but also synchronically (alternatives). This version brings the first sentence into relation with the « disjunctive synthesis » that Deleuze and Guattari describe a few pages later.

Whereas the « either/or » claims to mark decisive choices between immutable terms (the alternative : either this or that) , the schizophrenic « either . . .or . . . or » refers to the system of possible permutations between differences that always amount to the same as they shift and slide about (12).

5) « nonstop…discontinuous »

In line with the equivocation between denotation and expression the French reads « sans arrêt [nonstop]…discontinu [discontinuous]). These two expressions seem to function as adverbs here, qualifying the verb « fonctionne ». This use is unproblematic for « sans arrêt » but unusual for « discontinu », which is grammatically an adjective. The translators bring coherence to the sentence by translating both expressions adverbially: « smoothly…in fits and starts ». Their status is no longer equivocal, but univocal, qualifying « functioning ».

This translation once again opts more (it is a question of degree) for the actualised face of temporal succession, and the « at times…at times » reinforces that temporal resonance.

The translation I propose (not for creating a readable book, but for conceptual analysis) is: « either nonstop or discontinuous ».

This translation captures the ambiguity, as the two adverbial terms could also be seen as adjectival, qualifying the dummy-subject « it ». Ending the sentence on « discontinu » allows Deleuze and Guattari to create a shifting impression as the word is lexically an adjective but grammatically seems to be an adverb. It functions as a « duck-rabbit » gestalt figure, as it oscillates between adjective and adverb, denotation and expression.

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POSTSCRIPT ON CATAFALQUE – text

In this part of the discussion, Michael Aaron Kamins (MAK) and myself (TB) talked about Peter Kingsley’s recent book CATAFALQUE: CARL JUNG AND THE END OF HUMANITY.

MAK: I really wanted you to just give a quick critique of Peter Kingsley’s CATAFALQUE, and because it seems like it’s a book that’s made a lot of waves and is popular especially among people who have actually never read Jung or any of the classical Jungians, and then the book sets itself up as if this is the real Jung that you’re getting from Kingsley, and it’s preposterous in my opinion as someone who’s been reading Jung my whole life and I’m just not seeing what his point is really and you had some good writings on that. Do you think you could summarize some of that briefly?

TB: In a sense I would apply James Hillman, who Kingsley disses from the very beginning of CATAFALQUE, and Wolfgang Giegerich to help sum up Kingsley’s argument. So I would say that lots of what he says in criticizing the orthodox Jungians is exactly what Hillman and Giegerich say.

In THE SOUL’S LOGICAL LIFE Giegerich goes through the idea that we have to find the concepts that are implicit in Jung, he goes through some of the different orientations that you can find in Jung’s works including MEMORIES, DREAMS, AND REFLECTIONS, and then he goes through the errors of the Orthodox Jungians, and he gives lots of the same criticisms that Kingsley does, and he even refers to some of the same chapters or quotations that Kingsley uses to what he thinks is great effect.

MAK: Which is wild because all Kingsley does is rip on his predecessors in a really uncharitable way as though there was no one other than him that understood Jung.

TB: This is because of his supposedly amazing experience with the « goddess ». Maybe he had some amazing experience, maybe he did go and “incubate” a Vision somewhere.

I watched a couple of films of Kingsley’s, I bought a couple of these films because to get to listen to him talk you have to pay. There is a film where he talks about a dream where he is on a mountain and he had started doing a Jungian analysis.

In this dream he was on a mountain with all sorts of strange complicated hieroglyphics, and there were people all over the mountain working on it, doing meticulous research, going higher and higher, and the analyst supposedly told him:

get down off that mountain, come down to the ground, ground yourself, you’re not supposed to be on that mountain you’re a human being who walks on the earth or something like that, and that sort of broke his energy. Later he talked with some Jungian who is very well known, Robert Johnson, who’s written several books on the Jungian experience, who met Jung after he had a similar sort of dream, and Jung validated it and told him to avoid the orthodox Jungians and to go on working on his individuation alone.

MAK: Wolfgang Pauli had a dream like that – that Jung interprets in PSYCHOLOGY AND ALCHEMY. Pauli had the dream about the Rainbow Bridge, and Jung suggested he had to walk under the bridge, because only the gods can walk on rainbows.

TB: I think that’s a bad side of Jung. It depends, who knows?

MAK: It’s comparable though the way I get it, it’s comparable to what you’re saying about whether you have to get off the mountain.

TB: Yes, it’s comparable. You have to decide in each context – is it a neurosis? is the dreamer fleeing from life? or is it some amazing spark of creativity? If you think it’s a neurosis you bring them down, and if you think that there’s something creative going on there, you encourage them to keep on the mountain, or to walk on the bridge.

MAK: So what did he have? do you think that Kingsley was being encouraged to come down from the Mountain, the Rainbow, the Rainbow-Mountain?

TB: If you want to be really nasty maybe he should have come down. Come down from his high horse, or his High Mountain. Nobody likes that.

I remember the analyst who was the head of the French New Alchemists, Etienne Perrot, an alchemical Jungian analyst in France. In one of his books, he at least had some power of self-criticism, he recounts an experience of the same sort. He had a patient who had a dream similar to Kingsley’s Mountain Dream and Pauli’s Rainbow Bridge Dream.

He doesn’t say what the dream is, but he brought the dreamer down to earth and that night Perrot dreamt that he saw this guy playing in an incredibly beautiful symphony and the music was just so incredibly creative and beautiful, and so the next time he saw him he apologized for his interpretation and said that’s the way you must go on.

So you never know, and you can become over-systematically deflationist, even where it’s not right.

MAK: It’s quite different from Hillman’s approach with dreams. Hillman is just letting the image be a living thing like an animal.

TB: Yes, so Hillman would never say come down to earth off the mountain and I don’t think Giegerich would either. Giegerich would say to Kingsley: at last you’re getting up to the level of the concept that’s the way to go.

So Kingsley’s complaint about Jungian analysis is justified but it’s also a case of selection bias. He’s taking bad, or not on the ball, analysts and he’s generalizing that. He thinks he’s the only one who’s seen through that.

MAK: He’s doing it to always make himself seem like he’s somehow superior. It’s very strange, there’s something there that I just found it was really difficult slogging through his book it just seemed like it’s all about how there’s only a few people that have really kept this tradition of wisdom alive, going back to Empedocles and Parmenides, and it’s Jung and Kingsley that are the only ones that really know the truth of what the ancient Greeks knew. That’s almost literally what he’s saying.

TB: He doesn’t talk about Heraclitus…

MAK: Very important point, he doesn’t talk about Heraclitus.

TB: …because it’s too flowing, too fluctuating, too liquid for him.

MAK: Yes right.

TP: and I don’t know, you’ve read more Giegerich than me, but I would have thought that Giegerich would like Anaxagoras because he put Nous or mind as the supreme principle, which makes one think of some forms of Zen Buddhism.

Giegerich would determine everything that CATAFALQUE takes literally, including Jung’s dream about the end of Humanity, Giegerich would take that as metaphorical of passing to the level of the spirit and the concept. Because there are no prophets for Giegerich. Maybe Giegerich is going too far on that point, who knows? But Kingsley is certainly not a prophet and Jung was not a prophet either.

MAK: Yes, but you get the impression from Kingsley, though, that Jung should be seen as a prophet, that’s how I read him.

TB: That’s why he can’t take Jung metaphorically, he’s too portentous. So when he talks about Jung’s final dreams, that’s an attempt to make what he says seem really important and incredibly intense, because it’s about Jung’s final dreams.

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