DIVERGENT DIALOGUE, DETACHMENT, ALTERITIVE TRANSLATION: some thoughts on the Blake/Bakker differend

I initially began blogging with an idea of individuation, as expressing all that I could not express in the ordinary conversations of daily life. There is a sort of excess, a surplus potential energy, that is not, at least in my case, actualised in my daily life. This is the case for many reasons: my job as English teacher does not correspond to my training as a philosopher, my being foreigner (I am an Australian living in France) means I do not have the same references and associations as my interlocutors, etc.

All this I resume under the Deleuzian idea of the necessity, beyond conforming to the requirements of ordinary social exchange, of speaking in one’s own name. A blog seems to promise the possibility of doing this, a space of expression open to the public gaze, where thought can be tried out in an open context that allows immediate self-publication, and thus sharing, on one’s own terms. However, very often blogging results in falling back into the shadow side of this process of individuation, and adopting an automatic self based on fixed habits and positions, a repetitious tone, stereotyped references and engagements, predictable ideas and style. We are constantly in danger of being lost in a cliché of ourselves.

Related to this fall into disindividuation is the failure to unite expressing one’s ideas with any real dialogue worthy of the name. I have been blogging for three and a half years, but the real exchanges during that time have been few and far between. While during this time I have been slowly constructing and articulating my thought, there is an autistic dimension that I have not been able to overcome in myself nor get round in most other bloggers.This hegemony of the autos is implied in the definition of the medium which operates on the narrow frontier between autonomy and autistic expression. Yet the goal is not to publish monologues or self-indulgent self-expression, but dialogue and sharing.

The idea of a means or a platform more adapted to sharing is quite attractive. Gary Williams, in a very interesting article, raises the question of the utility or the desirability of moving from blogging to micro-blogging. He sees a gain in flexibility of style and content, and a more effective means of sharing. But the risk is a loss of depth: a blog permits a “plateau” effect, a series of posts that deal with the same theme, and also a lot of cross-referencing. A long-lasting blog that turns around a particular problematic or set of problematics begins to take on the qualities of an oeuvre. This may be behind Williams’ sentiment of both authenticity and academic legitimity that the blog-form comports.

The ideal would be to create that thing which seems absolutely necessary theoretically, a community of self-individuating thinkers (given that my motivation is philosophical), but which remains self-contradictory in practice. All the thinkers of individuation, from Jung and Simondon to Deleuze and Stiegler, emphasise that you cannot individuate alone, but also that the necessity of co-individuation makes us constantly run the risk of a new form of disindividuation running the gamut from mimetic fusion and bellicose narcissism, to the affective and epistemic invalidation of alterity.

Given the worldwide nature of the Internet the danger is the generalised stuggle for survival and ideological hegemony of various individual and collective idiolects, each imposing its own language as a grid of selection and interpretation. The intrinsic trend towards incommensurability involved in the creation and propagation of self-individuating idiolects (of a person or of a group) makes the problem of translation attain an intensity that seems to touch on our very psychic existence.

How can I express myself in my singularity and at the same time share with people whose very language seems to deny what I find most precious in my own? This question is potentially deeper than the maxim of giving a charitable reading of the other idiolect, which amounts to inventing a translation of the other’s idiolect into my own that makes it agree fundamentally with my own, even if there persist superficial or “unimportant” differences of detail and approach. The truth is that I may be able to connect up with only a tiny fraction of what the other is deploying in a way that reinforces my own individuation process, experiencing the rest as a menacing totality attempting either to absorb my idiolect or to pulverize it and eliminate all the incompatible fragments.

Bernard Stiegler and Bruno Latour have each seen this problem as crucial, and have independently adopted the solution of creating a new digital platform that allows for the co-production of knowledge and speculation around, and here is the snag, their own work. This creation of a community of contributors involves the adoption of a shared language. So the problem of the diversity of idiolects is resolved for each platform, as people adopt and learn to contribute in terms of, the language specific to that platform. Yet the platforms remain incommensurable. Stiegler’s platform does not reinforce Latour’s and vice versa, nor do they construct an ongoing dialogue with each other. The problem seems to be inextricable if the most promising solution only aggravates it by raising the stakes even higher.

So either we have a multiplication of incommensurable idiolects and a war of all against all, in which one may gain dominance and impose its terms on the rest. Or we have the elaboration of a diplomatic platform with a commonly accepted language and set of procedures for resolving conflicts. I find neither solution appealing. I have contributed both to Stiegler’s and to Latour’s platform but the bulk of my production is on my blog.

A third possibility is a pragmatic meta-solution where one combines the maximum of “translational fluidity”, trying to interpret back and forth between various theoretical languages, combined with a generic compatibility condition. This is the sort of solution that, despite our conflicts, both R.Scott Bakker and I have been trying to develop. The difference is not in the will to accept a diversity of translatable languages (we both have that will), but in the compatibility condition. My compatibility condition is that the various theoretical languages must give an overriding importance to consistency with pluralism (as I understand it) whereas Bakker’s is that of a necessary coherence with the ongoing findings of modern science (as he understands it). Obviously, I include science in my views on pluralism, and Bakker includes pluralism in his views on science. The difference is one of emphasis.

This adoption of a similar type of meta-solution means that we can agree on a lot of  things that would seem extremely controversial to many other perspectives, with the necessary effort of translation (that we both include as an integral part of our theorising), and yet wildly diverge on the very substance of our theorising, with an affect ranging from amused tolerance through impatient condescension to terminator levels of aggressivity, and this on both sides.

This is normal and will constantly accompany this sort of solution once our translations jettison the principle of charity as inviting (or, in case the invitation is not accepted, producing) a consensus, but around our own ideas. The principle of charity favours courtesy and conviviality at the price of being a principle of convergence and thus of the construction of monological conformity, where we can “agree to differ” because we agree on the background defining the acceptable degrees of difference under the unifying terms of the common language.

A divergent dialogue, or dialogue of divergence, seems a much harder thing to realise, and destined to self-destruct as it mobilises the negative intensities I mentioned above. There is no pat answer to avoiding this destruction of dialogue, and I can only offer a few rules of thumb (heuristics again!) that sometimes work and sometimes don’t. The first is a principle of personal detachment: whatever theories I am proposing are done so as part of an ongoing process with a view to increasing my own individuation and that of my dialogic partners. If I identify with my “position” I become disindividuated, I disappear inside a theoretical paradigm that takes on independent existence and yet becomes all-important to me. So no identification, no freezing of the process.

A second principle is a more delicate one. One could call it the principle of alteritive translation. I am actively seeking out other ideas, alterities, and yet I am trying to translate them into compatibilty with the other languages that I am maintaining. This means that I can never absorb that alterity within my translation and that the best I can do is respond to a “clone” that is the closest I can get to your ideas by withdrawing the projection of my terms onto your language. This is the problem with all perception, but is particularly acute in the perception of meaning; As Stiegler often declares “What I am saying, it is you who are saying it”. This is why I willingly declare that my conceptual altercations have nothing to do with the person whose views I am criticising, even vehemently, but only with their ideas (principle of detachment) as perceived by me (principle of alteritive translation).

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5 Responses to DIVERGENT DIALOGUE, DETACHMENT, ALTERITIVE TRANSLATION: some thoughts on the Blake/Bakker differend

  1. rsbakker says:

    Some great stuff. Like you, I’ve never been one to let speculation and argument occlude the basic point of speculation and argument, which is to build consensus across differences in perspective – even if it amounts to the agreement to disagree. So for me, scraps like ours constitute a kind of ‘proof of life,’ a demonstration that vocabularies are only as incommensurable as the souls that wield them. The fact is, the textual to and fro here, no matter how caustic it may have become, has foiled the true crime of any discourse, which is to take the path of least resistance, and tarry in the fuzzy security of the choiry. Philosophy that doesn’t seek out it’s own boundaries, that fails to place itself between incompatible empires, is philosophy only in name – an endless dress rehearsal.

    I came here looking for a fight and you gave me one, Terence. Thank the gods, I say.

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  2. dmf says:

    given our various response-abilities/interests/biases I think we will have to improvise/negotiate such interactions/co-operations as we go and that there aren’t likely to be general/guiding principles or procedures that suit all participants/assemblages/circumstances, how much of certain aspects of particular exchanges/solutions can be reworked/retooled for others is also likely more a matter of experimental trials&errors than anything more overarching/ruled but time and effort will tell…

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  3. landzek says:

    Yes.. I write to expose, but is also write to get responses and rebuttals. I find very little of the interaction I supposed of blogging. I appreciate your expression around this whole thing. For me – I am guilty though – time is an issue. I simply do not have the time to offer input to blogs I other wise would, let alone even read them. I suppose it is a situation of our time that our ‘individual’ supersedes the impetus to ‘exchange’ – that is, except for those who make for themselves a systematic position by which to enact in this way. But wait: isn’t that putting the power of reality into the hands of a few who are able to interact in this way? Saying, in effect, that those who assert themselves to allow this kind of interaction in their lives are those who get to decide how the world is for the rest of us? Sounds pretty ideologically elitist.

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  4. terenceblake says:

    Yes, blogging has been a way for me to resist the ideological hegemony that denies the validity, nay even the very existence of alternative thoughts. In an ideal world this would result in the abandon of authority and the launching of a fruitful dialogue. Alas, this is very rarely the case. But even if I do not succeed in opening up a dialogue at least I manage to break up the monologue, by counter-posing other ideas and styles.

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  5. Pingback: BLOGOS SYNOPTICON: six years of philosophical blogging | AGENT SWARM

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