Gauging Traction

There was no life you could live out to its end
No attitude which, in the end, could save you.
—John Ashbery

People are or act. From these primary modalities of being and action “outflow” certain words, ideas, images, diagrams, and so on. Being in action is a passion. What a person “distributes” into the world through their being and action: these are the marks of a passion – or a lack of it.

Prior to being and action, however, perhaps, there is “response.” In some sense, even prior to being, before we “are”, we are called out, called up. Set on fire like a candle before it gives any light. We are in an event of address. Our lives are in large part a response to what has occurred to us, what has befallen us – what inflated us with oxygen, made as float, as well as what has burned us and left our wings singed. The actions and words that accumulate to make us who we “are,” but these are the outflow of a responsiveness. Response to the rumblings of our bodies, its contact and distance with others. Response to gazes, voices, gestures. Response to events inside and outside. Response to what we have learned. Response to what is cruel and unjust. Response to dreams that conflict with life and life that conflicts with dreams. Response to illness and death. Response – need it be said – to everything. Whether or not it enters our conscious register, what the body calls the world is an accumulations of touches – soft touches, uncomfortable touches, spiritual touches, sexual touches, indifferent touches, empty touches. A circuit of being touched by the other and responding to the other constitutes our being, drives our acts. Our response to all this is our passion – our “suffering” of what touches us, our pathos and pathology, our emotion.

This touch comes “before” subjectivity builds an idea about it; before it represents an “outside” that touches an “inside,” or another touching it. Subjectivity helps stabilize a certain relation to the chaos of touches. But the subject, the sub-jectum, is not what underlies all the touches. It is what undergoes it. It lies beneath, not as foundation or substrate, but as that which is bowled over by what comes.

The subject is passion itself insofar as it manifests in a communicable way. It is not what says “I”, not the ego or its ego, not a representation of who one is. The subject is what slips underneath. It is the impasse in being that never ceases to be touched – some would say divided and cut – by the Real, where the Real is the disruptive and incomplete “totality” of touches, the Texture as such. The subject never comes to “be,” and yet it is never exempt from the metaphorical movement of coming-to-be. And so it desires and speaks…

Words are a primary element of our response. There is a reason antique humanity came up with the combination: “thought, word, and deed.” Everything in a life is inextricable.
And yet, for the most part, no one pays attention to our words except for those who “love” us in some way. Those who have some interest in responding and continuing to respond. Those whom, for whatever reason, our words touch.
If a word does not touch, it is nothing.

That words and ideas and images feed back upon being and action is obvious.

Witness only how ideology moves people to political and religious fervor; how value systems determine peoples morals and goals; how just a word can trigger our sensitivities and upset our course; how a conversation can change our mind; how we mind our secrets and silence; how we censor our dreams and shield deep regions of our psyche from everyone; how we find ourselves aggravated without cause; how new conceptions of things inaugurate new fields of creativity; how an invention changes the world; how we find in ourselves vows and aspirations that haunt us; how one profound meeting can overturn a whole life; how we carry with us all the traces of our response, of the love and lack of love we have lived.

We are fully in the ruptures and rivets of the symbolic. To try to escape it would just mean tearing a hole through it, which would leave a mark just the same.

Escape and the impossibility of escape: we can never, must never choose between these two.

Neither gnostic nor worldling, neither withdrawn nor immersed, neither rejection nor acquiescence, neither to condemn nor condone.

Our attitude to our time not only oscillates but straddles two worlds: the primordial one marked by a fundamental freedom-from, a time of birth without past; and the extant world with its laws, rules, grammar, structures, our ties and memories.

The fact of suffocating and the resurgent gasp for breath: these coincide in the metaphor of coming-to-be.

To treat words as fixed referents is the obsession of the imaginary, the fixation on meaning or withdrawn meanings, that leads to submission, fear, clogged arteries, linguistic habit, reliance on presupposition, and so on: everything that jams the contact, reduces the touch to a data point, turns the passion of the subject into a management of objects whatever they may be.

I have deep reference for words. I believe they have an intelligence all their own. But it is an intelligence of a movement of writing, not that of reference and imposition.

In prose like this, one always has the feeling a corner is being cut. A reference is too much assumed; a position too much taken; a viewpoint too much asserted. Writing – rooting itself in the passion of being – is interminable because of the feeling that one must wipe that excess certainty out, efface those traces with new ones, modify without trajectory, reject every appearance of belief. Obliterate whatever one could hold on to. Smash the entire conception to pieces.

Put otherwise, the “signified” must enter back into play at each fold. More strongly, the signified cannot even be treated like one, as if it were autonomous out there, distinct from writing – as if the system of textuality had a clear “outside” no matter the name we might give it. Whereas the silent universe, the non-human, even matter: none of these are outside like we might dream. “Textuality” means the texture of touches.

The “signified” is not what the signifier points to. The word does not represent or communicated. It is an indirect manifestation of a touching. In the “movement of writing,” the signified is just another differential trace.

No one is absolutely independent of the language we have acquired – from imposed references, discourse as a means of discipline, training, subjugation, and punishment – and it would be foolish to assert otherwise.

At the same time, there is undeniably a freedom of response rooted itself in the often-foreclosed, -repressed, -forgotten freedom of be-ing vis-a-vis “what is.” That is the ground of action not tied up in the self-conscious mind or dependent on the sedimented meanings of inherited language. This does not negate the inheritance but renders all inheritance critical. The critical question, at every step, becomes: How to inherit it well?

To use words to deconstruct and reroute the world-chains, the crudities of unquestioned ideas, the impositions of power – these are ways to inherit well the language we did not choose. They proceed from that point – natural as animal nudity as well as the spiritual-speculative “cancellation” of the socialized individual – where existence is birth.

There, action is the upsurge of the Unattributable. There, ideas set in action by a touched subjectivity can become the means of transfiguration. There, a passion expresses itself and, in the process of its disappearance, makes a transference possible – enigmatic as it is alive.

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MIDNIGHT STRIKE was drafted in 2011, written up in 2014, and further revised and published in March 2020. This manifesto or “existential pamphlet” is geared at inspiring the reader to aspire to their greatest possibility – to welcome the surprise of being, the coming of the other, and generally to meet the challenge of their own highest self. Along the way, I offer some meditations on philosophy, metaphysics, communication, freeing up words from significations, and generally the relationship between idea and articulation, expression and life. Back in 2011, writing it was essential to my own quest for understanding and self-discovery. It emerged directly from my own ordeals and epiphanies, which accounts for its free style, without references. Although I have long since moved on to different ways of thinking and writing, I am happy to share it – first, because I think it can be helpful as an inspiring agent to others; second, because it was written from the heart and represents a crucial step along my path, an essential aspect of my own attitude to this day. It gives a vision of philosophy, writing, and life that is deeply internal to all my work since then. The pamphlet is written in Nietzsche-inspired, self-contained sections, contained in five chapters of increasing intensity. Below I will share one section from each chapter as a limited sampling, but please do download the entire text and share as you wish. Direct download link here. Continue reading

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Critique of Judgment, by Pascal Quignard (Richard)

[Translation of a write-up by Francis Richard on Pascal Quignard’s book, Critique du jugement. French original may be located here, here, and here.]

After 25 years of judgment, from 1969 to 1994, Pascal Quignard decided one day to judge no longer. As he writes in Critique of Judgment, this allowed him from then on to “truly read”: “By that I mean that I no longer fill a role or even a function to play in my reading. What I lose with the faculty of judgment (compare) I gain in the capacity to think (meditate). There is no longer any point of view in my vision. The idea of killing, or of hierarchizing, or of electing, has withdrawn.”

Pascal Quignard defines: “In Greek the word critic designates the judge. The word crisis designates the judgment. The word crime names the sorting and serves to designate the result of the crisis (the criminal). Stasis [civil war] designates political experience, which comes down to saying the division to death of individuals among themselves, before which the group searches for a solution (a band, a king, a city, a divinity).”

It is in St. John that he found the most beautiful text on judgment: “Nolite judicare: Judicium judicate.” (“Do not judge: judge first the Judgment”). Put differently: “Discern well what discerns, for the problem of crisis is the judgment.

It is Christ who says, always in St. John: “Ego non judico quemquam.” (“I do not judge anyone.“) Put differently: “I have no right to set myself up as a judge, for when you judge the other, it only counts for you. And if it counts in your eyes, you judge it no more.”

Christ says again in St. John: “Judge not.” According to Pascal Quignard, this means: “Do not completely interiorize language or society in your soul. Stop creating rivals in subordination to common sense. Renounce the social judgment, the social lie, that founds the separation of those who must live and those who must die.”

For Pascal Quignard, “thought begins in the extinction of judgment”: “A man who thinks does not want to make a judgment.” To reach that point, “one must make possible the dis-oriented, de-missioned, dis-engaged, un-bridled curiosity that thought, that is, writing in act, requires.”

Creators are solitaries, ascetics. Their asceticism “is a ruse for the sake of creation”: “It is a matter of not being observed by one’s community, of not being disturbed by anyone, of being genuinely alone, of creating, that is, of losing oneself in one’s gray or black cloud, one’s haze, one’s breath, one’s shadow, one’s thing, one’s dream, one’s invisible.” Continue reading

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Generic Hopes

Generic Hopes
(Loose remarks on Laruelle and Badiou)
Dated: March 26, 2017

For Alain Badiou, the One is not, because the one is always the result of the count of a multiple. Why? Because the only access to being is through the multiple. Being presents itself, in the first place, as an inconsistent multiple, what is called a pure multiple-presentation. However, this inconsistent multiple is unthinkable, precisely because thought takes place in a situation, and a situation already implies the operation of counting-for-one. The situation is structured such that every presented multiple belongs to it and can be counted as “one” element of the situation. Only retroactively can we say that, “upstream” of the situation, there is only inconsistency, and that presentation is an inconsistent multiple. “Downstream” there are consistent multiples, i.e., multiples that count for one, the many-ones that make up the situation which structures them.

The radicality of Laruelle’s approach is perhaps best illuminated when set beside this equally brilliant, though differently conceived, thought of the one. Non-philosophy stakes everything on the axiomatic posture it takes. At the simplest level, this posture posits that the undivided One is given without any operation of givenness – without any mediation by presentation, appearance, reception, or being. Vision-in-One means that all thinking about being and presentation, ones and multiples, the appearance and transcendence of the world, subjectivity and affectivity, takes place in-One, in the One as immanent a priori: the immanent real-One which causes thought in-the-last-instance, whereas thought never causes it or even thinks it, properly speaking. Here, the multiple is not thought with a view to being-qua-being or the count, but according to the One-in-One. The multiple could only be the One-in-superposition, the One that “remains” One without leaving itself. Continue reading

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Sovereign Disregard

In his late work on sovereignty, The Accursed Share Vol. III, Georges Bataille argues that the modern revolutions, bourgeois or communist, were anti-feudal: they sought to destroy the privilege of kings and God – both the superiority these figures manifested against the common man and the sovereign’s sumptuous wasting of resources. From feudal lords to ideal divinities, all the figures of sovereignty were accused of exploiting the common man, denying material conditions, and exerting an irrational power over things. It was a struggle on principle: “These masses have never united except in a radical hostility to the principle of sovereignty” (288). “The rebel is defined by the categorical no he opposes to the world of sovereignty as a whole” (252).

What characterizes traditional sovereignty? Squandering of resources in useless expenditures; excess consumption in the present; scorn of useful activity; benefiting from property without laboring for it; exorbitant gifts and luxuries beyond measure – whether by building palaces, churches, gardens to inspire wonder or simply by destroying surpluses in the challenge for prestige. The sovereign does not work – “labor is the exact opposite of the sovereign attitude” (283). Not only are sovereigns free from the necessities that rule the work world; they also enjoy to no purpose what has been produced (“The truth is that we have no real happiness except by spending to no purpose” (178). Their attitude is non-servile, meaning they are not subordinated to any goal, including survival – “subordination is always grounded in the alleged need to avoid death” (222). Sovereignty risks death in the moment: no caution is exercised for the sake of future benefit or pay-off. The boundaries of the individual are denied. It thus marks an existence at antipodes to the world of work, of maintaining society, and especially, of rational accumulation. The sovereign is oriented to a subjective end – the magnificence of being nothing – opposite to one oriented to objective ends – accumulating material goods, accomplishing useful works, etc. [1] The essential point guiding all these characteristics is non-servility: the sovereign lives in the present moment without concern for the future.

The modern revolt against sovereign privilege is a revolt against these freedoms and the subjectivity that underlies them. It is a revolt against the aloofness of those who benefit from labor and squander its products without working for them. (This is perhaps related to the accusations lodged at the “lazy” poor who allegedly “live off the system” without contributing to society.) From this perspective, modernity is situated in the move to industry, industriousness, business and “busy-bodiness” – above all, the prioritization of productivity and accumulation against sovereign priority and display. The modern world dominated by a definition of the human as worker. Surpluses are not squandered but reinvested into developing the means of production. The useless and nonproductive aspect of the sovereign is rejected as irrational. Capriciousness and spontaneity are progressively eradicated from humanity’s set of values – or it is manipulated by the culture industry into patterns of consumption that reinforce the dominant modes of production (cf. Debord’s The Society of the Spectacle; Adorno’s The Culture Industry). “Value” itself mutates from a subjective apprehension to a material status. In contrast to feudal society, structured around the dignity of magnificent sovereigns, accumulation and development of means of production structure modern society and consciousness. This is can be summarized as the rule of profit: the law of value which reigns under capitalism (Cf. Negri’s Time for Revolution). As the excesses of the feudal order are excised and the value of sovereignty nullified, a “utilitarian” world emerges: a world of operations subordinated to anticipated results, without moments but only sequential durations.

Once one asserts that man is a rational actor – an economic being whose essence is to secure, save, accumulate, and profit to survive – what is lost is the question of sovereign subjectivity, of useless expenditure, and of life lived immediately without concern for the future. It is a loss of the magnificence of “not-doing,” of what is marvelous and not useful, of that which cannot be anticipated or the result of a calculated effort (226). Put in more abstract terms, it is the loss of an experience of NOTHING, of being without imagining or creating anything, of a non-servile, non-productive, insubordinate existence. And yet this question, tied to what lies deepest in the human heart, cannot be erased. Humanity balks at its reduction to the worker and at its servile insertion into a world of subjugated practices, servile ends, and social utility. The world of useful works is left with a void that only sovereign moments can fill. No more than mere survival, accumulation is not enough to satisfy subjective ends. Moreover, there is an inexorable desire to negate the given conditions and exist freely – in disregard for the rationally-ordered world. Continue reading

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Four Accesses to the Infinite (Badiou)

Translation of: Alain Badiou, The Immanence of Truths, Section III, Chapter c11, parts 1-4 (out of 12)

Four accesses to the infinite

1. Objections concerning the set-theoretical concept of the infinite

I demonstrated previously that the ontology of every oppressive figure organizes itself based on an imperative of finitude. Now I launch into the counterpart of this negative observation: the aim is to establish that wherever human action liberates itself from the order that constraints it, it is a matter of an encounter with the infinite, in the figure of a work.

It is only natural to begin with what in any case we know about the infinite, a knowledge constitutive of mathematical thinking. This initial course will still be very approximative for two reasons. First, the dialectic finite/infinite is at the heart of the system [dispositif] of this entire book, and we will only see this clearly little by little. Second, the mathematical theory of the infinite is not only complex, but it is still today in the midst of evoltion.

For now it is only a matter of considering “in broad strokes” the challenge we are faced with, in its massiveness.

Objections concerning the infinite such as this book presents it – in the framework of set theory, the concept and the adequate formalisms – appear in two principle forms, instances of which we detailed in the first two sections but which deserve to be recalled here. Continue reading

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Bi-furcations of whatever sort – nature versus spirit, mind versus body, ultimate reality versus appearance, etc. – have their usage at the level of entrance into metaphysical ‘issues’ and as heuristics making it easier to investigate, discuss, and perhaps solve them, alone and together. Complication and nuance of the bifurcations, perhaps leading to zones of non-duality, come after contemplation of the basic dilemma, whereupon the either/or nature of the duality can be superseded.

Given how widespread these bi-furcation dilemmas are in human history, it is unlikely that they are just fabrications of this or that philosopher who happened to get stumped. When they receive canonical definition, for example by folks like Descartes and the mind-body problem, the drawback is that thought can then suffer from adherence to that definition as though it were an authority. Mental effort is then exerted to comprehend the canonical definition, rather than employing it for the sake of inner metaphysical discovery. Such definitions can provide coordinates to help orient in the conceptual territory, and so they can allow progress toward refutation, reformulation, and perhaps resolution of the dilemma, but only if enough time and contemplation is taken for them to become more than ‘intellectual’ exercises driven by the desire to be ‘right’.

In my experience, it is best to gain exposure to as many definitions of the dilemma as possible, both the canonical and the marginal, the obsessive and the dismissive, and to receive them all without bias, valuing whatever is unique about each model. That way contemplation avoids sticking to one specific model or definition and does not fall into the error of thinking that one specific model or conclusion – a merely external, discursive solution – will somehow resolve the issue. Rather, exposure to a multiplicity of models allows one to be experientially open to a creative transformation of the problem itself and especially its articulation. This can only happen once one feels in some way unbound from the dilemma as stated, once the original coordinates are well underway to reconfiguration. In other words, once a sort of non-discursive ‘resolution’ has been perceived or understood, through extended contemplation, thought can then freely enter back into the discourse without feeling detrimentally entangled by its many historical and conceptual referents. This is perhaps a resolution in ‘simplicity’; but it is also the grounding of thought in the non-temporal actuality that motivates the problem to begin with and which has been occluded by its contingent, imperfect articulation.

From such simplicity and grounding, a greater degree of conceptual and expressive innovation can take place; and one can do so playfully, perspicaciously, ‘indifferently’. This is not to detract from the importance of the operation, however, since those who earnestly undertake it often become innovators in the field, having transcended it enough towards actuality that they are able to play upon it differently and perhaps even rewrite the rules. It goes without saying that this ‘rewrite’ and its results are ever an invitation to future participants in the field to exert themselves similarly in the direction of inner metaphysical experience and simplicity in expressive freedom.

The emotion to such a procedure is, manifestly, joy: the pleasure of participating in the actuality of God. Such is not belabored by merely rationalist distinctions, by canonical grinding of gears, or by any need to reference tradition or gain authority from it. For now the articulation of the dilemma has gained the boldness to stand in the bifurcation without angst as a catalyst for novel future investigations. Its intention now derives not from the ‘imposition of view’, but from love: love of the contemplation and love for those who are still fruitfully animated by the bi-furcation dilemmas, those who have realized that these are necessary for the progression of speculative thought. This is the stance of a ‘loving circumstantialist’ who addresses each individual context of utterance with care, tied to none of them except to the extent that it is exactly those contexts which are to be worked with creatively, for the sake of being metaphysically unbound.

See more:
Descent to Higher Ground
Nihilism and the Absolute
Run-on Sentence

doig, peter - blotter-1993

Peter Doig, Blotter, 1993

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