attempts at living

to make a system out of delusions

Tag: life

Friendship as a creative practice of vulnerability

In forming a friendship, settling a marriage, or composing a manuscript, our hope is to establish something durable that does not constantly fray or break down. – Graham Harman, Prince of network: Bruno Latour and metaphysics

Kiki Smith sculpture. Currently exhibiting in Edinburgh’s Museum of Modern Art.

I have been thinking about certain conversations I’ve been having about friendship, its meaning but also its character. The sense that friendship can be authentic or inauthentic, rich or poor, complex or simple…however we carve it, we’ve been talking as if there are two orders of being-together that both fall under the nomination “friendship”. It’s actually an old tradition, this way of thinking. It’s in the Stoics, for whom “friend” meant something particular. Epictetus has this to say on the image of playful animals (kittens with balls of wool, dogs with chew toys, whatever), “To see what friendship is, throw a piece of meat among them and you will learn”.

The point isn’t that friendship is ruthless, a deception both parties enter into with full awareness that it can be tossed aside when it looses its use-value (Max Stirner thinks of it this way). The point is that friendships in which “externalities” can destroy the bond reveals that the bond was never there. This is communist, up to a point. Property- or rather the reverence thereof and attachment there to- is inimical to friendship; we can’t genuinely call ourselves friends if claims to possession can tear us apart. For Epictetus, the question of friendship turns on the question of whether or not the one who calls herself my friend is turned towards externals or internals. In the end, this is simply to ask whether she is a subject of ownership or a subject of will. Epictetus goes on:

‘But if you hear that these men in very truth believe the good to lie only in the region of the will and in dealing rightly with impressions, you need trouble yourself no more as to whether a man is son or father, whether they are brothers, or have been familiar companions for years; I say, if you grasp this one fact and no more, you may pronounce with confidence that they are friends, as you may that they are faithful and just. For where else is friendship but where faith and honour are, where men give and take what is good, and nothing else?’

It may be declared that this is a rationalist’s view of friendship. It lacks the sensibility of friendship. It lacks the practice of the share; sharing in pleasure, in practices, in nonsense, in walking, in drinking, in consolation, and provocation. Is that fair though? After all, what is it that Epictetus is really saying here? He is saying that we can be friends with those with whom we share a common commitment to certain principles, namely to the value of living in accord with nature/reason; to live the examined life, and to spurn attachments to things that distract from such examination. We could phrase it differently from Epictetus’ often overly “cognitive” way of talking (and let us not forget that his concept of cognitive inspired the CBT sense and is not derivative of it), that in order to be a friend to anyone else one must first be a friend to oneself. An authentic friendship can only be a relation between two authentic beings. This is also Seneca’s definition, and it seems to me it is part of de Montaigne’s notion of solitude. Epictetus again, this time from the discourse “On Freedom”:

If he does that, then first he will never revile himself or be in conflict with himself, he will be free from change of mind, and self-torture; secondly he will be friendly to his neighbour, always and absolutely, if he be like himself, and if he be unlike, he will bear with him, be gentle and tender with him, considerate to him as one who is ignorant and in error about the highest matters; not hard upon any man

The person who frets about what is outside of his will, outside of his control and sphere of responsibility, is a masochist too steeped in a kind of martyr’s jouissance and confusion that he can’t really be any one else’s friend. His mind- indistinguishable to his “soul” or his ownmost being, for Epictetus- is not under his own possession, but is pulled hither and thither by the chaos of the world, is therefore only an eddy in that chaos. It has not become regularised, it produces no “refrain”. Actually, this apparent rationalism is simply the effect of the idea that friendship is an ‘intrinsic presence to thought” (D&G 1999, p.9). Plenty of people know one another, but a friendship is something that is a part of thinking. It is a part of thinking that is inseparable from that thinking. It is an inseparability that is present-in-thought.

Friendship, in other words, is immanent to thought. I am not willing to say that in encountering you I only ever encounter the idea of you- I find this ontologically intolerable- but epistemically, in what I know of our encounter, yes, perhaps, all I can have are is this set of impressions, these ideas, these sensations, and this concept-of-you that is not exactly live, but neither is it static; so what? That is how I encounter you in friendship, as a thought? And it is how you encounter me? Or is it more the thought that we codetermine, and the world that we co-enact? Friendship is a practice, it is something friends do, and what I’m saying here is that what we do is create a world that we both inhabit. We can call this “thought” if we like, but it is not thought. It is, however, immanent to thought. The friendship here is thus a kind of work of producing a world together. We may not occupy it perfectly- indeed, we mustn’t, if we do then we’re not friends but mimics of each other, a split-personality- and those he can’t enter into, is not “at work” with us in practically enacting that world, bear with him, be gentle and tender with him. Especially as there is no reason to presuppose exclusivity to friendship. Anyone might possibly enter a friendship. In the friendship, we don’t quite become anonymous (what kind of friendship would it be between strangers?) but we do give up something of the usual pretense of sovereignty. Let’s not think friendship only happens as thought, it is affective too; but then what kind of account of thought do we have if thinking is not already bound up with, a modification of and modified by, affect?

We’re getting towards something in this. I am thinking about the nature of our friendship, the way it might differ from this one or that. I would say that we are friends who can’t be defined in terms of consumption. Neither of us, I think, sees our friendship as a resource to make use of, to be bought or traded, to be “enjoyed” in the way that a diner enjoys a McBurger. Nor is it as strong as Epictetus or Aristotle- who defines friendship as between the already virtuous- but as a friendship of those on the way to virtue. Let me turn to Todd May, who has recently written a book on friendship as a form of political resistance to the neoliberal imposition of market reason to every aspect of our lives. Todd May says that

Friendships worthy of the name are different. Their rhythm lies not in what they bring to us, but rather in what we immerse ourselves in. To be a friend is to step into the stream of another’s life. It is, while not neglecting my own life, to take pleasure in another’s pleasure, and to share their pain as partly my own. The borders of my life, while not entirely erased, become less clear than they might be.

[emphasis added]

This sounds a lot like how I think about empathy and “visceral ethics“, but friendship’s are special places, they are relationship that not just anyone can enter into; although anyone could be doing friendship, those outside a friendship can’t enter into it with ease. This is probably quite banal, but it bears emphasizing. In the friendship there are refrains- perhaps linguistic ticks shared by the friends, verbal quirks, gestural postures adopted through mirroring, historical in-jokes, a style of thinking and laughing, all these things- and when someone from outside the friendship tries to decode the meaning of the friendship, attempts to step into it’s world, they find themselves jarring the friends, they show up as not-friend, or not this kind of friend, they “stick out like a sore thumb” as the element of a friendship that defines its territorial boundaries. Although friendships are absolutely about equality, they are also in this minor way about exclusivity. Without malicious intent, friends can cause pain in the other. Yet friendships also open us to intimacy and proximity with the other who is friend. It is to our friends that we confess without confessing, to our friends that we most readily or most accidentally display our wounds. To go back to Todd May,

They render us vulnerable, and in doing so they add dimensions of significance to our lives that can only arise from being, in each case, friends with this or that particular individual, a party to this or that particular life.

There is something here, right? Friendships do render us vulnerable because it is in friendships, authentic ones (ones not exclusively based on jibes, one-up-man-ship, and other concealed forms of contempt) that we let take our character armor off, let our shields down, and say to the other in confidence ‘I know I said it was this, but I can tell you and no other that really…’ and so the hurts, the fears, the hatreds flow. In friendship we share not only our pleasures, but also our horrors; we reveal our weaknesses to each other, our non-heroic frailty. I say that in friendship we confess without confessing, but really I should not say “confess” at all; we show our wounds to one another. For Foucault, ‘Western man has become a confessing animal’. Confession is at the heart of so many of our contemporary police operations; I don’t just mean that we confess our crimes to the police, we also confess our psyche-sickness to the psychotherapist, our sexual identity to the world at large, our criminality, we confess and await judgement and absolution (assessment, diagnosis, treatment).

what a friendly face!

For Foucault, confession is a technology of truth, it produces truths. Some have claimed this is a relativistic idea, but I would disagree…it’s an eminently pragmatic idea. In the pragmatism of William James, for example, ‘truth is something that happens to an idea’. So to with Foucault, you self-reflect, you are guided to self-reflect, to discover the inner essence, the inner core, your ownmost being. Foucault was man who liked to fuck men, but was he a homosexual? The form of his enjoyment was particular, could only be satisfied in particular ways, and would influence his friendships (sexual relationships are friendships too, if they are not conducted under the logic of consumption). The homosexual, in The history of sexuality, is one of Foucault’s examples of the production of truths. Look inward, identify your desire, name it as the truth of your being, your affliction. In Foucault’s words, ‘The sodomite had been a temporary aberration; the homosexual was now a species’. There was a time when “gays” didn’t exist; but now they do. Regimes of truth make particular truths, and just because these truths are made doesn’t mean they aren’t real; it is just that there reality is not necessary, their truth not eternal. What is the contemporary spectacle of culture if not confessional? If homosexuality were not a (produced) truth, Foucault would not have felt the need to respond to it. Under Foucault’s analysis, the problem isn’t that we lack Truth, its that we are drowning in truths.

The point of this digression is to say that if authentic friendships aren’t consumptive but enriching and productive, to say that the kind of confession that is undergone in friendship differs from this police confession. Foucault himself notes that the Stoic conception of ethics is a self-relation prior to being an other-relation, and in two senses. First, the Stoics lived by the Socratic creed to “Know Thyself” through letter writing to friends (Seneca epitomizes this), and by examining oneself, reviewing one’s actions and making preparations for the future actions (Marcus Aurelius’s Meditations). The point of these techniques was not that they would reveal the inner essence of the person, but that they were a practice of self-mastery, of gaining the autonomy that Epictetus talked about above. The truths produced in the Stoic concept of self-reflection, a “know thyself” that is also a “care of the self”- a taking care of the self, of finding how to live the good life, to attain virtue- are not fixed truths rendered up to some big Other for judgement. If I commit some crime, I do not examine that in order to produce myself as a Criminal, but as this man who has committed this crime and most endeavor not to do so again; crime reveals my distance from virtue, from autonomy. The confession shares in the mystical structure that I have previously written about as “the secret”. In Stoicism, and in friendships, we do not confess if we mean by that that we cry out that we’re guilty, always already guilty, in order to “be ourselves” but, and in opposition to this, in order to become other than the person we are “supposed” to be. In a sense, friendship is a way to practice other ways of being yourself. Isn’t this the meaning of authenticity? In a friendship, even between we two, there is a multiplicity; each of us, our own double, and the affectional concepts we have of each other.

There is another reason to talk about homosexuality. In an interview now titled ‘Friendship as a way of life’, Foucault links homosexuality to a practice of friendship. I want to stress one of the reasons for this; for Foucault, homosexuality presented a problem of how it was possible for men to be together “naked”, as he puts it, outside of institutional apparatus. One doesn’t need to be homosexual or to have sex with men or to even be curious about it to see the problem. Homosexuality, as much as it has become a truth, a lifestyle, and a cultural pose or gesture, is also a suspicion and an accusation. Two men together, in an intense relationship, run the risk of being called gay. Two women together out in a bar may be thought of as lesbians (indeed, sometimes this is even a play to be indulged in, confounding “the male” gaze). Foucault conceived of homosexual culture as an experimental culture that sought new ways of relating. The possibilities of how to practice friendship were suddenly up for grabs in the interstitial-liminal spaces in which homosexuality was being played with in the 70s and 80s. On this front, it is worth remembering that Foucault wasn’t talking from the ivory tower in these matters, but was embedded in an S/M culture; he was himself doing this field work. Foucault:

Between a man and a younger woman, the marriage institution makes it easier: she accepts it and makes it work. But two men of noticeably different ages – what code would allow them to communicate? They face each other without terms or convenient words, with nothing to assure them about the meaning of the movement that carries them toward each other. They have to invent, from A to Z, a relationship that is still formless.

There is no readymade world and no environment with pre-established cues for the practice of relating to one another; of course, homosexual culture may have had its own codes at the time Foucault was writing but they would not have been so saturated as heteronormative culture that it was at the peripheries of. Not to digress too far, but there is a certain disappointment in the idea of gay marriage- and I think Foucault would agree with this- that is essentially an admission that the experimental quality of homosexuality has now firmly been capitulated in favour of a social conservatism that announces equality not in terms of the equality of all to anyone, but the equality of all through the Same. Foucault resists this reduction when he says that homosexuality is not a form of desire and that sexual relations are banal; the important thing about homosexuality is its affective and relational aspects. It is a formless relationship that must form itself; the creation of the homosexual world is then the co-enactment of a particular world. Here, we can see some of why Todd May thinks friendship is a form of resistance: friendship is exactly this collaboration in the production of a specific world that does not rely on, may depart from, may even disrupt the existing normative regulation of human-human relations. (Is it necessary to restrict ourselves? Can humans be friends with non-humans? Children can even have non-existent imaginary friends, after all). Friendships can thus even be instances of politics. A white person and black person being friends in America’s slave and segregation history? That would constitute a political act. This concept is also linked to the production of temporary/permanent autonomous zones (communes yes, but also afternoons).

In another interview, Foucault asks

Why shouldn’t I adopt a friend who’s ten years younger than I am? And even if he’s ten years older? Rather than arguing that rights are fundamental and natural to the individual, we should try to imagine and create a new relational right that permits all possible types of relations to exist and not be prevented, blocked, or annulled by impoverished relational institutions.

Here the idea of adoption is legal, linked to a juridical concept of transfering guardianship or the power of loco parentis to some non-biologically related other; I take responsibility for the adopted as the parent for the child. Here, Foucault’s question seems to me much more like a provocation: isn’t this, despite its nonrecognition by juridical power, by the state, precisely what I do when I make a friend? Foucault seems to be asserting, not just that I could assert such a right and thereby bring it into being (and denature rights discourse, denature the subject “man” on which they rest and take for a sovereign), but that in friendship I do adopt the friend. Adoption is an “action noun”, it is a name of something that can’t be conceived outside of its being done (belief, likewise…what is a belief in the abstract?). When I adopt, I select, I choose for myself, I desire. And, for a friendship to be a friendship, so to does the friend. We choose ourselves for the other and the other for ourselves; or, perhaps, we choose ourselves in the other, and the other in ourselves. In either case, to take the friend up as my own is never to assert myself over her but always to choose to be implicated in, enmeshed with, intimately engaged with her.

Friendship is a sharing. It is a sharing one another and in the making of a world. I don’t really have any friends, I make them; and in the practice of making friends, so to I fashion myself. This point can be made in a banal way by suggesting that without friends we wouldn’t have the interests that we do. Indeed, at some point in Reconsidering Difference, I’m sure Todd May makes exactly this point. Our interests and enjoyments, pleasures and desires, our ways of relating are, in no small part, determined by our friendships. It is because of the nature of friendship as this kind of practice of sharing oneself, that authentic friendships can’t be conceived of on consumer or confessional terms. When I show you my wounds, I don’t confess them to you, I share them with you.

Seneca remarks that ‘when one is busy and absorbed in one’s work [of making friends], the very absorption affords great delight’ (Philosophy and Friendship, in Letters of Seneca Kindle Location 737). How distant this sounds to the characterization of Stoics as cold and aloof, but also, and more importantly, it makes the point that friendship is ongoing. I could know you for years and still be making friends with you. Indeed, the term itself “to make friends” implies this labour that we are joined in, that we are making something other from the materials to hand, which is ourselves and our current practices of relating. Seneca is clear (Kindle Location 748) that I don’t make friends to gain something, or to win something, but

in order to have someone to die for, whom I may follow into exile, against whose death I may stake my own life, pay the pledge too…[the Sage] seeks [friendship] precisely as he seeks an object of great beauty, not attracted to it for by design for gain, nor frightened by the instability of Fortune…

A friendship has this quality, a true friendship. One does not fight and die for casual acquaintances, for those with whom one does not share a world. Its interesting that Derrida thinks of this as a transfer from oneself to the other, as Seneca didn’t think one could be one’s own friend. Yet a friendship is not a burden, not a hostage-taking situation. A friendship is something of great beauty. If it is a work, it is thus an aesthetic work. Returning to Todd May once again,

By that I mean that in liking a whole person, one cannot give an exhaustive account of what it is one likes in liking a friend. Telfer tells us that, “Liking is a difficult phenomenon to analyse … It seems rather to be a quasi-aesthetic attitude, roughly specifiable as ‘finding a person to one’s taste,’ and depends partly on such things as his physical appearance, mannerisms, voice and speech and style of life; partly on his traits of character, moral and other.” Telfer insists that liking a friend does not mean one takes an inventory of these things. Instead, they somehow meld into a person whom we are drawn.

Friendship is non-cognitive as much as it is anything else, it is embodied in profound ways. This is perhaps why we are (mistakenly, I think) immediately suspicious of online friendships, an online friendship may lack the qualities of an embodied face-to-face encounter but it can maintain the aesthetic dimension. Online, our friendships are like co-written novels, certainly they resemble dialogues. Yet the voice, the seductive voice or the passionate voice, does reach us in a very direct and visceral way, making contact with us, permeating us in a way that epistemic communication alone can’t, whilst at the same time, in the elusiveness of being able to sum up the person, to be located at its origin, reminding us of the withdrawn aspect of this particular object I call friend. We must also recall that while the voice is integral to our affection for the friend, it is the voice as such to which we respond- the voice prior to the sonic signifiers it articulates.

A friendship is a kind of relation, most importantly, that is not expressible in terms of mastery or submission, sovereignty or subjection. Authentic friendship can’t be what Derrida feared friendship would be, as one part of the binary that also identifies an enemy. The identification of friends and enemies in the political philosophy of Carl Schmitt is a matter of rear guard defense, of being tied to and protecting a pre-existent eidos, rather than being the entanglement of mutuality in an ethos such that I’ve been discussing. If Carl Schmitt uses the names friend and enemy, we don’t have to tremble and decide that friendship is contaminated or at risk of such contamination. It is not a work of semantics or a play of definitions to state that the identification of friends from without, either by the state or the media nominating my friends for me and telling me that I am in a friendship with these people and united in common cause against this enemy, is already to have conceded that I am not the friend of the friend. That Schmitt rejects from his account of friendship everything that we typically mean by friendship (the “psycho-individual” aspects of “emotion” I think he says), tells us that he is willfully misappropriating the name.

A thought of post-nihilist pragmatics, what I have also been calling catastrophia and/or “catastrophic thought“, is a thought that is about what work after nihilism. This is not just about what works after nihilism, what is efficacious but that takes the question of practices as fundamental. If meaning collapses, if it is always going to collapse, if it is tied to our finitude, then how do we have practices of significance? How do we have such practices in a manner that doesn’t revert to the kind of heroism that fascism founds itself on? The reason I speak of the catastrophic and of a love of the catastrophic is not out of morbidity or because I want to declare that the emperor has no clothes. I take the term catastrophe from Aristotle claim from the Poetics, that it is ‘an action bringing ruin and pain on stage, where corpses are seen and wounds and other similar sufferings are performed’ but also from the Beckett play of the same name. The catastrophe is the part of the play when things are revealed for what they are; the hopelessness of the situation is made visible, the wounds are shown. Vulnerability once meant having the capacity to be wounded and to wound. Vulnus meant the literal wounds of the body, the body that we are thrown back on as our after nihilism, that we rediscover we always already are. Our sense-making capacity is founded on our openness to the having a world, and to having a world together. When I was in Edinburgh last week, I went to an exhibition on embodiment title “From death to death and other small tales”. At this exhibition, I saw the Joseph Beuyers work, that insists that you Show Your Wound. In the work of friendship, a work of vulnerability, we show one another our wounds, we are amidst the catastrophe, we don’t turn away from it…we might even celebrate it. The new practices that we need to forge to move across nihilism will be practices undertaken in friendship.

When Carl Scmitt talks about the identification of friends, he is not talking about the identification of those with whom we are moved, from whose thought we can’t disentangle our own, those with whom we generate new worlds, experiment with new ways of relating, and approach, together, the good way of living: he does not, finally, mean that we these are people to whom we show our wounds, those to whom we share, fundamentally, our vulnerabilities with. Schmitt is talking about the people with whom we might share our desire for stable meaning achieved through the renunciation of vulnerability, through fidelity to some exception or through identification with an absolute sovereignty. Friendship, as I see it, is fundamentally anarchic, fundamentally about the affirmation of fragile openings, about improvisation, about embracing of the ongoing, always unfinished work of experimenting with the friend relation. There is no “friendship”, only this friendship that we (you and I) are making. In that making, who is to say where I end and you begin? My thought isn’t mine…this post is based on a conversation and is, in fact, a letter written to a friend intended to carry on that conversation with him, and now also with you. If Aristotle can sigh ‘Oh my friends, there are no friends’, this is only because they must constantly be created. Friendships are not without risk, they are about risk. The practice of friendship is like that of trapeze; one flings oneself from the rope and hopes to be caught, each time choosing to be truly vulnerable.

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Update

In the history of Marxism, a friend would be named “comrade”; in anarchism, friendship as an organisational principle is called “affinity”; in feminism, it is conceivably the case that there could be no “sisterhood” without a concept of friendship. Today, authentic friendship is hard to achieve but it is not impossible. Today, I find none of these names happy identifications. Strategically, I call myself anarchic but not anarchist. I call the approach I am hopefully helping to shape, post-nihilist pragmatics. The experience of nihilism is the experience of the collapse of all identifications, all transcendental structures, all sense-making that relies on a capital ‘N’ Name. Over the years I have read Simon Critchley- Very Little Almost Nothing is undoubtedly a book I loved reading, Infinitely Demanding less so- but it is not until today that I have agreed with him so powerfully. What is required, our task, the work that comes after nihilism is

the production of a fiction that we know to be a fiction and yet which we believe in nonetheless.

(Faith of the faithless, p.93).

That fiction must start from the nonfictional that nihilism reveals as conditioning our stark exposure: our being bodies. Friendship seems to me to be one line of pursuit of such a fiction. To start anywhere else than with our bodies and with each other is already to avoid the chance to live after nihilism, is instead to turn away and pretend nihilism never happened.

Living suicides: part 1.

This post is about suicide. It is about the thought of suicide, and is inspired by the rise of long term conditions, especially dementia, that late capitalism has delivered to us. Today, our deaths are all the more collective and we each have the prospect of more than one death. Each death is multiple. This post forms the introduction to a concern with suicidality that at least one future post will focus on.

Unfortunately, modern medical science has put at our disposition pharmacological tools that oblige us to live much longer than our body and our brain can accept. Alzheimer epidemics is the ruthless punishment for a humanity which is holding onto life not because we love it (how can we love the horrid decomposition of memory, and of our ability to recognizing ourselves?) but because it is our property, and we have been taught never to abandon our belongings.- Franco Berardi. 2013. “Satanic exorcisms upon the surfacing of truth”. Here.

When the length of life doubles, it is no longer the same life, no longer the same person. This break touches more and more closely on everything connected with the duration of human life, its hazards, its brevity. For one who expects to live a century, all that has been constructed, thought out, codified to suit a short life is wrong. Everything — family, marriage, inheritance, saving, morality — needs to be shaken through a different long-life sieve. Commitment, fidelity, faith will never again have the meaning they had in societies where men were generals at 20 and eternity was waiting after another ten years: time enough to live fast and make a handsome corpse. A sort of frivolity about ourselves has gone. – Hervé Juvin 2010. The coming of the body.

Paul Virilio used to write about the “integral accident”. The term is meant to conjure an eschatological but not apocalyptic mood. The intergral accident explains the end-of-the-world obsession evident in late capitalist culture. The end that Virilio thinks we are undergoing in this accident, is the end of geography [1]. We should be careful when handling Virilio that we don’t get infected with his own siege mentality. I simply want to make the case that we are seeing a kind of end of a particular geography of the human body, and a particular end to the geography of death.

Late capitalism has changed what is is to be an embodied person. As Catherine Malabou [2] has it the Alzheimer’s patient is a stranger to herself, unable to flee her condition, she is produced as a new person to herself. Let me state it even more radically: the Alzheimer patient is often the very figure of the undecidability of personhood. They are accidental beings. Death, it is said, is an absolute interruption in the aesthetic project of the creation of a life. Alzheimer’s is an absolute interruption but it is not necessarily an end. It is in fact the beginning. Diagnosis inaugerates you into a new world of residential homes, care homes, nursing homes, hospitals, hospices, anti-depressants, anti-psychotics, neuropsychology, psychiatrists, nurses. A new world and a new- often rapidly diminishing- life; a world none of us, not even those who work in them, want to admit vulnerability to. The geography of the body is always the geography of its fault-lines and its frailties, its lurking accidents as well its capacities and sensualities.

Willard Mass. 1946. The geography of the body. Short film (that I can’t embed)

Malabou (p.71) opines that the Alzheimer’s patient doesn’t metamorphose, that they are as they were in our perception- save for a new gloss of indifference. She almost makes them sound like sages. Except that if you are providing care you’ve seen up close the changes and the extent of the metamorphosis. It may be true that in the Alzheimer’s patient we can’t see the stages of change, that it comes on suddenly…but vascular dementia, with its step-wise progression, has dramatic ischaemic events that result in the sudden and sharp emergence of cognitive deficits; and Korsakoff’s dementia produces dramatic personality change. One can even see the metamorphoses throughout the day. The patient sits quietly in the day room all day, with all the impassivity that Malabou identifies in her, but come a certain time she will spring into action, commanded by perceptual illusions, confabulations of the present made from fragments of the past, outright hallucinations provoking wordless screams in agonised terror. I remember working with a person who had once been a teacher. All day said person would be passive and acquiescent. Come a certain time, the day-room was suddenly the school room, patients and staff suddenly students to be marshalled out of their laziness. This person was advanced in years but possessed unexpected strength. People with Alzheimer’s are not immune to outbursts of violence, especially when minimal restraint is understandably interpreted as assault. This ex-teacher had broken many of his carer’s bones. We pass from the image of man as the rational animal to man as the broken neuronal system.

Each passing generation- if we bracket off the unpredictable- is going to be subject to dementia and other long-term conditions. The way of dying in late capitalism will be intensely regulated, managed, even self-managed (the lie of patient autonomy), and so the way of approaching death, conceiving it, will also be radically transformed. The sanctity of life that we cling to is going to bring us closer and closer to the risk of being parodies of ourselves. As we lose ourselves in these conditions, we also lose our world. The informational poverty that RS Bakker puts at the heart of his post-intentional philosophy is a accurate description of the world of the advanced dementia patient. Indeed, the neuropathic individuals of Bakker’s world are already with us, and are going to become more and more common.

In the up shot of all this, is there a case to made for our being-toward-death as no longer capable of orienting us and giving us an ethos. I’ve just finished reading Seneca’s On the shortness of life and I can’t help but think that his ideas around the engrossment. The person with dementia, as the disease progresses, becomes more and more engrossed in that disease’s empty mind, absent cognitions, and empty dreaming. This is not an engrossment that acquaintance with the stoic doctrine or any life of wisdom could disengage us from. The (incredibly rare) experience of “rementia”- a brief coming to lucidity of the person with advanced dementia- is subject to the haphazard weaving of fate. In this, and other long term conditions (although each demands its own treatment), we are abandoned even to our own ability to appropriate our death. Marcus Aurelius counselled that we think of senility, the daily degradation of our cognitive and imaginative powers, to provide an urgency to our philosophic practices. Yet the emperor wasn’t living in an age where bodies were kept alive against their will, and treatment continued even to the point where the disappearance of person-hood is all but certain. Marcus only needed to face up to one death. How many might we need to face up to today?

The future of our ageing societies are in question. Ageing bodies demand a total re-composition of social organisation. The global distribution of labour is going to shift and with it, in all likelihood, the direction of the circulation of capital. Importing young workers from the global South, capital will either haemorrhage from the North or else the distinction itself will disappear. Here, capitalism itself is leading us to a reconsideration of its own bio-political operations, and to our attachment to certain favourite delusions (ie; we are some kind of “first world”). It is part of our contemporary nihilism to keep bodies alive past the point of being a life. Perhaps it is time that we gave serious attention to the question of suicide, and of suicidality, both as practice and as philosophical concept. In place of being-towards-death, being-towards-suicide. I raise this in the light of discussions of vulnerability, fragility, and frailty. In this way I wonder if there isn’t a sense in which suicidality- the thought of suicide- can be reclaimed from ‘the dark side of the multitude’ [3] and put to work for a living inside and after nihilism. Bifo is quite correct that ‘suicide has become a political action everywhere’…why should it be left to those who would destroy.

Suicide must be re-appropriated from the exclusivity of the psychiatric establishment, from the suicide bomber, from the burning and forgotten monk (a figure of Baudrillardian hyper-passivity) and be reintegrated into the sensibility of creativity. I don’t mean that suicide is a strategy we ought to adopt or that people who are suicidal shouldn’t be assessed and helped. If I thought that I wouldn’t do the job I do, and I certainly wouldn’t have been involved in interventions for friends who have tried to kill themselves. Rather, it is the thought of suicide that needs to be reclaimed. As EM Cioran has it, the thought of suicide is enough to prevent one from needing to carry it out. In approaching suicide, perhaps we will find another way to approach autonomy, another way to ‘make friends with death’. What other deaths are there? What other suicides might be possible?

[1] Paul Virilio. 2005. The original accident. Cambridge: Polity Press.
[2] Catherine Malabou. 2012. Ontology of the accident: an essay on destructive plasticity. Cambridge: Polity Press.
[3] Franco Berardi. 2011. After the future. Edinburgh: AK Press.

This is also my second post on dementia on this blog. The first is here.

A melancholy love

For the one for whom life is a supreme reality, without it being a piece of evidence, what question can torment him other than the one pertaining to this dilemma: can we or can we not love life? This uncertainty is unclear and delicious; but nonetheless it demands an answer. It is both charming and bitter not to know whether you love or don’t love life. You would like not to say either a yes or a no, if only for the pleasure of not clearing a pleasant uneasiness. A yes means a renunciation to imagining and feeling an other life; a no is fear of the illusion of other worlds.

I only love the one who goes beyond there is; the one who can feel his beginnings and the things that precede them; the one who remembers the times when he was not him, the one who jumps in anticipation of individuation. He who has not trembled realizing the deep meaning of individuation, has understood nothing of this world, because he will never have sensed the zones of his beginnings, nor will he able to foresee the moment of his own end. Individuation reveals our birth as an isolation and death as a return. The one who doesn’t cultivate this isolation doesn’t love life, nor does the one who doesn’t fear return, love life. The fact that almost no one loves return proves something else, namely that this is the path towards the world in which we have no name. Individuation gives life a name. We all have a name; the world which precedes individuation is the life without a name, it is the life without a shape. Only individuation gives life a shape. This is why the crashing of individuation in death is a disfiguring. Man doesn’t love his face, which is an accident, but its shape, which is a metaphysical sign.

EM Cioran from The Book of Delusions

The stoic as pessimist

The Stoics held that thought was the cause of all suffering, while others like the Buddha, Schopenhauer, Zapffe, Cioran (the whole pessimist gamut) held otherwise. Life itself, existence in this form, this conscious modality, is the cause of all suffering. This is the veil of tears. This is the thesis that seduces many into a subjectivist nihilism, or a resignation. This is the first, the only, noble truth. And from whence does its nobility spring? Are we to think that because it fell from the Buddah’s lips that it is noble? No. It’s nobility is not that of the highborn or the superior, it is the nobile of ‘gnobilis’, the knowable. It is what we come to know. It is the irrevocable knowledge that precedes the writings of any and all traditions, that precedes the production of a system of notation to inscribe meanings on page, on rock, on skin. It is knowledge that precedes even the birth of meaning, and which survives it in death. It is noble because it is always and everywhere the first knowledge; it is what life necessarily comes to know. The neonate’s primitive scream; the President’s tears after gunshots in an elementary school, and the children who ran to hide; the battle fields, the urban squalor, the inherited evolutionary itch to fight, to flee, to erect dwelling and cower (in comfort admittedly) from the elements. Suffering is what life comes to know irrevocably.

Some would say the function of art, and all aesthetics maybe, is to deliver us from suffering- to provide a salvic operation on what we have discounted as our ‘soul’. Beauty is born to soothe us, to raise us above the murk and mess and mulch of darkness, pain, and the compacted rot of corpses we call our history, our present. And I won’t dispute that. What do I know that those greater minds didn’t?

But the Stoics. They refused to characterise existence as suffering. We suffer to the extent that we acquiesce to the events that we take as the external source of our suffering. Writ large: we suffer because we don’t know how to be indifferent to the fact of life, to living. It was this that allowed them, or at least some of their contemporary interpreters, to make the illegitimate move of thinking that life is, in the words of one such modern Stoic, ‘amazing, incredible, wonderful’.

But then, it’s undeniable that beauty is produced by suffering. This isn’t to say that all who suffer produce beauty (and nor is it to say that beauty transforms  suffering- the beautiful and the merely pretty don’t necessarily coincide). It is simply to say that suffering appears necessary for the beautiful to emerge in conscious life.

So what have we said? That life is suffering. That the living suffer. That suffering is the fertilizer of the production of beauty. That the beautiful might elevate us, however fleetingly, from our condition. So don’t we have sufficient ground to say with the contemporary Stoic, who is surely exceeding his ancient Masters, that life is amazing, incredible, wonderful. In short, beautiful. Beauty, after all, is not opposed to ugliness but to the bland.

The pessimist  can find in life, in death as idea and as materiality (as corpse), some beauty. Likewise the pessimist need not be viewed as the dour and miserable or the cold and distant. The pessimist is overwhelmed sometimes by the world, not just in its aspect as source of suffering but also as source of beauty- because that is the same.

 

Interview with Collective Action

A ‘new’ anarchist organisation based in the UK:

The only way there can be a future for anarchist politics is in making anarchist ideas and methods a practical and coherent tool for organising workplaces, intervening in social struggles and empowering working class communities. Anarchism needs to recapture its traditional terrain of organising, what Bakunin referred to as, the “popular classes” and abandon the dead-end of activism. This means a fundamental re-assessment of what we do and what we hope to achieve. It also means returning, as Vaneigem would call it, to the politics of “everyday life”. To put it bluntly, if your politics cannot relate and potentially organise around the problems and struggles of the twenty or so people you routinely meet through your day (and we don’t mean “activist” friends and circles here, the people you ride the bus with, work with, live next to etc.) then you have no theory of social change. And to clarify, by this we do not mean watering down your politics or dissolving yourself into “community projects”, rather it’s about finding ways to radicalise those connections you have with existing communities to a point where they take on a specific political content – anti-capitalism. It is us, after all, who produce the wealth of this world and any social conflict needs to be waged on the basis of this fact and the need for re-appropriation of the collective product of our labour.

In full here.

And here is a link to their only current position paper.

“There is nothing outside the text”

Through the lenses of biosemiotics, “semiosis” (as conceived by Peirce) is implicitly re-defined as that which is “meaningful”, “relevant” or “significant” to any living “thing” in terms of its survival in its particular environment or more accurately, it’s “Umwelt”. It is a central tenet of the overall biosemiotics approach that, to understand life, natural meaning can not be ignored. From this, it is but a short step to the conclusion that, as Gregory Bateson clearly saw, it is essential that the concept of mind can not be exclusively identified with a human mind. Mind is thus seen by biosemiotics as extensively perfused through out nature and not a property exclusive to human beings

In this regard, biosemiotics emphasises meaning and suggests that, inline with some current work in embodied/embedded cognitive science, it is grounded in a living organising’s embodied semiosis. Meaning is derived through biological signs. The basic forms of these biological signs are those exchanged between the organism and its environment, its Umwelt, It is argued that, as a fundamental principle, living things (from cells to organisms) are not purely mechanical processes, but rather, messages to be read and interpreted. Thus consider DNA which can be read, indeed is read, as message-bearing signs transmitted (via RNA) to protein for replication to occur.

From the Underrated philosophy blog. Here.

A kind of manifesto (stolen from someone else)

From the Ernst Becker Foundation</em>

Death Anxiety
By Daniel Liechty
Posted on November 18 2011

All living creatures have a strong, even overwhelming urge to continue living; yet our entire ecosystem would collapse without universal mortality (every living thing dies); thus, there is a basic paradox at the hear of the living cosmos.

Human beings are animals, first and foremost, sharing completely in the evolution of species on this earth, and large chunks of human emotions, social life and basic physical and nervous makeup reflect that shared animal heritage.

Human beings have the intelligence to think abstractly; this is in essence what sets human psychology and cognition apart from animal psychology and cognition (This is the most general statement of human uniqueness, but only humans have many ending propositions in literature, e.g., have a concept of zero, have language, do mathematics, understand negation, practice religion, etc. All of these and many more would be seen as cases in point of the ability to think abstractly).

Because it is rooted in the ability to think abstractly, human cognition is able to grasp the paradoxical Mortality Principle on which our ecosystem/cosmos is based at the deepest levels, and feel it intensely qua paradox.

The most important features of human psychology are born out of the clash between the overwhelming urge to continue living and the cognitive awareness of universal mortality; this recognition of the inevitability of the death (the paradoxical Mortality Principle) creates a reservoir of potentially immobilizing, debilitating anxiety.

There are defense mechanisms in individual psychology (e.g., denial, repression, projection, displacement, dissociation, rationalization, intellectualization, identification, reaction formation, sublimation, humor. There are more than 20 in the specialized literature). Each of these mechanisms manifests itself in creative and destructive forms.

Likewise, there are social defense mechanisms, habitual patterns of collective behavior aimed at defending established social formations (ritual, scapegoating, segregation, denigration, assimilation, annihilation, etc.). Each of these mechanisms manifests itself in creative and destructive forms.

The entire array of individual and social defense mechanisms are regularly employed to maintain individual and social equanimity in reaction to threats of death, and also in reaction to the symbolic threats of death contained in recognition of the cosmic Mortality Principle. Such defense mechanisms probably originated in, but certainly were strategically contoured in their contemporary form by, this need for anxiety control in the face of mortality awareness. In short, our highly developed intelligence caused the anxiety problem in the first place, and also comes forth with at least the provisional solution to the anxiety problem.

One very central and ubiquitous anxiety-compensatory movie is to transfer the urge for continued living from the physical realm to the symbolic realm; the organismic urge for continued living becomes channeled into the urge for immortality in the symbolic realm.

The urge for symbolic immortality is the source of very large chunks of human creativity and life-affirming energies; it is the underlying function of culture/religion to serve as venues through which people achieve and maintain a sense of participation in symbolic immortality (soul survival, larger-than-life projects, etc.).

All cultures/religions are on the one level fictional, since t hey all promise something (immortality) on which they cannot deliver; however, they are all also potentially true, in that each provides some functional viability for anxiety-compensation. Human individual and social life without such fictions would be unbearable and impossible.

There is power in numbers; the more you rub shoulders only with people who believe in the same cultural/religious fictions, the more plausible those fictions become (we all tell the same stories!).

People who do NOT share our cultural/religious assumptions (stories, fictions) are a big problem, since by their very existence the cast doubt n the absolute certainty of our truth (revealing its fiction nature to us) and thus expose us again to the repressed anxiety they function to allay in the first place.

Hence, culturally/religiously Dissimilar Others may be a creative source for helping us widen and enhance our own vision; or, they may be encountered in the most literal sense, as enemies.

Modern, post-Darwinian human beings are more likely in the first place to suspect the fictional character of their cultural/religious stories/truths than those of previous generations, and this is further aggravated because improvements in communications and travel technology force moderns to confront the reality of the culturally/religiously Dissimilar Other on a regular basis.

Future human well-being, and possibly even simple human survival, will depend on learning to substitute more creative manifestations of the individual and social defense mechanisms against the anxiety provoked by the religiously/culturally Dissimilar Other for the more destructive manifestations.

Further notes on becoming-noncorporeal

Men of broader intellect know that there is no sharp distinction betwixt the real and the unreal; that all things appear as they do only by virtue of the delicate individual physical and mental media through which we are made conscious of them; but the prosaic materialism of the majority condemns as madness the flashes of super-sight which penetrate the common veil of obvious empiricism– H.P Lovecraft, The Tomb.

1.

For Deleuze becoming-animal is also the becoming of a ‘zone of the indiscernible, of the undecidable, between man and animal’ [1]. This undecidability means that one cannot isolate and fix the separation between man and animal. The spectator, who might be the living reversal of the image subject to such spectatorship, is unable to separate the low from the high, the dirty from the clean, the brute from the humane, the instinctive from the rational. In becoming-animal all dualism that extracts the human from the animal or subtracts the animal from the human collapses whilst remaining in fraught operation. I cannot say that I am this or that; I am both and neither, the point at which I cannot speak through the logic of identification. This undoing of molar surfaces is the undoing of the engine of meaning-production [2] that Giorgio Agamben has termed the anthropocentric machine [3].

2.

The anthropocentric machines carves out human from animal and as such serves as the motor for those political philosophies that seek to delineate regimes of humanity. A regime of humanity is at once this system of meaning-production, or anchoring* in Zapffe’s nihilistic formula, that separates man from his other and elevates him ‘above nature’ and is also what allows for the creation of an aesthetic regime of degrees of humanity. As such the Jew is conceivable as nonhuman animal, the woman is conceivable as something to be tamed and domesticated- turning her wild sexuality into the regulated affection of the pet-, and the slave before both is conceivable as just within humanity. This anthropocentric machine is properly engine of meaning-production that gives humans the sense that they are other than nature and which serves as a self-reproducing system of domination that paints itself as nondomination. Anarchism responds to the effects of this system without always having the balls to attack it’s basis. For the mythological ‘classical anarchist’ this wasn’t a problem because the world had not yet been revealed as catastrophic.

3.

Becoming-noncorporeal operates based on an engine of meaning-production that takes the body as it’s site of operation. As Deleuze writes ‘The body is the Figure, or rather the material of the Figure’ which must not be conflated with the ‘material structure in space’. For Deleuze the body is not reducible to the biological matter of physiology and anatomy. The body remains material without suffering from this reduction. How? Elsewhere Deleuze is engaged in a discussion on the body in Spinoza when he remarks that the latter’s God, which is a substance to which all attributes belong (a pure virtuality of which all actualisation is an expression), is ‘the speculative figure of immanence’ [4]. If the body is not identical or reducible to biological matter but remains material then this materiality is the materiality of the virtual.The actual body that we talk about when we talk about embodiment, about corporeality, about conditions of health and sickness, is dependent upon but never coincides with the virtual body. Zizek understands this as the ‘incorporeal/immaterial’ real of the body but this does Deleuze a disservice [5].

4.

The materialism here is the materialism of affect, of affection, of the virtual’s potency to condition, to alter, to perturb, to disrupt, to delimit or delineate the actual in any number of given ways. Deleuze goes on to state that For Spinoza ‘the individuality of a body is defined by the following: it’s when a certain composite or complex relation (I insist on that point, quite composite, very complex) of movement and rest is preserved through all the changes which affect the parts of the body ‘ [6]. A body then is virtual and all actualisations of this virtual are expressions of the that virtual. A body also only appears through relations of movement and rest- we might say of being moved and of resisting being moved- by other bodies**. There are ‘all sorts of relations which will be combined with one another to form an individuality of such and such degree’ so that ‘the body’ is not the material structure at all but the Figure. How to understand the Figure? As the combinatory relations that solidify into distinct objects that can then appear to the spectator. As such it is not an immaterialism but an immanent materialism under which organisation is the self-organising performances of the engines of matter. The human body of anatomy and physiology is the actualised dynamic encrustation of the powers of the virtual body to act and be acted upon. The Figure is the name of this virtual-actualising body that differs from itself without being separable from itself (no physicalism without virtuality). This is what I mean by the skin of the world; it is an encrustation, a dead form, that is nonetheless dynamic and constantly in performance.

5.

The materialism of the virtual implies a virtuosity of the body. To return to the sense of the lived body of embodiment- the dancing body, the fucking body, the eating body- this tells us that what a body does is to constantly make itself actual in such and such a way. The Figure is constantly Structuring. From moment to moment the substance of my body only continues to exist due to the immanent performances of each degree of individuality. This is revealed in the body of the clown. The clown’s is that body which purposely refuses its own virtuosity- it is the body in deliberate failure to perform and constantly catching itself before that refusal becomes total. The dancer also perfectly puts in motion this virtuosity; the dancer’s relation to choreographic space is always one that is modified, adapted and corrupted by degrees of physical inability to perform such and such a motion just so but also by way of her body’s idiosyncrasies and her own improvised insertions. Choreographed space becomes corrupted space and the priority given to one over the other is no longer maintained. At the same time the hierarchy of the choreographer, the choreography and the choreographed (the dancer) breaks down into a ‘zone of the indiscernible, of the undecidable, between’ the dancing and the danced. Becoming-dancer and becoming-clown are modes of immanence being put on display, and of the strategic assembling and disassembling, of positions in space and spaces in position of being obviated. The dancer and the clown are privileged Figures for me. I watch them move and I watch the entire skin of the world; the surface that is its own depth.

6.

In social media the body is lost. The temptation is to experience the body as lost. The hyppereality of social media obliterates the body leaving nothing behind. The body as structure, as organisation of organs, is what is lost in this. The hyperreal of social media stimulates the production of a hyperreal identity- an identity that increasingly comes to precede my IRL identity and which does not rely on my IRL identity for its truth. This is the point of critiques of social media activism, of critiques of social media as digital dividuation, as the disorienting proliferation of plastic identities, of ‘trolling’ and of the use of the use of social media as a predictor of human political behaviours. All of these phenomena, really epiphenomena of the internet itself, are coming to be seen as the real of our society. It forms the core of critiques of media technology such as those launched by Sherry Tuckle that are based on a dualism between the physical universe and the digital universe. As Tuckle has it

‘texting and e-mail and posting let us present the self we want to be. This means we can edit. And if we wish to, we can delete. Or retouch: the voice, the flesh, the face, the body. Not too much, not too little — just right. [7]

Tuckle’s major text, Alone Together, has a string of dualist claims. She states that “If Facebook were deleted, I’d be deleted…’ and ‘Second Life gives me a better relationship that I have in real life’. These two short quotes show that Tuckle is involved in another dualist machine such that Deleuze’s becoming-animal wanted to undo. This is a dualism for which facebook deletes the body, edits the flesh, in which Second Life- the online world- is literally a second life detached from the physical realm. There is the physical and the digital and while they may interact they are fundamentally different. Indeed, the thrust of Tuckle’s criticisms of media technology is that the digital and the physical are incompatible, antagonistic towards each other, and that they compete against each other for us- (why they would do this and where the agency comes from, I don’t know).

7.

Tuckle thinks I edit myself online. That this online persona is an obliteration of my authentic fleshly self. I am nothing but body but that body is gone and all that remains is the simulation of a self on the shimmering desolate whiteness of the screen. The body edited, deleted, I am nothing. But this is to fundamentally miss the point of the ontological virtuosity of immanence. As I have hopefully shown to some degree of competence, the body is not identical to its physical organisation. Materiality does not depend on flesh and blood and if it did then anything that was not subject to the law of evolution, any nonorganic matter, would not be real. If this seems a hyperbolic claim and one that is unfair to Tuckle then let me illustrate further. If her problem is that I can edit my appearance online then she misses the point that I can edit my appearance in flesh and blood as well, and in more or less extreme forms; I can have my haircut, change my style, tattoo permanent cosmetic improvements onto my face, I can ‘delete’ parts of my body through extreme elective surgical procedures or other interventions, such as the incredibly common removal of fatty tissue. I can also add to myself, making myself excessive of my ‘authentic self’ and therefore destroying myself in the opposite direction. All that Turkle has discovered is that there is a good degree of negotiation surrounding identity and that such identity appears as the metastable resultant of a combinatory logic of identification and disidentification (of movement and rest) that makes identities more or less malleable, more or less fixed, more or less corrupt, multiple or singular. Indeed, Turkle has discovered that we engage in interpersonal strategies through which we perform our personhood through both our bodies and our ability to present ourselves in digital spaces. There are practices of the self which are practices of embodiment and those which do not seem to be practices of embodiment.

8.

This kind of digital dualism is hung up on the moment where practices ‘do not seem to be’ those of embodiment. This seeming is the seeming of the separation between the physical and the digital. It is the distribution of the sensible of the new social that social media are generative of; the spectral electronic social that disavows and dreams of a liberation from matter. Turkle’s analysis is in fact part of this social insofar as it is part of this dream: it is the dream in its wish-fulfilment function. The social of noncorporeality. [8].

9.

The practices of the body that do not seem to be of the body are nevertheless only playing at not being of the body. I mean this in both the sense of the being of the virtual body and the actualisation of that body as it is experienced as embodiment. First of all, the body is affected by and affects the digital. The digital sphere is not one in which I am passively caught up as a victim and it is not one in which we are necessarily ‘alone together’. Banal examples proliferate: last night I was at a birthday party that had been organised entirely through Facebook, I met new people I would not have otherwise met because of the digital. In my previous post I focussed on agitation. The problem that Turkle talks about when she talks about techniques of communication having supplanted the art of conversation (the eternal conservatism of this is ringing) is really that of a diminution of social relations. This can only be a problem for Turkle if the techniques of communication and the art of conversation, the former belonging to the digital and that latter to the physical, are mediations of some plane of immanence. To phrase this differently, there can only arise a concern that two modes of interaction that exist on two separate and separable ontological domains are relating with each other in such a way that one does harm to the other if they are not finally separate or separable at all. The digital dualist’s critique can only make sense if it fails to make sense.

Another example: my eye. Deleuze uses the eye as an example of a body in his lecture on Spinoza and states that the eye is a born out of the complex relations between it’s own parts and the parts of other objects that surround it, which it is affected by and which it in turn affects. The eye is set in the orbit which is a structural feature of the skull which sits on top of a spine which forms a part of a skeletal and nervous system that are protected and moved by a muscular system which is coated by a dermal system which is a threshold traversed by bacteria, food, air, blood, itself, and that touches and is touched, and that sits in front of a computer which is itself a body formed microchips, plastic molds, wires, nickle atoms, light and so on and so on. In order that my eye see the computer there must be a light source- thus the sun or some artificial means of lighting are brought into the equation of my sitting on Facebook or Twitter and being able to be disembodied. But my eye also relies on other eyes for its existence. My eye is not ex nihilo but is the eye I have inherited from the genetic information of my parents and all less immediate evolutionary ancestors. The computer had to be built by men and women in factories and laboratories, which had to be built with tools and by people who had received training, and the computers themselves had to be built with tools and by people who had to be trained in how to do build computers and so that I could post this post on my WordPress blog there has to be telephone lines and streets and engineers and and and and and and

a vast material network of bodies.

10.

This is the what I am saying when I say that the social of social media is ‘the spectral obliteration of materiality through the simulacrum which leaves the material in place’ [9]. The ontosclerosis of the social generated by social media is one in which we leave the body without leaving the body behind; a disembodied embodiment. Noncorporeality is never achieved. It is neither a utopian nor dystopian condition although it has the potential to be either of these. Noncorporeality is neither actual nor virtual but the demand that we shed our physicality and dive headlong into the digital. It is the demand that we do something impossible. Yet it is at the same time precisely what exposes and undoes the digilogical machine. Becoming-noncorporeal is a becoming precisely because it is a zone of indistinction, undecidability. It is also a becoming because it is this impossibility of its own completion.

11.

All this points to the notion that bodies have always been products of simulation. The simulacrum never engaged in any procession but was always already. Bodies, objects; these are always already simulations.

As soon as behavior is focused on certain operational screens or terminals, the rest appears only as some vast, useless body, which has been both abandoned and condemned. The real itself appears as a large, futile body [10]’.

And bodies, or their actualised portions, are these operational screens and terminals. The inexhaustibleness of bodies and, for humans, the potentially inexhaustible ways of being a body means nothing. The nostalgia for the body which has has not been lost, the nostalgia for a unitary solely physical body belies the nostalgia for the soul. It is not the body that is in question in becoming-noncorporeal if the question is a loss of materiality. I have emphasised throughout that this loss of the material, this destruction of the real, is an effort that is incomplete and impossible. That every time we deny the real that is precisely when it is resurgent; this is what makes radical denial a strategy of realism, and why one can state as fact that reality itself is speculative [11].

12.

The real is a large and futile body. This is a nihilistic truth. That the body/real is futile means that it is without purpose, without telos, without justification. This is perfectly in keeping with a naturalism that takes Darwin seriously. There is no point or purpose to anything in nature and nature, via selection, mutation, heredity and all its other materialist magic tricks, has always been a process of artifice, of recomposition, of experimentation, of the production of doubles without origins, the generation of bodies that are not copies of some original: that nature has always been simulation. If being a body means nothing then the Spinozo-Deleuzian question of what a body can do becomes the question of a post-nihilistic pragmatism***. It is not what bodies mean but what they do that concerns us. In the breakdown of the anthropological machine, the digilogical machine and all the other machines of meaning-production we are left with transparent meanings that although real have lost the sufficiency to motivate us. Meaning now suffers a failure. We built it up and it was there but now that we know that we built it it appears as a ruin. The body itself, our body, can no longer be identified and held in place by being fixed in an image of itself… not its physical image or its digital one.

13.

There are massive problems with social media, with electronic culture being plugged into our nervous systems…it produces anxieties, agitation, unrest, insomnia, an inability to concentrate, a kind of traumatisation and so on… but these are problems of immanence and not dualism. They are problems of ‘the advent of hyperstimulated man’ [12], changes in speed and quantity rather than ontological quality of being. They are problems that can only be problems, dangers that can only be dangerous, if the physical and the digital are not antagonistic categories of being that we must choose between. The choice is not between brains and clouds but to see where brains are situated within clouds. This is not the place to go into those problems or to trace the braincloud machinery.

14.

In all of this there are competing images of the body and of embodiment. The image is what fixes the body in place. Ontology is an aesthetics; actualisations are the surfaces of a depth; the skin of the world; the self-organised displays of matter. Becoming-noncorporeal is indifferent to binary distinctions and forces us to think of a spectral kind of embodiment and the possibility of such a disembodiment that we might adopt instead of react against. If becoming-noncorporeal obliterates materiality and leaves it in place, if it is a simulation that teaches us that everything is simulated, then it is also an invitation to address the Image afresh. What is at stake in these notes on becoming-noncorporeal is the body and its images; the withdrawn depths and the ways we access those depths. What is at stake is the prospect of leaving the mirror stage behind us without mourning the unitary body and finding instead that we have always been bodies without images capable of life after and inside of the catastrophe.

15.

Dancers and clowns are of the debris of the catastrophe, the seducers and satirists of things falling apart- artists in love with catastrophe. The body without image represents only that there is nothing to represent, that the only ethic is one falling, faltering, tumbling.

References and apologies

[1]. Deleuze, G. The body, the meat, the spirit: becoming animal. Here.

[2]. Meaning-production is my own term. I discuss it here, here, and here.

[3]. Agemben, G. 2004. The open. Man and animal. Stanford: Stanford University Press.

[4]. Deleuze, G. On Spinoza. Here.

[5]. Zizek, S. 2007. Deleuze’s Platonism: ideas as real. Here.

[6] Op. cit. Deleuze, G. On Spinoza.

[7]. Turkle, S. 2012. The flight from conversation. In the New York Times. Here.

[8]. See my notes on becoming-noncorporeal. Here. The current work forms a second part to this set of much shorter notes.

[9]. Ibid.

[10]. Baudrillard, J. 1983. The ecstasy of communication. NonPDF. PDF.

[11]. This is my idea of the Radical Denial which is taken from a more sustained engagement with Baudrillard and object-oriented philosophy. Essay 1. Essay 2. Aphorism.

[12]. Virilio, P. Future war: a discussion with Paul Virilio. Here.

* Anchoring is the “fixation of points within, or construction of walls around, the liquid fray of consciousness”. The anchoring mechanism provides individuals with a value or an ideal that allows them to focus their attentions in a consistent manner. Zapffe also applied the anchoring principle to society, and stated “God, the Church, the State, morality, fate, the laws of life, the people, the future” are all examples of collective primary anchoring firmaments. (text taken from wikipedia).

** In this connection, it is a shame that the dromology of Paul Virilio isn’t read in an ontological light. Deleuze is framing his assemblage theory materialism as a materialism of movement and rest that is dispersed, as all Deleuze’s antibinaries are, on planes of intensity. The language for measuring these intensities that exist in the interstitial space between movement and rest is speed or temporality. It should be recalled that Deleuze and Guattari’s identification of deterritorialisation is inspired by Virilio’s use of the same term.

*** I owe Michael of ArchiveFire entirely for this phrase which I liked so much I’ve stolen it.

Notes on becoming-noncorporeal

Today abstraction is no longer that of the map, the double, the mirror, or the concept. Simulation is no longer that of a territory, a referential being, or a substance. It is the generation by models of a real without origin or reality: a hyperreal.
-[1].

The concept of society is transforming. The social, endlessly mourned by postmodernism, is becoming the product of a work of generation, of electronic ghostly simulation. Society, that super-subject nonsense that has never existed, returns again, but this iteration marks the redistribution of sensible differences into commensurable units of code. Online, the sociologist’s dream is manifest in digital vibrancy. It is a dream the sociologist didn’t know he was dreaming, that he denied dreaming, and that his theories and models were trying to express. The latency of what was manifest is now come to pass: the spectral obliteration of materiality through the simulacrum which leaves the material in place [2].

Yet social researchers are dazzled by the data logged by social media sites and are apparently eager to use that information as uncomplicated proxies for social choices in general. At this point, enough people have made Facebook use a part of their everyday life that social researchers are treating Facebook as an empirical model of society itself.

[3].

What could we call such a tendency? The only term adequate is ‘trend’. We are speaking the language of social media- the prism through which the social is compositionally refracted. As organisms we pass into the new media, our nervous systems extending into that placeless time in denial of physicalist certainty, and are agitated. Agitation today comes to be more than the distressing or nonfunctional arousal of the nervous system by the environment and is no longer always simply treatable by mantras, by the breath, or by psychopharmacology. Today agitation is the agitation of Exhaustion, that sense of spent possibility that forms the mood of the time after the future wherein we realise that we never had any such future. Agitation is the psychoaffective outcome of being unable to unplug from this new social space, and of the ceaselessness of prompts to speak, to declare, to choose. The problem with this new social that eclipses the material is that it is infinitely refracting, plastic, without necessarily fixed axes: to speak of the space of social media is to illegitimately delimit its multiple indifferentiations.

This new social, the newness of which we have to continually stress to keep in place, isn’t just about technology directly inserting itself into our neurotransmission system. The novelty isn’t novel, we have always externalised our minds and we have always existed by prosthesis, the cyborg-image is as old as an ape using a nut as a hammer. The point is rather that this agitation is the result of the proliferation of multiplications of injunctions to participation that first of all demand that we participate in nonactual space. The new social produces agitation because it is this rampant nonactuality. This nonactuality is not identical to a virtuality. The claim isn’t that the social of social media is composing a society that is withdrawn from itself and the operants that condition it as this would only be to claim that the essence of the object ‘society’ does not exhaust itself in its becoming manifest. Instead, the claim is that nonactuality is neither actual nor virtual but exists as a kind of tidal movement between the two. Nonactuality is the non-physicality of the code made into an objective system of space and time that occupies and is occupied by the physical system of the object body. Otherwise put, every demand of the new social that is generated by social media and media sociology is always already a demand that we participate in something genuinely impossible: incorporeality. It is a pathological becoming-incorporeal; of becoming a body without a body by way of the acceleration of those organic systems that are stimulated when a prosumer of social media sits in front of their screen and subjects themselves to Facebook, Twitter, WordPress.

The new social, the hyperreal social, is a side-step of materiality that confirms what it disavows and retains under the effort of its obliteration. The new social is also a distribution of the insensible, in the sense of the flattened and blunted affect of the overexposed patient (for example, the depressive who loses the potency of the body; the restrictive anorexic who recodifies and/or loses the social materiality of space and relation; a whole ontosclerotic regime. Urge upon urge upon urge upon urge. ‘Desire’; ‘Take part’; this is the democracy of depleted serotonin and oversaturated dopaminergic receptor sites. A million clear and cogent signals are sent into the semiotic ecology becoming lost among one another, becoming indecipherable white noise.

We are inside a pathological ‘relation between statements and the incorporeal transformation or noncorporeal attributes they express’ [4]. Deleuze and Guattari meant something like performative speech acts wherein words affect bodies to alter the state space that those bodies occupy. I pronounce you man and wife does something to the man and woman. What happens when the man and woman are abandoned, when all that is left is the noncoporeal attributes? Exhausted at the end of the future, always in the heart of the catastrophe and anticipating its completion, we even begin to shed our bodies. The prophets of the technological singularity have always missed the point; one doesn’t need to flee the body to leave it behind. Social media is disembodied and without a future, it’s only future being the impossible instant that the body can’t cope with, that it can never manage to keep apace with. ‘We have been cheated out of the future, yet the future’s ruins lie about us, hidden or ostentatiously rotting’ [5].

Inside of becoming-noncorporeal there can be no memories of the near future and there can be no history, only the consensual linearity of a time-line. Becoming-noncoporeals don’t regret but ceaselessly construct,reconstruct and edit an autobiography that can never articulate what language can’t grasp, what language skirts around and illuminates only by dint of revealing shadows. And all these dreams of liberations. The dream of a liberation from matter that can be enacted by means of matter; the dream of a liberation from the social being enacted by an intensification of a perverse sociality; the dream of a liberation from unitary personhood only being enacted by an intense scrutiny of the self’s narratives. Soon a nostalgia will doubtless appear, and it will have the body as it’s object.

[1]. Baurillard, J. The procession of simulacra. Here.

[2]. For example see: Hart, W. 2011. Mind, self, facbook: towards a postmodern sociology. Here.

[3]. Horning, R. 2012. Facebook as experiment. Here. [Note the connection of facebook as an experiment in social form and various anarchist and Marxist ideas of praxis as experimentalism].

[4]. Deleuze, Gilles and Félix Guattari. A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. Translated by Brian Massumi. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1987.

[5]. Hatherly, O. 2009. Militant Modernism.. London; Zero Books. Pg. 2.

Ethics: to make friends with death

Knowledge Ecology has posted a  rich, dense , and frankly fantastic audio interview with Timothy Morton that introduces the idea of dark ecology, an ecology coated in ‘shame, and horror, and disgust’. If you haven’t already, I urge you listen to it here.

The collision between human history and geological time began the ecological emergency- where we ‘directly intervened with the earth’s crust- occurs at the same time that philosophy is denying material reality and establishing human exceptionalism. Human beings remain in a state of denial; the denial that follows a grief. This ecological emergency is one of what I call situated catastrophes that follow the original catastrophe of creation, of things becoming manifest as cosmos.

What I especially like is the idea that the world has already ended. Morton states that we have this ‘uncanny sensation of angst’, of the meaninglessness of our junkward world which is already over, as the ecological emergency is already underway, has already happened.

I would be more hyperbolic than Morton. The ecological age, the ecological catastrophe, is merely the proximate situation. We are actually inside a cosmological age; cosmos itself is a catastrophe which is headed towards it’s inevitable conclusion. That is not to say that the ecological catastrophe is of no importance (or no more non-importance than anything else); we are coping-beings that by and large can’t help but go on. If it is the case, as Morton says, that the ecological catastrophe has already happened then here we have a way to make sense of my question of a politics that is a question of the self-management of extinction.

Morton doesn’t talk about pessimism in this interview but I think that his outlining of a dark or black ecology is precisely part of a pessimism. I haven’t read a great deal of Morton’s work but from this interview I feel as though I ought to.

Finally, the most important part of this interview for me, Morton states that we have already given up and that we must ‘make friends with death’. This is the essence of my idea of the coalition in favour of death. 

Crucially, Tim’s continued returns throughout the interview to ideas of fragility (I have, in the past, written about humans as ‘fragile systems’), coexistence and so on also form the kind of ethics that I am beginning to think through constantly, even if I am not writing about it. This is the idea that I first found in Judith Butler’s Frames of War where she writes about the precariousness of life as the founding moment of any ethics or politics worth its name. This is vitally important to me in my clinical practice as a psychiatric/mental health nurse and in the role I play in helping my partner to raise her child in a non-authoritarian way.

Yet Butler remains caught within the anthropocentric image of thought wherein the interdependence that reveals precariousness remains that which exists between human beings. What projects like Morton’s, and he is by no means alone in this, is illustrating and calling attention to the ways in which such an interdependence is simply not reducible to anthropic relationships. Interdependence is what all flat ontologies show us as the condition of all objects/entities in existence.

All of this leads us to the point where we can speak about pessimist ethics. The dark knowledge of extinction leads us to what I have ironically called an ‘autopsy vitalism’; a perspective from which all living things are already dead but continue to live. They still live because their death, although an accomplished fact, has not yet occurred. Isn’t this akin to Morton’s view that the ecological emergency has already befallen us? All that remains is the dying dead existing among one another. An interdependent community of dying. Beyond this, pushing it further in the realisation of life as a negative concept  (a la Schopenhauer or Thomas Ligotti) we are really a community of interdependent beings on the road to destruction, or disappearance. And this is the key to pessimistic ethics because for the pessimist the question is the alleviation of suffering. To speak in the discourse of my profession for a moment, we are the first patients in the hospital to realise that all that remains to us is the self-administration of palliative care.  I think this leads us towards the kind of sentiment based ethics of Schopenhauer. I will end on a quote that will serve merely to illustrate this connection- I have to return to the banal world of housework- a quote that comes from the latter German miserablist and pessimist but which, I feel, wouldn’t have been out of place in Morton’s interview:

 

 

The conviction that the world, and therefore man too, is something which really ought not to exist is in fact calculated to instill in us indulgence towards one another: for what can be expected of beings placed in such a situation as we are? … this … reminds us of what are the most necessary of all things: tolerance, patience, forbearance and charity, which each of us needs and which each of us therefore owes.

 

Arthur Schopenhauer, Essays and Aphorisms, p.50.

 

That things ought not to exist. There is no hierarchy or preference here. All things that exist deserve compassion, indulgence. I would venture the uncontroversial claim that we can’t help but feel this all the more forcefully for other beings like us; sentient, conscious, living. An equality of being, but still an inequality of feeling. In this regard Morton’s is the ethical dictum that follows undecidability (the ethical situation as that in which there is no manual, no technique to unconsciously deploy); the cultivation of a mindful relationship with death itself.