Shaviro on the ‘New’

Steve Shaviro posted another draft chapter in the book he is writing about Whitehead (amongst other things). The chapter is called: Interstitial Life: Novelty and Double Causality in Kant, Whitehead, and Deleuze. He also has other draft chapters available here. I have written up some notes on Whitehead’s book The Concept of Nature here.

Shaviro engages with the seeming paradox of Kantian ‘efficient cause’ as the purely determinable relation within materiality (or what Deleuze calls ‘bodies and states of affairs’ in the Logic of Sense) and ‘final cause’, which is slightly more complex. Novelty can’t reside in efficient cause, because everything is of a determinable relation, rather it is the differential repetition (Deleuze) or ‘life’ (Whitehead) at the heart of a post-Kantian ‘final cause’, which I think is Deleuze’s ‘quasi-cause’ (Logic of Sense) (although I am not entirely sure?), that is, in part, the thrust of Shaviro’s answer to the question, “Can we imagine a form of self-organization that is not also self-preservation and self-reproduction?” (12). His answer is actually more complex than this as he uses Whitehead to think about the rhythmns of different causality at play in the concatenations of the virtual and actual.

Below is an extract from Shaviro’s paper wherehe discusses appetition.

When an entity displays “appetite towards a difference” – Whitehead gives the simple example of “thirst” – the initial physical experience is supplemented and expanded by a “novel conceptual prehension,” an envisioning (or “envisagement” – 34) of something that is not already given, not (yet) actual. Even “at a low level,” such a process “shows the germ of a free imagination” (32).
This means that it is insufficient to interpret something like an animal’s thirst, and its consequent behavior of searching for water, as merely a mechanism for maintaining (or returning to) a state of homeostatic equilibrium. “Appetition towards a difference” seeks transformation, not preservation. Life cannot be adequately defined in terms of concepts like Spinoza’s conatus, or Maturana and Varela’s autopoiesis. Rather, an entity is alive precisely to the extent that it envisions difference, and thereby strives for something other than the mere continuation of what it already is.

I think Shaviro’s reading of Whitehead’s concept is actually more productive than Massumi’s notion of ‘anticipation’ briefly developed in Parables of the Virtual. Both attempt to account for relations of futurity, but Massumi’s is organised around the superposition of one moment upon the next, and this, it seems to me, elides the relation of contingency that makes possible demanding the impossible. Massumi’s ‘anticipation’, or as I prefer to call it ‘expectation’, may provide the conceptual infrastructure for the future, but the future still has to be actualised. The pull of quasi-cause is more like the anticipation felt of the body, rather than the expectation of the mind. In sports you anticipate, not expect; a parent expects and anticipates her child; religious fanatics expect, and find it everywhere. Anticipation of the body is not the science (or religion) of expectation.

The problem of real continuous novelty versus the discrete commodified novelties of capitalism is the real problem of the cultural industry. Adorno et al focused too much on the (Kantian?) subject-object distinction instead of the events herald by the practical use of commodities. The whole Cultural Studies triumphantalism around ‘everyday life’ and how consumers actually use commodities was a complete waste of time. Of course people don’t use commodities how they were ‘programmed’, or the programming is just another form of cultural and social expectation built into the discursive materiality of objects. The capitalists cannot commodify real contingency, and therefore ‘life’ in Whitehead’s sense, because life moves so much quicker. Capital will never be fast enough. The only hope is to make life slow enough… couch potato? Or valorise certain contingencies over others (real tv, extreme sports, gaming, etc.)

Kenneth Surin in his chapter on ‘Force’ in the recent ‘Key Concepts’ book (ed. Stivale) articulates some sense of this distinction between the singular novelty of life and the life-sapping novelties of capitalism:

Deleuze has in several works connected the notion of force with the concept of a singularity, primarily because it takes a libidinal investment, and thus the activation of a force or ensemble of forces, to constitute a singularity. If the universe is composed of absolute singularities, then production, any kind of production, can only take the form of repetition: each singularity, as production unfolds, can only repeat or propagate itself. In production, each singularity can only express its own difference, its distance or proximity, from everything else. Production, on this Deleuzean view, is an unendingly proliferating distribution of all the myriad absolute singularities. Production is necessarily repetition of difference, the difference of each singularity from everything else.
Capitalism, however, also requires the operation of repetition. A capitalist axiomatics, at the same time, can only base itself on notions of identity, equivalence and intersubstitutivity, as Marx pointed out in his analysis of the logic of the commodity-form. This being so, capitalist repetition is perforce repetition of the non-different, the different in capitalism can never be more than the mere appearance of difference, because capitalist difference can always be overcome, and returned through the processes of abstract exchange, to what is always the same, the utterly fungible. Capitalism, and this is a decisive principle in the Capitalism and Schizophrenia project, only deterritorializes in order to bring about a more powerful reterritorialization. When capitalism breaches limits it does so only in order to impose its own limits, which it projects as the limits of the universe. The power of repetition in capitalism is therefore entirely negative, wasteful and lacking in any really productive force. Capitalistic repetition is non-being in the manner setout by Spinoza. Any collective subjectivity constituted on the basis of this form of repetition will not be able to advance the cause of emancipation. The challenge, at once philosophical and poltical, posed by [Deleuze and Guattari] has therefore to do with the supersession of this capitalist repetition by forms of productive repetition that are capable of breaking beyond the limits imposed on emancipation by those who rule us. (27-28)

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