Tuesday, December 26, 2017


Sometimes we wonder what the deeper critique of technology might look like; and for starters, it would seem obvious that it requires a renovation of all forms, until nothing has the identity primed for form, the notion of a repetition, waiting in the wings. To say that there is a big difference between civilization or domestication and wild nature is to reify two forms of life that actually (really) speak inside one another. There are feral cats within civilization; and there are repetitive structures outside of civilization. Being outside, then, implies that one is differentiating by way of another binary. Not the binary then of Nature and Domestication; but the difference between chaos and containment. Nature and Civilization are similar by way of containment; the truth of the matter is that both contain chaos. And of course, this is Agamben's point in the notion of the outside/inside state of the exception; the one being named as the sovereign, the other named as that which falls outside bios. We might make the point in a different way by pointing to thanatos, or, the death drive of society and its negativity, and the chaos in everyone, the chaos of the virus, the chaos of adapting by making new legislation.

That is, it is presumed in contemporary scientific ideology that the individual conforms to the world; that harmony is the desire of the system; that balance is the move. And yet, it would seem obvious to this writer that nothing is adapting to anything because nothing is a stable something to which one might adapt. Everything is unfolding into whatever. Even thinking that there will be a bad kickback for a plethora of bad, presumes that order is the point. But what we are really saying is that we can contain the disorder that becoming has always been.

Technology is the containment of whatever being into something legible; into something bound by law; bound by identity. If we say that decomposition is the technological critique, then it will become apparent that the rupture of everyday life by the death drive of capitalism will be within our desire; and this is a point that we cannot deny. The destruction of everything for immediate gain is a delightful proposition for the disorder to come. We do not deny that we find it thrilling to see the capitalists managing the nothing they create. And we see it as sad to see our comrades fight for the nothing that the capitalists have created. Society is nothing worth fighting for. Being able to adapt is the ticket; and their monies will never get anyone there; for their forms were always simply technologies of containment that stave off the disaster of life. To live in the disaster then. To adapt to the disaster. Even better: to create the disaster by which one adapts.

Monday, November 27, 2017

Identity Nihilism

1.The term “queer” has been reclaimed as sexualized; for it doesn’t necessarily have sexual connotations. Concrete traces in “deviance”, or “perversion” flesh out an understanding. It is evident that if the State-apparatus, here or there, accepts a gay future alongside a heteronormative future (Schotten 2015), it is only one that isn’t queer in the sense of destabilizing the regular flows of capitalism. In so far as it does disturb, the orbit of queer is anti-social, and this negative position, defined as such by the political apparatus, is perceived as transgressive by conservatives and liberals alike.  
This paper will assess the degree to which queer theory in its negative mode; in its mode that affirms an oppressive pejorative, is thereby made to be a threat. Of course, labelling X as danger, is surely in part a mechanism to lure that named kind away from that which is outside and threatening, into that which is inside and acceptable. But there is an opening here, outside of the intended line that draws back into the fold, that is revolutionary for queer theory. And this position permits an opportunity to get clear on what we mean by a just society without exclusion. The argument then is of a species of deliberative rhetoric; I wish to argue what is independent of the Symbolic drive to impose identity, is better than Oedipal configurations.

2. Society is addressed as heteronormative and reproductive by Edelman’s queer theory (2004); and in this gesture, it would seem possible that social theory might conceive of a consistent class critique. The Marxist story of appropriating the means of production for the purposes of the dictatorship of the proletariat was espied by Bakunin to be insufficient with respect to utopic vision because there was no reason that a newly established hierarchy, however temporary, would relinquish command of the new society. In short, anarchists didn’t believe that the state would “simply wither away.” Along these lines it was theorized after the events of May ’68 that our own libidinal desires had to be “desublimated” to use Marcuse’s term, or “deterritorialized” to use the parlance of Deleuze and Guatarri because they were already captured under identity with its predictions and permissibilities. If we spill our desire onto ourselves rather than onto the future, proclaiming no future instead, we rob the bourgeoisie and its doubles of its protection within the Symbolic.
To follow Lee Edelman and affirm the properly homophobic assertion that queers ought to be destructive of the political apparatus, or, more precisely, to affirm its own destructive (death) drive, which the Symbolic continuously occludes through its forward-looking possibilities embodied in the Child (4), is to transvalue the antisocial and shore up the Symbolic as a sham (7-8). The Symbolic calls us to be forward looking, forever deferring our perversions for the sake of a future that we do not know, but which, we are promised, will be glorious; but for Edelman, seizing desire now, on our own terms (jouissance), however meaningless for others, however counter-productive for others, is within our grasp. The vision of queers going wild, in myriad ways, makes it impossible for a state (and its subjects) to be singular in desire, which, to be clear, is the post-structuralist meaning of fascism (Bersani 1995, 171).
If the Symbolic is forward-looking, fetishizing the White Child, there is no place in its imaginary for queers that do not submit their desires for repression. For us, surely somewhat queer heteros, we might say that we refuse to reproduce identities because we refuse to sacrifice our lives to the future and to the creation of a better world for everyone to come, which, even if not a blatant lie, seems to always exclude us (Edelman, 30). On the other hand, we wager that the death drive of the Symbolic, the capitalist nightmare, is in its death throes, which, we insist, cannot, and ought not, be resuscitated by our children. The capitalist class extracts surplus labour from the working class of tomorrow; but if there is no working class of tomorrow, society will be hard pressed to reproduce itself. Rather than deferring the responsibility of “seizing the means of production” to the future child, if it is even still within any imaginary, perhaps we might commit to leaving unborn children out of the capitalist mess, and watch as our appropriation of its meaninglessness demonstrates the catastrophe of the Symbolic.
The beauty of claiming queer as a mask is that in doing so one is not obligated to exist in an identifiable and so, predictable way. Failing to be predictable is the betrayal caught up in the text below. But, importantly, this doesn’t mean that we always “out” our political nihilism; sometimes we play along, wearing a mask; sometimes we play a different game too; our couplings might be very queer because when you are already out of bounds, there is nothing else out of bounds.

3. Jean Genet follows this negative line of thinking. He wishes to reclaim evil, but in a way that doesn’t fall necessarily into the difference of social order. Rather, his position is outside; for it is a betrayal or “d├ępassement of the field of transgressive possibility itself” (Bersani 1994, 10). According to Leo Bersani’s reading of Genet, in the properly figured act of homosexuality itself, the bodies reject the idea of reproduction because they mythically emphasize “the sterility of a relation from which the woman’s body is excluded” (1994, 10). Inside the anus, positioned from behind, bodies are not in a face to face exchange that produces intimacy; these bodies are “cruising”, pleasure seeking machines. The difference then is doubly transgressive: the betraying act gestures in a pure form as an affront to the human world that defines (sexual) desire as reproductive purpose; and positionally, these bodies, with respect to each other, deny intimacy. It is not impossible to say that for Genet, the inhuman act of pleasure seeking is the betrayal of everyone, and that such a gesture ultimately leads to the possibility of betraying anyone.  
            For Genet, the value of reclaiming the negative, is to point at a world that may not be oppressive. In the final analysis, for Bersani, this is possible only if we will the death of our desires for ordering other people, to destroy the desire to become new masters for potential slaves. No future! For Genet, profaning the social and betraying it by individual gesture, which we might call radical homosexuality, allows the birth of the new after the destruction of Oedipal desire. Pure stimulation, pure affectuality, with utter disregard for what’s proper and socially reproductive, allows for the possibility of life without prediction (Bersani 1994, 17). And it is unpredictability as a prior category, that turns mere evil within the Oedipal apparatus into a chaos prior to Oedipal politicization. In the best possible light, one might very well support the ultra-left revolution, right up until the moment comes where it no longer serves ones’ interest, say, because the revolutionary moment has been lost and Oppression has reorganized with its variety of compatible reforms (Bottig, 410). And, on the other, one might find pleasure in supporting a fascist cause merely because it undermines social order. And so on. For Genet, only creative unpredictability can save us from repetitions within Oedipus. In the place of unpredictability; in the privacy behind the mask; one has remained a letter, and denied the possibility of being captured and signified by the Symbolic. One is here, perhaps, only for the cause of pleasure, which doesn’t necessarily exclude pleasure in death.

4. One might object here saying: isn’t pleasure always desired? What then of suicide? Metaphorical suicide, of course, seems odd because it denies the self; but we said above that this doesn’t preclude a new birth in a solitary, unpredictable self, behind the mask. On the other hand, if we think that pleasure as a value includes its permanent arrival to sense, we fail to understand that there are degrees. A life of moderate pleasure, or even minimal, might not be worth living; and so, the rush of suicide or an erotic physical death, might be better on the whole. As Epicurus articulated: death means nothing to us; for one would not be around to lament the loss. In general, the choice of pursuing oneself unto death, creates an indifference towards everyone else, that also happens to translate into a rejection of unborn babies, which we can spin as positive and caring.
            In the view that has been put forward in this paper so far, Identity is something that we are socialized into; we are nurtured as women and men; and if we are discovered to not fit with the desires of being as such, sexually or otherwise, that is, to fit with the heterosexual future, we are named queer. But rejecting identity and how it constructs us, opens the possibility of forever queering. Being in opposition to the reproductive future for the immediate now of desire is not, then, the explicit privilege of Queers. It seems to me that resistance to Identity is the beginning of an unravelling that queer theory holds for denying class and social investments. But if we are to go all the way, queering everything, we need to be open, too, to betraying the Oppressors on both sides of the political spectrum, which may mean finding ourselves at once in opposition to the left and the right, or fighting alongside either project because such provides the conditions for an immediate jouissance.  In the words of the authors of Baeden: “Queerness marks the space which is outside and against political logic” (22).
5. Marxists of many stripes have taken issue with individualism for being petit bourgeoisie, the privilege of white males; and they have not resisted making similar remarks about queers, to find themselves ashamed, at least by those queers willing to play along with their social justice project. The queer that affirms the death drive, however, lusting after jouissance, doesn’t fit into the futuristic thinking of Marxists; and it is from this tension, between being free from responsibility and also wanting to demolish the entire apparatus, that the Marxist doesn’t know what to do with the space of jouissance and whomever might occupy it with masks or genuine intentions. However, it should be unequivocally clear, that the death drive is a problem for social Marxists, specifically because it is the production of the upper class against the poor; and it is from that reason that their scandalous claim fits the queer individualist. But the argument we have followed above notes that fascism requires the organization of classes, which structures by identity, and that the subjects of each class behave according to reproductive futurism. Thus, queers that fall outside of the destiny of the left and its future reproductive drive, queers who reject the claim that their sexuality just isn’t figured into an identity yet, note the fascistic tonality of politics (Identity) and aim to be apolitical or anti-political. Given this telos, if individuals affirm the death drive as their own, if they appropriate the meaningless logic of the Symbolic in their own jouissance, the only question is whether they are individually passive or active in their nihilism. That is: are they decadent, or dangerous? To get the idea here, we ask: have we been, all along, just talking about circuit parties and gay narcissistic cruising? Edelman himself is a gay university professor—hardly the sort that would carry out social war. The articulation, then, in this critique, is that queer negation must be of a different order than a plain gesture at the destruction of society in terms of its ontological decadence. Destruction falls outside of the social order, and remains outside; decadence is perfectly compatible.
            The criticism from the authors of Baeden against Edelman is, at least in part, that his jouissance is repetition, and therefore fits too neatly into the Identity of being-gay. Negation as something outside the social order requires more. Following jouissance to our death pulls at our sense of ourselves. It is therefore beyond individual control in the sense that one is given to the drive, one gives, come what may, whatever might come. Thus, it is not conservative; it is not ‘come’ as predicted in the repetition of the same. Thus, simply being gay might have its consequences in Afghanistan; but not in San Francisco. Queer negation means actually being outside the social order, relative to the order.
This is generally the tension between apolitical passivity, and anti-political activity; but problems arise on both sides. Apolitical passivity falls easily into the order, as a kind, however invisible; whereas anti-political activity, too, falls into a kind. The problem is that if you don’t commit to the revolution, at any point, others will affirm that you are passive. But it is not clear how activity doesn’t fit into yet one more identity by which you might invest or divest, and therefore, how this isn’t just one more operation of the potential Symbolic to “suture ones’ empty subjectivity to some abstraction outside of oneself in an attempt to find some meaning” (Baeden, 23). We have implied that Genet’s betrayal cuts across both lines, brokering no commitments. Genet calls for the death of repetition, along with the death of Symbolic order in favor of the unimaginable queerness of appropriating the death drive. And this is why we have suggested a form of straddling; where we pass willingly back and forth between activity and apoliticity, the former only to escape the latter, and vice versa.

6. In the context of prefiguring a new world to live within, after the state has been made to wither away, queer negation posits a world that isn’t well ordered. And yet, if the state is made to stay away because people no longer find it necessary to order other people, because jouissance flourishes, we have the beginning of an ethical vision that resists exclusion. People would simply be people, queer to every imaginable degree, and not valid because of structural permissibility, sublimated according to appropriate desire. Presumably in such a world there would be no centralizing force that sublimates permissible desire. Individuals might take it upon themselves to be unrelational, of course; but the sense of Oedipal, or Symbolic, deviance would be lost.
            What I am not saying is that in this world everything is good and permissible. What I am saying is that a world in which desire is desublimated, or unhinged, or no longer repressed, is a queer world that the question of queer forces us upon us, and that this question addresses the question around making sense of “the state withering away”. Without a centralized Phallus administering law, we wouldn’t have the capacity to lock away criminals for failing to fit; we would be forced to live with criminals. It’s a queer proposal, surely; but perhaps we can find room to grow. 

From the idea of queer non-identity, it is not impossible for social workers to see that the reformist, leftist, inclusive vision that encodes capitalist survival in the out of control experiment that is civilization, even if given rhetorical appeal by labels such as “radical” and gestures at liberatory Marxism, is liberatory only for a repressed Identity. What gender fluidity, or identity nihilism, permits us to see is that identity is in trouble in this post-structural age of anti-essentialist desire. 

Friday, July 21, 2017

Passive Nihilism

The sense that there is something wrong with the anarchism of active nihilism is proper to thinking about nihilism. Deleuze’s Nietzsche suggests that active nihilism ends in passive nihilism, specifically when there is nothing left for activists to do; that is, when there is nothing left to correct. This kingdom of heaven—oppression free—makes it so that “nihilism” and traditional anarchism can be easy bedfellows. The projected world of anarchism, like the idea of the end of history (utopia, the secular kingdom of God), requires the destructive engagement of active nihilism to carry out anti-oppressive (punitive) justice, prefigured as the goals of the properly oppressed—as defined by liberal reform. Passive nihilism, thus, is the plateau supposed to be present at the end in liberal free market capitalism, or, in the marxist telos, desires of economic redistribution. Passive nihilism ends active nihilism; the end of active nihilism, that which is responsible for it, is passive nihilism. Those are the definitions in Deleuze’s Nietzsche.

In anarchist thought, passive nihilism as a pejorative, takes Nietzsche’s meaning for it: “there is nothing left to do”, further beyond, to the slothful and despairing “do nothing”. Anything that contains even a bit of pessimism is labeled as such, implying not so much that we have won and there is nothing left to do—which capitalists would say of Fukyama’s End of History—but rather that one has given up on doing anything at all, for some reason forever found to be inadequate. But are there good reasons to suppose that there is Nothing we could do? Or will the enemy always win anyways? (On the point, one might reckon that bite sized winning is preferable to the ridiculously immature presumption that the Rev is immanent. And the reason for this position is, of course, that most people that live in civileges don't wish to destroy leviathan, thereby biting the hand that feeds their wealth. Full stop.)

The ontology of nihilism without traditional anarchism is caught up in the materialism of marxism; or rather, the anti-idealism of marxism. And yet the question we have is: Just how much of the projected future of a stateless society is theological, or ideal? To posit that there is no god, defines the idea that there could be a secular kingdom of god-as-us, waiting at the end of history, waiting finally for when there is nothing left to do. In this sense then, the idea of a secular kingdom of god is like the final cause that calls us away from the individual “I will” to the “we can, together” waiting at the end of history; our better selves that do not require God to help us overcome our failures. From this (project)ed ideal, we might very well build a morality, democratically; and out of it we might derive a sense of justice to come; but justice is the kind of thing that seems difficult to approach form a non-hierarchical position. Is such a matter of the wild-west where we let individuals sort matters themselves? What of bad people that go against the morality we democratically adopt? Jail? Prison? Exile? Secular kingdom of God, indeed!

Under these auspices, nihilism would be on a leash; it serves the phallic goals of unity and togetherness, come what may; and yet it is exactly the nihilist implication, desired for the purposes of the secular kingdom of god, that would still continue to nevertheless rupture every secular theology. Nihilism is rupture, sedition; it cannot be contained by utopia.

The idea that we are either passive in our nihilism or active in our nihilism is flatfooted and designed to create the need for utopias, whether of the older workerist variety, or the garden variety in primitivism. Crucially it is important to realize that we are islands of desire, and yet, too, that we are built for relationships. Thus, we might recall the word of ‘disassociation’, a gentle echo in anarchism, if not forgotten, which is already happening with respect to unity: People don't really go to events; only opportunists care about mimicking and parroting the scenesters; for they too are looking to be among the next round of paid leaders in activist NGO’s. Nihilism calls us to divisiveness and sedition; and yet our hearts call us to find others, somewhere. The left would have the nihilists force states to make leftist governments; the active nihilists would follow in lockstep; the passive nihilists seem unbothered, unhinged like monastic ascetics. The trick to overcoming final causes made for us (state-programs), is to take these notions and use them, or (better) cut them out, here and there, like pruning, so that we might be free to create new ones, for ourselves, to turn the purposes of what we do, altogether, into things that we do authentically for what we want. 

The nihilist questioning of whether it is possible to have a utopia is a correct response to the absurdity of the anarchists that oppose this question of nihilism. But just because we note that we cannot win, doesn't mean that we might as well lay down and die, as they say we are if we are not doing anything. We might act or we might not; we are human; we have the capacity to be active or passive. No one is fully active or passive after all; we are usually grades between. Some of us are more active, some of us are more passive. No one is so stuck, so irredeemable that they might not grow this way or that; but no one has to do anything, because being human just means that you have the freedom to design your own purposes, which may or may not go against the secular kingdom of god, which, practically, is always open to sedition because it is so built on the shoulders of nihilism. 


I propose that we follow the distinction advocated by Deleuze’s Nietzsche, and yet fold the difference back into the notion of passive nihilism if only because passive nihilism, or hopelessness, seems adequate with respect to the projections of our “friends” on the left. We will not win, we just don't have power, as Thrasymachus was correct to articulate in saying justice just is power, to an incredulous Socrates in Plato’s Republic. But there is no prima facie reason that this makes it so that we cannot just leave to find others to act with their purposes in mind, passive or actively, to whatever degree we like, as many of us have already decided. In so far as Nihilism is an ontological thesis, the idea that there is nothing that is going to make the world better for us, places the creation of that world onto us; and yet the leashed active nihilist, the nihilist leashed by the left, is instructed to follow a prefigurative program, a dictatorship of the precariate in determining this utopia. Nihilism of the active variety pushes us towards open revolt and sedition; and it remains leashed so long as it seeks revolution of an order that is fixed in someone’s ideology-for-us. The seditious act of nihilism shadows its own pessimism if its goals are human sized; this invisible community here, that squat there, this life there, that life there; this indifference towards activism here; that activism there. If folks become free to do as they please then it follows that we will not have a well oiled utopia but rather an incredible weirdness, sort of like international relations, but without the extension of my penis into your affair. If you want to do active-ism in your crew, the result may be sedition or unity. Or whatever. 

Anarchy under passive nihilism is just this whatever-being, flourishing and opening more sedition or unity or whatever. Nothing from heaven will make things better, under the proper nihilist banner; nothing from the left will make things better, under the properly seditious nihilist banner; only the birth of whatever is what I mean by anarchy under an unhinged nihilism without end that stands in opposition to anarchism. 

While it is difficult to see that the world is or could be ruled ultimately by justice/God, there can be no mistake that the world is largely ruled by punitive consequences and incarceration. Of course this isn’t necessarily so. Most crimes remain unpunished; most interpersonal conflict is absorbed by survivors. But that doesn't mean revenge isn't an option. The question is: where does retaliation stop? In “the weakness” of absorption, of course. We hit back, they hit back; we hit back, ad infinitum. They give up? Unlikely, but possibly… Unless you say: It stops with me; unless they say it stops with us…. To arrest this ongoing once and for all, we leave; and so we stop participating; and so we walk away; and so we become invisible. And so we become invisible to be free to act as we please, or whatever. And so we adopt passive nihilism, they say, as if we weren't deliberate in our indifference.

They say that 
  1. active nihilism is the shit 

and that

2. passive nihilism is apathy. 

We respond to 1] saying,

R-1: Active nihilism must become unhinged from the swinging door of revolution or reform because,

3. nihilism is always seditious 


4. Pessimism about the capacity to win is proper and useful.

Moreover, we say
5. None of us are completely active or passive. 

We affirm 5 because it would seem obvious that passive and active modes are proper to a flourishing life; sometimes we are passive, other times we are active. The term passive nihilist as a pejorative can be spoken against civilians, of course; for they often simply live according to the final causes designed for them by capitalist flows; but in the sense of being unfree, the active nihilist or the activist, we would say, is passive in their meaning with respect to sedition and creating personal final causes. Wanting to oppose our passivity and activity to the ideology of the utopians, we affirm passive nihilism as our start, and out of our desire to birth whatever, we affirm that while those on the left might say we are passive, we know that we are just unhinged, ready to join in a fight if it suits us, or sit out if we think the project is ridiculous and lacking intelligence. 

From this it would seem that passive nihilism is far more complicated than some would suppose. With activity folded into a proper human life focussed on eudaemonia (happiness), the gesture of being whatever includes both forms. Not only one or the other, then, but an incredible weirdness without prediction caught up in a properly frustrating both/and. 

Sunday, April 30, 2017

What is Truth?

Truth is the kind of thing that doesn't make for anti-imperialist programs. For if something is true, it is so independent of whatever you might think about it. It requires a kind of humility towards the thought that one has the truth already, locked and sealed; it makes it so that one has to revise ones' reasons. Realist conceptions of truth therefore imply falsifiability--not by virtue of ones’ peers, necessarily--but by virtue of revelation itself. Thus, truth and justification are at odds, to some kind of degree, as we note in the definition of knowledge as justified true belief, which opposes mere justification.

The possibility that something might be be false and yet fully justified entails that some proposition might fail utterly in being justified, and yet still be true. Thus, truth is not the kind of thing that depends on justification, not even in the sense that it could be justified by some audience, pace Richard Rorty. This was Bertrand Russell’s realist point about truth. The gloss that makes better sense while avoiding Kant’s ding-an-sich is just that truth is not dependent on what we do make of it, which contains the reminder that it is not dependent on whatever we make of it; for truth might very well rupture our justifications, even to the point of being without justification. It might then be unverifiable. We might say truth is sovereign in the sense that it is free to come and go as it pleases. It is therefore unlike the Form that is contrary to the instances; it is instead like the form in Avicenna that is indifferent to being justified or unjustified. Therefore it is not that it cannot be justified, like the ding-an-sich.

William James had truth of a different order in mind when he described it as bearing fruit. In particular, what he had in mind was the notion of truth that attends the creation of the kingdom of God, which we might very well find to be useless (at least for the moment) for our own self-constitutive desires. If God makes something true, it bears fruit, as the wheat is discerned to be unlike darnel seed in the instantaneous harvest. “I am the way the truth and the life”, then, just means “I can be tasted to see that I do in fact bear fruit.” And this doesn't mean, necessarily anyway, that the justification will be objective; it might very well be subjective. It is a path through the thicket of failed efforts that seek to correspond to the good; but what is good is not the kind of thing that seems good to anyone: Christ was notorious at shielding the kingdom of heaven from anyone that would fail to hear it. “He who has ears, let him hear…” And yet, this cannot be exact because there is also the sense that one will see the kingdom, the face of God. So it would seem anyway, that the secret is seeing the truth, is seeing the kingdom of heaven, of hearing it, of understanding it, despite the doubt and sin that would draw us onto a different path. 

The order of the kingdom of heaven is impossible to figure in its entirety; and similarly, I would say that truth is impossible to discern by standards of the world. Therefore the secret order of truth is always of a different sort of thing than the order of objective discernment. It is important to understand, fully, that justification and truth are at odds like the kingdom of heaven and the kingdom of the world (two orders of truth). Sometimes these worlds collide and the kingdom of heaven is built, as Christ was executed without cause--innocent, yet guilty (cf. Agamben, Pilate and Jesus); other times it is left to the secret, as Christ continuously ran from town to town and specified that spreading the good news (of this or that healing) was often times to be avoided (kept secret). Pilate wanted to know the truth but couldn't hear it, and so he handed over Christ to be crucified, after deliberating in a way that was visibly uncomfortable, after being allured beyond his own conception of justification...

It is because truth is not completely hidden that the truth can be seen, here and there, for a taste; but the fact that it is secret makes everything difficult to hear. Truth is easy as disquotation and (mere) justification under the kingdom of the world (the demonic); truth in the kingdom of God, which adequately bears fruit with respect to anti-worldly values, is of a different order that will always be counterintuitive for those without ears to hear, and with those that are human  and so, cannot have perfect ears. The kingdom will forever rupture our expectations because the order of truth resists being ours. The important intuition of realist conceptions of truth, finally, is that the final cause of truth is God himself; therefore, anything on the way, anything justified, might be spoiled and fail the order of the kingdom of heaven. The kingdom of truth (heaven) is beyond justifiability as the sky is beyond the sea. 

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Form-of-life: Affirmation!

It is well known that Stirner and Nietzsche—first the former—were opposed to Christianity for the paradox contained causally by its demonology. The paradox of Christian life is that one is free insofar as one is a slave (to Christ). It is enough to say that being a slave, in any sense, is improper for the concept of freedom, for Nietzsche. For as he amplified tirelessly by way of a series of enthymemes in his AntiChrist: all that is life denying is bad; all that is life affirming is good. If we string along Nietzsche’s definitional meanings, it seems obvious that he contains a set of propositions that are almost Stoic, or perhaps Epicurean. In Thus Spake Zarathustra, life just means “the instinct for growth, of permanence, of accumulating forces, of power”, while Good just means “all that enhances the feeling of power, the will to Power, and power itself in man.”

For anyone familiar with the therapeutic tradition in philosophical ethics (eu-daimonia) the idea here is that one ought to return to oneself in order to overcome weaknesses. In the Christian monastic tradition the idea is that one ought to return to God in order to overcome weakness. For Nietzsche, of course, this is weakness; and yet, for the Christian, relying on oneself is weakness. Strength is good if supplemented by God; strength is bad and leads to vice if supplemented by anything opposed to God (including the self). 

The Christian demonology caught up in mystics like Eckhart, Francis, the desert Fathers, and monasticism would articulate that the meaning of life-affirmation is precisely what’s up for grabs. More specifically, Christian demonology wouldn't take issue with such a distinction between life-affirmation and life-denial, only, it would articulate that true life begins only in the folds of God; for God releases us from death (sin), or more specifically, God releases us from having been abandoned by God. Life affirmation in Nietzsche is precisely to reject the folds of God; and, for Paul, Nietzsche’s trajectory puts us on the way to slavery to sin. 

The point is that Nietzsche is rhetorical and depends on already agreeing. Our terms make it impossible to speak. For Nietzsche, the term “life affirmation” is, for the Christian, slavery to sin. For Nietzsche, Christian slavery, which we said was freedom, is obviously “life denial”. How we understand our opponents terms depends on our capacity to relate; and yet the Christian cannot see Nietzsche as having produced a desired concept; and for Nietzsche, the Christian will always appear a fool for Christ. And so it goes, back and forth. 

Nietzsche gains the upper hand by keeping his intention closed. The whole rhetorical narrative, powerful as it is, depends on not disclosing freedom. That is, we don’t exactly know what Niezsche means by freedom; but we think that what St. Paul meant was obviously false. That is, we have a concept of God that makes it so that determinism is true in some sense if God is involved as first cause, and that somehow if blind forces and the return of the same are the metaphysical underpinnings of reality, these leave us free(er) to take responsibility. If we live in a moral universe, we have to accept a correspondence theory of moral truths (however hazy); if the world is amoral, if we simply create the law as we see fit, given our perceptual approximation on the common good, nothing stops us from seeing the matter differently, of redescrbiing the moral Good. (And of course, if the latter is what we want, it is not clear how negative theology doesn't give us the same possibilities).


Of course, taking issue with the idea of God in general depends on clarifying concepts of what we take God’s revealed messianic word to be. If we take the Christian word on the messianic to be our desired focal point, the most interesting notions are those that are spelled out in his beatitudes. The most promising conception of the messianic Christ is the word against punitive justice (Matthew 5:38-42): not returning evil for evil, but good for evil. Thus while we are told to refrain from stealing (because the promise is that such is failing to trust God—and so, how often do we fail to not idolize in how we make our own plans, thereby fail to have faith), if someone steals from us, we are to give more; to see to their needs independently of the punitive aspects of the law. Imagine the insanity of having someone break into your house and you send them on their way with more, or you let them take and you go further and cook them a meal. Such is the radicality of mercy and forgiveness in opposition to the evil of punitive justice. 

The Christ here would make us indifferent to our things, indifferent to the vicious desire for retribution and wrath—which can easily get out of hand and become something very undesired, indifferent to revenge, perhaps; all this in order to seek out a transformative moment, whereby everyone involved is altered according to a different economy. This is slavery to producing the good with the help of divine assistance in the in-breaking messianic word that fulfills the law. Slavery to sin would be to follow the world. Slavery to Christ is far more than simply following a set of rules. How the messianic word operates in hearts is unwritten and non-legalistic. Such is why it is Messianic. And yet it, too, starts from a kind of character.


Let us say that one is never absolutely bound by vices or virtues; and yet that we are bound by our characters. (Aquinas never tires of reminding us that one moment of vicious behaviour doesn’t destroy the character that one has.) It would seem to follow, then, that while one is not bound to do X, one might be likely given to a predictable character. Given this naturalist outlook, it is hard to see what God has to do with our being such that we are. By way of choices and decisions, we have come to develop moral habits, upon which we are ready and disposed to act, but not necessarily. Thus, prima facie, that idea that we are slaves must have something to do with the likely disposition to act. The Christian prediction is that if we follow our own desires, continuously rejecting God, we will harden our characters (developing hardened hearts), and our own drives will be lost for their uniqueness insofar as they fall under the yoke of the World. Never completely, of course.

In Christian freedom, the messianic existence, how the word lives in us, implies that one is predictable perhaps at the beginning of the act, or at the outset; and yet how these words operate in love is unspecified; for the infusion of the supernatural theological virtues (faith, hope and love) open us to a world that is curious. The everyday Christian that doesn't spend time defining how Christian life is better and opposed to the life of the world will not experience the infusion of these virtues. Christianity will always remain legalistic and very much of and in the world. Paul was a willing servant (slave) of Christ because he espied that the world had nothing to offer in comparison to the taste of God and the messianic inbreaking in its overall crescendo; and by this he meant he wished never to choose otherwise than God, making himself always nothing (Paulos) (cf. Agamben, The Time That Remains). The infusion of the supernatural gives the capacity to become otherwise than what is predictable given the world. Does it make us predictable otherwise? Is this not necessarily a legalistic question?

A lot of what Christ says is negative and defined in opposition to what is expected from human characters structured according to the world. It would be a mistake to see the economy of God as a similar kind of thing because the legalistic repetition of Christ’s life (memesis) is only the starting point; the ends to which we are suffused in willful submission to God bring us forever outside, into the open, into freedom from Worldly desires that bog us down and make us incapable of making a unique event. 


Uniqueness is always retained in the freedom to reject what our characters, or what our bodies dictate. The desire to be independent of the yoke of God says nothing to the problem of being thereby yoked to the world—Nietzsche’s blindspot. From this angle, it would seem that monastic Christianity is evidently iconoclastic in the messianic question: What does this living word do?—What life is it capable of?

Monday, March 27, 2017

Descartes' Angelus Novus

1.1 The terms a priori and a posteriori indicate a difference in epistemic warrant that has purchase throughout our linguistic culture. G.E. Moore circled this difference with his open question: X may be pleasurable, but is it good?—and we can pump an analogous difference by asking of warrant per se, noting well that something might be justified but that this doesn’t mean the idea, or whatever, is true. In juridical terms it is possible to ask of any law, whether it is in fact right. All these points are grounded in the belief that Truth doesn't depend on whatever you may you think of it (or even anything you make of it--making it inaccessible); Reality isn’t whatever you want it to be, one might say; if something is true, it is true come what may, as Quine might say (differently). If something is right, it was always right. And so on.

From this question of truth, the anxiety of (sterilized) doubt quickly arrives. What if everything (or anything) we believe is wrong? Truth (the kingdom of God?) opens up in our discourse to shatter our epistemologies, forcing us to provide better reasons, that then could again be questioned, or perhaps, force us to figure the notion in a way that escapes open questioning altogether. In another register we might say, Derrida’s impossible (quasi-transcendental) could never break out of doubt because it was always messianic in the sense of an arrival of whatever. My immodest claim is that Descartes' messianic moment of truth may very well be intended to overcome a demonological moment of doubt.

1.11 Descartes’ skeptic was such an a priori move. Looking for a certainty for experience, he noted that what couldn't be doubted was that, in the event one is doubting, that one is actually doubting. I might doubt that I believe the assertion that “this is an indexed statement”; and I can doubt (t1) that I was then (t1-1) in a (de re) moment of doubt; but in the propositional attitude of doubt that x (tn), whatever X, doubt is legitimate and unassailable. All of this reasoning already begs the question of course in that Descartes presumed space to be made up of points that are unextended; that souls occupy space (have place (topos)) without being extended, and that therefore, consciousness itself, in a moment, doesn't permit simultaneous doubt. The argument, of course, can be justified by making the following seemingly true considerations: I can always doubt the past; I can even doubt that I was doubting in the past; but in a moment of doubting whatever, I cannot doubt the doubt in that moment. There is no supervenience here! I might very well turn to represent the previous moment and doubt that I was doubting (supervenience); but this then pushes Descartes' almost trivial point one step back. In the moment of doubt towards X, the doubt that I have is not something I can doubt; in the moment of having had doubt, I can doubt that I had it, but not that I am doubting the previous moment. 

1.111 The ontology of experience is tricky, especially if we consider that what we are talking about is meant to be conceived as prior to experience. What is the experience of doubt if not fully in experience? Perhaps the supervenient point is always made and the reality of the moment that Descartes relies upon to pull the trick is completely illusory. And yet it seems intuitive that in the moment of having had doubt, I can doubt that I had it, but not that I am doubting the previous moment. Nevertheless, it is hard to picture how this comes down to as being prior to experience. The sense of some event of thinking being prior to experience is difficult to understand (because thinking is an experience, of course!). In any event, perhaps what Descartes was trying to say was that it would be irrational to suppose that a demon would have an agenda of making us doubt that we are doubting. Or perhaps what Descartes was saying was that only God (Rationality) could pull us out of doubt. (And that this wasn't an idol). This is the tension I wish to explore: If God saves rationality, was the rational proof above obviously weak?

1.12 The argument that there is reason to doubt everything is a difficult one to make. In fact, it is clear enough that we have no way to understand the problem. But what was the problem? The demonological point that Descartes makes signified a common understanding, once, long ago; it was providence that was being questioned. The first cause of existence (God) yields a bridge to the a priori indubitable “moment” of Descartes. In this protected (protracted a priori experience) we are not second causes (even though we are created); it almost seems necessary to say that the bodily order is a different sort of secondariness (ontologically fallen) let us say, while the beautiful soul, the crown and jewel of creation, is a proper form of secondariness. What’s that? The reasonable man has entered once again into the garden, on his own strength of rationality?—As though reason were already redeemed? In Aquinas, the seat of reason is not perfect. In Eckhart we have moments of perfect union (with God)—provided we are self-less and without expectancy for God. Whatever that means. 

But what if that first cause that guarantees the second order entirely, isn't really there—asks Satan (or the demon, or whatever). Answer: of course it is; it constitutes the trust that we have. But how? And, as we know, the proof falls apart, and Descartes is caught in his circle. Of course it might be incorrect to see the lopped off soul as being the sort of thing that is secondary in a different sense. But my point is theological. If we are talking about doubt (sin) and we are looking for solutions, the theology of Descartes would have it that what is required is faith in God; or trust in God himself. And not faith in reason. When we doubt our capacities, or we doubt what we believe God has told us to do (consider Abraham, a knight of faith in Keirkegaard), what makes the despair of doubt vanish is putting our faith in God, God himself. So then what is curious about the demonology of Descartes’ skeptic is that God comes after the fact, later on in the proof as if they were detached, as if reason didn't require God--and this is how the argument has been taken up by rationalists. If this proof is virtual; if God was always necessary and the proof is only half good (if not utter bunk) without God, then we have an interesting problem because Descartes has rarely been considered as having made a demonological point. The point I’m making above about “moments” might then come down to the point that Reason was never good enough. If Descartes had just said only God can make the doubt disappear. But then what is this sense of doubt? Could it be something more than just seeing a proposition as possibly false?


X doubts that Y (is true)

implies that Y might be false. And its opposite seems to be that 

X believes that Y (is true)

In our common everyday world of intuition, the certainty of Y is basically whether or not it is grounded in experience. If I hold up a hand, and you see it, you won’t likely doubt that it is a hand unless you’ve taken some entry level epistemology class. Of course the way out is to insist that the burden of proof is not on the one holding the hand; it is on the question in the first place. That is, it seems in keeping with ordinary common sense to doubt what is not evident. Any change in the conversation made by the epistemological skeptic, will seem out of place, like a conversation stopper. In sum we no longer find it believable that a posteriori experience requires a priori justification. And the epistemological skeptic is always asking an a priori question. 

The contemporary problem with understanding Descartes, therefore, is that God as guarantor for certainty in trivial matters seems unnecessary; and in matters that are less evident, aseity is completely out of place. God might sufficiently explain everything, of course—such is in keeping with the difference between truth and justification; but most people just don't live in Descartes’ world: God seems like a conversation stopper, offered in a no longer medieval world.

1.31 One point that I find exceedingly interesting stemming from the thoughts on Descartes’ demonology is that “X believes Y” is not the same as “X has faith that Y”. Faith is not the simple opposite of doubt. One might say that faith is independent of objective a posteriori evidence. Is faith then independent of reasons? Not necessarily. What of objective a priori reasons? Perhaps these will do, but we might also call upon experience as long as it is subjective. What is clear is that God doesn't arrive with the simple calling of his name, or at least God doesn't arrive in a way that is explicable, objectively, by others. Descartes wanted to make God superficially rational--evidently enough; but that doesn't mean that what he was saying wasn't deep too.  

Believes that Y and having faith that Y seem to be different sorts of things; but doubt is the opposite in both registers. If I have faith in God, I will certainly suffer from doubt when I have reason to do so. If I have faith that God is with me, (and he actually is), it is highly likely that I will experience doubt about that belief. And what is the nature of this doubt that has little to do with everyday problems like whether or not there is a hand, or a cat or a bed--that resonates not completely differently than it did to one thinking through the mechanics of sufficient reason? Sovereign Providence implies that so long as God permits doubt to be compounded there is nothing but his own saving power that can break through the cycle. Such a form of doubt is not a rational mode. In other words, when real demons arrive to make us doubt, there is no reason to suppose that they are rational and willing to be tricked; and there is every reason to suppose that seeing them as tricked is part of their trick; that such is part of their doubt. Doubt for a demon is only in a superficial way the kind of thing that ends quickly in reason.

**It is very important to note, however, that reason is not identical throughout philosophical history. For Aquinas it is clear; he means prudence; for Descartes it is less obviously like Aquinas, unless what I said above is on the way. Unless rationality was always too weak and too simple and too much like an idol.

1.4 Therefore, the simplicity of "doubt in Descartes", in analytic philosophy, catches only part of the meaning of doubt in terms of its vicious elements. And it seems that this is important. If the Kingdom of Heaven is Truth and everything else is a lie, then the mode of faith that we have lost in the simple analysis of belief and doubt can only be caught up with a new meaning of doubt, and perhaps, with a fresh reading of what Descartes was searching for. If he was looking for a way out of the vice of doubt, then it should be expected and unsurprising that he sought this ultimately in God; and yet, if we read this demonology ever more back into Descartes, it would seem evident that the grounding of doubt in itself was always too flimsy (and Descartes saw it). 

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Supplementary Halos

There are a variety of meanings appended to the sense of freedom. 

We might mean moral freedom, implying that we are responsible and not absolutely determined; that causality is efficient in some sense; that material causes do not strictly determine the ends that one is inclined towards. It's complicated, of course; but moral freedom starts with the assumption that one is always free, “radically free” as Sartre put it; for even in the moment of strict coercion, one can still choose. In The Nick of Time, Johnny Depp is coerced to kill some politician, or his daughter will die. Sartre's point is merely that no situation necessarily produces a predetermined result. So even though the choices are limited (Kill this politician or do not (and your daughter will die)), the fact is that Johnny is not determined to do X to the exclusion of Y. It is likely that most people will kill someone they don't know rather than permit someone they love to die, but perhaps not; perhaps one will choose to end their own life instead, avoiding the given disjunctive choice altogether. In this sense, the claim is that

F1: One is always radically free from a metaphysical perspective because nothing coerces us (or determines us) to choose any end.

Of course, the argument may be that there is some prior causal sequence that explains whatever end there may be, and that therefore, the will is nothing more than an alley way of drives that precede it to their ends. And yet, in the moment of coercion above, it seems evident that no drive explains what Johnny Depp is going to do; after the fact, we might explain it--give it a narrative; but in the moment it seems unclear, and the latter ad hoc explanation seems to give us no real understanding into the meaning of coercion, the moment of choice, which one is “under”. Neither the drive to kill the politician nor the drive to let his daughter die, nor the self-destructive drive to kill himself, can offer itself in any objective prediction. The drives give us plausibilities, not necessities. 

Perhaps then, this sense of radical freedom, is not freedom as we usually mean it; and of course that makes sense. For we are rarely coerced. Or is it more the case that we rarely feel like we are coerced? 

It is for this reason that I wish to entertain another sense: political freedom under the presumption that No one feels coerced to live life.

Financial freedom and political freedom go hand in hand, we are told. If you have enough money to survive, evidently you are free from the burden of work. If you have enough money to have whatever you could ever want, you would always be free from simplicity, and free from having to do anything necessary. (You could always pay someone to do anything, and everything). If you are poor, you will of course never be free from doing anything necessary, and you are likely, intuitively, not to be free from desiring more. 

Epicurus distinguished necessary needs and non-necessary needs; to track only the former is to be run by the principle of simplicity; to have a problem with simplicity and to only focus on non-necessity is to be run by the desire for more. The question of being run by X (being had by X) and having X, then, strikes me as relative; one has what one is not had by. Therefore, the rich are had by avarice but they have necessity; the poor are had by necessity but they have avarice (perhaps). Therefore,

F2: One is free from X to the extent that one has whatever X one isn’t had by. 

I said above that no one feels coerced to live life. And yet what I mean is simply that being had by debts, life, and work, if such is your conception of life—which is the conception of life we desire if we are fully sublimated by civilization—makes it so that we have nothing but homelessness. (We are not had by the need to find shelter.) That is, if we live life as it is designed for us by the forces of biopolitics, the only thing that we are truly beyond (the only thing we have) is dependence in the sense of fully depending on the charity of weather, good people, and luck outside the city gates, of course to the degree that we are financially independent. Thus, if we are fabulously rich, we are not had by these biopolitical forces, we have them; and yet, as we said above, we are then probably had by avarice, an insatiable greed for more security for the self in things. 

So from this, the notion of coercion follows to the degree that we are had; and the phenomenological sense that we are had depends on how much financial freedom we have. One is always had by something; the rich by avarice, the poor by necessity. Accordingly, there is no such thing as autonomy. The homeless man, however, while he is had by the need for shelter and security, mirrors the wealthy person who is had by avarice; if only either would turn back into the security of necessity. Then one can be free of even being had.

Is the homeless person had by necessity? There are needs in day to day life, of course, as Epicurus said: necessary needs are food and shelter and yet, in our culture, these things are readily available given the general rule of charity. The homeless person is not had; the homeless person is had (perhaps) by the need for more for themselves, a better situation. Or they are had by the shame that ultimately propels us towards Avarice. The homeless person, too, might have necessity all figured out. They might even have diminished every sense of fear.

Perhaps what Giorgio Agamben meant in “Halos” (The Coming Community) is simply this turning from vice into virtue: “The Hassidim tell a story about the world to come that says everything there will be just as it is here. Just as our room is now, so it will be in the world to come; where our baby sleeps now, there too it will sleep in the other world. And the clothes we wear in this world, those too we will wear there. Everything will be as it is now, just a little different”.

 Agamben goes on to write:

“The theory developed by Saint Thomas in his short treatise on halos is instructive in this regard. The beatitude of the chosen, he argues, includes all the goods that are necessary for the perfect workings of human nature, and therefore nothing essential can be added. There is, however, something that can be added in surplus (superaddi), an “accidental reward that is added to the essential,” that is not necessary for beatitude and does not alter it substantially, but that simply makes it more brilliant (clarior).

The halo is this supplement added to perfection - something like the vibration of that which is perfect, the glow at its edges.”


The question of having nothing doesn't put one in a position to be unhad by anything. Something supplementary is required to make one indifferent in the proper sense. Joyful indifference places us beyond being had by necessity, but this turning, perhaps, requires a different sort of infusing. One is not naturally joyful, in Thomas’ sense; one does not naturally have beatitudes (stemming from their own capacities). Zoe requires a super infused addition.