“I’m so bored. I hate my life.” - Britney Spears

Das Langweilige ist interessant geworden, weil das Interessante angefangen hat langweilig zu werden. – Thomas Mann

"Never for money/always for love" - The Talking Heads

Monday, February 05, 2007

the universe as the infinity of my inattention

In Jean Claude Beaune’s Philosophy of technique: matter, instrument, automat, he has an interesting passage on a conference talk given by Gaston Bachelard in 1939. The talk was called Universe and reality, and was sprinkled with odd remarks. For instance, Bachelard said” L’univers est l’infini de mon inattention… L’univers est mon repos, l’univers est ma paresse. Ce n’est jamais ma pensee.” “Bachelard posed as someone so naïve as to press on the limits of frivolity: “I have never reflected on the idea of the universe” (before the occasion furnished by the Lyon society of philosophy) and related cosmological preoccupations solely to the trivial inquietudes of a graduate student. He defined himself as a tetrological specimen – without any doubt, a unique one – “of a philosopher who has lost his world.” As Beaune says, we are a long way here from the Pascalian trembling before the infinite. Again, Bachelard says that “the idea of the universe presents itself as the antithesis of the object.” And: “to universalize is to hypnotize – oneself”.

Here’s a translation of the whole text. (I should say, I translated the quotes in the above paragraph myself). It is a remarkable piece – and short, too. It is pretty cool that it is up on the web for those who don’t read French.

Although Bachelard is a long way from Bruno, I don’t think my insertion of him in the chain of figures I'm going to use to talk about misfortunes of the infinite world does him any damage. On the contrary, although Bachelard doesn’t use the anima mundi terminology here, he never hesitated to reach for what some might consider scientifically ‘soft’ terms. His text does reference both older cosmologies and the relativistic image of the universe in physics.

So why do we hear the faint echoes here of Bruno’s anima mundi earth, which is not simply a compound, as Bruno said, of our trash? We’d identify the anima mundi world with that - and here we are making an unjustified leap – world the philosopher has lost. When Bachelard compares the universe of general relativity with the five year plan – a pretty witty comparison – we hear the faint overtones of the infinite world concept. The world whose loss is commoditized, whose atmosphere, oceans and soils have been made totally human over the last two hundred years. The totally human world, a goal shared by capitalist and communist alike, has turned out to be an incredibly successful project. The only non-human factor left in that world – the one factor not subject to the calculation of human use and value – is God. Animal, plant, element – they have all gone into the factory. As for God of the Gods, well, the non-humanity of God doesn’t really provide much of a stumbling block. Every effort is made to process God into the human, to create your nice adorable personal God. Otherwise, fuck him/her/them. The human God is tastier, with 90% less fat.

This weekend, LI liked two posts, one by Smokewriting and one by the friend and foil of this site, Paul Craddick, at Fragmenta Philosophica, that both had to do with the planetary question posed by the IPCC report – although Smokewriting’s post came before the official release of the report. Smokewriting's post welds together two different themes: one, the “risk society” thesis of Ulrich Becker (taken over by Anthony Giddens) that grounded the "third way" rhetoric of the nineties; and two, Hans Jonas’ thesis about the temporal dimension of the capitalist exploitation of nature, where natural resources stand for the future - human future. LI particularly liked this passage:

“Implicit in Beck’s thesis is the idea that the emptying and wholesale exploitation of the future is a structural feature of capital. It is this that generates the sense of having participated in an apocalypse which one failed to notice. Capital does not just extract surplus value from the ongoing present by subjecting it to the repetitive cycles of production, but also extracts it from the living futures of potential embodied in nature. Capitalist production pulls futures into the present and uses them up, but in order to do this it vampirises the past becomings from out of which the world has congealed.”

"The apocalype which one failed to notice" - we tend to see this as the universe that is the infinity of our inattention. It is the 'too big' of all the changes wrought on the biosphere during the twentieth century, the fertilizer dumped, the exhaust from each car, the oddity that transportation became both a major killer in the twentieth century and that the killings were absorbed into the background (while everybody is searching for a cure for malaria and aids, who is searching for a cure for the car accident?), etc.

Paul’s post is less about Capital than about Cost – and the framework in which to measure costs:

[C]onfronted with the reality of climate change and a human role therein, the central question for deliberation - What is to be done? - is an ethical-political one, not primarily a scientific one (not "primarily" because, while sober scientific judgment undoubtedly must inform deliberation, the answer eludes science's competence). In other words, to suppose that science simply "tells" us how to address [climate change] is a blatant category mistake."

Put another way ... even assuming that we could believe, to a reasonable level of certainty, that a certain course of action would ameliorate climate change significantly, it still doesn't follow that it ought to be undertaken. The costs of so doing may be unjustifiable.

I’ll have more to say about this – until you, gentle reader, are sick to death of it – in later posts.


northanger said...

The Alchemical Tarot: The 23rd Tarot :: Putting her in the center of the elements turns the layout into a standard symbol, called a quincunx, an arrangement of five elements with one at each corner and the fifth in the center representing the sacred axis. This arrangement clearly states that she is the Hermetic fifth element, the "Anima Mundi," the sacred axis of the world and the goddess sought after by the alchemists.

"Sir Thomas Browne, pursuing the figure of the quincunx, queried" :: Why Proteus in Homer the Symbole of the first matter, before he settled himself in the midst of his Sea-Monsters, doth place them out by fives? [+]

northanger said...

tetrological specimen vs. teratological example


roger said...

Wow. Proteus seems to be turning up everywhere! I am getting spooked.

And .. although we have a perfectly good cognate for specimen in French, in that context of exemple - being a monster and all, and the way monsters are exhibited in glass, and that Bachelard, with his long flowing beard, is saying these crazy things in Lyon - I decided to make it a bit more vivid - hey, I'm translating for a blog, here, not the SUNY-Albany press!

roger said...

ps - according to the news, nobody even attacked the valium factory in Indianapolis, much less burned it down.

Proof positive that the Colt fan base doesn't deserve a championship.

northanger said...

really roger! tetro/terato || specimen/example. you are proteus!

ok,ok. so which NFL fan base is the most deserving?

btw, i cast a celtic oracle on your anima project & got #64 Tír na nÓg — with connections to axis mundi —

A branch of the apple-tree from Emain
I bring, like those one knows;
Twigs of white silver are on it,
Crystal brows with blossoms.

There is a distant isle,
Around which sea-horses glisten:
A fair course against the white-swelling surge,—
Four feet uphold it.

northanger said...

Think, on the other hand, about the axiom of the philosopher of the universe: all is in all. Listen to him sing, like a poet, his Einfuhlung among the forms and the lights, the breaths and the fragrances. See him in his paradoxical attitude: it is by opening his arms wide that he will embrace the world!

Einfühlung :: The Concept of Empathy

northanger said...

this is fuzzy, but i see Einfühlung in the cost discussion? from above link, Sympathy vs. Empathy — can sympathy be aligned with infinite earth & empathy with anima mundi? i don't know ... some quick googles:

The aim of advertising and consumer capitalism is to foster an increased sense of yearning, the feeling ‘that one’s life cannot be complete without this or that acquisition’. [+]

Also, advertisements that manipulate our emotions are performing a good service for us as they persuade. Thus, we might accept that retail-friendly notion that it’s pleasant to be persuaded (the way P.T. Barnum assumed his customers enjoyed being tricked and duped) and antisocial to resist the emotional manipulation, vicarious indulgence, and fantasy mongering advertisements inspire. [+]

those may not be the best of quotes, hopefully they give the idea.

also, since you've got this versus thing going, this wrestling thingy (hopefully not to take things too far), Seizing (infinite earth) vs. Opening the Arms Wide (anima mundi & "an open system is not a system").

Patrick said...

There was never a Valium factory in Indianapolis, that's Roche in Switzerland. Eli Lilly is famous for Prozac. My brother-in-law used to have to go to the Lilly Convention every year, and I'd forgotten I spent a moment in the airport there in 2003. You could see the skyline coming in, and I cannot see that it is all that easily differentiated from that of Des Moines, which I saw in 1999.

Just the facts, as you can see.

roger said...

I like the Irish poems, although to tell you the truth, if someone comes up to me and proposes to recite fifty quatrains for my listening pleasure, I usually ask for the reader's digest version - you know, ten quatrains, maybe.
Although, since we are going Irish, this Yeats poem seems appropriate to LI:

"An old man cocked his ear upon a bridge;
He and his friend, their faces to the South,
Had trod the uneven road. Their boots were soiled,
Their Connemara cloth worn out of shape;
They had kept a steady pace as though their beds,
Despite a dwindling and late-risen moon,
Were distant still. An old man cocked his ear.

Aherne. What made that sound?

Robartes. A rat or water-hen
Splashed, or an otter slid into the stream.
We are on the bridge; that shadow is the tower,
And the light proves that he is reading still.
He has found, after the manner of his kind,
Mere images; chosen this place to live in
Because, it may be, of the candle-light
From the far tower where Milton's Platonist
Sat late, or Shelley's visionary prince:
The lonely light that Samuel Palmer engraved,
An image of mysterious wisdom won by toil;
And now he seeks in book or manuscript
What he shall never find."

Which is the beginning of The Phases of the Moon.

And as to Colts - granted, if they were still in Baltimore, thee would only have been the burning of old tires. But a valium factory is a once in a lifetime torch, man!

roger said...

Oops. Sorry Patrick. Prozac. Even better! I have known Prozac casualties.

northanger said...

me, i'm just another blog casualty.

tom said...

teratomatic specimen:

#355 - knowledge casualty

#360 - causality casualty

roger said...

Mr. interimtom, I loved the pic of the non-inkstained finger of the Iraqi woman. I should have left a note on your blog to tell you so.

northanger said...

The Quantum Nietzsche: The Will to Power and the Nature of Dissipative Systems (hmm, Chapter 22 Heisenberg's uncertainty principle)

tom, thanks. what is #360?

tom said...

North: After not finding it on the Neetch site, I posted #360 here (as part of a separate animadversion).

I am grateful to Roger for putting Gaston out there. Hadn't looked at him in, maybe, 30 years.

northanger said...

thanks for posting that Tom. interesting juxtaposition.