Talking about world views

In the latest Partially Examined Life podcast on Thomas Kuhn’s notion of scientific progress Mark refers to the previous Deleuze and Guattari What is Philosophy? podcast and makes a connection between Kuhn’s notion of ‘paradigm’ with Deleuze and Guattari’s notion of a ‘plane of immanence’. Below are some rough notes on this connection to push it a bit further into some of Deleuze and Guattari’s other works and so as to connect Mark’s reference to ‘planes of immanence’ in the context of Kuhnian paradigms with Deleuze and Guattari’s notion of ‘collective assemblages of enunciation’.

I have roughly transcribed the section from the podcast below (between the time code references):

[1:02:10]

[Discussing how the term ‘paradigm’ has entered into non-technical discourse to refer to what could be called a ‘world view’. ‘Technical’ in this context means following Kuhn’s definition.]

Wes: Most people use it as synonymous with ‘world view’, which… there’s an argument for that, but really it’s more like ‘exemplar’; it’s an ‘example’.

Mark: I would just like some more systematic language — some philosophy — to tell me how to talk more intelligently about ‘world views’ in this nebulous way that we actually want to talk about it. There perhaps a modern [inaudible] evolution of this idea in the Deleuze [and Guattari] book that we read, When he’s talking about ‘planes of immanence’ there’s a certain commonality — granted he’s talking about ‘planes of immanence’ as what defines a ‘philosophy’ and what defines a ‘philosophy’ is defined by the concepts and once you have the ‘concepts’ established maybe you could see that as providing a paradigm for science, which remember [Mark shifts to his wise-cracking smart-ass voice] he sees as just providing ‘functions’ its just mapping one value onto another as if you’ve got the mapping rule already stored in your paradigm there and your plane of immanence…  and so science on that model is just what Kuhn is describing normal science as — is just filling in the details, is finding out what each question maps to in your set-up. [But] the plane of immanence that we had so much trouble with… maybe its just my desire to make some sense out of the Deleuze retrospectively, [Wes: Well..] but maybe paradigm is a good start for that…

Wes: That sounds like more a conceptual scheme which I think is different to a paradigm. [Mark: Hmmm] A conceptual scheme includes — yeah — a set of concepts for talking about the world and certain assumptions, but a paradigm I think as an example gets at some of the more less conceptual stuff, some of the tacit knowledge, some of the ways… maybe it’s more like — what’s Wittgenstein’s phrase?

Mark: Mode of life?

Wes: Yeah, and part of it’s about what’s relevant to people, so its not just about what concepts they’re deploying, but what’s about what’s interesting and relevant.

[1:04:07]

I have taught Kuhn’s work to first year undergraduates in a large introductory ‘research methods’ unit that is taught to every incoming student to our faculty of arts and design. The purpose of the unit is to introduce students to ‘research methods’ in the humanities. I draw on Kuhn’s work so as to illustrate how the practice and meaning of the word ‘research’ in a contemporary Australian university context is largely determined by scientific discourse. I indicate the connection between our university’s policies on research to the federal government’s policies to the guidelines provided by OECD’s Frascati Manual in the way that ‘research’ is defined.

The contemporary Frascati Manual is an interesting document as it attempts to bridge the gap between the ‘basic’ and ‘applied’ research of the sciences (p. 30) with a non-scientific research of the humanities. At stake is the distinction between the practice of what could be described as ‘routine work’ and the practice of ‘research’. ‘Research’ in this context is any practice that is worthy of non-routine investment funding. Why is this important for the OECD? Because research in the humanities can have productivity outcomes. “For the social sciences and humanities,” the manual suggests, “an appreciable element of novelty or a resolution of scientific/technological uncertainty is again useful criterion for defining the boundary between R&D and related (routine) scientific activities” (p. 48).

When introducing this to to my first year students I use it to talk about what this ‘resolution of scientific/technological uncertainty’. I frame this discussion in terms of matching certain kinds of research practice with certain kinds of epistemological uncertainty. The students already do research to address a certain kind of uncertainty. What films are showing at the cinema this weekend? What gift should I give to someone dear to me? This work of everyday research relates to the kinds of tacit knowledge that I think Wes was referring to. I introduce the notion of ‘research’ in this manner so as to help students realise that the epistemological process of working to resolve uncertainty is not some special thing that academics do, but is something we are all familiar with as part of everyday life.

The next manoeuvre is to posit undergraduate research as part of a process of becoming familiar with another set of professional practices for identifying the ‘uncertainties’ that belong to a given scholarly or research-centred field. I teach Kuhn’s notion of paradigm in terms of being one way to describe (make ‘sense’ of) an epistemological process for the resolution of uncertainty. The ‘paradigm’ is the set of agreed upon practices and assumptions for reproducing the conditions by which such uncertainties are identified as such (‘certain uncertainties’ to riff off Rumsfeld). From my lecture notes, I note that ‘paradigms’ are compositions of relations that:

Create avenues of inquiry.
Formulate questions.
Select methods with which to examine questions.
Define areas of relevance.

I define ‘expert researcher’ for my students as someone who knows exactly what they do not know and who belongs to a ‘scholarly field’ that has specific methods for defining what is not known in terms of what is known. (One reason for this is to try to shunt students out of the debilitating circuitous logic of gaming education for grades and resurrect a sense of wonder about the world.)

The ‘reproduction’ part in defining paradigms is therefore important as Kuhn also identified the so-called political aspect of scientific paradigms: they are not simply sustained by the quality of the knowledge produced by research, but the professional conditions by which that knowledge and producers of that knowledge are judged worthy as belonging. This has been a roundabout way of getting to the substance of this post, which is Mark’s reference to Deleuze and Guattari’s notion of a ‘plane of immanence’. Rather than a ‘plane of immanence’, I think perhaps a better connection is to Deleuze and Guattari’s notion of a ‘collective assemblage of enunciation’. 

A ‘plane of immanence’ is the ‘quasi-causal’ grounds by which thought is possible. (That is an esoteric post-Kantian pun.)  ‘Quasi-cause’ comes from Deleuze’s work The Logic of Sense. It is an attempt to address the problem of how ‘sense’ (the logic of meaning) arises from what is basically the cosmological nonsense of the universe. I won’t pursue this too much, but the way humans make sense of the world normally implies some kind of realism. This ‘realism’ is in itself not natural, and can be described as a collective system of reference.

In What is Philosophy? Deleuze and Guattari characterise ‘science’ as the creation of what they call ‘functives’; a ‘functive’ is the basic element of a function and it describes some aspect of the way the universe works. What makes thought possible is the complex individuation of a thought through the body of a sentient being. Cognitive science is doing its best to resolve this problem. Individuation in this context follows a causally normative path of individuation. This leads to that. The process of cognition.

What makes thought sensible is a philosophical problem. The seemingly counter-intuitive movement of thought in the context of the expression of thought, whereby the future affects the present. That is lead by this. In Difference & Repetition Deleuze draws on Nietzsche’s notion of the ‘dark precursor’ to describe this movement. On the surface, non-linear causality seems like a radical idea. In practice, we do this work everyday. Instead of creating momentous existential crises most of the time we delegate these causally circular movements of thought to metaphysical placeholders. We collectively describe these as ‘assumptions’.

Indeed, Deleuze separates the cosmos into bodies and the passions of bodies (causes) and expressions and the sense of expressions (effects) and associates two orders of causality. (Or ‘two floors’ in the existential architecture of reality in The Fold.) One which belongs to the world and is shared by every single thing (body) in the world. One which only can be inferred by implication in any expression of sense. Deleuze’s concept of the event is an conceptual attempt to group together the dynamic quasi-causal expression of ‘sense’, which is why the ‘event’ is central to The Logic of Sense. 

Language and culture imply a shared sense of quasi-causality for those thinking beings who belong to that culture and use that language. Cultural expression can therefore be understood as an elaborate method for the dissemination of assumptions. Interesting to think about in this context is ‘poetics’ as a research practice  — that is, poetics as a method for identifying or discovering new assumptions. For those who work in the creative industries perhaps it is worth thinking about what assumptions are you helping to disseminate.

The detour through ‘quasi-cause’ was necessary to explain the notion of a collective assemblage of enunciation and why it is difficult to explain how a new paradigm emerges from an old paradigm. The notes to PEL podcast on Kuhn describe this as an ‘evolutionary version of Kantianism’. But the problem with this is that the new paradigm does not emerge from the old paradigm; the point of the notion of the paradigm is that it describes practices that ward off the development of new paradigms. Hence the non-scientific problem with the concept of the paradigm: the difficulty of describing how a new paradigm emerges from the new paradigm before that ‘new’ paradigm exists in actuality.

In A Thousand Plateaus Deleuze and Guattari develop the concept of ‘agencement’, which is translated by Massumi as ‘assemblage’. There are two sides to every assemblage: a machinic assemblage of bodies and a collective assemblage of enunciation. There are two orders of causality to every assemblage. The linear movement of causal relations belonging to bodies and the ‘quasi-causal’ relations of thought. Each fold of ‘thought’ in this context is the process of transversal distribution of sense in the world. Sense is distributed from the future; it is the superposition of one moment upon the next. One way to think about this is that every paradigm (as a concrescence of singular points) already exists quasi-causally.

A ‘world view’ therefore has two ontological levels: the world and the view. Language is important because each singular expression implies a monadological view that can be inferred. More important is that even though sentience can be defined by the existential capacity to make assumptions. As Nietzsche was at pains to point out, it is a seemingly unique human trait to delegate this capacity for making assumptions (or what he called ‘truths’) to our culture. Nietzsche was worried about the manifestation of ignorance as the acceptance of such assumptions as well as admiring the near-suicidal pursuit to overcome such assumption-producing cultural mechanisms. 

Which leads to the question, in what ways are humans not sentient? Is your world view making you non-sentient? If non-sentient life is defined as the delegation of the capacity for making assumptions to genetics, then what are the assumptions we have delegated to our biology or through our biology (by way of evolutionary ‘fitness’) to our environment? 

I have purchased but not yet read Isabelle Stengers Thinking with Whitehead. I suspect it shall address, at least peripherally, some of these issues.

Modulating Appetite

From Mary Wyman’s 1960 book on Whitehead is this example of creativity as part of a general process of concrescence (as becoming):

This actualization of potentiality as an ingredient in something real might be illustrated by the experience of Otto Lilienthal, pioneer inventor of the flying glider. Process here is obviously considered on a scale of some magnitude. The initial stage for him may be his preoccupation with winged creatures and their manner of flight—the inflow of the material world. The potentiality of the past probably includes for him also inherited mechanical and engineering ability. As process continues, we may imagine his concepts of gravity, equilibrium, and control intermingling with his observations on the flying of birds, possibly in part derived from them. The lure, which guides the how of feeling, would seem to be particularly associated with Lilienthal’s novel belief in the superiority of a curved rather than a flat surface for the flight of machines heavier than air. Here also the element of contrast is introduced. A driving urge or purpose, which we ascribe to the persuasive power of the lure is intensified by contrasts, and results in the satisfaction of producing a flying glider covering distances up to 1000 feet. The glider then as a novelty passes into objective immortality; but its value in a material world has been chiefly its lure to further progress in the evolving of the airplane. (23-24)

She later describes the general dimensions of this process using Whitehead’s philosophy terminology:

In expressing a subject’s concern for a selected portion of the universe, the term feeling is synonymous with positive prehension or the appriation of data to serve as components of a subject’s concresence, the growing together of its formative elements in the process of becoming. Important too is a negative prehension that eliminates incompatible elements from feeling. It should already be clear that feelings, in accordance with the idea of physical and mental poles in an occasion, may be physical; arising through the senses from the actual world, or conceptual, involving ideas derived from the actual world. Often a combination of the two types of prehension, and is called by Whitehead hybrid or impure. Examples of conceptual feeling are appetition and valuation: the first, awakening purpose and allied with God’s immanence in the world, he has described as “an urge toward the future based on an appetite in the present.” Valuation is the subjective form or how of feeling, which in its decisions, purposeful or otherwise may increase or diminish intensity. Consciousness comes with intensity of feeling, with a comparison of what may be with what is not, or with a yes or no judgment on a proposition. The union of physical and conceptual prehensions is seen comparative feelings, where the datum to be entertained as a lure for feeling may be a theory or a proposition. Feelings or prehensions of whatever type are subject to the persuasive power of the lure, and are causal links in the successive phases of concresence that should end in satisfaction. Feeling is thus a central factor in the process of becoming. (28)

The relation between Lilienthal’s earth-bound existance and that of flight is the relation between two milieus. Lilienthal’s apprehension of the technical function of the curved bird’s wing is derived through a creative process of discovery; what Michael Polanyi described in the context of  exploration practices as the “daring anticipation of reality”. For Whitehead the curvature of the bird’s wing and its translation into technical knowledge represents the process of concrescence whereby the ‘eternal object’ of the curved wing is potentialised in practice. In Deleuzian philosophy Whitehead’s ‘eternal objects’ are instead termed ‘singularities’. Milieus that are integral to the process of individuation, which in this case is the individuation of the technical object of a glider and the technical knowledge of gliding as a practice of flight, Gilbert Simondon calls “associated milieus”. An aesthetics of the composition of singularities that can be ‘immortalised’ as objective technical knowledge is premised on the intermingling in experience of ‘feelings’ from one milieu to another. I am interested in the way knowledge is developed through the creation of relations between milieus and the function in the contemporary era of media assemblages to facilitate (or constrain) such relations. Compositions of tacit and explicit knowledge commonly circulate in everyday life through various genres of media content.

Whitehead’s “lure of feeling” serves as what Deleuze calls “quasi-cause” for a current action implicated in a future event that is nevertheless already happening, such as the intermingling in experience of the future event of flight. The process of concrescence or individuation proceeds according to a complex virtual architecture of such ‘lures’. I am interested in the polical economy in the niche or subcultural media for the (re)presentation of material dimensions of such events. A great deal of enthusiast practice is mobilised through the presentation of ritualised (and therefore valorised) events that produce a relation between one milieu, for example belonging to the suburban garage, and the event(s) of an associated milieu, such as the event ‘to race’ of the milieu belonging to the racetrack.

The relations between milieus are necessarily transversal in character. There is no direct correspondence between actions belonging to bodies of different events except through a conceptual or theoretical valuation of the ‘feelings’ that belong to each of the milieus. This is a complex ever-shifting exchange of causality between the present and the future (recently dramatised, for example, in Looper). Ultimately, what is at stake is not the recognition of value as per the practices of judgement associated with the sociology of taste developed by Pierre Bourdieu, but the actualisation of value as a creative practice through as aesthetics of technical practice. The condition of possibility for judgement, where judgement is still an essential element in this process of valuation, is appetite. By turning to Whitehead it is possible to finally do away with the notion of disinterested interest (inherited from Kant). Appetition for Whitehead is not a quality of the sensuous or necessarily affective character of bodies, but the joining of a physical state of affairs (hunger, thirst, restlessness of an earth-bound body) with a conceptual prehension (to eat, to drink, to fly). Spinoza is clear on this; from Ethics:

When this striving is related only to the mind, it is called will; but when it is related to the mind and body together, it is called appetite. This appetite, therefore, is nothing but the very essence of man, from whose nature there necessarily follow those things that promote his preservation. And so man is determined to do those things.

Between appetite and desire there is no difference, except desire is generally related to men insofar as they are conscious of the appetite. So desire can be defined as Appetite together with consciousness of the appetite.

From all this, then, it is clear that we neither strive for, nor will, neither want, nor desire anything because we judge it to be good; on the contrary, we judge something to be good because we strive for it, will it, want it, and desire it. (III P9 S)

Specialist media circulate cultural capital not for the pursposes of mobilising judgement, although this is certainly a consquence, but for the commercial advantages of modulating appetite. The shift from print-based media to online web-based and platform-based media has affected the composition of relations between milieus, the character of knowledge that can be circulated, and the capacity to modulate the aspirational ‘active’ affects of enthusiasts mobilised to engage with the purpose of events as they populate a given scene. The Code2012 paper I am currently woking on finishing discusses the impact of the democratisation of practices of valorisation in the mobilisation of enthusiasts.

The Map is the Territory

Mel has a very interesting work in progress paper up on her blog on “The territory of the post-professional“. We sometimes share very similar research interests. I’ve also looked at questions of territory and technological assemblages in my Communications Technologies & Change unit this semester.

In one week we looked at the relation between predictive algorithms and the individuation of subjectivity. Here is the entry for that week:

Buying Stuff Online and How Your Credit Card is You

Transformations of economy, emergence of global market. Globalisation. Function of credit cards as technology of communication/identity. eBay, Steam and online commerce. Amazon.com and the algorithmic production of surplus value.

Required reading Merskin, D. (1998). “The Show   for Those Who Owe: Normalization of Credit on Lifetime’s Debt.” Journal of   Communication Inquiry, 22(1), 10-26. [Particularly the section “A brief   history of credit”.]Merskin offers a critical reading of the reality TV show called Debt and the ways credit card and personal debt have become ‘normalised’ in US society. Read the section “A brief history of credit” (pages 11-16) for a quasi-genealogical account of the development of the credit card. What is the ‘credit card’ assemblage?
Recommended reading de Vries, K. (2010).   “Identity, profiling algorithms and a world of ambient   intelligence.” Ethics and Information Technology 12(1):   71-85.This is another tough reading, but useful for thinking about the way the everyday technological assemblages of communication contribute to or produce our identity. ‘Identity’ here is meant in a cultural sense. The classic example that de Vries explores to some length is the use of algorithms to predict consumer behaviour on shopping websites and suggest commodities we might be interested in purchasing through   online shop fronts like Amazon.com. The relevant section is “Identity in a world of   profiling algorithms and ambient intelligence” (pages 76-79), but it is   worth exploring at length to gain a critical understanding of the ways   complex internet-based commercial interactions can affect the production (and   prediction) of identity.

In the lecture I did a kind of archaeology of the credit card in terms of the shifting composition of socio-technological relations across the long histories of some of the elements that constitute the ‘credit card assemblage’. The required research for this, so as to do the lecture, was a bit crazy. I learnt a great deal! Then I shifted gears a bit to talk about the function of predictive algorithms that are part of online shopping platforms. The de Vries reading is very good on this (and also pretty tough for third year undergraduates). In the context of predictive algorithms and algorithmic-based platforms (that aren’t necessarily ‘predictive’) there are two points I want to make with regards to Mel’s paper, specifically the paragraph introducing ‘algorithmic living’.

Firstly, unlike previous forms of self-knowledge in familiar ‘quantifications of the self’ (Weight Watchers, etc.) determined by a medium/average (statistical sense) of rough (molar) demographic categories, algorithmic indicators are far more mobile and the level of quantification is determined by the ‘resolution’ of the algorithm. ‘Resolution’ in this sense pertains to the ‘machinic affects’ of the ‘counting assemblage’; what are the forms of machinic visbility afforded by the technological assemblage of which the algorithm is but one (protocol) level? What are the ‘actions’ or ‘gestures’ being indeed by the algorithm?

Secondly, the (algorithmic) map (of aggregate molecular ‘actions’ of user-mulitiplicities) has become the (existential) territory (for the individuating assemblage of an ‘app’ or ‘platform’ user). Yes, the map is the territory (I’m phrasing it like that just to fuck with the old school semioticians a little bit:). The classic examples of this are Amazon.com or Google. Amazon indexes various ‘actions’ by users and users this for the ‘suggestions’ section. The capacity to index such actions are one of the affordances (action possibilities) of the platform or what I would call the machinic affects of the algorithm. The machinic affects are determined by the resolution of the algorithm. What actual action does the algorithm index? Visits? Location of mouse pointer or scrolling behaviour? Maybe. Definitely (in the case of Amazon): purchases, wishlist contents, ‘Kindle’ sharing behaviour, and so on. The aggregate map is produced by a multiplicity of such actions, this map then serves as part of the ‘territory’ by which other users of the same platform are individuated (as ‘dividuals’, cf. Deleuze). ‘Territory’ in this context is derived from the later work of Guattari.

What is interesting about Mel’s focus on ‘time’ and its management as a mode of self-governance is that by taking into account the above process of individuating there are two versions of temporality are in play: intensive and extensive. Management of time is traditionally ‘time’ as extension; there is  a range, which is divisible into ‘units’ of time. The individuation of a subject is an intensive process and operates at the level of ‘anticipation’ (relations of futurity) and ‘retention’ (relations of pastness). The ‘past’ in this context is literally and practically active; a multiplicity of ‘pasts’ from a multiplicity of users indexed according to their actions ‘feed’ (‘feed’ in the sense of both ‘appetite’ or ‘appetition’ (Whitehead) and ‘user feeds’ ie who you follow) into the pure present of algorithmic mapping and serve as a dynamic/selective virtual architecture that scaffolds the embodied process of the individuating subject who is actively anticipating his or her ‘next’ action. The ‘next’ action is the subject of such operations; this ‘next’ is an intensive temporal relation.

Management of time is only traditionally premised on the extensive dimension, as contemporary ‘social’ platform-based apps also include a valorising function which tempers time with a qualitiative experiential dimension. If you had a good time, then you’ll ‘like’ the shared photo. If you ‘like’ the book and ‘rate’ it on Amazon, then you bestow the assumed extensive time taken to read the book with a valorised experiential quality.

Sexual Desire, Associated Milieus and Appetition

In my previous post I outlined the paper I had just submitted on gender and garages. My final point in the paper is thinking Whitehead’s concept of ‘appetition’ with Simondon’s concept of ‘associated milieus’. Thinking about it some more (while on my exercise bike doing my daily morning ride) I remembered this post Powered by Daydreams from just under six years ago. I was engaging with something Levi had written (prior to his turn to OOO) about the relation between fantasy and the immediate visceral responses of the body:

[Levi] posits the event of an emotional outburst at an immediate visceral level, but then the retroactive coding of this event by the sense making apparatus of our minds places this event within the orbit of certain narrativised causal chains (‘immigrants’, ‘D&G’, ‘homosexuals’, etc). Why overcode the outburst as causally linked to a transcendentally displaced social antagonism? Why can’t the event of the outburst be an immanent acceleration within the body of a sensation that has more in common with evolutionary psychology (ie an instinctual response to one’s hunger) than the aporias at the heart of social antagonisms? Brian Massumi has explored some of the dynamics between affect and the retroactive coding of affect (as a potential movement between two intensities). That is, at that precise moment, one’s hunger seeks out the ‘social antagonism’ to express itself and prepare the body for acquiring food. Would a fully satiated body seek out social antagonism? Just look at the Australian middle-class…

I go on in the post to provide an autoethnographical example of thinking about a pretty girl (‘girl’ yes, I was in my late 20s) that used to go to the same gym:

A friend of mine dubbed her “checkout chick” after she discovered that she works at a supermarket as a checkout operator (and as a subtle dig against me because of my romantic predilictions for bourgies). I would never approach or even talk to someone with romantic intentions in mind when at the gym as it is not an ethically appropriate act for the space. However, I also quickly realised that by not even speaking to her and being able to daydream about a particular fantasy — even if it involves merely focusing on say, for example, her extremely beautiful eyes — then my body is flooded with adrenaline or whatever other chemicals the body has to make itself feel good, and I feel good, and I can go full tilt on the cardio machines for another five minutes and then again and again for different fantasies for over an hour.

I don’t think I’d read Whitehead properly at this stage, which is surprising considering I invoke something very close to his concept of appetition to describe fantasy-like structure of thinking that encourages the ‘activation contour’ of affect (Stern) accelerating in the body as something akin to “an instinctual response to one’s hunger”.

Associated milieus for those living beings with the capacity to create imaginary conceptual prehensions would have to include ‘fantasy’ or something close to ‘fantasy’. Channeling Tomkins it explains how the coassemblies of affect and sexual desire (and other ‘drives’) can operate in the domain of what Foucault described in Deleuze’s work as ‘incorporeal materialism’, which is Foucault’s interpretation of the ‘virtual’. I think I need to read The Logic of Sense again. I was approaching the conceptual fabrication work of thinking ‘associated milieus’ and appetition’ together from a non-normative functionalist and ultra realist position. A point I don’t get to make in the paper is that these ‘appetitive mileus’ are a useful way to resolve the problem of scale in Deleuze theory of events. How to think scale of events when there is a baroque nested structure, what is the relation between the ‘wound’ and the ‘battle’? The excess of one event in another event of a different scale, when the first event is individuated as an element in the larger enveloping event, is the ‘associated mileu’ of the first event. There is an infinite number of such milieus from the perspective of the fourth person singular (or individuation of entire chaosmos). Delineating ‘appetitive milieus’ serving as ‘that’ event (of a larger scale, enveloping, or transversally linked, displaced in the past or future) for ‘this’ event will depend on the capacity of the living being.

Also, it was about the eyes, the relation between the eyes and eyebrows, as a gestural signature of her grace, a way of being in the world.

Of gap-sense: On Morton’s Of Planet-Sense

Tim Morton gave a talk at NIEA, Sydney, August 25, 2012 “Of planet-sense”. He offers a reading of the film Avatar as the successful completion of modernity, rather than its (hippie, environmental, etc.) reversal. All quotes below are to his talk, apologies in advance for any errors of transcription. The planet of Pandora with its ‘organic internet’ allows for the seamless movement of consciousness. Morton is concerned with exploring this seamlessness and arguing the case for ‘gaps’.

Modernity for Morton is the emergence of the Anthropocene (the direct human internvetion into geological time, by way of the depositing of a layer of carbon on the Earth’s crust) and the emergence of Kantian philosophy with its critique of human reason. Anthropocene is the “ironic name for a moment at which the nonhuman is discerned to be inextricable from the human”.

On the one hand is a (neo-)Heideggarian engagement with the film. Common reading of Heidegger is that humans are embedded in a ‘world’. Being and Time advocates an ‘awareness’ that is “frequently avoided at all costs”. A bit later Morton describes how humans are unable to access global warming directly, and resultant to how it takes the measure of us: “a tsunami assess the fragility of a Japanese town, an earthquoke probes the ability to resist the liquification of the Earth’s crust, a heatwave scans us with ultra-violet rays”. These harmful measurements direct out attention to human co-existence with other lifeforms inside a gigantic object. “What undermines [or underlines? underlies?] this sense of planet is a planet-sense, experienced by humans as physical in measurement”. This is not the political affect of Avatar.

On the other hand is a Spinozist logic of health and pathology, a continuity between mind and body, represented by the Navii and the planet “with no ontological gaps”. Morton argues that from this Spinozist reading “there is no evil, only inadequately expressed conatus — the will to exist that takes joy in imposing itself on the rest of the planet’s substance”. (It is unclear if Morton means the Spinozist sense of Joy as positive affection of the soul, that increases one’s capacity to act based on the agitations of reaching or yearning for a higher rationality, or if he means ‘joy’ in the sense of a narcissistic sadism. The use of ‘takes’ indicates a transcendental subject experiences their own sadism as joyful, hence Morton meant it in the second sense. In the first sense, Joy is the experience, and concurrent agitation of the soul; it is not ‘experienced’ as such, and that which is experienced certainly does not have to be ‘joyful’ in any subjective sense. [And listening further along in the talk, just after 33min, Morton does indeed invoke this notion of sadism.])

“There is no nothing, no nothingness in a reality that contains no ontological gaps”. For instance the gap between brain and mind, cinematic representation in Pandora as sentient world. For Spinozist the entity nothing is oukontic; “that is, not even nothing, sbstance everywhere without lack”. Morton goes on to describe another nothingness opened up since the time of Kant and the Anthropocene, a meontic nothingness. From theological philosopher Tillich:

  • Me On: (Greek) “Me on is the ‘nothing’ which has a dialectical relation to being.”
  • Ouk On: (Greek) “Ouk on is the ‘nothing’ which has no relation at all to being.”

(Also, see Morton’s brief remarks from a different context on oukontic and meontic nothingness.) Hegel’s nothingness was a reaction against Kant’s critique of reason that had discerned a threatening gap in the real “predicated on a reason that I cannot directly access”. Reason as an abyss. Morton asks the question, does not the planet Pandora invoke this meontic defintion and not the oukontic?

Jake Sully experiences that Kantian sublime atop of his reptilian winged beast. Sublime of science, plunging into the abyss of reason. Avatar of reason can be known, but it is severed from the real thing. Noumenal transcends the phenomenal. The thrill ride threatens the Spinozism continuum between mind-body. Or a materialism, Deleuze, Bergson, Whitehead “to paper over the crack with a spattle of matter”. Appeal of Spinozism in modernity, it allows for a pantheism not unlike an athesism.  Sully as a slippage between binaries. An excess of thinking [really? Part of the plot was Sully’s mind was ’empty’.]

[I enjoyed Morton’s rant against causality.] Science’s statistical appreciation of reality just is. There is no causality. Causal arguments are reductive in the sense that they are all equally premised on a correlation between statistics and reason; hence the hyper rationality of the fascist (of Creationists, of tobacco companies, of ecological denialists, etc.).

Modern philosophy is a reaction against nothingness, meontic angst; “what is required for thinking is not wish away the ocean [abyss of reason, from an earlier extended metaphor] that provides the reason for the problems identified in Hume, as if we could unthink the fact we are three dimensional beings [Morton here is referring to the ocean of Reason being like another dimension in a world of stick people]”. According to Morton, “Heidegger correctly saw that the task was a voyage beneath nihilism, not to take flight above it or to circumvent it. The ocean of reason seaps through the cracks of pre-packaged facts.” Kant argues that the human-world correlate is what gave reality to things.

OOO etc extending this relation to all things, a “riot of anxiety, we I confront the full uncanniness of all things”. There is a “Pandora’s Box full of gaps”. [Another account of this.] To summarise Morton’s argument for the next 10-15min or so: the concept of ‘world’ is backformed from the Kantian gap, and therefore it is insufficient as a conceptual apparatus for accounting for all the worlds that belong to all the different objects. Not only is there a gap for each and every object there is also an abyss of reason (but not reason, because ‘reason’ is human-centric) for each of these objects. Objects withdraw into this abyss; objects withdraw from themselves. Agriculture is a prototype for a certain engagement with Earth because agriculture turns it into an aesthetic product; a “full world of distances and horizons” this aestheticisation gathers speed in the Anthropocene. This is the meontic world glimpsed by environmentalism; “a pair of cats eyes, ‘Tiger, tiger, burning bright’.”

Some thoughts in response:

After hearing this talk, I’d like to see Morton engage with Deleuze’s Logic of Sense. Why?

Morton is very good at laying everything out, not only in the sense of his actual presentation of the talk (and the beat poet-like presentation), but in the presentation of certain arrangments of non-relations. Arranging specific non-relations between objects and themselves, the non relation between objects and their worlds, and the non-relation between the infinite multiplicity of object-worlds. In as much as this is an ontological flattening (or, to be inspired by Morton’s use of puns, perhaps ‘flattering’ for objects), Morton indicates our world is actually a non-world of a multiplicity of distances and horizons. For Morton these horizons are all horizons of being to presence and presence to being. Yet, there is another gap, between Harman’s Object and Morton’s Hyper-Objects, that has a non-spatialised temporal dimension.

A non-spatial gap is what Massumi calls a non-local linkage (between assemblies of experience) or what I’d call, largely derived from Deleuze’s LoS in an attempt to move away from familiar Aristotlean conceptions, a problematic contiguity (the ‘between’ or ‘middle’ of events). This is a shift from a concern with a non-temporal is. I am assuming that objects withdraw in non-relations in different ways; that is, no two withdrawals (and correlative presence) even of the ‘same’ object are equivalent. The gap here is intensive; the differentiation serves as the ontology of the event. This is only the first part of the gap between Harman’s object and that of Morton’s hyper-object (based on Morton’s talk); its non-spatial (and non-extensive) location. It is temporal in the sense that a difference is differenciated, and therefore if spatialised can be counted (in the mathmatical sense), and because it produces a rhythm in the world (another ‘count’).

The other part of this non-spatial gap is very similar to the way Morton describes the kind of invasion of aliens. The non-human scale of Morton’s hyper-objects is in some ways no different to a sympathetic reading of Harman’s argument for objects. The big advance that Morton provides for OOO is to finally escape from the human-centric version of objects (and I mean in a really stupid, knee-jerk sort of imagining what is an object). Similarly, the ontology of events is indicated by the ‘holely space’ of temporal architecture distributed, as Morton notes in his talk, according to statistical regularities, but they are not premised on them. To think events on a non-human scale is to admit that the distribution of distributions is necessarily incomplete. The ‘thisness’ of an event is characterised by a diverse array of differentiations but all of these differentations can never be known as such. That is why there is a difference between the first-person subjectivity that perceives the object as an event (as determined by perception and discourse) and the fourth-person singularity that takes the entire chaosmos as its ‘world’: in between is a concrescence of impersonalities. These impersonalities do not have a correlative ‘personality’ (ie an ‘object’ in OOO sense) in any normative sense. (See my notes on Esposito’s reading of haecceity for a thoroughly Deleuzian appreciation of part of this problem.)