ONE-SIDED DIALOGUE AND NON-PHILOSOPHY: Commensurable cronies in the academy of presence

Is dialogue possible across the gap of intellectual, spiritual, and social incommensurability? Is any desire of open exchange in philosophy doomed to frustration due to the sociological determination of the conditions of academic status and communication? Do digital media change nothing in terms of the cliques and lobbies and clubs of mutual admiration that constitute much of the academic milieu as a closed society? Or can the internet favour acts of enunciation, and thus of individuation, of a new and more democratic nature?

I find the “one-sided dialogue”, a Feyerabendian concept, where one goes through the moves of a dialogue with someone who is incapable of exchange on free and equal terms (except with respected peers, selected « cronies »), in the hope of furthering the discussion of ideas and of continuing one’s own individuation and that of one’s readers, a very interesting idea, and a useful spiritual practice.

I think philosophical blogging can let you highlight what Deleuze and Guattari called the “non-philosophical” comprehension in terms of percepts and affects that provokes, accompanies, and extends philophical comprehension. The danger is to confuse this with your own empirical non-conceptualised feelings and experiences. A blog is also adapted to conceptual experimentation, allowing your thought to be a little more open, more fluid, more transversal. It can favour encounters with other thinkers. In my case these encounters have been few and far between, but very enriching when they occur, enough to encourage me to keep on blogging despite encountering most often a wall of indifference. The other aspect that I find important is the exploring of philosophy as a “mode of subjectivation” (Deleuze) or a “spiritual exercise” (Hadot, Foucault, Onfray), or as I prefer to call it a process of individuation (Jung, Simondon, Deleuze, and Bernard Stiegler).

I find Bernard Stiegler’s work, for example ÉTATS DE CHOC (States of Shock: Stupidity and Knowledge in the 21st Century, published in January 2012), far more interesting and satisfying than Badiou’s stuff. I like the emphasis on stupidity, that any philosophy, or any book, can make you stupid, it all depends on how you use it – mimetically, to tell you what to believe or how to think, or as part of a process of individuation.

The notion of processes of individuation, that Stiegler gets from Simondon (and that Simondon gets from Jung) and extends, is more human than that of Badouian “truth procedures”. There is none of this strange hierarchy of practices and number magic (four truth practices, love as the production of a Two). Stiegler is always careful to think psychic individuation not just in relation to collective individuation but also to technical individuation. So, for example, Badiou has nothing to say about the whole process of blogging, whereas Stiegler’s concept of a pharmacology of digital practices gives us useful lines of thought instead of making such things disappear in the way of the concept. The way of individuation has everything to do with why I took up blogging and why I talk about the thinkers that I do.

Blogs are definitely a part of what Bernard Stiegler calls digital tertiary retentions. He maintains that it is essential to philosophise on and also by means of these tertiary retentions. They may be an event, in an empirical sense, for only a minority of thinkers for the moment. But in terms of their present and future restructuration of the field of human life, and of the functioning of the brain itself, they constitute an Event of the same importance and scope as the event of the Death of God. Further, they contain the same ambiguous toxicity: that of being able to function as a medicine for the cure of our souls and of our brains, or as a poison (producing an orgy of trashing and trolls and ego-trips and bogus concepts).

However, I do not think that blog posts, facebook exchanges, twitter feeds and comment threads are condemned  by their very essence to be autistic, arbitrary, wrong-headed, and narcissistic. To be sure, authors need to take their time in building up arguments and mobilising concepts, discussing and testing their theses, submitting their work to informed criticism. I think these long circuits of transindividuation, as Stiegler calls them, are important, but I do not think that the academic style is the only rigorous one, nor that academic modes of publication are the only valid and reliable ones. I too am concerned about arguments and rigorous thinking, but I think that often an academic article puts up a sham appearance of argument, but contains empty erudition and illiterate caricatures of explication and argument. Further, argument is not everything in philosophy. Mood, affect, percepts, conceptual experimentation, dialogue with seemingly incommensurable alternative views also have their place.

I do not think that all these supposedly « non-philosophical » phenomena should be regarded as mere superficial accompaniments to the hard labour of philosophy, relegated to a purely psychological dimension of enthusiastic espousal and passionate exchange in what Feyerabend once called the « supermarket of ideas ». Blogging is considered  entertainment or publicity, playing with ideas, at best a source of inspiration, what Karl Popper called a context of discovery, but in no way constitutes a valid context of justification. The supermarket of ideas , on this view, can get us motivated or publicised, but it is an epiphenomenon, the real work is in the academy and expressed in the academic style.

I think that much talk about blogging and philosophy is just new wine in old bottles. Lyotard got it right when he said that “one only writes in the absence of the reader” and that “vivacity” has nothing to do with “orality” in the large sense of any exchange where the partners strive to be “present” to each other, or worse don’t even have to strive because they have introjected the same norms and ambitions, the same aspirations and criteria, commensurable cronies in the academy of « presence ».

Academics and bloggers are both living inside the metaphysics of presence; This is what subtends the dualism of academia and the supermarket of ideas, or of context of discovery and context of justification. That’s the source of the whole rigour vs vivacity opposition. Bloggers and academics are still living on old conceptions of dialogue, more in the line of Thrasymachus than of Socrates. Thrasymachus would have had a “lively” blog today, substituting impact for rigour. So when Nicholas Carr asks “Is Google Making Us Stupid?“, he makes some good points, but I think that we were already stupid and the internet is just helping us broadcast and receive that stupidity faster and more widely.

The real question should be “Is Google making us more autistic?” and « in what sense? ». In the Thrasymachian sense of featuring in and « winning » the controversy or in the philosophical sense of “autos”, of becoming what one is, of individuating. Babette Babich points out that this autistic becoming-self, which is what the practice of writing (or thinking or research) is all about, is what the internet mostly protects us from with its “safe space of friendly faces and sympathetic voices” (orality again!). Here even  the smallest disagreement and the slightest critique is seen as aggressive, so a polemical thinker like Feyerabend would have gone crazy. Can you imagine that Lakatos even encouraged him to go all out and criticise him as severly as possible, and promised to respond in kind, and that was their idea of fun? Each was supposed to be “making mincemeat” of the other. Alas, this was not to be as Lakatos died prematurely, and Feyerabend found himself once again, but for different reasons than in his “conversations with illiterates”, condemned to a one-sided dialogue. And when Deleuze theorises this kind of “one-sided dialogue” and tells us that it stems from a solitude that is richly populated because each of us “is many”, this is his depression talking just as much as his joy, and one cannot separate them any more than he did. Deleuze was very pudic and oblique and would put up a façade of “What me depressed? No way! I’m a Nietzschean”. And would then go on to talk about solitude and becoming secret and ascesis and striking a blow against stupidity and seeing the intolerable and the shame of being a man and becoming schizo, and people would think his pluralism was a big party! I think Joshua Ramey’s talk of « spiritual ordeal » is far closer to the truth.

No wonder that Babette Babich can say that “ the experience of Facebook tends to be more rather than less autistic and, in a wired age, this autism may be its most subversive quality“, reminding us, as Deleuze did, that sometimes we have to privilege the breaks over the flows, even if only for the simple reason that the ego is not the autos or Self, but only the by-product of its activity, an activity of superordinate self-correction.

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 a dialogue is always “one-sided”, though 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.

So we come back to Lyotard’s idea that writing is autistic, a dialogue without pre-constituted interlocutors, and that this is a good thing (or “subversive”, one of Lyotard’s synonyms for “good”). If  the writing is “strong” enough, or “good” enough, it will end up fabricating its interlocutors, both in the writer himself or herself, and in his or her environment. It will be autistic rather than gregarious, individuating rather than consensual or fusional. It will not pander to cronies.

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4 commentaires pour ONE-SIDED DIALOGUE AND NON-PHILOSOPHY: Commensurable cronies in the academy of presence

  1. noir-realism dit :

    I tend to agree with you on this. It seems that academic philosophers (not all) want to separate themselves out from the very humanity too which they aspire to engage. I often wonder what the actual flesh and blood Socrates if he were alive now would think about all this. When I read R. Scott Bakker’s blog, Three Pound Brain, I realize that here is a man thinking, writing, doing.

    When I come upon so many other blogs I see very little original challenging thought going on. Hell, not being a philosopher, nor an academic I feel the freedom to do or say what’s on my mind. Why do these academics feel afraid to open up to the world? Why do they hide behind their pretentious academic walls of silence? Do they not see that the new media is the future coming at them? As much as I like some of what Brassier does, I despise his retrograde attitude toward the world of this new media, blogging, twitter, et. al. I like what Latour is trying to do with his new project of collaboration in France with his new book and collaborative site. This seems to be at least a start toward some kind of engagement.

    The old ways of doing philosophy, the framework within which it has been done was bound to books for two thousand years…. it no longer is! Why do so many philosophers who spout the need for change, find in themselves the inability to change? Why do they espouse experimentation, yet do not practice it themselves? You have to be thick-skinned in this time of change to confront all with an openness of engagement, fearlessly and vigorously. As you said, this is a practice, a training for life and wisdom, not some academic enterprise for the elite thinkers to praise each other for their great thoughts. That age of crapology is over. When I read of Spinoza and Leibniz, of Hume and other empiricists, of the philosophe’s of the Enlightenment: these me confronted each other… they worked through their thoughts in letters, salons, open disputations, lively and alive. Where is that here? I see most of these video lectures as staid academic professionalism of the master/slave… break free of your illusionary chains, one and all. Join the open world… engage even your enemies in open exchange. Until we can do this we will not change. It will be a lie, and humanity will suffer…. not change.


    • terenceblake dit :

      Yes open exchange is the way. As Jung says you cannot individuate alone, and that goes for groups and collectives as well. I do not want to see ideas such as « spiritual ordeal » or gnosis become a pretext for refined commentaries on Nicholas de Cusa or Iranian Gnostics unless they also lead to some openness and democracy in exchange as well. The erudition is necessary but it is to be shared on the agora and not confined to groups of initiates and comrades. That is the new Image of Thought that is coming, and that gnostics like Jung saw even before the internet was invented.


  2. noir-realism dit :

    Reblogged this on noir realism and commented:
    I like what Terence is saying here… it is important! Until philosophers open up and truly engage in this new media our culture is doomed. We no longer live within the older framework of books, why not accept that fact, begin to adjust and use the democratic medium of the internet to begin healing the nations, and each other? Why do academic philosophers feel afraid to use every means they have available to open up and engage those to whom they aspire to engage?


  3. It’s always good to debate. The experience can stimulate new ideas. But it can degenerate into thoughtless repetitions, too. I don’t think the ‘social’ is necessarily always a superior option when it comes to writing. Solitude can produce depths of personal consideration to the point of creating new worlds, in fact, the notion of ‘world’ becomes too limiting.

    I think that it is important to accept the fact that philosophy is a marginal discourse. It might have cultural power, in an ornamental way, but such uses are decorative oscillations that only supply a veneer of radicalism or profundity. One has to live thinking to appreciate it’s value. This can often entail a “spiritual ordeal”, given the essential sloth of the ‘social’. One can develop oneself, but an important understanding of such development is to realise that it won’t be a shared experience. That not all are interested in, or capable of, such ‘developments’.

    The new communication networks enable expressions outside of institutional boundaries: that’s a good thing. Any individual with access to a computor is now an institution. Web access is egalitarian in that basic sense. You can write what you want, and instantly ‘publish’ it! Isn’t that great!? If anyone wants to read it, they can. That’s enough for me!

    My posts seem to be buying a lot of “breakfasts” for the spammers, so never let it be said that philosophy has no practical value!


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