A ONE-SIDED DEBATE IS NOT A MONOLOGUE: Charity towardsTouchy and Edgy Intercesseurs

I think that the problem with affective reactions is not so much their static characterisation (as touchy or charitable) but their orientation. If someone is « edgy and takes offense easily » this can lead to a reaction of closure (eg. « Thus, I dismiss you, with a simple phrase » or worse, « Thus, I do banish you from the discussion ») or to an active opening (« What do you have to say about this objection? or even « I have clarified my formulations to get around your objection, we still disagree, but now I am stronger thanks to you » – yes it can happen!). So edginess and touchiness are compatible with openness too. The sad affects are « sad » not because of any intrinsic quality but because of these sorts of directionality. Strangely, depression is not necessarily a sad affect, and I would argue that depression is a constant presence in the work of Deleuze and Feyerabend, my 2 favorite examples of a philosophy of affirmation. So I think the key factor is the question « Is something happening between me and the touchy person that that inceases my power and so adds to my being? » (supposing that it is the other person that is « touchy » and not me, of course we both could be).

Edginess could be a virtue, the pluralist virtue of seeing in an instant the incommensurabilities, of avoiding the fusional states where differences are repressed or denied, where unanimity is required or imposed, to promulgate dogmatic ideas and stereotyped perceptions and behaviours. edginess would be the state of alertness that Deleuze talks about in relation to the animal, and we all have intellectual and perceptual and affective beasts inside us ready to seize on whatever occasion comes up. Touchiness could similarly be the immediate apprehension of relations of force that tend to diminish my power or to assimilate me to what I am not, reacting instantly to what menaces my singularity. Touchiness and edginess could be veritable « dispositions of thought » as Deleuze calls such things in PERICLES AND VERDI, generating acts of thought, thoughtful acts of individuation. Or they could be just ways of closing off thought and refusing dialogue,  of enforcing one’s little oedipal territory.

Charity is another such philosophical virtue, or disposition of thought. In PERICLES AND VERDI Deleuze calls it « benevolence » and defines it as « not knowing in advance how someone , possibly, will find himself capable of establishing in himself and around himself a process of rationalisation », that is to say a process of individuation. The danger is « demolition », which means actual physical death but also that death in life that I have been calling (with Bernard Stiegler and Carl Jung) stupidity or disindividuation. Charity could be some sort of oedipal taking pity or self-sacrificial giving, ie the 2 extremes of the maintaining of one’s individuality as merely an egoic identity or of its emptying and effacement in a fusional state. That would be elevating charity into a principle. Deleuze is utterly against such principles, and so in various ways has condemned the principle of charity, although not under that specific name, throughout his work. Deleuze’s commitment is, as is Feyerabend’s and Stiegler’s and mine, to individuation. So instead of a principle he prefers to talk of a disposition, that expresses itself in acts governed not by binding rules but by « facultative rules » (Deleuze), or « rules of thumb » (Feyerabend).

So a dialogue is not an occasion for fusion and mutual « charity » of the understand all and give all variety. A dialogue is an occasion for co-individuation, in Bernard Stiegler’s sense. But this co-individuation does not necessarily mean agreement or consensus – this would be the exception. It means rather what Deleuze has called « benevolence », as we have seen, not knowing in advance how someone or some group is going to carry out their process of individuation . « Not knowing in advance » means, amongst other things, not imposing my own idea, not requiring that things conform to my own model. Elsewhere, in DIALOGUES, Deleuze calls this « sympathy ». Sympathy includes the shock of the encounter, the edginess and testiness that we have been discussing. But it includes also the notion of assembling, of finding that we have something to assemble together, each on our own lines. Sympathy, Deleuze tells us, is « a collision of love or hatred » (DIALOGUES, 52). Deleuze often spoke in an affectedly exaggerated manner, so straight away he talks in terms of love and hate. But we could equally say that sympathy is the shock of interest or boredom, a collision of accord and enthusiasm or of disaccord and disapproval. It is the shock of evaluation in terms of the contribution, positive or negative, to my own becomings and individuation.

Feyerabend published his replies to critics under the title « Conversations with Illiterates ». Despite the negativity that this title conveys with its use of the negative epithet for his interlocutors, Feyerabend insists on the positivity contained in the notion of conversation: « even a one-sided debate is more instructive than an essay » (SCIENCE IN A FREE SOCIETY, 10). A dialogue, even a one-sided dialogue, is more instructive, more edifying, more propitious for one’s individuation and that of others than a mere monologue. But our discussion has shown, and Feyerabend obviously knew this, that a dialogue is always « one-sided ». But we must hasten to add that it is doubly one-sided, like the wasp and the orchid. When we manage to assemble something with our interlocutor we get an interaction between two « one-sidednesses », between two processes of individuation (and not just between two individualities insisting on their differences, or worse, giving them up in the name of consensus). Our interlocutors are what Deleuze called our « intercessors », intervening in our process of individuation as helps or hindrances. This happens sometimes even against their will, and very often unknown to them. Feyerabend is a positive intercessor for me, although we never met and never corresponded: I need his presence as a conceptual persona to think and express what is important to me.

There are also negative intercessors. To be polite, let us take Bhaskar. He is a negative intercessor for me (although not a very important one) crystallising a hypocritical and impotent version of naturalism, parasitical on, but betrayng the inspiration of, the discoveries of those that preceded him. His work symbolises for me, but no doubt I am being unfair to the real Bhaskar and I apologise for using him as such an example, what Feyerabend was getting at when he complained about the « illiteracy » of his reviewers. Bhaskar is not « illiterate » in the normal sense (unlike some of his followers) but he is what could be called hermeneutically and diachronically illiterate. He does not situate his naturalism in a broad enough historical context, with a deep enough understanding of what certain of his predecessors were about. There is no all-or-none judgement here, but a question of degrees of breadth and of depth, that other thinkers may evaluate differently. Charity involves such evaluations, and I think i have shown on my blog just how « charitable » I can be.

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7 commentaires pour A ONE-SIDED DEBATE IS NOT A MONOLOGUE: Charity towardsTouchy and Edgy Intercesseurs

  1. noir-realism dit :

    Excellent! I think I would only add what Aristotle named the « crowning virtue » to the list: magnanimity. It was that old atomist everyone loves to hate who told us that « magnanimity consists in enduring tactlessness with mildness ». Its the virtue virtue of being great of mind and heart. It encompasses, usually, a refusal to be petty, a willingness to face danger, and actions for noble purposes.

    There have been a few times in my life that these modes of being and ways of facing toward others have come into play. The use of these supporting virtues you describe is admirable and it would be so grand if philosophers of all stripes, as well as all those who share the temptation to the creative arts, would add to their base of lived thoughts these virtues that for the ancients were part and partial of the good life. As the cliche goes, even our enemies make us stronger through fortitude an resilience, but graciousness and magnanimity overcome all enemies through the affective pressure of greatness of mind.


  2. noir-realism dit :

    Sorry, by old atomist, I was referring to Democritus… not Aristotle. haha


  3. terenceblake dit :

    Yes, magnanimity is a crowning virtue. Greatness of soul is the immanent goal of individuation. But the great soul is not the « beautiful soul » refusing to see the aggressive forces and thepower-tactics in the interlocutor’s behaviour. I once replied to an objection about my style:
     » If I am hitting back at someone I usually aim a little lower than the chin, but I consider karate as a form of interpersonal yoga, so I tell myself with a beatific smile that I am not trying to hurt but only helping to open a recalcitrant chakra (please note that this joke too is conceptual, and can best be understood is you know or look on a chart at where the chakras are situated) ».
    And remember Plato burned Democritus’s books, and most of his work is lost; So mildness does not necessarily overcome all enemies, that is an empirical claim, subject to empirical research. Aristocles was given the nickname Plato because of his « broad forehead ». Maybe this is a Greek joke and it means « swelled-head ». Who knows? So chakra-opening karate is better than aggressive crushing the enemy karate (but karate is a martial art, and so aims at the transcendence of the ego and harmony with the Tao, it is not this debased aggressive caricature that we see on TV). And academic debate can be conducted in this spirit too. Tai chi renders explicit what is perhaps implicit in the others: such combat is shadow-boxing.


    • noir-realism dit :

      Yes, and what is even more sad about Platon as Apuleius asserts is that Plato being dissatisfied with poetry burned all his own poetry except his erotic epigrams. Yet, if we are to agree with old Harold Bloom then what we love in Plato’s philosophy is the poetry…

      As for Democritus… Yes, Plato was fearful of those dark earthy elements at the bottom of the well of being… 🙂 We have to wonder what transformations might have been destroyed in those works… one wonders truthfully what parts of Democritus Plato stole, appropriated, and incorporated as his own… the parts that were so much like him, that he had to torch it in desperation of the truth of his own dark nature. Makes a nice story, anyway!


      • terenceblake dit :

        The whole incident may be symbolic, Plato’s acting out of the alchemical fire he needed to transform and sublimate Democritus’s ideas. Democritus would no longer be the shadow projected as enemy, but the shadow refined and incorporated into the (alchemical) opus.


  4. skholiast dit :

    As someone who aspires to value process as much as content in intellectual engagement, I appreciate this post. I think a great deal about who my antagonists are, and why, and I am most interested in the state of rapport when two or more people who disagree intensely find great value precisely in their disagreements, to the point that the concern with « getting it right, » in some sense, is eclipsed (which is not to say it is dispensable). I am sure I am irenic to a fault and doubtless this exasperates some of my co-thinkers, but for all that I approve of decision (being a Kierkegaardian), I am loathe to burn bridges. I spend a good deal of time reading people to whose positions I am more or less antipathetic — far more than I read those with whom I « agree » — but the focus of my reading is usually not on how to « combat » it, but on how to (tai-chi style) let it carry itself past me — how I can « use » it for my own movement of thought. Maybe this is philosophy as larceny, but there it is. It helps that I’m not invested much in being systematic. My watchword is Socratic: there are disagreements and disagreements, « but what kind of disagreement causes hatred and wrath? » (Euthyphro 7b). And if it makes me a correlationist to say that philosophy is precisely about engaging in these sorts of disagreements without the wrath, oh well.


  5. Ping : A QUICK RESPONSE TO AN IMPATIENT AND UNRULY QUESTIONER: My preliminary response to Levi Bryant’s questions | AGENT SWARM

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