Response to Charles Spinosa: Intellectual Biography 1


I’m sorry to have taken so much time, but I was thrown into perplexity by your comments. Your description of your approach to philosophical problems is so clear, concise, elegant that I would have liked to be able to write a similar description of my own approach. Unfortunately, I seem to be incapable of writing such a synthetic statement, so I am condemned to setting out my meditations paragraph by paragraph and to describing the zigzag path of my own forays into philosophy.

First, as to the use of the expression « under erasure » – it’s not really a part of my preferred theoretical vocabulary. I think we are grosso modo in agreement here on its meaning. You say « whatever is under erasure is not to be understood as a being ». (A tiny remark here: I would modify your defintion to read « is not to be understood as referring to, or signifying, a being ». Things cannot be put under erasure, only signs). As you know Derrida reworks that Heideggerian notion slightly to mean a sign that is inadequate but necessary in terms of one’s strategic intervention inside a field of signification. I rework this version again to come up with: a word is to be understood as under erasure if it is taken in an immanent usage. What is « erased » is any transcendent connotations, implications, or assumptions. I would say that when you take Marilyn Monroe to be a goddess you are not positing that she incarnated some transcendent power, but only that her presence could give a situation a special mood or attunement. So the term « goddess » is to be understood under erasure in my sense, but it still refers to a being.

I see no problem with calling such « charismatic culture figures » cristallizations of ideology. You seem to be sceptical about my reference to ideology as a gathering of practices. Please be assured that this is no one-off pseudo-insight thrown in to look trendy and to score cheap points. I was first exposed to the notion of the material inscription of ideology in practices and institutions (such as school, the army, the factory, why not, let’s be crazy, the greek temple and the cinema) in 1972 (nearly 40 years ago!) in a free-form way in the classes of George Molnar, and then in a more systematic way (as they were following Althusser) in the classes of Wal Suchting and Michael Devitt in 1973. The idea was that ideologies are not just representations « in the head », this being a secondary effect of a more important locus of ideology in assemblies of practices. Ideology in this analysis  conditions not just our ideas and our actions, but our very experience. It’s true that while being quite influenced by these ideas I was not satisfied with the transcendent status attributed to science in general, and to marxism as « science » in particular. So I questioned whether « ideology » was the right word to use. I wrote my BA thesis on this problem in 1975. I was happy to receive confirmation later when translations started coming out (at this time I could not read French, but the excitement of these ideas prompted me to teach myself French) of philosophers such as Foucault, Derrida, and Badiou who used Althusser’s practice-based approach de-centered from the science/ideology opposition. It is essential to realise that these three philosophers were in fact pupils of Althusser. Zizek has explicitly revivified this notion of ideology as embodied in assemblies (or « gatherings ») of practices.

One thing that I liked about Althusser was his refutation of any notion of experience (or phenomenon) as separate from theoretical and practical construction. So I don’t see how you can maintain your definition of your approach to philosophy as »extending, deepening, or transforming language games in the name of phenomena ». You just can’t get out of language games to a pure phenomenon that you can compare to our language games with a view to improving their correspondence to the phenomenon under examination.

Another thing I liked about Althusser was his critique of the autonomous individual as the originating center of his or her actions (sound familiar ATS fans?). His notion of the subject was not clear but I saw it as dispersed in assemblages of practices, and I tried to flesh it out by turning to Buddhism. In 1976 I published an article where I combined Althusser’s theories on ideology with Alan Watts’ views on Buddhism. But I felt blocked in my progress. A chance remark by someone about Feyerabend (who I liked a lot as he permitted me to keep the practice-approach but deconstruct the dogmatic elelments that remained) put me on the right track. According to my informant, Feyerabend wrote the later chapters in AGAINST METHOD on Homeric polytheism to impress a girlfriend who was interested in Buddhism. He wanted to show that the Western Tradition had its own ressources for analysing and dissolving the ego and going beyond into a life of openness to the world and to others. I have no idea if this legend is true or not, but it contained a core insight for me and I began to look into polytheism more seriously, as I was stifling under the Marxo-Freudian hegemony in my department (under the aegis of Althusser and Lacan), and post-strucuralist dabblings in Derrida and Foucault didn’t seem to go far enough to me (nb this was in 1976, in the long run these thinkers evolved, but still not enough to my way of thinking). In the back of my mind was a discussion by the « anti-psychiatrist » R.D.Laing about what language-game should be used to talk about our experience, its patterns and blockages and potentials for change. He indicated that he had initially considered the vocabulary of Alchemy (including myths and polytheism) but decided that this was too abstruse and esoteric for most people, and so he opted for an allegorical use of the vocabulary of embryology. This was something that people could relate to in our materialistic times, and that could serve to allegorise our paths in life, their accidents and fixations, their breakthroughs and releases. I understood his concern, but I rejected his embryology-talk for much the same reason that I now worry about your gods-talk. That is that our experience is not a pure neutral content that we can talk about in a number of ways, sliding from one to the other, with no incidence on the phenomena described. Adopting embryology-talk as a final vocabulary, despite the allegorizing intent and context, directs us to think in terms of an ultimate, materialistic, scientistic, concretistic, reductive understanding. So I opted for polytheism.

In 1977 I turned to Heidegger, after all Althusser and all the interesting French thinkers, had been influenced by his works, for the general framework and to James Hillman, the post-jungian advocate of a polytheistic psychology for a more experientially rich set of descriptions and analyses. Another author in the Heideggerian tradition who wrote on polytheism was Vincent Vycinas, whose EARTH AND GODS is a brilliant contribution to the kind of polytheism that you and Sean and Bert are trying to configure for today’s world. Also Jean-François Lyotard’s work from about 1974 (ECONOMIE LIBIDINALE, translation published in 1993: LIBIDINAL ECONOMY) to about 1980 was in terms of what he called « paganism », a deconstructed polytheism. Unfortunately, I only met Lyotard in 1980 when he was progressively leaving behind this polytheism and turning towards a vocabulary of language games. He used to teasingly make fun of me, calling me « our polytheist ». However, I rejected his linguistic turn in its absolutist pretensions as losing touch with concrete experience and the realities of the body; for me Lyotard’s language talk and Laing’s embryology talk were opposite poles of the same error, that of  extracting one level or stratum of experience from the rest and giving it an ontological primacy, despite its one-sidedness. So I was an allegorical existential polytheist for about 10 years (from 1977 to 1987). A more philosophical englobing framework was my commitment to epistemological and ontological pluralism from 1972 till now. So my polytheism was a way of expressing and living out my belief in psychological multiplicity and transformation in an open world of plurality and becoming.

Such was my commitment to this existential polytheism that I engaged in a Jungian analysis for seven years, from 1980 to 1987. My goal was to be more open to moods, affects, attunings than my philosophical apprenticeship had permitted up to then. Towards the end of that time I turned intensely to Heidegger yet again and had many dreams about his works and concepts in relation to my life. It was these dreams, among many other influences, that helped me see more clearly the limitations of the analytic process, even a pretty wide-open one like a Jungian analysis. My commitment to the more general research paradigm of epistemological and ontological pluralism led to to leave my hometown of Sydney (Australia) and migrate to Paris, where I went to courses by Foucault, Lyotard, Deleuze, and Michel Serres.

All this ended when under the sway of various practical considerations such as the need to earn a living, the desire to live in a more agreeable climate, the commitment to founding and raising a family, I came to the French Riviera with my wife, and after some years of expedient living took on French nationality and qualified as an English teacher in the French Education System;  So for quite some time, nearly ten years, my philosophical investigations went into abeyance. It is only about four years ago that I discovered Bert’s and then Sean’s podcasts and that discovery corresponded to a need to go toward philosophy again. I hope this goes to show why I engage with these problematics as intensely and, yes, as critically as I do.

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4 commentaires pour Response to Charles Spinosa: Intellectual Biography 1

  1. Ping : Intellectual Biography 2 | AGENT SWARM: Terence Blake's Blog

  2. Ping : Multiple Worlds and Post-Identity | AGENT SWARM: Terence Blake's Blog

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