attempts at living

to make a system out of delusions

Tag: corporealism

A brief remark on a brief remark

‘No one has ever experienced metabolism, though everyone has experienced wakefulness and fatigue, and no one has ever felt their brain or the impact of omega-3 fatty acids on their body’, as Levi Bryant states in one of his most recent posts.

Couldn’t I also say that no one ever experienced vision, though everyone has experienced seeing and not seeing, that no one has ever felt a punch to the guts but that they have felt pain. This is just absolutising the separation of experience of the thing and the thing itself, as if it could ever be possible to experience the source of experience except as an experience. Sure, when I experience tiredness and wakefulness I don’t experience every single part of metabolism, but in order to experience metabolism it isn’t necessary that I experience all of it, only part of it. After all, I have been to Ypres in Belgium, so I experienced Belgium…but it would be ludicrous of me to claim that I experienced all of Belgium in all its possible modes of being experienced. But if I say “I have been to Belgium” or “I enjoyed visiting Belgium” I’m not really making a claim of that order of intensity.

To agree within a disagreement: it is entirely possible for people to experience other depths of the body, to enact a phenomenological embodiment that exceeds the everyday embodiment of most people. There is a wealth of research into the hyperreflexive and hyperautomated experiences of the body in people diagnosed with schizophrenia, experiences of organs in people with eating disorders and starvation syndrome. These people enact their own ‘alien phenomenologies’ that deviate from what gets- ludicrously- called neurotypicality and what we could call the normative body. In suggesting that people do not experience the real of their bodies at all, Levi is at risk of engaging in a kind of idealism, even in the name of materialism, that cancels any non-normal experience of the body out from consideration. Only the healthy body exists, and only this health experience of the body matters, while of course the experience of the body is not the body, is a translation of the body. Between the text and the translation the materiality is lost: what do I experience if not the materiality of my body?

There is almost a temptation to ask whether, given Levi’s understanding of phenomenology (which he seems to conflate with phenomenography) as ‘constitutively unable to think the real of the body’ that there is anything that can think the real of the body. After all, any science that we might develop, any materialist naturalism, is a materialist naturalism that at the very least has to be understood by, be intelligible to, a human consciousness. Doesn’t all scientific experimentation and truth have to appear to a consciousness. They may well be true even without that consciousness, but truth and being registered as true in the organised form of knowledge called science are not identical. For instance while the theory of evolution may also have been a truth, its appearance to a living consciousness made a difference to the nature of that truth in relation to those for whom it was disclosed as a truth. If there is no way to experience the body at all then aren’t we back in Cartesian territory?

To suggest that one doesn’t experience ones own body is to think in terms of the disembodied society that we are living in; the society that can’t take up sensibility, that takes the body to be a fleshless becoming-immateriality that can only know itself as carnal in violence and disease. To suggest that there is no experience of the body but only its effects is also to separate what a body is from what a body is capable of and to set up some eternal body behind the body in interaction and interoaction. Pain, no longer to be considered an experience of the body but an experience of its effects, is rendered as a stereo-reality; carnal on the one hand, ghostly on the other. There is a risk that this is insulting to people who suffer from their bodies, people who are always aware of parts of their body that happily recede for others. It is also to suggest that pain and pleasure are matters not of the body but of effects of the body and so of certain inscriptions of the body onto consciousness and so we remain within a kind of textualism.

Finally, at the pragmatic level, if I am working with someone who is suffering from pain what tools am I offered by the thought that pain is merely an “effect”; I knew that already, it is an effect of the body on itself. Being able to phrase this from within a machine-oriented ontology gives me nothing new to offer the patient in pain, save to assure them all they are experiencing is an effect of the body, not the body itself. Merleau-Ponty, on the other hand, continues to be a source of pragmatic value for medicine and nursing. This pragmatic concern links with the earlier question of whether this is a new Cartesianism. After all, to say that the body does not appear to consciousness is to set up a separation between these two terms so that the body can be conceived of as material, while consciousness is something that is not material. This is to shy away from the findings of the embodied cognition wing of cognitive science.

These are brief questions, my immediate response to Levi’s post. I’d go on but its a little too hard to be a very serious theory blogger while listening to a five year old shouting at 101 Dalmatians.

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Levi has another interesting post up that opens with a quote from Serres

The theory of simulacra [Lucretius, De Rerum Natura, Book IV] is a theory of communication: edges, envelopes, wraps, flying through object space, as objects or from transmitters to receptors. We know how these skins are shed, how these delicate carapaces become detached at transmission. And we know how, that is, at what speed, they cross the space of communication. At the end, at reception, the sensory apparatus enters into contact with this delicate film. Thus, sight, smell, hearing, and so forth, are just senses of touch. The theory of simulacra is a singular case of the general theory of flow, communication is one circulation among others, knowledge is no different than being.

Like all philosophers passionately concerned with objective reality, Lucretius was a genius of touch and not vision… Knowledge is not seeing, it is entering into contact, directly, with things [sic.]; and besides, they come to us. (

I wanted to add to this that touch is the primordial sense out of which all other senses develop. I’ve been bogged down but I hope to write something soon on this. Touch is the first sense insofar as at conception we are already touching another body. It is from this symbiotic touching that all other differentiations that will result in an organism capable of all the other senses takes place. Touch is also the primordial sense in so far as it is the case that bodies are not completely withdrawn objects. It is my contention that whatever exists is a body and that all bodies are open to all other bodies in partial and diverse ways; corporealism is transcorporealism and thus no body is ever not interpenetrated by other bodies. Bodies may not always have the cognitive mechanisms for experiential contact with other bodies such that we think of in phenomenological terms, but they do nonetheless make material contact with one another in such a way that we can call all bodies transcorporeal; they become structurally coupled, nested, and or form intermatrices that are, in turn, new bodies. This is to say, with Mereleau-Ponty, that bodies are interwoven in such a way that the flesh of one body is bound up eroto-ontologically with the flesh of other objects. In their instituting interactions bodies of a particular kind, bodies that we call organisms, make contact with one another through various senses but these senses, when actively grasped and affirmed, are nothing more than the sensibility of flesh to itself. It is for this reason that for me all senses are tactile: they are always about ways of making direct contact with other objects. Even smell, though I might be smelling the scent of some no absent flower, is a mode of direct ontological contact between me and the particles that carry that scent, mediated through all the neurophysicological and anatomic matrices that occur in between. Contact does not allow, however, the complete identification of this body with that: the lovers never really dissolve into one another. The at of contact (a term I am taking from the dance world, in the sense of “contact improvisation”) is always an act of negotiating distances and proximities.

In Levi’s post he also points out that a materialist must pay attention to what he calls the thermodynamics of communication. To pick up on this thermodynamic point, I would prefer to stress that bodies- no matter if they are human, mineral, or machine- always have a particular metabolism. This is a thought that first occured to me when I was working with people with eating disorders. Usually, in biology, metabolism refers to the life-sustaining exchanges. Yet can’t this be extended to non-living bodies as well? For instance, the way that capitalist accumulation functions is to metabolise labour power through living bodies in order to generate value. Metabolism is the system of exchanges that any body uses to maintain, expand and reproduce itself. Metabolism involves the bringing into a complex system elements outside of it, whilst generating waste. In capitalism, from its perspective, waste is generated as unnecessary abundance (through the maintenance of artificial material scarcity) and in the production of superfluous bodies and subjectivities: the homeless, the unemployed, the illegal person and so on.

Just quick thoughts for the night before I turn in. Night all.

Time (without monads)

Levi has a great post up, coming of the back of a series, on the nature of object/machines as experentialities, or monads. The point of this quick post isn’t to delve into the details of his MOO/OOO argument but to focus on the issue of the production and struggle over/in temporalities.

One of the interesting things for me remains the way in which some of these arguments are oddball to philosophy but perfectly commonsensical in other disciplines. The ideas of temporal capture and calorific depletion, for instance, are issues that psychiatry deals with on a daily basis. This isn’t to suggest any banality to Levi’s points, it is more about pointing out just how far philosophy has crawled into the epistemic sovereignty of idealism that it must constantly be pointed out that bodies exist and that different bodies experience different worlds.

In psychiatry, this is also an essential point given that its main order of business is a set of pragmatic approaches to alien phenomenologies that exist among human beings; the entire range of psychotic experience being nothing less than the production of a new world from fairly minor material structuring (and this, quite obviously, also produces entirely “deranged” psychotic spatio-temporalities). In the extreme, and at the most basic, perrturbations in neural arrangement and functioning can lead to a loss of sensation of agency and identity with the body in some humans, and this leads onto the recomposition of the cognitive and perceptual domains via interoception and empathic responsiveness, and also in the motor-agential coupling to environments that no longer present the same affordances.

Levi, I wonder then if your OOO doesn’t begin to couple itself to Franco Berardi’s heavily Virilio inspired account of organic time and cyber time. We are the organism that rends itself between a finite, boldily time (or objectile/machinic temporality if you prefer) and an infinite, accelerative cyberinfomation temporality. This infinitely fast digital temporality outpaces our own neuronal and, therefore, cognitive ability to generate temporalities, and so to process events in time. The one temporality outraces the other, and it is within both of these temporalities that we are captured. For Bifo this can lead to exhaustion (or fatigue) of a nature that isn’t the result of physical material labouring but simply of living in a mediatised social ecology.

For me, the essential part of this post is the consideration that

‘If I am doing one thing, I can’t do another thing. If I am attending to this or that bit of information, I am not attending to other bits of information. If my working day is so saturated by labor that all my calories are eaten up, I’m left without energy for revolt’.

As Levi suggests, these materio-pheneomenological effects of chrono-political acceleration and the attentional economy mean that power operates at the physiological and neurological level (in a sense, RS Bakker’s neuropath would just be a direct intensification of processes that are ongoing), Such is to take Foucault notion of an ‘anatomy of power’ and to literalise it; power is anatomical, physiological, and neurological.It is also to finally be done with the need to ideological theories based on false consciousness. This isn’t to say that educative work is no longer a political consideration but to assert that theories that take the consciousness of the latent proletariat (as a class for itself) to be ideologically mystified are themselves mystifications of a much simpler, and therefore much more pervasive, problem. We live in time. If a worker lacks a good understanding of capitalism, if she votes for a right wing populist party (such as has just happened in the UK with UKIP making considerable gains in recent council elections) then this is not because she is stupid and not because the plutocratic class has manipulated her mind by inserting an ideological (ie: epistemic) veil between the real world and some delusional one I

If a worker spends 8 hours of her day at work, operating in two temporalities via her body and her immersion in a disembodying digital temporality, and must suffer the chronic overstimulation of her evolved attentional capacities, thereby generating a near permanent level of chronic anxiety, while not eating properly (lack of time; disordered eating- which is not necessarily identifical with an eating disorder but pervades our society; not enough/ not good enough sleep; tending to children, an aging parent or other dependents) then it is no wonder that she doesn’t have a good understanding of the political and economic condition of her age. There is no time for it! Chronic overstimulation and undernutrition mean her brain is burned out, exhausted, and she must get to bed rather than crack open a copy of Capital or Hatred of Democracy,

No wonder then that a populist party can come along, mouth some half formed crap that captures her resentments, her exhaustions, speaking sympathetically with “hard working people”, and aping her frustration with an oligarchic class (to which they of course belong) that seems to only ever ask that more be taken from her, that what little defences she has in place be taken from her. The easy answers of the right and of right wing populism don’t come as ideological mystification: they come as readily processable, emotional (and therefore not deliberative, which depends of calorie expenditure, time, space, patience) messages that simply point to group x, y, or z to be scapegoated and easy promises rendered. The political classes declare that party x has no credible policies, that its victories are merely a lodging of protest on the part of the electorate, and thereby entirely miss the point.

The point of this is simply to say that politics, whatever your politics are, must start from the body and not from some realm that follows after the body. If there are delusional structures of belief operating in the world (ideologies, if you like) then it is important to realise that ideologies begin with the flesh; to think anything else is to think in a disembodied way that is itself typical of the destructive delusions of our age. It is to reassert, with Marx, that time is the dimension of existence and of struggles and to recall that time is the temporalities of bodies that are always also spatialities. If there is a question of delusion then it is a question, as psychiatry repeatedly tells, of material delusions, the materiality of delusions. It is also to recognise, as any mental health workers ought to know, that challenging delusions (“speaking truth to power”) does nothing to shake the phenomena of delusional conviction. Delusions are, by definition, not amenable to rational challenging; to tell the deluded that their belief is mistaken, a cognitive mystification, a poor translation of the corporeal realm, is akin to telling a contemporary Westerner that gravity is all wrong, that light is made of turnips, or that they aren’t really people but highly camouflaged woodlice. If you did these thing you’d be met with a bemused and possibly offended audience.

Recent movements like Occupy have attempted to occupy space and to arrest the capture of bodies into a specific regime of spatio-temporalisation; that of production, of capitalist accumulation and the self-valorisation of capital. Occupy was the production of a political zone of deceleration, an oppositional temporality that carved out a kind of temporary autonomous rhythm inside the accelerative rhythm of a manic late capitalism. Calls have been made in the UK and across Europe for a general strike, the ultimate weaponsation of economic temporalities that lay in the hands of the working bodies/the body of workers. One of the watchwords of contemporary capitalism for all workers is time management. As ever, the anarchic question must be posed, again and again: who has the right to manage?

(Im)Material

At the moment there is a series of events taking place in London on the subject of immaterial labour that I would be at if I still lived in London; or could afford to get to there. They have a series of texts to read for those of us who can’t be there. At any rate, I just wanted to point that the concept of immaterial labour, derided and championed in equal measure, ought really to be called the production of the immaterial. What exactly is immaterial about sitting in an office? Isn’t that an architectural, material, organisational theory, arrangement of various materials, various bodies, in space and time so as to concentrate labour power, put labourers at ease (depending on your office), have a particular arrangement of this body to that one. Isn’t the office cognitarian hooked up to his computer in sensorimotor action-perception coupling? Isn’t that computer material, the product of a material production processes, and isn’t the luminosity of the data being toyed with materially supported by the electronics that recede from us, behind the GUI and the sleek coloured packaging of the desktop or the tablet or what have you. My point in this very brief post isn’t to suggest, yet again, that immaterial labour is a pointless concept (as a mental health nurse, a job that is very material but also primarily affective, I identify as an immaterial labourer as much as a material one), or to suggest that because immaterial labour involves materiality we should throw it away. I am not so stupid as to think that immaterial labour is absolutely immaterial, and nor are the people who theorise around both the immateriality of labour processes and economy. I just want, for my own sanity, to reiterate the materiality of immaterial labour and, in the reverse, the immateriality of material labour processes. In the first instance we can speak of brains, bodies, buildings, photocopiers, computers, and so on. In the second instance, we can speak of the implicit and explicit forms of knowledge that partake in the arrangement of forms or epoches of labour. As Mario Lazzarato puts it:

If production today is directly the production of a social relation, then the ‘raw material’ of immaterial labour is subjectivity and the ‘ideological’ environment in which subjectivity lives and reproduces. The production of subjectivity ceases to be only an instrument of social control (for the production of mercantile relationships) and becomes directly productive, because the goal of our post industrial society is to construct the consumer/communicator – and to construct it as ‘active’. Immaterial workers (those who work in advertising, fashion, marketing, television, cybernetics, and so forth) satisfy a demand by the consumer and at the same time establish that demand

From within such a perspective, we must remember that subjectivity is impossible without bodies, and that the construction of subjectivities like “the consumer” can’t take place without the manipulation of the material attentional economy. Most of Lazzarato’s examples of the post-industrial industries of subjectivity are precisely those forms that I have discussed as performing physiological interventions in the attempt to (hyper)activate and control the central nervous system in order to marshal it into, and out of its own, attentional economy. These are profoundly biomaterial processes and have as much to do with material logistics and the organisation of urban space, as they do with data, the Cloud, augmented reality, and finance.

There is a reason that the enemy in the film The Matrix is a robot. It is not just a repetition of a technophobic psychic luddism, yet another re-imagining of the robot-servant becoming the master (Terminator), but points directly to the needs for a total immaterialism to be supported by a totally inorganic materiality. In order for us to live in our “augmented real” we have to let the “machines” disappear, to recede, to become opaque to our gaze. The point is, in the end, that the humans in the Matrix need the robots to sustain their illusion of everyday life. This is not just to agree with Zizek on the nature ideology; it is to state, quite baldly, that the production of subjectivities for the valorisation of capital, immaterial production, is also the production of an increasingly an experientially dis-embodied society. The machines and men form one flesh which is disavowed. It is in this sense that we can speak about a schizo-economy, a stereo-reality, and of a need for schizo-analysis. This might also provide an insight into Franco “Bifo” Berardi’s quixotic formulation that the ‘general intellect is in search of a body’.

Attention Bombardment: Is there a Lenin for the anxious age?

Terence Blake is currently translating the latest seminar with Bernard Stiegler. In scanning through it I am reminded of the reasons I became a psychiatric nurse (proletarianisation of the mentally ill; pathologisation of the proletariat) and of why I left London (living in a city of panic that was a bunker city was doing my panic disorder no good). Here is a series of quotes on attention and what Berardi calls the possibility of the psychobomb that explodes the (bio)psychosphere of subjectivation:

Do not forget that your brain functions in time, and needs time in order to give attention and understanding. But attention cannot be infinitely accelerated. Marx described a crisis of overproduction in industrial capitalism—when production surpasses demand, an excess workforce is fired, who in turn have less money to buy products, resulting in an overall effect of economic decline. In the sphere of semiocapital, however, overproduction is linked to the relation between the amount of semiotic goods being produced in relation to the amount of attentive time being disposed of. You can accelerate attention by taking amphetamines, for instance, or using other techniques or drugs that give you the possibility of being more attentive, more productive in the field of attention. But you know how it ends.- Franco “Bifo” Berardi.2011. Time, acceleration, and violence. Here.

These infinite demands for the finite neurocognitive resource of attention- which is a form of bodily comportment to the world- provide a ceaseless stream of attentional-demand on the brain that it can’t meet. Navigating the contemporary urban environment, and not necessarily even that of the megapolis, and even sitting in a cafe today presents one with hundred of flashing signs, adverts, audio-transmissions, moving images, and so on and so on, a cacophony of signs and a chaos of noise, accelerating, multiplying, a plethora upon a plethora overlaid and overlapping that are superimposed on the physical environment with its own denizens such that the nervous system had evolved to cope with. The pathogenetic potential of this rests on these moving images, bodies and roaring sounds that activate our hominid survival networks, drawn as they are to sudden movement, to rushes of sound and in full autonomic efficiency our bodies- which are ourselves- carry out how many assessments of threat a day, a week, a month, a lifetime? And the genius of pharmaco-capitalist production is that it produces its own consumers through the techniques of marketing.

The rise of neuromarketing is the latest modality of this particular version of techne and mobilises other features of the medical technologies typically put to work for neurological and psychiatric conditions. The Pepsi Challenge has been undertaken with test participants undergoing fMRI scans. Before continuing, we should remember that there are a number of problems with the neuroimaging processes and the fact that they say nothing outside of the hermeneutics humans perform on them (cf. Richard Bental. 2011. Why psychiatric treatments fail; neuroskeptic. Nonetheless, they provide valuable data; the point is more to recall that the neuroimage is not a the revalation of truth, but is itself a tool in an ever expanding arsenal of neurotechniques. The findings reported in the journal Neuron showed that the semiological relationship to the brand was the main indicator of verbally expressed preference and that knowledge of which drink was being drunk by altered the state of the participants brains. In particular, there were changes to hippocampal regions associated with affectivity and memory. In this study it appears to be the semiological relation to brand that determines preference of drink and therefore the activation of certain consumer behaviours (ie: buying Coke instead of Pepsi) because their is a semio-affectivity that implies an emotional relationship with a set of affective signifiers and images surrounding “Coke”. The authors of the study state that

Coke and Pepsi are special in that, while they have (Figure 3A) similar chemical composition, people maintain strong behavioral preferences for one over the other.

Recently, Levi Bryant has attempted to construct a model of criticism called Borromean Critical Theory that corresponds roughly with psychiatric theory’s repeated calls for a biopsychosocial model of psychpathology. In this Borromean Critial Theory there are three implicated and interoperative layers of reality to be targeted for any problem, with each being according its own unique weighting and expression in a map of a given situation. These layers are the phenomenal, the material, and the semiotic. This tripartite can also be expressed in terms of the epistemic and the corporeal. What is important to note is that in this study we find all three levels in operation: the activation of the gustatory system by the introduction of the cola drink to the mouth (material) and the simultaneous sensory experience- the qualia- of taste (phenomenal), and the relationship to those particular cognitive schematic associations with the consumer brands “Coke” and “Pepsi”. Despite the near total chemical symmetry of the two drinks and the continuousness of all human gustatory systems with one another- although continuity does imply variation, so we must be careful- the overdetermining factor in the relationship to the drink, and therefore to the subjectivations responsible for producing the consumer subject, activating the repertoire of semio-sensorimotor comportment that organises consumer behaviour, and finally couples the consumer to the economy in this particular way, through this particular commodity mediation. To put this otherwise, here is a situation in which the material and phenomenological are trumped by the semiotic; the epistemic obliterates the corporeal. This is why Franco Berardi is able to call contemporary capitalism semiocapitalism. Critics of neuromarketing express concerns over the destruction of informed consent that the abandonment of rational content to advertising and a focus on stimulating affective brain states implies; yet this is already to miss the point that capital always functions on and through the recomposition and reinvestment of attention and desire. This again is summarised by Franco Berardi when he states that ‘the attention economy has become an important subject during the first years of the new century’ [Precarious Rhapsody, p.82]. This reference to an attention economy is at one and the same time a reference to the way that advertising has always attempted to marshal finite organic hominid attentional resources for economic purposes, and to the economy of that finite resource.

Indeed, marketing operates/operated on a model called AIDA: Attention, Interest, Desire, Action [Here]. This was supposed to explain the design for advertising, what it was supposed to target and activate, and in what order, in order to stimulate the consumer to buy this particular product rather than any competitor product. Commodification always begins with the commodification of the nervous system: harnessing the attention activation networks of perception that were evolved as coping mechanisms that aided survival in a threatening world. Without attention there can be no perception; without the pivot of the waist, the turn of the head, the fixing of the gaze there could never be that particular organism-environment coupling that produces the perceptual experience of a world. The marketing industry is thus not simply the manipulator of desires, the educator of how one ought to desire as a subject of capital, it is also itself a particular version of the coupling relation; it is a semiotic coupling with the body mediated through material media (the poster, the billboard, the TV screen, the high street, the shopping mall, the radio, the various internet enabled screens, the ambient advertising of professionals and even those others we find ourselves sharing a space with- through their conversation or the branding on their clothes, phones, whatever). The advertising industry is primarily involved in physiological interventions .

The kind of physiological intervention that is carried out through the activation of attention primarily involves the production of a heightened physiological state; a state of arousal. The eye, the reptilian brain, the autonomic nervous system and the endocrine response produce all those bodily experiences we are all familiar with: the increased heart-rate, blood pressure, light headedness, and a general increase in sensory responsiveness to any and all stimuli- especially motion- and a readiness for action. Arousal of this kind of obviously important for a full range of creaturely behaviours such as seeking food, hunting for that food, and the obvious sense of “arousal” as sexual arousal. Arousal is the condition of metabolic self-differing, the movement of the organism from one state to another state. There is the experience of the rushing of the blood, the emptiness of the visceral, the aggressivity that doesn’t know if it is rage or lust, destructive or erotic. Of course there is also the matter of memory (and I’m sure Steigler will writes about this); that which presents itself to me as particularly emotionally salient will be remembered while that which is not emotionally salient to me will not be so keenly recalled, if it is recalled at all; we all remember having our heart broken, but who remembers what they had for breakfast today 10 years ago? This phenomena is known as selective attention and involves a selectivity of neural encoding that impacts on long-term memory retention. It is why Coca Cola adverts appeal to a sense of family, to a warm feeling, to a feeling of safety, or to a sense that it is youthful, vibrant, culturally hip and so on; in short, it is why neuroadvertising works so well. It is why semiocapitalist consumers don’t have to be convinced of the virtues of consumption but will happily consume the consumption of others in TV shows like Cribs, and it is why the English riots of 2011 had as a component the revenge of the desire of the excluded consumer (cf. Baumann’s analysis of the situation).

What I have described above is called the flight-or-fight response. It is the priming of the body for escape and/or violence and it is what has managed to life just that little step ahead death, at the level of the species and at the level of each organism. The idea that it is perfectly adaptive (even if adaptionism didn’t have its own problems) is misleading because it is also a generic mediation system for a number of psychopathologies; the bodily system of safety is also a bodily system of distress. When we talk about a constant state of physiological arousal the pathologies that immediately spring to mind are the anxiety disorders, especially generalised anxiety disorder. GAD is characterised by a low but persistent state of anxiety, while panic disorder is characterised by extreme, repetitive, transient states of anxiety. These two disorders are common among the psychiatric population, especially those treated in the community who never actually see a psychiatric worker but are prescribed betablockers,benzodiazapines, or so-called “selective” serotonin reuptake inhibitors or breathing exercises by GPs or family doctors. Although we typically think of it as a condition suffered by soldier or rape survivors, post-traumatic stress disorder is an anxiety disorder that is mediated by a traumatic event. I don’t wish to go into the complex debates around what constitutes “trauma” and what constitutes an “event” but for now I want to focus on the empirical record. This record shows that children who undergo bullying or women who live through consistent levels of domestic abuse can develop PTSD. This is important here because I think that it reveals to us that the post-traumatic is less a psychiatric or psychological condition than it is the name for a certain stabilisation of violent and violently pathogenic processes of subjectivation. In this sense we can have a tense agreement with Zizek when he states that there exists

a totally “mediatized” subject, fully immersed into virtual reality: while he “spontaneously” thinks that he is in direct contact with reality, his relation to reality is sustained by a complex digital machinery. Recall Neo,
the hero of The Matrix, who all of a sudden discovers that what he perceives as everyday reality is constructed and manipulated by a mega-computer – is his position not precisely that of the victim of the Cartesian malin génie?[Here]

and completely disagree with him that this mediatised subject is in any sense separable from the

post-traumatic subject – a “living proof” that subject cannot be identified (does not fully overlap) with “stories it is telling itself about itself,” with the narrative symbolic texture of its life…

It is not so much that the mediatised subject’s relation to reality is sustained by digital machinery- as if it wasn’t already relating to reality in relating to itself, but this isn’t the place for a critique of Zizek’s Cartesian exceptionalism (which is beyond me anyway)- it is that this digital machinery, along with the other technologies and techiques that seeks a direct affectation and activation of the organic economy of attention, exceeds what the brain is capable of. This is not the post-traumatism that Zizek and Malabou consider in the figure of the Alzheimer’s patient and the person with autism (one wonders if either of these people have ever actually encountered people with either condition in a clinical setting), but a post-traumatism that is born precisely out of the material-phenomenal demand that one be plugged-in to the Matrix at all times and in all places. The problem with the film The Matrix, that Zizek thinks illustrates our relation to the Cartesian cogito so well, is that it is based on a fundamental misreading of Baudrillard’s theory of simulation that treats it as if it were still of the order of a mere simulacrum. In other words, in a properly Baudrillardian world it would be impossible to disconnect from the Matrix! Luckily for us, we do not live in the world that Baudrillard’s theory-fictions describe but that such worlds are imaginable speaks of our proximity to them; whatever shows up as fictionally possible within a given epistemic order must be considered as part of our semiological horizon. Alzheimer’s does display the confabulations that rest beneath our stories about ourselves perfectly and it also shows that trauma can be considered a slow and agonisingly patient exposure to the pathogenic violence. To go beyond Malabou, who seems to contain the trauma of Alzheimer’s to the brain and thereby reveals an utter ignorance of the work of Tom Kitwood and others, the trauma of Alzheimer’s only makes sense when we consider it as a traumatised enaction of an increasingly cognitively (and later, sensorimotor) impoverished world. If the mediatised subject is like the PTSD child or abused woman, if it is like the Alzheimer’s patient then this is because it is subjected to pathogenic processes of subjectivation that operate epistemically and materially.

This post-traumatism can also result in “desubjectification”, a term that refers to the deprivation of interiority experienced as the emptying of value from one’s existence. This is also the condition that Kristeva refers to as an amputated subjectivity, and that manifests itself so frequently in depression. One shouldn’t understand “desubjectication” as the undoing of subjectivation but the production of impotent subjects that don’t experience themselves as such. It is what motivates Jodi Dean to ask the question

How is it that the subject remains reduced to the individual, as if there were an individual who is subjected rather than a collective, exercising the power of its own self-determination, that becomes fragmented and desubjectified, pacified as it is divided up into ever smaller portions?- Here.

Depression and anxiety often go together; there is a wealth of psych-disciplines literature that even suggest that prising them apart is a misrepresentation of reality. Berardi has suggested that today the word “alienation” is defunct, that instead we should consider the term “psychopathology”.

In 1983 Gray (here) proposed a neurobehavioural account of chronic anxiety. In his research chronic anxiety was linked to the overactivation of septohippocampal and Pepez circuits. Gray called this behavioural inhibition system (BIS). BIS interrupts ongoing behaviour to redirect attention to potential threats that show up in the sensorium. At the cognitive level the current sensory input (the landscape of threat) is compared against future predictions based on that stimuli. Where a mismatch occurs the BIS is activated. In the mismatch criteria is assumed to be too low and therefore constant mismatches are generated resulting in chronic BIS activity. This BIS is mediated by norepinephrine and serotonin and is coupled to sympathetic nervous system via the amygdale and hippothalamus. Thus, high levels of arousal are maintained outwith the suffers ability to easily consciously ameliorate them. While this doesn’t explain panic symptoms or post-traumatic disorder as such, it does provide a general way to think about the problem of the economy of attention. (Cf: review of literature connecting BIS to anxiety).

One can recall a time around the dot-com crash of 2000 when a number of books dealing with the topic of the attention economy appeared in bookstores. Economists suddenly became aware of the simple fact that in a semiocapitalist world, the main commodity becomes attention. The 1990s saw an era of increasing productivity, increasing enthusiasm for production, increasing happiness of intellectual workers, who became entrepreneurs and so forth in the dot-com mania. But the 1990s was also the Prozac decade. You cannot explain what Alan Greenspan called the “irrational exuberance” in the markets without recalling the simple fact that millions of cognitive workers were consuming tons of cocaine, amphetamines, and Prozac throughout the 1990s. Greenspan was not speaking of the economy, but the cocaine effect in the brains of millions of cognitive workers all over the world. And the dot-com crash was the sudden disappearance of this amphetamine from the brains of those workers.- Franco “Bifo” Berardi.2011. Time, acceleration, and violence. Here.

Whether or not this is quote provides a true story it does provide an approach to thinking the attention economy that highlights the corporeal aspect of capitalism in a time when the epistemic semio-aspect seeks to assert hegemony. Resistance to capitalism has to begin from bodies and their passions. Politics politics is not exclusively about contested meanings, and processes of subjectivation that occur in the epistemic sphere alone, resistance is not a discursive enterprise alone. I even have some misgivings about the verbal being raised above all other forms of expression (Habermas vs. Ranciere- there is agreement at least on speech, on the speaking subject). Politics is also, surely, about the arrangement of bodies in space, about what bodies can appear where and when, under or against whose watch and guard, in what combinations; there is a sense in which politics is thus about the question of the relation, about forming or deforming them, and why organisation is so central, so crucial to its operation. Part of this question of organisation is also the organisation of the materiality of the affectivity of bodies in their capacity to be affected. A simple withdrawal from the world of hyperstimulation or the advocacy of a “revolutionary public health” campaign to “consciousness raise” out of the depths of depression through pharmacology or mindfulness techniques alone can’t be all that we advocate- that would make us identical to the existing psychiatric system that is enmeshed in neoliberal governmentality and capital markets. To be even more cutting, it would be to identify with the problem itself.

We live in a ‘dark age of appetites‘ and passions. This “dark age of appetites” is a fantastic way of talking about the contemporary scene. While I am looking at the production of a new left political party, and thereby getting involved (for the first time) in “political politics”, I do so tactically, provisionally and entirely from within a perspective that recognises this dark age, this age in which democracy and the passions can’t communicate except in the sense of the distribution of bodies in (il)legitmate spaces. The passions can be made to speak, indeed the pathological conditions are often seen in those signs and symptoms that are themselves characterised by the sign-use (ie: alogia; pressured speech; disorganised speech of all varities- word-salad, loose associations and non-sense). What is interesting about the democracy of Ranciere and those who follow him (Todd May for instance) is its lack of form and its explosive core of refusal- the identification of a wrong, the contesting of meanings and of material-aesthetic partitions. Of course the riot of 2011 that haunt me- “us”?- were evidence and enaction of the “dark age of passions”…this is a much better formulation than the “sad passions”… yet the problem of Ranciere is his verbosity, his over appreciation- in line with much of the continental tradition, and indeed of the profession of philosophy itself, carried out as it is by paid and sometimes tenured wordsmiths. I am more interested in the demands that bodies in space can make prior to the political demands that they might formulate. In this respect the dark age of passions is an age of inarticulate demands, demands at the level of the body and therefore they are visceral demands, a visceral politics that refuses the level of representation and constitution. If this is the anarchic moment that must be celebrated, an immanent anarchism that can’t be done away with or forgotten, the question nonetheless remains that of organisation. Even dark passions must be organised, must be given form…in the stoic language; must be cultivated! Such a cultivation would be the job of a movement, an affinity group and- why not!- a party!

The minute the party turns on this anarchism, the moment that it establishes an arche or seeks to enshrine the theoretically advanced membership as anything more than an intellectual vanguard, that is when it must be obliterated. The calls within Occupy for democracy shouldn’t follow the mode of consensus-decision making that so large a movement can’t keep to if it wants to continue (and all the Bonana-insurrectionist talk of rejecting the “myth of mass” is itself caught up in a fetishisation of mass, scale and size rather than recognising its practical necessity for “revolution”- the emancipatory recomposition of society that goes beyond class society).

Maybe the point is not to follow Badiou’s pseudo-anarchism, but to ask how someone like Ranciere would go about constructing a party. If we are seeking to “repeat” the party, rather than simply “return” to it, there are questions to be asked. Indeed, should not “party” simply name the name of what results from the principle of the united front, such a front as the Italian left failed to achieve and so gave Mussolini all the space he needed to take the state for fascism.

Whatever else politics is doing, today it must also seek to defend not just those gains made by the working class that are now under threat from socioeconomic austerity, but is must also defend the body and it’s affectivity from its hyperactivite overactivation and/or nervous exhausted collapse that capitalism generates by bombarding the mediatised subject and demanding the double-bind “Pay attention! Don’t burn out!” Political organisation must not just be the organisation of principles, of activists, of demand, but also of the affects; it must be the organisation of rage.

The continual question of the negative passions. The undeniable potency of them, the undeniable force that erupts with anger and rage. I don’t question their value from a Neitzschean perspective but from an ancient one, from the perspective of Seneca. The oft remarked story of Plato who froze in his place for hours after raising his hand to strike a slave: “I am punishing an angry man”, he is said to have remarked to a passing student or friend (did Plato have friends? can a man with such a thought as his be so vulnerable as to be exposed in the production of a friendship?) Seneca says that anger does not attempt to influence the mind, as all the other passions do, but that it seeks to DESTROY it. Maybe such a destruction of the everyday consciousness- full as it is of its own impotence, its own solipisistic perspectival imprisonment (how we yearn to see through the eyes of the other), its own heavy sadnesses- is a goal worth attaining. But then what? Seneca reminds us that an enraged soldier can’t fight to win but only to inflict harm, he flails instead of striking at the weak spots, and he doesn’t notice when he is injured, outmanned, and about to be crushed. The same question returns to me again and again, and I still don’t really know what it means: how do we organise rage? This seems imperative! Crucial! If the negative passions are a weapon then how do we use them collectively and with skill and precision? Is there a way that we can claim the attention economy for ourselves? Such would be to produce a political therapeutics that would not be reducible to mere therapy. This therapeutics would itself be part of a politics, it would be part of our communist praxis, but it would not follow Franco Berardi’s own notion that we relax, slow down, get senile.

Notes on a visceral ethics: Merleau-Ponty’s corporeal compassion.

This post isn’t really a post. It’s more a set of notes. I’m only posting them in case anyone finds them useful or can point me directions that might flesh out the nascent thoughts expressed.

Yesterday I attended a fascinating and exciting research seminar at Dundee University. The talk was given by Dermot Moran, a renowned expert on phenomenology, and was on the topic of Merleau-Ponty’s philosophy of flesh and the idea of the chiasm. Specifically, Moran compellingly argued that the perceived “epistemic break”, if you will, between an early and a late Merleau-Ponty is not justifiable. In fact, close reading of the text shows that there is a profound continuity between the author of the Phenomenology of Perception and the author of The Visible and the Invisible. I admit, this is an idea I am very receptive to from the outset as my first exposure to Merleau-Ponty was with the essay ‘Eye and Mind’. At any rate, there are three outcomes from Moran’s talk and a brief conversation with him that followed it that are important to me:

1) Merleau-Ponty is enacting an unarticulated return to Hellenistic philosophy, and espeically the Stoics. This is important for my own “transcorporealism” because I ground an embodied realism in Stoic materialism. Moran was more than receptive to my suggestion that Merleau-Ponty is enacting such a return and even offered some pointers as to how he might search for evidence. For me, the evidence is already in the texts of the respective parties… notably in the commitment to existence being bodily, and to be a weaving. The essential up shot here is a continued sense of encouragement.

2) A sense that Merleau-Ponty is also giving us a ground for a thought of genericity. The pre-personal is a kind of generic, transindividuality that can ground collective efforts. [James Williams seemed to be suggesting MP isn’t revolutionary enough, but is this a serious problem in a historical situation where we don’t know what revolution would consist of?]

3) Against my suspicions, Levinas is probably not a very good line to think the ethics of ontological vulnerability. This comes to me from a quote Moran used on a slide that he left up throughout the Q&A session. I spent much of this session looking at that slide, gazing up at Merleau-Ponty’s suggestion that there is a

Fundamental polymorphism by reason of which I do not have to constitute the other in face of the Ego: he is already there and the Ego is conquered from him…There is the vertical or carnal universe..the I-other problem is a Western problem. (Merleau-Ponty, 1964. The Visible and the Invisible– Working notes. p. 221).

The full quote is dense (what does it mean to call the carnal vertical? that it stands up-right? that the carnal doesn’t constitute a “horizon” [Heidegger] but is the condition of “the horizontal”?). At any rate, these words seem chosen specifically as if to rebut Levinas. Against Levinasian ethical experience as infinite, as a hostage-taking, as a traumatic rending of the subject form itself, Merleau-Ponty’s “visceral ethics”, and here I’m purposely playing on the proximity and distance of viscera to virtue, is a way of being being sensibly responsive to being, a kind of empathy of flesh for flesh, a finite cosmopolitanism of finite bodies, that does not take on an exclusively passive receptivity (as it does for Levinas). Merleau-Ponty stands as a materialist Schopenhauer. In this sense, Schopenhauer states that when a suffering being suffers

I nevertheless feel it with him, feel it as my own, and not within me, but in another person… But this presupposes that to a certain extent I have identified myself with the other man, and in consequence the barrier between the ego and the non–ego is for the moment abolished…. (On the Basis of Morality, § 18). This linkage between Merleau-Ponty and Schopenhauer is probably worth exploring.

This also helps form a corrective to my own tendency to introject the voice of Epictetus. For Epictetus we may have empathy with the sufferer but it is our duty to stop short of being ensnared by her suffering. Here I think of couples where one of them is depressed. The non-depressed partner can come to feel the depression of the depressed partner to such a degree that they are no longer empathising but actually inside the same affective climate. The point isn’t to follow Epictetus all the way in his Socratic intellectualism, such is impossible (and I think this impossibility is actually the basis of Stoic ethics…essentially a coping-with-affect, with emotional and psychological vulnerabilities), but to agree with him that in empathy we must guard ourselves against collapse, or what nurses call “compassion fatigue”. The psychoanalyst Christopher Bollas, I think in his 1987 The Shadow of the Object, tells us he believes the analyst should be an object for the analysand, should enter his affective world, should be used by her. Bollas is quick to strongly urge that analysts don’t mistake this for making a complete identification with and being captured inside the gravity of the analysand’s emotional potency. For Merleau-Ponty all of this is a question of carnality, there might be a sense then that if we pay attention it all just happens. We might still require a dose of Epictetan intellectualism to keep us from fatigue. After all, the world is a world of suffering. If we empathised infinitely, we’d be back in the land of Levinas and the idealist Josiah Royce. We would be crushed by our obligations, unable to meet any of them. That isn’t the world we live in.

Edit to add: Epictetus on Socrates

How, then, shall I become affectionate [φιλόστοργος]?—As one who is noble, as one who is fortunate; for reason never accepts that one be wretched, or that one depend on something else, or even blame either god or human being. Thus be affectionate so as to maintain these things; if, however, by virtue of this natural affection [φιλοστοργίαν], whatever it is you call by that name, you are going to be a slave and miserable, it does not profit you to be affectionate. And what keeps you from loving [φιλει̃ν] someone as a mortal, as one who may leave you? Did not Socrates love [ε̉φίλει] his own children? Yes, but as a free man, as one who remembers that it is necessary first to be a friend to the gods. (Discourse 3. 24. 58-60)

As I say, I don’t think this state is achievable. Yet it is a kind of regulative idea (as it is for most Stoics, aside from Epictetus). There is a recognition of the exquisite and the imperilling nature of our affectivity. It is not that affect is good or bad, for the stoic it has to be morally indifferent until I take up an attitude towards it, until I wrestle with it, until I accept it and then learn to cope with it. There is a maturity to this concept of love that we rarely find in contemporary life, and a level of understanding of the emotions that is rarely attributed to the stoics who are, all too often and all too readily, presented as cold, detached cognitivists. This is fundamentally wrong.

Nihilist Optimism: on horse meat, onto-cartography, and case studies.

If we wish to summarize in a few words the meaning of a nihilistic hermeneutics—one that is, after all, an entirely open enterprise—what I myself see in it at this moment is a confirmation of Heidegger’s thesis on being as ‘event’, and not as a stable structure given once and for all (what Heidegger calls ‘metaphysics’). An event that is possible only on condition that being ‘is not’, or is no longer—on condition that God is dead and that the eternal structures of values have been unveiled as a lie. Only on condition of traversing the experience of nihilism understood in this way is it possible to plan a society where freedom will not be an empty term: truth is always ‘to be made’, and thus values are always to be invented anew. It is in nihilism thought in this way that equality finally establishes itself, and what Richard Rorty calls solidarity becomes possible—or better necessary—for life, the only possible basis for a truth that does not claim to evade the historical conditions in which existence is always ‘thrown’. (Gianni Vattimo, 2006. Nihilism as Empancipation).

Not only do the objective conditions change in the act of reproduction, e.g. the village becomes a town, the wilderness a cleared field etc., but the producers change, too, in that they bring out new qualities in themselves, develop themselves in production, transform themselves, develop new powers and ideas, new modes of intercourse, new needs and new language. (Karl Marx, Grundrisse).

In the comments to my post ‘Corporealism is a transcorporealism’, dmfant responded to my question as to whether something like an onto-cartography had or could be undertaken in relation to the horse meat scandal that dominated British news media for months. This is a story has been an emotional story, but this serves- in part- to occlude a view of the very materiality of our reality. In this post I’ll discuss that materiality a little, and respond to/make use of dmf’s objection to map making of such a situation. I want to elaborate on why between onto-cartography and a kind of onto-political atomism we can situate dmfant’s idea of the case study. In no uncertain terms, this post owes its existence to the conversation with dmfant. It also owes its existence to a trip to the museum that I’ll reconstruct a little below.

Flogging a dead horse.

I didn’t quite notice when the story broke that retail giant Tesco had been selling mass produced ready-meals that contained horsemeat. As the story unfurled it soon became apparent that Tesco were not the only big trading culprit. It also came to light that some meat products contained 100% horsemeat. While the story followed the usual massified emotional morality play structure of victim (the consumer) being lied to by the bad guys (food producers and sellers) with the good guys (the media and select politicians) crusading on our behalf, the real story was much more materially focussed. News media, new and old, print and broadcast, were filled with stories and images of the material production of ready-meals. The Guardian newspaper produced an online interactive map featuring the trade distribution routes of equidae (horse and horse-like meat) in Europe. This map also featured the question ‘what does this all mean? Can you tell us?’, vindicating Adam Curtis’s critique of the eclipse of expertise in the media whilst also showing us that we ourselves have become the subject supposed to know (hysterics yelling in a mirror, online newspaper comments sections; is there a massive difference here?). The Guardian also provides a handy timeline of how the story played out should you be interested.

I don’t have a TV but as I’ve commented before, it is nearly impossible to enter (what used to be called) a third space without being met by the unblinking, high definition glare of one or more giant plasma screens. These are invariably tuned to some 24 hours rolling news network, such as BBC24 or Al Jazeera. At some point I began to notice what was being delivered into the majority of British homes like a continuous intravenous feed: graphic images and videos of food production, documentary footage of farmers rearing animals for slaughter, talking heads with small-scale localist food-producers (also assigned the status of unquestioned “good guys”). Suddenly the global material network that had receded from the consumer’s view is made to stand in stark relief. Exposed, the multitude of bodies that form the intermatrices of the food-production network, itself a loose ensemble or assemblage, lay open before our eyes. It’s an almost Christ-ian moment of revelation, ‘he who has eyes let him see’: the farmers, the farms, the pig feed, the grass grown for cows to graze on, the fences delimiting the farmers field from the field surrounding them, the cow sheds, the milking machines, the tractors, the lorries that transport the animal to the abattoir, the abattoir itself, the men and women employed therein, the instruments of slaughter and clean-up, the machines, techniques, chemical processes and so forth needed to preserve the meat, the agencies involved (or failing to be involved) in assessing the standard of the quality of the meat, the lorries to distributors, the cross-border roads (and the implications of the European Union allowing freedom of movement and so on), the companies that are paying for this processing and packaging of the ready-meals, the supermarkets who sell them to the consumer (both the corporation “Tesco” and the brick-and-mortar Tesco down the road where I buy my bread and milk, and the “…”. This “…” is stolen from the underappreciated philosopher and psychotherapist Eugene Gendlin. In his work the ellipse conveys a quality of what he calls the ‘felt-sense’ that exceeds the capacities of language to capture. Here, I mean the ellipse to indicate the inexhaustibility of this network of particular bodies and particular ensembles of particular bodies. No list could list everything included in the food-production network that the horse meat scandal has delineated. The territory is too big to map; indeed, the map would need to be significantly larger than the territory it was supposed to be mapping.

Another upshot of the horse meat scandal and its media coverage has been its Baconism. Consider the reaction Bacon might have had to the idea of images such as the one below being exposed to people in every humble and stupid corner of their lives. Imagine the family sitting down to their TV dinner, the material assemblage that produced that meat disappeared from view for the time being, the awareness that this hamburger used to be a sentient cow capable of suffering and enacting a world safely pushed to the boundaries of consciousness. Imagine that same family, that same scenario, and then this image appears on the TV. Francis Bacon would delight.

meat


Capitalism, onto-cartography, and the case of the case study.

Things have been exposed. We have collectively had to pay attention. This is the experience of living in a country where there might be horse meat in your hamburgers. The banality of the phrase is as hilarious as it is telling: so obvious a revelation after all. And there has been a collective response of sorts, an emotional one in the first instance. People were angry. They felt lied to. They felt as though the people providing food for them had broken their trust. Personally, I’m not sure of this. I haven’t met any of these angry people, but then my friends are largely people who either don’t eat meat or wouldn’t care a less if they were told they’d just finished all the soylent green in town.

The people wanted lamb and instead they got horse. This speaks to the different places these animals have in our systems of signifi-cance as much as anything else. Beef and lamb are for eating, horses though…these were once loyal co-workers (they were vital to canal-building, among many things); they provide us with entertainment and means of showing how skilled we are (horse-racing, dressage, and show-jumping); they give us spectacular means to extend our capacity for mobility (they can carry us further than we can walk); they give us access to unparalleled vistas (the beauty of horse rides in the mountains); and they are bearers of great majesty, pride, beauty, and dignity. Sometimes it is as we considered horses to be ensouled in a way we don’t extend to any other animal. Yet of course, other nations eat horse meat and make no bones about it. Meat is meat, as long as it is nonhuman. So the emotions ran high. Tesco apologised in huge full page black text on white background sincerity. Angry debates were had, and continue to be had. In the background of all of this one senses the figures of Paul Virilio or Bernard Steigler, muttering about the synchronisation of emotions and the birth of ‘a communism of affects’.

Other responses have been registered as well. It is changing the buying habits of retailers. It is hard not to think that this will alter the material distribution of production and consumption in Europe, producing a redistribution in the material mechanisms of the assemblage of assemblages, system of systems, that has escaped accusation and exposure in this story: capitalism. Op-eds from experts predict the collapse of some of the attractors that capital flows toward- through-and-out of that we call companies or corporations. National and local news and trade outlets have featured a variety of articles (lifestyle, news, editorial, even style features) on why we should shun the global food production market and turn toward the local producers. Some sources say we ought to do so because it will bolster the national economy (a strong argument in Scotland given we are gearing up to a referendum on independence that will larger be determined economically), others because the local producer is more trustworthy, reliable, and “knows you”. These seem to be the two biggest demands then. 1) Reject globalised capitalism in order to revalorise a beleaguered nationalist capitalism, or 2) Reject globalised capitalism in favour of a nostalgic village capitalism. The debate surrounding potential versions of localist food production models that might run along socialist, autonomist, or anarchist lines seems not to have erupted. I might be wrong (and would be more than happy to be corrected) but it seems like the radical or revolutionary voice has ceded an issue on the material organisation of the present to an internal dialogue between representatives of variants of capitalism. I’m sure I must be wrong on this…yet if the debate is going on its doing so in the places it always does rather than out in public with a population that might be more receptive to broadly eco-anarchist ideas. This possibility is evinced by the very material effect of this news story: a sharp rise in the sales of vegetarian alternatives to meat products. Although, as the populist left Red Pepper magazine points out, vegetarianism isn’t any grand solution because the ‘global supply chain’ that this story has exposed also demonstrates to people, even as the BBC or SKY News aids in the occlusion of, operates transversally. That is, the model of a global supply chain applies to clothing, footwear, and electronics just as much as it does to food production.

This story has literally shown people the operation of capitalism, even as the mechanisms that do so in such a way as they attempt to contain that showing. To paraphrase Judith Butler [1], the media narratives take part in the active interpretation of capital compelled by capitalism and the state. In my own life, it has reinvigorated my own self-accusation regarding veganism. If I think a core ethical principle must be acting so as to reduce the suffering endured by suffering-beings then how can I justify my omnivorous diet? I’m not sure that I can…all I can do is fall back onto the rather pathetic excuse that veganism is “too hard” or pull some Zizekian bullshit about vegans being perverted that no one buys, not even Zizek. At any rate, I hope the importance of this story is coming into focus and that I haven’t overplayed or underplayed its significance to anyone interested in materialism, object-oriented philosophy, or socialist politis.

In his reply to my original post on the possibility of an onto-cartography of this story, dmfant said that he was

not sure how available such widespread phenomena would be to research, so many variables in motion with all of the people affected not to mention their environ

and I have to agree. That was certainly my feeling when I was first introduced to the idea of onto-cartography. A few months back I attended a talk at Dundee University at which Levi Bryant introduced the idea of onto-cartography and its attendant practices to his audience [2]. Bryant was more elaborative on what onto-cartography consists of in that talk but here I can only give a brief snapshot of what he means by this evocative term. For instance Bryant calls states that an ‘onto-cartography would thus be a map or diagram of things’ in a given world. Briefly, a world is ‘is not something other than the externally related entities and signs within it’. Onto-cartographic space is thus a kind of choreographic space, structurally related to and materially sculpted by the movements, positions, dispositions (both actual and virtual) of bodies. I prefer this idea of choreographic space because of its immediately embodied connotations, but also because one can understand it more easily: anyone who has ever danced, no matter how well or how badly, has understood that space is choreographic rather than a container or static. In Levi’s terms:

Onto-cartography is thus not a map of space or geography—though we can refer to a “space of things and signs” in a given situation or field and it does help to underline the profound relevance of geography to this project insofar as ontocartographies are always geographically situated –but is rather a map of things or what I call machines. In particular, an onto-cartography is a map of the spatio-temporal gravitational fields produced by things and signs and how these fields constrain and afford possibilities of movement and becoming.

Examples that Bryant gives in his paper of pre-existing elements of an onto-cartographic approach include Bruno Latour, Fernand Braudel, Marshall McLuhan, Manuel DeLanda, Stacey Alaimo (from whom I have stolen the term transcorporeality to better express my own ideas around corporealism as a body-oriented-ontology, with bodies being roughly exchangeable with “object” or “machine”, and audaciously Marx himself. For Bryant the theory of onto-cartography is only an aspect of its appeal, with its real value lying in its empirical expression. Bryant again:

The project of onto-cartography is massive and likely not to be the work of any one person because it is profoundly multi-disciplinary, requiring knowledge of the natures of the things that inhabit the situation, their specific properties, literature, mythology, semiotics, political theory, history, various sciences, technologies, etc

This is an expansive, ambitious, and supremely vertiginous undertaking, and as a sufferer of recent bouts of vertigo I say that with no irony. What is supremely attractive in Bryant’s formulation of onto-cartography is precisely that it requires a ‘multi-disciplinary’ approach. As a nurse, I work in multidisciplinary teams constantly, sometimes leaving the team I am attached to (ward or community staff depending on where I am working) to form another “temporary ongoing” group (such as a MAPPA or CPA group). There is a sense that this immediately makes sense to me. I work alongside psychiatrists, physicians, clinical psychologists, peer-support workers, voluntary befrienders, support workers, healthcare assistants, pharmacologists, porters, ambulance drivers, occupational, physical, speech and language, sexual health and a range of art therapists, and a host of organisations within the voluntary, governmental (including the police), and wider mental health sectors. There is a sense in which as a nurse I already feel like an onto-cartographer whenever I try to tell people what it is that a psychiatric nursing is. Really, I need to return to my misappropriation of Gendlin’s “…” in order to suggest what I want to suggest about the nature of my profession. All this is to say that the work of onto-cartography is too big. Where would we be happy to finish making our map? At what point would our diagram be exhaustive? We might want to suggest that this isn’t really Bryant’s point; really, he only means to orient us to the things that co-produce the space of a co-enacted world, not to trick ourselves into thinking we have an epistemic masterpiece or a political ideology that can explain a situation in advance of the situation itself (this feels like a Badiouian moment). Yet as I sat in that lecture hall that Bryant walked about in as he read (a more engaging style than people who prefer to just sit, I think), I had then and still have now the sense that this is a form of fieldwork of the present that is just too big, too much, too demanding.

This is precisely the reason why dmfant says that he is ‘trying to pitch the idea of case-studies as perspicuous re-presentations via Wittgenstein’. I have no desire to tread on dmf’s toes or to appropriate someone else’s obsessions. Likewise, I am not even sure I have understood what dmf means. I am not very familiar with Wittgenstein, having only read secondary sources and attended the odd lecture on ‘picture-thinking’. Nevertheless, the idea is one I want to work out, respond to or at least use as a way to push my own thinking. This is proper to the working of an intellectual conversation. With those heavy caveats out of the way, I’ll go on.

The reason the “case study” appeals to me is, once again, practical. I am a nurse. I occasionally write case studies and I certainly read them, especially those from nursing, psychiatry, social work and counselling. The case study presents its reader with a caricature of a situation that was once live to the worker-author. Usually, if the case study is to have any value, it will be illustrative of a complex or challenging clinical situation. The worker-author will explore that particular situation in as much detail as space and the pragmatic orientation of the case study allows. This will be done in order to analyse the actual particular decisions made and actions taken. This is not done (or not exclusively at least) to justify what the worker-author decided and did but also to scrutinise those outcomes from a variety of perspectives in order to come to an understanding of whether better alternatives could have been taken and why they were not selected at the time. In other words,

‘this pragmatic reasoning allows for clinical hospitality to presenting individual differences, rather than a theory based clinical stance which assumes to know better before the actual case is at hand’. [3]

The case study caricatures the material complexity of intermatrices in order to ‘test and re-test’ decision making and intentional action. The case study also wants to keep possibility alive, even in the instance where the particular set of possibilities has died along with the situation that they referred to. It is likely in health and social care that one will encounter similar, although never identical, situations that also presents with a similar, although never identical set of possibilities. The case study serves as a kind of critical reflection and heuristic. It also has the function that is more familiar to philosophical audiences through psychoanalysis, as dmfant points out: it is a means of constructing a working theory through an interrogation of one’s practical engagements.

Weaving Wittgenstein and Merleau-Ponty

dmfant suggests that the case study can be conceived of as a species of perspicuous representation [PR]. Wittgenstein tells us that
A perspicuous representation produces just that understanding which consists in ‘seeing connexions’.Hence the importance of finding and inventing intermediate cases. [4]

From this definition it follows that a PR is a specific kind of understanding. As far as I can tell, understanding in Wittgenstein’s philosophy is a kind of a tacit, spontaneous, and immediate agreement among those who share a practical community on the mutual immersion in that practice; it recognises a shared world of concern; a shared ethos; it is an intelligibility prior to intellection. In this sense it is not, as dmfant reminds me in the discussion that has sparked this post, ‘cognitive-behavioural’ and is ‘non-conceptual’. The kind of understanding that PR produces then is the kind of understanding that happens pre-cognitively, pre-conceptually but transindividually. The specificity of this understanding thus lies in its being part of our primordial embodied being. In particular, given that Wittgenstein’s understanding is linked in my view to a community, it must be of the order of embodiment that it is transcorporeal. In Merleau-Ponty’s terms it belongs to the flesh which is

A new type of being, a being by porosity, pregnancy, or generality, and he before whom the horizon opens is caught up, included within it. His body and the distances participate in one and the same corporeality or visibility in general, which reigns between them and it, and even beyond the horizon, beneath his skin unto the depths of being. [5]

There is a sense in which a being that lacked the kind of understanding that PR generates would be an autistic being. It might have cognitive, conceptual knowledge of such and such a situation, but it would lack a carnal knowledge, if you’d pardon the pun. This idea of a ‘being by porosity’ is also the mode in which I discuss the stoic’s concept of God. In that discussion, I went to pains to show that there God is immanent- like Spinoza’s- but in as a material ontomorphological principle-unlike Spinoza’s. I also showed how this stoic concept of bodies (which is at the heart of my own body-oriented realism) is a matter of weaving- the weave, or the enmeshing, is the mode of porosity. I highlight this here in order to promise to return at some point to the idea of the weave-mesh-flesh.

So we get the understanding Wittgenstein is alluding to, but he also tells us it consists in ‘making connexions’. This is ambiguous. To make connections might mean precisely to weave or mesh things together in the same way that we do if we braid our hair: it might also mean “seeing” connections. I would conjecture that it’s something between these two. I think this is the way you see it anyway, dmf? We not only make connections in the world through our structural relations but also in the realm of theory and how we see the world in our epistemic relations. There is thus a sense in which the horse meat scandal story has structurally produced a change in our epistemic frame; it has made new connections by showing us what connections are already here.
The production of new PRs is thus the production of new ways of seeing and enacting the world in an embodied sense. In previous posts I have casually used the term ‘disposition’ to describe this action-orientation of our epistemic maps. As dmf has said, it is also about approaching matters in ways that people can cope-with and be moved-by them ‘and in ways that allow us to do things differently’.

If this makes sense as a reading of PRs then I think it is because of an experience I had yesterday. A friend and I were walking around Dundee. We needed to kill some time before a lecture by Pierre Cassou-Nogues that we were going to attend started. We decided to drop in on the McManus Gallery, an art gallery and museum about and situated in the heart of Dundee. As we strolled around the exhibits in glass cases we played at a little ‘alien’s phenomenology’. A taxidermy fox with its front paws on a cornflakes box, clearly a scene demonstrating our wasteful society and the porosity of the urban-rural distinction, was looked at from an alien’s point of view. Suddenly the fox became a sacred animal, why else would these “humans” preserve it? And clearly its prey was this strangely coloured rectangular being, spilling its crispy flaked innards onto the display’s reconstructed floor. I became embarrassingly excited at the sight of a huge harpoon that had been mangled, the twisting of its iron shank the corporeal evidence of a probably long dead whale’s attempts to escape from its killing point. The experience that I want to relay, though, happened as my friend and I discussed Dundee’s industrial past.

red in tooth and corn

Dundee was once a thriving industrial city. It was strategically important to the expansion of British capitalist power. Home to the Jute industry (an industry that involved industrial processes of weaving), dock-yards, one of the biggest news publishers, and confectionary producers Dundee was a rich, powerful, booming town full of possibility. It is also true that Dundee had huge and hugely obvious class disparities with the bourgeoisie and the working class living at extreme ends of the spectrum of life. Yet even in this, Dundee has a worker’s movement to be proud of, and a remarkable history of suffragette actions. My point is that although I didn’t live in Dundee then, although I am not Dundonian or Scottish by birth, and although I don’t have much fondness for contemporary Dundee, I had an urgent affective relationship with that city in that moment as I looked down at the exhibits. One exhibit in particular pushed this feeling, almost a physical agitation, to its height: a model of the city centre as it was at its industrial zenith. I could feel the excitement of that city, and I could feel the disappointment at its loss. Dundee never became what it might have, but more than that it also lost the set of possibilities it had open to it then. I can’t remember where it is, but in one of his text’s Virilio sums this up perfectly: ‘the city is not itself’. I was also left with the question of the relation of a city to its own destruction, or partial destruction I suppose. Does a city have a sense of its possibilities? Can a city ‘die’? Can it be a being-towards-death? An open question. As Levi Bryant has it in ‘The Gravity of Things’: ‘a city is not merely an entity, a thing that sits there, but is rather a machine or organism that faces the problem of how to produce and maintain the elements that belong to it…’.

Here it is that I was thinking about what it would mean to ‘find or invent’, as Wittgenstein says, new PRs. It was in this museum artefact that I got the very kind of felt-sense of what a PR is that the idea of the PR pertains to express. Or at least I think I did. What I sensed was that the relation of the artefact to myself as the relation of the ‘perspicuous representation’ to myself. The artefact as PR is also the artefact as case-study. As if an archaeological find, from the artefact I could reconstruct or vicariously feel what was at stake in that city. In that case, the artefact, that little model of a set of possibilities closed down, was a model for that network of possibilities. It was a model but it was also a real, corporeal object. It captured something of the transcorporeal, something of the whole range of possibility, and something of the story of a city without attempting to be an exhaustive onto-cartographic survey.

Just as the case study isn’t simply an obsession with particularities of specific clinical situations for their own sake, and just as it is not an attempt to generate a universal or ideal state, the perspicuous representation is also a kind of production of genericity. Onto-cartography is extensive, too long, too distant, and possibly leads to the generation of a map that is bigger than its terrain. Meanwhile, a focus on particulars alone leaves us unable to join the dots; we can never see the horse meat scandal as anything but a particular case of a bad thing happening floating freely, uncoupled to any other structure and therefore never take advantage of it. Yet, if the horse meat scandal is a case study that manages to ‘make connexions’ without having to make all possible connections then we don’t have to exhaust it or leave it floating in an uncritical space. As Wittgenstein says, PRs involve ‘finding or inventing intermediates’. This would allow us to orient and re-orient ourselves to what is revealed. We wouldn’t be “autistic” to the world we live in, but would understand it in the same way that we do the look on the face of someone we love. A kind of instantaneousness that requires no language to be communicated but that serves as the basis for any possible language. It is the freedom to invent new forms in the knowledge that the old forms were prosthetic after all. We have moved from a world full of matters of fact, to one full of matters of concern [6]. What let’s us see better? What let’s us hold one another better? We could be, as in Francis Bacon’s aporetic phrase, ‘optimistic and totally without hope’.

[1] Judith Butler. 2007. Torture and the Ethics of Photography. In: Environment and Planning: Society and Space. Vol. 25, No. 6, pp. 951 – 966. Link.

[2] Levi Bryant. 2012. The Gravity of Things: An Introduction to Onto-Cartography. Link. All references to Levi Bryant in this post are to this paper.

[3] Dirk Felleman. 2005. Pragmatism and Clinical Practices. In: The Socialworker. Vol.2. Link.

[4] Ludwig Wittgenstein. 1973. Philosophical Investigations.

[5] Maurice Merleau-Ponty. 1968. The Intertwining- The Chiasm. Link.
From: The visible and the invisible.

[6]. Bruno Latour. 2013. War of the worlds: humans against earthbound. Fifth Gifford Lecture. 26.02.2013.

Corporealism is Transcorporealism

In a recent post at his blog, onticologist and onto-cartographer Levi Bryant has linked to an older post of his on Stacy Alaimo’s notion of transcorporealism. Here I reproduce a sample of Alaimo’s text also posted by Levi:

Imagining human corporeality [and I would argue, all corporeality] as trans-corporeality, in which the human is always intermeshed with the more-than-human world, underlines the extent to which the substance of the human is ultimately inseparable from “the environment.” It makes it difficult to pose nature as mere background, as Val Plumwood would put it, for the exploits of the human since “nature” is always as close as one’s own skin– perhaps even closer. Indeed, thinking across bodies may catalyze the recognition that the environment, which is too often imagined as inert, empty space or as a resource for human use, is, in fact, a world of fleshy beings with their own needs, claims, and actions. By emphasizing the movement across bodies, trans-corporeality reveals the interchanges and interconnections between various bodily natures. But by underscoring that trans indicates movement across different sites, trans-corporeality also opens up a mobile space that acknowledges the often unpredictable and unwanted actions of human bodies, nonhuman creatures, ecological systems, chemical agents, and other actors.

This is at the heart of the corporealism I’ve been discussing. It is also at the core of my critique of Timothy Morton’s aesthetic causation as spectral. Trans-lation, carrying-across, is not a matter of interpretation but of movement across interpenetrative bodies. Not ghosts, but lovers.

Tim Morton on Buddhism

In light of my last few posts dealing with Timothy Morton’ new book Realist Magic, and the efforts of others to do the same, I’m glad to see he has published a new paper. I’ve already started to think of Morton’s object-oriented ontology as a form of mysticism with much in common with Buddhism and Gnosticism. To be sure, I share his feeling that these are linked and have shared words with him in the past to that effect. For this reason, I feel very close to his project. On the other hand, a commitment to embodiment and corporeal materialism prevent me from following him all the way down the rabbit hole. An extract:

mysticism is a form of speculative realism: the attempt to talk outside the ego, based on the fact that ego is only an illusion. In fact, from this point of view, what’s perplexing is that confusion happens at all. What’s perplexing is “this life,” not what lies “beyond” life. It’s perfectly “natural” that enlightenment happens all the time, because we don’t have an ego, but we do have physical bodies. It’s not some gift from above, but the spontaneity of what is below. Which is why esoteric traditions jealously guard their secrets: they can be abused because enlightenment is not difficult at all—it is in fact the default mode of existing, period.

Read the full paper here.

On this topic of mysticism I have been casually reading D.T Suzuki’s Mysticism: Christian and Buddhist and came upon his discussion of The Unattainable. An extract:

The unattainability of Nirvana comes from seeking it on the other shore of becoming as if it were something beyond birth-and-death…refreshments cannot be taken outside of time. The taking is time. The taking is something attainable, and yet it goes on in something unattainable. For without this unattainable all that is attainable will cease to be attainable. This paradoxicality marks life. (p.87).

Perhaps the idea of virtuosity that I want to develop (a kind of corporeal ontological pragmatism that all objects engage in by degress) is this attainability for me. For Morton, on the other hand, attainability is hermeneutic. To be clear, the dis-agreement is not just about the status of matter and causation but also about the primordial disposition of thing to worlds.

Object Oriented Demonology

What follows is still an attempt to work through Realist Magic. It is a working through that accompanies my reading the book. As such, any misunderstandings are my own fault and not those of Timothy Morton’s superb writing.

By embodying them with human privacy and imbuing them with our own personality, things are reduced to silence. If they speak, it is only our own voices that are heard.

Bjørnar Olsen, In Defense of Things: Archaeology and the Ontology of Objects. 2010.

All things are woven together and the common bond is sacred

– Marcus Aurelius, The Meditations.

Demonic forces, spectrality, white noise. These seem to me the key terms of Timothy Morton’s concept of casuality. For Morton ‘actual, real things are happening a multiple levels and involving multiple agents’ (RM). Things are complicated. Yet as I have argued their is a split in the real between an ‘originary object’ which is withdrawn and multiple ‘hermeneutic objects’ that the complex enmeshment of ontic being produces. These hermeneutic objects are effects and entities in their own right. There are as many hermeneutic objects as their are aesthetic translations of originary objects: the multiplicity of hermeneutic objects is identical with the the number of relations in the cosmos. These relations are translations. To ‘trans-late means “carry-across”‘ and so each hermeneutic object is a kind of carrying across of the originary object. Causation is the total structure of these translations.

It strikes me as strange to call these hermeneutic objects sensuous. The sensuous names the realm of sensory rather than cognitive work. There is an immediacy to the sensuous that the work of translation doesn’t sit well with. For someone like Albert Camus, sensuality was the answer to answer. It was an answer that refused to diminish that absurdity. All sufferings and miseries could be endured because of the felt relation of skin and sun, body and water, the touching of lovers. Camus evokes the intimacy of things played out on the surface his flesh. There is no effort in his voluptuous realism, except that of arms and legs slicing through the waves.

Morton gives numerous examples of ways translation occurs. A frog’s croak becomes a word to a human; strategic intelligence to a mosquito; a trigger to a female frog’s endocrine system. The passages concerning this ignoble noise, a small noise of darkness and cold waters, are, like much of the book, beautiful. In these examples we have ‘actual, real things happening’. The neurocognitive process of senseless noise fashioned into a linguistic tool; physical perturbations in the air being ‘read’ by the mosquito; biological stimuli and response priming physical systems for reproduction. Are these things really translations? The metaphor in which the croak is “interpreted” or “read” starts to seem less like a metaphor in Morton’s causal system. What does it mean for these things to be “trans-lations”?

To carry-across convokes a polysemy the genericity of which centres on ideas of movement across a distance. This isn’t surprising given that the problem is causation. The evil realm of aesthetics seems to be being established as the realm of demonic causation; the production of difference in object-object relations at a distance without a mediate third. This is why causation is magic. Specifically, causation is black magic. As Morton says ‘[C]ausality is an illusion-like play of a demonic energy that has real effects in the world’ (RM). The paradoxical structure of causation is that the disincarnate incarnates the incarnate; causality is disclosed as a kind of spiritual possession. What is it that carries-across that which is carried-across? The frog’s croak is carried-across by the air packets that constitute unique moments in emergent wind. Speaking of Dante’s Inferno and the way that demonic possession operates on “black winds” and trees and so forth, Eugene Thacker (DP) reminds us that ‘possession is not just the possession of living being but includes the nonliving as well…demonic possession in the Inferno is not just teratological, but also geological and also climatological’. In the Inferno a suicide that has become a tree remarks ‘we were men once and have now become brush’. The scene doesn’t depict a tree with a man’s soul trapped inside it. It is not a material prison for an immaterial soul as in the Gnostic vision. The soul is the tree. So not a tree as a prison for the soul but a soul-tree. Demonic possession operates by invading, colonising, settling in, naturalising, identifying. It makes the host-body uncanny to itself in a hideous becoming. And this is necessary because ‘a perfect translation of one object by another object would entail the destruction of that object’ (RM). To carry-across is to imperfectly possess an object, to tune into it, to pick up its transmission and to carry the signal out of it, across oneself, and deliver it to other objects. Possession suddenly resembles electronic transmission. There is the withdrawn and the sensuous; the essence and the appearance; the originary and the hermeneutical; the signal and the noise. The irony is that as me-ontic void, the signal can never be recovered from the noise. The object is en-crypt-ed.

If causation is a kind of demonic possession then the claim that it is magical makes perfect sense. I still feel that there is a slippage from the metaphorical to the real. Despite his gripping explanation, one that appeals to me in almost every facet of its own aesthetic potency, that draws me in and holds me with it, inside it, this slippage is still the crack in the wall, the unevenly paved floor: it causes me to trip over it. The spell is broken. The distance between the tool and the task gets lost somewhere so that the metaphor gets taken for the real. Its ot that nothing like this “translation” is going on, its just not as literal or as autonomous as it seems. Objects are bodies, and bodies aren’t absolutely encrypted.

‘Every object is a marvelous archaeological record of everything that ever happened to it’ (RM). The conflation seems to be typified in this sentence and the passage that follows. The archaeological record is not a record in the sense of a list or narrative. True, archaeology does assemble lists, litanies, narratives, a whole hermeneutics of civilisation, but it does so on the basis of “the archaeological record”. In his Understanding the Archaeological Record, Gavin Lucas cuts the term an elegant three ways. He claims that it refers first to ‘artifacts and material culture’, secondly ‘residues and formation theory’, and finally to ‘sources and fieldwork’ (p.10). For Lucas artifacts refer both to archaeological artefacts and “ecofacts”. Ecofacts are objects of “natural” origin such as seed or bones that archaeologists tend to separate from artefacts based on the tool definition of the latter. Lucas points out that ecofacts are equally tools as are built tools. We don’t just use hammers to hammer but in the past have used bones to hammer. To go beyond Lucas’s example, the agricultural revolution couldn’t have taken place if human being ad not used climatological conditions themselves as a kind of tool. As Lucas states the ‘artefact-ecofact distinction is really a manifestation of a deeper “culture-nature” dichotomy’ (p.10) of the kind that we are familiar with from Bruno Latour. For now all we need to note is that the this record is not just a matter of reading traces. It is also about material objects, material culture, and places and practices. Morton’s view of the object as an archaeological record seems to correspond to an idea of the object as residues.

This might seem unfair as Morton is keen to point out that ‘[T]his is not to say that the object is only everything that ever happened to it’. The object isn’t just the interpretations made of it by other objects. Objects can’t be fully possessed, their signal ever fully recovered from the noise. There is always more kept back. The secrecy of the object. When it speaks it does so in silences. Nonetheless, this is still an archaeology without artefact and without pragmatics. Even the example of the frog provide us with a pragmatic comportments; the female frog’s endocrine system interprets the male frog’s croak in order to prime herself for the potentiality of reproductive activity. This isn’t simply a chain of interpretations but a chain of activities aimed at possible activities. I like the claim that objects are archaeological, that bodies have memory, but it can only be the case if they are corporeal realities existing in a shared tactility. I take such an enmeshed tactility to be constitutive of the intimacy of bodies. Morton comes close to this tactility when he states that [the] ‘before and after [of causality] are strictly secondary to the sharing of information’. But without the corporeal aspect that his concept of withdrawal forbids, Morton’s highly appealing archaeological image of the object remains an ‘ontogenetic history’ of a mimetic ability that is generalised to all objects. In Walter Benjamin’s words

To read what was never written.’ Such reading is the most ancient; reading prior to all languages, from entrails, the stars, or dances. Later the mediating link of a new kind of reading, of runes and hieroglyphs, came into use. It seems fair to suppose that these were the stages by which the mimetic gift, formerly the foundation of occult practices, gained admittance to writing and language. In this way, language may be seen as the highest level of mimetic behaviour and the most complete archive of nonsensuous similarity: a medium into which the earlier powers of mimetic production and comprehension have passed without residue, to the point where they have liquidated those of magic.

(MF).

The characterisation of object-oriented philosophy as a pancorrelationism is starting to look like a panmimeticism. In keeping with Morton aesthetics as first philsophy, is the idea that we take one another for runes and hieroglyphs, as language, but in reverse- in residue. The frog is a residue of a frog. It is the star as the star appeared to palaeolithic man. Morton’s hermeneutical objects, the objects that we encounter in everyday life, are only our reading of what was never written. The Benjaminian notion of aura is important here. For Benjamin the aura of the object consisted of ‘a distance as close as it can be’ (HP). This proximate distance could be read as an intimacy or as a possession. There is either a corporeal aura or an aesthetic concept of aura. Benjamin asks us what the aura is ‘actually’, and provides his answer thus:

a strange weave of space and time; an appearance of a distance, however near it may be. While resting on a summer’s afternoon, to trace a mountain on the horizon, or a branch that throws its shadow on the observer- this is what it means to breath the aura of those mountain, that branch.

There is no doubt that Morton would take issue with this idea of the aura, having rejected it himself as presenting nature as

‘a reified thing in the distance, “over yonder,” under the sidewalk, on the other side where the grass is always greener, preferably in the mountains, in the wild.

(EUA)

But this is a proximate-distance. It is the appearance of a distance. In emphasising the apparent distance he misses the ‘strange weave’ that is precisely characteristic of the radical interconnectedness of things that a concept of the ‘wild’ refers to. The wild or the wilderness is exactly the place where humans may enter but can’t dwell. In the wilderess man is not absent but he is not at home (unheimliche). It is the place where an archaeological concept of the object that conditions it ‘artefactual’ breaks down. The ‘apparentness’ of distance that the ecological concept of mesh was supposed to undo is replaced by a concept of withdrawal that absolutises a distance beneath the mesh, between it and substance. The point Benjamin’s idea of the ‘”auratic” capacity’ of bodies is precisely to explain their ability to affect and “speak” to rather than be read by us. Somewhere along the way in his encounter with object-oriented thinking Morton’s project has left its orbit of constructing ‘a properly materialist ecology’ (EUA) in favour of an ontology of spectrality where the “real” in its “realism” has disappeared into demonic white noise. It is for this reason that the distance I am making between myself and Morton is also a proximate-distance… but it is a real distance, not an only apparent one. I remain with the tactility of the strange weaving of bodies.

DP- Eugene Thacker. 2012. In the dust of this planet. Volume one: horror and philosophy.
EUA- Timothy Morton. 2008. Ecologocentrism: unworking animals.
RM- Timothy Morton. 2013. Realist Magic.
HP- Walter Benjamin. [1999]. A little history of photography.
MF- Walter Bejamin. [1999]. On the mimetic faculty.