Archive for November, 2009

Notes from ‘The Communist Manifesto’ by Marx and Engels

November 22, 2009

‘The working class cannot simply lay hold of the ready-made state machinery, and wield it for its own purposes’. The fundamental structure of the state machinery is arranged to perpetuate answering to authority.

Communism’s main argument is the following: that economic production and the structure of society of every historical epoch necessarily arising there from constitute the foundation for the political and intellectual history of that epoch. Since dissolution of communal land ownership, all history is the history of class struggle, between the exploited and the exploiters. Only a total emancipation of the whole of society from exploitation can work. The aim is to ‘proclaim the inevitable impending downfall of present day bourgeois property’. It is not socialism.

Socialism is a maintaining of capitalism with a friendly face by eliminating social abuses. Communism is a total reconstruction of society, not just political revolutions. In 1847, socialism was a middle class movement and communism a working class movement, as such, Marx warns ‘a spectre is haunting Europe – the spectre of communism’. In 1847, Marx’s epoch, he saw the bourgeoisie as having simplified class antagonisms: there is now only the proletariat and the bourgeoisie. The bourgeoisie has a hegemonic hold on values, and as Marx states, ‘the bourgeoisie has resolved personal worth into exchange value’, freedom now is equal to free trade. The bourgeoisie will revolutionize the instruments of production and therefore the relations of production and the whole relations of society. The aim, for the epoch of the bourgeoisie is the constant revolution in production methods, the uninterrupted disturbance of all social conditions, everlasting certainty and agitation. ‘All fixed, frozen relations, with their train of ancient and venerable prejudices and opinions are swept away, all new formed areas become antiquated before they can ossify… all that is solid melts into air… all that is holy is profane’. The market must nestle everywhere, establish connections everywhere’. Where all enter a domain of cosmopolitan consumption, the normalization of the use of capital and its paradigms of desire. The interdependence of nations perpetuates capital and the nation itself, where the ‘cheap prices of commodities are the heavy artillery’ which has now, at the end of history, smashed every last wall of resistance when and where ever it was seen. The bourgeoisie force the world to conform to its model and creates a world after its own image, as the world of the neoliberal springs from the Washington consensus, and engulfs mostly without resistance all that it touches. When there is a crisis of over-production, society falls apart, unless new markets are created and old markets are re-exploited.

The main aim of the bourgeoisie is to commodity the proletariat, to lose their charm and character, which are in tern redefined as expressible as commodities (what does this hat say about me? which colour ipod represents me the best?). The proletariat becomes an ‘appendage of the machine’, where labourers are arranged like soldiers, in rank, authority and worth. Differences in age and sex are neutralized by capitalism, all the instruments of labour of the consumer of commodities, more or less expensive to use according to their age and sex. Although child labour in developed society is behind us, child labour is still exploited by capitalists all over the world. Children in developed countries are accomplices to this as they are born as consumers and trained to consume wit the same hear no evil, speak now evil, see no evil attitude as the bourgeois society around them.

In bourgeois society the past dominates the present, in communist society, the present dominates the past. In bourgeois society, capital has freedom, people don’t. Communism is against freedom as promoted by the bourgeoisie, as individuality and free-trade. ‘Communism deprives no man of the power to appropriate the products of society; all that is done is to deprive him of the power to subjugate the labour of others as a means of such appropriation’, we should enjoy our arts and leisure only when it has been produced in conditions not equatable to exploitation, I,e, outside a system of wage labour and the squeezing of profit from it. The recent phenomenon of ‘fair-trade’ is not enough. Those that work, get as little as possible to perpetuate the necessity of their labour, those who acquire do not work.

Communism aims to abolish the family as we know it. The family of the bourgeoisie, the wife in an instrumental part of production (and adultery is the private prostitution within alienated bourgeois society). Communism aims to abolish all countries and nationalities, as Marx writes ‘working men have no country’. The abolition of property is not a communist aim: it is the abolition of private bourgeois property. ‘Abolition of private property’ is communism. This should happen when the proletariat is raised to the ruling class, to achieve what is known as the ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’, means to abolish private property, a progressive/banded income tax, to abolish inheritance, confiscation of property from rebels and emigrants, centralize credit by setting up a state banking monopoly, to centralize transport, communications and factories, to all have the equal obligation to work, to bring agriculture and manufacturing together by merging town and city via the equal distribution of the population, to have free education, to abolish child labour. In sum, ‘the free development of each is the condition for the free development of all’. It could be said, that people of no class have no reality and exits in the realm of philosophical phantasy. To think one can philosophize, as classless thing, is to flee from the relations of the world you are thrown, by inauthentically ignoring ones historicity: all history is the history of class struggle. ‘All history is nothing but the continuous transformation of human nature: philosophy can be replaced by economic-historical science of society’, and accordingly, Marx questions Hegel, as ‘it is not the consciousness of men that determined their being but on the contrary their social being that determines their consciousness’.

We are in the age of the petite-bourgeoisie, where unions have numbers but have proven time and again to be in the pockets of politicians. The unions are a reaction to the fluctuating wages of the workers. Fluctuating wages causes anxiety: alienation is the existential state of the poor: the proletariat. The proletariat, the dangerous class, the social scum, is waged labour, capital needs labour and the bourgeoisie need capital. Liberal tools such as the minimum wage set the standards for bare existence. To the petite-bourgeoisie, all should become bourgeoisie! To eradicate social inequalities and let everyone enjoy the luxuries and products of their labour. Even those of the minimum wage can get credit cards to buy now pay later for that Playstation 3, car or fashionable haircut. The petite-bourgeoisie acts for the protection of the working class with these tools: the police, prisons and free-trade. The police reinforce, protect and perpetuate the capitalist state machinery, demonize enemies through media discourses and use prisons as the quantitative pecuniary measure of punishment, the ‘horror’ of being forced out of free society. Free society, free trade, free to consume as much as you like, hang the costs, borrow, pay later, you’re free.

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Heating up: the transmutations of media-beings: Part 2

November 19, 2009

In my previous post I experimented with a tetrad-fourfold hybrid analysis of media and discovered that the tetrad could be used to look at non-human specific media. Laws of Media (LOM) was a fascinating read that has encouraged me to seek out some more McLuhan. This post brings together insights from The Gutenberg Galaxy and Understanding Media, of which I can report that there is a lot more to  them than this simple tetrad. This article aims to outline many of the arguments from LOM towards a questioning consideration of Heidegger and technology.

One of the many surprises from reading the McLuhan’s LOM, is their reading of Heidegger and the phenomenological tradition. Firstly, they are aware of the importance of the ground/figure relationship for Heidegger and the limitations of his approach. The McLuhan’s want to not only recognize the ground/figure dif-ference, but the figure is the ground and visa versa: ‘[Heidegger] has not noted that the ground is formed as a mosaic, structured acoustically, nor that its structure is entirely due to its interface with figures’ (LOM, p.63). Essentially, the McLuhan’s critique the notion of thinking being beyond beings. For the McLuhan’s, Graham Harman and Levinas, this is impossible.

LOM is not the only place the McLuhan (senior) has commented on Heidegger. In The Gutemberg Galaxy (TGG), he makes the claim that “Heidegger surf-boards along on the electronic wave as triumphantly as Descartes rode the mechanical wave” (TGG, p.248). Heidegger claims that technology is a mode of enframing, which as the McLuhan’s explain “is not a batch of concepts, but a special technique of perception that reveals the ground” (LOM, p.63). Heidegger understands this in the negative as ‘fleeing from the question of being’. It is in the notion of ‘question’ that we must question. If we no longer question being, then we no longer respond to the absent gods as they beacon us to wonder at being. Put simply, if there is no longer an absence that brings us to question the relation with beings, we have lost the RTH and have become PAH automatons. Thus, Heidegger’s favourite philosophical demon (not daimon), Descartes, whose mechanical and mathematical metaphysics of presence, is the main culprit for our modern ontologically degenerate forgetting of the question. Or so he thinks.

Descartes championed the mechanical which was then repeated by Newton. McLuhan comments with wonderfully dry whit in Understanding Media that Newton “in an age of clocks, managed to present the physical universe in the image of a clock”. Whilst “Blake spoke of the need to be delivered “from single vision and Newton’s sleep,” knowing very well that Newton’s response to the challenge of the new mechanism was itself merely a mechanical repetition of the challenge”. Concurrent to Blake, it would be an understatement to say that Heidegger was not fond of mechanization. However, McLuhan notes that Heidegger champions the electrical. McLuhan makes the claim that Heidegger has a non-literate bias in his philosophy and language. Heidegger wants to ‘turn’ the being of Dasein towards the ground of being, the RTH withdrawn essence in contradistinction to the PAH revealed relations of scientific and mathematical representation. In LOM we learn that media which focus to the figures of visual space are conceptual, while acoustic space brings focus to the ground. It is in this acoustic space that Heidegger sees the no-thing which characterizes Eastern oral traditions of the non-literate. This turning towards the acoustic is hampered by the medium Heidegger’s work circulates within: the phonetic [orthographic] alphabet.

‘The interiorization of the technology of the phonetic alphabet translates man from the magical world of the ear to the neutral visual world.’ (TGG, p.21). The manner of his work is abstract and visual, even though he is trying to ‘explore the occult (hidden) area’ of beings (LOM, p.63). In McLuhan’s terms, Heidegger’s concern for the essence and saving power of technology is a response to the ‘left brained’ visual/conceptual logos interpreted as logic which characterized western philosophy since the instantiation of metaphysics with Plato amplified by Descartes and culminating with Nietzsche. Graphocentricism followed in the 17th century, which is why Heidegger re-enacts the pre-Socratic logos of Heraclitus, a logos of the oral tradition of beings gathered by speech. Heidegger’s turn towards poetry exemplifies the ‘right brained’ acoustic/perceptual spiritual line of flight away from the PAH, towards a ‘hearkening’, a hearing beyond sound and tone, that indicates a deeper dense of perception of an openness to the simultaneous withdrawing and the taking place (On the Essence of Language, p.88).It is this ‘hearkening’ to acoustic space that Heidegger’s ideas can ”surf’ along the electronic technological revolution commanded by the mosaic image of the television and visual display unit, while simultaneously, his message is replicated through the medium of the printed page, the flat visual space Heidegger despises. To compromise, he turns to poetry.

The poetry of Trakl, Holderlin and Rilke (and Heidegger himself) is a ‘cool’ medium that requires participation. Like Nietzschian aphorisms, which signal an incomplete reasoning, poetry presents a gap which forces the reader to think instead of swallowing a complete package or method of thought. This is in contrast to Heidegger’s ‘Being and Time’ (B&T), which is hot in it’s attempt at an exhaustive deconstruction of the meaning of being. The fact that B&T was never finished, party shows the movement from hot prose to cool poetry that would characterize his later work. Although, in essence, his tool analysis fourfold was present as early as 1919, B&T was a product of the hot medium of phenomenological analysis, whose practice of the epoché created mountains of paper analysis in the name of phenomenological ‘seeing’. Thus the momentum and style of Husserlian phenomenology was still in top gear as Heidegger was writing B&T, only later to ease off the accelerator and take the fourfold’s cool structure seriously.

There is no essence of Dasein that needs protecting and saving through the poetic return of the gods: McLuhan stresses that “the acoustic power available to the poetic establishment that Plato warned against was puny by comparison to the sensory stress exerted by any one of our technologies and its grounds” (LOM, p64). The human essence is always already a fluctuating media-being through the facticity of worldly equipmentality. There is no ‘clearing’ (lichtung) which sets the horizon of meaning, as human Dasein’s worlded horizon changes according to newly acquired media practices. Heidegger fails to notice that new media all always demonized before they are normalized. As McLuhan observes in TGG, there was ‘considerable alarm and revulsion’ at the mounting use of of books in the late 17th century which contrasts with the modern concern for the ‘end of the book’. Technology itself does not have a moral dimension, but provokes a moral response because of its transformative powers: technology is not itself a disaster, only the myopia of being unprepared for the fundamental changes to human perceptions, habits, values they could bring.

NB – Heidegger’s logocentricism was deconstructed by Derrida, who, through McLuhan’s eyes, was responding the hypocrisy of Heidegger surfing the electric (i.e. the visual space of writing) while promoting the acoustic space of speaking. Heidegger was in neglect of the arch-writing that makes speech possible and thus Heidegger remains committed to a metaphysics of presence: as writing involves the absence of the speaker, whereas the speaker is always present to the listener. Derrida’s archi-writing seems to not only recognize speech and writing as modes of signification, but that neither is subordinate to the other when seeking being qua being. McLuhan knowingly  deconstructs himself when he notes that contained in the fourfold structure of the self proclaimed amazing revolutionary thought of the tetrad itself is its reversal into ‘the external logical method’: hardware (the physical stuff of the world) becomes software (word), “thereby losing their murky, non-linguistic materiality” as Harman writes in his article ‘Phenomenology and the tetrad’. He wants to make us aware of the acute workings and transformations of media, just as Derrida wants to engage in inter-textual deconstruction while making us aware of the impossibility of the end of his task.

This is a particularly interesting clip of Heidegger’s. Most people use TV’s and Radio’s yet have no idea how they work, except for a few technically minded people,  in the same way, most people think they are thinking, yet only a few people actually know what it means to think. For Heidegger. what we think is thought is the message which hides a medium which enframes how we think. This analytic visual space prioritizes being expressed through its presence in visual space. Thus, beings forget the acoustic space of being.

In my previous post I experimented with a tetrad-fourfold hybrid analysis of media and discovered that the tetrad could be used to look at non-human specific media. However, I have now finished Laws of Media (LOM), about which I can report that there is a lot more to it than this simple tetradic structure. This article aims to outline many of the arguments from LOM and correspond them to developments in object-oriented philosophy (OOP).

One of the many surprises from reading the McLuhan’s LOM, is their reading of Heidegger and the phenomenological tradition. Firstly, they are aware of the importance of the ground/figure relationship for Heidegger and the limitations of his approach. The McLuhan’s want to not only recognise the ground/figure dif-ference, but the figure is the ground and visa versa: ‘[Heidegger] has not noted that the ground is formed as a mosaic, structured acoustically, nor that its structure is entirely due to its interface with figures’ (LOM, p.63). Essentially, the McLuhan’s critique the notion of thinking being beyond beings. For the McLuhan’s, Graham Harman and Levinas, this is impossible.

LOM is not the only place the McLuhan (senior) has commented on Heidegger. In The Guttemburg Galaxy (TGG), he makes the claim that “Heidegger surf-boards along on the electronic wave as triumphantly as Descartes rode the mechanical wave” (TGG, p.248). Heidegger claims that technology is a mode of enframing, yet understands this in the negative as ‘fleeing from the question of being’. It is in the notion of ‘question’ that we must question. If we not longer question being, then we no longer respond to the absent gods as they beacon us to wonder at being. Put simply, if there is no longer an absence that brings us to question the relation with beings, we have lost the RTH and have become PAH automatons. Thus, Heidegger’s favourite philosophical demon (not daimon), Descartes, whose mechanical and mathematical metaphysics of presence, is the main culprit for our modern ontologically degenerate forgetting of the question.

Descartes championed the mechanical which was then repeated by Newton. McLuhan comments with wonderfully dry whit in Understanding Media that Newton “in an age of clocks, managed to present the physical universe in the image of a clock”. Whilst “Blake spoke of the need to be delivered “from single vision and Newton’s sleep,” knowing very well that Newton’s response to the challenge of the new mechanism was itself merely a mechanical repetition of the challenge”. It would be an understamemnt to say that Heidegger was not fond of mechanization. However, McLuhan notes that Heidegger champions the electrical. McLuhan makes the claim that Heidegger has a non-literate bias in his philosophy and language. Heidegger wants to ‘turn’ the being of Dasein towards the ground of being, the RTH withdrawn essence in contradistinction to the PAH revealed relations of scientific and mathematical representation. In LOM we learn that media which focus to the figures of visual space are conceptual, while acoustic space brings focus to the ground. It is in this acoustic space that Heidegger sees the no-thing which characterizes Eastern oral traditions of the non-literate. This turning towards the acoustic is hampered by the medium Heidegger’s work circulates within: the phonetic alphabet. ‘The interiorization of the technology of the phonetic alphabet translates man from the magical world of the ear to the neutral visual world.’ (TGG, p.21). The manner of his work is abstract and visual, even though he is trying to ‘explore the occult (hidden) area’ of beings (LOM, p.63). In McLuhan’s terms, Heidegger’s concern for the essence and saving power of technology is a response to the ‘left brained’ visual/conceptual logocentricism of western philosophy since the instantiation of metaphysics with Plato amplified by Descartes and culminating with Nietzsche. Heidegger’s turn towards poetry exemplifies the ‘right brained’ acoustic/perceptual spiritual line of flight away from the PAH, towards a ‘hearkening’, a hearing beyond sound and tone, that indicates a deeper dense of perception of an openness to the simultaneous withdrawing and the taking place (On the Essence of Language, p.88).

The poetry of Track, Holderlin and Rilke (and Heidegger himself) is a ‘cool’ medium that requires participation. Like Nietzschian aphorisms, which signal an incomplete reasoning, poetry presents a gap which forces the reader to think instead of swallowing a complete package or method of thoughts. This is in contrast to Heidegger’s ‘Being and Time’ (B&T), which is hot in it’s attempt at an exhaustive deconstruction of the meaning of being. The fact that B&T was never finished, party shows the movement from hot prose to cool poetry that would characterize his later work. Although, in essence, his tool analysis fourfold was present as early as 1919, B&T was a product of the hot medium of phenomenological analysis, whose practice of the epoché created mountains of paper analysis in the name of phenomenological ‘seeing’. Thus the momentum and style of Husserlian phenomenology was still in top gear as Heidegger was writing B&T, only later to ease off the accelerator and take the fourfold’s cool structure seriously.

What Heidegger failed to see, was how technologies are not simply inventions which people employ but are the means by which people are re-invented. There is no essence of Dasein that needs protecting and saving through the poetic return of the gods: the human essence is always already a fluctuating media-being through the facticity of worldly equipmentality. There is no ‘clearing’ (lichtung) which sets the horizon of meaning, as human Dasein’s worlded horizon changes according to newly acquired media practises. New media all always demonized before they are normalized. As McLuhan observes in TGG, there was ‘considerable alarm and revulsion’ at the mounting use of of books in the late 17th century which contrasts with the modern concern for the ‘end of the book’. Technology itself does not have a moral dimension, but provokes a moral response because of its transformative powers: technology is not itself a disaster, only the myopia of being unprepared for the fundamental changes to human perceptions, habits, values they could bring.

Alien Phenomenology

November 16, 2009

This diagram demonstrates the weaving of differences any robust theory needs to act on simultaneously, if it wants to harness some real explanatory power and not fall victim to the ‘hegemonic fallacy’ of one difference that makes all the difference. A recent post by Levi Bryant has emphasized the need for theory not to abandon philosophies and theories because they under perform their explanatory function, but to combine and translate these theories into an ‘alien phenomenology’, a term coined by Ian Bogost’, which looks to open theory to all types of different actors whilst not “reducing any one of these domains to the other”. To have an ‘alien phenomenology’ is to abandon human centered perspectives and open theory up to nom-human actors which will give greater yield to the claims made into the working of actors and networks (or objectiles and assemblages, as Bryant’s OOP would phrase it).

The question marked ovals in the diagram represent the unknown strengths of relations between each distinction and other non-identified actors which may also be generating differences in the network which remain withdrawn or barred from access. This approach to philosophy, as bricolage, is one reason I am so drawn to OOO and OOP, as it opens up dialogue with the sciences and any discipline whatsoever that may have some explanatory power.

[20th November 2009: ADDENDUM]

Certainly not everyone agrees with my enthusiasm for Bryant’s bricolage of theory, as this one comment by Bryank, from ‘The Velvet Howler’ blog, testifies:

from what I can tell, Levi’s work amounts largely to a kind of pick-and-choose, Frankenstein patch-work of limbs and organs robbed from the graveyard of philosophers’s corpses. “Flat ontology” and “all difference makes a difference” are basically just haphazard modes of legitimating his a priori right to incorporate every idea under the sun that he fancies—even if they make no sense when placed together. This makes his theory, to some extent, critique-proof, since it includes the entire pedagogically-narrativized history of philosophy immanently in it already (no wonder it’s a realism, since ‘realism’ amounts to having the least amount of commitments possible—it’s like a cheap buffet at the Harmanian Circus Philosophicus booth in Coney Island, step right up, step right up!). Yet that’s its critical downfall: it can’t really ever say anything since it tries to say everything at once.

The charity pharmakon

November 16, 2009

File_Plumpy'nut_wrapper“The Plumpy’nut product is a high protein and high energy peanut-based paste in a foil wrapper. It tastes slightly sweeter than peanut butter. It is categorized by the WHO as a Ready-to-Use Therapeutic Food (RUTF). Plumpy’nut requires no water preparation or refrigeration and has a 2 year shelf life making it easy to deploy in difficult conditions to treat severe acute malnutrition. It is distributed under medical supervision, predominantly to parents of malnourished children where the nutritional status of the children has been assessed by a doctor or a nutritionist. The product was inspired by the popular Nutella spread” (from Wikipedia)

Take ‘Plumpy’nut’ as an example of the capitalism/charity absurdity. It is a product inspired by Nutella, which has been banned from advertising on UK television under the banner of ‘balanced breakfast’. The tag line is that starting the day with a covering of Nutella on your bagel and bread is a healthy way to start the day, obviously as part of a ‘calorie controlled diet’ It was not, however, banned in the US. What does healthy mean any more if this can be propagated as healthy? Well-being is thus shown to be the paradigm of enjoyment: less is more, and more is bad, yet more if sold as less thus more jouissance for you. Thus a product which no doubt has helped many person to tip the scales into the red is the perfect medical supplement. What was born as a decadent consumer product can now be used to feed starving children. Plumpy’nut has more unsaturated fats which are easier to digest than Nutella, as each sachet packing in 500 calories and 22 different minerals and vitamins, yet there is a strong bond between the two in terms for nutritional concentration. The irony of this is that the tag line for Nutella is right, it can be good for your diet. Nutella could thus be said to be a pharmakon: poison becomes remedy, remedy becomes poison. Just as nuclear weapons are ironically the guarantors of peace (according to realist paradigms of International Relations), a product genetically close to Nutella seems to be the guarantor of life.

It seems that what we have now in the terms of the very poorest and most needing of stability and peace, such as those of warring African states, the people are turning into, as Agamben would say, homo sacer, the undead that are at the threshold limit of life and death and so can be killed with impunity, or brought back to life in a glorious act of redemption by charitable saviors. It is through the neglect and exploitation of the other that we can sit in our capitalist guilt ridden consumer ‘paradise’ deep behind the barricades our affluent national palace. All the while cynically engaging in a culture of ‘stitch and bitch’ towards the ready flow of celebrity media effluence and cerebral smoke screens that plunge us into the habits of idle chatter. Charity does not patch up the cracks, but is the excuse to keep an asymmetrical distance to the other, a minimal gesture to counter act the guilt and systemic inequalities of consumer capitalsim. “Charity is the humanitarian mask hiding the face of economic exploitation.” (Zizek in ‘Violence’, p.22). Western-liberal charity gives with one hand and takes away with the other.

Although this post has a polemical tone, I will update this post further with some more reflection of charity and capitalism  which will flesh out the ‘business of charity and its contradictory relation to philanthropists such as Bill Gates.

Regimes of signs: the marked body

November 14, 2009

lg_tattoo_window.jpgIn Anti-Oedipus, Deleuze and Guattari (D&G) propose society to be defined by the mode of representation given by its machine of expression or ‘regime of signs’, not its material relations of economic production and exchange. Society is not based just on a system of exchange, as thought by Levi-Strauss, but ‘a socius of inscription where the essential thing is to mark and be marked’ (Anti-Oedipus: p.142). The first form of inscription is territorial machine of primitive inscription. This involves tattooing, carving, sacrificing, mutilating, and so on: to inscribe the body or organs into the collective investment of desire of the whole tribe. Within late capitalism, the flows of decoded social inscription operate fast enough to destabilize such ‘primitive’ means of tribe identification. Yet, this process of performance and inscription has not ceased but expanded at an ever faster rate. Attempts to follow the territories of social identity and behavioral complexities as they emerge end in farce, leaping from one new haircut, tattoo design, clothing fashion to the next. Within modern capitalism, we promote the total inscription of the body into regimes of signs dictated by capitalist modes of production, i.e. the commodification of the body.

This post is largely inspired by my reading of D&G and the mounting pressure to get a haircut. But this is not such a simple thing. To get a tattoo, haircut, buy a brand of clothes,  mimic a popular form of fashion or social practice, is, I sometimes feel, to be the victim to the pleasure of the other. Let me explain. In situations such as tattooing and piecing, their is real pain which is inflicted during the process of inscription. As D&G note, Nietzsche understood the infliction of pain to generate pleasure in those observing. The process of tattooing is a pain for the pleasure of the tribal other. This tribal other is now the peer group or decentralized fashionable signifier which rises and falls due to the work of promotional companies, media, celebrity endorsement and counter-culture icons. The scar now encodes the power of the perpetrator onto the individual’s body. The perpetrator is not the person who performs the inking or piercing, but tribal body which recognizes and authorizes the inscription. The inscription has the effect of reinforcing the authority of the perpetrator. Thus, a reciprocal formation of alliances can endure independently of fluctuations in desire, the body becomes inscribed into the social body, the currency of which is a form of recognition which can dictate your social status.

The Maori, who are  native to New Zealand, were hunted for their heads back in the era of Captain Cook and the European colonists. A tattooed head was a valuable artifact to be traded. Eventually, out of fear of death, they stopped tattooing. Their tattoo’s cover the face and body, representing the social status and lineage in the tribe. Only into the 20th century did the Maori start to tattoo themselves again. Publically, it is still a TaMoko1problem to exhibit these tattoo’s, thus exacerbating unemployment and racism. On one documentary I saw long ago and do not remember the title, when asked ‘what does tattooing mean to you?’ one Maori male replied ‘It means I can’t get a job’. To be inscribed, signed by the tribe, is to become recoded into the desire of the tribe, against economic territorializing forces.

Although this example concerns tattoos, the logic still applies for other personal aesthetic rituals. The maintenance of hair is one such mode of encoding. The problem comes from over thinking, what I see, as a double-bind: the necessity of getting a haircut, yet recognising them as a form of social inscription that will mark me in one way or another towards a social group or interest. For D&G, capitalism’s free flowing signs, circulate and associate violently with anything that can be commodified. To inscribe oneself into a regime of signs linked to capitalist modes of production (which includes the private Oedipal family as the key site of social production) is to reproduce the conscious oppressive territoriality of capitalist desire. It is thus not a duty to be marked in any way, but only to be marked, coded into a regime of signs, that will penetrate into a nomadological desire.  The nomad occupies the smooth space of the social unconscious. An imperceptible rhizomatic movement, deterritorialized and exterior to any representation: it cannot be used to replicate capitalist control mechanisms.

That’s a lot to be thinking about before one gets a haircut. Ultimately, as  Zizek would say, the choice of haircuts if a false choice which takes focus off other non-choices. The more I think about the haircut, the more of a victim I am to the false choice of ‘which haircut?’: a mode of desire framed by the liberal democratic belief that I, as a ‘responsible’, ‘independent’, ‘adult’, homo economicus, have to decide (as those around me will identify me by my lack of decision as much as any actual decision).

The justice of object-oriented philosophy

November 2, 2009

N20.1Adikia

Graham Harman’s work overflows with metaphor. Never have I read so many metaphors used with such enthusiasm and lack of economy in philosophy since reading Nietzsche and Derrida. The use of metaphor is essential for Harman, stylistically and philosophically. As I commented in my last post, I see Harman’s appropriation of the McLuhan tetrad as the explanatory mechanism for change between media-beings, i.e. objects. The influence of the McLuhan’s does not end here, as metaphor as described in the ‘Media poetics’ section of Laws of Media, “presents one thing or situation dressed as or seen through another. A leap has to be made, across the interval between the two situations, each composed of a figure and ground” (p. 231). Figure is the message and ground is the medium, or in Harmanian, the eidos and essence. Thus metaphor reveals the transforming interplay between the essence and eidos of objects, which Harman’s work playfully encapsulates. The use of metaphor is a rhetorical strategy and for Harman it is the “presence of a surplus-jouissance animating the thought of a thinker that functions as the real aim of this thought” (Levi Bryant, larvalsubjects sept 18th).

Harman’s defence of metaphor stems from the desire for a philosophy to do “justice to a world where objects are always more than they literally state. Those who care only to generate arguments almost never generate objects. New objects, however, are the sole and sacred fruit of writers, thinkers, politicians, travelers, lovers, and inventors.” (On Vicarious Causation, p.212). Justice, here, appears to be the key concept that needs addressing, not because it is a standard philosophical conversation starter, but because it is a powerful motivating force behind Harman’s metaphorical articulations: Justice is one difference but it does not make all the difference. Calling for justice is not a new philosophical task, but on the scale and inclusivity of Harman’s object-oriented philosophy (OOP), there may never have been a call for justice of this magnitude before. It is for this reason that we should think about the desire for justice that propels forward our object-oriented musings, as it is not mere speculation, but a fundamental violence we wish to enact against unjust forms of thought.

A spectre is haunting philosophy, the spectre of the object. Philosophy has been a persistent failure in creating laws to do justice to objects. From the perspective of OOP, Plato was unjust to objects as all objects are merely a simulacrum of a transcendent ideality. Kant was unjust to objects, as objects become objects only through transcendental apperception, there is no object thing-in-itself. Heidegger was unjust to most objects, except those elevated to das ding. Even Whitehead, who doesn’t deny that there is a real world out there which is just as involved as any human being-in-the-world, doesn’t do justice to objects as such, only to in-process events of interconnected and fully relational substance. What does it mean to want to do justice to objects? Is justice something that can be said of anything other than from within humanity? What charges this call for justice if we are high upon our ontological tower of being at the ‘end of history’?

Organizations for environmental and animal justice continue to seek the elimination of speciesism in public discourse, while intellectually, arguments which challenge common doxa frame the hot debates of the 21st century. They bring forward a fundamental re-examination of objects, how we think, reduce, classify and use objects and what it means for us to be objects. Speciesism is rife in philosophy in what could be called correlationism, which privileges the human as the sight of all meaning and constitution of the world. Correlationism institutes a ‘species solipsism’ as Quentin Meillassoux (QM) suggests, such as Heidegger’s being-in-the-world, which eliminates all beings except for human Dasein from a world gathered by the logos. By challenging the tyranny of correlationism, OOP looks again at the unthought of justice.

If OOP could be said to articulate metaphysical and ontological principles (certainly Levi Bryant makes this claim especially conscious) we need to be attentive to what this means for justice, as the word ‘principle’ implies a quest for justice and law: principle – ‘a fundamental, primary, or general law or truth from which others are derived’ (dictionary.com). To propose new metaphysical principles is to desire the desedimentation of those existing principles one deems unjust. They are unjust because they conceal vested interests and false oppositions. Correlationism thus has a vested interest in the human and proposes the binary of subject in contrast to object. To ‘force’ the law of the subject.

If we use the Harmanian definition of metaphysics as the discussion of the fundamental traits of specific types of entities, Derrida can be understood as a metaphysician of language. Although Derrida reads Heidegger’s tool analysis in the ‘standard’ way, Harman and Derrida share the central tenant of the sway of ‘presence and absence’ inherited from Heidegger. It is here where the tetradic metaphorical moment occurs, as Derrida’s textual fetishism reverses not into obscurantism but into object realism. I believe that a large part of Harman’s own motivation for selecting such a path as realism comes as a reaction to limitations of deconstruction and hermeneutics which took Heidegger into the direction of inter-textual aporia.

In Force of Law, Derrida states that democracy “remains to come: to engender or regenerate” (p.46). Could this coming be the ‘democracy of objects’, as articulated by Buno Latour and looks to constitute the argumentative thrust behind Levi Bryant’s next book of the same name? For ballot-box-763573Latour, a democracy of objects means that all objects are mutually external and real in their own right: “an Adidas shoe is not just a shadow on a cave wall but an actor every bit as real as justice itself” (Prince of Networks, p.91). However, for Harman, he cannot accept Latour’s democracy precisely because it doesn’t recognise the genuine essence of objects as sustained through their non-relational withdrawn being. For Latour, all actors can only be because they relate, if they don’t relate they do not exist. This is why Latour’s ‘actors’ are not Harman’s ‘objects’ as they do not have independent essences. Consequentially, Latour places real and intentional objects on the same democratic ground. For Harman this gives away too much. So, as a supplement to Latour’s democracy of objects, Harman sees a polarization of objects, which isn’t the binary of natural or cultural worlds so eloquently disposed of by Latour in Politics of Nature, but recognition of a necessary split between the presence and absence that dictates how and why objects relate, change and assemble.

A flat ontology is an attempt at a base universality for all objects, while also respecting their subterranean withdrawn core, their essence and their individuality. It is this appeal to singularity amidst this universality that is the “experience of the impossible” – “Justice always expresses itself to singularity, to the singularity of the other, despite or even because it pretends to universality” (p.20). To even attempt to articulate the what is is a violence to the object, but a violence that is a liberation from the metaphysical and conceptual principles that must now be recognised as an injustice to objects. The recognition of the desire to bring justice requires decision not just to act but to act with urgency.

Derrida’s deconstruction showed how justice operates under the violence of the force of law. The problem arises from the moment of its apophantic articulation. To speak of justice, as Harman does, is to perform justice and to do violence to the existing order of justice, at the same time. “One cannot speak directly about justice, thematize or objectivize justice, say ‘this is just’ and even less ‘I am just’, without immediately betraying justice” (Force of Law, p. 10). Just as QM as a speculative materialist is trying to do justice to the absolute through acknowledging facticity not as a limitation towards thinking the absolute but as window that reveals the necessary contingency of the absolute, Harman is attempting to do justice to objects through the recognition of their untethered essence in an OOP. The desire is thus to make the discourses which sustain our everydayness, our symbolic life-world’s hierarchical stability, ‘tremble’. To want justice is to show the tension between the is and as. For QM, it is to radicalise the absolute by grasping events which are incalculable and unpredictable yet continue to be mathematical over the artistic, poetic or religious (‘After Finitude’: p.108). This is to do violence to the doctrines and principles of the paradigms which structure our intellect. These are not critiques for the sake of truth, but to force the law of subject over object to yield to what was always already revealed and concealed within the brutal attempts to think being.

OOP remakes the law to respond to the injustice of the object. This is not a demand for any justice. It is not the Heideggerian Dike, the harmonious conjoining of entities gathered together in accord and in-joint, the concealing-revealing movement of alethia. Heideggerian Dike for Derrida is droit, the law of association that risks repressing the relation to the other, as justice cannot be made present and perfectly in accord, but must be out-of-joint as it is always already an irreducible excess. To make time-out-of joint is the OOP imperative to view objects as their own time and space. They are not to be brought into any human bound teleology of cumulative history… the essence of any object sustains its own history within its ‘vacuum sealed molten core’. Justice is recognition of this dis-juncture of time, the other as other, the object as object.

Graham Harman’s work overflows with metaphor. Never have I read so many metaphors used with such enthusiasm and lack of economy in philosophy since reading Nietzsche and Derrida. The use of metaphor is essential for Harman, stylistically and philosophically. As I commented in my last post, I see Harman’s appropriation of the McLuhan tetrad as the explanatory mechanism for change between media-beings, i.e. objects. The influence of the McLuhan’s does not end here, as metaphor as described in the ‘Media poetics’ section of Laws of Media, “presents one thing or situation dressed as or seen through another. A leap has to be made, across the interval between the two situations, each composed of a figure and ground” (p. 231). Figure is the message and ground is the medium, or in Harmanian, the eidos and essence. Thus metaphor reveals the transforming interplay between the essence and eidos of objects, which Harman’s work playfully encapsulates.

Harman’s defence of metaphor stems from the desire for a philosophy to do “justice to a world where objects are always more than they literally state. Those who care only to generate arguments almost never generate objects. New objects, however, are the sole and sacred fruit of writers, thinkers, politicians, travellers, lovers, and inventors.” (On Vicarious Causation, p.212). Justice, here, appears to be the key concept that needs addressing, not because it is a standard philosophical conversation starter, but because it is a powerful motivating force behind Harman’s metaphorical articulations: Justice is one difference but it does not make all the difference. Calling for justice is not a new philosophical task, but on the scale and inclusivity of Harman’s object-oriented philosophy (OOP), there may never have been a call for justice of this magnitude before. It is for this reason that we should think about the desire for justice that propels forward our object-oriented musings, as it is not mere speculation, but a fundamental violence we wish to enact against unjust forms of thought.

A spectre is haunting philosophy, the spectre of the object. Philosophy has been a persistent failure in creating laws to do justice to objects. From the perspective of OOP, Plato was unjust to objects as all objects are merely a simulacrum of a transcendent ideality. Kant was unjust to objects, as objects become objects only through transcendental apperception, there is no object thing-in-itself. Heidegger was unjust to most objects, except those elevated to das ding. Even Whitehead, who doesn’t deny that there is a real world out there which is just as involved as any human being-in-the-world, doesn’t do justice to objects as such, only to in-process events of interconnected and fully relational substance. Deleuze doesn’t do justice to objects, only to the molecular unconscious plane of immanent relations that human beings are (dis)engaged. What does it mean to want to do justice to objects? Is justice something that can be said of anything other than from within humanity? What charges this call for justice if we are high upon our ontological tower of being at the ‘end of history’?

Organizations for environmental and animal justice continue to seek the elimination of speciesism in public discourse, while intellectually, arguments which challenge common doxa frame the hot debates of the 21st century. They bring forward a fundamental re-examination of objects, how we think, reduce, classify and use objects and what it means for us to be objects. Speciesism is rife in philosophy in what could be called correlationism, which privileges the human as the sight of all meaning and constitution of the world. Correlationism institutes a ‘species solipsism’ as Quentin Meillassoux (QM) suggests, such as Heidegger’s being-in-the-world, which eliminates all beings except for human Dasein from a world gathered by the logos. By challenging the tyranny of correlationism, OOP looks again at the unthought of justice.

If OOP could be said to articulate metaphysical and ontological principles (certainly Levi Bryant makes this claim especially conscious) we need to be attentive to what this means for justice, as the word ‘principle’ implies a quest for justice and law: principle – ‘a fundamental, primary, or general law or truth from which others are derived’ (dictionary.com). To propose new metaphysical principles is to desire the desedimentation of those existing principles one deems unjust. They are unjust because they conceal vested interests and false oppositions. Correlationism thus has a vested interest in the human and proposes the binary of subject in contrast to object. To ‘force’ the law of the subject.

If we use the Harmanian definition of metaphysics as the discussion of the fundamental traits of specific types of entities, Derrida can be understood as a metaphysician of language. Although Derrida reads Heidegger’s tool analysis in the ‘standard’ way, Harman and Derrida share the central tenant of the sway of ‘presence and absence’ inherited from Heidegger. It is here where the tetradic metaphorical moment occurs, as Derrida’s textual fetishism reverses not into obscurantism but into object realism. I believe that a large part of Harman’s own motivation for selecting such a path as realism comes as a reaction to limitations of deconstruction and hermeneutics which took Heidegger into the direction of inter-textual aporia.

In Force of Law, Derrida states that democracy “remains to come: to engender or regenerate” (p.46). Could this coming be the ‘democracy of objects’, as articulated by Buno Latour and looks to constitute the argumentative thrust behind Levi Bryant’s next book of the same name? For Latour, a democracy of objects means that all objects are mutually external and real in their own right: “an Adidas shoe is not just a shadow on a cave wall but an actor every bit as real as justice itself” (Prince of Networks, p.91). However, for Harman, he cannot accept Latour’s democracy precisely because it doesn’t recognise the genuine essence of objects as sustained through their non-relational withdrawn being. For Latour, all actors can only be because they relate, if they don’t relate they do not exist. This is why Latour’s ‘actors’ are not Harman’s ‘objects’ as they do not have independent essences. Consequentially, Latour places real and intentional objects on the same democratic ground. For Harman this gives away too much. So, as a supplement to Latour’s democracy of objects, Harman sees a polarization of objects, which isn’t the binary of natural or cultural worlds so eloquently disposed of by Latour in Politics of Nature, but recognition of a necessary split between the presence and absence that dictates how and why objects relate, change and assemble.

A flat ontology is an attempt at a base universality for all objects, while also respecting their subterranean withdrawn core, their essence and their individuality. It is this appeal to singularity amidst this universality that is the “experience of the impossible” – “Justice always expresses itself to singularity, to the singularity of the other, despite or even because it pretends to universality” (p.20). To even attempt to articulate the what is is a violence to the object, but a violence that is a liberation from the metaphysical and conceptual principles that must now be recognised as an injustice to objects. The recognition of the desire to bring justice requires decision not just to act but to act with urgency.

Derrida’s deconstruction showed how justice operates under the violence of the force of law. The problem arises from the moment of its apophantic articulation. To speak of justice, as Harman does, is to perform justice and to do violence to the existing order of justice, at the same time. “One cannot speak directly about justice, thematize or objectivize justice, say ‘this is just’ and even less ‘I am just’, without immediately betraying justice” (Force of Law, p. 10). Just as QM as a speculative materialist is trying to do justice to the absolute through acknowledging facticity not as a limitation towards thinking the absolute but as window that reveals the necessary contingency of the absolute, Harman is attempting to do justice to objects through the recognition of their untethered essence in an OOP. The desire is thus to make the discourses which sustain our everydayness, our symbolic life-world’s hierarchical stability, ‘tremble’. To want justice is to show the tension between the is and as. For QM, it is to radicalise the absolute by grasping events which are incalculable and unpredictable yet continue to be mathematical over the artistic, poetic or religious (‘After Finitude’: p.108). This is to do violence to the doctrines and principles of the paradigms which structure our intellect. These are not critiques for the sake of truth, but to force the law of subject over object to yield to what was always already revealed and concealed within the brutal attempts to think being.

OOP remakes the law to respond to the injustice of the object. This is not a demand for any justice. It is not the Heideggerian Dike, the harmonious conjoining of entities gathered together in accord and in-joint, the concealing-revealing movement of alethia. Heideggerian Dike for Derrida is droit, the law of association that risks repressing the relation to the other, as justice cannot be made present and perfectly in accord, but must be out-of-joint as it is always already an irreducible excess. To make time-out-of joint is the OOP imperative to view objects as their own time an space. They are not to be brought into any human bound teleology of cumulative history. Justice is recognition of this dis-juncture of time, the other as other, the object as object.