Archive for December, 2009

Salvagepunk, post-apocalyptic thought and idiosyncratic objects (part 1)

December 14, 2009

What is salvagepunk? Salvagepunk is “a return to the repressed idiosyncrasy of outmoded things”, so says Evan Calder Williams, inventor and sharp Marxist prose stylist over at Socialism and/or Barbarism. But what does this mean and why do I think it is a very important move towards recognizing the apocalyptic world in which we live, a world of excess consumption and waste, in contradistinction to the impotent Marxist waiting game of capitalism’s hoped for demise? It is this world we must attend to, not the promises of a new world, but the concrete conditions of our historically contingent moment. To quote the last line from his recent talk at the Historical Materialism conference (full audio available HERE)

I don’t believe another world is possible, because I know that all things superseded stick around and stink as unwelcome reminders of that we have to deal with, so another world is necessary but only built from the gutted hull of this one

Firstly, salvagepunk should be seen as the negation of salvage as we know it. Etymologically, as Williams investigated, salvage is synonymous with pay-off, with “saving the day and keeping things as they are”. Back in the 17th century, if a ship was saved that would have gone down or being captured, a payment would have been given to the salvagers. In salvage, there is always a “transfer of exchange value”, which we saw recently with the salvage of the banks as they were blasted to pieces by bad loans and pirate capitalist canon balls. We are in an era of salvage as “waste sorting and recuperation”, and capitalism biggest act of salvage is not the bank bailout, but time itself. Our free-time is a calculated countdown back to labour time as capitalism never sleeps, with round the clock consumption and production by supermarkets, television and factories. Night-shift, day-shift, split-shift, part-time, on-call, ‘unsociable hours’, the day and night of the post-Fordist labourer, “inhuman rhythms” of machinic repetition, re-training and dynamic flexibility. The capitalist salvages time by firing your work colleagues and giving you extra work. For sure, salvagepunk will not salvage the capitalist time of abstract labour time.

Salvagepunk is not like Guiyu City in China. Guiyu is an e-waste recycling center. The global sorting mechanism of low cost labour means the rich make high technology e-waste and the poor salvage the quality components and sell it back to the rich. The high cost of disposing this waste means it is outsourced to countries with little or no environmental and health and safety regulation, such as Guiyu in China. The ratified international laws banning such activities go unnoticed and unenforced. This is salvage in the image of exploitative late capitalism: exploit those who aren’t educated enough to know the ‘precious’ metals they’re extracting and smelting from old computer motherboards and cathode ray tubes are polluting their waters and slowly killing them. It is this logic that salvagepunk will gladly let decay and rot.

The punk of salvagepunk is what makes it revolutionary. Punk is not the commodified and commercialize image of Mohawked teens with pins through noses. It is certainly not the PVC slick technological wet dream of cyberpunk with its Deleuzian ‘intense’ nomadic multitudes and immaterial labour. Nor is it the “false dream image” of steampunk,where “its falseness lies in it being the wrong dream image, the ideological blind that is the dream image proper to the liberal escape plan for the contemporary crisis and its envisioned fall-out”. Punk is thus the “deep fidelity to its historical moment and the fact it no longer believed in a future – the present is already the hollowed out present of that future”. Punk is born from harsh experience. As Johnny Rotten says of the Sex Pistols song God Save the Queen “You don’t write a song like ‘God Save The Queen’ because you hate the English race. You write a song like that because you love them, and you’re fed up of seeing them mistreated.”


The face of salvagepunk is not the “sneer of cyberpunk” but a “graveside smile and the perspective of looking toward what can be reassembled ‘wrongly’ and how”. Salvagepunk turns objects upside down. Objects are no longer just what they are given to us, packaged and ready hot off the factory floor. Salvagepunk is a view to the “idiosyncratic uses of given materials”, a recognition of the “already-present singular values of things”. In their ruin, their monetary value is lost and their real value comes forward, not as something with a particular purpose, but objects that in their singularity aren’t sublated into the warped simulacra of consumerist fashion and prestige. Objects become objects, not money and exchange value. As Guattari states “capitalism reduces everything to a state of shit, to a state of undifferentiated and unencoded flux, out of which each person in his private and guilt ridden way must pull out his part. Capitalism is the regime of generalized interchangeability: anything in the ‘right’ proportions can be equal to anything else”. Capitalism decodes and flattens out difference into a smooth space of homogeneous real abstraction. Where the fantasy of capitalist realism at the ‘end of history’ dictates that economic, environmental, democratic salvation is just around the corner, that things will ‘change’ only if the sweaty hand of the free market is not continually stifled by ‘regulations’ and socialist welfare systems. Salvagepunk, in contrast, is a heterogeneous time of the proletariat, of “fireworks and flares” (Negri), a post-apocalyptic subject.

Williams is keen to emphasize the post-apocalyptic is a “mode of though, not a state of affairs”. The world is apocalyptic, not in the Hollywood sense of asteroids and plagues, but the gradual banal entropy of unsustainable system of repetition without difference, the real abstraction of late capitalism. Post-apocalyptic thinking is the affirmation of concrete negation against real abstraction: the non-identical thinking of objects not as “undifferentiated and unencoded flux” but as “particular, sensuous objects that strain to declare, particularly in the context of their commensurability of the value form, their singularity”. In other words “we need to get back to real life, real things” as “the concrete is the exposure of real abstractions”. Post-apocalyptic thought turns the impotent fantasy of the wait for that right historical moment of communist revolution into a always already active political and social collectivity.

This is a metaphysical drive towards the object as object which recognizes the object as “registrations of and stores of historical energy to be released”. This abandons the post-modern world space as image, a Society of the Spectacle, and reaches for the “idiosyncrasy” of objects. This unsettling of objects is anti-representational and free the function of objects to their own historical moment. By doing this, we occupy materialist time, the genealogical time of Walter Benjamin’s historical materialism. The reawakening of past possibilities forgotten by the all-too-ready to dump and forget postures of capitalist consumer culture. The buried historical “traditions and horizons of collectivity, solidarity, and true antagonism” are the objects to be salvaged. The rethinking and reclaiming of these broken communist social relations are what is to be salvaged from our capitalist waste ground. Salvagepunk, as a form of subjectivity and thought, is a metaphysical attuning to the conditions of the specificity of historical-being.

In this regards, salvagepunk is venomously anti-Kantian yet sees in Kant a “radical misanthropic gesture”. The nature of human subjectivity is not an ahistorical givenness through the necessary conditions of transcendental apperception, but a historical givenness. “As the law is not transhistorical but the abstract will of life historical totality of a moment, so too “nature” (as perversion) is historical.” The Kantian framework, Williams argues, is clearly overthrown by capitalism’s propensity to generate irrationality in competition and “the elevation of the general misanthropic condition to the system as a whole”. Kantian human nature, the movement of man from ‘nature’ (ahistorical ‘crocked wood’) to ‘Nature’ (rational historical Will), is challenged by Williams who states “human actions are the becoming-necessary of the will to freedom”, where recognition is given to the “particularity of the actions at hand” – the situation is and produces the situation. The appeal is contra to any notion of the ahistorical absolute.

Part 2 will look at where Williams sees these themes of apocalypse staring back at us, such as in zombie movies and black metal music. Together with his look at post-apocalyptic visions in movies such as Mad Max and the Bed Sitting Room. I will also briefly summaries his work on Michael Jackson’s CaptainEO. But now, I’ve got to go, as I’m, off to see The Mars Volta play at the London Forum. Good times!

Advertisements

The gift of nothing

December 13, 2009

“Nothing contains the sound of one hand clapping, the hole in the doughnut, the sound of a tree falling in the forest when no one is there to hear it, the incident no one talks about.” So says the selling tag line for this special gift. It continues “What’s the perfect gift to give to those who have everything?” Nothing! No, not nothing as in nothing at all, but a gift object called ‘nothing’ which essentially paper and plastic packaged up as if to present a small something but instead there is nothing inside. In many ways I find this hilarious. If someone presented this to me on Christmas day, I would consider it the perfect gift (“wow, thanks, so you were listening during those long Heideggerian diatribes!!”). I always say I don’t want anything, and as a budding philosopher, quasi-Heideggerian, it provokes delicious philosophical questions – which is exactly what I want on a snow smothered Christmas morning. However, as an example of the logic of late capitalist consumer novelty, it is horribly revealing.

The object itself has prestige value as being a ‘quirky’ unique object of mild amusement and ultimately as a presentable ornament. Just as a blow-glass dolphin isn’t particularly practical, it is non the less, an ornament for someone’s enjoyment. It has an aesthetic appeal that Dolphin lovers can’t resist, bringing a little bit of dolphin cuteness into their lives. But, the gift of ‘nothing’, while not being particularly cute, for fills the same ornamental function and more. A glass-blown dolphin is a banal gift, yet ‘nothing’ isn’t. Why? It is a perversion in many ways. First, in this age of recycling and environmental concern, it seems to be a particularly brutal waste of materials. But I would argue, it’s value lies in the fact that it is ‘nothing’ and not something at all. How many robot dinosaurs will be given to overexcited kids on Christmas morning only to have been smashed into small pieces in some brutal act of mindless destruction? I myself may have done this countless times as a youngster (“play nicely Michael!” “No!” [smash] . Ah, good times). The use value is marginal in a gift, it is the symbolic value that is essential. Derridian notions of ‘the gift’ aside, it must be noted that it beautifully presents us with the logic of late capitalism, something that was probably known by the university educated people who were (more than likely) sniggering away while they designed this product.

As Fredrick Jameson notes in Postmodernism, or The Cultural logic of Late Capitalism, “aesthetic production today has become integrated into commodity production generally: the frantic economic urgency of producing fresh waves of ever novel-seeming goods (from clothing to airplanes)”. The place of our gift of ‘nothing’ takes the logic of novelty to its obviously conclusion – to give nothing is still to give something, as in postmodernity there is nothing but simulacra swirling around empty centers. This object has the effect of not only showing the vacuous nature of the gift, but more importantly, the imperative of gift giving that dominates the event  of collective consumer ejaculation that is Christmas. To give ‘nothing’ is the literal giving of a presence and absence at the core of every gift. But more than this, in contrast to a precious glass-blown dolphin, this gift could only work at this time (late capitalism) as it demonstrates the tyranny of the symbolic over the material, the empty gesture over substantiality, of uselessness over the useful, the vacuous over the voluptuous. The fact that this product exists means there is at least some desire for such things  (I’m not saying they’re going to be a smash hit this Christmas) and thus shows that as an aspect of excessive production and the imperative for novelty seems to have reached its logical limit in this absurd pretense of a gift.

Life Insurance: A Corruption of Sacred Memory between the dead and the dying (By Charlie Clarke)

December 9, 2009

What does it mean to insure ones life? To place a commercial figure in which ones relatives are compensated for a lost other, a lost other who’s otherness is generally an essential part of their being. There are two moments in this puzzle; there is the one who is no more and there are those who ‘benefit’ from the firsts absence. Ontologically speaking, life insurance opens up a structure of presence and absence within the overarching ideology of ‘commercial exchange’. Consequently the reverse must occur; within the relation of presence/absence a structure of ‘commercial exchange’ is enforced. Because this necessarily ‘capitalist’ procedure presents nothing new in the way of a ‘Marxist’ critique, I will examine its relation to certain other ideas with a pre-supposed sympathy for such a critique. I will therefore restrain from undergoing an ontological critique of Marxism and instead assume the licence to dither between philosophies, however inconsistent such a dithering may be.

(more…)

Historical Materialism audio uploads part 1

December 9, 2009

These are my three favourite talks from the recent Historical Materialism conference at SOAS and Birkbeck in London the weekend before last. I will upload some more when I get the chance:

Wendy Brown – Capitalism and Religion    HERE

Benjamin Noys – Apocalypse and Accelerationism    HERE

Even Calder Williams – Combined and Uneven Apocalypse    HERE

“The Great Pan is dead”: A rebuke of the myth of natural balance. Part 2

December 8, 2009

Arcadia: (Greek: Ἀρκαδία) refers to a Utopian vision of pastoralism and harmony with nature

apropos

Peter Kennard's 'Haywain with Cruise Missiles'

What is nature? Dictionary.com has 17 different definitions    HERE

The first four definitions make no room for man in nature. Five is a correlationist universe of appearing phenomena. Six is a Newtonian universe of quantifiable forces. Seven defines nature as opposite to culture. Eight defines nature as the present-at-hand. Nine defines nature through conforming to an innate pre-determined behavior. Nine to fourteen define nature through a norm or original consistency. Fifteen defines nature as barbarism. And lastly, seventeen, nature as the absence of God’s will. The distinct thread running through all these definition is that nature is something Other to human beings or that human beings are in but out of joint with nature and with the natural.

These definitions support the idea of Bruno Latour that all discourses in nature and ecology point to a multiculturalism of the human world against a mononaturalism outside of human control. It is us verses it. I agree with Latour that a separation between multiculturalism and mononaturalism leads us only back to the Cave (i.e. to a Platonic fundamental dualism) and that ‘political ecology has not begun’ until abandons ‘Nature’. Thus object-oriented philosophy (OOP) should be a strong guide in defining nature and the natural via an ontology with a radically inclusive depth.

I will start this investigation with a quote from Eric S Nelson’s paper Responding to Heaven and Earth:

Heidegger and Laozi spoke of Sein and Dao rather than of nature. The English word “nature” is derived from the Latin “natura,” which if Heidegger is correct about its import, needs to be placed in question precisely for ecological reasons. Heidegger analyzed the word natura, and its modern derivatives, as a basic misunderstanding and mistranslation of the archaic Greek disclosure of phusis. The word “nature” is already a denial of the sense we want to give it (i.e., what nature is intended by us to say), because natura is already a transformation of being that reduces it to the purposive, the pragmatic, and the useful—that is to the human. Nature thus has to be reinterpreted according to phusis, and I will argue later the Dao, which means the holding sway and upsurge of being rather than the raw stuff or material of cultivation and formation implied by the Latin understanding and use of natura.

The word nature is a product of translation from Greek to Latin to English. There can be no translation without transformation. Thus, the word nature loses the essence of the Greek word phusis, which comes to play an important role in the work of Heidegger and the OOP of Graham Harman. Aristotle was the first to define Being as presence, which would have a knock on effect to phusis which was, until then, a concealed primordial structure. With Being as presence, phusis becomes physics and thus nature become the world of scientific inquiry.

Phusis must be understood in OOP terms as the ‘real object’ or as Harman suggests, ‘unnatural object’ – the core ‘character’ of objects remains unknown and always unnaturalized. Real objects are the “serving bearer of being” (the concealed Heideggerian earth). logos is the sensual relation that performs semantic articulations of phusis: as Harman notes in Tool-Being, all objects are Dasein. Dasein ‘speak out’ the prevailing “growing growth” (that which has been born and has the propensity to grow) of phusis. It is the nature of phusis to come forth through logos as something at all or in particular. Objects form the world through the universal structure of semantic logos which articulates phusis as something-at-all. The logos can be considered something inclusive of but not exclusive to human Dasein. Just as “Language in its essence is neither expression nor a human deed. Language speaks” (Heidegger, Language).Language operates ontologically the same way as art. Language reveals the tension/strife between world and thing, logos and phusis, sensual object and real object. Therefore, logos partly naturalizes unnatural objects and forms them into worlded things as particular objects.

We must take seriously the claim of Harman’s that retroactive causation is a universal principle, because it allows us to think nature as Zizekian barred nature applicable to all object-object relations: all objects abstract and phantasize the isness is the other object and thus engage in brutal acts of instrumentalized reduction. We should not look to ‘nature’ for a model of balance any more than we should look to capitalism as a guide for a fair and ethical society.

I shall now propose some propositions regarding nature:

>There is no holistic totality of Absolute being known as Nature.

>Objects are not all interconnected. Mystical Oneness is a “pathological exacerbation of the ego” that ignores mind-independent reality in an act of narcissistic presumption (Ray Brassier, Nihil Unbound)

>Balance cannot be an ontological principle (such as ‘natural balance’).

>All objects exist in-themselves prior to being part of an assemblage; yet are themselves assemblages ‘all the way down’.

>Objects are finite.

>Objects are in-themselves prior to human praxis.

>Nature does not equal God.

>Nature should not e thought as inaccessible and barred (such as the Zizekian barred nature: nature does not exist as nature).

We cannot talk of an all inclusive nature in our discourses concerning ecology. In realist terms, nature is a double edged sword, it provides a basic cognitive feature which proposes a reality externally existing to that of human consciousness, yet it excludes human beings from the process entirely, thus generating a binary between nature and culture. For ecology to operate proper, human being must be seen to operate within a chaotic and continually shifting assemblages of objects and their relations, where remedies to environmental problems cannot be seen as a movement back to a balance state of ‘scared’ nature, but to a state of banal coping. Coping with problematic naturalizations which erupt from being caused by human and non-human world forming logos. This must be done not through the idea of human being’s control over nature. Bringing human beings into balance with nature, which, as described in the previous post, is not only a myth, but leads to not nature qua nature, but a naturalization of something unnatural, the object in-itself. The result of a naturalization of the unnatural is a human projected nature based upon the fantasy of balance and peace. Nature is made present and predictable, in tune with a denial of the chaotic. Being One with nature is thus not a state of nature balance, there is non, but recognition of the independence and impossible Real kernel of objects which remains forever unnaturalized by any relation. Ecology should not be a focus on a phantasmatic natural world, but a engagement with a turbulent reality of effervescent change and always temporary attempts at order. We cannot tell ‘Nature’ what to be: we cannot tell real objects what they are.

“The distinction between “natural” and “artificial” always struck me as somewhat… artificial”    HERE

“The Great Pan is dead”: A rebuke of the myth of natural balance. Part 1

December 7, 2009

David Suzuki’s book The Sacred Balance, is a fairly basic overview of environmental issues explained at about the level of High school science and New Age spiritual mythology. It is rich in statistical tables and analysis that charts the changes in the earth’s biodiversity, the origins, expansion and complexity of the universe and the multitude of ways that human beings are polluting, damaging and destroying habitats on land and marine life. It intersperses this with several myth stories of creation, with particular focus on the Homeric myth of Gaia, Mother earth and Father time and quotes from the Bible scriptures and Eastern texts. There is a running theme of animosity towards technologies that promote wasteful polluting practices. While he also pleas for a reconsideration of values against the excesses of global capitalist consumerism in favour of a ‘think global act local’ approach to ‘organic’ green living. This coincides with the equation of the ‘singing spirit of nature’ with poetry and the beauty of Romanticism against the horror of science. The obligatory swipe at Descartes and the Cartesian ‘grip on the West’ is present here, too. I find it incredible ironic that the book charts out the fluctuating changes in the formation of the universe and the evolution of types of cells which transmogrified the atmosphere to support new exotic formations of organisms, such as eukaryotic and prokaryotic cells, yet insists on the idea that there is a ‘sacred balance’ at the heart of ‘Mother nature’. After 300 pages of explaining the contingency of life and the precariousness of existence, why conclude that nature is in balance? What is nature if it is something that can be balanced? Where does this fantasy of balance come from and why does it persist?

The nexus for the argument for balance comes down to two central theoretical misunderstandings: 1) evolutionary theory 2) reading the ‘relative” stability of ecosystems as a necessity. Firstly, Suzuki’s reading of evolution seems to follow a common misreading of evolutionary theory when explaining the responses within ecosystems to the introduction of new organisms and mutations. He suggests:

a kind of biological warfare is constantly waged between predator and prey, host and parasite, as each species jockeys for an upper hand. Mutations or new gene combinations conferring an advantage for one species are soon matched by countering response in the other species to restore the balance” (p.200).

Organisms do not respond to other species to restore ‘balance’. Each organism works tirelessly within the contingent conditions of its environment in order to sustain itself. Evolution is a theory of change mutation, not of a teleological correcting mechanism that sustains the delicate balance of nature. For time a cell divides the process of mitosis introduces genetic variation and the possibility of mutation. The effects of these mutations can take many generation to emerge. Successful species are those which are lucky enough to sustain mutations that benefit the survival of the species. The traits and properties of the mutations can promote the chances of successful procreation for the mutated organism, which will then multiply the number of organisms with this mutation.

Balance is an illusion derived from the finite time of any human observation of an ecosystem. Balance between species is not something that should be seen in isolation but as part of larger geological and meteorological patterns which provide rhythms of rainfall, temperature changes and soil nutrient conditionals. If ecosystems give the impression of balance then geology certainly shouldn’t. As evidence from plate tectonics suggest, the Himalayas was once under water and home to thriving aquatic organisms. The geological changes occurring slowly over millions of years change the possibilities of organisms, which can spread to new area as land connects up. Or can become cut off from the main land and so become isolated ecosystems, such as the Galapagos islands. Volcanic ocean activity can create new Islands which become inhabited and then deserted by opportunistic birds drop seeds onto these fresh fertile soils which then attracts new creatures of all kinds. There is no balance here, only opportunism.

Before human beings occupied the earth, eco-systems big and small were destroyed, displaced and lost forever due to the contingencies of object systems which extend beyond the interests of living organisms. This is why it makes no sense to suggest that human beings should live in balance with nature, when ‘nature’, through extreme weather, droughts, asteroid devastation, tectonic plate collisions and submersions, provide anything but ‘balanced’ systems. What is obvious is that the illusion of balance is due to an observed ‘relative’ consistency in certain climatic and geographic areas, which, given a finite amount of time, appears not to be going through damaging convulsions of change, but instead, support extremely complex networks of species. Suzuki interprets this as a principle of biodiversity, which is part of an automatic process of balancing environmental conditions. Suzuki, who quotes the work of James Lovelock, testifies to the harmonizing effect of Gaia against contingent perturbations. Yet from what I can conclude, if his thesis is correct, then the global balance of properties which sustains the diversity of life does so to provide the optimum conditions for “a kind of biological warfare” at the level of each organisms trying to get the upper hand. It appears that a return to nature, for Susziki, is more attuned to a Hobbesian notion of the state of nature, above any notion of a harmonious global environment.

What are the solutions Suzuki suggests for us? He has ten suggestions on page 303, that range from ‘Buy a fuel efficient, low polluting car’ to ‘eat meat free meals once a week’. Earlier in the book he admits to owning all the mod-cons of modern living (microwave, washing machine, etc) not to mention promoting the publishing industry through book authorship (and thus the contributing to the destruction of woodlands and the huge amounts of energy required to power the industry itself, with all its energy consuming sectors), but he seems to think that he will be able to look his children in the eye and say “I did my best” because his father taught him “that I am what I do, not what I say”. This is classic fetishist disavowal, the believing of another words over what you see, clearly under the gaze of the Father (whose words are repeated by Suzuki as a maxim to follow, which resonate ironically throughout this work as a ‘saying’ not a ‘doing’). There is clearly a strange gap between his understanding of global environmental and evolutionary change, and how these mechanisms supposedly create a balance. The idea of a balance is a fantasy projected onto a pre-human world of organic creation. A naturalization of nature is not a nature of balance but a recognition of a nature of contingent hyper-chaos of storms and doldrums. Suzuki provides plenty of condemning evidence as to the scale of environmental damage and the rate of species extinction, but this is not a condemnation of man putting nature out of joint: Nature was already out of joint with it self, we just haven’t been around long enough to notice.

This is not a criticism aimed only at Suzuki, but the whole environmentalist mentality that relies on a mythological belief in balance and the utopian vision of living in harmony with nature achievable through the adoption of greener consumer practices. It seems that these suggestions are totally impotent and insincere if the solution relies on the ‘natural checks and balances of Gaia’ to control and order a limited production of pollutants and greenhouse gases of green capitalism together with the movement into gentle pastoral poetry.

The problem comes from a confused notion of nature and the natural. I will address this in part 2, which will look at the work of Bruno Latour, Heidegger, Zizek and object-oriented philosophy.

Notes from ‘Confessions of a sinner’ by St Augustine

December 6, 2009

“Who can recall to me the sins I commit as a baby?” (p.4) questions St Augustine. He continues “was it a sin to cry when I wanted to feed on the breast?”. These questions begin section 7 of confessions and set the tone for the whole book. These type of probing questions with a particularly Catholic flavour are expressed and reasoned through without shame. The question of innocence and of sin stalk St Augustine at every Holy turn. This autobiographical series of questions and confessions has some juicy gossip (“she was nearly two years too young for marriage, but I liked her well enough” p.53), yet overflows with rambling stream of consciousness style eruptions of loving verbiage for ‘O God my God’. It is a series of prayers admitting to the All Knowing One his past history where he found himself dominated by moods of lust or pious awe. He swung from pleasures and temptations of the flesh to the love, beauty and devotion to the Divine. What remained throughout was a sense that any act of sin was always under the shadow of God. He never faltered in his faith, but agonized over his inability to do Gods will. The result was the turmoil and agony when faced with Hellish temptations and the silence of the Lord: “I was tossed and spilled, floundering in the broiling sea of my fornication, and you said no word” (p.13).

St Augustine parades a keen understanding of the dilemma of sin and its relations to pleasure: “our real pleasure consisted in doing something that was forbidden” (p.15) and after stealing pears as a young boy he notes “If any part of one of those pears passed my lips, it was the sin that gave it flavour” (p.16). On the whole, it seems an excellent guide to the long road to achieving what Lacan would call feminine ‘jouissance’. From the tentative beginnings of minor transgressions, always under the paranoid thoughts of a vengeful and almighty God, St Augustine eventually learns that “no bodily pleasure, however great it might be and whatever earthy light might shed lustre upon it, was worthy of comparison, or even mention, besides the happiness of the life of the saints” (p.79). This supplementary jouissance is attained by looking towards the Other (in this instance, the Almighty as source of pleasure) and not phallic jouissance, the prohibitive ‘No’ of the father, in this instance, God. In part 11, he makes note that as his father was not a believer, his mother “did all that she could to see that you, my God, should be a Father to me rather than he” (p.7). St Augustine learns that the seeking of pleasure always within the shadow of prohibition is only a stealing of jouissance that affords a pittance of pleasure: his stealing of pears as a young man represents his seeking of pleasure through the transgression of the phallic lack and  restriction, which later he would recognize as inferior to feminine religious jouissance. St Augustine was always aware of the dangers of pride and the quest for the selfless will of God, which is why he was able to archive the desubjectified ecstasy that only comes from the complete reconciliation with the object cause of desire, ‘object a’. At this point, jouissance is obtained not through the attempt to achieve non-castrated phallic jouissance, but through the staging of St Augustine’s appropriation of the will of God. This is staged in the gaze of the Other. As Lacan says “desire is the desire of the Other”, thus St Augustine learnt to be true to his desire, which was to fulfil the will of the Other, God.

This philosophical meditation on belief is revealing. It shows how the religious mind solidifies its belief even in the face of the impossibility of knowing God through reason. St Augustine notes “we are too weak to discover the truth by reason alone” and that no reading of any philosophical proposition dissuaded him from his belief in “your existence and in your right to govern human affairs” (p.51). This reminds me of my reading of Quentin Meillassoux, whose book After Finitude, tells us that “even after successfully critiquing meta-physico religiosity, this does not disprove God but only a type of God which appeals to natural reason to declare the superiority of its own beliefs. To remove proof of the ’supreme’ supported by reason reverses the process of the destruction of polytheistic religion suffered at the hands of monotheistic religious reason (p.45). What does this produce? Fundamentalist fideism: a defence of religiosity in general which promotes the superiority of piety over thought, thus removing reason from any ground to a belief in God or gods. The result is a religionizing of reason: beliefs are legitimate as nothing but beliefs, not as reasonable beliefs (p.47)” [this is a block quote from my notes]. It looks as if the battle for man’s soul, if it is to be won by the atheistic philosophers, they will need to come to terms with the structures of desire and the jouissance generated by the belief in the divine and to overcome regimes of signs that perpetuate the Other’s jouissance through religious piety.

Next week, I will read and review Charles Darwin’s ‘On Natural Selection’