attempts at living

to make a system out of delusions

Tag: stoicism

Ancient ontocartography

Ask yourself, what is this thing in itself, by its own special constitution? What is it in substance, and in form, and in matter? What is its function in the world? For how long does it subsist? (8:11).

Survey the circling stars , as though yourself were in mid-course with them. Often picture the changing and rechanging dance of the elements. Visions of this kind purge away the dross of this life. (7:47).

All things are interwoven with one another, a sacred bond unites them; there is scarcely one thing that is isolated from another. Everything is coordinated, everything works together in giving form to one universe. The world-order is a unity made up of multiplicity: God is one, pervading all things; all being is one, all law is one (namely, the common reason which all thinking creatures possess) and all truth is one- if, as we believe, there can be but one path to perfection for beings that are alike in kind and reason. (7:9).

The above are a few extracts from Marcus Aurelius’s Meditations. I am struck by how Marcus is full of injunctions to himself that he map each particular being, its field of relations, and to bear in mind its ephemeral nature. In one of the meditations, he goes so far as to declare that even the sun is ephemeral. From this cosmological perspective, everything is. He is constantly commanding us to pay attention to the specificity of this thing before me now, this fellow human, this cosmos as a whole. He is also the one who is the most mindful of the fact that we arise from cosmic and terrestrial death, that we will be part of such death, and that from us something else will emerge. Everything is transversal, a particular specificity, bound to everything else. Everything is, as he says above, in “mid-course”, always being composed, recomposed, distributed and redistributed in accordance with the immanent ontogenetic principle “God”. For Marcus all maps are eventually road-maps, plotting our trajectory between conflagrations. This is essential Stoic doctrine- and is where Nietzsche would get the idea of the eternal return. The universe (a unity made up of multiplicity) is always mid-way between birth and death. We are strung between two great catastrophes, the life of the world itself, like that of the individual, a flourishing, beautiful death.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Edit to add: Epictetus on Socrates

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

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

Between Epicurus and Epictetus

The contents of this post were originally a comment on Levi Bryant’s latest post. For whatever reason, my posts aren’t displayed on Levi’s blog. Most likely, its because he doesn’t feel my comments add much to the conversation or because they’ve been accidentally filed in ‘spam’. Whatever the reason, I’m putting them up here in case someone finds them of any interest.

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Hi :Levi,

I’ve been spending sometime exploring pre-Socratic and Hellenistic schools of philosophy and I have to say I agree with you (with a disagreement). I’ve come to think of the Stoics as providing the basis that you feel Epicureanism provides…although on the understanding that the two schools were involved in a dialectical process of formation and that the later Roman Stoics (Seneca especially) was open to Epicurean principles that he felt didn’t contradict the prime goal of attaining equanaminity. Indeed, in modern times EM Cioran seems to have been among the philosophers to hold each up as describing worthy modes of being. The core tenet shared by both the Stoa and the Epicureans was the alleviation of suffering through becoming psychologically unperturbed. Although there physics were different and they stressed different routes to the Good Life there is no reason a Lucretius and an Epictetus might not be set into meaningful dialogue.

On those Kantian questions, I can give my reading of a Stoic’s answer…I don’t know the degree to which the Epicurean would agree. First of all, we establish ethics and engage in normative politics because of we recognise the potentiality to inflict suffering that the human being is inclined towards. There would be no reason to set-up so exacting a regulatory principle as the Stoic Sage and to seek to quieten the negative passions, if people in their “natural state”, their spontaneous state, didn’t cause themselves and others so much harm.

I very much like your formulation of the questions “why won’t we kill each other?” as a historically determined question dependent on material conditions for its occasioning. I think the Stoics had an answer to this as well in their principle of “fittingness” or “aptness”. Human being are social animals to the Stoics, so it is “apt” that they behave according to that sociality. For Epictetus this meant children respecting parents, for Marcus Aurelius it meant fulfilling his duty to Rome as emperor whilst also remaining committed to his stoical principles. For us, in our own historically contingent material social conditions, aptness might retain features of old but it might also include new features. On killing, it isn’t apt for a social animal to kill without very good cause (and even when such cause is presented, we don’t always accept it without critical scrutiny- as in the case of police or military actions). On power, whereas for Marcus it meant accepting his fate as the embodiment of Rome, for us, with the historically accrued knowledge and awareness we have about the operations of power, its ability to produce suffering and undo serenity, it is fitting that we challenge power to the degree that such is in our control. This is admittedly broad because it is in my control (against Epictetus’s absolutism regarding control), in the social order in which I live, to sign petitions, to read and produce texts on overcoming voluntary servitude and becoming ungovernable, to attempt to establish a political or labour organisation, to undertake projects of directly establishing zones of counter-power with other, ranging from community projects like allotments to occupations and autonomous institutions. Zeno of Citiium’s Republic was supposed to have verged on an anarchist utopia.

Returning to the question of the psychopath and the sadist, the limit-subjects of ethico-political discourse, I agree totally that they are presented as cases where ethics fails then we’re left with an argument against ethicity and politics. I agree that these questions ignore essential parts of your Borromean social theory. As a psychiatric nurse the question of “what to do with the psychopath?” is one I’ve had to consider and had cause to discuss. From the perspective of nursing, this Borromean theory is a way of thinking thus far always absent (except in rhetoric) biopsychsocial model of healthcare. I can’t speak to the sadist’s experience being a necessary limit to ethics, simply because their are too many variations of sadism (many of consensual) but the psychopath…

First of all, if the psychopath makes challenges our ethics, if it makes our ethics blush, if we can’t decide then aren’t we in the undecidable? The very condition of the possibility to make an ethical decision? Otherwise, we’re just technicians applying principles of technocratic social engineering.

Secondly, if the psychopath is materially, neurologically unable to recognise the affectivity of others or to introject an ethics then it is not the fault of others and of ethics. There is a sense in which the limit-figures of ethics are left outside of it. It seems to me this is what places them directly at its heart, if part of our ethicity and social organisation is to take-care of those who are incapable. I would suggest that it falls to us, and perhaps specifically to an enlightened psychiatry, to care for those unable to care. Aptness can even play a role here. It is is not fitting (or rational, or just) to punish dementia patient’s for their violent outbursts, young children for their tantrums and assertions of independence, or to knowingly engage in sexual relationships with people in a state of mania. Similarly, how can it be fitting to punish a psychopath for breaching an ethics she can “know” but not “from the inside”?

In another sense, doesn’t the psychopath deserve our compassion simply for being so close yet so distant from full integration into a vibrant community?

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)

material vulnerabilities

I want to do two things in this post. First, to explore the idea of ‘ontological vulnerability’ a little, and second, to look at absolute and contingent withdrawal in object-oriented philosophy. I want to do this in order to try to get a grasp of Michael’s problems with Harman and Morton’s version of OOO, and to make a start on answering questions about pan-correlationism.

Michael rejects the idea that objects are absolutely withdrawn from one. Instead, Michael suggests that all objects are’ ontically open to one another in such a way as to establish an ‘intimacy’. This would also be the grounds of possibility for the intelligibility of alterity: how could we speak of alterity if things never encountered one another at all? The point is that if objects were absolutely withdrawn they would recede from any point of access whatsoever. In such a world no thing could ever be touched, held, burnt, used, left, ignored, known etc. In a bid to revalorise substantiality in a world seemingly obsessed with flux, we give discover the undiscoverability of the in-itself and remain forever imprisoned within the for-us of our own delusive experiences. Absolute withdrawal is a thesis of absolute autonomy of every substance from every other substance to the point where all and every thing vanishes. But that isn’t the world we live in. We live in a world of violence and suffering, of bullets and bombs, of fast food and big screen TVs, of kissing lovers, and 4 year old boys who refuse to let you write blog posts. We live in a world where we’ve gathered a fair bit of knowledge. Hard knowledge garnered from natural science. In other words, it seems that the claim that objects are absolutely withdrawn is false.

As a psychiatric nurse I know that such a claim is false. I use drugs synthesised by psychopharmacologists that, once injected into the flesh, directly do things to the patient’s nervous system. Conversation and phenomenographic accounts of patient experience also relate how this can profoundly alter the way patients couple to their environments. This leads to the enaction of profoundly different worlds. Thinking on such an example is illustrative. I can only do my job because people have had direct if partial access to things. I can only do my job because other things have direct access to still more things. The generation of and radical difference between my experience of an episode of medication administration and my patient’s is only possible because of the specific ways in which we and the things involved in that situation are open to each other. That openness constitutes the kind of intimacy that provides us with experiential evidence of the impossibility of absolute withdrawal. Instead, situations or worlds are produced by the unique ensemble of interoperating operations of uniquely relating substances. Onto-specification is the product of multiple coexisting intimacies, or intermatrices.

We should note here that what I’m calling intermatrices pertain to ‘contact’ between objects. Intermatrices are simply the ensembles that produce effects that we typically call things. Just as for the Stoics,objects are both cause and effect. The point to note is that it is only because of intermatrices that we have access to things at all, and that such interoperability is fundamentally a matter of enaction. That is to say onto-specification is the activity of the ontic co-determination of substances by those substances. There is a sense in which we can say this is an eroticism: things enact worlds by touching each other. As such, absolute withdrawal would constitute an auto-erotic atomism in which touching is mediated via the metaphorical screen as in cyber-sex. In Levi Bryant and Ian Bogost’s expression, the object-oriented ontology is a promiscuous ontology.

So objects/ensembles/etc are able to touch one another only partially but nonetheless directly. This means that something is always going to be absent in their touching, even if that absence is not absolute. Here, the split in an objects identity, the heterogeneous admixture preventing total autonomy, means that their is a porosity to the object’s membrane. The membrane might be thought of as that fuzzy boundary between what remains withdrawn aspect and what is touched-touching. Much like skin, the object’s membrane is porous, permeable, otherwise it would be either fully actual or fully virtual. What this also means is that with any specific object/ensemble the porosity of the membrane will differ. As such, rather than absolute withdrawal across all objects there is a continuum of withdrawal, degrees of absence, a mobility between presence and absence. I will return to this later.

So what is this ontological vulnerability? It is precisely what has been discussed above. Yet as human beings we are a particular kind of thing, and we have put ontological vulnerability into play for other reasons. For us, this kind of vulnerability is part of our facticity. We are the species that is composed of individuals that know that they will die. We are the kind of being that is always exposed to death and which has complex affective and cognitive responses to that awareness. Ernest Becker is among those who has posited that human civilisation is in fact a huge coping mechanism composed of other elaborate coping mechanisms. By identifying with a heroic system, such as religion, the individual attempts to transcend their own mortality, fraught as it is with uncertainty of time and manner of arrival, by being part of ‘something bigger’. Becker joins in that chorus of voices that declare that such means of pretending at immortality, of avoiding death, have been undermined by modernity’s disenchantment of the world. The cultural-subjective nihilism that accompanies the desacralisation of the world by instrumental/administrative reason and the rise of industrial capitalism has eroded the possibility of sustaining our various heroisms. (I have a sense that Heidegger’s being-toward-death is really little more than his attempt to make the absence of heroism into a heroism).
The point here is that we are left without any kind of affective or intellectual defence against our awareness of our mortality and that this is paralysing. For some this means that we put all our efforts into sequestering death (Mellor and Shilling 1993, The sequestration hypothesis: modernity, self-identity, and death), hiding it from view through the operation of a taboo just as under the repressive hypothesis power was supposed to operate an effective taboo on sex. For others (Christopher Lasch) this degenerates humans into narcissists obsessed with youth and beauty, terrified of ageing and any form of commitment whatsoever. It is a fairly familiar story, one we don’t need to completely retrace here. We have always been exposed to death and we have always attempted to attenuate that exposure.

Importantly, ontological vulnerability has been discussed by Judith Butler (Precarious Life; Frames of War) as our corporeal vulnerability to others because of the way our being is constituted by, remains dependent on, and is finally extinguishable by, other corporeally vulnerable beings.Just like with Becker’s hero-systems though, there are those who attempt to make themselves appear invulnerable (Butler identifies the USA and Israel as examples). In trying to be invulnerable these objects are hiding their vulnerability from themselves, turning away from it, and simultaneously increasing their vulnerability. Our lives are precariously interdependent and this exposes us to violence, possibly to death. The logic is similar in Becker, for whom civilisation is a massive system of meaning-production that attempts to give death the appearance of sense, to domesticate it’s dark absoluteness, and to make us feel like we are ontologically invulnerable. In both instances, attempts to evade such vulnerability actually intensifies it by building up defences that can’t do anything but fail.

In the pessimistic understanding of vulnerability we are talking about an exposure to death that renders suffering senseless, arbitrary, our world a dangerously vertiginous swirl of risk. The very fabric of social and institutional life is endangered by the cultural nihilism that sweeps through liquid modernity because death is revealed to be ‘the absolute other, an unimaginable other…an absolute nothing…the end of all perception’ (Bauman, Mortality immortality, and other life strategies). Ontological vulnerability is the threat of a dissolution so complete as to be unthinkable, unimaginable, an horrific alterity that the individual (and increasingly the collective) can’t domesticate. Death is perfectly unthinkable.

Our ontological vulnerability is ultimately rooted in a carnal vulnerability, and this should tell us something about ontological vulnerability in general (although we must be mindful of onto-specificity). First, ontological vulnerability is openness. This openness does not merely point towards the partiality of withdrawal but also points towards the exposure of objects to dissolution. Secondly, in humans (and probably other animals) this dissolution is death. Thirdly, it seems as though the first two claims follow from openness of objects, from the incompleteness of ensembles, their plasticity. Fourth, partial objects mean that all objects are interdependent rather than autonomous. All objects may be agencies that act, but they do so within the constraints of the worlds that are available to them to enact. Fifth, if death is unthinkable then absolute withdrawal is unthinkable. In this way, absolute withdrawal would pose itself as a limit to thinking, to what could be thought. It could be countered that this is precisely where the speculation in speculative realism steps in but I feel that the positioning with death is telling. What it tells us is that to go beyond this limit, to speculate on what is absolutely withdrawn and so is an unimaginable other, an absolute nothing and the end of all perception, is to produce a supernaturalism. Specifically, a commitment to the absolutely withdrawn would seem to be a kind of mysticism.

As we have seen, what is partially absent is not necessarily absent. Objects are capable of change, the cosmos itself is capable of change. What is now withdrawn may be put forward, what is now touched-touching may be withdrawn. In other words, what remains withdrawn only does so contingently. There remains the possibility of some other part of the object’s latency being manifested. There is the ‘distinctive presence of that which withdraws or has withdrawn’ as Alva Noe has it in Varieties of Presence. Drawing on the example of a baseball player’s glove, or Heidegger’s example of the craftman’s hammer, Noe talks about the withdrawing of these objects as alive in the sense that a straight up absence as not-presence is not. If something is not-present it is of no concern. Other possible ways of thinking absence might be related to occupation. If something is occupied it’s space has been filled by something not-it. This clearly isn’t what withdrawal is referring to. Alva Noe suggests that we think of a kind of absence that is a presence, a presence-in-absence. He asks us to imagine a tomato. When we perceive the tomato we see it as a whole tomato. Asked to describe it we would list its visual perceptual properties. But we would probably exceed what was actually presented to our eyes. We would say that it had a back and even if we couldn’t see that back we would not doubt that it existed. We would display a kind of perceptual faith, in Merleau-Ponty’s words. For Noe, this isn’t because we make a cognitive inference about the tomato but because the tomato ‘looks to have a back. It looks solidly three dimensional’. There is no actual seeing of the occluded portion of the fruit but there is a relation to the fruit that is undeniably visual in which it’s having a back, it’s being the thing it is, is obvious. In this sense, the back of the tomato (the back of a house) shows up. This showing up is its being as a presence-as-absence. No sooner has Noe stated that the back of the tomato is absent and present to human perception than he generalises this to every instance of human perception. ‘Consider the front of a tomato. You see it. But do you see all of it’? For Noe, every object of perception is ‘hidden’ in the sense that my experience of it, my embodied perceptual engagement with it, is always fragile and incomplete. In other words, it is always open; always ontologically vulnerable.

Noe’s access to the presence-in-absence that is everything, or as he put it access to ‘the virtual all the way down’, is based on carnal ‘sensorimotor integration’ with the physical environment. The point is that while everything is hidden it can nonetheless be accessed practically through the structural coupling of the organism with it’s environment. By turning my head, by casting my eye, my changing my posture or walking a few footsteps, I alter that coupling and achieve a different angle of access. Our access to the withdrawn, and what remains withdrawn, is dependent, at least in part, on our practicality and virtuosity.

This might still both Michael. It remains within the pan-correlationism that attaches cognitive powers to all object-object relations. The kind of virtuosity that I have talked about is the kind that has been sketched in terms of human perceptual capacities and intentional agency. Hairdryers and clouds are unlikely to be just these kinds of virtuosos. Yet if part of all of this has been to call attention to the onto-specificity of ensembles then we ought to recall that the human is precisely that ensemble that grasps the world in a fully corporeal sense. We are that kind of ensemble for whom cognitive, affective, and embodied capacities are utterly enmeshed together. As I hope my mentions of death showed, our corporeal vulnerability and our ontological vulnerability are of the same kind. The being of beings has to be understood as corporeality. If it is the case that ‘nothing incorporeal exists’ then there is nothing that lacks materiality, nothing that can’t be made to show up. Mind can only emerge out of the complex intermatrises that enact it, and it can’t be reduced to its human side or to the brain. Perhaps the pan-correlationism or panpsychism that Michael is wanting to avoid is something that shows up in OOO because it is spread across all relations that we can look at. We can never look anywhere where mind is not. This is not the same as to say that we can never look anywhere that the human is not, or where discursivity, or power is not; instead it is to suggest 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. At the same time, we might consider that practicality and virtuosity might not be traits that only humans engage in.

This hasn’t even begun to get at Michael’s point or to answer it. As ever, I stumble onward in my dilettante contributions. Maybe this one will be expanded on.

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.

 

Stoicism as cosmophilosophy

The idea of cosmopolitics is popular again today, in part because of Stengers and Bennett. This is one side of the speculative philosophy that has a kind of therapeutics. Against this is the Brassier led side of things that denies this therapeutic, this sop to suffering, and this ‘vibrant’ remystification of the world. The Stoics, who I would see as folded within a pessimist tradition (in the same way that Taoism gets included in anarchism), have a philosophic therapeutic based on the nihilist recognitions of death. They are the Western philosophical source of the practice of making friends with death, this is how they make praxis from the Socratic tradition that others would make theoretic. Below is a video by Julian Evans, a modern day proponent and practitioner of Stoicism, and Donald Robertson, who has written on the links between CBT and Stoicism. Of particular interest to me is the disdain that Robertson has for the idea that Stoicism is a variant of ecophilosophy. It is not his disdain that I like but his jump to say that for the Stoics an emphasis on all things green (even if most ecophilosophy today exceeds this) is too limited, that it must take in all that exists. Cosmophilosophy extends to everything, but knows everything as hurtling toward finality, to death, to exhaustion, to the opposite of vibrant matter. Stoicism then, is, in part, a resource for that brand of pessimism that I sometimes call Catastrophia.

A litany of mirages.

‘Be abject, and you will be true’.- Michel Houellebecq.

We are seduced by life no more and no less than the client is seduced by the whore.

Knowing that while her touch is real her shrieks of orgasm are all faked and that, sooner or later, she will be too worn-out and jadded to fuck any more. The whore’s fool, the consumer of cinema or pornography, and the woman who wakes up each morning, enters the automaticity of routines, and cleaves her way either happily or miserably through the day: victims of a willing seduction. All that separates these figures from the schizophrenic who believes himself a Christ is the stress, the tone, the style and the level of commitment to his belief. Show me someone who is not deluded, who does not participate anxiously in the defence of their sustaining delusions, and I will show you the meaning of God. Even the suicidal think the world, or their share in its misery, is of so much worth or importance as to warrant an escape.

Yes, I too am deluded. The heights of lucidity being pathogenic to the organism, it cannot help but want to rid itself of its share of such consciousness. Occasionally I wonder if the study of one’s own automatisms, the study of the political situation of one’s age, meditations or the study of the nature of civilisation or of being itself are not of the same order as fondling a blade of grass, of idling reading the ingredients of a shampoo bottle whilst turning red in a too hot bath.

There is an equality among all human action. An equality that springs from the mystery of their motivations as much as in their contribution to the ultimate futility. We do not know why we do the thing it is we are doing and we know that in the end it will come to nothing. This can be said of the activity of woodlouse or a hypodermic needle as much as of the secretary general of the United Nations or the black bloc anarchist.

Given such an equality maybe everything is reducible to aesthetics, to preference. Yet isn’t this to reproduce fascism, or the consumer choice ideology of late capitalism? Some preferences can be accorded more weight, I think. For the question might become one of crafting our delusions, actively choosing a delerium both for ourselves and our age.

I am torn between a politics contrived as the organisation of rage and a life lived in tranquility. Each is of equal worth as the other in the face of the extinction of all living and all existing. I played a videogame when I was younger, Planescape Torment. In it there was a brothel, a ‘house of chattering whores’, these we prostitutes of culture…conversationalist cunts characters would have hired to discuss philosophies or the price of bread with. I find myself locked into multiple conversations at once.

If I must be deluded let me choose my delusions, those that I can. If I must have obsessions let me enervate my obsessions. If I must be seduced by life at least let me believe in that seduction; let me come playing the role of the perfect naive client, full of sperm and feigning the ignorance of prostitution’s ancient masquerade.

But it’s true that lacking a designer our design is ill suited to the task. It comes on you after a time the organisation of rage and tranquility, upsetting nature and living according to it, are one and the same thing; dischord and order are falsities, delusions that we ought to shed because of their refusal to conform to their identities.

The one who wants tranquility wants it because it is lacking. It remains among the goals of collectivities because of its impossibility. Renounce impossible things? Impossible.

We are creatures of destruction and chaos as much as anything else. What is History if it isn’t the tracing of best-fit trajectories of the induced births and brutal murders of everything up to this exhausted moment. Even the most negligent student of History can point to our tendency to break with our own tranquility.

The Stoic philosophy wasn’t one of the slave’s consigned resignation but the very organisation of his rage. It forms a moment in a tradition that has felt and not just known that we are drawn towards tranquility, to peace, to solicitude, to love and always find havoc, collapse, fury and abjection.

‘A tranquil existence is intolerable to us’, said a certain horror writer. Did he mean that it was unbearable? That we would go out of our way to erect tragedies and to launch ourselves headlong into the various quests for Redemption? I don’t think so. I think he meant that we are incapable of enduring it. Or maybe the ambiguous interplay of these two attitudes. We can’t tolerate it in a physiological, organic sense…

Yet we aren’t special in any of this. No ecology ever maintains homeostasis or equalibrium. The entropy of the universe itself writes in the undoing of delusion, of the sustaining illusions that constitute the materials of our reasons for living.

We haven’t even begun to take seriously the purposelessness of nature, and therefore of ourselves. Within this purposelessness all suffering appears as purposeless as well. Imagine a psychiatry or a medicine based on these priniciples? Yet how to go on like that when, against all the evidence, we must go on.

So if we must, we must cultivate our delusions. We must grow rich fields of idiopathic illusions to sustain and nourish our stupid existence. Finally, we must admit that it is these illusions and delusions that constitute our sole experience of reality.

If we are passive victims of a seduction that we nevertheless participate in then let us at least choose what outfit the whore is to wear. If you want to know how to choose…I can’t tell you. How would I know? And why should I care? And if you don’t realise that is the question I have just answered then yours is a stronger delusional conviction than mine.

When we speak of delusions we speak of beliefs. In an exhausted age the difference between them is psychiatry and fashion. It is sane to have no delusions; fashionable to have no beliefs. At least, that is the popular belief of the age.

I am lost for how to end this piece. I have written a mirage of a manifesto. I suppose I should end by reminding whoever reads this that I also believe in truth, in the facts of science, in the materiality of ideas and aeroplanes, in the irreducible equality between human beings (politically) and between all things wrenched into existence (ontologically). I desire no bloodshed. If I’m wrong, I’m wrong. A corpse doesn’t worry about making mistakes.

The possibility of a Stoic realism

Must we be vitalists to talk about nonorganic life? I don’t see why. The vitalist thinks of elan vital, of the animating energy inherent in being, whereas the contemporary scientist speaks only of the self-organising capacity of matter. I am not a scientist and I don’t understand all the workings of such a mechanism. Nevertheless, a man of my age I trust my scientists as experts in their fields. That matter is self-organising means that it means little whether it is organised as organic or nonorganic, from the perspective of that organisation. As such the generative mechanisms of all bodies, of whatever scale, operate according to this same process. And isn’t what is self-organising also what is living? Hence, organic and nonorganic life. Hence, the end of distinctions between Nature and Culture. Hence to live is always to live in accordance with nature…to be nature. Accordingly, there is nothing which is natural or unnatural. These are all-too-human distinctions (or ‘correlationist’ in the new parlance of speculative realism/object-oriented philosophy). Why talk about nature when we could also talk about life? This might be why ‘the meaning of life’ is such a frustration, an obsession, an adolescent symptom and a point of constant return: the meaning of life is the meaning of nature and that, viewed from the perspective of nature, is meaningless.

I am pulled to Marcus Aurelius: ‘Observe the courses of the stars as if revolving with them and
reflect upon the continuous changes of the elements into one another; for impressions such as these are for cleansing the filth of earth-bound life’ (Meditations).

But there again, why limit oneself to stars? Live in agreement with nature, the Stoics repeat again and again. Perhaps now we can say that we ought to live in agreement with Life. I don’t mean to live against death but rather to give ourselves form as all Life does. To self-organise. To invent. All Life is an attempt at living; all substance is process.

And then, as I finish writing the familiar feeling settles over me: I don’t really know what I’m talking about. Why the need to seek to find relations between a ‘philosophy’ of life and ontology? As if the two needed one another…or as if the latter cares about the former.

ceiling eyes

in the oases
of calm
we are like post-coital stoics;
able to indulge everything.
she thinks of an old love
and i tell her i wish i could write more simply,
more direct. but i think
what i really want
is something to say that needs such urgency
that even language isn’t direct enough.
i dream about days of anarchism
and how i lost my faith in
the possibilities of a new power,
of freedom.
was i ever so angry
that i could have torn the world in half?
it seems so distant, pointless
and lost.