Charles Spinosa was kind enough to respond to the first instalment of my intellectual biography with a long set of reflections that were too rich and thought-provoking for me to reply to at once. Moreover, the return to school took up all my energy as well, but I feel I owe him a reply.
Spinosa talks about an occasion four years ago when when he suddenly realized that he was seeing the same person « in a radically different light from moment to moment over the course of an hour », now as a friend full of nobility and purity of heart to be trusted and to stand by, now as an employee having flaws and talents to be encouraged and to be facilitated in the preparation of some masterwork. This new awareness of incommensurable micro-worlds soon led into another realisation: despite being incommensurable (that is involving different perceptions and different evaluations of what are the appropriate comportments) these worlds interacted with and enriched each other, allowing him to see his friends more clearly in terms of their talents and of the different kindnesses they required. There was also a heightened awareness of intensive scales of degrees of nobility, trustworthines, brilliance, egomania, and talent. His practice and thought of friendship expanded, and his ability to manage his teams was strengthened.
This apprehension of the person as an intensive multiplicity distributed over a plurality of micro-worlds is of necessity accompanied by another radical change that Spinosa doesn’t comment directly – a radical change in the feeling and practice of one’s own identity. This new perception of others leads to the apprehension of one’s own self as just such an intensive multiplicity distributed over a plurality of micro-worlds. This is the positive sense of depersonalisation that Deleuze discusses, where one acquires one’s identity by opening to the multiplicities that traverse us, and to the intensities that pass through us.
Spinosa’s reflective account of his experience is followed by what for me is a monist regression. He argues from the fact that we can reidentify the same person, over different worlds, as for example a friend and then a colleague (and later, why not?, as a business rival, a lover, or a spiritual guide), that this person may be said to have an identity outside the language-games and practices and their constitutive worlds. However, « identity », the fact that you can re-identify the same person, takes on a different meaning once you accept the existence of a plurality of micro-worlds. Identity itself, in this new pluralist sense, contains an inherent multiplicity of partial identities and a flow between them. This flow can be experienced sometimes « from moment to moment over the course of an hour » as in Spinosa’s phenomenological anecdote; and sometimes from incarnation to incarnation in the diverse periods of one’s life, as in the narrative of my intellectual biography.
An identity constitutively tied to a plurality, a distribution, and a flow is not the same notion, and, I would argue, not the same experience. So this pluralist identity, or, as Charles Stivale would have it (see here), this post-identity, is embedded in other practices or ways of practicing. We can recall the opening to Deleuze and Guattari’s RHIZOME: « we wrote ANTI-OEDIPUS together. As each of us was many, that was already a lot of people » (my translation). This is certainly not the same notion as that of a transcendent fixed and unique identity. Nor is a simple abstract theoretical artifact: Deleuze and Guattari have described in several places how this sense of identity informed how they worked together, how they composed their books, and how it affected the very style, content, and nature of their books. Not to mention the ways of reading them and making use of their concepts that their various readers incarnated.
dappled worlds and 2nd natures:
I am delighted that you translating my phenomenological description and insights into the language of Deleuze and Guattari. Since theirs is not a language I can easily speak, I cannot really tell what is happening in the translation. It would be the same way if you translated my English into French. I’d simply hear my English and not what the French did to it. I wish it were otherwise on both counts.
I do notice that you caught one small blunder I made. Here is what you write.
He argues from the fact that we can reidentify the same person, over different worlds, as for example a friend and then a colleague (and later, why not?, as a business rival, a lover, or a spiritual guide), that this person may be said to have an identity outside the language-games and practices and their constitutive worlds.
The phrase « may be said to » was too strong. I should have written « may » alone. I meant to say that, given my understanding of multiple worlds, it is coherent to claim that the person could have an identity outside the language games and so forth. It is not my preferred interpretation of identity, but not one I see as utterly incoherent. I prefer to interpret each of us as a family of identities. They are held together by the family relationship roughly as Wittgenstein describes the family relationship. Actually, it is a bit stronger than Wittgenstein’s sense. I do not want to include as normal cases the kind of multiple identities that schizophrenics can have. The knowledge, familiarity, and compatibility of each with the other is much higher than I believe it to be in the schizophrenic case. (I am far from an expert on the schozophrenic cases. Consider this formulation of the difference a tentative way I understand myself.)
I wonder, however, if the account I just gave of the multiplicity of identity fits with what you are saying in this passage, which I find mysterious.
However, « identity », the fact that you can re-identify the same person, takes on a different meaning once you accept the existence of a plurality of micro-worlds. Identity itself, in this new pluralist sense, contains an inherent multiplicity of partial identities and a flow between them.
I get stuck on the word « contains. » It suggests to me a super-identity which has within its structure a number of sub-identities. From everything I understand you are saying, you do not mean « contains » in that way. But when I ask myself what your do mean, I only hear my own account of what I mean when I speak of multiple identities.
I have been trying to translate your descriptions and insights into the language of Deleuze and Guattari in an attempt to get the two worlds involved to interfere with and hopefully transform and enrich each other. Deleuze used to say that both Anglophone and French philosophers are equally engaged in conceptual creation but that whereas the French philosopher signposted these creations by inventing new words and expressions to designate them, whereas quite often the Anglophone philosopher would gloss over the conceptual innovation by expressing himself in as ordinary-seeming a language as possible. So sometimes I « translate » a plain English text into French or at least into French concepts to get a feel for what I find interesting about the text, its links to other things I read and think about, possibly understated themes that I can bring out and highlight, perhaps even one-sided or even incomplete formulations and problematics. It’s a form of « bilingual thinking » or even « bi-world thinking », if you will, as my identity has been nearly but not quite « torn asunder » due to my migration from Australia to France and to my engagement with philosophy in both French and English.
I find your writing both very rich and quite thought-provoking as I feel very close to many of your ideas but also uneasy about some of its presuppositions and what seem to me to be limitations. So while I found myself in agreement with what you said about multiple worlds and multiple identities, I thought that you had left unstated the obvious implication that this multiplicity of identities applied to you as well. Here I was merely making explicit what was implicit in what you wrote, but I felt it was worth my saying as it complicates the picture in an interesting way. I am glad that in your reply you make things even more explicit by saying « I prefer to interpret each of us as a family of identities. »
In your text you managed to tie together in a very fruitful way various domains of your life that are affected by this apprehension of multiple identities: not just your managerial practices and your friendship practices, but also your way of doing philosophy. This is something I miss in Bert and Sean’s book. I feel that somehow all the examples that they give are not just empirical cases but aspects of a typology of possiblities of life, instances of what Deleuze calls conceptual characters or intercessors, virtual entities that allow us to think and live and that in a loose way of speaking we may be said to « contain ». Deleuze and Guattari give a sort of justification of this loose language in the passage I cite about each of them being a crowd. They consider the objection that they have kept their names and reply:
« it is pleasant to talk like everybody and to say the sun is rising, when everyone knows that it is just a manner of speaking. »
This pretty banal remark is however only half of their reply. They go on to say:
« Not to arrive at the point where one no longer says I, but at the point where it no longer matters whether one says I or not. »
Oddly, this is what I find at fault in Gary Wills’ critiques. For me ATS is full of conceptual characters, and he seems to be blind to this. He only sees hasty and, in his view, erroneous historical sketches and probably cannot understand why Bert and Sean don’t just fold up shop and retreat off into the horizon.
Another aspect of this account of multiple identities that I felt was left implicit in your text is a different view of the pathologies that are associated with multiple identities. Bert and Sean seem to believe that all bad comes from the ego. This assumption vitiates, in my opinion, some of their analyses of the ODYSSEY and also of MOBY-DICK, in particular their account of Ahab. However I was impressed from the beginning by your keeping clearly in view this « pathological » or shadow aspect of the gods:
« Homer’s gods were … attuners who would bring Homeric Greeks into exactly the right mood to cope so brilliantly with a situation that their actions seemed to reach beyond human capacity. (The gods can do just the opposite, as Athena, for instance, guides Hector to make a mistake beyond his capacity.) »
This is a recognition that I find lacking in ATS. So I felt I should highlight the implication that the pathological aspect of life need not come always and only from the ego (a unifying fiction), but from the upsurge of worlds where, for example, the person who is our friend is also a predator or a traitor. This in turn led me to talk about the need for « wariness », not just as a defensive strategy (to avoid getting hurt), but as a (pluralist) virtue. This seemed to be necessary as well because I have accused Bert and Sean (and maybe even you a little) of practicing « normative phenomenology ». So I find that some of the moods that they describe, such as wonder and gratitude, are also treated as virtues. I merely wished to add wariness to that list. (This too is banal, as Lyotard for example talks about prudence, phronesis, as containing an aspect of wariness, as you never know if the person you encounter is, or can serve as, the epiphany of a god, that can punish you if you indulge in the hubris of imposing your will on the situation). You do take into account this shadow side in the description of your experience but foregrounding it helps me get at what I feel to be a one-sided emphasis on the luminous in ATS, as if all shadow came from the ego.
Most interesting. I’ve been interested in this sort of thing for some time, though not, for the most part, from an explicitly philosophical point of view. One angle is neuroscientific, from the work of Warren McCulloch and others. The general idea is that the world of a hungry animal is different from that of a sleepy animal, is different from that of an animal under attack, is different from an animal at play, and so on. These differences play out in the brain in terms of neurochemicals and differential activation levels of different brain areas (see this post for the basics).
What if that animal is a human and one’s ability to remember experience depends on state specific neurochemistry such that a hungry man has an easier time remembering experiences of hunger? How can one develop a sense of personal coherence such that, at a given moment, you can call up memories of any experience you’ve had? I discuss that in this post, which starts with dissociative identity disorder (aka multiple personality), in which multiple identities seem neurochemically keyed, and then take up play and literature as activities that enhance our capacity to develop a sense of autobiographical coherence.
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