Monthly Archives: August 2010

Hume and Sex

There are many Humes out there. There is Hume the epistemologist, or more exactly the epistemologist, according to many in the analytic tradition, whose project failed because he lacked the philosophical resources of the twentieth century—namely, either a Fregean or (late) Wittgensteinian theory of meaning and language. There is Hume the skeptic. Then there is the Hume who is held up as the darling of free market, laissez-faire capitalism. I prefer to think of Hume as a realist, or, and this may express it better, a hyper-realist. Yes Hume is a skeptic, but why is he a skeptic? It doesn’t seem to me that skepticism leads to an anti-realist position. Granted that for Hume habit and custom are integral to what it is possible for us to know. Recall how lost, for Hume, one would be if they were ‘of a sudden transported’ to our world with no established habits or expectations. On my first trip to England I quickly gave up trying to follow the action in a cricket match. Without established habits and customs, which is Hume’s point, one would be lost. But does this mean that all that is real is that which can be identified by habit and custom?  I think not. The experimental approach was very important to Hume, by which he meant the approach that sought to bring about surprises, the unforeseen and unexpected. The very subtitle of Hume’s Treatise tells it all: “Being an Attempt to introduce the experimental method of reasoning into Moral Subjects.” It’s for this reason as well that I’m not inclined to simply label Hume a realist; rather, reality always exceeds what we know, always entails an implied multiplicity that may further support or undermine what we know. This is one of the reasons why I think Hume was unbothered by the missing shade of blue—to identify blue as a real, identifiable color entails a multiplicity that exceeds this identification, a nondenumerable reality inseparable from the denumerable, identifiable reality—hence hyper-realism.

We can get a further sense of Hume’s hyper-realism from an unlikely source—his analysis of sexual passion. As with the other passions, sexual passion also entails a double relation of impressions and ideas. For example, when I feel the passion of pride when my daughter performs brilliantly at a piano recital, the passion is inseparable from the object or idea that is its cause—my daughter’s performance—and the fact that this object is related to the idea of myself, another object—it is my daughter’s performance. At the same time these objects are ‘related to the sensation of the passion’, namely, the pleasure of hearing her perform so well. With sexual passion we have the same double relation. There is the object or idea that is the cause of the pleasing sensation; however, there are two important differences. First, Hume argues that sexual or amorous passion is comprised of three distinct impressions or passions: there is 1) the pleasing sensation arising from beauty, 2) the bodily appetite for generation, and 3) a generous kindness of good-will. Hume points out that the second and third are not easily reconciled. The bodily appetite for generation can easily become the violence of sexual assault, or, less seriously but just as tellingly, it can and frequently does become the basis for the insults one hurls at one another (Hey you motherf…er; shut the f..k up!, etc…). Because the ‘bodily appetite for generation’ is not easily reconciled with kindness and good-will we have the need, Hume stresses, for the pleasing sensation of beauty to function as the ‘medium betwixt kindness and generation.’(Treatise, p. 395). This point is important precisely because the bodily appetite for generation is largely unconcerned for the object that is the source of this pleasure, and hence is unconcerned with its potential demise (a sort of black widow approach if you will). At the other extreme kindness does have concern and care for the object that is the source of pleasure, but it lacks the passion and forcefulness to overcome, on its own, our powerful bodily desires (just note the difficulty in treating sexual offenders and their propensity to recidivism). What is needed to reconcile the two is a composed identity, what Deleuze will call an assemblage or larval subject, that manages to function as the ‘medium betwixt kindness and generation.’ And for Hume beauty is well-equipped for this role since it is an assemblage, a ‘construction of parts’:

If we consider all the hypotheses, which have been form’d either by philosophy or common reason, to explain the difference betwixt beauty and deformity, we shall find that all of them resolve into this, that beauty is such an order and construction of parts, as either by the primary constitution of our nature, by custom, or by caprice, is fitted to give a pleasure and satisfaction to the soul. (Treatise, 299)

This brings us to the second important point concerning sexuality—namely, it is its own object. Hume is clear on this point:

Sex is not only the object, but also the cause of the appetite. We not only turn our view to it, when actuated by that appetite; but the reflecting on it suffices to excite the appetite. But as this cause loses its force by too great frequency, ‘tis necessary it should be quicken’d by some new impulse; and that impulse we find to arise from the beauty of the person; that is, from a double relation of impressions and ideas. (Treatise, 396).

Once again beauty plays a prominent role in Hume’s understanding of sexual passion. Since the sexual passion may be excited merely by reflecting upon the appetite itself, this actuated passion is hence less attached to any specific objects or ideas and can instead become attached to an indeterminate number of objects. In fact, as Hume points out, the sexual passion will lose its force if it is not able to be attached to some new impulse, to some new object, and hence there arises the potential proliferation of sexualized objects and fetishes as well as the possibility of a serial offender. For Hume, however, this consequence will be avoided if our sexual passions are mediated by the composed and  constructed standards of beauty, by custom and habit; and yet, as stated above, the hyper-real implications of the sexual passions are readily apparent: the realities of our sexual lives and passions presuppose an excess that custom and habit constrains without eliminating. Our sexuality is a source of much that is surprising.

Monism = Pluralism

The path that led James to radical empiricism was neither easy nor straightforward. Its motivation was straightforward enough: Hume failed to account for conjunctive relations and overly stressed disjunctive relations. If a cause and an effect can be experienced as two separate, disjoint entities, then the problem for Hume is to account for their necessary connection, their ‘conjunctive relation’ as James discusses it. But giving ‘full justice to conjunctive relations’ is not straightforward. In particular, the specific problem James sought to address was the classic problem of the one and the many, or in James’s case it was the problem of accounting for how many consciousnesses ‘can be at the same time one consciousness? How can one and the same identical fact experience itself so diversely?’ (Writings 1902-1910, 723). In short, how can one consciousness be both one and a connected series of many consciousnesses? ‘I found myself in an impasse’ (ibid.), James confessed until he gave up, following Bergson, on the logic of the one and the multiple—namely, the logic that there are either singular, multiple identities that are separable and distinct [i.e., atomism], or there is an absolute one.  Pluralism will be how James will refer to this logic that is neither of the one or the multiple, and Deleuze will later refer to it as multiplicity. ‘Reality, life, experience, concreteness, immediacy,’ James argues, ‘use what word you will, exceeds our logic [of the one-multiple], overflows and surrounds it.’ (ibid. 725). James will come to refer to this ‘reality, life, experience, concreteness, [and] immediacy’ that exceeds the logic of the one and the multiple as ‘pure experience’:

My thesis is that if we start with the supposition that there is only one primal stuff or material in the world, a stuff of which everything is composed, and if we call that stuff “pure experience,” then knowing can easily be explained as a particular sort of relation towards one another into which portions of pure experience may enter. (ibid. 1142).

Although James refers to pure experience in a manner that appears to call upon a monism of the One, we ought instead to understand it, as Deleuze and Guattari will in A Thousand Plateaus, as “Monism = Pluralism.” This pure experience is thus not an identifiable One from which the multiple comes about by subtraction; to the contrary, James argues that ‘the separation of it [pure experience] into consciousness and content comes, not by way of subtraction, but by way of addition,’ and thus he adds that ‘a given undivided portion of experience, taken in one context of associates, plays the part of a knower, of a state of mind, of “consciousness”; while in a different context the same undivided bit of experience plays the part of a thing known, of an objective “content.”’ (ibid.). To clarify this point by way of analogy, James argues that just as one point can be on two lines at the intersection so too can ‘the “pure experience” of [a] room [be] a place of intersection of two processes, which connected it with different groups of associates respectively…’ (ibid. 1146). In and of itself, pure experience is the reality that forever exceeds, by the power of conjunction, the power of AND, the realities with which it comes to be identified. As James puts it, ‘the instant field of the present is at all times what I call the “pure” experience. It is only virtually or potentially either object or subject as yet. For the time being, it is plain, unqualified actuality or existence, a simple that.’ (ibid. 1151). The determinate experiences that distinguishes a subject from an object are thus attained not by subtraction from a monolithic pure experience but rather they are attained ‘by way of addition,’ by further differentiating and determining, by the power of AND, a pure experience (pluralism = monism) that is nonetheless ‘plain, unqualified actuality or existence, a simple that.’ This ‘simple that’ is inseparable from objects and our experiences of them, but it is the power of conjunction that allows for new objects, new experiences (such as the religious experiences James famously analyzed), to emerge from within the very heart of the actual itself. It is this heart of the actual that James calls pure experience. As the following quote from James shows, a pure experience is much like an embryonic stem cell. It is an actual cell (as the debate and controversy over ESC research evidences), but is only virtually a determinate cell. Similarly for pure experience:

“Pure experience” is the name which I give to the immediate flux of life which furnishes the material to our later reflection with its conceptual categories. Only new-born babes, or men in semi-coma from sleep, drugs, illnesses, or blows, may be assumed to have an experience pure in the literal sense of that which is not yet any definite what, tho ready to be all sorts of what; full both of oneness and of manyness, but in respects that don’t appear; changing and throughout, yet so confusedly that its phases interpenetrate and no points, either of distinction or of identity, can be caught…But the flux of it no sooner comes than it tends to fill itself with emphases, and these salient parts become identified and fixed and abstracted; so that experience now flows as if shot through with adjectives and nouns and prepositions and conjunctions. (ibid. 782-3).

Agamben will later echo James’s view of pure experience, though for very different reasons (I’ll leave it to others to make the case he’s a radical empiricist), when, in Infancy and History, he argues that ‘A primary experience, far from being subjective, could then only be what in human beings comes before the subject—that is, before language: a ‘wordless’ experience in the literal sense of the term, a human infancy [in-fancy], whose boundary would be marked by language.’

Reagan did it!

In a great op-ed, David Stockman, former director of the Office of Management and Budget under Reagan, lays the current economic crisis at the hands of Reagan. He’s far from the first to do so, but coming from a high-profile former Reagan insider it is damning. This almost reads as if Stockman has been converted after reading Naomi Klein’s Shock Doctrine.

Heidegger and Logic

Having just finished reading Greg Shirley’s recently published book, Heidegger and Logic, I wanted to jot down a few thoughts before they disappear into the fog as I read the next book, and the next one after that. There are numerous strengths in this book. There are the obvious, headline contributions of offering a detailed account of Heidegger’s writings on logic during the Being and Time period, and thereby addressing the charges of those (beginning with the Logical Positivists) who accused Heidegger of being an irrationalist. In addition, what stood out for me was Shirley’s defense of Heidegger against Ernst Tugendhat’s criticism – at least for me it provided a key to connecting the various different arguments of the book. Tugendhat’s criticism, in brief, is that while Heidegger claims that ‘Before being discovered Newtonian laws were neither true nor false’, Heidegger nonetheless claims that these laws are uncovered as universal laws and hence as transcending, as Shirley puts it, ‘any particular instance of uncovering.’ Put in other words, for Shirley Tugendhat accuses Heidegger of not allowing for the ‘possibility that judgements/assertions may exhibit more or less rational justification, and so may more or less correspond to an object.’ (75-6) In short, on Tugendhat’s reading Heidegger fails to distinguish between, or cannot distinguish between, aletheia and apophansis.

For Shirley, however, Tugendhat’s reading of Heidegger reflects a continued adherence to Kantian epistemology whereby knowledge, as Shirley puts it, ‘is asymptotic: regulative ideas perhaps guarantee that absolute knowledge may ever be approached, while the finitude of discursive reason guarantees that it is never actually achieved.’ For Shirley, however, ‘Heidegger has an asymptotic conception of falsity as well: absolute error may be approached but never actually achieved, since even error presupposes that a minimum of intelligibility has been uncovered about which one may prevaricate or otherwise assert a falsehood.’ (76). In other words, the uncovering of an entity discloses this entity just as it is in itself, even if, owing to Dasein’s temporal and spatial finitude this uncovering is in turn ‘always only a dimension or aspect of the thing itself.’ By maintaining an asymptotic approach to both truth and falsity, Heidegger is able to maintain the distinction between aletheia and apophansis.

Following through on his arguments concerning the ‘minimum of intelligiblity’ that is uncovered, Shirley is able to argue quite convincingly that Heidegger’s thought is not only able to accommodate formal, inferential logic, but moreover he is able to justify this logic independently (in contrast to Leibniz, for example) by showing that the logical ground that is stated in a principle (such as the principle of sufficient reason) ‘is simply [the] verbal articulation of something that precedes all assertion and makes all assertion possible in the first place, the temporal structure of being-in-the-world.’ This structure is revealed as it is, but as being-in-the-world it is implicit and requires an abstraction from context in order to make explicit the inferential, consequential structures of being-in-the-world, and hence logic and logical principles. What is distinctive about logic is that the object that is uncovered, and uncovered just as it is and with a ‘minimum of intelligibility’ that provides normative strictures upon how the thought of this object ought to proceed, is thought itself. Heidegger is clear on this point, as Shirley cites Heidegger:

Thinking taken as thinking about something, with any subject-matter, is formal thought, in contradistinction to material, content-relevant thought. This formal thinking is not without an object, but is very much object-oriented, though neutral with respect to content. General logic, as knowledge of formal thinking, is thus formal logic. (Metaphysical Foundations of Logic, 1984 [1928], 33; cited by Shirley, 93).

In the final chapter of Shirley’s book he shows how Heidegger’s thought can equally provide an understanding of the grounds of contemporary logic. All in all, an excellent book and one I’ll return to often.

Endless Conatus

With a deadline for an essay on Deleuze and sex looming I can’t help but read a double entendre into my title. In working toward an understanding of the third kind of knowledge for Spinoza, I need first to address the concept of conatus, which is integrally related to Spinoza’s ethical program. After this post I’ll need to turn my attention to other commitments, though I’ll still throw thoughts related to the economy (which is at a crucial juncture), what I’m reading, etc., onto the blog. Until I can get back to Spinoza here’s some thoughts on conatus:

It may come as a surprise but Nietzsche loved Spinoza. In a letter to his friend Franz Overbeck Nietzsche confessed, ‘I am amazed, utterly enchanted! I have a precursor, and what a precursor! I hardly knew Spinoza…’ This is not to say, of course, that Nietzsche was not critical of Spinoza. He criticized Spinoza’s ‘hocus pocus of mathematical form with which Spinoza clad his philosophy’; he despised Spinoza’s efforts to ‘so naively [advocate] the destruction of the affects through their analysis and vivisection’; and even the concept of conatus was criticized by Nietzsche for unduly stressing self-preservation to the neglect of will to power, of which, Nietzsche claims, ‘the struggle for existence is only an exception.’ Despite these criticisms, Nietzsche finds in Spinoza a precursor because, as Nietzsche puts it in his letter to Overbeck, he makes ‘knowledge the most powerful affect’ and Spinoza ‘denies the freedom of the will, teleology, the moral world-order, the unegoistic, and evil.’ Adding to what has been argued in previous posts regarding Spinoza I want to discuss the relation between conatus and Spinoza’s critique of teleology. This will both mitigate Nietzsche’s concerns and set the stage for a better understanding of the third kind of knowledge.

First to Spinoza’s critique of teleology. This critique is tied to Spinoza’s understanding of appetite, which Spinoza defines as ‘the end for the sake of which we do something’ (4D7). Now this definition seems to rely upon precisely that which Nietzsche claims Spinoza debunks – namely, teleological explanations. But key here is to understand the body that has these appetites. As Spinoza argues, a body that is made up of many smaller bodies, a body with organs such as ours so to speak, will continue to be the same singular body as long as these smaller bodies (or objects) ‘communicate their motions to each other in a certain fixed manner’ (2L3Def.). And again, ‘2L5: If the parts composing an individual become greater or less, but in such a proportion that they all keep the same ration of motion and rest to each other as before, then the individual will likewise retain its nature, as before, without any change of form.’ The end for the sake of which we do something, our appetites, is thus a striving to persevere with a given proportion of motion and rest. Spinoza refers to this as the ‘actual essence of the thing’ (3P7), in contrast to the formal essence of the thing that is ‘the essence of each thing insofar as it exists and produces and effect, having no regard to its duration’. (4Preface). The formal essence of the body is the proportion of motion and rest that is independent of its duration in the face of external objects, objects that would bring about the death of the body if they cause it to lose its proportion of motion and rest. The formal essence of the body is the idea of the body as comprehended under the attribute of extension (as eternal or non-durational), in contrast to the actual essence of the body that does have durational existence and is related to other objects, including objects that will lead to its perishing. Understood in this way a key function or effect of our appetites is to select against objects, to select against excessive differences and determinations, for these differences and determinate objects may undermine the ratio of motion and rest and hence undermine (kill) the very durational existence of the body itself. God, on the other hand, as absolutely indeterminate and self-caused substance is the infinite enjoyment of existing that affirms all differences. God, however, is absolutely indeterminate substance in actu rather than in potentia and thus God does not have to select against difference. God is the absolute affirmation of difference rather than the limited affirmation of difference that characterizes bodies like us.

We are now in a better place to understand Spinoza’s critique of teleology. To make a conscious decision to bring about a certain state of affairs, to act towards a particular end or goal, is not inconsistent with either Spinoza’s claim that the mind can have no effect on the body (5Preface), nor is it inconsistent with his claim that our decisions are determined by our appetites (1Appendix). It is rather straightforward why this is so for Spinoza: any conscious decision itself is determined by the process of selecting against difference—that is, it is determined by our appetites. Moreover, this tendency to select against difference characterizes both the mind and the body (which follows from Spinoza’s famous 2P7); consequently, the conscious decision to bring about some state of affairs is simply the mental counterpart to a bodily process of selecting against difference. Spinoza’s critique of teleology is thus not a critique intended to void of sense our conscious decisions to do things. Such decisions are not illusory; rather, his critique ought instead to be understood in the manner of a Kantian critique – namely, it is an attempt to reveal the conditions for the possibility of making such goal-oriented decisions at all. And the condition for this possibility is the tendency to select against difference; or, as Spinoza defines it, it is our appetites; and it is this understanding of appetites and selecting against difference which most appealed to Nietzsche. Connecting this to an earlier post, our ultimate appetite is not, contrary to Nietzsche’s reading of Spinoza, simply to persevere within the fixed proportion of motion and rest that is the formal essence of our body, but rather it is to affirm the absolutely indeterminate condition that does not select against difference, that does not act towards a particular end or goal. To state it in yet another way, our conscious decisions to act towards a particular end or goal supervenes upon a conatus that is endless, that is absolutely indeterminate and not to be confused with any determinate ends or goals. Understanding conatus in this way is crucial, as I read Spinoza, to making sense of the third kind of knowledge.

Spinoza Upside Down

Steven Shaviro’s post lays out quite nicely the contrast, as he sees it, between Spinoza-Deleuze and Whitehead. In essence this boils down to what role, if any, the virtual plays in their work. As a longtime admirer of Whitehead’s work as well as Shaviro’s reading of Whitehead, I’d like to think that in the end we agree on more than we disagree. I do want to address some of Shaviro’s concerns and see this as an opportunity to clarify some things. To begin, I want to discuss two claims that I would support and I believe Shaviro would support as well:

  1. There are nothing but modes or actual entities.
  2. The turn to the virtual should not be a turn away from actual entities and modes, and if it is there should be no such turning.

As for the first claim I take seriously Deleuze’s claim that his task was to make substance turn on its modes rather than have the modes turn on the substance they are modifications of. This may indeed entail turning Spinoza’s thought upside down, or unhinging it to use Shaviro’s phrase. Deleuze himself appears to echo Shaviro’s criticism of Spinoza that “There is no substance, nothing behind the modes or affections, for there to be modes or affections of,’ when in Difference and Repetition he claims that “Spinoza’s substance appears independent of the modes, while the modes are dependent on substance, but as though on something other than themselves.” (DR 40). As Shaviro states much the same point, “Spinozian substance is still a subject for all the predicates, a monism behind the pluralism.” I may therefore be going too far, even for Deleuze, in my own reading of Spinoza, but it is certainly true of Deleuze’s project, and so that will be my primary focus. First, I agree with Whitehead’s claim, which I discuss in an earlier post, that ‘apart from the things that are actual, there is nothing.’ (Process and Reality, p. 53). So I’ll elaborate a bit upon my reading of Whitehead and hopefully clarify my understanding of the virtual (and I’m inclined to cease using the term altogether and use problematic, dynamic system at the edge of chaos, or some other such term to avoid what has become the almost automatic association of the virtual with being something out of this world, to borrow Hallward’s apt phrase).

As I read Whitehead and Deleuze I see a Humean problematic – namely, what is important are not the terms (impressions and ideas) but the relations between these terms. This will loom large in Deleuze’s work, and not just in his reading of Hume whereby he stresses the significance for Hume of the fact that relations are external to their terms. Understood in this way, and as I argue at greater length in Deleuze’s Hume, a multiplicity is not to be confused with a material or substantial substrate but rather with the relations between actual terms, relations that are irreducible to the terms themselves. In Difference and Repetition, for example, distinct individual languages actualize a multiplicity, but for Deleuze a linguistic multiplicity, as he calls it, that is nothing less than the “reciprocal connections between phonemes.” It is thus the connections and relations between phonemes that is actualized as a language, and yet the phonemes are nonetheless inseparable from the language itself. The phonemes themselves are actual and as such can be objects of study. A language thus does not predicate upon the phonemes but are an emergent property of the relations between phonemes. Similarly for Whitehead he offers what he calls a “cell-theory of actuality.” (PR 256). In the same way that Deleuze argues for multiplicities that are inseparable from the state of affairs that actualize them – the relations among phonemes are inseparable from the diverse languages that actualize them – so too for Whitehead ‘each ultimate unit of fact is a cell-complex, not analyzable into components with equivalent completeness of actuality.’ (ibid.). In other words, and in line with Whitehead’s project to break with traditional philosophy’s long-established tendency to claim that what is ultimate, what grounds everything else, are facts, he will instead claim that there are nothing but actual entities and facts are simply cell-complexes, societies, or emergent properties (though he does not use this term of course) of actual entities. Moreover, as Shaviro points out, actual entities are not complete in themselves, for complete actual entities are perished actual entities, and thus they are always in the process of prehending and being prehended by other actual entities (a point Deleuze stresses about Whitehead in his book on Leibniz).

The lesson I draw from this in understanding the problematic is that it is not outside the actual, nor do I think it undermines the actual; rather, it is the power of relations, or what Deleuze will call the power of “and” that problematizes and intensifies the actual (a problematized or aberrant actual) while being inseparable from it. As Whitehead understands this point, the established facts are “societies [cell-complexes] in an environment [that] will constitute its orderly element, and the non-social actual entities will constitute its element of chaos.” (PR 131). These anti-social or nomadic actual entities are what problematize facts and, given a sufficient uprising (so to speak), they may very well lead to the displacement of this fact by another fact. One can see here one of the many reasons for the profound influence of Whitehead on Latour (not to mention the influence of occasionalism which Graham Harman rightly pointed out to me). This is in effect how I read a Spinoza where substance would indeed turn on the modes; namely,  substance would not be something behind the modes but rather something between them, the power of ‘and’ and the nondenumerable that is distinct from the modes while being inseparable from then.

What then are the implications of all this for the second claim, for the ethical move from the actual to the virtual? As Shaviro shows, Whitehead secularized God and hence placed God on an equal footing to all other actual entities and therefore removed the need for a return to a higher ideal. The same secularization needs to be done of the virtual, Shaviro argues, and if we do so we would then no longer need the move to the virtual. I agree. As I’ve tried to argue in an earlier post and again in Deleuze’s Hume, the virtual is already secularized and is not out of this world as Hallward and Badiou each argue (though in differet ways). The virtual is only determinate and identifiable as actualized, but then it is actualized as a problematized actual, an aberrant actual as the nomadic anti-social actual entities disrupt the equilibrium of the well-ordered society (to continue with Whitehead’s example) and thus the virtual (or problematic) functions as the relationships between actual entities that accounts for their birth and perishing. To clarify what I mean by way of an example, and more importantly to clarify what is meant by a move to the virtual or to multiplicity, I’ll return to an example I used in a previous post. If we take David Sudnow’s efforts to learn improvisational jazz, he is in essence attempting to learn to play jazzy melodies without an already written score. His difficulty in learning to play, which he describes in intricate (some might say excruciating) detail, was to know where his hands should go next in playing a melody. He found himself again and again returning to the well-established jazz chords and melodic runs that his instructor gave him, but found as he watched his instructor play that he always did more than that. What is this more? For Sudnow it was many more ways for his hands to go than the actual paths and patterns he had learned. However, he eventually discovered that when he was playing improvisational jazz he didn’t need to prefigure where his hands would go but could simply begin where he actually was. Sudnow uses the term “melodying” to capture the active, processual nature of playing improvisational jazz, of melodying amidst the actual (where one’s had actually is). Deleuze offers a related example in Logic of Sense when he discusses the actor who counter-actualizes their role. In contrast to Sudnow’s efforts to play improvisational jazz and hence make it up as he goes along, the actor performs a predetermined role with already written lines, but by counter-actualizing this role they are not escaping it but are making it active, individuating it, and they do so by tapping what Deleuze calls in his “Methods of Dramatization” talk, “sub-represenational dynamisms.” These dynamisms entail intensities that are not to be confused with the determinate and singular, with the determinate role. As Deleuze puts it in his talk:

Though experience always shows us intensities already developed in extensions, already covered over by qualities, we must conceive, precisely as a condition of experience, of pure intensities enveloped in a depth, in an intensive spatium that preexists every quality and every extension. Depth is the power of pure unextended spatium [or what I’ve been calling the power of absolutely indeterminate susbstance with respect to Spinoza]; intensity is only the power of differentiation or the unequal in itself, and each intensity is already difference, of the type E-E’, where E in turn refers to e-e’, and e to ε-ε’, etc. Such an intensive field constitutes an environment of individuation. (DI 97)

The turn to the virtual is therefore not a turn from the actual but rather an intensification and individuation of the actual. The actor individuates the role rather than passively reciting lines; Sudnow is individuating a melodic line when he is melodying a jazz piece rather than playing a written score (though even here, as with the actor, a performer can individuate the piece through the ‘power of differentiation’); and a speaker’s language is individuated by the intensive relations of phonemes. At this point one might ask how this relates to doing philosophy and in particular to the ethical concerns of Spinoza and Deleuze. My examples so far have been actors, musicians, and speakers of a language. Deleuze was asked much the same question by Ferdinand Alquié after his “Method of Dramatization” talk. ‘What struck me,’ Alquié says, ‘is that all the examples he [Deleuze] uses are not properly philosophical examples.’ Deleuze responds by saying that this criticism hit ‘home more forcefully,’ and says, ‘I do believe in the specificity of philosophy, and furthermore, this belief of mine derives from you yourself.’ (Alquié supervised Deleuze’s work on Spinoza). In particular, for Deleuze the ‘theory of systems’ he is developing is philosophical, and not scientific, and thus it is a ‘philosphical system, with its own dynamisms, precursors, larval subjects, specific to it.’ Philosophy thus has its specific dynamisms, multiplicities, and processes of individuation. Levi Bryant’s work is exemplary in detailing and applying the systems approach to understanding objects. I’ve argued along similar lines in Philosophy at the Edge of Chaos; and Manuel Delanda and Brian Massumi, less I forget, forged this insight even earlier. But what is true of philosophy as a distinctive, individuated system, is equally true for Spinoza and our understanding of an individual life. A determinate, singular life likewise has its own multiplicities that are tapped when one is living a joyful, intense, and individuated life, and this living (a la melodying for Sudnow) is inseparable from what one is actually doing within their determinate life. Whether or not this brings idealism back in, I’d like to think not, but as it is I’ve only sketched the general contours and admit that more needs to be done.

Eternity and Duration in Spinoza

In the context of Spinoza’s famous letter to Lodewijk Meyer (Letter 12) where Spinoza lays forth the differences, as he sees it, between the infinite and the finite, substance and modes, Spinoza makes an important distinction between eternity and duration:

The difference between Eternity and Duration arises from this. For it is only of Modes that we can explain the existence by Duration. But [we can explain the existence] of Substance by Eternity, i.e., the infinite enjoyment of existing, or (in bad Latin) of being.

This letter is important for many reasons, but it helps to make sense of Spinoza’s ethical concerns that were covered in an earlier post (here). As we saw, Spinoza’s concern was to overcome misery and suffering, and to do so, as he ended the first paragraph of TIE, by determining whether ‘there was something whose discovery and acquisition would afford me a continuous and supreme joy to all eternity.’ Now we find Spinoza equating substance both with eternity and ‘the infinite enjoyment of existing,’ or being [I resist here the temptation to argue for Spinoza as a precursor to Heidegger’s understanding of the disclosedness of being as the temporalization of the temporal]. For this reason, among many others, this letter serves as an important bridge between the TIE and the Ethics. In particular, what has caused so many commentators fits in their attempts to understand the final half of Part 5 of the Ethics is that our singular mind itself seems to be understood to be both eternal and unchanging and becomes increasingly eternal as it knows more of God. Among the many propositions of Part 5 that cause problems is P23: ‘The human Mind cannot be absolutely destroyed with the Body, but something of it remains which is eternal.’ To resolve this difficulty it is important to differentiate between the something of the mind that remains and the mind that Spinoza defines as being nothing but the idea of the body, and hence the mind that would be destroyed with the body. With this differentiation we bring into play the eternity/duration distinction. Thus the Demonstration to P23 reads:

In God there is necessarily a concept, or idea, which expresses the essence of the human Body (by P22), an idea, therefore, which is necessarily something that pertains to the essence of the human mind (by 2P13). But we do not attribute to the human Mind any duration that can be defined by time, except insofar as it expresses the actual existence of the Body, which is explained by duration, and can be defined by time, i.e. (by 2P8C), we do not attribute duration to it except while the Body endures. However, since what is conceived, with a certain eternal necessity, through God’s essence itself (by P22) is nevertheless something, this something that pertains to the essence of the Mind will necessarily be eternal, q.e.d.

To restate this drawing from earlier posts, the human Mind that is eternal is not the determinate, identifiable mind, but rather the immanent condition for the possibility of such a determinate identification; it is, in short, the infinite power of self-ordering becoming (the ‘infinite enjoyment of existing’) that allows for the possibility of determinate, singular bodies, and for the determinate singular minds that are the ideas of these bodies. We can also clarify another of Spinoza’s late propositions: ‘He who has a Body capable of a great many things has a Mind whose greatest part is eternal.’ Following from Spinoza’s claim, discussed in an earlier post, that ‘God’s power is his essence’ (1P34), namely the infinite power and enjoyment of existing, we can see that the more one is ‘capable of a great many things’ with one’s body, and hence the less one needs to select against differences, then the more one expresses God’s power and can embrace and affirm the coming into being of other, determinate identities. Much as a political State in Spinoza’s mind is strengthened by allowing for the freedom to philosophize since this freedom better facilitates the possibility of allowing for the immanent order of nature (or God) to become determinate and known, similarly for Spinoza the more one is able to do with one’s body, the more one allows for the possibility that the order immanent to self-ordering becoming can become known and determinate. So when Deleuze asks the question, “what can a body do?” he too is tapping into the heart of Spinoza’s ethical concerns.

But how does all this help us in overcoming our attachment to things that are ‘liable to many variations and which we can never fully possess’? If I were to add biking and swimming to my regular runs and become, like some of my good friends, a triathlete, would I become more eternal? The short answer to this question is no. A full answer would entail returning to Letter 12 and to the discussion of the difference between substance and modes. But to end this post with a few suggestions, and to recall the notion of Deleuzian supervenience sketched in an earlier post, it would be a mistake for Spinoza if we were to equate the eternity with the precise, determinate activities of the body. This would be to confuse modes with substance, and hence not rightly understand substance; or it would be to confuse the axiomatic with the problematic upon which the axiomatic supervenes, and likewise fail to grasp the inseparability of problems from their solutions. As Deleuze argued, the problematic, or minor science, would be nothing if it were not for major science and the axiomatic, just as major science would be nothing without the problematic. Similarly for Spinoza, the question ‘what can a body do?’ is to be understood as the problematic that requires the modifications and affections of determinate bodies and minds to be anything just as our determinate bodies and minds require the problematic as the ‘infinite enjoyment of existing.’ To overcome our attachment to things that are ‘liable to many variations and which we can never fully possess’ thus entails a move from the actual and determinate, to what this body is actually doing or has done, to the problematic and the virtual, the body as an eternity that is not to be confused with the determinate and which is indeed subject to many variations and which we can never fully possess. Much more needs to be said to clear up a host of problems that still persist. Most notably, what is the epistemological status of the third kind of knowledge? And can this knowledge be understood in a way that doesn’t reintroduce transcendence and consequently undermine Deleuze and Guattari’s claim in What is Philosophy? that Spinoza is perhaps ‘the only philosopher never to have compromised with transcendence and to have hunted it down everywhere.’