Whose Idea Was it to Perform a 2 1/2 Hour Sartre Play at this Year’s Fringe????

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Here is the website for the Fringe show in which I’ll performing at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe Festival.

The play follows the existential journey of Hugo Barine, a young, militant intellectual anarchist, who leaves the comforts of his wealthy American life to join the IRA cause in the 80s. Taken in by the IRA, he is soon given his first chance to really act. He is commissioned to assassinate ‘Moriarty’, a leader within the IRA’s political wing, Sinn Fein. But as Hugo soon discovers, doing one’s duty is never black and white. Even the purest of motives, the quickest of actions, the most final of outcomes are marred by ambiguity.

This production is a re-written version of the original. Much liberty has been taken in the rewrites, but the existential kernel of the Sartrean classic remains… although the PCF would have probably hated our IRA-inspired version even more than the original!

Come and check it out, if you’ll be in the Edinburgh area in August :)

The Lie that Tells the Truth… Which is More Lies: Immanence, Signification, and Fiction (pt.1)

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*This is hopefully the beginning of a short series of posts, but I make no guarantees that I’ll not procrastinate and then eventually drop off… :)

Last night, I was re-reading what is, for the most part, in my opinion, an excellent essay by Daniel Barber. The essay was included in the After the Postsecular and the Postmodern collection by Smith and Whistler (Here is a review that I did a while back on the volume). Entitled “Secularism, Immanence, and the Philosophy of Religion,” the essay argues that both ‘religion’ and ‘secular’ are fictive significations that Christianity has created in its establishment of transcendence. To be more precise, for Barber (citing the work of Daniel Boyarin), Christianity’s novelty is precisely in its creation of belief-based religion as a serial category. He of course is not ignorant of the existence of the cumulative cultural practices prior to Christianity’s emergence that are now classified as ‘religion.’ However, as he notes, “[Such] practices were not understood as modes of belonging to something called ‘religion’” (153). It was only after Christianity’s emergence that belief became the barometer by which its own, and hence other systems’, validity would be measured; the latter accomplished through the identification and differentiation of and between orthodoxy and heresy.

Once the plane of religion had been erected, a standard of judgment was instituted: only those systems and/or persons who have right belief are deemed acceptable; the rest, heretical. In Barber’s words, “Right Christian belief emerges only in tandem with wrong belief; Christianity dialectically constitutes itself by constituting heresies… There must be a determinate other, a determinate outside, if there is to be a determination of a Christian inside” (155) It is, therefore, the invention of religion at the hands of Christianity that prepared the way for an alternate plane to also be invented. The alternate plane under consideration is the ‘secular.’ In one sense, what this means is that Christianity had already unwittingly prepared a doxological space of opposition to itself in its own self-constitution. It also means that the secular, as that series which sees itself in opposition to religion, is itself caught within a pre-constituted logic of transcendence. Failing to view itself as ‘an enactment,’ the secular makes universal and ahistorical claims, as though it were governed by a primal and pure logic; it claims itself as the discourse of the Real – the genitive here can mean that (1) the secular derives from the Real, (2) the secular attests to the Real, and (3) the secular is the Real. This installation of the secular is viewed by Barber as the creation of a transcendent plane “insofar as it provides a point of reference that stands outside and above every particular formation of life” (159). Assuming itself as the exceptional discourse, the secular neglects its own character as invented.

Therefore, both religion and the secular are invented significations that establish transcendent planes (or ‘vantages) from which judgments (in the Kantian sense) are made. In other words, they are master discourses that set parameters for signification. But signification, as such, is not something to bemoan. As Barber notes, signification is unavoidable. However, for Barber (and on this point I am in full agreement), rather than signification being wedded to a transcendent logic (as in the cases of religion and secularity), it must be “subjected to the rigors of immanence” (167). What this means is a deconstructive process of invention and disruption must guide signification. Positing a Spinozist-type immanence, Barber claims that the latter is excessive, and as such properly unnameable. It is that plane of which Deleuze speaks in his essay, “Immanence: a life”: it is ‘sheer power, utter beatitude.’ Only by thinking from this transcendental field can signification avoid establishing ontological hierarchy.

Immanence is therefore viewed as unavoidably productive (and thus signifying) and also excessively resistant to nominal capture. Atelic in nature, immanence does not posit permanent valuations, but rather it experiments with creative fictions. Religion and secular are thus, from the vantage of an immanent logic, fictive significations produced by a necessary power of immanence. This is not to say that religion and secular are necessary in se; just that the process which invented them is. The way forward for Barber is therefore not to fight against either religion or the secular but rather to bypass them altogether through perpetual signification. In his words, “[The way forward] is not to not name immanence, but to keep naming it. It is not to say that the dominant signification is false, but to exercise what Deleuze calls ‘the powers of the false,’ the capacity to turn the falsity of the necessarily produced fiction of immanence against immanence’s capture by the purportedly true fiction” (170). What I take this to mean is that signification is the lie that tells the truth. That is, signification is that process of creation and disruption that both invents concepts for use but that also realizes that such concepts are fictions… they are tools… they are placeholders – tools and placeholders that aid in further creation and that tame the excess of immanence’s unbounded and indeterminate productivity.

While some of the above was deliberate interpretation of Barber’s article, I believe it was a fairly faithful rendering of the essay. That said, there are a few points from the essay that I want to dwell on a bit further in the coming days/weeks: (1) the problem with naming immanence’s surplus ‘Nature’, (2) the way in which significations are tools, (3) the relationship between ‘concept’ and ‘signification’, and (4) for lack of a better term just now, meta-signification.

The Ethics of Eating Meat

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So the NYT had an essay contest awhile back concerning the ethics of eating meat. The all-too-simple task was to write an essay with the godlike rhetorical aptitude to convince Peter Singer to down an In-N-Out burger on the spot. Naturally, my essay was not chosen, although looking at the “winners”, I don’t exactly feel neglected. Here’s my essay (note: this is not a sustained reflection, but more of an extemporaneous thought experiment, i.e. allow your criticisms time to cool off before rampaging):

The quandaries of meat-eating. Many have come before this question, presenting the maxims of sundry ethical theories, and failed. To recapitulate: Utilitarianism relies on an ad hoc dismissal of animal happiness, otherwise it is clear that animals outnumber humans. Natural law theories disintegrate in the face of nature, red in tooth and claw. Situationism and other consequentialist theories fail to stand up to the sheer immensity of a death-conscious ethics. The problem with these theories, I believe, is first and foremost methodological. Rather than looking to heaven’s impeccable logic or earth’s ravish efficiency for an answer, let us analyze our general habits of reasoning in this regard. We should analyze how we reason about this matter already, and avoid the temptation of a golden calf.

To begin, animal torture appears obviously wrong to our sensibilities. And yet the death of animals, in abstracto, is less of a natural evil than human death. Why is this? The differend is key to understanding the ethics of meat-eating.

First, it is clear that stepping on an ant and killing a human being are acts which feature severely different moral import. Without a doubt, ants “feel pain” in the sense of sensory reception, i.e. the instinctual tendency to experience harm as unpleasant. Humans also feel pain in this way, though I contend that this is only the minimum case in which humans experience pain. In addition, humans also have a “surplus pain” added on via a self-inscribed ability to reflect self-consciously on pain. This might be called “the horror of pain.” Animals are ignorant of this phenomenon.

So what? Well, when translated into the realm of actual consumption of (hopefully, previously) living beings, the much more ominous specter of “death” haunts our reasoning. Is our reasoning above concerning single-tiered animal pain and two-tiered human pain proportional when moved to the realm of carnivorous activity? I believe it is. Pain is clearly to be avoided, ethically-speaking. Animals avoid it via adaptive processes in the nervous system, and humans, in addition to this sensory reception, avoid pain in surplus because it is the handmaiden of death – a fact they are only aware of because of the aforementioned meta-consciousness. This latter fact, and not the unconscious adaptive mechanism as such, is what truly gives human pain its moral significance. Death retroactively imbues pain with its immanent seriousness.

Finally, what advantage does this approach give us in regard to the ethical question of meat-eating? Well, for starters, it allows us without reserve to condemn the various practices of animal torture (including, in my view, hunting among more obvious activities). If humans can directly sympathize with animal pain qua sensory reception (first-tier pain), then they should admit unequivocally to their past mistakes as a dominant species. Any human, therefore, who finds joy in inflicting pain on animals is no different than a modern sociopath (i.e., first-tier pain is equivalent between animals and humans). However, without the surplus pain added on via human self-consciousness of death and mortality, I do not see why the selective death and consumption of animals can achieve the sacred weight of human life (a move which also necessarily forbids cannibalism, thankfully). This is, therefore, a careful, responsible carnivorous activity with the foundation of philosophical resolve.

Meillassoux, Part Deux (or Dieu?)

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Anyone who knows me understands that Quentin Meillassoux’s somewhat bizzaro rise to philosophical fame remains my singularly important academic interest. He captured our speculative hearts with After Finitude, and then dashed our collective hopes with the qualitatively insane excerpts from The Divine Inexistence… or so goes the dominant narrative. Anyway, his newest work, The Number and the Siren, has been recently translated and is available from Urbanomic, and it features a reading of French poet Stephane Mallarme’s Un Coup de Des (A Throw of the Dice…), and how the latter is basically a one-upping of Jesus and the entire Christian project. Wait, what? Here’s a snippet of Adam Kotsko’s ridiculously awesome review:

Yet in light of The Number and the Siren, I don’t think it’s really accurate to say that Meillassoux is embracing or appropriating Christianity. What he’s really trying to do is much bolder and, one might say, more insane: He wants to do Christianity one better. He wants to create something more powerful than Christianity, something that would radicalize Christianity’s wildest hopes — and that would deliver, insofar as it’s based on the radical contingency of the universe rather than on the illusion of a transcendent God.

Bloggers, the Future of Work, and Theories of Posterity

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Mike Konczal and Peter Frase on Bloggingheads.tv

Mike Konczal (aka the mighty Rortybomb) and Peter Frase (aka editor of Jacobin Mag), two of my absolute favorite bloggers on the internets, recently engaged in an iteration of Bloggingheads.tv’s Fireside Chats. The entire discussion is fantastic as expected, but of special note is the discussion of the future of work in a post-capitalist social formation, and the reference to Frase’s brilliant Anti-Star Trek post from awhile back. Do engage, dear readers.

Edit: If anyone knows how to embed this clip in wordpress, that’d be of some assistance.

Kant, Kant, Kant… Here We Go…

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Here are a few thoughts I’ve recently had on Kant. He’s starting to become a larger figure in my thesis, so I’ve been tackling the Prolegomena as well as some secondary literature surrounding the central claims in his transcendental system, particularly those dealing with the imagination…

For Kant, objects of experience are ‘in’ space and time. Space and time are the a priori forms of sensible intuition. They are the ‘formal’ conditions that enable cognition to experience objects. Sensible objects thus accord with the principles of intuition in that the latter prescribe the principles of the former upon them.

There is an immediate aporia that arises with Kant’s assertion that objects of experience are ‘in’ space and time. It has to do with language; specifically the use of the preposition ‘in’. It might be that Kant was merely running up against the limits of language. But nevertheless, the point remains that his choice to employ a spatial metaphor has far-reaching implications, whether intended or not.

For Kant, the assertion that space and time are the only forms of possible intuition is a basic fact that he remarks must be accepted as ‘just so’. As he remarks in Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysics, “During an investigation of the pure elements of human cognition (containing nothing empirical), I first succeeded after long reflection to distinguish and separate with reliability the pure elementary concepts of sensibility (space and time) from those of the understanding [emphasis added]” (§39). This assertion is found in the “Appendix” to the “Main Transcendental Question, Second Part,” addressing the possibility of a pure natural science, and it is regarded as a basic fact that is incapable of further explanation (see CPR, B 145-146). In this section of the Prolegomena, Kant sets forth what he sees as one of the most crucial questions for transcendental philosophy: “How is nature itself possible” (§36)? To answer this question, Kant believes that two elucidating questions first need to be addressed: (1) how is nature materially possible? and (2) how is nature formally possible? Kant answers the first thusly:

[Nature is materially possible] by means of the constitution of our sensibility, in accordance with which our sensibility is affected in its characteristic way by objects that are in themselves unknown to it and that are wholly distinct from said appearances (§36)

His answer to the second question is that

[Nature] is possible [in the formal sense] only by means of the constitution of our understanding, in accordance with which all these representations of sensibility are necessarily referred to one consciousness, and through which, first, the characteristic manner of our thinking, namely by means of rules, is possible, and then, by means of these rules, experience is possible – which is to be wholly distinguished from insight into objects in themselves (§36)

The second question, and subsequent answer, require much inspection, but at the present moment, we are most concerned with how nature is materially possible. This is because the formal conditions for the possibility of nature pertain to the understanding, whereas, at present, our inquiry is primarily concerned with Kant’s musings on objects of experience ‘in’ space and time. For Kant, the latter is an investigation firstly of sensibility.

Thinking back to Kant’s answer to his posed question about how nature is materially possible, there are a few striking points that are noticed. First, nature is materially possible by the ‘constitution of our sensibility’. That is to say, nature is possible in its material appearances as it accords with the sensibility (over against the understanding and/or reason more generally). In other words, the faculty of cognition that allows for the possibility of nature to be represented to a consciousness is sense-intuition. Second, this possibility is predicated on the affective encounter between sense-cognition and (possible) objects. Third, these possible objects of experience are unknown in themselves. Only their appearance to a given cognition as the latter represents its intuition of the encounter to itself might be ‘known’. Fourth and last, the objects in themselves are said to be ‘wholly distinct’ from their appearance.

[perhaps it’d be good to analyze each of the four points...]

Not being able to address each point in detail at the moment, it will be sufficient to note that, for Kant, the above points together indicate that nature is – materially – the ‘sum total of appearances’. In other words, ‘nature’ (in the material sense) is the result of an encounter between intuition and phenomena. It is the prescribed effect of cognition representing sensibility to itself.

But why must it be accepted that objects of experience are ‘in’ space and time? Is this not a spatial metaphor that already assumes a particular determinate and determining paradigm? A paradigm that (1) presupposes that space and time themselves require no genetic explanation as determinations of anterior ontological processes and that (2) forces one to interpret intuition as a schema by which objects are ‘sensed’ derivatively (i.e. secondarily) in relation to primary determining forms, thereby all but destroying any ‘force of the elemental’ that might inhere within processes in a transcendental field? If this is so then the supposed affect, and thus effect(s), of the sentiendum on the sensible are merely illusory – there is no direct affective relation between the two fields. There is only a psuedo-affective relation between the two, whereby objects of experience fit into a prefabricated formal set of conditions. In other words, objects are always only already mediated through intuition’s reflection on itself and on its primary prescription of the formal conditions that allow for such ‘access’ to occur. The word ‘access’ is being used ironically here. For this ‘access’ is only access in a very specious sense. Without a direct relation between sensibility and the sentiendum there can be no point of access in any meaningfully affective sense, and as such, what becomes apparent is that Kant was merely outlining the self-enclosure of one’s possible experience of oneself intuiting oneself. And it is on this point where the charge of idealism does seem to appropriately apply.

[But Kant cannot merely be dismissed as a subjective idealist in the vein of Berkeley. For he is often described as being an ‘empirical realist’. To what extent does this ascription apply? In what ways was Kant a self-avowed ‘realist’? How could he still makes claims to objectivity? etc........]

And here are some thoughts on the imagination in Kant:

According to Strawson, the imagination is that which represents the ‘nonactual’. It is the synthesis of past ‘impressions’ or past intuitions and future anticipated possibilities that allows for present perceptions to be united by concepts of the understanding. This seemingly pre-eminent role of the imagination would seem to indicate that it has primacy in relation to sensibility and the understanding. But in fact, just when Kant approaches such a move, he backs off in favor of placing the understanding in the more prominent position. Not prominent in scope, for the imagination clearly has a larger possible scope of influence. Rather, the understanding’s prominence is qualitative. It has a greater importance in that it plays the key role in cognition’s effort to approach objects of experience truthfully. This is because the imagination is a great source of error. Whereas in his ‘Fourth Meditation’ Descartes describes judgment-errors as deriving from the will exceeding the understanding in haste, Kant would argue that it is the imagination, with its tendency towards ‘daydreaming’ beyond the limits of experience, that is the cause of error. Therefore, the understanding is given the role of keeping the imagination ‘in check’. Thus, in the last instant, although the imagination is the grand synthesizer of sensibility and the understanding, it is the latter which truly sets the bounds of the revelry of the imagination and limits cognition entirely within the sphere of experience (§35).

An Unlikely Hegelian

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The true philosophic contemplation, on the contrary, finds its satisfaction in every enlargement of the not-Self, in everything that magnifies the objects contemplated, and thereby the subject contemplating. Everything, in contemplation, that is personal or private, everything that depends upon habit, self-interest, or desire, distorts the object, and hence impairs the union which the intellect seeks. By thus making a barrier between subject and object, such personal and private things become a prison to the intellect.

- Bertrand Russell, The Problems of Philosophy

 

Umm, I hate to be that guy, but doesn’t Russell’s critique of Kant sound a little like, I don’t know, Speculation, and in the Hegelian sense no less? I know he’s coming from the vantage point of a defense of the correspondence theory of truth (the previous chapter of TPOP), but it’s interesting to see how the two historically opposed schools might find a common ground in the critique of correlationism.

Nucleus: A Trip into the Heart of Matter… and More Science Stuff

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Well, this is slightly off-beat for this webspace, but part of my funding package at the moment includes an internship with Dundee University Press. At the moment, I am working on marketing for the new edition of Nucleus: A Trip into the Heart of Matter by Ray Mackintosh, Jim Al-Khalili, Bjorn Jonson, and Teresa Pena.

Nucleus is an accessible and informative story of the most recent discoveries in nuclear physics. While this work is intended for popular consumption, there is also plenty contained therein that even the more academic reader can glean from. For me personally, what I find most interesting are the introductory discussions of quantum biology. A relatively new field, quantum biology seeks to tap into the quantum ‘hanky-panky’ which essentially affects the ‘way nature works’. As Philip Ball explains, quoting MIT physicist, Seth Lloyd, “A better understanding of how quantum effects are maintained in living organisms could help researchers to achieve the elusive goal of quantum computation. “Or perhaps we can make better energy-storage devices or better organic solar cells.”

Of course, Nucleus doesn’t spend much time developing the early findings of this somewhat elusive field. But it does lay some necessary groundwork that contributor, theoretical physicist, television presenter, and popular scientist Jim Al-Khalili will later develop in his upcoming work Quantum Life: How Fundamental Physics is Revolutionising Biology (Bantam, to be published Sep 2013/2014).

All that to say, it’s an interesting work that deserves to be looked into by persons of all sorts.

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