Tuesday, September 25, 2007

I think of writing and philosophy as being closer to producing tools or making an artwork

sixfootsubwoofer Says: September 21, 2007 at 11:24 pm
Thank you, Dan and larvalsubjects, for giving such detailed replies to my queries. It was very encouraging for me to have my concerns addressed so directly and thoughtfully.
Dan reminded me of how “philosophical revelations” are not just directed at or akin to artistic endeavors but are, in Nietzsche sense, always already artistic”, and that is precisely what drove me toward philosophy and theory. As a young music student, falling in love with Steve Reich led to falling even more deeply in love with Deleuze. A love of film became a fascination with film theory. It’s gotten to the point that an intelligent observer of poetry or novels will find more pleasure in the latest Zizek book than in most recently published novels, I feel. It is the “game playing” of theory that makes it closer to art than science, and this is its strength as well as its weakness.
It has been my goal to be a philosophically and theoretically-informed artist, and I’ve had a bit of success for my efforts. But “success” can only be defined as myself having made works that, to me, include the philosophical criteria I’ve mandated the work to have, and not success as far as making a career for myself as an intellectual artist. I realize now that if I want to make art that addresses and/or includes the themes (or forms, or structures) that theory/philosophy deal with, I will be doing so in a much tighter ghetto than even the most arcane of intellectuals reside. Searching for current artists who stick to Badiou’s Theses On Contemporary Art here in NYC is like rooting for truffles in a desert.
Here, larvalsubjects, is where I feel like I should soldier on, because if you yourself can so poetically express your own doubts and feelings of futility as regards your philosophical practice, then I can find the courage to overcome mine in regards to my artistic practice. I think recently I have been drawn to the rigor and discipline that the study of philosophy necessitates. Artistic practice however must depend on rigor and discipline that somehow creates ruptures within logic and reason, and it seems here that the two disciplines take radically different courses.
Ha, it would be great to see a film made by someone like Slavoj Zizek and/or read a theoretical paper written by someone like Santiago Sierra.
Whereas you think that your feelings of futility in your philosophical pursuits have nothing to do with philosophy and have a personal psychoanalytic reason, I must, as an outsider to philosophy, point out a possible reversal.
Dan’s reminder that “theory is filled with vestiges and contradictions that make a hard nexus harder”, that it should not be viewed as different than set theory or genetics in its opacity to popular understanding, is only half right. In fact, art has dealt extensively with difficult disciplines such as physics, genetics and set theory, if not with a full understanding of them or their recent findings, then with at least an intention to use such disciplines as subject matter, to bring them to attention within the wider culture. Few artists investigate leftist theory unless it is to ironically comment on its unintelligibility. (I, myself, have only gained acknowledgement from works that employ such trivial investigations, while works that attempt to get at the “substance” of theoretical discourse are ignored.) Such artists are scorned in the US and are only paid attention to because of prior, less political or theoretical (not art theory, which truly IS a miasma of pointless game playing) work.
So I am saying, larvalsubjects, that I feel your nagging sense of futility has everything to do with philosophy itself. Philosophy is dying to get out and get some fresh air. It’s crying for attention from those outside its own family. Likewise, “Art” is dying for a new injection of philosophical concepts, a new “fix”. This is not just a problem with smug academicians keeping themselves in jobs, but rather also with an art culture unable or unwilling to comprehend philosophy past the graduate level. This seems to me to be a double disavowal that is need of serious academic, as well as artistic and cultural, investigation.
When Zizek or Badiou speaks here in NYC at an art gallery, the place is packed. They speak at a university or cultural center, and half the seats remain empty. Art has a hunger for philosophy that is insatiable, and I do feel that philosophy could throw out more than the bones that they currently give us. After Baudrillard’s bastardization by artists in the 80’s, it only seems natural that philosophers would be reticent to interact with them. As Zizek says, he is more afraid of being accepted than rejected, and rightly so.
However, Burroughs once said, “painting is miles ahead of writing”. I think now we’re experiencing sort of the opposite: philosophy is light-years ahead of the arts. What will it take to close the gap? Blogs are a great starting point, one for which I am very thankful! But I feel more traditional “outreach” programs could help.
Dan Says: September 23, 2007 at 5:33 pm
I am just back. You say “The thing itself is a launching point into an analysis of its genetic conditions.” The “thing itself” is — as Adorno teases out best — an antimony that cannot stand even on its own terms much less as a beginning foundational object for “genesis.” So, I cannot accept your interpretation of the D passages you mobilize in defense of this interp. The concept of thing that you maintain seems to have an epistemic and ontological perdurance that I see as the sign of an idealistic imposition which then registers itself — in its own mind as it were — as necessary since it has already formalized itself as the structure of interpretation. So you say in your response “By necessity I have in mind an immanent structure or organization that unfolds within a particular thing like a musical theme or style” This is exactly the Kantian having your cake and eating it too — if the object is the “unfolding” of an “immanent structure” then that “expression” is but a redaction of a Platonism, a parole of an extant langue the object manifests. So that is what I mean by your “sublation of the process”: an allusion to the Hegel solution to the circularity intrinsic to the Kantian argument: that is to sacrifice the self-similarity of any instance to a transhistorical process by which — the philosophical return of Christ — reaches (it projects) the absolute. But D — reacting to Hegel through Hyppolite –specific eschews difference under the Absolute for difference without regulation. You reconstitute something like the Cartesian subject in the “object itself” (indeed, I think this is the definition of the Cartesian subject) . But we see from (335). “What is expressed is sense….that was everywhere lacking in Cartesianism.” Sense is not the unfolding of something immanent in the “object itself”: the object itself is not and never was or will be, rather such a concept is an x-ed out term that wishes to act with the x as its shield rather than its denial (Derrida is good on this). The series is not variations on a theme anymore than the rhizome is a flower on a stem.
larvalsubjects Says: September 23, 2007 at 6:50 pm
Dan, I really haven’t the foggiest notion as to what you’re talking about, nor do I see how what I’m claiming is any different than what you’re claiming beyond my use of the rather unfortunate term the “thing itself”. The whole point is that there’s no “thing itself”. It sounds like you’re attributing some belief in a thing in-itself to me, or rather a belief in an unchanging substance lying beneath change. Fortunately I wasn’t looking for you to “endorse” my interpretation or correct me– a practice that implicitly suggests a belief in a text in-itself underlying textual play –but attempting to work out some understanding of Deleuze. If you have something interesting and useful to add beyond rather stale deconstructive gestures and policing, that would be most welcome and even interesting.
larvalsubjects Says: September 23, 2007 at 7:32 pm
Ah, rereading the original paper I see where you’re getting this from. I had entirely forgotten the later portions of the essay, as the issues I’ve focused on since revolve around Deleuze’s accounts of genesis, production, and individuation. Read Bergsonism where Deleuze outlines his method. According to Deleuze, the first step of Bergson’s method of intuition begins with mixed composites or things themselves, and then breaks them down into differences in degree on one side and differences in kind on the other. On a number of occasions Deleuze claims that the concept must coincide with the thing itself. Of course, for Deleuze, concepts are not ideas inside the head, but are themselves beings or entities. Having first approached Deleuze with a background in Kant, Hegel, and Husserl’s notion of categorical intuition, I found such claims deeply mysterious (based on Hegel’s first move in the sense-certainty chapter) and have since struggled with how he could possibly make such claims, given the daunting difficulties with talk of mediation. It seems to me the strongly Derridean reading you make here and elsewhere makes for uncomfortable bedfellows with Deleuze. To put it crudely, where Derrida repetitively shows how something is not possible, how something undermines itself, and how the metaphysics of presence is perpetually contaminated from within, Deleuze seems uninterested in deconstructing the metaphysical tradition or perpetually showing how the conditions of possibility are conditions of impossibility. This does not entail that he advocates a metaphysics of presence– his Bergsonian conception of time and Nietzschean account of becoming and the eternal return seem to be evidence of having moved beyond this tradition –just that he does not go the skeptical route that Derrida seems to go. In this regard, Deleuze seems to differ from all the other French thinkers of his generation in engaging in traditional philosophical projects of explaining the various things in the world (Badiou would be another notable exception), rather than playing the part of the sophist or skeptic.
As an aside, you seem to be attributing far more rigor to my reflections than perhaps they warrant. I suspect this is a sort of transcendental illusion produced by texts on a page, where the intentional structure at work in them suggests a finished product that is all there at once, complete and self-contained, when phenomenologically we can never encounter that whole but must produce it in the time of reading, and where the text itself was the result of a genesis that was itself groping, uncertain, and surprising even to the person doing the writing. I think of writing and philosophy as being closer to producing tools or making an artwork, than as representations. Just as the toolmaker endlessly tinkers with his inventions, finding them somewhat useful for this task, useless for that, needing in modification, interesting to work with, falling flat, etc., I think a lot of what I do here has that sort of status. Hence the name “Larval subjects” for this blog. Or to take up one of the analogies I drew in the paper, different philosophies are akin to the difference between how a dog sees, smells, and hears the world and how a bat senses the world through sonar. Perhaps the best question isn’t whether it is true or false– we’d never ask whether bat sonar is true or false –but rather how such and such a thought allows us to see when we occupy such a thought. On these grounds, I find the sort of engagement you seem to be angling for– a critical and polemical engagement premised on somehow getting it right or conforming to a society of those against the metaphysics of presence –all but useless to what I’m up to.
Dan Says: September 24, 2007 at 10:39 pm
To my own cognition, neither my position nor my intention are those you seem to find in me. That is not to say you are incorrect, but only that these are not my most immediate understanding. To speak affirmatively, my engagement with this material is for joy in participation. In the thinking engagement with the world and you, your blog, and the ideas at hand mostly I get pleasure. I can see in myself — a reflection I do not pursue — a certain conditioned aggression toward the encounter. Still, I would not fully subscribe to either a purity of method or a fixity of truth that you seem to think I desire.
For me, engagement with intensity is an honor and, in the narrow confines of my mind, it is my honor to you, but that, it is clear, does not translate well. Enough, I hope, about my “intentions” and “feelings.” As to my position, I did, it’s true, mention Derrida parenthetically in regard to one facet, but I am not a Derridian and think I disagree with him to the degree I can though I take great pleasure from him and find him - at times - very funny. Indeed, I feel closest to Deleuze though not always the same D you find but close enough for fun — at least fun for me. It’s funny then too for me that you see in me some rigor since I generally find rigor itself unrigorous. Still, I am serious about my comedy of ideas where comedy is the irruption that follows the discovery of the contingency and limit of that which was — perhaps the moment before — self-certain. Still, I fear I have — again — become either opaque or stale and formulaic. Let me tie this, as an anchor, to a quotation from the book I think you may be referencing in your reply, Bergsonism. There he writes (103) "difference is never negative but essentially positive and creative.”
I do not have the French but I could “push” this utterance in a couple ways I think D would want it pushed. These would be quibbles with the word “difference” and the word “essentially” but these would not say anything unanticipated, but the (useful I hope) question would be: what if anything is to be done about the almost invariant tendency of expression to decay into the expressions of the same for — in Peirce’s meaning — pragmatic reasons? That is that what you seemed to see as my Deconstructionist sallies against you are but examples my concern about a tendency that seems resident and recalcitrant in a language as differential and elaborate as D’s — or yours. I am not I hope thereby “deconstructing” a philosophy of differencing but entering into a dialectic of sorts between such a philosophy and its expression. This then asks what might be the aesthetics or rhetorics which most allow thoughts of this order which takes us, by commodious vicus, back to the question of the best expression.

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