DELEUZE TRANSFORMED: de-possess the self-troll

It has been argued that Latin is not a dead language but that it has survived and continues to be spoken today in various forms (French, Italian, Spanish, etc.).

The same can also be said of Deleuze’s thought. His philosophy did not die with him. Not only in the sense that in reading and thinking about his ideas we reactivate them, but also in that we transform his philosophy more or less radically according to our own needs.

Alain Badiou, Slavoj Zizek, Bernard Stiegler, François Laruelle, Bruno Latour, and Isabelle Stengers speak “Deleuzian”, even when they employ styles and expound ideas that differ greatly from Deleuze’s own style and ideas.

We all know geeks who complain that the film or the tv series is not the same as the book or the comic, or vice versa. Sometimes this complaint is founded. (A pet grievance of mine is that anytime a PK Dick story is adapted at least one level of complexity is removed).

Often the rejection amounts to an intolerance, an unwillingness to accept difference, a certain possessivity. My HOBBIT should not be tampered with. This territorial reaction is one of the sources of the phenomenon of trolling.

(Amusingly, Trolls are to be found in THE HOBBIT, quarreling over the right way to cook dwarves. Possessive, stonily inflexible in their ideas, forgetful of the need to take shelter, they are turned into stone by the sunlight of the dawn).

Trolling is not just giving vent to the aggressive nastiness of resentment, but is often an attempt to assert ownership over ideas, themes, cultural objects or whatever. The troll is overly sensible to even a minuscule amount of deterritorialisation and tries to re-establish proprietary mastery of a familiar territory.

For example, Badiou gets Deleuze wrong, but in a creative and insightful way. He manages to show that Deleuze expounds a form of thought that is not just a vitalist “jungle ontology” but also an ascetic “desert ontology”. It is true that we did not necessarily need Badiou to reach this insight, but many people were blinded by the rhetoric of abundance and could not see the desert for the trees.

Thus we get the “Deleuze troll” who can see no value in anything that Badiou wrote, or the “Badiou troll” who gets very nasty at any comparison between Badiou and Latour. The interesting thing about these autonymic trolls is that they are also self-trolls, and they point up something that happens inside all of us when we cede to excessive identification, comporting both intellective credence and affective adhesion, to our ideas or the ideas of our inspiring figures.

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DELEUZIAN LOVECRAFT: undoing the face, esoterising the lexicon

I am dissatisfied with the analyses of those writers who create a demarcation in Lovecraft between the pure horror works and the dream cycle.

The same noetic estrangement underlies both, and the privileging of the horror over the dream excludes Lovecraft’s unitary vision of weirdness. This unitary perspective on horror and the dream can be explained in terms of Deleuze’s concept of the “weird”, which is

“the approach of a coherence that is no more our own, Man’s, than it is God’s or the World’s”.

For Deleuze, Lovecraft is an affirmative writer with an ontology of cosmic becoming, the opposite of a pessimistic misanthrope. Deleuze, like Lovecraft, seeks to think outside anthropological predicates. Neither philanthropy nor misanthropy but ex-anthropy.

One such “anthropological predicate” is the Face. Lovecraft as a child was tormented by uncontrollable facial tics, spasms and grimaces. He was also tormented by nightmares of “night-gaunts”, horrible creatures with no face. Lovecraft as a child used to lie awake at night, resisting sleep, to avoid these nightmares. But he did not spend his whole life doing so.

Lovecraft did not go mad like his father and his mother. He became a writer. He wrote down his dreams and recounted them in his letters and he created many of his stories from their inspiration. This is not pessimism but affirmation. Dreams are not a symptom. It is rather the lack of dreams or neglect of dreams that is a symptom of illness.

Another “anthropological predicate” is signifying language. It is undermined from within by means of Lovecraft’s writing techniques, for example by “esoteric words” that denote non-ordinary things. “Cthulhu”, the transcription of a word that cannot be pronounced by the human phonic apparatus, is one of Lovecraft’s equivalents of Lewis Carroll’s “Snark”. It is a weird intrusion into our anthropic language.



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LOVECRAFT NOETIC DREAMER (3): “Ex Oblivione” or cosmicism is not pessimism

Lovecraft fully subscribed to the worldview of modern science, to what Michel Serres calls the Grand Narrative of science. He rejected all religion and all supernaturalism, declaring himself to be an atheist and a materialist.

“The cosmos is, in all probability, an eternal mass of shifting and mutually interacting force-patterns which our present visible universe, our tiny earth, and our puny race of organic beings, form merely a momentary and negligible incident. Thus my serious conception of reality is dynamically opposite to the fantastic position I take as an aesthete. In aesthetics, nothing interests me so much as the idea of strange suspensions of natural law – weird glimpses of terrifyingly elder worlds and abnormal dimensions, and faint scratchings from unknown outside abysses on the rim of the unknown cosmos. I think this kind of thing fascinates me all the more because I don’t believe a word of it!” ( Lovecraft, letter to R. Michael July 20, 1929).

His cosmos was scientific, but Lovecraft was aware of the danger of nihilism inherent in the transition from the religious worldview to such a scientific cosmos, indifferent to the life of humanity and to its cherished values.

In fact the problem is not so much science versus religion as the denoetisation of existence, the reduction to the human animal:

“Honestly, my hatred of the human animal mounts by leaps and bounds the more I see of the miserable vermin” (Selected Letters, 1.211).

Lovecraft’s materialism is not nihilism – the negation of all values, but cosmicism – the idea that our esthetic and moral values are of only relative validity, temporary and local concretions out of the the chaotic material flux of a vast and indifferent universe.

“Indifferentism”, understood as the indifference of the inhuman cosmos to insignificant human values, is not the problem, for why should the vast cosmos care about us? This is just the way things are for Lovecraft. However, cosmic indifference elevated into a human value and belief (pessimism, nihilism) is something else. Lovecraft’s stories constantly mock beliefs and cults as based on ignorance and anthropocentrism.

“Cosmic pessimism” is strictly a contradiction in terms for Lovecraft’s later philosophy. It represents a transitional anthropomorphic stage in the evolution from personalism to cosmicism. For Lovecraft’s Lucretian materialism we are nothing but atoms and the void, but the void is not reducible to mere emptiness. The void is also a plenum, from which all forms arise.

This void as plenum can be seen in Lovecraft’s last story “The Haunter of the Dark“, where the protagonist Robert Blake gazes into the “Shining Trapezohedron” an eerie complexly asymmetrical crystal:

This stone, once exposed, exerted upon Blake an almost alarming fascination. He could scarcely tear his eyes from it, and as he looked at its glistening surfaces he almost fancied it was transparent, with half-formed worlds of wonder within. Into his mind floated pictures of alien orbs with great stone towers, and other orbs with titan mountains and no mark of life, and still remoter spaces where only a stirring in vague blacknesses told of the presence of consciousness and will…. And beyond all else he glimpsed an infinite gulf of darkness, where solid and semi-solid forms were known only by their windy stirrings, and cloudy patterns of force seemed to superimpose order on chaos and hold forth a key to all the paradoxes and arcana of the worlds we know.

This experience of the void pregnant with multiple forms comes at a price, that of one’s identity. This loss of identity is ambiguous in its valence, and can constitute a negative version of the mystical experience if it is resisted or a more positive one if it is embraced. In the case of Robert Blake the experience is one of horror. He desperately clings to his identity as it begins to dissolve into that of Nyarlathotep:

“My name is Blake—Robert Harrison Blake of 620 East Knapp Street, Milwaukee, Wisconsin. . . . I am on this planet. . . .
“Azathoth have mercy!—the lightning no longer flashes—horrible—I can see everything with a monstrous sense that is not sight—light is dark and dark is light . . . those people on the hill . . . guard . . . candles and charms . . . their priests. . . .
“Sense of distance gone—far is near and near is far. No light—no glass—see that steeple—that tower—window—can hear—Roderick Usher—am mad or going mad—the thing is stirring and fumbling in the tower—I am it and it is I—I want to get out . . . must get out and unify the forces”

However the same experience can be actively sought out and welcomed as a merging with the plenum. This is what happens in the short story “Ex Oblivione“. The narrator is an experienced dreamer taking no pleasure in the mundane literal world. Perhaps this is the crucial difference with Robert Blake, who lives on College Hill and despite being a writer of weird fiction is too personalistic and literal-minded in his approach to the unknown.

In a golden valley of the dream world the narrator encounters a high wall with a locked bronze gate and desires to pass through it to the other side, despite contradictory reports of wonder and of horror waiting beyond. Finally the dreamer finds the instructions for the potion that will unlock the gate and finds happiness rather than horror in the loss of his identity:

But as the gate swung wider and the sorcery of drug and dream pushed me through, I knew that all sights and glories were at an end; for in that new realm was neither land nor sea, but only the white void of unpeopled and illimitable space. So, happier than I had ever dared hoped to be, I dissolved again into that native infinity of crystal oblivion from which the daemon Life had called me for one brief and desolate hour.

The paradox here lies in the act of enunciation. The purported author tells us the story of the dissolution of his identity “into that native infinity of crystal oblivion ” from which he came into life and to which he returned only, apparently, to be called forth once more. The ultimate character of the void is not that of a sterile empty chaos but of a fecund plenum of oblivion and birth of forms. Lovecraft’s encounter with this void did not lead to silence and despair or mad resistance but to literary friendship and the writing of weird fiction.

Note: there is a very interesting discussion of “Ex Oblivione” on The SFFaudio Podcast Episode #393 – AUDIOBOOK/READALONG: Ex Oblivione by H.P. Lovecraft

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LOVECRAFT NOETIC DREAMER (2): “The Ancient Track” and dreamology as cosmology

In my previous post on Lovecraft I presented him as a “noetic dreamer”, an immanent Platonist and an oneiric materialist rather than a pessimist or a nihilist. On this view of Lovecraft his works do not present a nihilistic worldview to which the only lucid reaction is cosmic despair or existential horror. Nihilism is the malady of the modern world after the death of God, a malady from which Lovecraft himself also suffers, and for which his works are both diagnosis and attempted cure. Part of that cure is the valorisation of the “weird”, of visionary moments of noetic estrangement.

In “Hesperia” we saw elements of this immanent Platonism, in which a numinous oniric world of “divine desires” is glimpsed in contrast with the “dull sphere” of the mundane world, where human animals tread. These glimpses, or intermittent visions, can occur at moments of disaggregation (e.g. “winter sunset”) of ordinary perceived and remembered (“dull”) forms allowing the imaginative recomposition of empyreal forms of extraordinary meaning and beauty.

The moment of disaggregation is only alluded to in “Hesperia”, in the sole expression “the winter sunset” at the beginning of the poem. The nihilist predicament is alluded to in the reference to the human animal limited to treading this dull sphere, and in the opposition between treading and dreaming. According to the poem “Dreams bring us close”, and by implication treading keeps us far.

Access to this realm is only partial and intermittent (according to the cycles of seasons and of hours). There is a path (“the way leads clear”), but it is a noetic path, open to dreamers but closed to treaders. It leads beyond the horizon to the “starlit streams” and the “vast void”

The Ancient Track” contains these elements in a slightly more developped form. It is composed of 44 lines, compared to Hesperia‘s 14-line sonnet form. The moment is not sunset but night:

There was no hand to hold me back
That night I found the ancient track

This distich, which opens the poem, is repeated three times, at the beginning of the first and second parts, and at the end. It seems charged with meaning, but the sense remains elusive. Given the thematics of the poem, in particular the danger of being misled by false memories of a dead pseudo-past, we may gloss the “hand”, absent, unwilling or powerless to “hold back” the poet as the dead hand of the past. The infinitive, “to hold me back”, is itself ambiguous between “in order to” and “capable of”, between purpose and capacity.

We are entitled to cite the words of another materialist here, Karl Marx, who was perhaps more oneiric than is usually believed:

The tradition of all dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brains of the living. And just as they seem to be occupied with revolutionizing themselves and things, creating something that did not exist before, precisely in such epochs of revolutionary crisis they anxiously conjure up the spirits of the past to their service, borrowing from them names, battle slogans, and costumes in order to present this new scene in world history in time-honored disguise and borrowed language…In like manner, the beginner who has learned a new language always translates it back into his mother tongue, but he assimilates the spirit of the new language and expresses himself freely in it only when he moves in it without recalling the old and when he forgets his native tongue (The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte).

The poem recounts the narrator’s ascent of a hill, following a “path” or a “climbing road” that leads upwards to a “silhouetted crest”. His mind is filled with memories of familiar places and landmarks that he expects to see when he reaches the summit. He recognizes a “milestone” ten paces from the top but when he reaches the crest he sees a “mad scene”, a panorama of dead unfamiliar forms going to ruin in a “long-dead vale”:

A valley of the lost and dead…

…weeds and vines that grew

On ruined walls I never knew.

During the ascent the poet was immersed in the positive affects of expectancy, familiarity, order, certainty, confidence (“no fear”). He “knew” what he “would” see. Looking down, the poet confronts the affects of disappointment, confusion, unfamiliarity, loss, mockery, madness. Reaching the “crest” is a moment of noetic shock: trauma, disorder, confusion (“Around was fog”) and bifurcation.

The straight path towards an anticipated future that the poet had been following up till now divides into a “trail” that descends into the dead pseudo-past (“my loved past had never been”) and a “track” that leads “ahead” into “the Spray/Of star-streams in the Milky Way” (cf. the “starlit streams” in “Hesperia”).

Once again, as in “Hesperia”, we are invited to follow the noetic path, the skyline, or the line of the horizon. Descent is not an option:

Nor was I now upon the trail
Descending to that long-dead vale.

The spatial indications are interesting here. There is the ambiguity of “over” in the run on expression after the first distich:

There was no hand to hold me back
That night I found the ancient track
Over the hill

“Over” can mean beyond, which would converge with the spatial indication in “Hesperia”:

The winter sunset, flaming beyond spires
And chimneys half-detached from this dull sphere,

Or it can mean above, as it does elsewhere in this poem:

And over Zaman’s Hill the horn
Of a malignant moon was born

Yet the numinosity of the star streams is not presented as even higher than, or above, the crest but as simply “ahead”.

The cosmology present in the two poems, “Hesperia” and “The Ancient Track”, is visibly the same. In “The Ancient Track” the nihilist element is accentuated, the dead past and the malignant moon, the madness and the menacing talons. The oniric vision is accessible if we relinquish the past and the illusions of memory, but the cosmos is material, there is no quest for transcendence. The weird contains both horror and wonder, but we are not by our very existence condemned, horror is not the final word. Nor is the fog.

Lovecraft is no warm and fuzzy optimist, unlike the narrator eager to return to the fields of his memory  as he walks “straight on” (this is similar to the “human tread” of “Hesperia) during his ascent of the hill. Lovecraft acknowledges our disorientation and confusion, he recognises the emptiness of our illusions and memories, and warns us that horror borders and subtends our ordinary world. The horror is lying just around the corner, just “over the hill”, but so also is “the spray of star streams”.

Note: there is an interesting discussion of this poem on the excellent podcast Reading Short and Deep episode #005.

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DÉ-CATÉGORISER BADIOU: l’amour par d’autres noms

Le générique, ce sont des multiplicités soustraites à tout prédicat, qu’aucun trait commun ne rassemblent. Il avère l’être d’une vérité soustraite aux savoirs, qui sont constitués par une nombre fini de prédicats.

Empiriquement la généricité est une question de degré. Par exemple le “prolétariat” n’est pas un ensemble absolument générique, comme dans la définition mathématique donnée par Badiou. Il est seulement plus générique que ses rivaux, aussi générique que possible.

Dans les termes de Logiques des mondes le prolétariat est par définition ce dont le degré d’existence ou d’apparition est au minimum. Le “prolétariat” telle qu’on le connaît n’est qu’une figure de l’absoluité de l’être sans prédicats. Dès son apparition dans le texte de Marx comme nom de l’être générique de l’homme il est affublé de prédicats, et son degré d’existence monte. 

Donc aujourd’hui peut discuter de l’adéquation de ce nom pour désigner cette absoluité.

Il n’y a pas de nom absolu pour désigner une multiplicité générique. Tout nom particulier devient très vite associé à une multiplicité prédicative dont le degré d’apparition sera supérieur au minimum.

Dans ses séminaires récents Badiou argue que l’histoire empirique du nom “prolétariat” l’a rendu moins générique et plus prédicatif, et donc de plus en plus caduc pour nommer l’idée de  l’émancipation. Dans mon billet précédent sur la catégorisation de l’amour chez Badiou j’applique le même raisonnement au terme “amour”.

D’un point de vue laruelléen on pourrait dire que je “dé-suffisantise” le terme. Ceci me permet de poser des questions telles que:

Pourquoi est-ce que la procédure de vérité qui inclut l’amour s’appelle “l’amour”. Ceci ne va pas de soi, puisque la procédure qui correspond à la science s’appelle “mathème”..

Pourquoi est-ce que “l’amour” comme procédure de vérité inclut la psychanalyse mais non pas la religion?

Pourquoi est-ce que “l’amour” est une affaire du “Deux” et non pas des multiplicités et des métamorphoses?

Pourquoi est-ce que la psychanalyse est réduite au lacanisme, un système discrédité de la au service de la normalisation patriarcale?

Tout ce que je fais c’est dé-catégoriser provisoirement divers termes théoriques pour voir si ils ont été  catégorisés de façon adéquate ou si on peut les ré-catégoriser autrement.

Ce type d’analyse ne devrait pas être déroutant ni inquiétant,  mais constitue une partie ordinaire de la pratique philosophique.


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ON “LOVE” AS GENERIC NAME: Badiou de-sufficientised

There is no absolute name for a generic multiplicity, any particular name quickly becomes associated with a predicative multiplicity of which the degree of apparition is greater than the minimum.

Badiou has increasingly argued that the actual history of the name “proletariat” has made it less generic and more predicative, and so increasingly defunct as the name of the idea of emancipation. I merely apply the same reasoning to “love”.

From a Laruellean perspective one could say that I “de-sufficientise” the term. This allows me to pose questions that noone else has, such as:

Why is the truth procedure that includes love called “love”?, which should not go without saying.

Why should “love” (the truth procedure) include psychoanalysis but not religion?

Why is “love” a matter of the Two and not one of multiplicities and metamorphoses?

Why is psychoanalysis reduced to Lacanism, a discredited system of conformist patriarchal normalisation?

All I am doing is provisionally de-categorising diverse theoretical terms to see if they have been adequately categorised or if they can be re-categorised otherwise.

This type of analysis should be neither puzzling nor exasperating nor threatening but common practice.

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BADIOU SON AMOUR: dépasser les auto-limitations indues

Mon analyse du système spéculatif badiousien m’a amené à la conclusion qu’il contient une dimension empirique qui n’est pas souvent mise en lumière. Cette empiricité, qui est inscrite partout dans le système, se loge dans un grand nombre de ses présupposés, de ses thèses et de ses concepts. Cet état de fait du système est susceptible d’entrer en conflit avec un de ses critères les plus importants: la généricité.

Donc les présupposés non-thématisés de cette empiricité doivent être rendues explicites pour les soumettre à l’examen critique, en vue d’atteindre à la plus grande “généricité” possible.

A ce stade de mon propre investigation je voudrais souligner deux points:

1) le nombre des procédures de vérité est proprement une question empirique, plutôt qu’une nécessité spéculative. Badiou affirme qu’il n’y en a que quatre, mais il ne peut fournir aucune preuve apodictique de ce compte. Il préfère placer le fardeau de la preuve sur le dos des “candidats” au statut de procédure de vérité, comme si son propre compte et sa catégorisation étaient des acquis intouchables, à l’aune desquels tout “supplément” au système devait être jugé.

Cependant le système ontologique proposé par Bruno Latour reconnaît d’emblée quinze types de “modes de véridiction”. Il semble que la parcimonie ontologique de Badiou est indûment limitative et trahit peut-être un manque d’imagination ontologique.

2) la caractérisation, le contenu et même le nom de chaque procédure de vérité sont aussi dans une certaine mesure le produit d’investigations empiriques, mais qui ne sont pas thématisées en tant que telles.

Un exemple très clair nous est fourni par la procédure productrice des vérités amoureuses ou désirantes, que Badiou nomme tout simplement “amour”. On est en droit ici de poser un certain nombre de questions.

1) Est-ce que “l’amour” est le meilleur nom pour désigner un processus plus que personnel de co-individuation noétique et psycho-somatique? Derrière le nom se cache une question de catégorisation. On ferait peut-être mieux d’envisager l’amour comme une subdivision d’une procédure plus générique. Les candidats pour un nom plus générique existent déjà.

James Hillman parle de “soul-making”, Deleuze et Guattari parle d’évolution a-parallèle et de double devenir, et Bernard Stiegler analyse le processus de co-individuation comme un cas particulier de l’individuation psychique et collective.

Les sciences sont catégorisées dans une procédure nommée le “mathème”, les arts dans le “poème”. Dans les deux cas la catégorisation implique une ré-conceptualisation. Pourquoi cette nomination tautologique dans le cas de l’amour, où la procédure pertinente s’appelle “l’amour”?

“L’amour” comme nom d’une procédure de vérité qui institue l’amour comme productrice de vérités est un nom trop limitatif, et donc insuffisamment générique.

2) Est-ce que la limitation de l’amour (en tant que procédure de vérité) au “Deux” est justifiée empiriquement ou spéculativement? D’autres analyses ont été écartées sans argument. Par exemple, cette notion du Deux de l’amour est précisément ce que Deleuze essaie de dissoudre au nom des multiplicités inter-personnelles et sous-personnelles. Le “Deux” Badiousien n’exprime pas une analyse pleinement générique de l’amour.

Valider le choix conceptuel du Deux au nom du rôle fondamental joué par la “différence sexuelle” dans la formation psychique revient à accorder trop d’importance à un système discrédité de la psychanalyse, le lacanisme, qui dans ses concepts fondamentaux est un système conformiste, patriarcale, et hétéro-normatif.

Le “Deux” est une caractérisation insuffisamment générique de l’amour.

3) Comment est-ce qu’on motive l’inclusion d’un phénomène dans la rubrique de l’amour? Badiou situe la psychanalyse dans la procédure amoureuse, et je suis d’accord avec lui sur ce point. Cependant beaucoup de ses fidèles pensent que la psychanalyse est une science, ce qui la placerait dans la procédure scientifique, le “mathème”. Comment peut-on dans le système Badiousien décider de la catégorisation “correcte”, ou alors est-ce que les deux catégorisations sont justes?

La mono-catégorisation est un outil intellectuel insuffisamment générique.

4) Quel est le statut de la religion par rapport à l’amour? Badiou envisage la religion en tant que productrice d’une image de la vérité qui rivalise avec celle qui régit la philosophie. Bruno Latour situe la religion, en tant qu’instance productrice de vérités, entièrement à l’intérieur de la procédure de l’amour. En revanche il situe la psychanalyse à l’intérieur d’une autre procédure, non-répertoriée dans le système Badiousien, appelée “MET” ou la métamorphose.

Je pense que la comparaison entre la métamorphose et l’amour, et entre leurs destins respectifs dans les deux systèmes, enrichit notre compréhension de ces deux types de véridiction. Mais leur séparation en deux catégories différentes semble reposer sur une démarcation dictée par des préconçus biographiques. Grouper ensemble la religion et la psychanalyse dans une seule rubrique pourrait nous amener à changer le nom de la procédure dont elles relèvent, en faveur d’un nom plus générique que “l’amour”.

Accorder un statut ontologique à la psychanalyse lacanienne c’est lui attribuer un degré de généricité immérité.

5) Est-ce que la description badiousienne de l’amour ontologique est empiriquement juste? Badiou et Latour proposent des descriptions phénoménologiques de l’amour très différentes. On est en droit de penser que la description spécifique de l’amour proposée par Badiou est fidèle, mais qu’elle ne capte qu’une partie du phénomène amoureux. Les valeurs mises en lumière dans l’analyse latourienne de l’amour, par exemple la reprise et la proximité, ne sont pas accordées une place importante dans l’analyse badiousienne.

L’exposition ontologique ne doit pas être disjointe de la description phénoménologique, ni de la confrontation avec d’autres descriptions à visée générique comparables.

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