Self-Constraints VI (Singularity)

Non-philosophy claims to be a science of philosophy, able to observe and isolate a system at work in it globally, so much so that instead of remaining within this system it can treat its various idea-complexes as symptoms. In later texts, this requires the invention of a quantum physics of philosophy or its quantic deconstruction, which will bear on concepts themselves and not just texts. There are two basic sides to the non-philosophical endeavor: to diagnose the philosophical symptoms of transcendence; and to invent its own machines or matrices that modelize radical immanence. Both sides proceed through the use of “oraxioms” emptied of their sufficiency, thus “weakening” discourse. These are the property of no ‘ego’ but of a ‘we’ as “quantum of expression,” at once lived and generic. Non-philosophical texts are everywhere the invention, expression, and practice of these oraxioms. Thus the confusion for many readers who feel confronted with yet another batch of neologisms from yet another eccentric philosopher. It is difficult to recognize that in-the-last-instance they have no recourse to the philosophical languages they transform. Devoted fans are sent down the perilous path of trying to ‘decipher’ yet again the ‘meaning’ of these supposed neologisms, striking deals with philosophy and thus dooming it to mixture and incomprehension. As for philosophers, they develop an uneasy resistance to non-philosophy that is even stronger than their resistance to science, because unlike the latter it cannot be subdued or hierarchized so easily, for non-philosophy has brought, however ‘indirectly’, a scientific-type thought to the terrain of philosophy, while at the same time placing both science and philosophy under the condition of a generic man. Indeed, it is in the name of a generic transformation of all the productive resources of thought that non-philosophy stakes this claim to be a science of philosophy. To liberate those resources from their self-constraint is one of its primary aspirations.

In this installment of the series, we will again opt to do little more than diagnose, hoping that by clearly illustrating the philosophical system we can loosen some resistances to non-philosophy, which in our view is justified in calling itself a radical treatment of that system, even if it is clear that no single text, indeed no text at all, could ‘manifest’ this in a transparent way. Because the material at non-philosophy’s disposal is of philosophical origin, even when it treats it scientifically, the evidential ‘output’ is, or rather objectively appears to be, philosophical. Only the choice to shift the base for thinking will ‘suffice’. A different style of philosophical materiality is required, one that no longer treats concepts as bodies and bricks, as interlocking parts or referential loops, as noematic isolates, in sum, no longer as trajectories arrayed in a predetermined space, whether that be the text in consideration, the tradition, or the world itself. Instead, concepts and styles themselves are to be treated as interfering waves, underdetermining each other by quantic superposition, in a flux of immanence that never forms a field or plane. If we focus provisionally on diagnosis, we do so with this altered materiality of style in mind and try to practice it. This may appear like a lack of concern for detail, like a mess of strokes too broad. These charges are often leveled against non-philosophy, and from the perspective of philosophy rightly so. But it has no need or desire to defend itself against them, quite simply because it has different goals–to defend humans from the constraint the self puts on their productive resources. Suffice it to say, a non-corpuscular but wavelike materiality in concepts implies a different approach to the world of philosophy, and not just when it comes to texts. In the end, it is up to the reader to discern to what extent the collision of conceptual particles in this non-philosophical experimental chamber is not merely a free-associative scramble.

Our goal here is to show that one strong line of demarcation running between philosophy and non-philosophy can be best summarized as the demarcation between the singular and the generic—specifically, between “singular existence” and the “generic lived-without-life.” To help orient us, we can say that where the concern of the first would be philosophy’s, the second is non-philosophy’s. It is a matter of showing a transcendental bias or privledging of singular existence that reigns in philosophy and, through it, in the world. The often-repeated claim that we are all “philosophers” more than we might normally think justifies itself here. Indeed, one of the main tasks of philosophy from its inception is to “know thyself,” not just oneself in one’s obvious particularity, but in one’s singularity or in one’s becoming-singular. Its most powerful articulation in recent times is perhaps Nietzsche’s “become who you are,” which implies that it is not inevitable–that there is a potentiality to become oneself that can lie dormant, and that only the self itself can awaken itself to that potential, which is inborn yet demanding the self’s constantly renewed decision for it (in Heidegger, this is Dasein’s “resoluteness” [Entschlossenheit]). Such is why it remains for the duration of a life mysterious. Sollers comments: “Nothing tells us what we’re capable of. We go through many situations and events that we aren’t. We don’t inevitably become what we are. False directions abound. That’s why most of us humans become something we’re not…” Know thyself is a practice of relating to oneself that passes through one’s potentiality to become oneself. Its first aim is to keep one from becoming something that one is not. The rigor with which one practices this “knowing,” obviously combined with a bit risk and luck, is the measure of becoming-singular. Philosophy no doubt sees this practice as the source of a joy that wants eternity, and thus signals a becoming that is infinite. As Agamben affirms: “Singular existence remains the experimentum crucis of philosophy, which it cannot avoid and in which it unceasingly threatens to shipwreck.”

Giving one of the most basic formulas for what non-philosophy will call double transcendence, Kierkegaard writes, “the self is a relation relating itself to itself.” The system of philosophy is to be found in this relation of the self to itself that the self is. What is at stake here is a being that is simultaneously a relation to Being–its own being or its being to be owned up to–, somewhere between being-itself and relating (to) being-itself (thus involving an expression of itself in some form). The being all alone is not elevated here, since there is nothing satisfying about its raw immediacy or its citizen-like obviousness. Philosophy divides this being in numerous ways, for example, between what it appears to be and its appearing. There is a sort of hidden excess always surging from somewhere that makes the quod never equal to the qua, presence never equal to coming-to-be. It is the relation here that matters, but so do the two sides. Finding itself divided off from the One, a duality is produced between potential-self and an actual-self. As we mentioned, the latter can go astray and miss its moment of “individuation.” This constitutes philosophy’s most passionate and sustained refrain: never lose sight of what you might be, never let yourself be reduced to what you appear to be. This even strikes down to the root of what we imagine ourselves to be. In other words, our potential is and must remain absolutely unimaginable, for it is the source of our very imagination of our self and world. If ever it were to be exhausted or to pause on an image, it would lose itself in actuality, and we would forget who we “are”: this relation between our being and ourselves as possible. Only a vital practice, a tireless vigilance over one’s own potentiality to be or not be, can hold these two divisions in contact and reconcile them.

When reading philosophers, one has to take care to see how this system is distributed, but it is also possible to treat it as a whole or as a symptom. Schematically: the relation of the self to itself runs between actual-self (often called the individual) and potential-self (often linked to the impersonal or preindividual), where the ‘result’ is the singular-self (the One recomposed from this initial Dyad). The paradox is that this ‘result’ is both presupposed and unpresupposable: presupposed in the virtual, but unpresupposable in reality, because any assumption of this result in reality risks halting the process of becoming-oneself. It is reality that is filled with traps of sleep and stasis, and the philosopher tries mightily to remind us–by reminding himself–not to rest, to recognize ourselves as desiring eternity, as desiring to be ourselves eternally. This is why the mode of being of self can often only be articulated in the future anterior tense: what I will have been. This is an important clue, because it points to the “end” of the self in both senses. The virtual moment when it will no have the life or the energy to relate to itself is, in a way, the only thing it can presuppose. But, in that it lives still, this virtual moment can only remind the self to “act now while supplies last,” as Kierkegaard would put it, to waste no time in willing oneself. Nietzsche’s noonday demon is a version of this ultimatum: what if one day you were told that you will repeat what you are doing now for all eternity? Would you be terrified or would you leap and rejoice? The self, to access its potential, must already have in mind its own wholeness, and this implies having a thought of its own impossibility.

Heidegger brings this home forcefully in Being and Time: “Death is a possibility-of-being that Dasein itself has to take over [zu übernehmen] in every case. With death, Dasein stands before [steht sich… bevor, Derrida gives “awaits itself”] in its ownmost potentiality-for-being.” The division here is between the facticity of Dasein, its thrownness [Geworfenheit], and the (im)possibility of Da-sein which it throws or projects [Entwerfen]. The result, which reveals itself to be the presupposition, is the transcendence of Da-sein as abyssal ground–the unthought of the thinking of Being. Put simply, it is the relation between a being and Being, which makes up the Be-ing of that being, which distinguishes itself from [unterscheidet sich von] the being and from Being, and yet “is (its) being itself.” The latter is virtually presupposed in order to eventually rest in itself, to attain to its own presupposed: to relate to its death as such. Our goal is only to recognize the system this creates. In Kierkegaard, this is the self, “resting transparently in the power that established it,” which he of course calls God. But it can just as easily be called Being, Power, Life, Desire… There are many mixtures and philosophical ‘decisions’ that can be made here, it all depends on who you ask, and there are even many different inflections that will flow from the same fundamental choices made. But the system and the hierarchy is always there.

Owning up to one’s potentiality to be oneself always involves some sort of approach to nothingness, whether this is being-toward-death or being-toward-wound (Deleuze), or a contact with the central emptiness of ‘inoperativity’ as in Agamben. It is an embrace of the preindividual or neutral, eventually a becoming-neutral as becoming-self, all the stronger for passing through the violent effacement of death. But ultimately this system works in the name of singularity, however “nameless” it may be. One quote from Deleuze will show this system distributed along the axis of individuality–virtuality–singularity, where it is one’s individual facticity (“internal and external life”) that must be somehow restored to its virtuality (“in the process of actualization”), through which something like a pure event (“‘a’ life”) can manifest:

The life of the individual gives way to an impersonal and yet singular life that releases a pure event freed from the accidents of internal and external life, that is, from the subjectivity and objectivity of what happens: a “Homo tantum” with whom everyone empathizes and who attains a sort of beatitude. It is a haecceity no longer of individuation but of singularization: a life of pure immanence, neutral, beyond good and evil, for it was only the subject that incarnated it in the midst of things that made it good or bad. The life of such individuality fades away in favor of the singular life immanent to a man who no longer has a name, though he can be mistaken for no other. A singular essence, a life…

Not only did Deleuze write these words at the very end of his life, but this passage in the text is preceded by a Dickens story that recounts a man “held in contempt by everyone”  who is on his deathbed. Strangely, as he comes nearest to death, his caretakers begin to obsess over his slightest sign of life, caring for him and even loving him, and he himself is penetrated by something “soft and sweet.” But when he comes back from the brink, “his saviors turn colder, and he becomes once again mean and crude.” Only at the limit of life and death, where his life is becoming something impersonal again, only when life itself is at stake in his life, is there love for him, for then he “makes appear” a force of life-death that transcends him and all those around him, even as its very appearance reminds them forcefully of its fragile immanence, and warms them to the heart with life’s virtuality. But this is also where he himself–beyond all particularity–reemerges as a singularity.

Now, when it comes to generic subjectivity, it is the stance that is fundamental. This is why non-philosophy is not just another modulation on this system, but a shift of base to vision-in-One. It axiomatizes an a priori impossibilization of the self and double transcendence. In my work, I try to address this problem through a refutation of what I call the ‘one-man hypothesis’, whose symptoms can be recognized everywhere in philosophy and especially wherever it is a question of the self’s singularization. It is a matter of discovering other tools and traditions for a messianic-type conversion to “no one”; it hearkens Paul Celan’s “No-one’s Rose” and Bertolt Brecht’s “smallest greatness.”

The question of the generic lived-without-life is posed in the suspension of the ‘second step’ of recomposition whereby the one-man retains his corpuscular identity for the world, that is, whereby the self’s transcendence is restored most intensely through the very operation that immanentizes self as use, virtuality, practice, plane of immanence, etc. In a sense, it is to suspend thought in preindividual potentiality, without transforming it into the singularity of ‘a life’ (thus coming close to Simondon on the ontogenesis of the transindividual). The development of a subject-science that would bring down transcendence has as its basic aim the liberation of the productive of forces of thought beyond the conceptual persona of the philosopher. It demands the application of a scientific stance and procedure–precisely a subject-science that fuses the subjective occasion, provided by philosophy, with generic immanence. Philosophy does not have within itself resources to bring down the system of double transcendence any more than history, as Benjamin tells us, has within itself the resources to relate itself to the messianic. There, one needs a Messiah to create and accomplish the relation, and so to complete History. This already tells us the Messiah, taken in its genericity and no longer as one-man, is to be distinguished from any ‘singular existence’. As I argue elsewhere, the extent to which messianity has been viewed through the lens of the latter is the extent to which, in history, it has been time and again destroyed. Summarizing the stakes of the ‘generic turn’, Laruelle writes:

The lived experiences of faith, of art, of love, and so on are generic and are not marked by the singularity/totality of the philosophical or theological subject. The matter is somewhat more complicated: every generic lived produces a philosophizable, if not a philosophy, and this is the origin of the appearance of the circle. The lived is philosophizable according to philosophical generality, but is also underdetermined. The lived is subjectivity-without-subjectivation, without there being a fold of subjectivity and subjectivation, because it is identified with a scientific principle, assuming a certain stance and, as subject, submitting itself to an idempotent formation. Taken in its state as an ordinary lived, science submits it to a uni-version, as if subjectivity were smoothed out and ejected from itself—a generic neutralization that snatches it away from both singularity and totality.

Needless to say, the problem is immense, because it seems nearly impossible to think at any remove from the self-holder or the body-limit or what we could playfully call the speaker-speaker. Most would find it absurd to do so, given the urgent considerations of individual existence that press upon them. And, to refute any of this often opens one to the accusation of being a life-denier, or of denying the dignity of singular existences. There is also always this temptation to fall into a biology-based line of argumentation, based in the question of survival, but from which the very idea of legal personhood isn’t so far removed, as a way to defend the inevitability (always inevitable!) of starting with ‘the’ being that I am (or have to be)–the one-person we are each doomed or blessed to be, given our mucus membranes and our ‘private languages’. There is a line running from bare life’s nutritive upkeep and the biopolitical testimony before the court of other humans, as Agamben has amply shown, But once you have even the tiniest bit of suspicison about this ‘I’, its self-evidence for thought becomes immensely questionable. You begin to see how it is everywhere treated like an absolute constraint (“I am in the end alone with myself, I die alone”) and like an absolute gift (“I am that I am, none else with me can be compared”); the work of Jacob Rogozinski even seeks to revitalize this paradigm against what he sees as the egocides of contemporary philosophy.

Framed this way, it becomes clear that double transcendence has always meant glorification and divinization of self. We are all Gods in that we make this self-circle and picture our thoughtful efforts as rooted in ourselves, or as having a horizon of our unique testimony. An atheist questions God’s transcendence, but how often do they question that of their own individuality, as if not even quantum science was capable of challenging this “obvious fact” of being-in-the-world? But ‘questioning’ all this is not enough; after all, philosophy loves nothing more than to mull over the ‘who’ question, the question of a singularity’s own eventimentality. This self-inquiry almost always strengthens its depth, its power of decision, its embrace of totality, or its sense of interconnectedness with all beings, its immersion in them in some kind of continuity or communication. I call all these strategies the “inflation” of transcendence, in the sense of a belly distended by a painful inflammation (too much stress, too much spice).

We end up with the massively spiritual, yet also plainly mundane illusion whose grandeur and ecstatic limit both Nisargadatta Maharaj and Jacques Lacan attest: “Thou art That.” This is the identification of the (no-)self with the Reality-All as God. It would be helpful to read from another thinker, Adi Da Samraj, to see the alluring beauty of identifying myself in my Heart Source with The Bright–anyone can be guru (of) self. Western philosophy is undoubtedly a bit more nuanced, novelistic and hesitant than the Eastern gurus, but certainly no humbler, with its ego cogito, ergo sum. Lacan turns it into, “I think where I am not, therefore I am where I don’t think.” But just consider the sort of ‘reality-surface’ this creates. It implies an almost comically exaggerated extension of human thought over all of happening, of the signifier-signifed relationship over every sector, such that everything that happens relates to “me” (and so I’m allowed to have my opinion about it, which I pump out like an uncontrollable compulsion). It is all part of my Unconscious; it means something to me, at least potentially; and it is there for me to learn from, if only to learn my own zeroness or non-existence. “I think about what I am, there where I don’t think to think.” Thus everything is thinking the Me-All, even where I don’t think of myself; I suffuse the entire landscape, and everything I touch passes through this self-signifying surface whose power and reach is literally astronomical. Agamben has also shown how the question of anthropogenesis is about coming-into-language, certainly not in a merely signifying way, but where language is a setting-up of the truth of a singular being. There is a sort of spontaneous auto-emergence of the potential-self-relation into Reality-language insofar as thinking happens (‘it’ thinks), such that the one who is thinking is immediately an object of that thought, and this truly leads to an infinite regress trying to find out who is the thinker of this thought of the thinker that thinks the thought of the thinker in “me,” as is wonderfully articulated by a recent Frank Ocean song:

Dreaming a thought that could dream about a thought
That could think of the dreamer that thought
That could think of dreaming and getting a glimmer of God
I be dreaming a dream in a thought
That could dream about a thought
That could think of dreaming a dream
Where I can not, where I can not

As Lacan writes, “I identify myself in language, but only to lose myself in it like an object. What is realized in my history is the future anterior of that which I will have been for that which I am in the process of becoming” [Je m’identifie dans le langage, mais seulement à m’y perdre comme un objet. Ce qui se réalise dans mon histoire, [c’est] le futur antérieur de ce que j’aurai été pour ce que je suis en train de devenir]. As so often is the case in human thought, a poor presupposition becomes unsolvable enigma–a dream. It is perhaps not surprising that this can only occur through language or Logos, the regime of Being(-logos). Perhaps psychoanalysis is called a ‘Jewish’ science of dreams because it shares with that tradition the idea that the cosmos is linguistic by essence, that a God who is essentially Name suffuses every corner and aspect, that the worshiping body is hyperlinguistic; Derrida introduced this to us all with his famous, Il n’y a pas de hors-texte. Through the verbum caro factum est, Christianity shares this territory: the semotic become substance, spirit become body, the incarnation of essence in existence. Wo Es war, soll Ich werden. What is all this if not a constantly renewed decision to replace the Real with Self-relation, an operation so fragile and ‘unconscious’ that all of humanity plays out as one disasterous hallucination–one that non-philosophy does not hesitate to call the World and the ego-form–and which we address thematically once more under the heading of the self-constraint?

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2 Responses to Self-Constraints VI (Singularity)

  1. Rex Styzens says:

    My copy of PRINCIPLES OF NON-PHILOSOPHY is on its way. It is out of respect for your thinking that I ordered it. I do not expect that it will satisfy me as much as Nancy, because of Laurelle’s “in-One” primacy. I’ve been wrong before, so we shall see.
    This piece has your usual (for you) unusual insights, deserving of far more thought than I have yet given to it. Thank you.

    • tmlavenz says:

      Nice to hear from you Rex. “Principles” is one of the more difficult texts in the non-philosophical corpus. It is also at a stage of development that lacks the explicit thematic of messianity. I’m afraid you’ll find it overly abstract, but we shall see. The chapter on the theory of the subject is an incredible survey and transformation of the subject. But, if it is too rough going, I can highly suggest Christo-fiction and/or General Theory of Victims. They’re just as difficult, but a little clearer and also more exciting because of the quantum stuff and the explicit usage of messianity and Christ.

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