attempts at living

to make a system out of delusions

Tag: materialism

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.

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’.

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.

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.

Towards a corporealism

If humans can only have structural access to things-in-themselves, and only ever fashion approximate knowledge of objects and assemblages through signification practices and epistemic phantasies, then what actually matters is how we pragmatically act, react and cope in the world in relation to them. Insert all the references to Wittgenstein’s ‘language games’ and ‘family resemblances’, Rorty’s ‘ironism’, and/or any other post-critical concessions you want right here. The bottom-line is that immanent structural – or perhaps infrastructural – relations have traceable consequences via the onto-specific powers or potencies (or what Bryant refers to as ‘pluri-potencies’) of things at a pre-reflective level of direct material-energetic affectivity. And the distal stories (narratives, ontologies, etc.) we tell ourselves about these consequential interactions – however poetic or meaning-full, or instrumental (useful) they may be – are basically coping mechanisms to help us make our way in the wild world as fully enfleshed beings-in-the-world.

Michael of Archivefire, On Being and Coping part one: ontic relation and object access.

In this hastily put together post I want to discuss corporealism, the idea that all that exists is bodies and that these bodies are real objects that really touch one another. I’ll be drawing on the Stoic conception of corporealism and discussing their ideas of matter and God. I think that the possibility of a realism that doesn’t become a panpsychism and that doesn’t support absolute absence can be founded on a commitment to the weird materialism of corporealism. In other words, corporealism is one possible name for a realism that focusses on the structural relation between bodies rather than on the epistemic. What is excluded from this post is a consideration of the equally important doctrine of incorporeals.

Origins of Corporealism.

According to Christoph Jedan, the Stoic doctrine of corporealism was an attempt to reconcile three varieties of thought active in the Hellenistic world. First, they were operating in a world were prospective Stoics would be immersed within a polytheistic cosmology that the majority of people had no reason to be atheistic toward. Secondly, the Stoics also had to compete with other schools cosmologies, and these all included treatments of divinity. We could think of Plato’s philosophical treatment of deity as being the most symptomatic of this. In the Timaeus Plato introduces his idea of the divine as demiurge, the perfectly good craftsman divinity that organises a pre-existent chaos and thereby produces the visible world. This demiurge is therefore transcendent of the material world, making use of the perfect realm of Forms in order to give form to matter. Matter pre-exists form and the God which renders it. This is important because it means that God is not absolute in the way of Christianity. The nexus Plato-demiurge-Christianity would later become important through the Gnostic conceptions of the demiurge as incompetent or evil, producing an utterly imperfect material realm and thereby explaining evil as a structural element of the world itself. The tension between fidelity to traditional fidelity and a philosophically refracted God would have been present in the Stoic’s world. The third element Jedan identifies is the Stoic’s own ‘tendency to a “materialistic ontology”‘. Jedan states that this was hard to wed with the theological concerns of their age, making no reference fact that religious and materialist discourses have continued to overshoot, caricature, and regard one another as irreducibly opposed to this day. For the Stoics, the upshot of the union between supernaturalism and materialism was to conceive of God as a material force or principle that runs through the entirety of materiality. In individual Stoics this God is personalised to a greater or lesser degree. Epictetus is probably the Stoic that personalises God to the greatest extent, referring to Zeus throughout his Discourses and almost sounds like a Christian, if one suspends an awareness of Stoic materialism.

The Stoic God is singular and pantheist, closer to the God of Spinoza than to Plato. Beginning with Zeno of Citium, founder of the Stoic school of philosophy, the Stoic conception of divinity is made thoroughly material, identified with nature, and sits within a rigorous physical determinism. As Diogenes explains

the term Nature is used by them to mean sometimes that which holds the cosmos together, sometimes that which causes terrestrial things to spring up. Nature is defined as a force moving of itself, producing and preserving in being its offspring in accordance with seminal reasons (spermatikoi logoi) within different periods, and effecting results homogenous with their sources (Lives, 7;148-49)

There is no doubt that this characterisation of nature is synonymous with God. The Stoics are not happy to leave it at that. Nature isn’t the nature outside the city limit or human nature alone. As Diogenes points out above, nature-and so God- is woven throughout the cosmos. He goes on

The cosmos, they hold, comes into being when its substance (ousia) has first been converted from fire through air into moisture and then the coarser part of the moisture has condensed as earth, while that whose particles are fine has been turned into air, and this process of rarefaction goes on increasingly till it generates fire. Thereupon out of these elements animals and plants and all other natural kinds are formed by their mixture. (Lives, 7.142)

For the Stoics, divinity has this elemental form of fire such that Diogenes is discussing. The description Diogenes gives us of the Stoic concept of cosmos is one in which God undergoes self-differentiation. The differentiated aspects of substance thus interact with one another (‘by their mixture’) in order to produce terrestrial things (animals and plants and all other natural kinds). God is the material substance of the cosmos and the cosmos is simultaneously an ensemble of all terrestrial things and itself a terrestrial thing. Following Aristotle, ousia (οὐσία) is the being of particular beings, the substance of singular terrestrial things. In this cosmological picture there is

God breaks apart into productive units we call elements. The productive units interact to produce terrestrial things. The proper name for terrestrial things in Stoicism is bodies. Therefore, the productive units interact to produce bodies. The totality of the bodies taken together is called cosmos or nature which is identical to God. God is God through self-differentiation, which is the same as saying that substance is substance through self-differentiation. By not being itself substance is able to remain itself. Essentially, this is the doctrine of immanence. It is for this reason that Marcus Aurelius can claim that

All things are woven together and the common bond is sacred,… for they have been arranged together in their places and together make the same ordered Universe. For there is one Universe out of all, one God through all, one substance and one law

(Meditations).

Whatever else we can say, God/Nature names an organising principle that is immanent to substance, and there is no substance that is not material. Thus it is that Stoic materialism does not hold to a passive understanding of matter; the corporeal organises itself. Stoic matter is not the matter of mechanistic physics that sits inert, and it is does not feature an originary formlessness as in Plato. Matter itself is active and in this sense ‘God’ names that part of matter that possesses this activity. It is the strangeness of this materialism that has led most commentators to instead refer to it as corporealism.

Only bodies are

The first to differentiate Stoic corporealism from materialism was French philosopher Éric Weil. A Jew born in Germany in the early part of the 20th century, Weil was a survivor of the holocaust who had settled in France to read Hegel with Kojeve. Weil’s reading of Stoicism is similar to the one traced out above in which matter is accompanied by something belonging to matter called God. In materialism, to say that only bodies exist is to say that only matter exists; in Stoicism, to say that only bodies exist is to say that only matter and God exist. For the Stoics whatever exists is corporeal; to be is to be a body, and all beings are bodies. Their rivals, the Epicureans, insisted that all that existed was atoms. In the atomist tradition the atom was the only kind of being a being could be, with ‘void’ being its negation. For the Epicureans the atom is the atom; for the Stoics materiality is matter and God. While the Epicureans have an explicit monism (there is only one kind of being), the Stoic only seem to operate in a monism. Instead, they appear to have a dualism that is disguising itself as a monism.

Ricardo Salles (God and Cosmos in Stoicism, 2011) asserts that this is only problematic if we are not attentive to what the Zeno and Chrysippus means by ‘matter’;

The Stoics clearly distinguish two meanings of matter. In one sense matter is unqualified substance: it is the matter of the universe called “substance” or “prime matter”. In the other sense, “matter” designates the qualified matter of particular realities.

Salles goes onto remind us that in Stoic doctrine there is two kinds of things: ‘that which acts and that which is acted upon’. In Salles’ reading ‘that which is acted upon’ is unqualified substance, whereas ‘that which acts’ is the ‘reason in it, i.e; God’. In Salles understanding, God is an activity of unqualified substance that produces differentiation in that substance to give rise to qualified matter. There is no dualism in this because God isn’t another kind of body, nor is God what animates bodies, God is simply the animation of bodies. To put it another way, God is the name for the capacity of bodies to act. The only sense in which God and matter appear to be separate terms is linguistically.

Whatever has a capacity of action exists, whether it be passive or active. Whatever has a capacity of action is a body. Therefore a body may be a ‘terrestrial thing’ (a cat, a plant, a woman, a shoe, a cup) something that can act or be acted on that is not strictly physical. For the Stoics such nonphysical bodies would include the soul, wisdom, the cosmopolis, and most certainly virtue. We might want it to include some of these things but we might also include the principle of equality, information-states, love, and mind itself. Corporealism therefore includes physical bodies and nonphysical properties and objects that we might otherwise seem to be products of emergence. That is, corpo-realism is a thoroughly non-reductionist materialism. It also means that whatever exists, to count at existing, is a body that necessarily acts or is acted upon corporeally by other bodies.

John Sellars (Stoicism 2006) points out that the idea that whatever exists is corporeal means that we can’t include any Platonic universals in a possible litany of existent objects. Plato’s Forms lack any kind of corporeality; they are not material in any sense, and nor are they singular, particular things. From the corporeal perspective only bodies exists and bodies are always particularities, such-and-such an example of qualified matter (ie. this man, not man as such). In this way, corporeality is not amenable to concepts of genericity. Chrysippus is known to have pointed out that the statement that ‘man is a rational animal’ supposes there is a generic ‘man’ that remains once every particular man, or all qualities of particular men, have been subtracted. Instead, Chrysippus reformulates the phrase as: ‘if something is a man, then that thing is a rational animal’. There is no humanity that remains, only the suggestion that particular humans share rationality and animality. Similarly, there is not some actually existing generic ‘tree’, there are only individual trees. This claim is the same as that which Graham Harman has made in regard to music; there is no Song, only individual instances of the song. Anyone who doubts it ought to recall John Cage’s 4’33”.

Neo-materialism and panpsychism

Earlier, it appeared as though God were a pre-existent substance- a primordial unitary being- that self-differentiated in order to produce individual entities. Now it seems that God is a material force at work within bodies. It is this activity, this capacity for action, that is integral too and responsible for the production of particular, individual bodies. In this regard corporealism is not too distant from the neo-materialism that Manuel de Landa (New Materialism: Interviews and Cartographies 2012) defends:

It is absurd to think that complex self-organizing structures need a “brain” to generate them. The coupled system atmosphere-hydrosphere is continuously generating structures (thunderstorms, hurricanes, coherent wind currents) not only without a brain but without any organs whatsoever. The ancient chemistry of the prebiotic soup also generated such coherent structures (auto-catalytic loops) without which the genetic code could not have emerged. And bacteria in the first two billion years of the history of the biosphere discovered all major means to tap into energy sources (fermentation, photosynthesis, respiration). To think that a “brain” is needed goes beyond Cartesian dualism and fades into Creationism: matter is an inert receptacle for forms that come from the outside imposed by an exterior psychic agency: “Let there be light!”

So yes, neo-materialism is based on the idea that matter has morphogenetic capacities of its own and does not need to be commanded into generating form. But we should not attempt to build such a philosophy by “rejecting dualisms” or following any other meta-recipe. The idea that we know already how all past discourses have been generated, that we have the secret of all past conceptual systems, and that we can therefore engage in meta-theorizing based on that knowledge is deeply mistaken. And this mistake is at the source of all the idealisms that have been generated by postmodernism

This quote is particularly pertinent to this discussion of corporealism. First of all, DeLanda considers it ‘absurd’ to hold that material compositions require any a brain to direct them. I think here we can read DeLanda as rejecting the claim that matter requires a nucleus of conscious control in order to organise itself into highly such complicated material compositions as thunderstorms. If a brain is unnecessary then we can be damn sure that a mind is also unnecessary. Moving to the ‘prebiotic soup’ only ups the ante in DeLanda’s claim: life, the thing so many people think is the pinnacle of physical structures, a kind of miracle that let you and me emerge from a stupid, lifeless goo…that didn’t need a brain-mind, so why the hell would any of the rest of it? Second is the (hilarious) accusation of Creationism. Essentially, conceiving of matter as passive and only passive means that it could never organise itself into anything. The stab at Creationism is the same one the Stoics make at Plato, that conceiving of matter as a passive receptacle pointlessly sets up problems that aren’t easily resolved. Thirdly, that matter has its own ‘morphogenetic capacity’ means that matter has the immanent ability to give itself form without any ‘external psychic agency’ having to be deus ex machina‘d into the picture. Indeed, the deus is precisely what is immanent to matter. In my elaboration of corporealism in Stoicism, this morphogenecity is precisely what was identified by the name of ‘God’. Corporealism thus seems to accord with the new material.

The problem that emerges here is the question of what the rejection of an ‘exterior psychic agency’ actually means. Specifically, is this a rejection of psychic agency as such or does the emphasis fall on the term ‘exterior’. As DeLanda points out in A New Philosophy of Society… the position that is generally termed realist is ‘defined by the commitment to a mind-independent existence of reality’. Certainly, bodies like thunderstorms, hurricanes, and coherent wind currents don’t require any external mind imposing form on them, but ‘social entities’ from ‘small communities to large nation-states’ do. Without the embodied minds of humans it is obvious that these kinds of social bodies require human bodies or they vanish. A nation-state may survive across generations with all particular human bodies that form an essential part of its being dying and therefore exiting it, but at the same time new human beings are constantly born already inside of those social bodies. The territoriality of these bodies is such that their exteriority has to be interior to them otherwise they will pass out of existence. The exterior psychic agency that social bodies require is always already to be found having been brought inside.

In my last post I was suggesting that OOO involves a panpsychism because mind

‘is spread across all relations that we can look at [so] that each and every object that the human touches, every human-human/human-object relation (and the object-object relations that those depend on) are the corporeal mechanisms of the logos spermatikos of mind. The point would be that mind or ‘mind-like’ encounters between objects would be neither something that belonged to humans or to nonhumans but to the cosmos itself. Rather than a panpsychism this might resemble a material pantheism.

I want to focus on the biggest mistake of this paragraph: Mind, as an emergent property, as Michael rightly points out in his response to my post, deserves to be granted its ‘ontic particularity and irreducible complexity’. His concern is that I or OOO am anthropomorphising the cosmos by finding evidence of human cognitive capacities and generalising them to the cosmos in such a way that we get claims of ‘alien phenomenologies’. To return to DeLanda, it isn’t just that minds included a given nation-state would have an experience of that nation-state, but that the nation-state itself would have an experience of the minds it contained. The problem is that the nation-state, while it does include minds and requires them for its uniquely social existence, it does not itself possess an emergent mental life. Embodied cognition involves neurons, the interrelation between neurons, the nervous system as a whole, the body as a whole (both phenomenal and material), a rich environment, and all the material requirements of that environment. Social bodies contain but don’t possess these features. In the same way, my apartment contains my computer but my apartment isn’t thereby able to make computations. The alien phenomenology of the nation-state or the experience my computer has of my apartment would be mind-like happenings. Indeed, in the apartment-computer example there will be times when I am out and so won’t be part of the ensemble of operations making it up. If we grant that this relation is generative of an experience in either of its terms then we have to say some kind of mind is also being generated. This is problematic not because its an intuitively weird idea (many ideas are weird and right) but because it means that all relations would be relations between minds. While impoverishing ontic particularity we are promoting psychic universality. Reality could never be said to be mind-independent. The real would always be some aspect of the real’s experience of the real. Realism would convert into idealism.

Corporealism as body-oriented realism

What I hope that my treatment of Stoic corporealism has done is begun a possible elaboration of a realism that involves direct corporeal contact between bodies and negates the claim that such bodies are absolute withdrawn from themselves and others. I’ve got to admit that this is a very small beginning to such a project. What I’ve tried to show is that bodies interact with bodies and that nothing can exist that does not relate directly. In the Stoic picture everything that exists is at once a cause and effect, active and passive, what it is and capable of being otherwise. The reason that I have gone some length to talk about the Stoic conception of God was to investigate panpsychism under another guise. The Stoics routinely call God by other names such as; nature, World-Spirit, the Whole, Reason, Logos. This is how they think that the universe has a perfect, rational order: God is in all things, the Mind of God is in all things. IF they waver and vacillate on what this God is exactly, I would suggest this is because they are trying to fit a metaphysical description onto a theological nomination. As I said at the start, this might be because of the intellectual climates they inhabited, because of personal faith, or because they wanted to attracted students. Hell, let’s not forget that offending the Gods could get you killed. Whatever is going on with the Stoic concept of God it is not describing something supernatural, nor is it describing some kind of super-mind or panpsychism. This is what I meant by asking if there isn’t room for a material pantheism.

Whilst the Stoics talk about God being the Whole or the All (clearly an overmining idea) they also talk about God as a body among bodies, as embedded in matter itself, and as an active property belonging to all bodies, the very self-organising capacity of matter. God isn’t the name for something, but some activity. It is this last concept of God that I want to say is proper to a corporealism that would be a body oriented realism. It is also in this sense that we would jettison any overmining idea of God. Instead, isn’ the principle of God that is immanent to all bodies simply another way of talking about the potency or plasticity of bodies to enact themselves other than they are?

There is nothing to stop us thinking of ‘all things are woven together’ in order to produce a body that emerges from the sum of all ongoing particular relations that we call universe or cosmos. After all, Marcus only tells us to always think of the universe as an organism. Thinking it so doesn’t make it so and, after all, Marcus is engaged in his own attempt at living, his own coping. The organisation of bodies, there being ‘arranged together in their places’ is what ‘make(s) the same ordered Universe’. The one substance of Stoic monism isn’t a goo or flux that subsists every individuated being. The one substance of Stoic monism is simply body. Bodies emerging from bodies; from their very real and direct intimate contact. Among the other obsessions of the Stoics is their vivid appreciation of material vulnerability to death, the fragility and precariousness of all bodies…especially our own:

In human life, our time is a point, our substance is flowing, our perception faint, the constitution of our whole body decaying , our soul a spinning wheel, our fortune hard to predict and our fame doubtable; that is to say, all the things of the body are a river, things of the soul dream and delusion, life a war and journey in a foreign land, and afterwards oblivion. (Marcus Aurelius, Meditations)

Elizabeth Grosz interview

Here’s a snippet from an interview with Elizabeth Grosz, to be published in the inaugural issue of Interstitial Journal (if you’re interested in submitting, the deadline is December 31, 2012):

Q: To begin, you’re often recognized as a feminist materialist, yet materialism, itself, is a hotly contested theoretical frame, and one whose traditional parameters are being challenged by new philosophical trajectories, like speculative realism. How has materialism informed your political and ontological commitments? Moreover, why do you think new feminist materialism has been so heavily utilized in thinking through twenty-first century social problems, even beyond feminist research or women’s studies?

A: Materialism is an ontology, one that is often set up in opposition to the ontology of idealism. I would not call myself a materialist at all because of how strongly this opposition has figured in the history of Western thought in framing what materialism is, whether it is understood in terms of atomism, of physicalism or in terms of dialectics. I am interested in an understanding of the real or the universe that does not reduce what is there to matter but is capable of conceptualizing the nuances and layers of ideality that matter carries within itself. For me, this ontology is a politics (and an ethics) to the extent that this is the open ground on which we exist and the forms the horizon of possibility for all out actions. It does not give us a politics (or an ethics) in itself, but it does orient us toward political and ethical action.

Do you think that ‘new feminist materialism’ has been so heavily used in thinking about social problems? This would surprise me. I would not accord it quite this power. There is a convergence of interest on the part of a number of feminist theorists that has returned to the question of materiality that was so powerful with the rise of Marxism and its reliance on historical materialism in the 1960s and 1970s. But with the demise of that project that so interested many feminists, the so-called ‘new materialism’ that has been published in a few anthologies recently, looks like a revitalization of materialism. Almost everyone—especially in the natural sciences—is committed to some sort of materialism. The more interesting question is: what kind of materialism? I am not at all sure that the ‘new feminist materialisms’ share a common concept of materiality. Certainly there is not a close fit between speculative realism and feminist materialism. This is in part because speculative realism doesn’t address itself to the questions of power and resistance that are so central to feminist (and other politically oriented forms of) materialisms, but also because speculative realism, and its cognates, including object-oriented philosophy, situate themselves so clearly in the tradition of a post-Kantian epistemology that denies any specificity to the corporeal form of the knowing subject.

Naturalism

It’s heady stuff, the sheer power of the natural–of theoretical knowledge. Given our incompetencies, it is perhaps inevitable that many will want to lay claim to it. It seems clear that as soon as people begin asserting that ‘social constructivism is a naturalism’ the concept has been stretched more than my sexy underwear. In his curious, ‘gotcha’ followup, [Levi] Bryant [Larval Subjects] introduces the crucial criterion of naturalism: Everything is natural. But this is meaningless if ‘natural’ is a barrel-wide thong, so let’s stipulate another criterion: Naturalism entails openness to the possibility that intentionality is illusory. If you cannot bring yourself to believe that this is a real, empirical possibility, then you are a transcendentalist plain and simple, one of those kids who dresses cool, but slips away as soon as some jock cracks the Jack.

Because the empirical possibility that intentionality is a kind of cognitive mirage, that meaning is merely an ‘informatic blur,’ is very real. Naturalism has to be as open as science is open to be naturalism. There’s no reason to assume that evolution did not saddle us with a profoundly deceptive self-understanding. We are need-to-know, and given the steep metabolic requirements of the brain, not to mention the structural infelicities incumbent upon any self-tracking information system, it is certainly possible, perhaps even probable, that we are fundamentally deceived about our own nature, that the counterintuitive gymnastics of the quantum has us as a qualitative counterpart. In naturalism, meaning is an open question, one that scientific research, not theoretical confabulation, will answer.

– R. Scott Bakker, over at The Three Pound Brain. Here,

Anarchoreography

Choreography as a political concept.

If I can’t dance, it’s not my revolution!, anarchist and feminist Emma Goldman was reported to have proclaimed.

Bodies in space creating their relationship to space.

The sovereign/power/capital/whatever as the choreographer and the bodies in the administrative space as analogous to dancers.

Choreographic space is not overdetermined or overdetermining but is mutated by the movement of actual bodies in the production/mutation of an only-ever ideally administered space.

Between the choreographer, the body of the dancer, and the production of choreographic (administered) and danced (embodied, lived) spaces their are multiple moments of agental autonomy.

Dance, as a non-verbal, non-linguistic aesthetic does not privilege textural, discursive, or ideological models of critique (although it may include these features).

The figure of the choreographer translates a concept of transcendent cognitive authority back into an immanent, relational and always itself struggling object that orchestrates what is visible without itself necessarily being visible.

The dancer, as a body-without-image and a body-in-motion, is unidentifiable with any subject-position or frozen moment but only with and through their own trajectory.

The dancer necessarily mutates aesthetic regimes in her movement.

The dancer does not passively #Occupy! space but is involved in the continuous reproduction, renegotiation and creation of multiple spaces.

That dance is not simply movement but movements with rhythm implies that the body of the dancer does not simply generate space but also time. Dance denies the idea that spacetime exists as a container in which motion takes place, and as such bends and warps totality and location.

Typically we think in terms of the organism and its environment as if they were resolutely separable. Man and nature; planet and cosmos. If the book is an extension of the eye, and the electrical circuit an extension of the central nervous system, what is it that choreographed movement is an extension of? The dancer performs under this view as a medium. The body of the dancer enacts a carnal communiqué to other bodies about bodies, about ‘what it is a body can do’ (Spinoza).

The dancer as a medium is also an extension of the choreographic imagination, a good analogue for the citizen as the extension rather than the result of any administrative subjectivation. For both citizen and dancer there is always an openness to the ruin and innovation of the vision they are supposed to embody. Disobedience remains live in both performances.

Dance may be more or less abstract, more or less pure, more or less mathematical, more or less athletic, it may take singular or multiple forms, but it cannot forget the body, cannot erase the body. Even the solo is a question of the more than one, of a recombinatory logic that implies and extends out to other bodies.

Other bodies may be conceived in terms of those of the spectator, of other dancers, of the dancer’s own potential other bodies yet to be actualised through her virtuosity.

Contrary to what may seem obvious dance does not collude with ocularcentric regimes. Dance can never depart from kineaesthetic intelligence, embodied cognitive processing, and with the affectivity of the dancing body.

An anarchoreography is the autonomous choreographing of the dancer-without-choreographer, who is her own choreographer.

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.