a plant doesn’t try to get a tan

In a recent post engaging with a comment by Kenneth Rufo about another of his posts, Sinthome writes:

The concept of influence and the concept of persuasion. While these two concepts are interrelated, they are nonetheless distinct and respond to different issues. It is impossible for me to be persuaded without being influenced, however, I can quite easily be influenced without it being a matter of persuasion. What is at issue here are questions about the selective openness of organizations to the world. That is, an organization, whether it be a biological organism, a subject, a social system, etc., is only selectively open to the world and thus can only be selectively influenced. For instance, I am unable to perceive ultra-violet light.
As I see it, one of the central assumptions of vulger historicist approaches is the idea that we are unilaterially conditioned by an environment. That is, the idea is that we’re born in an environment and somehow this environment makes us what we are. This view is common, for instance, to both Foucault and Bourdieu. What this account of individuation misses is the way in which subjects are only selectively open to an environment such that there’s a way in which we always choose our cultural and historical influences.

And the at the end of the post he finishes with:

Indeed, today it increasingly seems that the most audacious and unforgivable thing one can do is proclaim a Truth. There is a veritable prohibition against Truth. Yet if the subject is constituted in the field of the Other, if the subject is an effect of the signifier in the real of the biological body, then there can be no question of choosing between rhetoric or philosophy. Rather, there can be no worldly statement that doesn’t already make reference to both the Other and the other, no demonstrative statement that is a solipsistic intellectual reverie. Rather, it’s high time that the parallax gap, the central antagonism motivating this inaugural division of disciplines and practices, be thought in its own right.

What I like in all this is the rhetorical flurry: “if the subject is an effect of the signifier in the real of the biological body” And specifically what I find interesting is the use of ‘real’. Why is it “in the real of the human body” and not just “in the human body”? It must be a Lacanian thing (pun intended!).

In the comments to the post it comes back to the problem of the body (specifically when Rufo mentions Bourdieu’s notion of habitus). There is a danger it seems in a Zizekian approach dismissing away the role of the body through a deployment of the notion of the parallax. Instead of thinking through the structuration of the body (lol! more puns!), the parallax gap is installed in the mediation between the subject and the world (or Real Other, maybe in Lacanian speak?). As Sinthome writes, he can’t see ultra-violet light; well, you can see ultra-violet to a certain extent, but I think I get his point, which might be better expressed as something along the lines of: humans can’t ‘see’ ultra-violet light in the same way a plant ‘sees’ ultra-violet light. As different organisms we see ultra-violet light as ‘black lights’ at raves lighting up fluro clothes, while a plant is open to the particular spectrum of ultra-violet light in a radically different way, i.e. as part of the process of photosynthesis. Or the inverse might be that a plant doesn’t try to get a tan.

To further reduce this boiling stock, the problem I see comes with Sinthome’s use of the word “selection”. The body is working already to select elements of the world before the mind is necessarily aware of anything (literally about 0.4 of a second). Massumi talks about this, and so does Whitehead, but my measurement comes from the international rules of drag racing where a ‘breakout’ is determined if a competitor leaves the line less than 0.4 seconds after the starting light has turned green. In this case it is actually a quantification of anticipation rather than a processual problem of the ontological constitution of a super-ject.

Lastly, it is odd that Foucault gets the short end of the stick in the comments. Is he used in the meta-commentary of global theory as a kind of whipping boy/pariah touchstone now?!? I am thinking of this comment from the essay “Nietzsche, Genealogy, History” (from some notes here):

“Finally, descent attaches itself to the body. It inscribes itself in the nervous system, in temperament, in the digestive apparatus; it appears in faulty respiration, in improper diets, in the debilitated and prostrate bodies of those whose ancestors committed the errors….the body maintains, in life as in death, through its strength or weakness, the sanction of every truth and error, as it sustains, in an inverse manner, the origin — descent.”
“The body is the inscribed surface of events (traced by language and dissolved by ideas), the locus of a dissociated self (adopting the illusion of a substantial unity), and a volume in perpetual disintegration. Genealogy, as an analysis of descent, is thus situated within the articulation of the body and history. Its task is to expose a body totally imprinted by history and the process of history’s destruction of the body.”

Bourdieu went further in unravelling some of the ramifications of the body as a habitus assembled as what I would call an architecture of events (rather than a surface), but I think Foucault is still useful for his appreciation of the ‘descents’ of history and the body. This is one of the ways I use Foucault in my dissertation, to enable me to talk about events. It appears to me that this notion of ‘descent’ is tracing back the passages of individuation involving past individuations that have indeed individuated. These passages of individuation can be considered events as such, but only if the “totally imprinted by history” is understood more in the sense of a constitutive duration that is complementary to the unfolding of the event than a totality in the sense of an absolute abstract time. The “body as inscribed suface of events” perhaps is related or at least has an affiliation with Sinthome’s rhetorical proposition of the subject as an “effect of the signifier in the real of the biological body.” Of course, Whitehead (followed later by Deleuze) writes about the process of integration involved in the concrescence of sensual and non-sensual (conceptual) prehensions as the actual entity (event) of the super-ject (nee subject).