We should not use ‘belief’ loosely, as if certain statements’s truth value depended entirely on cultural values and all of the emplacing phrases like ‘conceptual schemes’ and ‘web of beliefs’ for their becoming/being true or false. Something is not *made true by one’s believing it, something else is going on with the word belief. The import of the word ’belief’ comes from religion and the repetitive affirmation technique imbued in people during a particular historical periods and geographical locations. The practice of individualizing affirmation that the subject is made to express in public, private, and in dialogue according to prescribed rituals has as much to do with the meaning of the word ’belief’ as it does with forming subjects who are then led to thinking that they must confirm sentences into truthhood. The subject-object distinction is as much a product of these processes as it is a constant structure of language and sentence creation. The intensifying of religious practices has done nothing to subvert this basic function of meaning creation, it has only made us turn about from one side to the other in hopes that one day we will form a unified theory that is held steady from top to bottom. Continue reading “Thoughts after Reading a Chapter on the Philosophy of Language”
This time from his latest God and Mythico-Poetic Thought.
Rather than reject religion outright, how about rejecting the monotheism that requires inward directed souls/subjects to declare their belief in a perfect God? The internalized desire of the believer-subject is reproduced as well in Descartes who then can split himself from the external world of “Nature”, which is then in turn reproduced in the discourse of naturalist science. Both science and religion contain in their theories an ideal observer distinct from the external world; in one case an omnipresent God, in the other a complete world both external to the believer and total at once. Physics too has its religious pretensions in that elusive quest for the theory of everything.
The problem as I see it is rather in conceiving Nature as a whole and not working through its persistent aporias. We’re it not demanded to achieve a theory of Nature that matches or replaces a belief in Everything, scientists could be seen as producing accurate measurements without being hounded by deniers for being “just a theory”.
The mythico-poetic is of a different form than religions which force subjects to believe in a god. It is more like a background of cultural signifiers which make meaningful discourse possible just as much as the “wiredness” of our bodies. They contain many creation myths that do not explain in the same way as an individual explaining a foundational belief because they provide a foundational background for a common, shared cultural imagination.
The distinction I am drawing here is between subjective-belief in The universe and universes of symbolic reference as diverse as their are isolated cultures. This is possibly an ontological distinction, perhaps pertaining to the ground needed to have the the figure of a belief in general. I’m thinking now of the function of “the full body of the earth, the cosmic egg” in Deleuze and Guattari’s 3rd chapter of Anti-Oedipus. It plays the role of a territorial beginning from which flows and codings then implement primordial inscription. Still a rough draft of an interpretation of a massive work though.
Levi Bryant has drawn up a brief manifesto of a nihilist reflection on the world and life’s place in the one and only world as a mere accident. His materialism in the matters of human belief brings forth succinctly and strikingly a conception of the world as void that is reminiscent of Lucretius. World here functions as a pure void, an empty space on which the dance of matter takes place. This distinction of matter and world seems to recreate the full/empty binary which then is grafted on to existence as a whole, or, the universe. The manifesto is well worth a read and long contemplation, as well as a follow up from arranjames.
But must we abide by these terms and this conceptual framework? The world conceived as it is here is doomed from the start to void and nothingness, which is clearly the only conclusion that could follow from this conceptual treatment. When imagining the world as a single unified place (and this must be an exercise in the imagination, or perhaps an intellectual excursus within a conceptual model), it could not possibly be full and perfectly meaningful to the point of which a perfectly understood significance could give cultural actors access to it. The world is at once occupying the figure and the ground, holding both the indisputable ’thereness’ of existence as object and also the setting, place, or environment upon which all objects dwell. Lying within this word is the collapsed distinction which at first allows for a meaningful object to become a thing under consideration with its own properties, tendencies, structures, and relations to other objects. An object must always ’be’ amidst a backdrop, a backdrop which tries to attain distinctly objective status as a cognizant thing when the unification meant for an object is “outsourced” to its own ground.
This linguistic movement of a binary opposition (figure/ground) is accompanied by the enormous successes of scientific institutions which have brought along with them a discourse rife with philosophical undertones of disinterested objectivism. However, these matters are largely ignored by today’s scientists and left to the “lofty intellectuals” so they can do their work of infinite knowledge production in their secure, unchallenged ’world’. Their experiments, results, and the method so fruitful in producing useful technologies for their nations do indeed prove themselves over and over again to be of great worth. Though the dis-coveries of these material things in their patterned movement can lay claim to truth in the minimally predictive sense, when science moves to theory and, either consciously or unconsciously, harkens back to the beginnings of science in the certainty, finality, and universality it must (if sincerity and honesty is given to the words and concepts with which they construct those theories) admit to itself that it is engaging in philosophy. Recourse is always given to a history of actors, experimenters, and observers that carry science from one new mode to the next, and the unifying thread of science does indeed have a history that goes as far back as when ’physics’ was called ’natural philosophy’.
Bringing up the paradoxes and entanglements of science with regards to the nihilistic refusal of meaningful belief in the world is can be of some utility here since it problematizes both subjective commitment and disinterested (supposedly non-subjective) knowledge. If the separation of subject and object would be held apart so firmly, the subject would be forced to have as its object of conscious adherence (ideology if you want) the forced choice between a foundational social/ego or bare objects/things. I believe things are more complicated and intertwined along with Merleu-Ponty. The reflective and inward-folding that a solitary writer is privy to can be also recognized as an object in the “mind-space” so as to balance the linguistic relationship. A sentence that makes sense, written down or spoken between those within a common discourse must be the result of an actor in a performance – and on a stage. Ideas are inextricable in thinking about the world and any of its particular objects and we must place them some*where* – as we must do with objects, placing them in the world. However, when the object tries to become its own ground, to take over the whole stage as it were, we get an idea that attempts to both produce its own existence and declare for itself nothing at all.
This is an extremely important topic, since I have both flirted with nihilism and remain very open to the Spinozist-Lucretian-Nietzsche Delueze thread that treats nothingness as nothing (as a mere linguistic nothing and not a source of creation or attachment). This all set within the problem of global warming and the threat of ecological collapse which I want to hold out as avoidable. There is so much still yet to be done.
Having gone this far into the labyrinth of theory I should make something clear: these thoughts gave been germinating in my mind for quite some time now from various sources. But those consistent bloggers have made it seem like there was a community of participants willing to read what I wrote and I owe you all thanks for inspiring me to experiment with this mode of expression. It is very strange indeed having so many ideas floating around both the Internet and my face to face encounters and this reassures me that I am onto the right track with regard to the topics, even if the content is disputable. A great deal of my influence has come from reaching out into other spheres and keeping running debates with friends and fellow autodidacts, but blogs allow rough thought to just “get out there” and be seen. The books that I’m drawing from in this piece which I haven’t yet been able to make good enough essays about yet are Cornelius Castoriadis’s Crossroads in the Labyrinth (a staggering work of theoretical genius), Robert Pogue Harrison’s Forests, and Deleuze’s Spinoza: Practical Philosophy. I’ll get around to coming up with more substantial works on these books soon since they have been so educational and I want to share.
As a teaser: the social actor is inextricably bound up with yet opposed to Nature. Nature is less a world than it is a labyrinth. The place, region, or territory is neither neutral or empty. The place of nature (seeing as it is that the social must juxtapose with nature) is the forest.
Critical Fantasies are a mixture of critical philosophy and a retelling of poplar stories that are made by deep analysis to serve as current day myths. The stories are selected from the cultural field with the criteria that they contain pertinent ideas or operations which can be extracted and elucidated in a conceptual manner. This conceptual exercise will encourage readers to more actively examine cherished fantasies and put into focus a transversal message from the fantasy to themselves – all the more relevant for coming from the realm of the imaginary. This intentional activity of blending fantasy and philosophy will revitalize meaning in the world by eliminating the intellectual pretension towards representing *the* world (considered in the singular) and finding meaning in moving between a plurality of fictional worlds.
The difference between philosophy and poetics, science and fantasy, or reality and fiction is not collapsed but maintained. The duality is impressed upon the reader while simultaneously, a multiplicity of worlds prevents any one world or any pair of worlds from claims to perfection. Instead of moving from one unreal world to the real world, there are many to hop around to; only wherever on begins from or ends up is always fictional. The multiplicity worlds, connected by their rejection of representation, will subvert claims to the divine authority of any one story. Many worlds are potentially inhabitable, each offering various messages. The stories of these worlds are given a fresh interpretation in being retold, but inso doing a message is released and made more explicit. Critical Fantasies translate idea kernels from the enchanting myth that the narrative invokes and in those ideas point beyond them. Examining this message conceptually will provoke the reader to in turn reexamine their own favorite fantasies in a way that draws out a meaningful lesson or truth beyond the particular fantasy world.
Far from being devoid of meaning or a source of believability, we have multiple fantasies within our cultures from which purpose, guidance, and significance can be discovered. They merely require a critical perspective with which to interpret them in moving beyond their fictional worlds. The fantasies across the cultural spectrum are many and diverse; some can be revelatory, creating an fervent attachment not so far off from belief. Crossing the world gap serves this function, but no story takes primary status over another – even if there is a favorite. A fantasy affirms its other-worldly quality without demanding precedence over any other save for the impact it has, the impression it leaves. The plurality of fantasies is only a hindrance if equality is demanded between the construction and “reality”, instead of having a higher degree of potency. The acceptance of their own unreality can only be a benefit.
Though separate realms, neither pure philosophy nor fiction can endure without the other. Indeed, philosophers have always tended to make use of myths and stories (in the form of illustrated examples, diagrams, thought experiments etc.) while every captivating narrative involves something conceptual. The themes, motifs, and characters of works of fiction become a repeatable talking point which can be crystallized in an idea. A source of wonder comes from their interplay; the fantasy requires an implicit trick of falsehood shared by both the author and audience, philosophy requires a commitment to truth and honest inquiry amidst incessant illusion and dogma. The selection of the story and the selection of the concepts with which to cross-connect will function as the creative production: in reinterpreting popular and exciting fantasies with a critical eye, the ideas projected will be illuminated and updated as well as recontextualized. Critique will not take place over and above the story but within it, offering up ideas that will inspire thought from not just an exclusively mythical or philosophical perspective but with a mutual reinforcement. This performance will necessitate inhabiting the plurality of imagined worlds while simultaneously pushing their topics and devices beyond it. Critical Fantasies are an inherently pluralistic construction.
The works of fantasy will be chosen by their critical capacity from the outset; or, the work chosen already possesses the critical power to change, provoke, inspire the audience/player within it. The mining of it from a critical-philosophical angle only serves to make its impact more forceful and its message more obvious. Each interpretation or commentary of anything from anyone will add to or alter its meaning, but the choice of candidates for a critical fantasy by itself indicates that the work contains a message that resonates beyond its world. The stories that endure in history, that have that “timeless” quality endure for a reason that exceeds its own comprehension. A critical focus on those ideas that endure past the world from which they originated discovers more than just a cold concept: it finds advice, it finds wisdom. Criticism will not be of the particular world of fantasy itself as a fantasy (its illusory, negative, or unreal quality) but come from that work and direct its latent critical capacity outward, approaching the threshold of its world as a fantasy world.
This endeavor can be called critical in three senses of the word:
First, inhabiting fantasies gives one a meaningful if incorporeal world of signification from which to base a judgment on something outside of it. By self-consciously remaining within its interpretive zone, its (illusory) hermeneutic circle, criticism can then appear to be launching outward, though the representative target remains transfixed within the fantasy zone as a concept. A world of significance is found from which critique can situate itself. This mixes an awareness of limitations with a feeling of transcendence. Second, criticism attempts to approach a condition where a body is forced to exceeded the outer limits, no longer being able to contain the force originating within the border. Critical Fantasies reach for a critical mass which overflows in its fantastic resonance. Floating between crossing the threshold and remaining at the border, these fantasies suggest a break-through that is impossible because of their self-conscious falsity. They nonetheless make the suggestion, implying a leap all the more tempting for being impossible. Third, critical inquiry necessitates close scrutiny to specific areas within the subject considered. The ideas under examination are intensified by the attention payed to them within an uncommon sphere. Dwelling on certain isolated ideas in a strange place casts a spell of significance and importance, majestic by being both fantasy and under fixated examination.
Critical theory takes on big subjects and claims to further political goals by engaging with dominant ideologies. The title ‘Critical Fantasies’ also reminds one that action in a meaningful ethical-political sense does not occur within the confines of a text or a video screen. Critical theory interprets texts and techniques closely, bringing them to their limit in hopes that this symmetry-breaking motion will be reflected elsewhere. However, the going-beyond of critical analysis, the breaking things open and/or extending them outward can only operate non-textually by addressing this world-gap. Critique can undermine beliefs, opinions, and assumptions by making them argumentatively untenable, but strong forces back those frames and institutionalized power relations stabilize them. By joining the fantastic with the critical, all pretensions to subversion emanating directly from the narrative are abandoned and immediate direct action is to be found elsewhere. Fantasy knows this about itself: it is not real. It is like Socrates who knows only that he knows nothing. Fantasy affirms its falsity. This is a relief though; the distance fantasies hold onto puts the specter of action and conversely the dogmatism of representation in another world altogether with respect to each other. Incommensurable with the present and its accompanying “here and now”, fantasy nevertheless does not forget this “other”; for in the persistence of approaching what it is not, fantasy cannot rid itself of its relation with the present, however confrontational and problematic that relationship might be. Fantasy holds onto action in the present but at a distance, a distance spanning worlds.
Fantasy sets limits on what it can do in the substantial material world – the indirectness from which it must relate to it – and continues along in its negative constrictions regardless. Fixing that material world at the outside, a fantasy world is able to play endlessly with the boundaries its willful negation sets. Indirect Critical Fantasies – Direct Action. The imagination is stretched always apart as it is forever tasked with coming to terms with its own nothingness; all the while, it cannot shake the feeling that whatever is produced, whatever piece of work the imagination creates, is somehow bound up with that other thing – matter. Neither purely false nor purely representative, fantasy moves forward in playful ambivalence.
To reflect on these aesthetic productions brimming with joyful negation, to analyze these current day myths, criticism is brought to bear on the scene – but this is no synthesis. The momentum or force of fantasies are left in tact (not that one could do anything to prevent that) but an outside line joins with it that blows up certain moments, placing a greater emphasis on the ideas of critical importance for other worlds not of its own. A concentration is built up around those flashes of wonder where something seems to jump out of its worldly confines.
Critical Fantasies put together two irreducible forces and create an entirely new non-holistic production. Neither a combination of the two nor a sublimation of them into a higher thing, it sets familiar work of art in fantasy into a different rhythm. The moments of highest intensity are given an additional push bringing it closer to the outside of its world and establishing resonance. Critical Fantasies are always found in a polarizing situation: with an understanding that they are limited to their fictional worlds of significance, they select those aspects that come the closest to breaching their worldly limits and making a connection outside of them.
I believe that people by and large already make use of fantasies in this way. What is most often missing in them and what I aim to inject is the rigor of a critical philosopher. The potential in this unholy alliance seems vast and within the care of the right hands could intensify a largely apathetic population with awesome and innumerable fantasies at its disposal. Fantasy stories in their highest moments have replaced the divine revelation as our source of ethical energy. These are those empowering moments when a vital surge breaks out like a geyser. This is when epic wins become possible, and epics always start in the middle. They don’t always end well though. It is in attempting to begin from solid ground like a tautology, as well as end in a secure and harmonious goal that we lose sight of the urgent task. Fantasies cannot provide perfectly clear answers as to what is to be done, but when it comes to teachings and inspiration, they are the best we’ve got. At the very least, their internalized negativity wards off dogmatic faith. Together with the sustained focus of criticism, fantasies can at best nudge us in the right direction.
This is a wonderful talk from Simon Critchley about contemporary politics and the allure of utopian projects. I watched it many times and had its ideas at the forefront of my mind while occupying.
That first line (after the German) resounds with truth: “We are living through a long anti-1960’s”.
In a brief sketch of the work as a whole, Simon Critchley states his idea about faith and, I am tempted to say, his belief about belief. This meta-claim of his is that only those who doubt their faith can have it. Only those placed in the uncomfortable position of lacking a guarantee of their affirmation can have faith. Only those who are in a position of weakness and *subjection* (by another) can be truly ethical subjects: “[F]aith is the enactment of the self in relation to an infinite demand that both exceeds my power and yet requires all my power” (p.18). A subject, a self, is only what it is in relation to a demand that it act or believe this way or that. Not a source in itself, something beyond the self pushes it, compelling it and driving it.
Reading Simon Critchley’s latest book The Faith of the Faithless is like receiving some of the most relevant currents from past intellectuals for our problems today. Government and consent, autonomy and violence, faith and ethics weave together into a story informing the trajectory we are racing along, all the while the impetus to act responsibly with thought and careful reflection race along with us. The central concern to the book as I read it is to articulate the basis for a faith that we can believe in today, even amidst the seemingly insurmountable apathy and nihilism preventing a commitment to a positive future. Nihilism is not a mode of thinking to be rejected in favor of a happy optimism or a comforting belief but thought through. The pervasiveness of disenchantment with the state of the world, the rush of stimulation at the sight of the latest thinly-veiled fantasy apocalypse story followed by an “oh well, I got to go back to work”, is a serious concern not to simply attack but grapple with. Such is the over-arching motivation behind this work: to provide a theoretico-religious faith when faith is in such short supply and understandably so.