“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

Friday, April 24, 2009

A midnight reputation

I have extensively outlined what I saw at the crossroads at midnight. It was nemesis. It wasn’t rock n roll.

In looking at the birth of man, the man of the human sciences, Foucault’s thought crosses the thought of the human limit, in spite of a vocabulary that would seem to be moving in the other direction. Let me say something about that movement. What I mean is that, instead of seeing the human limit dissolving under the stress of the great transformation to capitalism and the turn to a new system of emotional norms, Foucault has been arguing that the classical age saw no human limit, but rather dreamed the happy infinity of the encyclopedia; and then the shutters came down, and the threshold of modernity, the line of our beginning, formed, and that line is distinguished by its discovery of human finality.

In a sense, what is alien to the main and what is the main are two parts of a complete whole. The three lines of alienation from the happiness culture share characteristics with that culture nonetheless. However, alienation has been to the crossroads. At the crossroads, at midnight, when the spirit of ilinx descends on the dry and the dusty savant, the loser, the hanged man who is struggling in the invisible chords of the rope he wove himself – this is when Nemesis becomes the other.

Here is what Foucault writes.

The unthought [impensé] (whatever name one gives to it) is not lodged in man like some squatting nature or a history which may be stratified there, it is, by relation to man, the Other: the fraternal or twin Other, born not of himself, nor in himself, but at his side and at the same time, in an identical novelty, in a duality without recourse. That obscure shore that one all too willingly interprets as an abyss in human nature, or like a fortress that has been singularly lock bolted by his history, is tied to him in a really other fashion; it is at the same time exterior and indispensable to him: a little shadow carried by man emerges in our knowledge, a little blind spot from which it is possible to recognize him. In any case, the unthought served man as a silent and uninterrupted accompaniment since the 19th century. Since it is not in sum anything other than an insistant double, it has never been reflected for itself in any autonomous mode, of that of which it was the other and the shadow, it has received the complementary form and the inversed name; it has been the in itself in the face of the for itself, in Hegel’s phenomenology; it has been the unconscious for Schopenhauer; it has been alienated man for Marx; in Husserl’s analyses, the implicit, the unactual, the sedimented, the non-effectuated: in any case, the inexhaustible doubling which is offered to the reflective understanding as the confused projection of what man is in his truth, but which also plays as well the role of a assumed foundation from which man must construct himself and reference himself up to the point of his truth. It is that this double, however, near, is yet the stranger, and the role of thought, its initiative proper, would be to approach where it is nearest its own self; all modern thought is traversed by the law of thinking the unthought.”

This is great stuff, fabulous stuff. I like the way this man deals the cards. Foucault’s genuine midnight status comes from the fact that he provides the moment in which he can be read backwards. Here is the place to start.

Thursday, April 23, 2009


J'ai sodomisé un louveteau. Avec le manche d'un marteau - Sexy Sushi

In a famous letter to Benjamin, rejecting the first version of his Baudelaire essay, Adorno wrote that, in the essay, “a power of illumination is almost superstitiously attributed to material enumeration”. Adorno went on to explain what he meant: "The empirical affects the blank of theory… The theological motive, to name things by their name, is transformed into the awestruck representation of simple facticity. If one wanted to put this drastically, one could say that the work had settled in the crossroads of magic and positivism (Kreuzweg von Magie und Positivismus). This place is under the spell of a witch (verhext). Only theory can break that enchantment.” (from Von Wussow, 51)

Adorno is dealing out a hightoned diss to his former maitre. However, this is a backhanded methodology devoutly to be wished by all true illuminati and Red Riding hood fans. In the mashup of Michelet's the Sorceress and Das Kapital, this is what you get, baby! Any greenie can recite the sociologist’s rosary: correlation is not causation. But that greenie gets no farther when asked the two logically succeeding questions: what, then, is causation? And what is correlation?

In fact, causation has to be correlation – plus something else. And as for what correlation is… Perhaps the answer to that only dawns on the person who is dealing with correlations dense enough to allow for crossroads. For it is from the crossroads that magic and positivism both take on a shape, take on a conceptual form, signal to each other.

And who are these masters of the crossroads? Benjamin, Toussaint L’ouverture. Atibon Legba. Who appears as a stooped old man, a clever peasant, a holder of a secret degree in asinine wisdom.

Azima Legba
Ouvri barrier po’ moin

One feels this crossroads in Les mots et les choses. It seems to follow Foucault through the book, even as Foucault’s description of the great tradition with its unities – the age, the ‘occidental culture” - seems curiously like the ethnography of Kafka’s Castle bureaucracy. These pulls to one side of the crossroads or another are particularly powerful in the structure and origin of the human sciences which he proposes in Chapter 10, with the erection of one threefold structure – the science of life, the science of economics, the science of language - covering the field of the positive sciences, and the science of man existing, as it were, in the margins and interstices – at the crossroads – on each level.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Foucault's episteme of the Same

Perhaps due to Foucault’s fastidious avoidance of the “philosophy of the subject” – which, as he wrote in his essay on Canguilhem, went through Sartre and Merleau-Ponty – the notion of the Other is as absent from The Words and Things as it is in the episteme of the 17th and 18th century.

Yet a witchy reading of Foucault would find that the absence of the Other is the prerequisite of the episteme of representation – in fact, the social function of that episteme (not a concern of Foucault’s in this book) is that it blocks the notion of the other.

This is the kind of lion’s paw statement that should trail the spring of a leonine book, not a mere less than thousand mouselike words.

To say that there is no room for the Other in the seventeenth and eighteenth century seems to deny the monument to Friday that I have been piling up, finding the figure of the savage entangled in the most unexpected, the most ‘Western’ of discourses – for instance, in the rediscovery of Greece by Winckelman; our principle, after all, has been as without, so within. The libertine in exile in Amsterdam writes of the libertine Huron in New France, whose people are being taught by Jesuits to humble themselves before the discoveries of the natural philosophy while villagers in outlying districts in France are being discouraged by their priests to read the natural philosophers, under pain of official visitation.

But, to use the terms of French philosophy, these figures are all related to the Same. It is the Same who comes into being as nature is freed from those sanctions controlling knowing and use that made it something other than our nature. It is under the sign of the same that the savage can be interpreted in terms of deficiency.

What happens to crack this system of interpretation – what epistemological mutation, to use Foucault’s phrase, occurs to bound the Same?

Here, one needs to register some criticisms. It is a well known criticism of Foucault that he gives no cause for these mutations – causes seem to fade into the background. This, however, is less worrisome to me than the idea that these mutations are homogeneous across the cultures of Modernity. In fact, by linking them with a temporal marker, he implicitly homogenizes the epistemic field of the West. Myself, I can’t see these mutations as anything but partial and fragmentary. I particular, I think the episteme of representation lasts a lot longer in the Anglosphere, and consequently the “human sciences” – those sciences that, I would contend, arise not because man appears, but because man comes into relation to the Other – are given a distinctly different turn in Britain and the U.S.

But it is time to quote the man. My translation, of course. I’m going to look at the last two chapters of the words and the things. This is from the last chapter.

“The first thing to observe is that the human sciences didn’t receive, inherit a certain domain that was already drawn, marked out perhaps in its totality, but left fallow, and that they would have the task to elaborate with concepts that were finally scientific and methods that were finally positivistic; the 18th century didn’t transmit to them under the name of man orof human nature a circumscribed exterior space, but still empty, that it would be their role to cover and analyse. The epistemological field which the human sciences proceed through hadn’t been prescribed in advance; no philosophy, no political or moral option, no empirical science of whatever kind, no observation of the human body, no analysis of sensation, of the imagination or of the passions, in the 17th and 18th century, encountered something like man; for man didn’t exist (any more than life, language and work); and the human sciences had not appeared when, under the effect of some pressing rationalism, some non-resolved scientific problem, some practical interest, one decided to pass man (whether or not he liked it, and with more or less success) onto the side of the objects of science, in the number of which he has perhaps still not proved that he can absolutely be ranged; they appeared on the day when man is constituted in the occidental culture at the same time as what must think and what there is to know. There is no doubt that, certainly, the historic emergence of each of the human sciences occurred at the instance of a problem, a requirement, an obstacle in the theoretical or practical order; it certainly required the new norms that industrial society imposed on individuals in order that, slowly, over the course of the 19th century, psychology constituted itself as a science; it also required doubtlessly the threats that since the Revolutin had weighed on the equilibrium of society, and on that even which the bourgeoisie had installed, in order that there appeared a reflection of the sociological type.”

Now, in one way, I might say, Foucault is merely applying the kind of philosophy of science to the human sciences that has been applied to, say, genetics – a philosophy that is anti-reductionist and anti-whig, so to speak. The language here is remarkably provocative. Before the burning of Moscow in 1812, the mayor, Rostopchin, who was infuriated by the retreat of the Russian army, apparently posted placards with apocalyptic warnings and sayings – Foucault drops that same apocalyptic tone into the burning of the intellectual history of the Enlightenment. There is no “encounter” with something called man. There is no life, there is no work, there is language. Dropping the modifying phrase, ‘concept of’, he bank shots everything off man – for of course, man here is the very base of the system. Concept is not strong enough, or so Foucault apparently believes, to convey the practical and theoretical consequences here, since concept would imply the very Hegelian structure which is set up in the nineteenth century. In other words, it would be an anachronism.

Of course, the problem is that the practical consequences have been muted in this book. Unlike Foucault’s work on the madhouse and the clinic, and later, on the prison, this history is surprisingly traditional in pursuing its themes in terms of a classifying, analyzing discourse, seemingly disembedded from the system of power in which it takes place. Power, which we think of as Foucault’s great theme, enters here only as a marginal theme, a few rills in the background. If it had been introduced, I think we would mutate the mutations – we would have to account for a modality of knowing that is left out of Foucault’s story: discovery.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Addendum to the funeral announcement for Man

Struggling and juggling to do work this weekend, I could not follow up on my plan. And I still can’t, but I can announce my plan, which is the next turn in my thread, or my stairway to heaven, or my deathmarch, my peach, my light of love, my ghost, the tombstone I carry around my neck. As Mallarme, disguised as Dr. Seuss once put it, oh the places you will go!

I’ve been thinking about why it is that the l’age classique I’ve been presenting seems, on the surface, to reverse everything in Foucault’s Les mots et les choses. I don’t see that reversal as a contradiction, but a turning inside out – just as you can turn a coat or a shirt inside out. Of course, turning inside out doesn’t have a proper place in logic, or a name in dialectics, but it does in the theory of play – ilinx. And where I have grabbed Foucault’ narrative and turned it inside out is, I think, just at that place where he announces the birth of man and his coming disappearance. For, in my endless bedtime story, the end of the eighteenth century, the laying down of the foundations of the culture of happiness, is about another birth, which by Swedenborgian bilocation might be the same birth: the birth of the Other. To my mind, this is what was busy being born as the guillotine came down on the Ancien Regime.

But I have no time to defend this thesis today. Rather, I simply wanted to yank Foucault’s thesis, give it a thorough pull, and in that gesture (which contains all the dualism of Petit Chaperon Rouge and le Loup, of course – the path of pins and the path of needles being to the initiated eye the same path) turn it inside out.