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148 Editorial collective David Cunningham, Howard Feather, Peter Hallward, Esther Leslie, Stewart Martin, Kaye Mitchell, Mark Neocleous, Peter Osborne, Stella Sandford Contributors Jon Beasley-Murray is Assisant Professor of Spanish at the University of British Columbia. He was co-editor of the 2001 special issue of Angelaki, Subaltern Affect. Georges Canguilhem (1904–1995) taught at the universities of Strasbourg and Paris, and specialized in the philosophy and history of science. His many publications include The Normal and the Pathological (1943) and La Formation du concept de réflexe aux XVII et XVIII siècles (1955). Andrew Fisher is an artist and lecturer in the Department of Visual Cultures, Goldsmiths, University of London. Christian Kerslake is a research fellow in the Centre for Research in Modern European Philosophy, Middlesex University, currently working on the AHRC-funded project ‘Concept and Form: The Cahiers pour l’analyse and Contemporary French Thought’. He is the author of Deleuze and the Unconscious (Continuum, 2007).
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philosophy march/april 2008
commentary Fear of Heights: Bolivia’s Constituent Process Jon Beasley-Murray......................................................................................... 2
articles The Brain and Thought Georges Canguilhem...................................................................................... 7
Beyond Barthes: Rethinking the Phenomenology of Photography Andrew Fisher............................................................................................... 19
Grounding Deleuze Christian Kerslake ........................................................................................ 30
reviews Gerald Raunig, Art and Revolution: Transversal Activism in the Long Twentieth Century Stephen Zepke............................................................................................... 37 Yannis Stavrakakis, The Lacanian Left Philip Derbyshire........................................................................................... 41
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Published by Radical Philosophy Ltd. www.radicalphilosophy.com
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Christine Battersby, The Sublime, Terror and Human Difference Kimberly Hutchings....................................................................................... 43 Jacques Bidet, Exploring Marx’s ‘Capital’: Philosophical, Economic and Political Dimensions John Milios.................................................................................................... 46 John Rawls, Lectures on the History of Political Philosophy Sean Sayers................................................................................................... 49
obituary The Writer’s Malady: André Gorz, 1923–2007 Finn Bowring.................................................................................................. 52
Fear of heights Bolivia’s constituent process Jon Beasley-Murray
a Paz is the world’s highest capital city, at 3,636 metres above sea level. So it is all the more surprising that to get there, you have to descend: it is located in what the locals call a hueco, a hole or a hollow. When I visited in December, I arrived from across the Altiplano, a broad almost perfectly flat plain that stretches out towards Lake Titicaca in the north-west. Snow-capped mountains loom up on the horizon. The plain itself is dotted with small subsistence farms and apparently run-down huts and houses that gradually coalesce as you approach the city, to form the sprawling shanty town of El Alto. With almost a million inhabitants, almost all migrants from the countryside, El Alto is now a city in its own right and comprises the largest concentration of indigenous people in the Americas. It is here, where the ground is still level, that the international airport is located. And then suddenly, the ground drops away and you find yourself looking down into the hueco itself, a cliff-lined bowl packed with buildings of every type. Five hundred metres beneath you are the sky scrapers of La Paz city centre. Hunkered down in its hollow, the Bolivian capital shelters from the cold, the wind, and the oxygen-starved air of the high Altiplano. But this relative comfort is won at a price. The motorway that winds down the side of the cliff from El Alto is a precarious affair. And yet almost everything that goes in and out of the city has to pass along it. During the disturbances of October 2004 that ultimately gave rise to the current government of Evo Morales, indigenous protesters took a leaf out of the Argentine piqueteros’ book: they blocked the road, turning their marginal location, perched on the edge of the precipice, into a significant geopolitical advantage. In the narrow and winding city streets below, it is relatively rare that you get a glimpse of the heights that surround you. But in the tumult leading up to the 2005 presidential election, the periphery decisively made its presence felt. Since 2005, and especially in recent months, another periphery has been flexing its muscles. For heading east, other routes (among them one labelled the most dangerous road in the world because of the perils of its descent) drop down towards the lowland plains. At well under 3,000 metres, temperate Sucre has long been a counterweight to the constituted power otherwise concentrated in La Paz; a historic colonial centre and nineteenth-century capital, it is still the location of the Supreme Court among other government institutions. Further and lower down still, in the sweltering heat where the Andes finally give out, between the Amazon basin and the Paraguayan desert Chaco, Santa Cruz is now the country’s largest city, a boom-town product of the oil and gas exploration that is the latest key to Bolivia’s dreams of wealth and development, and so also the focus of foreign capital, political machination and social struggle. If the protests of 2004 and earlier, such as the so-called water war in Cochabamba of 2000
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and 2001, almost all took place in the highlands, now it is Sucre and Santa Cruz that are the site of disturbances. At stake is the constitution of the country itself.
Constituent or constituted power? The political changes sweeping Latin America over the past decade have usually been described in terms of the standard opposition between Left and Right. Since Hugo Chávez’s Venezuelan election victory in 1996, we have been witnessing, it is claimed, a turn to the Left. From Luis Inacio ‘Lula’ da Silva in Brazil to Néstor (and now Cristina) Kirchner in Argentina, Tabaré Vásquez in Uruguay, Michelle Bachelet in Chile, Rafael Correa in Ecuador, and even the return of Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua, the Left has won power throughout the hemisphere and come remarkably close to victory in several of those countries (such as Mexico and Peru) where it has not won outright. What remains to be carried out is an evaluation of what kind or kinds of Left this movement incarnates, what its prospects are to effect long-term change in a region renowned for having been the crucible of neoliberal experimentation and, partly as a result, having suffered historic levels of inequality and structural violence. The broad panorama of the Latin American Left allows the luxury for Tariq Ali, among others (most notably now Slavoj Žižek), to claim that it is Chávez above all who is leading the way in the construction of an ‘axis of hope’ for an egalitarian postneoliberal future. For someone like the Mexican analyst Jorge Castañeda, by contrast, along with probably the mainstream of northern hemisphere liberalism, the more cautious social democracy favoured by Lula or the Kirchners is preferable to the brash populism of the Venezuelan leader. Bolivia’s Morales does not fit easily into either camp: he lacks Chávez’s personal charisma and combativeness and he has been forced, especially recently, into extended negotiations with both his political opponents and his sometime fractious allies among Left-leaning social movements. On the other hand, his ‘Movement towards Socialism’ (Movimiento al Socialismo or MAS) stakes out some of the most radical demands of any so far articulated on the continent, at least on paper. The piece of paper that perhaps best articulates the aspirations of Morales’s movement, and on which Morales has gambled and arguably lost much of his personal
John Timberlake, Colony 14, 2006
political capital, is the revised Bolivian constitution, approved in December by a constituent assembly composed almost entirely of Morales supporters, as his opponents chose to boycott proceedings amid often acrimonious and violent scenes in lowland cities such as Sucre and Santa Cruz. For, rather than Left versus Right, the situation in Bolivia, as indeed in much of the rest of Latin America, is best understood in terms of the tension between constituent and constituted power, or between competing versions or understandings of the constituent process. The alternative is less the tired choice between social democracy and populism, and more the question as to whether we are seeing the emergence of a new form of governmentality sealed by a renovated social pact, or whether by contrast this is but the start of a radically open process in which all pacts and contracts are kept permanently in suspense. Is this a renegotiation of the postcolonial settlement designed above all to relegitimate the state and its institutions? Or is it the rebellion of a multitude, a historic inversion in which what Simon Critchley would call ‘infinitely demanding’ social movements ensure that any attempt at hegemonic closure is now perpetually deferred? In short, is for instance the declaration that Bolivia is a pluri-ethnic nation-state, which recognizes the rights and, in certain cases, parallel justice systems of indigenous communities, to be understood as biopolitical retrenchment or as a lasting challenge to the unitary principles of state transcendence? In Venezuela, it seems now clearer than ever that Chávez’s Bolivarian Revolution is more retrenchment than opening. There, ironically, the constituent process has been kept open only by the mass abstention of millions of former chavistas from the latest series of proposed constitutional amendments, defeated in December’s national referendum. The centripetal force of Chávez’s reforms, the way in which they tend to concentrate power in the presidency itself, has become ever more obvious. The irony, however, is that the president himself becomes ever more diffuse: his appeal is sustained only by a hectic schedule of travel alongside the constant attempt to make himself present in the population’s everyday life by means of his marathon stints as talkshow host on his weekly programme ‘Alo Presidente’. Much more literally and insistently than any other world leader, Chávez’s ambition is to be the president in your living room. Indeed, the controversy over the fact that his government refused to renew a broadcasting licence to the RCTV television station had less to do with the fact that this was a channel that steadfastly sided with the political opposition, and more with what is effectively a competition between state and private sectors over the serialized affects of the Venezuelan viewing public. RCTV was avidly watched even by people averse to its political line, because its soap operas were perennial favourites. Chávez, meanwhile, has taken political melodrama to new aesthetic and affective extremes, even on the international stage, as in his complex orchestration of the Colombian hostage rescue saga at the beginning of this year. It was only appropriate that Oliver Stone, cinematic master of political affect, should have been present at least for the first, botched, incarnation of the mission dubbed ‘Operation Emmanuel’ in honour of the child hostage the world was led to believe that the FARC still held. In Bolivia, the situation remains more complex and more fluid. In part this is because Morales is a very different leader from Chávez. He has little of the military man’s bearing or sense of spectacle, though in his own way he does know how to put on a rather low-key show. Where the Venezuelan leader favours a sartorial style that includes plenty of jumpsuits in the colours of the red, yellow and blue national flag, a sort of combination of Vegas-era Elvis with a Mondrian obsession, the Bolivian president won headlines when, shortly before his inauguration, he undertook a world tour (which took in Havana, Caracas, Madrid, Paris, Brussels, and Jon Stewart’s Daily Show), clad always in what was apparently the same rather homely alpaca jumper. Though Morales has certainly earned his political stripes over the years, as leader of the largely indigenous coca-growers’ movement, the public impression he gives is
John Timberlake, Avamposto, 2007
much more down-to-earth and conciliatory than Chávez’s larger-than-life and in-yourface hyperactivity. Morales does not possess the charismatic personality that could overcode the many disparate social forces that constitute his political movement. Hence, therefore, the constitution and the constituent process are much more of a delicate balancing act: the piece of paper matters more to Morales’s air of legitimacy than it does to Chávez, who was able to shrug off his referendum defeat with what was yet another masterful piece of televisual showmanship in which a concession speech only thinly veiled a triumphant discourse declaring that the revolution was only temporarily postponed, ‘for the time being’. Moreover, Morales precariously presides over a much more fragmented polity. Whereas Chávez has engineered an almost perfectly Schmittian division between political friend and enemy, chavista and anti-chavista, the Bolivian constituent process has encouraged declarations of autonomy on the part of the lowland provinces that increasingly have become the country’s economic heartland, stirring up age-old conflicts over the post-colonial settlement that carved up constituted power between Sucre and La Paz. The constituent assembly was to have met in Sucre, in part as a gesture towards decentralization, but street violence eventually forced a change in venue from public theatre to guarded military academy, and final approval in mid-December took place in highland Oruro. At almost exactly the same time, the governor of Santa Cruz province declared autonomy from the central government, proposing the creation of separate identity cards and the province’s own police force, as well as more significantly arguing that two-thirds of the region’s oil and gas revenues should be retained locally rather than going to La Paz for national redistribution. Three other lowland provinces quickly followed suit, effectively undermining the notion that the constitution signified the refoundation of the Bolivian republic. Rather, it seemed to presage its imminent disintegration. The perhaps unintended effect of this separatist declaration was that Morales was forced to reopen the constituent process, accepting that the constitution’s terms were up for renegotiation ahead of the national referendum required to ensure its passage into law later this year.
A strange reversal Who, then, incarnates the constituent power that for Antonio Negri is the expression of an insurgent multitude? A strange reversal seems to have taken place, by which a national government with its concerns for unity and legal due process is identified with subaltern movements and the indigenous. And it is the economically powerful, whose interests regularly coincide with those of oil and gas multinationals, that are declaring autonomy and issuing demands that constituted power is unable to satisfy while retaining its territorial monopoly of real and symbolic violence. In short, and in the terms offered by Negri and Hardt’s Empire, forces aligned with Empire are behaving rather more like their description of the multitude, while the so-called multitude is identified ever more with something closely resembling the old-fashioned national-popular state. It is no great wonder, if no small irony, that Negri himself has repeatedly thrown what weight he has behind leaders such as Chávez and Morales, and even Kircher and Lula, whom he extols in GlobAL (co-written with Giuseppe Cocco) for advancing a ‘constituent New Deal.’ What happened to the theorist who, in essays such as ‘Keynes and the Capitalist Theory of the State’, was such a trenchant critic of Keynesianism and the old New Deal? It is no doubt a sign of the ambiguities of the concepts of multitude and Empire, and even constituent and constituted power, biopower and biopolitics, that on what should perhaps be their favoured terrain (and given the amount of time that Negri has spent in recent years in and writing about Latin America, it would seem that he believes the region to offer the clearest instance of the tendencies those concepts set out to describe), they are still as yet insufficient to their task. However much the framework that Negri suggests is an improvement on the now worn-out platitudes of liberalism, populism and social democracy, its actualization in Latin America remains problematic. The situation in Bolivia remains complex and unpredictable. This year could see further violence and further disintegration. Morales’s position may well prove untenable, and the alternative is likely to turn out to be far worse, at least in the short to medium term. But, as with Chávez and chavismo, it is worth looking to the internal conflicts within the MAS and its allied movements. For the drive to consolidate constituted power is hardly representative, however much, as always, constitutional renovation is undertaken precisely in the name of enhanced representativity. Equally, the inhabitants of oil-rich provinces such as Santa Cruz hardly hold a monopoly on desires for political and social autonomy. Indeed, the tension within Bolivia’s social movements and their purported representatives is also that between a subalternist tendency that turns its back on any claims to political unity, on the one hand, and a hegemonic logic of refoundation on the other. The fact that an indigenous leader is installed in the National Palace in La Paz does little in itself to resolve the tension between a capital that seeks refuge in the folds of the Altiplano and the sprawling multitude that look down on the city from the surrounding heights. My wager would be that it is in the informal coalescence of El Alto that Bolivia’s best prospects are to be found. The current squabble between La Paz and Sucre, La Paz and Santa Cruz, is symptom as well as alibi for the fact that a new, postneoliberal logic of social order and/or multitudinous community is still at best on the other side of the horizon.
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The brain and thought Georges Canguilhem
No doubt we all like to think that we think, and many of us would like to know how it is that we think as we do.* It appears that the question has ceased to be a purely theoretical one. It now seems that more and more of the powers that be [plus en plus de pouvoirs] also take an interest in our capacity to think. If, then, we seek to understand how it is that we think as we do, we do this in order to protect ourselves against the ways – either overt or devious – in which we are induced to think the way they would like us to. Indeed many people are asking questions of the manifestos put forward in various political circles, and of some of the methods of so-called behavioural psychotherapy, and of the reports issued by some computer companies. They believe they can detect in these things the possibility of a programmed extension of techniques that aim, in the last analysis, to normalize thinking. To simplify things without, I think, distorting them, it may suffice to mention one name, that of Leonid Pliouchtch, and one abbreviation, that of IBM. Just as biologists believed they could not speak of the human brain without situating it at the end of a history of living beings, so I think it would be helpful to begin a presentation on the brain and thought by situating this question within the history of culture.
I Today, although it is common knowledge that the human brain is the organ of thought, we ought nevertheless to recall that one of Antiquity’s greatest philosophers, Aristotle, argued that the brain’s function, in contrast to that of the heart, was to cool down the animal’s body. It was Hippocrates who argued that the brain was the seat of sensations, the organ of movements and judgements, an argument assumed in
the Hippocratic treatise On the Sacred Disease (i.e. epilepsy). Plato took up this theory in part (notably in the Timaeus), but it is thanks to Galen that it became dominant in Western culture. Galen’s militant Aristot elianism didn’t prevent him from performing ingenious experiments on the nervous system and the brain in his attempt to verify the Hippocratic thesis. The question of the brain was thus originally formulated as a question concerning the seat of the soul. Today’s version of the problem retained this formulation over the course of the centuries and then, in the wake of Cartesian philosophy, gave rise to a long succession of theories and polemics, which we have inherited. A brief outline of this history is indispensable for determining the starting point of our investigation. This point lies in the nineteenth century, at the site of positivism’s struggle against spiritualism: the theory of cerebral localizations. Too often this historical account is said to have begun with Descartes. But this involves a total mis understanding. Descartes taught that the indivisible soul is joined as a whole to the body by a single organ – an organ that is the physical equivalent, so to speak, of a single point: the pineal gland (the conarion of the Ancients, our epiphysis). With Descartes there can thus be no question of seeking to unite a divided thought to a federal organ. Those who later did not understand that the pineal gland’s function was meta-physiological criticized Descartes, and continued to search elsewhere in the brain for the seat of the sensorium commune. The list of researchers is long and stretches from Willis to La Peyronie. Even the invention of the guillotine served as an occasion for eminent doctors – Kant’s correspondent Soemmering, for instance – to weigh in on the side of this or that theory. Pierre Cabanis (1795),
* This article was first presented as a lecture at the Sorbonne organized by the Mouvement universel pour la responsabilité scientifique (MURS) in December 1980, and published in the journal Prospective et Santé 14, Summer 1980, pp. 81–98. It was republished as the foreword to the proceedings of a conference (Actes du colloque 6–8 December 1990), Georges Canguilhem: Philosophe, historien des sciences, Albin Michel, Paris, 1993, pp. 11–33. This translation is based on the Albin Michel text, in which ‘the subtitles added by the journal have been removed, and the ordering of paragraphs, some of which had been altered, has been re-established in keeping with Georges Canguilhem’s indications.’ It is translated here with the kind permission of Bernard Canguilhem.
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who argued that the brain secretes thought as the liver does bile, took part in the controversy and discussed the case of the decapitated Charlotte Corday. Then, in 1810, Franz Joseph Gall published his The Anatomy and Physiology of the Nervous System in General and the Brain in Particular. This is where brain science really began, even if it still had to get past the initial obstacle that was phrenology, that mixture of naivety and conceit. The strong point of Gall’s doctrine was the exclusivity it attributed to the encephalon, and more particularly to the cerebral hemispheres, as the ‘seats’ of all intellectual and moral faculties. It presented the brain, understood as ‘the system of systems’, as the sole physical basis of the faculties. Phrenology was then essentially a cranioscopy grounded in the correspondence between content and container, between the configuration of hemispheres and the shape of the skull. In opposition to sensualist ideology, in opposition to what we might today call the acquisition of experience from the environment, Gall and his disciples argued for the innateness of moral qualities and intellectual capacities. But, unlike the spiritualist metaphysicians, they grounded this innateness in the anatomical substrate of an organ and not in the ontological substantiality of a soul. Seen from a distance, the interest of this controversy might seem merely theoretical, but in fact it wasn’t. Discovery of the so-called ‘mathematics bump’1 was met with widespread laughter, but we seem less ready, these days, to laugh away current talk about the chromosomes of the ‘exceptionally gifted’ or the genetic and hereditary basis of IQ. For, even with an average IQ, it is easy to see the possible consequences of such talk at the level of social conditions. We should remember, however, that Gall and Johann Spurzheim were already arguing for the practical applications of their theories in the fields of pedagogy, of aptitude testing (or what is today called ‘career guidance’ [orientation]), of medicine and of police work (prevention of delinquency). In fact, one of Daumier’s illustrations for Antoine-François Hippolyte Fabre’s Némésis médicale (1840) depicts a phrenologist standing in front of a traditional collection of a skulls in plaster and examining the skull of a child who has been brought in by his mother, a working-class woman, for aptitude testing. In fact, as Georges Lanteri-Laura remarked in his Histoire de la phrénologie, shortly after Spurzheim and his Scottish disciple George Combe imported it to the United States, phrenology quickly developed into applied phrenology, becoming an instrument for selecting personnel and guiding their careers, and even for giving matrimonial advice.
It has been suggested that phrenology’s success in the United States at the time occurred for similar reasons and was similar in scope to the more recent success of psychoanalysis. Above all, however, the crucial influence that phrenology had on psychopathology should not be underestimated. It is simply impossible, otherwise, to understand why the first attempts to localize intellectual functions in the brain concerned difficulties with speech and the memory of words. On the topic of aphasia, Pierre Paul Broca and Jean-Martin Charcot confirmed Jean-Baptists Bouillaud’s findings (Bouillaud was a student of Gall), which located the function of language in the frontal lobes (1825–48). In the second half of the nineteenth century the use of both galvanic and faradic electricity became a privileged means of exploring brain functions; at the same time, some researchers were even inclined to elevate experimental neurology to the status of philosophy. Thus, as early as 1836, a doctor from the Hospice de Bicêtre, Louis-Francisque Lélut, in a work called Qu’est-ce que la phrénologie?, wrote: ‘The only thing missing from this physiologico-psychological system, the only thing needed to make it fully complete, is to analyse the brain’s role in the production of moral and intellectual facts, that is to say, to explain mechanisms of thought using modern hypotheses about the electricization or electromagnetization of the encephalic mass’ (p. 239). Half a century later, Ferrier, Fritsch, Hitzig, and Flechsig would inaugurate what Henri Hecaen and Lanteri-Laura later called ‘the golden age of cerebral localizations’, making possible the first topographic map of the brain. Then, without further ado, as early as 1891 the Swiss psychiatrist Gottlieb Burckhardt converted topographical knowledge into psychosurgical technique – unsuccessfully, as it happens – and began performing the operation that came to be known as lobotomy.2 Once again, we should pay attention to just how quickly apparent knowledge of the brain’s functions was invested in techniques of intervention, as if the theoretical agenda was from the beginning driven by a practical interest.
II Parallel to this research in cerebral neurology, the science of psychology evolved to become little more than a pale reflection of physiology, encouraged by a bad-thinking [mal pensante] philosophy that drew its reasons for thinking badly from that very psychology. In France, the leading thinker of this tendency was Hippolyte Taine. In his Les Philosophes français au XIXe siècle (1854) Taine contrasted the spiritualist
homilies of Paul Royer-Collard to Jean Pierre Flourens’s experimental brain research, even though the latter could not easily be understood as materialist. Then, in his work of 1870, De l’intelligence, he defended on the basis of a theory of sensation the doctrine of so-called pyschophysiological parallelism. It was this doctrine that French academic philosophers, the professors who taught my own professors, Bergson included, were especially determined to refute – and they did so under the disapproving eye of Théodule Ribot, who acted like the executor of Taine’s legacy. Even Freud himself, author in 1888 of an entry on the ‘Brain’ for a medical dictionary, acknowledged an initial debt to Taine. In 1895, after writing his Project for a Scientific Psychology, Freud wrote to Fliess (February 1896): ‘I like Taine’s book On Intelligence very much. I hope something will come of it.’ This is perhaps what led Ludwig Binswanger to write that Taine’s psychological naturalism had many points in common with that of Freud. However, without abandoning the topography of brain localization, in Die Traumdeutung (1900) Freud introduced the concept of ‘psychic apparatus’ so as to foreground the issues surrounding what he called ‘psychic topography’ [Topik in the German, topique in the French]. By 1915, he was able to write, in the chapter on the ‘Unconscious’ in Papers on Metapsychology: ‘Every attempt to deduce from [cerebral localizations] a localization of mental processes, every endeavour to think of representations as stored up in nerve-cells has miscarried completely.’ And he added that, for the moment, the configuration of the psychic topography [Topik] (the distinction of the system into Ucs, Pcs, Cs) ‘has nothing to do with anatomy’. To limit myself to the French domain, I shall recall the titles of two works from the same epoch, each of which was expressly conceived in the absence of reference to any philosophical concepts. In 1905, Alfred Binet furnished an essay on the nature of sensation entitled l’Ame et le Corps [The Soul and the Body]. Then, in 1923, Henri Piéron, director of the Institute of Psychology, published his Le Cerveau et la Pensée [The Brain and Thought]. The brain and thought had become so closely united, and even confused, in the thought – or the brain – of physiologists, doctors and psychologists that even some poets were led to attribute all responsibility for painfully lived experiences to the brain. Thus a celebrated man of letters, a poet and an actor, having difficulties with his ego or I [moi], wrote to Jacques Rivière: ‘All I want now is to feel my brain [sentir mon cerveau] … I am a man whose mind has suffered a great deal.
I only hope that my brain will change, that its upper drawers will open up.’ The person in question is Antonin Artaud, in May of 1923 and March of 1924 respectively. Then, in the academic year of 1923–24, Collège de France professor Pierre Janet3 – who like Freud was a student of Charcot’s, and who as a doctor was also engaged in treating another celebrated man of letters having difficulty with his ‘I’: Raymond Roussel – declared in one of his lectures: We have gone too far in linking psychology to the study of the brain. For almost fifty years too much has been said about the brain: we’ve been told that thought is a secretion of the brain, which is no more than a stupidity, or at least that thought has a relation to brain functions. One day all this will be considered laughable: it is not accurate. What we call thought, or psychological phenomena, is not the function of any organ in particular: it is no more the function of the fingertips than it is a function of a part of the brain. The brain is only a set of switches, a set of devices which alter muscles affected by excitation. What we call ‘ideas’ or ‘psychological phenomena’ concern behaviour as a whole, they concern the individual taken as a whole. We think with our hands as well as with our brain, we think with our stomach, we think with everything: we should not separate one thing from another. Psychology is the science of man as a whole, it isn’t the science of the brain: this is a psychological error that has caused much harm for a very long time.
This psychology is perhaps unjustly neglected today;4 I do not refer to it for the sake of erudition but in response to a pressing preoccupation of our time. This connection allows us to see in Janet’s position a deliberately nonconformist stance on matters concerning the pathogeny and treatment of so-called mental illnesses. This stance was as anti-establishment then as is today the stance of this or that adherent of anti-psychiatry. For, as we cease to believe in the primacy of the cerebral we quickly become sceptical about the effectiveness of prison-like internment as well. According to Janet, the concept of alienation was not primarily psychological but first and foremost ‘a police matter’. Janet declared: ‘A demented man is a man who is unable to live in the streets of Paris.’ No doubt it would have been easy enough to push him further to say that it is the streets of Paris themselves that are demented. This tranquil man, who in 1927, in his La Pensée intérieure et ses troubles, wrote that ‘The word mad is therefore a designation used by the police’, would probably have approved the piece of advice that some Oxford students wrote on the walls of their university: ‘Do not adjust your mind, there is a fault in reality.’
So to sum up: a century after Gall and Spurzheim it had become possible to pursue the work of psychology without relying on arguments drawn from neurophysiology. However, to understand better what is at stake philosophically in the ‘brain–thought’ problem, we must briefly return again to phrenology.
III Explanations of intellectual functions and their effects based on the structure and configuration of the brain harbour, from the outset, an intrinsic ambiguity. Attempts to popularize such explanations made this ambiguity glaring because they presented it in a crude form. One of the many works that sought to popularize and promote phrenology, Alexandre David’s Le Petit Docteur Gall, contains pages of commentary about a portrait of Descartes taken from Johann Kasper Lavater’s (1778) Physiognomic Fragments, a drawing based on a portrait by Franz Hals. The phrenologist, a disciple of Spurzheim, locates in various places on Descartes’s head ‘all the perceptive intellectual faculties’: individuality, configuration, extension, weight, colouring, locality, calculation, order, eventuality, time, tone, language. This apparently serves to explain why Descartes was so well ordered in the administration of his mind, and how it was that he came to apply algebra to geometry and mathematics to optics. The presence or placement in his brain of his sense of ‘locality’ is further meant to explain why he led a nomadic existence. David also praises an expert phrenologist, a certain M. Imbert, for having remarked that the cogito is a simple effect of ‘eventuality’, that is to say, of the ‘faculty which perceives the actions that occur within us’. Since the cogito, then, was not a result of the ‘reflective intellectual faculties’, Spurzheim seemed to be justified in stating that Descartes was not as great a thinker as generally believed. In short, back in the days before phrenology, Descartes was considered a thinker, an author responsible for his philosophical system; in its wake he becomes the bearer of a brain that thinks under the name of René Descartes. Because Descartes now is the brain in which ‘eventuality’ is present, he perceives the cogito within him. Because Descartes is a brain in which ‘locality’ is present, he moves around like a nomad all the way from Poitou to Sweden, via Paris, Ulm and Amsterdam, where he preceded today’s hippies, who are attracted to it for other reasons. On the basis, then, of an image of Descartes’s skull, the expert in phrenology concludes that all of Descartes, his biography and philosophy, lies in a brain that must indeed be acknowledged as his brain, Descartes’s brain, since
it is this brain that contains the faculty to perceive the actions that occur within him or it [lui]. But who or what now is this ‘him’ [lui]? This brings us to the central ambiguity. Who or what is it that says I, not only at the beginning of The Discourse on Method, but also and above all at the beginning of On Geometry from 1637: ‘I shall call unity … I shall not hesitate to introduce these terms …, etc.’? Throughout the nineteenth century, the I think was many times over refused or refuted in favour of a ‘thinking’ [penser] that proceeded without any responsible personal subject. In his Philosophische Bermerkungen, Georg Lichtenberg stated: ‘we should say “it is thinking” just as we say “it is raining”.’5 The neurologist Sigmund Exner, quoting Lichtenberg’s phrase in his memoirs from 1889, Über allegemeine Denkfehler, wrote: ‘The expressions, I think, I feel, are not at all good ways of expressing oneself. One should rather say: it thinks in me [es denkt in mir], it feels in me [es fühlt in mir]. The weight of arguments does not depend on our will; instead, a judgement takes shape within us [es denkt in uns].’ A little before this, and quite independently of one another, Rimbaud and Nietzsche both felt obliged to excuse themselves for having succumbed to the illusion of their thinking I [leur moi pensant]. In the famous letter to Izambard of 1871, in which Rimbaud portrays himself as a seer, he stated: ‘It is wrong to say: I think. One ought to say: I am thought [on me pense]. ’ And in Beyond Good and Evil, in 1886, Nietzsche wrote: ‘It is a falsification of the facts to say: the subject “I” [moi] is the condition of the predicate “think”. It thinks: but that this “it” is precisely that famous old “I” is, to put it mildly, only an assumption’ (§17). Nietzsche expressed this same idea on many occasions; a list can be found in Bernard Pautrat’s book Versions du soleil, in the chapter entitled ‘Décomposition du cogito’. The more certain the conviction that there is an illusion to be denounced, the more incontestable the fact of the illusion becomes, and the more pressing the duty to account for it. ‘Wo Es war soll Ich werden.’ This phrase of Freud’s, whose interpretation has divided psychoanalytic schools, can be appropriated for my own purposes. And the last word of this historical overview remains a question: how can an I think come to this It or Id [Ça] indicated and described, after the phrenologist, by today’s physiologist – that is to It, to a brain?
IV What is called thinking? Even though this question has Heideggerian echoes in fashionable philosophical
circles, I shall look at it from its banal and trivial angle. The definition one gives of thinking will determine the various kinds of thinker one is prepared to admit. The author of the Pensées and inventor of the ‘thinking reed’ wrote: ‘The arithmetical machine produces effects which approach nearer to thought than all the actions of animals. But it does nothing that would enable us to attribute will to it, as to the animals.’6 We are not far here from the computer, whose effects are even closer to thought than were those of Pascal’s machine. Better, they exceed thinking. The now hackneyed metaphor of the brain–computer is justified in so far as what is meant by thinking involves logical operations, calculation, reasoning. Reason, ratio, derives etymologically from reor, to calculate. As for the will of animals, though one might deem that Pascal improperly enlarged this concept to include all sorts of behaviour guided by the needs of living beings, we must admit that there is at least one animal capable of desiring effects without precedent in its experience, namely man as the inventor of machines – that is, poeple like Pascal himself. If the arithmetical machine is the effect of a brain’s calculations to which it itself approaches, we must at least admit that the stubborn determination to construct fifty variations of a machine before hitting on its definitive version is proof of a consciously motivated will to construct. Such motivation, Pascal argued, could never be attained by any mechanical device. But if it isn’t possible to conceive of a machine that is motivated by the project to build a machine, if there is no computer at the absolute origin of the computer, who can forbid the philosopher from asking, apropos of the brain, different questions than those posed by physiologists? This by no means amounts to contesting the physiologist’s knowledge on its own terms. The structure of and relations between the brain’s neurons are the condition upon which the exercise of this knowledge depends. The progress and correction of physiologists’ knowledge are the concern of physiologists. The physiologist is master in his own house. But the philosopher’s indiscretion knows no bounds. The computer emerged as a by-product of an attempt, enabled by the development of twentieth-century electronics, to mimic properties of the brain already identified by nineteenth-century neurophysiology: stimulus reception, transmission and switching of signals, elaboration of responses, and the recording of operations. The description of this functional nature of the schema in the current language of computing does not fundamentally change it. Depending on our preference, we can speak of the computer as a brain or the brain
as a computer. In his book Mémoire pour l’avenir, François Dagognet can write: ‘The real breakthrough is that man has managed to externalize the cerebral processes thanks to which he calculates, speaks and thinks’ (p. 8) and conversely that ‘The brain itself … emerges as redefined as a result of being relayed by material memory’ (p. 199). Here we encounter a specific case of a general theoretical strategy that is typical of contemporary science: a model is constructed on the basis of observation and experiments undertaken in a certain domain of reality, and then knowledge [connaissance] is further refined on the basis of this model, as if it was a matter of reality itself. Let’s consider the following question: physiologists clearly accept that the brain is part of an organism, that is to say, according to Jean Nageotte’s definition, that it is part of a mechanism ‘whose construction is part of its functioning’. Is this paradoxical property, considered as regards the mechanisms artificially produced by people, extended by that other paradoxical property that physiologists ascribe to the brain, that is, the property of being the organ in which the representation of its functioning would be included in the functioning itself? The editors of the journal Pour la science,7 who recently published a special issue on the brain, maintain that this ‘great computer of our life’ has discovered ‘its marvellous properties by reflecting on its own specific nature’. But it isn’t only journalists who say such things. David Hubel, a renowned neurophysiologist, dismisses the ‘materialospiritualist’ (i.e. dualist) argument according to which the cerebral computer is incapable of comprehending itself. Hubel accepts, incidentally, that the human brain (1012 neurons, 1014 synapses, i.e., one hundred thousand billion) is different to the computer, whose components may never attain such a number, even in the future. Besides, the brain doesn’t operate according to a linear sequential programme. In the same journal, Francis Crick also shows how the analogy between brain and computer is misleading. He notes with regret that physiologists have not yet managed to describe conscious perception in a way that sheds light on the ‘very direct’ experience we have of it. He writes: ‘This phenomenon is strongly suspected of being a feedback effect, but we do not yet know exactly how this occurs.’ As if an action that turns back on itself could be taken as transcendent in relation to a direct action. However there are some physiologists who do not blur the boundaries and limits of their science and who, in trying to push back these boundaries are also more cautious about the possibility of overcoming
these limits. In the prologue to his work Logique des neurones et du système nerveux, the biomathematician Pierre Nelson concludes with reflections about ‘the unsatisfying objectivity’ characteristic of types of explanation that confuse logic and feeling [le ressenti]. Professor Michel Jouvet, when asked by a journalist from the Nouvel Observateur 8 whether he thought a chemical formula for ‘the consciousness of consciousness’ might one day be discovered, remarked: ‘One system cannot comprehend another unless it is more complex. Logic… So will our brain be able to decipher its own secrets? Even with the help of a computer, I am not very sure that we will be able to translate all the processes of consciousness in neurobiological terms.’ But is the question really one of logic? François Jacob once invoked Gödel’s theorem in order to back up an answer similar to that given by Michel Jouvet.9 No doubt we should ask whether, in doing so, he took too many liberties, since the question is foreign to its domain of validity – that is, to formal arithmetic. Nevertheless we ought to credit these biologists for their reluctance to deduce consciousness from a science of the brain, even one enhanced through recourse to the computer. It’s difficult not to be astonished by the very widespread interest that not only scientists but also the public at large have in the electronic machinery of human thought. There is a long list of publications in the Anglo-American domain with titles that combine Mind or Brain with Machine. As for more generalinterest discussion, as M. Bernard d’Espagnat has noted in a recent work, there are no self-respecting spiritualists, today, who don’t feel obliged to think of their minds in terms of computer contacts. There is no need to draw attention to the growing use, that is to say the abuse, of inappropriate expressions such as ‘conscious brain’, ‘conscious machine’, ‘artificial brain’ or ‘artificial intelligence’. How, then, we might well ask, are we to explain these conjunctions of incompatible terms? The answer no doubt lies in the fact that these metaphors, first coined by scientists on the basis of a legitimate recourse to heuristic models or sophisticated simulators, were later cleverly reworked as advertising clichés during the industrial phase of computer technology. How could we have anything against computers, if our brains are themselves computers? Would you like a home computer? Why not, since we all have a computer inside of ourselves? A model of scientific research was thereby converted into a machine of ideological propaganda with a twofold purpose: to anticipate or disarm all opposition to the invasion of a means of automating the regulation of social relations;
and to conceal the presence of decision-makers behind the anonymity of the machine. But regardless of whether we are talking about analogical or logical machines, the calculation or processing of data according to a given set of instructions is one thing, and the invention of a theorem quite another. A computer is capable of calculating the trajectory of a rocket in outer space; it isn’t capable of formulating the law of gravitation. Invention cannot proceed without the consciousness of a logical void, without being drawn to a new possibility, without the risk of being mistaken. When Newton was asked how he found what he was looking for, he is alleged to have responded: ‘By thinking on it continually.’ What sense are we to give to this ‘on’? What is this situation of thinking in which one aims at what one does not see? And what place is there for such an ‘on’ in a cerebral machinery that has been assembled to connect pieces of data according to the rules set by a programme? To invent is to create information, to upset normal habits of thinking and the established state of knowledge.10 Just as Torres y Quevedo’s The Chess Player includes a gramophone that can say ‘check!’, so we can imagine a machine that cries out ‘eureka’ upon having discovered the solution to a problem for which the data and constraints were given in advance. But we cannot imagine it discovering Fuchsian functions as described by Henri Poincaré in his Science and Method. After several periods of fruitless work, after several times abandoning the problem and taking it up again, Poincaré understood, in a sudden flash, that there was a relation of identity between the transformations that had enabled him to define these functions and those of non-Euclidian geometry. This flash came to him one day in Coutances as he was getting on a bus: ‘the instant I put my foot on the step, the idea came to me…’ Will there ever be logical automatons to which ideas might suddenly come in this way? I will respond by connecting two quotations. In his study Au sujet d’Eurêka, Valéry wrote that ‘mad research [les recherches insensées] can lead to unforeseen discoveries.’ And a mathematician, René Thom, who explored the difficulties of constructing models capable of approximating chance and of formalizing the unformalizable, wrote: ‘In this task, the human brain with its old biological past, its clever approximations, its subtle aesthetic sensibility, is still irreplaceable and will remain so for a long time’.11
V However, if we cannot arrive at an understanding of how the brain is capable of invention by comparing it
to an electronic machine, perhaps we might explain it in chemical terms? Since the use of certain socalled psychotropic substances has brought about real improvements in the treatment of certain nervous and mental disorders, some researchers have begun to hope that this power to affect the symptoms of a disorder could also be applied to their causes. Whence the increasing interest in cerebral chemistry and the specific molecules involved in modifying the transmission of excitations at the level of synapses. Discoveries of neuropeptides – encephalins and endorphins – that is, of endogenous substances, have given us the power to inhibit a certain amount of physical and moral pain. Anti-psychiatry’s current hostility to psycho pharmacology, its systematic denunciation of ‘chemical straightjackets’, stems in part from an unjust indifference to problems of metabolic disturbance, problems that it’s perfectly reasonable to treat or attenuate by means of chemically affecting neuromediators. Two cases in point are Parkinson’s disease, which can be counteracted by the action of the drug levodopa (l‑dopa), and schizophrenia, which can be eased if not cured by the administering of chlorpromazine, a drug whose discovery might be deemed as important as was that of anaesthetics for surgery. Given the spectacular results of some of their work, it would have been surprising if psychopharmacologists had not sought to extend the power of chemistry not only to try to overcome brain defects, but also and above all to enhance brain performance. The authors of an article in Newsweek12 claim that the time is drawing near when, following the example set by memory-enhancing substances, we will discover invention-enhancing substances as well. There is talk for instance of developing a drug capable of arousing a feeling of déjà vu, so as to help people solve problems that appear difficult only because they haven’t experienced anything like them before – no mention is made, however, of the particular problems to be solved. But there is a big difference between dealing with a temporary breakdown, or a problem of counterespionage, and a mathematical problem such as the general proof of Fermat’s famous theorem. It’s hard not to indulge in irony about the lengths to which the popularizers seem prepared to go. And how can we not see that the invention of this drug – what we might call the conception pill – would itself be considerably facilitated by the prior invention of the thing it is designed to produce? In other words, research projects that aim to develop a chemical aid to invention [un soutien à l’heuristique] would themselves be dependent, as they try to put their ideas into practice, on the
prior achievement of the very project in question. Such projects believe they can solve, at the level of cerebral microstructures, the particular problem of the solution to problems in general via the invention of a sort of pro-solution [pro-solution] (or pro-conception) pill. In fact, however, they succeed only in reduplicating the problem, or, to put it more simply, in using a lever without a fulcrum. Consequently, despite the existence of and welcome effects of certain chemical mediators, and despite the perspectives opened up by certain discoveries in neuroendocrinology, it seems we are not yet in a position to announce, like Cabanis, that the brain secretes thought as the liver does bile. I have not forgotten that Pascal did not forget about memory. I shall recall two more of his Pensées: ‘memory is necessary for all the operations of reason’ (§369); and ‘when I was small I hugged my book’ (§371). In the first case, Pascal has in mind the memory of the calculator, the researcher, the administrator, the strategist. This is memory as archive and inventory. It is the memory we believe we can imitate, multiply, relieve, and, at the limit, replace with the automatic processing of banks of data, with an artificial memory exempt from memory disturbances. But, to use an expression of François Dagognet, what kind of future does this ‘memory for the future’ open up for memory? What future is opened up for the memory that says ‘When I was young…’, for that memory of time lost and time regained, for those memories of which, in the final lines of his book, Proust wrote ‘that when the desire of a living body is no longer there to sustain them they will eventually perish’? A proper examination of the subject deserves more than one conference paper and more than one conference. So I shall deliberately refrain here from treating a question that in all logic should lead us to consider the likelihood that some day we will see in the window of a bookshop a book entitled A Computer’s Auto biography, if not A Computer’s Self-Critique.
VI What now are we to call thinking in cases where what is at issue is that power of a living being that Pascal calls ‘will’, that power which he says no machine can simulate? Pascal’s insistence may appear clumsy to all those who might readily object by evoking today’s robots, the tortoises and electronic animals of Grey Walter or Albert Ducrocq – so many machines to which are readily attributed a sense of appropriateness and an ability to adapt to circumstances and to learn.
Pascal could not foresee that in 1908, Henri Piéron would borrow the word comportement from him to translate the English word behaviour, a word adopted in the USA in the early years of the twentieth century by Thorndike, Jennings and Watson to designate guided forms of animal conduct [conduites animales polarisées] as biological phenomena of adaptation to the environment. Even though – thanks in short to a strange process of exclusion and retention – ‘psychology’ remained the name for this study of behaviour, all reference to thought and consciousness was forbidden, and the brain was treated merely as a black box whose only features worthy of analysis were the inputs that entered it and the outputs that left it. Of course, distinctions were still made between various forms of living behaviour, some of which were still considered as intelligent, though without reference to any reflective capacity of judgement. Intelligence in this objective sense consisted merely in the correction of behaviour in the face of obstacles encountered in the search to satisfy a given need. It is well known that the objective study of behaviour uses techniques of conditioning by means of learning apparatuses. But there are two sorts of conditioning that are not always sufficiently differentiated: Pavlovian conditioning, which works by grafting a stimulusresponse relation onto an innate reflex relation; and Skinnerian or instrumental conditioning, which works, through repeated positive reinforcement, to consolidate forms of behaviour that achieve satisfactory solutions but that were initially discovered by chance. Inside one of Skinner’s boxes, by dint of repeated experiences of error-punishment or of correctness-reward, a rat or pigeon acquires the apparently intelligent behaviour involved in the calculation of pros and cons. Both these theories of conditioning think it legitimate to apply conclusions obtained from the study of animals to humans. It would be hard to deny that those who rely on such conclusions come close to identifying learning with training [dressage], and to understanding every environment as a milieu (including the social and cultural environment in the case of people). Ultimately, they slide more and more away from the concept of education towards the concept of manipulation. To which of these two enterprises should we associate the techniques that orient and guide individuals in the social milieu, via the open or disguised distribution of rewards? To be fair, however, we should note that the theory of conditioning based on Pavlov’s work has, thanks to an anthropology that claims to subscribe to dialectical materialism, been incorporated into a philosophy that
is non-reductionist in so far as it expressly recognizes that the human cultural environment is a historical effect and not a natural given. From this perspective, thought is not a purely cerebral function, a biological product; it is a social effect, an effect relative to the type of society in which it intervenes. In a conservative or repressive society, the equation thought = brain serves as a justification for techniques of normalizing conduct. Progressive neurologists consider Skinnerian conditioning to be the reflection of American society and the means of conserving it. To which American radicals respond by saying that conditioning, de-conditioning, brainwashing and chemical straightjacketing are not the privilege of any particular country. But what is essential about the human social environ ment is that it is a system of significations. A house is not perceived as stone or wood but as shelter; a pathway is not levelled earth, it is a passage, a track. Even for Neanderthal man, sharpened flint is not simply stone: its hardness is not merely a given of sensibility; it is above all caught up in a project to make tools. Hammering or percussion is not merely a movement but a gesture whose primordial effects, tools and fire, are at the root of what human beings understand as the meaning [sens] of their existence. Can it be argued, then, that learning and mastering the meaning of things and acts in a cultural environment raise no other problems of method than those involved in the training of animals through conditioning? These problems culminate in that of language. The thought–language relation refers to the brain–thought question via the language–brain relation. Is language ‘learned’ in the same way as every other behaviour, as Skinner would have it? Is language teaching analogous to a type of conditioning whose aim is to form a stable relationship between a signifier, a signified and a referent? If we identify learning and conditioning, do we not thereby resuscitate empiricism, which as we know emerged during an epoch that knew nothing of brain functions? If it is necessary to take innate linguistic capacities into account, must we then identify innateness with genetic cerebral programming? This was the question at stake in a debate between Noam Chomsky and Jean Piaget, organized at Royaumont and recently published under the title Théories du langage, theories de l’apprentissage (Seuil, 1979).13 By arguing that a language’s grammar is not a property of that language but a property of the human brain, Chomsky believes he can account for why it is that a child who learns to speak the language of his adult interlocutors could just as easily have acquired
a different language by communicating with different interlocutors. When people object that what Chomsky assumes to be inscribed in the fixed core of language is something that could be attained through general intelligence, he responds by saying that learning to learn requires an initial disposition. Chomsky argues that the need to have recourse to a generative capacity in order to explain language learning simply confirms what Wilhelm von Humboldt recognized about creativity when he said: ‘A language can make infinite use of finite means.’ It’s easy to understand why Chomsky claims an allegiance to Descartes and Leibniz, philosophies that defend the innateness of rational principles, but it is harder to see how he can identify the necessity of universal constraints of linguistic competence with the genetic determination of cerebral capacities. What is certain is that his opposition to Skinner and to the theory he presents in Verbal Behavior parallels his political opposition to Skinner’s theses in Beyond Freedom and Dignity (1971): The belief that the human mind is empty provides a justification for all sorts of authoritarian systems. If the human mind is empty then any method for fashioning minds to one’s liking is legitimate, and this can be taken to extremes, as in Skinner, for example, where everything ends up in a sort of fascist schema.14
But Chomsky’s opponents claim that arguments for the innateness of intellectual capacity can also be used in favour of elitism, in order to help justify inegalitarian social relations. Suffice it to say, for the moment, that in its current biological version the debate between empiricism and innateism supplies arguments to both sides of the political spectrum, indifferently. No doubt this indicates that justifications for political positions must be sought elsewhere than in the brain. On this latter point, by the way, the conclusion of Jouvet’s15 lecture merits our attention. He puts forward the idea that dreams, the expression of a cerebral activity closed to external afferences, cut off from the environment, could be taken as the indication of an activity that serves to maintain the hereditary programme, as a rupture in social relations. Dreams would then be the guardian of natural freedom in reaction to cultural constraints. One is tempted to evoke Rousseau’s opposition between savage and civilized man, and the axiom according to which man is born free but is everywhere in chains. But Rousseau’s own Creed of a Savoyard Priest prevents us from including him among those who look to physiology for the foundations of pedagogy and politics.
VII In short, human language is essentially a semantic function that physicalist kinds of analysis have never managed to explain. To speak is to signify, to give to understand, because to think is to live within meaning [sens]. Meaning or sense is not a relation between…, it is a relation to… That is why it escapes every attempt to reduce it to an organic or mechanical configuration. So-called intelligent machines are machines that produce relations between sets of data that we provide to them, but they are not in relation to what the user intends to do on the basis of the relationships that the machine produces. Because meaning is a relation to, people can play with it, twist it, feign it, lie, set traps.16 In all these instances, we have to take into account a gap in the relation to, an infringement or stretching [entorse] of meaning. The relationship of meaning in language is not that of an immaterial replica [réplique] of physical relations between elements or systems of elements in the brain of the speaker. Conversely, the meaning of uttered speech in the relation to… is not the production of a physical configuration in the brain of the interlocutor. Just as our visual cerebral sphere does not strictly speaking see the objects that our eyes are supposed to give us to see, so there is in the folds of the cortex no thought that contemplates ghosts of the objects or situations that our words have in mind. No more than in the nineteenth century, in today’s electronic age we cannot explain scientific cognition and poetic experience by means of a cerebral replica of the relation between organism and milieu. When speaking with their gardener or valet, Copernicus and Galileo can say that the sun rises, since like them they saw the sun’s globe rising above the horizon – but they do not think the sun rises. Victor Hugo can later claim to perceive the opposite of what he sees at sunset, to perceive in some sense the truth of the apparent movement of the stars; that is, to perceive what we have been obliged to think since Copernicus and Galileo: The day was dying; I stood by the sea on the strand. My daughter, dreamy child, I had by the hand, The young soul was still and silent! Rolling like a sinking ship caught up in a swell, The earth pitched on through space as the darkness fell; And the pale night began its ascent.17 [Le jour mourait; j’étais près des mers, sur la grève. Je tenais par la main ma fille, enfant qui rêve, Jeune esprit qui se tait. La terre, s’inclinant comme un vaisseau qui sombre,
En tournant dans l’espace allait plongeant dans l’ombre; La pâle nuit montait.] (Les Contemplations: Magnitudo Parvi)
The relationship between brain, thought and world thus cannot be conceived as the mental (or internal) reproduction of physical effects produced in the brain by the introduction of the (external) world into it via sensory pathways. Wittgenstein provided an incisive word on this point in his Zettel (fragments written between 1945 and 1948): ‘Philosophers who believe that one can, so to speak, extend experience in thought, ought to know that one can transmit speech via the telephone, but not the measles.’ Certainly, one cannot transmit the measles via the telephone, but one can transmit over the telephone discourses whose symbolic colour is not agreeable to everyone. Whence the practice of phone tapping. Whence the practice of evicting individuals for contagious thought disorders – evictions that generally last longer than the eighteen days during which you must stay home from school if you come down with the measles. There are several ways to account for the fact that human speech refers to thought which itself refers to a subject that is not a part of the world but, as Wittgenstein says, ‘a pre-supposition of its existence’. One can, for example, subscribe to critical reflection on the illusion of psychic interiority, as in the opening section of Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s posthumous work, The Visible and the Invisible – without needing to accept all the theses of existentialism. Or one might prefer, on grounds of axiological neutrality, the reference to Wittgenstein, as quoted above. The author of the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus insists on the fact, from which he draws a general consequence, that our field of vision is not itself seen by a sort of mental eye, an eye that might be localizable within the world of perception: There is therefore really a sense in which in philosophy we can talk of a non-psychological I [moi]. The I occurs in philosophy through the fact that the ‘world is my world’. The philosophical I is not the man, not the human body or the human soul of which psychology treats, but the metaphysical subject, the limit – not a part of the world. (5.641)18
Perhaps the best commentary on this text is not to be found in philosophy but in painting. The vision of the painter is also a signifying relation to. Maurice Denis has said that Cézanne used the term motif to name what he wished to represent, what he found invit-
ing him to paint, rather than the subject, that is, the represented things about which one can speak. It might be argued that, for the philosopher, the painter’s vision as act of presence to the world is more instructive than a psychophysiological theory of vision. A painting by René Magritte, Le paysage isolé, is the image of a landscape contemplated by a man seen from behind, and who says in a speech balloon: ‘I don’t see anything surrounding [autour du] the landscape.’ It is very true that I do not see anything surrounding the landscape, not as I would see the wall surrounding a painting that represents a landscape around which someone who says I sees nothing. I am the totality of my vision, but I can always change the whole of my vision by moving. This is proof that I do not coincide with that of which I constitute the limit. As Raymond Ruyer would say, the perceptual field is an absolute surface, but it is also mobile. The I is not with the world in a relation of overview [survol], but in a relation of surveillance [surveillance].
VIII This brings us back to the point on which we ended our initial historical outline. Thinking is a human practice that requires self-consciousness in presence to the world, not as the representation of the subject I but as its claim or demand [revendication], for this presence is vigilance and more exactly sur-veillance. From a philosophical point of view, acknowledgement of a subjectivity without interiority involves no contradiction, and should not arouse suspicions of solipsistic idealism. Properly understood, the concept of interiority conveys a spatial image. Interiority is exteriority turned inside out [renversée], but not abolished. In this respect, the surveillant [surveillant] I of the world of things and people is as much the I of Spinoza as the I of Descartes. While Descartes inwardly considers the self-evidence of his cogito, Spinoza asserts the impersonal axiom Homo cogitat. But when he comes to compose Theologico-Political Treatise, Spinoza is that I who in the last chapter demands, confronted by the Sovereign’s acknowledged right to govern over all things in the state concerning the actions of its citizens, ‘that all be granted the right to be able to think what they want and to say what they think’. Although Spinoza generally used the modest pronoun ‘we’, at the end of this work he could not restrain himself from writing: ‘I have thus fulfilled the task I set myself in this treatise …. I know that I am a man, and as a man liable to error.’ Intentions, mistakes – these, we have argued, are among the marks of thought. The Spinozist I is not, despite the geometrically demonstrated Ethics,
any less I than is the I of Descartes’s On Geometry, on account of the fourth section of the Discourse that precedes it. Regardless of the opposition between the Cartesian and Spinozist conceptions of the relation between soul and body, nonetheless Spinoza says I as if he were the solitary and outcast representative who acts in defence of his system, just as Descartes in his Replies to the Fifth Set of Objections says I when defending himself against Gassendi, whom he designates as ‘Flesh’. For my part, I have no qualms in saying, of Descartes and Spinoza, that it is the latter whose subjective function of presence–surveillance is the most manifest. In the second part of the Discourse, Descartes is very careful to defend himself against charges of having engaged in political critique. He states that all he wanted to do was to reform his own thought. He has kept his distance from people whose ‘muddled and worried temperaments’ led them towards opposition. The philosopher of générosité began with a philosophy of prudence. Spinoza, by contrast, took a public stand in favour of the right to freedom of thought. Friend of Johan de Witt, Grand Pensionary of Holland, whose republican convictions he shared, Spinoza was witness to the latter’s assassination in 1672 by an Orangeist mob in The Hague, as the armies of Louis XIV were invading Holland. Spinoza’s indignation and sorrow determined him to leave his lodging in order to put up a poster on the walls of the city on which he wrote: Ultimi barbarorum. It is said his landlord had to use force to restrain him.19 In short, Spinoza’s philosophy, this philosophy that refutes and rejects the foundations of Cartesian philosophy – the cogito, the affirmation of freedom in God and people – this philosophy without subject, frequently reduced to a materialist system, this philosophy, lived by the philosopher who thought it, gave its author the strength of mind or spirit [ressort] required to rebel against le fait accompli. Of such spirit [ressort], philosophy must provide an account. In pursuit of this end, philosophy can expect nothing from the services of psychology, a discipline that, as Husserl put it, emerged back in the days of Aristotle in a manner that has remained a ‘permanent disaster’ for philosophical minds ever since.20 By ‘psychology’ I mean a science that pretends to be objective, to situate itself among the other objective sciences and to teach them about the intellectual functions that allow them to be the sciences that they are. Philosophy can only resist this pretension of a part to want to account for the whole. Philosophy must therefore leave it to psychology to continue to make suggestions as to
how its theoretical advances might be exploited in pedagogy, in the economy, and, ultimately, in politics. As for philosophy, its specific task is not to increase thinking’s output or yield [rendement], but to remind it of the meaning of its power. To assign philosophy the specific task of defending the I as a non-transferable claim or demand of presence-surveillance is to see its sole role as that of critique. This task of negation is by no means negative, however, since to defend a reserve is also to preserve the conditions of possibility under which one might leave or come out of it. Of course, I can easily imagine the sort of sarcasm the word reserve, employed to give sense to that little word I, cannot fail to elicit, on the one hand among psychoanalyzing psychoanalysts, who will take it as a symptom of misrecognition of the unconscious, and on the other hand among physicalizing physicalists, who will denounce the ridiculous preservation of something inherited from a defunct spiritualism. But philosophical reserve is neither hiding place nor sanctuary; it is the guardian of spirit [garde du ressort]. A suspension of acquiescence, of support [adhésion], of adherence [adhérence], is neither withdrawal nor abstention. This is why we must take care not to appear to internalize the I, at the very moment when we might be tempted to merge subjectivity and interiority – in reaction against the current assimilation of thought to what René Thom has called ‘the electronic hardware shop’. To defend one’s reserve obliges one to come out of it occasionally, as did Spinoza. To leave or come out of one’s reserve is something we do with our brain, with the living regulator of active interventions in the world and society. Coming out of one’s reserve means setting oneself against all foreign interventions into the brain, interventions that tend to deprive thought of its power of reserve in the last resort [en dernier ressort]. I think you will grant me that in taking Spinoza’s conduct as an example, I have neither promoted confusion nor played on words. To come out of one’s house is the symbolic image of coming out of one’s reserve. It so happens that Spinoza actually did both. No doubt we should not attribute to Spinoza a philosophy other than his own. His conduct is the proof that, as it says in the last part of the Ethics, the order and connection of the body’s affections arrange themselves in keeping with the order and sequence of thoughts in the mind; true freedom would be the perfection of this correspondence. But his last word is that ‘all things excellent are as difficult as they are rare’. So, while waiting to attain ‘consciousness of oneself, and of God, and of things, by a certain eternal necessity’, the wise man may
on occasion find himself obliged to make an instant decision about what conduct to take regarding ‘the ordinary dangers of life… [which] through readiness and resource of strength of mind we can avoid and overcome’.21 This is why Spinoza came out in public to condemn certain men as barbarians, even though he had said that indignation is necessarily bad (since it generates hatred), and even though he knew that the crowd is fearsome when it fears nothing. The man who wrote that we do not know all the capacities of the human body and that we sometimes wrongly attribute them to the soul – this man came out of his home along with his brain, and he did so in a manner that was certainly in keeping with his philosophy. But perhaps he came out of it through an imperceptible Cartesian crack in its philosophical construction. At first glance, we might think that Spinoza had made a mistake. He might have made the mistake of believing that the barbarians he publicly denounced would be the last of their kind. But he understood Latin and he meant what he said: the most recent, the latest to come along. Consequently, today’s philosophers, whatever their line of research, whether Spinozist or Cartesian, are guaranteed not to lack occasions or reasons to go out – at their own risk and in an act of commitment monitored by their brain – to write on the walls, fences or ramparts: Ultimi barbarorum. Translated by Steven Corcoran and Peter Hallward
Notes 1. Paul-Jules Möbius (1853–1907), a German neuro physiologist known as ‘Gall redivivus’, located the mathematics bump above the left eye-socket, on its exterior side. See his Über die Anlage zur Mathematik, Leipzig, 1907. He was the grandson of the illustrious mathematician and astronomer Auguste Ferdinand Möbius (1790–1868), inventor of the Möbius strip. 2. Gottlieb Burckhardt, ‘Über Rindenexcisionen, als Beitrag zur operativen Therapie der Psychosen’, Allgemeine Zeitschrift für Psychiatrie 47, 1891. On the beginnings of psychosurgery, see the article by Alain Jaubert, ‘L’excision de la pierre de folie’, in Autrement: Guérir pour normaliser 4, 1975–76. 3. Pierre Janet, Cours du Collège de France 1923–1924, cited by Marcel Jousse, ‘Études de psychologie linguistique’, in Archives de Philosophie, vol. 2, no. 4. 4. An interesting study on Pierre Janet is to be found in a thesis by Claude Prévost, La Psychophilosophie de Pierre Janet, Payot, Paris, 1973. 5. Translators’ note The German reads ‘Es denkt sollte man sagen sowie man sagt es blitzt (literally: ‘there is lightning’). 6. Pascal, Pensées, Harvard Classics, Cambridge, 1909, §340.
7. Pour la Science, Special Issue, November 1979. 8. Nouvel Observateur, 29 October 1979. 9. ‘But to describe a movement of consciousness, a feeling, a decision, a memory, in the terms of physics and chemistry – that is another matter. There is nothing to say that we will ever be able to manage this. Not only as a result of complexity, but also because we know, since Gödel, that a logical system cannot suffice to describe itself.’ François Jacob, La Logique du vivant, Gallimard, Paris, 1970, p. 337. 10. The persistence of a stationary state of knowledge, after a theoretical invention, is a sort of objective measure of the originality of that invention. This is what led Max Planck to say in his Autobiography that for a discovery to gain general recognition it is not enough to accumulate theoretical proofs: it often has to wait for its adversaries to disappear and for a new scientific generation to come to power. 11. Cited in Henri Atlan, Entre le crystal et la fumée, Seuil, Paris, 1979, p. 229. René Thom further stresses the adventurous character of theoretical invention when he says: ‘Almost all progress in algebra stems from the desire to carry out forbidden operations (negative, rational, imaginary numbers, etc.).’ Colloque de Royaumont: Théories du langage, théories de l’apprentissage, Seuil, Paris, 1979, p. 508. 12. ‘Drugs for the mind’, Newsweek, 12 November 1979. 13. Jean Piaget et al., Théories du langage, théories de l’apprentissage: Le débat entre Jean Piaget et Noam Chomsky, Seuil, Paris, 1979. (Translators’ note The English version was published as Jean Piaget, Noam Chomsky, and Massimo Piattelli-Palmarini, Language and Learning: The Debate between Jean Piaget and Noam Chomsky, Harvard University Press, Cambridge MA, 1980.) 14. Chomsky, Théories du langage, théories de l’apprentissage, p. 393. 15. See Michel Jouvet’s paper: ‘Les états de vigilance: bilan et perspectives’, in Prospective et Santé 14, Summer 1980, pp. 73–80. 16. A machine cannot play tricks on you, any more than it can play tricks on itself. To put it differently, a machine is incapable of machination. Michael Schriven makes of the capacity to lie the criterion by which to distinguish between consciousness and an apparently conscious robot. ‘The Mechanical Concept of Mind’, in Minds and Machines, Prentice Hall, Englewood Cliffs NJ, 1964. 17. Translators’ note Translation of Magnitudo Parvi by Geoffrey Barto, http://gbarto.com/hugoinfo/2003_03_ 01_hugoarchive.html. 18. I should add that, even at the time of Tractatus LogicoPhilosophicus, when he says metaphysical subject Wittgenstein does not mean ontological subject – and in his subsequent work he abandons this concept of metaphysical subject. 19. Occasionally disputed, this account of Spinoza’s conduct is reported by Jakob Freudenthal, Das Leben Spinozas, Stuttgart, 1904. Cf. Baruch Spinoza, Œuvres, vol. 1, ed. Charles Appuhn Garnier, Paris, p. 218 n1; and Georges Friedmann, Leibniz et Spinoza, Gallimard ‘Idées’, Paris, p. 110. 20. Husserl, Philosophie première, 1923–1924, vol. 1, p. 75. 21. Spinoza, Ethics part 5, proposition 10, note.
Beyond Barthes Rethinking the phenomenology of photography Andrew Fisher
This article attempts to outline a phenomenology of photography, oriented by the situation of photography in contemporary media culture. Various recent photo graphic art practices have come to emphasize what may be seen as specifically phenomenological issues of appearance, perception and form. The widespread use of photography to address questions of cultural identity has tended to appropriate existing images and genres of imaging practice in ways that compound embodied appearances with their cultural and technical medi ation, and to play on the phenomena displacements thus produced. Cindy Sherman’s work is paradigmatic here.1 Other artists have exploited photography’s propensity to archival organization and explored the temporal experience characteristic of photographic series extending across different forms of display, organized to mediate specific documentary information by establishing perceptual patterns and generic visual connections. Bernd and Hilla Becher are canonical figures in this regard.2 Similarly, one could note the significant and continuing transformation of the scale of photographic artworks. Jeff Wall’s lightboxes are exemplary for their adoption of the scale of both modern painting and street advertising to construct narrative images perceptually underpinned by their luminescence and their scalar relation to the viewer.3 An implicit demand for phenomenological analysis can also be discerned in the ways in which established discourses and practices of photography have been challenged by consecutive waves of new digital imaging technologies and the invention and consolidation of the Internet. This may sound like a surprising claim, since theoretical attempts to understand these innovations tend to conceive of the experiences they engender in anti-phenomenological terms – for example, contrasting the kinds of perception proper to photography to the technical and cultural novelty of new media, in order to theorize the unprecedented relationships they seem to establish between body
and image.4 In this context, great emphasis has been placed on the forms of spatio-temporality taken by new imaging technologies, such as their propensity to instant global dissemination and simultaneous viewing, and the ways in which experience of images under these conditions is haunted by doubts arising from the mutability of digital information. However, in broad terms this is also a familiar situation, resonating with wave upon wave of similar claims made for previous technological innovations (including photography) and the promises they held out. And this logic of supersession threatens, as much as it promises, understanding of these relationships between body and image. Phenomenology still has much to offer here. But this can only be demonstrated by responding to the profound objections to phenomenology within the theory of photography today.
Photography’s appearances If phenomenology understands itself broadly as the science of appearances, what would a phenomenology of photography be? Obviously, it would have to analyse the manner in which photography ‘appears’. But it is hard to say what photography is on the basis of looking at any particular photographic image, machine, process or practice. An obvious starting point would be to pay detailed attention to individual photographs. This would place an enormous critical weight on one’s decision regarding which images to look at, since, if the point of such analysis is to extrapolate general insights about photography from attention to specific photographs, the privilege granted any one image would appear arbitrary. The value of singular analysis would be won at the cost of excluding an effectively infinite field of other images. This problem might provoke an alternative approach: to consider the ways in which different arrays of photographic equipment structure experience by defining the possibilities of image production. One
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might consider, for instance, the ‘domestic’ Polaroid and the daguerreotype; forms marked by significant similarities and differences deriving from their material characteristics. Viewing an old daguerreotype means looking at a small – originally highly polished, but possibly now damaged – reflective surface of a unique and historically precious image-object, factors that act as phenomenological conditions for what one might know or surmise regarding the extended exposure time over which the image was made. How do these considerations inform the similarities that the daguerreotype bears to the small, hand-held and unique form of the Polaroid, especially in light of the marked differences that emerge when one recalls conventional ideas of the Polaroid’s instantaneity, its rich colour and densely layered opacity as these combine to characterize understanding of its usage? How might one account, phenomenologically, for the historical and social conditions that emerge through analysis of such forms? Given the problems encountered here, one might change tack again and explore the phenomenology of photography by projecting a notion of photographic experience as such. But what purchase would such an expansive, arguably too formal, notion of photographic experience in general have on the specific material characteristics of different photographic practices and on disputes regarding their cultural and historical significance? These various questions and obstacles have produced a considerable quantity of criticism directed towards phenomenological approaches over the last forty years. No doubt for many this criticism makes the idea of reviving either problematic or banal. Yet, I want argue that a phenomenology of photography does in fact persist in the field of photographic theory, albeit in an obscured and highly eccentric form. One can clarify what is stake here by recalling that radical – Marxist, feminist, semiotic and psychoanalytical – theorizations of photography in the 1970s constituted themselves in rejection of the connoisseurial and politically suspect discourses of perception and sentiment quite rightly taken to inform many discussions of visual art and photography at the time.5 It was on this basis that phenomenology was ruled out for most interesting theorizations of photography in the later twentieth century. This shift proved so influential that, looking back, one can find virtually no substantial theoretical text that explicitly addresses photography in formal phenomenological terms.6 Yet, in pausing to consider such a lack, there is at least one striking exception that may come to mind: Roland Barthes’s Camera Lucida: Reflections on Pho-
tography.7 Readers of Camera Lucida can be divided according to whether they take its phenomenological aspect to be problematic or not. For instance, many have accepted Barthes’s phenomenology at face value, often because it is loose enough to facilitate co-option to some other set of interests.8 Others have taken the view that Barthes’s first-person narrative compromises his wider theoretical claims and that this exhausts what phenomenology might have to say about photography.9 More recently, Camera Lucida’s phenomenology of photography has been accepted, but only to argue that both phenomenology and photography are historically obsolete.10 What should be noted here is that these apparently very different readings share key assumptions: not only do they take Camera Lucida to define correctly the relation between phenomenology and photography, but they also accept its basic conception of phenomenology, even where they reject it. One aim of this article is to expose the precise character of these assumptions and to outline an alternative. Camera Lucida’s phenomenology aims to grasp the essence of photography. More specifically, it is an ‘eidetic’ phenomenology – something routinely underappreciated in the reception of Barthes. For the moment it suffices to note that the concept of ‘eidos’ comes to mean pure essence in Husserl’s later phenomenology and that eidetic phenomenology is conceived as the universal science of transcendental appearances. The crucial point here is that Barthes effectively collapses phenomenology into Husserl’s eidetic phenomenology, ignoring alternative forms, principally Heidegger’s influential development of an existential phenomenology. The decisive task in reading Camera Lucida as a phenomenology is thus to characterize and critically evaluate its eidetic character, and to delimit this from other possibilities of phenomenological analysis. The accumulated disputes over the phenomenological character of Camera Lucida have not pursued this task. Camera Lucida therefore contains the phenomenology of photography today, in the sense of enabling it to persist within the hostile terrain of contemporary photography theory, while constricting what such a phenomenology might be. Its critique must therefore be my point of departure. Of course, if one steps back from the discursive sphere of photography theory, eidetic phenomenology has been the subject of intense critiques from the tradition of existential phenomenology, from Heidegger through to Merleau-Ponty. But this tradition has not produced a phenomenology of photography, except perhaps in a deeply negative or marginal way. Despite photography’s dominance as a cultural form through-
out the twentieth century, existential phenomenology has tended summarily to reject it, ignore it, or reduce it to the umbrella of a wider critique of modern technology.11 We therefore have little to start out with from here. Barthes’s phenomenology is eccentric to this tradition and it appears a very minor contribution to it, but it does at least offer a serious engaged phenomenology of photography. There is another, more complex and ironic, value in Camera Lucida: there are in fact powerful existential aspects to Barthes’s phenomenology itself. Barthes’s deployment of eidetic phenomenology harbours its self-criticism, and, out of this, generates rich existential insights into the way photography appears for us within media-saturated cultures. But Barthes does not develop this phenomenology other than negatively. This shows in the inadequacies of his account of photography, whether this concerns its socio-historical or its technical form. My aim in this article is thus to extract Barthes’s negative phenomenology of photography and thereby prepare the ground for its positive elaboration.
Rereading Camera Lucida The focus of Camera Lucida is on the forms of generality and specificity that Barthes takes to shape experience of photography. His account hinges on an absolutely specific idea of photography’s essence, defined by an entirely formal notion of photographic time and articulated in terms of an extremely singular form of experience. The first part of the inquiry asks: ‘Why mightn’t there be, somehow, a new science for each object? A mathesis singularis (and no longer universalis)?’12 In response, Barthes projects a ‘science of the singular’, oriented by his insistence that emotion should lead reflection, heuristically, ‘from photograph to photograph’ in order to account for the specific manner in which photography mediates desire.13 In a notoriously unargued move, photography is defined by the supposed necessity with which it makes reference to a unique event that had to have unfolded before the camera for an image to be produced.14 Here, it is the chemical and mechanical nature of the negative-based photographic apparatus that guarantees the evidentiary character of photographic images. The ostensive function of such photographs (the way they are often assumed to point towards something else and to efface themselves in the process) is central to the representational operations put in question: ‘the Photograph is never anything but an antiphon of “Look”, “See”, “Here it is”.’15 It is on these bases that Barthes derives his widely celebrated concepts of the studium and punctum, which respectively signify the broad field of
culture shaped by generalized forms of intentionality and the kind of emotional event that might irrupt from this sphere, punctuating and puncturing it with affective value.16 Famously, the punctum is first thought in terms of the multiple details registered by photographs. Their proliferation is taken to be a function of the camera and not the photographer (that is, an excess of detail enters into the photograph despite, and not because of, the manifest intentions of its producer). The form of desiring specificity aimed at through the punctum is impersonal and machinic, and stands in opposition to what Barthes thinks of as the overdetermined form of photographic culture.17 In Camera Lucida’s second part Barthes presents an account of photographic time conceived in terms of loss and remembrance.18 In general, here, photographic time is taken to be exemplary of the period of writing, in both a personal and a historical sense. Indeed, the categories ‘personal’ and ‘historical’ are collapsed into one another as a phenomenological problem, and it is in this light that time comes to be seen as the essence of photography: ‘there exists another punctum … than the “detail”. This new punctum, which is no longer of form but of intensity, is Time, the lacerating emphasis of the noeme (“that-has-been”), its pure representation.’19 Among other contrasts, the movement characteristic of film is opposed to photographic stillness to define photography as an image form that interrupts historical time (‘motionless, the Photograph flows backwards from presentation to retention’) and underwrites conceptualization of an ‘ecstatic’ encounter with the past.20 Photographic time (the presentation of pastness) and space (the basically spatial form of ostension) are thus radicalized and sutured together in a transcendental framework that is explicitly Husserlian. Pathos, then, becomes the conceptual core of the gesture towards theorizing the ecstasy of photography, with which the book ends. Mad or tame? Photography can be one or the other: tame if its realism remains relative, tempered by aesthetic or empirical habits (to leaf through a magazine at the hairdresser’s, the dentist’s); mad if this realism is absolute and, so to speak, original, obliging the loving and terrified consciousness to return to the very letter of Time: a strictly revulsive movement which reverses the course of the thing, and which I shall call the photographic ecstasy.21 The fate of experience in modernity is thus conceptualized according to the ‘impossible-possibility’ of a live encounter with the dead, and this is generalized as an ecstatic specificity that temporalizes significant experience in a world full of photographs.
The concepts developed in Camera Lucida continue to be widely used. Barthes’s association of the photograph’s ‘freezing’ action with death, and his conclusion that still photography is exhausted by pastness, especially, have been diagnosed as sponsoring a widespread and problematic ‘rhetoric of immobilization’.22 Another commentator has recently described the tendency to accept at face value Barthes’s radicalization of photo graphic indexicality as dwelling in ‘the shadow of the cloying melancholia of a post-Barthesian era of photographic theory’.23 Yet, however much one might agree with these criticisms, they should not be taken to mean that any phenomenological theorization of photography would necessarily suffer the same fate. Nonetheless, justification of this claim necessitates a more specific account of Barthes’s phenomenology of photography itself.
Orthodoxy, method, fiction The clue to this task is to be found in the fictionalizing use to which Barthes puts formal phenomenological method, and his claim that it is overdetermined by phenomenology’s historical status as orthodoxy. The analysis of how orthodox phenomenological method is appropriated here should begin by considering the manner in which Barthes reveals his own heuristic approach in relation to it. The strategy is outlined in a passage that informs the rest of the inquiry, so it is worth quoting at length: In this investigation of Photography, I borrowed something from phenomenology’s project, and something from its language. But it was a vague, casual, even cynical phenomenology…. First of all, I did not escape, or try to escape, from a paradox: on the one hand the desire to give a name to Photography’s essence and then to sketch an eidetic science of the Photograph; and on the other the intractable feeling that Photography is essentially … only contingency, singularity, risk.… [I]s it not the very weakness of Photography, this difficulty in existing which we call banality? Next, my phenomenology agreed to compromise with a power, affect; affect was what I didn’t want to reduce; being irreducible, it was thereby what I wanted, what I ought to reduce the Photograph to; but could I retain an affective intentionality, a view of the object which was immediately steeped in desire, repulsion, nostalgia, euphoria? Classical phenomenology … had never, so far as I could remember, spoken of desire or mourning. Of course I could make out in Photography, in a very orthodox manner, a whole network of essences: material essences (necessitating the physical, chemical, optical study of Photography), and regional essences (deriving, for instance, from aesthetics, from History, from soci
ology); but at the moment of reaching the essence of Photography in general, I branched off; instead of following the path of a formal ontology (of a Logic), I stopped, keeping with me, like a treasure, my desire or my grief; the anticipated essence of the Photograph could not, in my mind, be separated from the ‘pathos’ of which, from the first glance, it consists.24
This passage has received much commentary, mainly concerning its emphasis on desire and contingency. What has been neglected is the way it approaches these themes by characterizing phenomenology, historically, as a scholastic orthodoxy, and, conceptually, as a classicizing methodology.25 Barthes asserts that the object of phenomenology – what is to be revealed by the transcendental science of immediate experience – and the failures of its orthodox form – its supposed avoidance of affect and the formal logic taken to encourage this oversight – suggest a way to conceptualize the paradox he places at the core of photography: the contingent form of its universal essence. He reads phenomenology (an explicit mathesis universalis) symptomatically, as a form of writing that has failed in the face of affect, and this shapes his mathesis singularis of the photograph. The generalization of this diagnosis is both casual and sophisticated. One can summarize it in the following manner. In Camera Lucida, phenomenology is set up as a fiction, an analogon of reified social experience, and the ‘breaking down’ of phenomenology in the face of affect parallels and facilitates articulation of the ‘breaking out’ of authentic significance from banalized social reality. As such, it also fictionalizes the key concern of phenomenology, namely immediate experience. This diagnosis prepares phenomenology’s appropriation as a ‘literary’ form and it provides the framework for Barthes’s eidetic phenomenology of photography. Of all the novelistic or literary motifs in Camera Lucida, its phenomenological fiction is the least examined and most central. If one were to take the advice given by Victor Burgin and read Camera Lucida as a ‘fiction’, which remains a good suggestion, it would appear most fruitful to do so in terms of the way it deals with phenomenology.26 In his comment that Camera Lucida is ‘novelistic’, Burgin tries to make sense of its deployment of phenomenology ‘in tandem’ with psychoanalysis. He sees this as a basic contradiction, because of the way in which phenomenology ‘rejects the notion of the unconscious’, but here he is swayed by those points at which Barthes misleadingly identifies phenomenology with Sartre.27 The important position of psychoanalysis in cultural criticism
makes such stringent denials of the unconscious appear suspect, and Burgin’s response that it would be a shame to deny the analytic gains made by psychoanalysis is compelling. Nonetheless, it is worth dwelling on the fact that Burgin takes this to necessitate a denial of phenomenology, as this elides the way that Barthes distances his own inquiry from psychoanalysis. In any case, such a response does not address the way in which Barthes explicitly locates his account of photography on the problematized territory of formal phenomenology. This can be clarified further through analysis of Barthes’s appropriation of Sartrean and Husserlian concepts and procedures.
For Sartre The fact that Camera Lucida is dedicated to Sartre’s The Imaginary (1940) is significant, as many of Barthes’s concepts are derived from this book.28 It appears odd, however, given that Barthes’s earlier work had played a significant part in intellectual developments taken to render Sartre’s ideas obsolete, or at least distinctly unfashionable. What needs to be appreciated is both the centrality of Sartrean themes and concepts to Camera Lucida and the manner in which they are turned to distinctly un-Sartrean ends. There are many points at which The Imaginary informs Camera Lucida. For instance, the introduction of the punctum is prepared with reference to Barthes’s description of being bored in the face of many newspaper photographs.29 Barthes borrows the term ‘analogon’ from Sartre’s discussion of the image as ‘an equivalent of perception’ that one ‘animates’ in imaginary relation to something.30 Sartre’s continual play on metaphors of ‘adherence’ and ‘stickiness’, and his account of the forms of ‘emanation’ that characterize images for desiring consciousness, are central to the rhetorical construction of Barthes’s notion of photographic reference.31 The ultimately magical and melancholy character of such reference for Barthes is also close to Sartre’s notion of imagination: ‘The act of imagination … is a magical art. It is an incantation destined to make the object of one’s thought, the thing one desires, appear in such a way that one can take possession of it. There is always, in that act, something of the imperious and the infantile, a refusal to take account of distance and difficulties.’32 Sartre develops a phenomenological psychology in The Imaginary oriented by the question, ‘what are the characteristics that can be attributed to consciousness on the basis of the fact that it is consciousness capable of imaging?’33 Imagination, perception and cognition are conceived as fundamental ‘attitudes’ of conscious-
ness, defined by the different ways they bring things to light. But imagination presents a problem as it does not, in principle, depend upon the forms of presence and apodicticity that Sartre sees as definitive of perception and cognition. It is characterized according to its ‘irrealizing’ function, as in his prefatory note: ‘This work aims to describe the great “irrealising” function of consciousness, or “imagination”, and its noematic correlate, the imaginary.’34 On this model, the object imaged is an ‘irreality’ in so far as it entails evocation of something not present or conceptually generalizable, yet that is, crucially, still concrete. The irrealizing function of imagination is worthy of attention because it entails the denial of the perceptual and cognitive form of the presence and meaning of things, whilst affirming being-in-the-world. One’s conscious experience can be modulated to focus on that which is distant or unreal, in the past or future, but to take up such possibilities imaginatively is only to modulate one’s experience in relation to the environment against which they stand out to be enacted. Decisively, imaging consciousness gives an object but at the price of only including what one puts into it: ‘the object of an image is never anything more than the consciousness one has of it.’35 Sartre takes this to mark out the imagination as being the most distinctively intentional and thus, for his phenomenological approach, the most defining mode of consciousness. Camera Lucida is indebted to Sartre in these terms but an important difference remains. Barthes insists that photography is an absolutely historically distinct and epoch-making form of image. However, this very difference also facilitates his appropriation of Sartre’s concepts and language: ‘Photography’s referent is not the same as the referent of other systems of representation.… It’s not optionally real; it’s necessarily real … Every photograph is somehow co-natural with its referent.’36 This takes historical form: ‘Every photograph is a certificate of presence. This is the new embarrassment, which its invention has introduced into the family of images.’37 The cultural dominance of photography is read out of this relation and is alluded to as a context in which ‘I see photographs everywhere, like everyone else, nowadays; they come from the world to me, without my asking.’38 On Sartre’s model, elaboration of differences between forms of representation is secondary to articulation of the different modes of world disclosure granted by the fundamental attitudes of consciousness. Barthes’s emphatic conception of the ontological significance of photography commits him to the idea that its historical innovation served to interrupt intentional consciousness, as such, and to
transform it. Sartre’s notion of the imaginary is turned into a description of the colonization of consciousness by photography. His emphatic notion of intentionality (the always situated consciousness-of-something that finds itself thrust out into a worldly relation with things) is carried over into Camera Lucida, but only to the extent that it describes cultural operations that instrumentally prefigure imaginative possibility. The critical balance rests on what Barthes takes photography’s status to mean. This can be seen most clearly in his celebrated assertion regarding the essence
Andrew Fisher, Phenomenon, 2007
of photographic time: that the photograph is characterized as certifying no more and no less than ‘That-hasbeen’.39 Experience of this takes the following form: One might say that the Photograph separates attention from perception, and yields up only the former, even if it is impossible without the latter; that this is an aberrant thing, noesis without noeme, an action of thought without thought, an aim without a target.40
The concepts noesis and noema describe a correlation that is structuring of intentional consciousness for Husserl. The active character of intentional consciousness-of-something can be considered from the perspective of its being directed (noesis) as well as from the point of view of that to which it is directed (noema). The pairing was conceived by Husserl to overcome the problematic form of separation pertaining between the notions of subject and object. Perhaps this striking formulation most clearly characterizes
what I have identified as Barthes’s fictional treatment of phenomenology. It is undoubtedly informed by Sartre, yet would be strictly impossible on his terms, in which the situated character of even the most imaginatively attenuated experience is always already structured by precisely this correlation of noesis and noeme. In Barthes’s version, the noematic correlate of the image, the imaginary, is cut loose from its existential moorings. In this light, one can note that the novel temporality of the photograph outlined in Barthes’s earlier essay ‘The Rhetoric of the Image’ is articulated in terms of a specifically spatiotemporal paradox: ‘What we have is a new space–time category: spatial immediacy and temporal anteriority, the photograph being an illogical conjunction between the here-now and the there-then’.41 Divorced of its spatial aspect, this paradox is made emphatic in Camera Lucida. In the earlier text the photograph ‘is never experienced as an illusion’, it is ‘in no way a presence’ and elaboration of its temporal paradox is followed by the warning: ‘claims as to the magical character of the photographic image must be deflated’.42 Camera Lucida examines this illogical coincidence as offering an absolutely intimate experience of the past, thus: ‘In Photography, the presence of the thing is never metaphoric … the corpse is alive, as corpse: it is the living image of a dead thing.’43 Barthes’s account of this relation is intrinsically melancholic; the presence of what is gone is won at the expense of its having passed from the live realm of carnality into the metaphysically nebulous sphere of mechanically and chemically registered light in photographic emulsion (though Barthes reportedly used newspaper supplements as a major source, so this last term should really read ‘ink on paper’). But the photograph does not just evoke the dead; it gives one the experience of the dead as specified in a way that only the living can be. There are two, co-dependent, members of the ‘living dead’ at work in this magical relation. It describes a form of animation of the lost other, but only through a desire on the part of the living for some kind of redemption from their habituation to the deathly form of their otherness to themselves. Figuring photography’s form of reference as a radicalized certificate of presence produces an imaginary relation that bears the distinctive marks of Sartrean intentionality, but in dismembered form. Barthes trades upon the radical sense of exteriority
characteristic of Sartre’s notion of consciousness, but refigures this paradoxically as a kind of personification of desire emerging from an overdetermined culture of photographic mediation. This is a move that reserves and purifies a moment of transfigured and intentionless affect, somehow redirected and ‘returned’ to the subject by the photograph as an ‘aim without a target’. Thus it is that the ‘anti-intentional’ character of Barthes’s account of photographic culture is radicalized and his dissatisfaction with the conventional engineering of the viewer’s response to images turns out to be a categorical feature of photography’s essence. This marks Barthes’s move to a transcendental rather than existential account of the experience of photographic experience. Sartre’s psychology is thereby exceeded, but in a direction that would be ruled out by his distinctive privileging of existence over essence. The transcendental notion of photographic time that Barthes tries to make sense of here is facilitated by a further appropriation – this time from Husserl’s eidetic reduction.
The ecstasy of Husserl’s reduction One should recall that ‘eidos’ is the central term in Husserl’s later transcendental phenomenology, in which essences are the universal and rule-giving norms for empirical experience of objects, meanings and facts.44 The desire of eidetic phenomenology is to bring universal essence to cognition, and, in light of this, one must also recall that Barthes’s inquiry is oriented by the assertion that the eidos of the photograph is rooted in its contingency. In order to explore what this means it is necessary to rehearse key moments of Husserl’s eidetic reduction. Husserl approaches the thinking of essence through the methodological procedure of ‘epoché’ or ‘reduction’. This controversial form of reflection took different shapes in the development of his thought. Generally, however, it is intended as a reflective setting aside of one’s concerns regarding the actuality of engagements with objects and practices and the ways that these structure and inform one’s life in the world; the idea being that such an act of wilful imaginative suspension could facilitate intellectual access to the essential characteristics of experience. This procedural aspect of the eidetic reduction structures Barthes’s report on his own reflective procedure. The eidetic reduction is supposed to strip away the contingent factors of experience: ‘The universal which first comes to prominence in the empirically given must from the outset be freed from its character of contingency.’45 An important stage in this is ‘imaginative variation’, which entails thinking of something in
such a way as to turn it into an arbitrary example. An exemplary thing is considered, in Husserl’s words, as ‘a point of departure for the production of an infinitely open multiplicity of variants’.46 The idea is that one attempts to think of imaginative variations through which such an exemplar could be considered, whilst still remaining intuitable as a thing of its kind. It is important that the entire set of imaginative variants thus produced remain ‘immediately intuitable’; that is, that one can imagine them all at once and as a set, yet without concern for their actual existence. For Husserl, if one were to attempt to think an infinitely varied list of actual variants, the resulting image or intuition upon which one might settle would not rest on an imaginatively projected generic characteristic. One would merely perform ‘the inventive imagining of a thing or a figure, changing into arbitrarily new figures’, the upshot being that one would only ever encounter ‘something always new, and always only one thing: the last-imagined’.47 In contrast, imaginative variation is supposed to produce the intuition of variations that exhibit a ‘unity that runs through this multiplicity of successive figures’ and to reveal the general essence of the thing to imagination: ‘In such free variations … an Invariant is necessarily retained as the necessary general form. … [T]his form stands out in the practice of voluntary variation, and as an absolutely identical content, an invariable what, according to which all the variants coincide: a general essence.’48 The process of imaginatively producing intuition of such a general invariant suggests how one might think universal essence: ‘This general essence is the eidos, the idea in the Platonic sense, but apprehended in its purity and free from all metaphysical interpretations, therefore taken exactly as it is given to us immediately and intuitively in the vision of the idea which arises in this way.’49 The idea is supposed to emerge sui generis, and yet be conceptualizable, guaranteed by the way imaginative variation remains in touch with and does not add anything to the relation between the object reflected and the agent of its reflection. Having sketched the framework of this procedure, it is possible to set aside more detailed consideration of the eidetic reduction as the outline given describes its appropriation by Barthes. Throughout Camera Lucida Barthes describes encounters with images according to his way of passively leafing through books and magazines, looking at the images in them one at a time, only stopping to reflect upon those that strike him as significant: ‘I was glancing through an illustrated magazine. A photograph made me pause.’50 This is the basis of
the choices he exercises and it is dependent upon the material flow of a potentially infinite number of actual images. His manner of procuring for himself a reflective situation in which his ‘attention’ is readied for separation from his ‘perception’ in the form of a ‘noesis without noeme’51 appears fatefully, however, to be delimited by Husserl’s warning against performing the merely ‘inventive imagining of a thing or a figure, changing into arbitrarily new figures’.52 One can articulate Barthes’s repeated descriptions of the particular situations in which he reports seeing photographs – leafing in an acedic manner through colour supplements, for example – as a quasi-corporeal variation on the reflective procedure of imaginative variation. That this is oriented to (and claimed to have succeeded in producing) the occasional, puncturing irruption of photographic essence, renders this a highly eccentric appropriation of the method of eidetic reduction. Surely this is to give over to some external form of agency the very ability to set out on this reflective performance? This is the explicit purpose of Barthes’s eidetic reduction, but in the form of the paradoxically subjective ecstasy of cultural mediation. No consideration is given to the conceptual and material resistances that the social character of this inherently inter-subjective mode of reflection might face. These fall, so to speak, into the gap between Barthes’s encounter with photographs and his report on the results. This gap is the textual space in which he articulates the transcendental radicalization of Sartre’s existential form of imaginary intentionality. But his eidetic purification of photographic affect leaves a problematic remainder, or, perhaps, represses a question that returns to haunt eidetic phenomenology’s reconstruction as a theory of photography. It would seem clear, given the characterization of photographic culture according to punctum and studium – and the way in which these terms are generalized, later in the book, according to the pathos-ridden opposition ‘Mad or Tame?’ – that Barthes’s own status as the subject of reflection is reduced to one half of a performance, which must also include the more or less anonymously authored movements and processes shaping the forms of cultural production he excoriates. This strategy incorporates into the reflective structure of Barthes’s eidetic fiction a concretely instantiated conception of photography as an interminable encounter with specific moments of an effectively infinite series. Repetition and reproducibility are thus absolutely central to it.53 What is supposed to signal the appearance of the essence of photography is the absolute specificity of
the affective experiences that only certain images provoke. But in order to get to this Barthes seizes upon the constantly appearing, constitutively replaceable, and arbitrarily emergent ‘last-imagined’ and quite generic example that the unthematized presence of a cultural operator ‘in general’ gives him. The immediate singularity he seeks is thus, precisely in its most poignant and personal instances, socially mediated in form. The critical exposition of Barthes’s eidetic phenomenology of photography therefore reveals that the contingency of the desire that irrupts from looking at photographs turns out to have, so to speak, the wrong kind of contingency: it turns out to be intersubjective or social. This quality of the ‘last-imagined’ photograph thus stands as a subterranean correlative to the singularly significant experience that Barthes desires. Here, following the trail of Barthes’s assertions that photographs are essentially indexical, and that mass culture is inherently banal, returns one to the phenomenological fiction they authorize, but in a manner that shatters its crystalline eidos of photography.
Existential phenomenology In Camera Lucida the whole idea of a phenomenology of photography is contracted into eidetic phenomenology. Given Camera Lucida’s pivotal function as a placeholder for the phenomenology of photography, this contraction occludes consideration of other, noneidetic, phenomenological approaches. This is further complicated by Camera Lucida’s own remarkable contribution to this alternative, which effectively turns the transcendental science of eidetic appearance into a form of existential cultural critique. It is little wonder the reception of Barthes has neglected this. But subsequent appropriations of concepts such as the punctum, desire, death and photographic temporality make the theory of photography hostage to his notion of photography’s eidos. Furthermore, it is this aspect of Camera Lucida that enables a rethinking of the phenomenology of photography today. The critical issue here hinges on Barthes’s assertion that the categories of radical singularity and absolute specificity structure the phenomenology of photography. As shown above, it is this commitment that renders his eidetic theory of photography problematic. This has a range of implications. It rules out many important aspects of photography that strongly suggest themselves for critically oriented phenomenological analysis. For instance, no detailed consideration is given to the materiality of photographs, as is obvious from the fact that Barthes’s major source of images is colour supplements (a matrix of dots printed on paper),
whilst his vocabulary of photography’s technical form centres on the phenomenal effects and ontological significance of photographic emulsion. It also distorts important aspects of his discussion of photography as an image form. Barthes in fact derives all of his insights about photography from those of its forms that rely on negatives, without the specific analysis that this commitment would seem to demand – for instance, in terms of the negative’s inherent reproducibility. One of the main conclusions I want to draw from these considerations is that, whilst Camera Lucida is an emphatically eidetic phenomenology of photography, its construction is oriented to an existential analytic, which would be better addressed through an explicitly existential phenomenology. Barthes’s ‘fictionalizing’ of an eidetic account of photography orients him to an existential analysis of reified cultural experience, but this remains limited, holding at a distance those material, historical, technical and cultural questions that are not congruent with the focus on singularity and specificity. One can return, here, to the key passage in which he outlines the phenomenological character of his inquiry (quoted at length above) to note that, while Barthes denies a phenomenology of material and regional essences – in favour of a stress on the pure contingency of affect – he does not, as announced, actually ‘branch off’ from the ‘path of formal ontology’.54 Rather, he surreptitiously stays on this path. After setting photography up as an existential problem, Barthes remains oriented to a transcendental account of emotional experience, which assumes too quickly the achievement of societal reification over meaningful experience, and which surrenders too easily the critical value of specific analysis in favour of a self-consciously weak metaphysics of specificity. As already remarked in the introduction, the obvious point to make about Barthes’s fixation on Husserl is that it can be subjected to the critiques of eidetic phenomenology developed by later phenomenologists. The pertinent difference between eidetic and existential phenomenology can be briefly indicated by reiterating the fact that the former’s priority is to conceive the ideality of essence – that is, the manner in which it stands prior to and independent of the existence of particular objects. Broadly speaking, existential phenomenology prioritizes the inverse, as in Sartre’s famous slogan: ‘existence precedes essence’.55 Sartre thus disavows the eidetic reduction, but Merleau-Ponty outlines a more ambivalent position. In answer to the question, ‘What is phenomenology?’, with which the preface to the Phenomenology of Perception begins,
he writes: ‘Phenomenology is the study of essences.… But phenomenology is also a philosophy which puts essences back into existence’.56 His further formulation resonates with Barthes’s peculiar treatment of the reduction. Merleau-Ponty writes: ‘Reflection does not withdraw from the world towards the unit of consciousness as the world’s basis … it alone is consciousness of the world because it reveals that world as strange and paradoxical. … The most important lesson which the reduction teaches us is the impossibility of a complete reduction.’57 This could stand as an existential reformulation of Barthes’s relation to Husserl’s method of imaginative variation; most notably in so far as Merleau-Ponty maintains the reflective character of the reduction, and goes on to articulate its interruption as a key figure for thinking about embodied and situated experience. The reduction fails, but it remains significant as a form of thought that thus becomes, so to speak, interminable. Merleau-Ponty’s rethinking of the phenomenological reduction therefore promises much for the rethinking of Camera Lucida. Unfortunately, this cannot be said for MerleauPonty’s account of photography, which is patently limited and outmoded.58 The tradition of existential phenomenology has yet to produce a phenomenology of photography worthy of the name.
Notes I would like to thank Frances Stracey and members of the Radical Philosophy collective who read and commented on earlier versions of this article; special thanks to Stewart Martin for his invaluable help throughout its development. 1. The phenomenological implications of such gestures in the work of Sherman is discussed by Amelia Jones in ‘“The Eternal Return”: Self-Portrait Photography as a Technology of Embodiment’, Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society, vol. 27, no. 4, 2002, pp. 947–78. See also her Self/Image: Technology, Representation and the Contemporary Subject, Routledge, London and New York, 2006. 2. For a phenomenologically oriented history of the Bechers’ project, see Blake Stimson, The Pivot of the World: Photography and its Nation, MIT Press, Cambridge MA and London, 2006. 3. For a problematic but influential account of this tendency that makes scale central, see Michael Fried, ‘Barthes’s Punctum’, Critical Inquiry, vol. 31, no. 3, Spring 2005. 4. See Mark Hanson, New Philosophy for New Media, MIT Press, Cambridge MA and London, 2004. 5. See Victor Burgin, ‘Something about Photography Theory’, Screen, vol. 25, no. 1, January/February 1984, p. 62. This edition of Screen includes other articles making similar points, as in Simon Watney’s ‘Photography – Education – Theory’; see especially his comments on the redundancy of ontology for photographic teaching on p. 69.
6. One should note, in this context, that psychoanalysis has come to prominence as a theoretical framework through which to address issues that may otherwise have been subjected to phenomenological analysis. See, for instance, Kaja Silverman, The Threshold of the Visible World, Routledge, London and New York, 1996. 7. Roland Barthes, Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography, trans. Richard Howard, Cape, London, 1982. 8. I take Fried’s essay ‘Barthes’s Punctum’ to be exemplary of this tendency. 9. John Tagg’s The Burden of Representation: Essays on Photographies and Histories, Macmillan, London, 1988, presents a trenchant criticism of this type. 10. Hanson’s New Philosophy for New Media gives an account of digital media that exemplifies this interpretation. 11. Here, classically, one can note Heidegger’s critique of technology in terms of his view that it tends to distort lived relations and to instrumentalize nature, as expressed in his concept of Ge-stell, the ‘enframing’ function of technological form. See Martin Heidegger, ‘The Age of the World Picture’ (1937) and ‘The Question Concerning Technology’ (1953), both in The Question Concerning Technology and Other Essays, Harper & Row, New York, 1977. 12. Barthes, Camera Lucida, p. 8. In coining the term mathesis singularis Barthes contrasts his account of photography with Husserl’s appropriation of the Leibnizian concept mathesis universalis, which Husserl used to articulate the movement of phenomenology towards transcendental ontology, and its projected status as ‘the systematic unity of all conceivable a priori sciences, but on a new foundation which overcomes “dogmatism” through the use of the transcendental phenomenological method’. Edmund Husserl, ‘“Phenomenology”, Edmund Husserl’s Article for the Encyclopaedia Britannica (1927)’, trans. Richard E. Palmer, in Husserl: Shorter Works, eds. Peter McCormick and Frederick A. Elliston, University of Notre Dame Press, Notre Dame IN, and Harvester, Brighton, 1981, p. 32. Something of the universal ambition of transcendental phenomenology abides, paradoxically and intentionally, in Barthes’s inversion and thus also in his aim to grasp the form of singularity he posits at the heart of photography. 13. Barthes, Camera Lucida, p. 60. 14. This is a radicalization of the notion that photographs are indexical signs. The status of the photograph as an indexical sign has been the subject of much heated debate. It is a concept derived primarily from comments made by Charles Sanders Peirce (in 1897) in ‘Logic as Semiotic: The Theory of Signs’, in Philosophical Writings of Peirce, ed. Justus Buchler, Dover, New York, 1955. For discussions of the controversial nature of this concept, see Peter Osborne, ‘Sign and Image’, in Philosophy in Cultural Theory, Routledge, London and New York, 2000, pp. 20–52; and James Elkins, ‘What Does Peirce’s Sign System Have to Say to Art History?’, Culture, Theory and Critique, vol. 44, no. 1, 2003. 15. Barthes, Camera Lucida, p. 12. 16. Ibid., pp. 25–7. 17. In her study of Barthes’s writings on photography, Nancy Shawcross notes the sense in which (from Mythologies to Camera Lucida) they are oriented by this dissatisfaction with the ‘intentional engineering of viewer response on the part of the photographer’ (and, one might add, editors and curators). In Camera Lucida, Barthes tends to the view that such ‘engineering’ is endemic and at-
tempts to conceptualize a form of specificity that escapes it. Nancy Shawcross, Roland Barthes on Photography, University Press of Florida, Gainesville, 1997, p. 26. 18. This narrative is, famously, concerned with the photographic resurrection of Barthes’s recently dead mother, centring on the unpublished ‘Winter Garden’ photograph depicting her as a child. Camera Lucida, pp. 63–75. 19. Ibid., p. 96. 20. Ibid., p. 90. This contrast between film and photography is framed with reference to Husserl’s account of internal time consciousness, which conceives the temporal experience of objects in terms of the object’s identity in the face of change. Famously, he described this relation according to the ways in which aspects of experience emerge in anticipation of the more or less immanent future and maintain their consistency by dint of the way the temporal phases structuring this relation (‘retention’, ‘primal impression’ and ‘protention’) recede together into the more or less recent past. See the ‘Lectures on Internal Time Consciousness’, in Husserl: Shorter Works, pp. 277–88. 21. Barthes, Camera Lucida, p. 119. 22. Paul Frosh, ‘Filling the Sight with Force: “Smoke”, Photography and the Rhetoric of Immobilisation’, in Textual Practice, vol. 12, no. 2, 1998, pp. 323–40. 23. David Green, ‘Marking Time: Photography, Film and Temporalities of the Image’, in David Green and Joanna Lowry, eds, Stillness and Time: Photography and the Moving Image, Photoforum and Photoworks, Brighton, 2006, p. 17. 24. Barthes, Camera Lucida, pp. 20–21. 25. This description of phenomenology as a writerly form links Camera Lucida, albeit obliquely, to Barthes’s critique of literary classicism as it is developed in S/Z (Jonathan Cape, London, 1975), and addressed in Criticism and Truth (Athlone, London, 1987). 26. ‘The review of Camera Lucida as a work of fiction is yet to be written’. Victor Burgin, ‘Re-reading Camera Lucida’, in The End of Art Theory: Criticism and Postmodernity, Humanities Press International, Atlantic Highlands, 1986, p. 88. 27. Burgin writes of any possible synthesis of psychoanalysis and phenomenology that it could not be achieved at the level of theory, ‘which would be impossible’; rather one should look for this ‘at the level of literature’. Ibid., p. 83. See also Camera Lucida, p. 115. 28. Jean-Paul Sartre, The Imaginary: A Phenomenological Psychology of the Imagination, trans. Jonathan Webber, Routledge, London and New York, 2004. 29. Barthes, Camera Lucida, pp. 19–20. 30. Sartre, The Imaginary, p. 18 and p. 25. 31. Ibid., pp. 159–75. 32. Ibid., p. 125. 33. Ibid., p. 179. 34. Ibid., p. 3. 35. Ibid., p. 10. 36. Barthes, Camera Lucida, p. 76. 37. Ibid., p. 87. 38. Ibid., p. 16. 39. Ibid., pp. 76–7. 40. Ibid., p. 111. 41. Roland Barthes, ‘The Rhetoric of the Image’, in Image– Music–Text, trans. Stephen Heath, Hill & Wang, New York, 1978, p. 44. 42. Ibid. 43. Barthes, Camera Lucida, p. 79.
44. As Levinas noted in commentary on this point, the normative status of ideal essences is not, strictly speaking, to be directly derived from an attempt to ‘identify essences with a character or moment of individual objects that has been isolated by an effort of attention.… Ideality is not the indetermination of an object; ideality characterises the object’s mode of existing.’ Cognitive articulation of the proper form of essence, so conceived, is the aim of Husserl’s later phenomenology. However, one should remark (to quote Levinas’s gloss once more) that ‘The mode of existence of ideal objects in some way refers us back to individual objects and contains an implicit relation to individual objects. But the existence of individual objects does not serve as a premise for eidetic knowledge, which is independent of the effective existence of individual objects.’ Emmanuel Levinas, The Theory of Intuition in Husserl’s Phenomenology, 2nd edn, trans. André Orianne, Northwestern University Press, Evanston IL, 1995, pp. 104–7. 45. Husserl gives an explicit methodological description of the eidetic reduction in Experience and Judgement: Investigations in a Genealogy of Logic, ed. Ludwig Landgrebe, trans. James S. Churchill and Karl Ameriks, Northwestern University Press, Evanston IL 1973, p. 340. 46. Ibid. 47. Ibid. 48. Ibid., p. 341. 49. Ibid. 50. Barthes, Camera Lucida, p. 23. 51. Ibid., p. 111. 52. Ibid., p. 340. 53. This point links the current discussion to Osborne’s
critical curatorial cybermedia studies MA in research-based art practice applications 2008 – 2009 a transdisciplinary programme which founds its practices on political thought, postcolonial and gender theories, the art of networks and Internet culture. a bilingual education (english & french) developed by an international faculty of visiting artists, researchers and theoreticians. a program open to artists, art historians, critics, scholars and activists, and to those with experience in cultural, artistic and political domains. information on request application deadline: May 2th, 2008 interview of final candidates: May 28th, 2008 critical curatorial cybermedia studies MA in research-based art practice Geneva University of Art and Design 15, bd James-Fazy CH–1201 Genève – Switzerland T 41 22 388 58 81/2 – [email protected] www.ccc-programme.org – www.cyberaxe.org www.hesge.ch/head – [email protected]
critical analysis in ‘Sign and Image’, and especially his comments that Camera Lucida suggests, but neglects to make explicit, the centrality of reproducibility for photography. See pp. 39–40. 54. Barthes, Camera Lucida, p. 21. 55. Jean-Paul Sartre, ‘Existentialism is a Humanism’ (1946), trans. P. Mairet, in Existentialism from Dostoyevsky to Sartre, ed. Walter Kaufman, Meridian, New York, 1989. 56. Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Phenomenology of Perception, trans. Colin Smith (with revisions by Forest Williams and David Guerrière), Routledge & Kegan Paul, London, 1981, p. vii. 57. Ibid., p. xiv. 58. Merleau-Ponty hardly ever mentions photography and when he does it is in resolutely negative terms that serve, critically, to structure his phenomenological aesthetics. See ‘Cézanne’s Doubt’ (1945), ‘Indirect Language and the Voices of Silence’ (1951), and ‘Eye and Mind’ (1961), all collected in The Merleau-Ponty Aesthetics Reader: Philosophy and Painting, ed. G. Johnson and M. Smith, Northwestern University Press, Evanston IL, 1993.
Call for contributions to a book on Shulamith Firestone’s
The Dialectic of Sex 2010 will mark the fortieth anniversary of the most radical manifesto of contemporary feminism, Shulamith Firestone’s ‘case for feminist revolution’, The Dialectic of Sex. It called not only for the abolition of the nuclear family and for the economic and social independence of children, but for the end of pregnancy itself. The cybernetic revolution was hailed as the technological solution to the curse of Eve and the subordination of mothers, just as automation was claimed to offer an end to physical labour. Today, as researchers actually attempt to devise a prosthetic womb, Firestone’s call to free women ‘from the tyranny of reproductive biology’ takes on an increasing urgency. Firestone’s philosophical challenge to the cultural significance of genital difference returns us to the unresolved question of gender dichotomy and its relation to the continuing subordination of women and homosexuals. We are calling for papers of 7–9,000 words addressing The Dialectic of Sex – its argument, its reception, its salience today. Please send 300-word synopses, together with a brief biography, to Mandy Merck and Stella Sandford at [email protected] by 1 April 2008.
Grounding Deleuze Christian Kerslake
Last year an early series of lectures by the 32-year-old Gilles Deleuze surfaced on Richard Pinhas’s internet archive of Deleuze’s seminars, Les Cours de Gilles Deleuze.* The 42-page document is entitled Qu’est-ce que fonder?, which I shall translate as What is Grounding?, for reasons explained in a moment. It consists of a set of more or less complete lecture notes taken by a student, Pierre Lefebvre, of a course given by Deleuze at the Lycée Louis-le-Grand in Paris in 1956–7. This fascinating text has been lying in the vault, its existence or nature apparently unknown, for fifty years. Its appearance is of major significance for those who want to understand what Deleuze was doing in his most obscure and interesting book, his 1968 opus Difference and Repetition. In fact, it helps to make sense of the philosophical context and aims, the methodology, and the concepts of all Deleuze’s writings up until 1968. The lectures’ central task is to distinguish three different methodological approaches to the philosophical task of grounding – the existentialist, the rationalistlogical and the Kantian critical. In Difference and Repetition itself, these approaches end up being mixed in together and the reader is left unaware of the potential importance to Deleuze of such distinctions of level and methodology. In What is Grounding?, though, we see that Deleuze is beginning from a conscious distinction between these three approaches to philosophical principle. Everything that later becomes separated out into studies in the history of philosophy and literature, or into the chapters of Difference and Repetition and Logic of Sense, appears to have its original source in the sophisticated enquiries of What is Grounding? This is nothing less than the ur-text for Deleuze’s pre-1970s philosophy, an original sketch of his main themes and problems, which are all present in intensely compacted form, before they shatter into the mosaic of his written work. What is Grounding? is the only one of Deleuze’s lecture courses to devote itself directly to fundamental philosophical themes, rather than ventriloquising through the ideas of a philosopher of the canon. With the exceptions of those devoted in the 1970s to the * www.webdeleuze.com/php/sommaire.html.
Radical Philosophy 148 (March/April 20 08)
Capitalism and Schizophrenia project and to cinema, his lecture courses were expositions and interpretations of major modern philosophers, such as Kant, Spinoza or Leibniz. This course concerns grounding, the great theme of modern philosophy: the starting point, the beginning. How does one begin in philosophy? Which is the privileged approach in modern philosophical thought – the epistemological, the logical, the ethical, the existential? But how should we translate the French fonder? Qu’est-ce que fonder? could be translated as ‘What is Founding?’ or even ‘What is it to Found?’ The conceptual differences between Deleuze’s uses of fondement, fond and fondation in Difference and Repetition have been noted by translators before.1 It might appear that Deleuze’s fondement is approximate to the English ‘foundation’, while his fond translates the German concept Grund. The problem is that both fondement and fond can translate the German Grund, the meaning of which stretches from ‘reason’ (as for instance in Kant’s reformulation of Leibniz’s principle of sufficient reason as ‘principle of determining ground’ in his early Nova Elucidatio) to the ‘deep’, abyssal sense of Grund conjured up by the later Schelling. In the 1956 lectures, Deleuze is interested in all of these possible meanings of Grund, and fonder, but there is a particularly strong emphasis on the Kantian and post-Kantian senses of ‘grounding’, and (this is one of the surprises of the text) there are numerous references to the ideas of Heidegger, not just his Kant and the Problem of Metaphysics, but his essay ‘On the Essence of Ground’ (Von Wesen des Grundes), both published in 1929. The main philosophical focus of Qu’est-ce que fonder? is the tradition of thinking about autonomous self-grounding, from Kant and post-Kantianism to Heideggerian existentialism. In a key passage, Deleuze sums up his aim in the course: The fact that Heidegger’s theses in his book on Kant are a renewed encounter with the reflections of the post-Kantians invites us to enact a repetition of the Kantian enterprise. The great theme of that enterprise will be that of constitutive finitude.
Deleuze will end his ‘repetition of the Kantian enterprise’ with the affirmation of a hybrid of Heidegger’s account of the ‘transcendental imagination’ and Novalis’s project for a ‘philosophy of imagination’ which combines truth and poetry. The ideas generated about the nature of ‘grounding’ are nevertheless ultimately quite distinctive. Deleuze stresses the importance of a process of ‘psychic repetition’, which results in ‘something new [being] unveiled in the mind’ [espirit]. Grounding, he concludes, following Hegel, gives you more than you bargain for: ‘Does not every ground bring with it an unexpected surprise? … The operation of grounding is split by the transformation which the operation brings with it.’ Indeed, what would be the point of grounding, he asks, if nothing is changed in what is grounded? ‘To ground is to metamorphose’, as he puts it in Difference and Repetition.2 The course is thus the record of a philosophical voyage, participating in the core tradition of modern philosophy, which Deleuze takes it upon himself to ‘repeat’. Another consideration about the translation of fonder is suggested by the structure of the course. The first lecture in the course is devoted to mythological conceptions of the act of fonder, with Deleuze speculatively suggesting the lineaments of a fundamental shift in human history, from the ritual repetition of the mythological ‘founding acts’ to the becoming ‘conceptual’ of the act of grounding. It would not be inconsistent with Deleuze’s meaning to characterize this in English as a movement from mythological founding to philosophical grounding. In the ‘mythological’ stage of the development of culture, human ends have been transformed from natural ends by the activity of ritualization. The task of ‘philosophy’ follows from this: to transform these unconscious, ‘felt’ ‘cultural ends’ into ‘rational ends’, and to pursue the ‘realization of reason’ in the material world. The rest of the course is an elaboration of the nature of philosophical grounding. The title of the second lecture is a quotation from Heidegger, ‘What Constitutes the Essential Being of a Ground or Reason?’, the third lecture is ‘Ground and Question’, and the final one ‘The Ground of Principles’. Although there will be plenty of problems left unresolved at the end of Deleuze’s 1956 ‘repetition’ of the history of post-Kantianism, it is arguably not entirely unsuccessful in sketching out a novel post-Kantian account of the possible ‘realization of reason’ by finite beings (and in some ways is more intelligible than the finished product that emerged twelve years later, Difference and Repetition). Lefebvre informs us that the beginning of the course is missing from his manuscript, but that
Deleuze commenced by ‘evoking the founding heroes of mythology’ with Ulysses/Odysseus as his example. Myths of founding have three aspects: they produce an ‘image of the world’; they invoke ‘an origin deeper than a simple beginning’, and which is commemorated in acts of ‘repetition’. Mythology retells the stories of founding figures, like Ulysses and Hercules, who undergo ordeals and earn the right to legislate. The one who seeks to ‘found’ is in the first instance the one who claims or pretends to something by virtue of a right, and who must demonstrate that right through some sort of ordeal. The foundation is that which will or will not give us the right. It presents itself as a third. To claim is to pretend towards something. The act of claiming implies submission to a comparison by that which can give or confirm our right. It is to accept to submit oneself to an ordeal. The foundation is the third because it is not the pretender, nor that to which he pretends, but it is the instance which will yield the claimed thing up to the pretender. The object never submits itself on its own part to the claim … That which grounds is therefore the ordeal [Ce qui fonde alors c’est l’épreuve] … There is always a third and one must seek it out since it is the foundation which presents itself as a third.3
Deleuze’s notion that myth and ritual involve a fundamental ‘repetition’ is indebted to Mircea Eliade’s theory that the meaning of religious rituals derives from their ‘repetition of a primordial act’ (Deleuze had presented an important passage on the concept of repetition from Eliade’s The Myth of the Eternal Return in his 1953 anthology Instincts and Institutions).4 For Eliade, mythical presentation exists to tell us what really happened at the origin, in illo tempore (‘in those days’), what was really singular and is worthy of perennial repetition.5 Deleuze argues that the emergence of ritual repetition in early human societies opens up a fundamental gap between humans and animals, which remain driven by ‘natural ends’. Once the primordial act of repetition is instituted at the centre of culture, human groups become subject to ‘infinite tasks’. The act of commemoration is never done; ‘our love for our dead ones is an inexhaustible task’. Because the foundation is recovered only in acts of mythic and ritual repetition, the realization of human ends is however no longer ‘direct’, and strictly speaking only ‘felt’ or ‘lived’ in the work of imagination that supports mythic repetition. These ‘cultural ends … are not yet rational ends’, and are at most ‘felt’ as ‘values’. So ‘when does the problem of foundation become philosophical?’, Deleuze enquires. In order for ‘felt
cultural ends’ to become ‘rational cultural ends’, and in order to ‘pass from mythology to philosophy’, the new founder ‘must propose that infinite tasks are something that must be realized in this world alone’. Deleuze will later go on to talk of the true object of philosophy as immanence, and here in What is Grounding? we have an early clue to that mysterious concept: the goal of philosophy is to find a way to realize the infinite in this world. As in his Kant’s Critical Philosophy (1963), Deleuze contends, following Kant, that the realization of reason does not proceed through acts of knowledge alone, but through a hierarchy of other types of cognition, comprising a ‘system’ of the ‘ends of reason’. However, Deleuze more than once warns us that ‘immanence is the vertigo of philosophy’, and first philosophy must undergo its own hazardous and anarchic apprenticeship.6 Starting with the second ‘chapter’ (the lectures are presented as ‘chapters’), Deleuze sketches an immanent account of the dialectic of grounding in philosophy, starting with Plato but vaulting immediately to the problems of a specifically ‘modern’ philosophy. Philosophy begins with Plato, who allows the philosopher to emerge as the ‘claimant’ of the rational idea, the one who is ‘tested’ as to their degree of ‘participation’ in the idea; but Plato remains tethered to mythic thought (particularly in his conception of reminiscence), and, Deleuze claims, philosophy only truly sets about its task – the grounding and realization of reason – with Hume, Kant and postKantian philosophy. Philosophy ceases to be mythic and becomes modern when it sets out on the path of epistemological grounding: it only emerges for itself with the enquiry into the grounds for our claims to knowledge, or the criteria we rely on to make claims about the world. In the second chapter, Deleuze sets about retracing ‘The Formation of the Kantian Idea of the Transcendental’. He contends that the conditions for the Copernican turn in philosophy – for the realization that ‘it is not the object but the subject that permits one to discover the ground’ – are first intimated in Hume’s encounter with the problem of induction in the Treatise on Human Nature. By asking how we know that the sun will rise tomorrow, Hume inaugurates the tradition of modern philosophical reflection on grounding that becomes central to Kant’s philosophy, and remains the obsessive refrain of the philosophies of Fichte, Schelling and Hegel. Hume foresaw the problem of grounding; he already poses the question ‘by what right’ (quid juris) … By what right can one make an inference from the past to the future?
How can I make universal claims about the world? When I make a knowledge claim, I ‘go beyond’ or transcend (dépasser) the given by making appeal to universals (for instance, when I claim that water always boils at 100º c). But if I go beyond what is actually given in such judgements, what grounds their validity? It is the problem of the guarantee of this highly specific ‘transcendence’ of the given, Deleuze says, that incites the modern approach to the problem of grounding and generates the notion of subjectivity that characterizes modern philosophy. From Hume onwards, what grounds knowledge cannot be anything other than subjective principles: ‘It is not the object, but rather the subject that permits one to discover the ground.’ Deleuze’s remarks about the meaning and scope of the concept of subjectivity are worth citing at length; despite superficial appearances to the contrary, it may be that he never abandons this basic framework: Hume brought along something new: the analysis of the structure of subjectivity. The word ‘subject’, as it happens, is very rarely used by Hume. This is not by chance. Hegel too analyses subjectivity without pronouncing the word ‘subject’. And Heidegger goes much further and says that the word ‘subject’ must not be used. Instead, it is necessary to designate it by the essential structure one discovers. If one gives an adequate definition of the subject, then one has no more reason to speak explicitly of it. Heidegger and Hegel both tell us that the subject is nothing more than a self-development. Hegel analyses this dialectically: self-developing as self-transformation, with mediation as the essential process. Heidegger says that the essence of subjectivity is transcendence, but with a new sense: where previously this term was used to refer to the state of something transcendent, with Heidegger, it becomes the movement of self-transcendence. It is the mode of being of the movement that transcends.
Unlike Hume’s psychological account of the subject (based on the notion of habit), ‘Kant’s transcendental subject is distinguished from empirical or psychological subjectivity’. It is no longer a question of ‘fact’ (quid facti), of what we happen to know through empirical observation or science, but of how we think we know such ‘facts’. The possibility of a direct correspondence between our a priori ideas and the world itself (intellectual intuition) is ruled out, as Deleuze notes, in Kant’s letter to Marcus Herz of 1772. Kantianism opens up an inquiry into the logic of the implicit criteria to which we make appeal when we make claims to objectivity or reality. As Robert Pippin puts it, for Kant and the post-Kantians alike:
when S claims to know P, S must be implicitly understanding himself to be participating in the practice of judgment and justification, and … must contextually or implicitly understand enough of such a practice to count as participating in it.7
Deleuze infers from the Kantian criterial account of knowledge that ‘the act of claiming implies submission to a comparison which gives or confirm our right’,
Ruth Collins, Greeny, 2005
that the making of a claim (a prétention) is always implicitly to situate oneself as ‘reclaiming a right’. Claiming is implicitly reclaiming; and herein lies the task of grounding, the part that requires individual mental and physical effort. What is implicit must be unfolded or made explicit. How can such a task be realized? Through a specific kind of thinking, says Deleuze: what, at the most elementary level, can be called the ‘question’. Just as ‘the sphinx formulates a question’ in mythic founding, in philosophical grounding the ‘appeal to a ground’ takes place within a structure of ‘questioning’. Deleuze goes on to elaborate this thought in the third and longest chapter of What is Grounding?, ‘Ground and Question’, where three different elementary ‘structures’ of questioning as such are laid out. First, there is an existential questioning of the kind exemplified by Kierkegaard in his Philosophical Fragments, a questioning which ‘refuses all responses’, and for which the operation of grounding consists in the confrontation of ontological ‘paradox’. What is Grounding? shows Deleuze’s concept of repetition to be firmly rooted in Kierkegaard’s treatment of repetition. In this section of the chapter, there are discussions of sin, anxiety and the stages of life (aesthetic, ethical and religious) which are not replicated elsewhere in Deleuze’s elaboration of
the concept of repetition, but are fundamental to understanding it. The second type of question ‘claims to lead to the science of all the solutions to possible problems, according to a universal principle’. Here, there are extensive discussions of the rationalists, focusing mainly on Leibniz’s metaphysics of counterfactual contingency and his calculus of compossibilities. Finally, appearing as a new subset of the ‘ground as question’, there is the ‘critical question’ that motivates Kantianism: how to distinguish between true and false problems, how to track down metaphysical illusions and assign them to their source. Without the grounds afforded by this kind of questioning, there will be no way ultimately to distinguish true and false problems. At first it appears that Deleuze is claiming here that philosophical grounding takes place in three irreducible ways, and that each of these – the existential, the logicorationalist, and the critical kinds of questioning – is necessary for the acquisition of autonomous thought and for reason to be realized. But he indicates that he sees these three different structures of questioning as a ‘triple function of grounding’. If epistemic or critical questioning is the first procedure undertaken by philosophy, that does not mean that epistemology and the ends of knowledge are the highest ends of philosophical thought. Deleuze’s Kant’s Critical Philosophy takes pains to show that the realization of reason itself proceeds in a more complex manner, sublimating itself into the acts of practical reason, and then into more reflective species of thought devoted to art, beauty and organic vitality. Rational ends are not realized simply through acts of knowledge, but through ethical acts, in the space of aesthetic experience, in the study of living nature, and (as Deleuze suggests in his remarks on Kant’s ‘Ideas for a Universal History’ in his Kant book) in the re-conception and actualization of new social forms devoted to the collective realization of autonomous subjectivity. In the final chapter, ‘The Grounding of Principle’, Deleuze takes a step further and argues that the triple function of grounding ‘perpetually oscillates between two poles’, according to whether principles are taken to ‘relate to us and our simple knowledge of things’, or, on the contrary, express ‘things in themselves’. Following Hegel in the Preface to the Phenomenology,
Deleuze christens the former approach as the way of ‘method’, and the latter as the way of ‘system’. Method treats the object as already there, and its principles concern the best way to acquire knowledge from that pre-existing object. Descartes and Bacon are Deleuze’s examples of philosophers of method. On the other hand, there are the philosophers of system, Fichte, Maimon, Schelling and Hegel. Deleuze claims that Kant’s own approach to grounding is vitiated by his inability to settle on the side of method or system. Kant places his ‘Architectonic’ of the realization of reason right at the end of the Critique of Pure Reason, when he should have placed the construction of the system at the beginning. The post-Kantians rightly demanded access to the unconditioned, self-grounding principle of subjectivity that must lie at the basis of knowledge. Fichte argued for ‘the need to substitute an act of consciousness for the fact of consciousness. Kant had not yet raised himself to the position of the pure act.’ The task of philosophy for Fichte was to recover this fundamental act of the subject, performing the process a ‘genesis’ of the real conditions of knowledge and thus uncovering the ground of our already ‘constituted’ experience. Fichte and Hegel both affirm the possibility of a ‘dialectic’ rooted in this act of genesis, which will recover ‘the movement of things themselves’. In 1990, Deleuze was still able to affirm that ‘I believe in philosophy as system’,8 but what is striking is that in the 1956 lectures Deleuze does not resist the Hegelian destination of post-Kantian systematicity, giving it a qualified affirmation. Hegel’s achievement is to produce a self-grounding system by reconstructing the sequence of previous ‘transcendental illusions’ as the narrative of the realization of reason in history. He ‘takes up the thread of a universal history which passes through [previous philosophical positions], unlocking the meaning [sens] of their discourses’. For Hegel, the two most fundamental aspects of real history are ‘labour and struggle’, the elementary manifestations of ‘negation and transformation’. ‘Man is the malcontent of the given’, and it is only because labour and struggle are real processes that the discussion of philosophers can take on their meaning [sens]: ‘Kant and Hegel say that the will raises itself to the absolute when it is taken as the will of freedom. In this activity of freedom, the activity of rational being is realizing the infinite task. For Hegel, this realization occurs through History.’ Deleuze’s reservations about Hegel’s identification of reason with universal history are qualified. ‘The way totalitarian regimes claim themselves to be in favour of systems cannot be denied’, but it is a mistake to
confuse actuality [Wirklichkeit] in the Hegelian sense with mere reality. What is truly actual and rational is not what simply happens or has happened to be real, but rather the force of negation that is at work through it, and visible in constituted experience only fragmentarily, in the Erfahrungen of dialectical experience. This is why the Hegelian system is not intrinsically ‘closed’ to the future or ‘totalitarian’. It is a mistake to demand that the system will tell us the future … in the Preface to the Phenomenology, Hegel states that critique is not the same thing as experience. What is required is the description of experience in such a way that something necessarily escapes the one who has the experience, and it is precisely this that is the sense of this experience. It is no use [predicting the future] because the conditions of action do not imply any future condition of the future state. [Experience] finds its point of departure in the present contradiction.
However, Deleuze’s ideas about how to ‘realize’ the system in a world of finite beings do depart from Hegel’s. Deleuze’s Bergsonian system of bifurcating differentiations driven by the polarity of duration and matter is already in place in his early writings on Bergson, also produced in 1956, and its influence is felt here, along with the pluralizing account of differentiation found in Solomon Maïmon.9 The space is therefore already there for the replacement of Hegel’s dialectic of reason in history with a more pluralistic account of the multiple ‘lines of flight’ generated by the dialectical movement of bifurcation and development. Moreover, Deleuze is keen to distance himself from the inflationary metaphysical aspects of the Hegelian system, such as the identification of the dialectic with the unfolding of God’s essence.10 He criticizes the idea that modern philosophy ends up putting human beings in the place of God. In fact these philosophers do not give man the powers of God. They give to finitude a constitutive character, and do not raise man to the infinite … In the system, [too], man no longer puts himself in the place of God, as the system replaces the idea of creation with other concepts.
Ideas of intellectual intuition, creation, and so on, are no longer valid in the post-metaphysical climate of critical philosophy. Post-Kantian systematic philosophy does not claim to occupy the place of God. When Hegel talks of an absolute knowledge he says to us that ‘this reveals to us no other world than our own’. Absolute knowledge is knowledge of this world here. What is involved here is the substitution of the trans-
cendental imagination for the infinite intellect. The systematic point of view replaces the concept of the infinite intellect with the transcendental imagination that belongs to constitutive finitude. So many notions can no longer be conserved. For instance, the notion of creation, which is a theological idea which can only be understood starting from the postulation of an infinite intellect and will. If the latter falls, then the concept of creation cannot be maintained. It is absurd for an atheist to conserve the idea of creation because he cannot avail himself any longer of concepts that are inseparable from the idea of God. From that moment on, philosophy, in its difference from theology, and as philosophy, cannot recover the idea of creation.
The Kantian and post-Kantian conception of the task of philosophy is ‘fundamentally modern’ in that what is at stake is no longer the finitude of the human mind, opposed to a divine intellect or transparently rational truth, but ‘the constitutive power of human finitude’. ‘Kant is the first to make of finitude the most profound aspect of reason itself, the constitutive element of the rational being.’ It is precisely this finitude that is recovered by the post-systematic Kantian philosophers. Philosophy reorients itself in a strange fashion: it is because man lives in time, because he is not God, is finite, that he has to constitute the world. In this sense, Kant is primary. The problem is how to formulate this finitude. With Heidegger, [the key concept is] existence; with Kant, it is the schematism or the transcendental imagination. In Creative Evolution, Bergson twice reminds us that it is important to stress that the élan vital is finite.
Passages like these further undermine metaphysical interpretations of what Deleuze is doing as a philosopher. One of the most revelatory aspects of What is Grounding? is the centrality given to Heidegger’s Kant and the Problem of Metaphysics, which Deleuze reads as a development of the genre of ideas about the ‘transcendental imagination’ developed by Hegel (for instance in his 1802 Faith and Knowledge) and German Romanticism, specifically Novalis. Deleuze generates Heidegger’s notion of transcendence from the same Humean–Kantian matrix mentioned above. With Heidegger the transcendental becomes a structure of empirical subjectivity itself. The transcendental is reduced to transcendence, to going beyond. Perhaps in that case transcendental subjectivity might seem to lose its importance. With Kant, it made knowledge possible because it submitted sensible objects to human knowledge. But the transcendental subject [ends up being] what makes transcendence possible by submitting phenomena to this
very operation of transcending. The transcendental subject ends up being simply that to which transcendence itself is immanent. With Heidegger, on the contrary, the distinction between transcendence and the transcendental finally disappears. With him they are identified to the point that one can no longer distinguish that which grounds from that which is grounded. Which is why the root of every grounding is freedom.
The discussions of Heidegger in What is Grounding? have no equivalent elsewhere in Deleuze’s writings. Deleuze goes on to affirm Heidegger’s theory of the temporal structure of experience, or ‘the conditions which make possible in existence our capacity for distinguishing past and future’, concluding that Heidegger shows how ‘finitude is constitutive in the measure in which it organizes time as ecstasis’. It is the transcendental imagination which is ultimately constitutive for human experience, and unless we learn the ‘hidden art’ of the imagination to which Kant alluded in his remarks on the schematism, the human being is destined to remain enclosed in the constituted frameworks of its finitude. ‘It is necessary to grant the greatest importance to the poets and writers of German Romanticism’, where one first finds ‘a philosophy that posits the principle of a constitutive imagination’. Novalis knew Kant’s work very well. He wanted, he said, to bring about a ‘philosophy’ and not a psychology of imagination. … Nature hides what it produces. Consequently there must be a reproduction by artificial means. … Novalis suggests that the faculty of imagination possesses the capacity of corresponding with the same movement within things themselves whereby they reproduce themselves. Whence the theme of German Romanticism: the relation of truth and poetry. For Novalis, poetry possesses its own profound truth, in so far as its images are nothing but the movement of reproduction. … The movement through which we imagine is nothing other than the movement by which nature produces things. However, this is of course true only on condition that one knows how to dream, and that a very particular tension of thought is attained: the attempt to liberate the qualities that are held imprisoned in the thing in the state of nature.
Deleuze appears to intend the Leibnizian monadic account of ‘worlds’ to take up a special place in this Romantic–Heideggerian grounding of the world in freedom. Leibnizian counterfactual metaphysics is in principle granted a new space in the post-Kantian philosophy of imagination, by providing a system of de jure constraints on thought and life and their possible realizations in practice. Deleuze is on the cusp here of igniting the fuse that will regenerate
the rationalist–Leibnizian vision of the plurality of worlds on the plane of a new ‘transcendental culture’ of human reason. It is at this point, though, that the idea of a ‘selfgrounding’ reaches a paradoxical point of identity with what Deleuze calls ‘ungrounding’ in Difference and Repetition, and we reach what could be the central node in the problem of immanence in Deleuze. In these lectures, he continually invokes a final type of ‘grounding’, involving a ‘confrontation with the unconscious’ and a special ordeal of ‘psychic repetition’. ‘The idea of the grounding principle’, he says, ‘invites us to take an original repetition, a psychic repetition.’ The ‘third’ that is invoked in the act of grounding ultimately ‘acts from within the shadows, in the unconscious. It is [in fact] the first; the third is what has been there from the beginning. An exploration of the unconscious will therefore no doubt be necessary.’ Deleuze here alludes to the necessity in the act of grounding of an encounter with the ‘ground’ in the obscure, abyssal sense conjured up by the later Schelling, where, as he remarks in Difference and Repetition, ‘the Ground [le Fond] become[s] autonomous’ and ‘essentially related to individuation’.11 This suggestion takes us to the ultimate ‘problem’ in Deleuze’s explorations of the notion of immanence. What is Grounding? ends by stating: In this psychic repetition, it is necessary that something new should be produced, in the mind [espirit], unveiled. Here we find the response to the question: ‘what use is grounding?’ What is unveiled (as is shown in the last chapter) is the true structure of the imagination, the meaning [sens] of which cannot be understood other than through the enterprise of grounding, which, far from supposing the perspective of infinity, is itself nothing other than the principle of the imagination.
The problem is that this ‘new’ thing that has been produced is a creation; it did not exist before the grounding. There is an ungrounding, a discontinuity, proper to the act of grounding. Are the philosophical notions of grounding and immanence then ultimately paradoxical? Two things appear to have been gained by the end of the course. First, Deleuze has shown that the task of the ‘philosopher’ (and presumably, to some extent, every student of philosophy who wishes to ground their ideas) is to bring about a reconstruction of the history of culture, to account for the development of rational ends, in such a way that they are made capable of further pursuing the realization of reason. But, second, we also arrive at the consistent
position that the universal grounding of philosophy is ultimately distributively rather than collectively universal. In Kierkegaardian terms, the act is open to each, but not necessarily actually all (or at least not in the same place and time). We could describe this as the ‘inner democracy’ of the undertaking of philosophical grounding, the entrance into a necessarily shared space of ontological justice. Grounding is the task of each, not the all, but it produces as a doubly willed by-product the common end of establishing the realization of reason in the world; which is perhaps what ‘immanence’ amounts to.12
Notes 1. See Paul Patton’s translator’s preface to Difference and Repetition, Athlone, London, 1994, p. xiii; and Louise Burchill’s note on Patton’s translation of fondement and fond in her translation of Alain Badiou’s The Clamour of Being, University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis and London, 2000, p. 132. 2. Difference and Repetition, p. 154. 3. All translations are my own. As can be seen from this passage, Deleuze’s style in the lectures appears to be a hitherto unknown dialect of Heideggerese; but that may be due to the state of the lecture notes. An English translation is forthcoming on webdeleuze.com. 4. G. Deleuze, ed., Instincts et institutions, Hachette, Paris, 1953, pp. 14–15; extracted from Eliade, The Myth of the Eternal Return, Princeton University Press, Princeton NJ, 1949, pp. 4–5, 8–10. 5. In Myth and Reality, Eliade sums up that in the ritual mode of ‘living a myth’ what is involved ‘is not a commemoration of mythical events but a reiteration of them. The protagonists of the myth are made present, one becomes their contemporary. This also implies that one is no longer living in chronological time, but in primordial Time, the Time when the event first took place. This is why we can use the term the “strong time” of myth; it is the prodigious “sacred” time when something new, strong, and significant was manifest. To re-experience that time, to re-enact it as often as possible … is the desire that runs like a pattern through all the ritual reiterations of myths.’ Eliade, Myth and Reality, Harper Torchbooks, New York, 1963, p. 19. 6. What is Philosophy?, trans. G. Burchell and H. Tomlinson, Verso, London, 1994, p. 48. See Christian Kerslake, ‘The Vertigo of Philosophy: Deleuze and the Problem of the Immanence’, Radical Philosophy 113, May/June 2002, pp. 10–23. 7. Robert Pippin, Hegel’s Idealism, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1989, p. 23. 8. ‘Letter–Preface to Jean-Clet Martin’, in Two Regimes of Madness, Semiotext(e), New York, 2006, p. 361. 9. Deleuze, ‘Bergson, 1859–1941’, and ‘Bergson’s Conception of Difference’, collected in Desert Islands, trans. M. Taormina, Semiotext(e), New York, 2004. 10. G.W.F. Hegel, Science of Logic, trans. A.V. Miller, Humanities Press, New York, 1989, p. 50. 11. Deleuze, Difference and Repetition, p. 321. 12. Cf. G. Deleuze, Spinoza: Practical Philosophy, trans. R. Hurley, City Lights, San Francisco, 1988, p. 29.
Bioaesthetics Gerald Raunig, Art and Revolution: Transversal Activism in the Long Twentieth Century, trans. A. Derieg, Semiotext(e), Los Angeles, 2007. 320 pp. £11.95 pb., 978 158435 046 0. This book offers a clear yet complex analysis of the conditions under which art (and indeed politics) could be understood as revolutionary. Yet it posits a distinction between the ‘aesthetic’ and the ‘political’ that finally reduces art to an appendage of politics, as a result of the fact that Raunig’s account of the ‘transversal concatenation’ of revolution and art effectively relies upon an ‘updated’ concept of revolution itself. The conept of ‘Transversal concatenation’ is one drawn directly from Negri’s work, developed in the context of a rejection of the takeover of state power in favour of constructing an immanent and ongoing ‘revolutionary machine’ from the components of ‘insurrection, resistance and constituent power’. Of these, the last is most significant, because it places constituent power as the ontological ground of ‘revolutionary’ aesthetic processes, and limits these processual expressions to collective experiments with ‘alternative forms of organization’. These forms emerge from the political traditions of anarcho-syndicalism, the soviets and the various council movements. As Raunig puts it, he thus seeks an art that attempts ‘to address the question of organization from a perspective of revolutionary politics’. Such attempts, he argues, ‘confront directly’ the ‘central repressive operations of Empire’ functioning biopolitically within both revolutionary groups and in the world. Consequently, Raunig’s ‘updated’ concept of revolution seems to imply a similarly ‘updated’ art; one that emerges (following Foucault and Guattari) within activist groups that critique the limits – formal, economic, subjective and political – of the art institution. While the critique of both individual expression and art’s institutions is necessary to understanding the biopolitical controls of contemporary life, Raunig’s privileging of the organization and intervention of the activist group as a liberatory ‘collective’ expression ignores the political potential of more traditional forms of aesthetic production. Although Raunig provides a valuable account of marginal artistic attempts at revolutionary activity, he does so under the assumption that ‘art’, as this is normally understood – and, more significantly, its own experiments in concatenating with life – are not capable of intervening
effectively (i.e. politically) at the level of social production. Clearly attacking the avant-garde tradition here, Raunig suggests that art’s only means of expressing constituent power qua life lies in the political practice of activism. What is at stake in this is the philosophical understanding of life and the politics of its expression. While Raunig’s position is consistent with Negri’s, his appeal to the work of Deleuze and Guattari ignores their affirmation of art qua life as being expressed in a politics of sensation itself, a politics indiscernible from art. This would imply a ‘bioaesthetics’ as much as, and perhaps even prior to, a ‘biopolitics’. Indeed, it is a strange version of Deleuze and Guattari that Raunig evokes here, and reading his book one would think they had no interest in art at all; something which may actually be more truly said of Negri. Indeed, it seems as if Raunig wants to evokes – in Negri’s name – a ‘political’ Deleuze and Guattari against an ‘aesthetic’ one. This runs completely counter to Deleuze and Guattari’s affirmation of art and the avant-garde, an affirmation that, for Guattari, makes the avant-garde a model for political action as such. As a result, Raunig’s focus on the question of collective organization is at the expense of those collectives that the artist organizes as sensation, and which appear within the realms of painting, cinema, poetry and other supposedly ‘traditional’ arts. This is a problem that stems from Raunig’s commitment to his ‘updated’ concept of revolution, which, in similarly ‘updating’ the tradition of institutional critique in line with contemporary political conditions, ignores Deleuze and Guattari’s affirmation of art’s fundamentally political power to produce the new (a power that is first of all aesthetic). To affirm an ontological vitalism that begins from art qua life would be to affirm a politics of creation, which is something quite different from Raunig’s affirmation of politics qua life, which tends to separate art from politics altogether. In this sense, the ‘and’ in Raunig’s title is somewhat ambiguous, given that his argument not only denies art’s autonomy, but derides art’s own attempts to dissolve it. In the Introduction, Raunig compares and contrasts Wagner’s essay ‘Art and the Revolution’
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and Lunacharsky’s ‘Revolution and Art’ in order to dramatize the problems traversing – from the political Right to the Left – the avant-garde. Raunig argues that Wagner and Lunacharsky are two examples of a ‘trans-historical pattern’, where claims of the universal value of art’s revolutionary power rest upon another universal – that of ‘the totalizing confusion of art and life’. In other words, the avant-gardes fail because they locate art’s revolutionary power in its ability to dissolve itself within an ‘uncritical’ (i.e. an aesthetic rather than political) concept of ‘life’. This confusion defines the avant-garde and explains its inadequacy, inasmuch as its revolutionary idealism leads, according to Raunig, to the aestheticization of politics in spectacle, producing ‘a uniformity of the masses through the means of art’. The avant-garde failed politically because its desire for ‘life’ does not resist the real political forces in play, particularly those institutions instrumentalizing aesthetics within the biopolitical policing of Capital’s global Empire. This places art in an awkward situation, condemning its political aspirations as not only naive and inadequate, but complicit. Although the critique of art’s instrumentalization is of pressing concern, and Raunig’s book marks an important contribution to understanding its mechanisms, it pursues this through a harsh judgement on art that rests on the binarization of art and politics. Art therefore becomes revolutionary only when it overcomes itself, when it abandons its
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own mechanisms (including those of the avant-garde) in favour of those that are truly political. The beginning of such a polarization appears in Raunig’s account of the Paris Commune. Rather than upholding the Commune as the definitive model of revolution, Raunig wants to rethink it as inaugurating a ‘long twentieth century’ in which specific and singular ‘revolutionary machines’ constitute a genealogy of political self-organization operating in ‘council-like systems’ and ‘grassroots movements’. Raunig draws out a non-representational and self-organizing form of collective expression that opens our contemporary period, and defines the conditions of revolutionary art. Although this form is radically non-representational, and to that extent connects to developments in the visual arts, questions of anarchism play a much more important role than those of abstraction here. While this makes of expression a collective and political process (a no doubt necessary development), Raunig’s examples position this revolutionary activity against art’s institutional organization. This is to devalue the inherent potential of sensation to catalyse subjective mutation, a potential serving as the basis of Guattari’s ‘ethico-aesthetic paradigm’, in which both avant-garde as well as ‘modernist’ art practices are privileged as experimental processes operating on their own conditions (conditions both subjective and institutional). This means that ‘revolutionary’ aesthetic practices are
quite capable of emerging in the artistic production of sensation, rather than, as it seems in Raunig’s account, sensation having to be assessed according to ‘revolutionary’ criteria by which they become ‘political’. This is to pose the crucial question of how a work of art relates to its social conditions of production. Raunig finds the answer in Walter Benjamin’s essay ‘The Author as Producer’ and its attack on the German intellectual Left, particularly the ‘Activism’ movement of the 1910s. Such leftist movements, Raunig argues following Benjamin, were revolutionary in attitude but not in action, producing a complicity with ‘the bourgeois apparatus of production’ that enabled it to assimilate and even propagate ‘revolutionary themes’ by placing the figure of the artist/intellectual beside or above the proletariat. Although this was an improvement on the individualism of Courbet, already rejected by Raunig in a previous chapter, the ‘Activism’ group nevertheless enables the nullification of their revolutionary desire by separating it from the real organizational activities that would express constituent power at the level of the multitude. Once more, and it is surely a point well taken in relation to many artistic ‘networks’ today, artistic political posturing is meaningless without a serious level of self-critique. Only through self-critique can artistic groups achieve real political effects through the double strategy of refusing to supply, and thereby changing, the production apparatus. Raunig argues that these two strategies can be updated through Deleuze’s critique of representation and Foucault’s attempt to constitute a new ‘politics of truth’, which together enable a genuine attack upon the media. This interesting suggestion defines the political value of artistic production according to its ability to disrupt the machinery of the spectacle, and its production of signs capable of leaving the museum and directly attacking the global networks of the signeconomy. Raunig’s positive examples of revolutionary art all operate in this way, from the best aspects of Eisenstein’s theatre of attractions, through to the Situationists, and finally in his key contemporary example of the PublixTheatreCaravan. What is most interesting about this account is the way it outlines a genealogy of ‘revolutionary’ art according to our contemporary conditions of ‘semiocapitalism’. Inasmuch as these conditions truly emerge in the 1960s, the direct confrontation by Situationism of real political processes introduces a contemporary model of ‘revolutionary art’. This model has two major components: the Situationist involvement in the collective organization of the wider ’68 ‘movement’, and their strategic intervention in the circulation of
signs that constituted the social realm. In this sense the Situationists avoid the problems of two other art movements of the 1960s, those of Conceptual Art and those of the Viennese Actionists. Raunig explicitly rejects the latter, while completely ignoring the former. His rejection of Viennese Actionism rests upon his argument against the avant-garde’s complicity with Capital through its spectacularization of resistance. Indeed, he argues, the ‘myth’ of the Actionists’ radical politics was almost entirely due to their demonization by the ‘spectacular media machine’ and its criminalization by the ‘repressive state apparatus’. In this sense, and it is a distinction that is telling, Actionism only achieved a ‘cultural revolution’ because its outrages were not connected to any real political organization. This was all the more problematic inasmuch as the event ‘Art and Revolution’ held at Vienna University in 1968 was co-organized by an extra-parliamentary left-wing student group. This ‘negative concatenation’ of art and politics led then to a breakdown of cohesion within both groups, and meant that the most that could be said for Actionism was that its ‘temporary wild process of politicization’ made the operations of the cops publicly visible. This calling forth of the cops occurred not only outside but also within the Actionist group, and gave birth to what Raunig calls ‘fascist’ tendencies within the ‘Actionist Analytic Commune’ established by Otto Muehl in 1972. Raunig’s offhand dismissal of the Actionist Commune is perhaps surprising inasmuch as it was a direct experiment with anti-bourgeois forms of the collective organization of life. But it is precisely the conceptualization of ‘life’ that is once more at stake here, inasmuch as the Commune’s programme of Selbstdarstellung Therapie and free love, inspired by Wilhelm Reich, privileged artistic–sexual mechanisms of liberating life from ‘the society of gnomes’ (Muehl), and so avoided real political engagement in favour of what Raunig calls an ‘embarrassing mania for selfexpression’. Raunig’s ‘updated’ concept of revolution clearly does not envisage it as the expression of a liberated unconscious, and nor does he associate an insurrectional ‘life’ with anything libidinal. It might also seem surprising, then, that Raunig does not discuss Conceptual Art, which like Situationism followed the ‘linguistic turn’ of the 1960s into the newly emerging info-economy. Conceptual Art attempted to deliver art to the ‘people’ by removing any privilege to the artistic sign, and redeploying the readymade as ‘information’. This strategy of ‘dematerialization’ imagined an entirely discursive artwork outside the reach of capital, for, as Carl Andre once argued, once there was no art object, and the artist
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was anybody, what could be sold? If, then, Actionism failed because it tried to disengage from capital by immersing itself in an autonomous sexual utopia, Conceptual Art’s problem was the opposite, as it tried to dissolve art in a sign economy it naively imagined was the beginning of a new democracy of artistic expression. This led, as Deleuze and Guattari snidely point out, to Conceptual Art’s banality of examples being rivalled only by its philosophical inspiration – analytic philosophy and logic. Here anything could be art and anyone could make art; all it needed was the formulation of a ‘concept’. But in the newly dematerialized economies emerging in the marketing and advertising industries, the ‘art’ of the ‘concept’ was already where it was at, and their executives saw no problem in collecting immaterial artworks, which, as long as they remained connected to a proper name, retained their value as commodities. So while Actionism’s understanding of a (sex) ‘life’ centred in the body and freed through the still-artistic processes of the Commune remained caught in an uncritical spectacle of exteriority, Conceptual Art went the opposite way and uncritically dissolved art into a ‘life’ that was increasingly managed through the circulation of signs within the ‘affect-economy’. This at least would be the logic behind Raunig’s championing of the Situationists as the forerunners to his positive example of contemporary revolutionary art: the PublixTheatreCaravan of Vienna. This group provides, for Raunig, a concatenation of ‘art and revolution’ in an anti-globalization activism, mixing ‘the workers’s theatre and the autonomist movement’. What is important is its engagement with the biopolitical dimension of late capitalism through a discursive activism that takes place both in the streets and through a rigorous process of self-critique. By their critique of representation – operating ‘aesthetically’ in the media, and ‘politically’ within the collective – Publix TheatreCaravan avoid their spectacularization and instrumentalization by the mass media and the culture industry to achieve what Foucault called parrhesia, or freely telling the truth. Although Raunig’s contention that artists have taken over the role of ‘political parrhesiastes’ in the second half of the twentieth century is a provocative and interesting one, it is a claim that privileges discursive ‘work’ over sensation in any political engagement. Parrhesia, in Foucault’s account, involved ‘crossing the lines’ establishing and enforcing the sayable and the seen within social collectives. In this sense, Valesquez, Manet and Magritte are all, for Foucault, political activists. By contrast, although Raunig does
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not condemn painters outright, one gets the feeling that for him they have nothing to say that could be contemporary. This is a little ironic given that, at best, this offers an ‘updated’ version of the distinction between ‘modern’ and ‘contemporary’ art that emerged in the 1970s, and which was replayed in the ‘postmodernism’ debates of the 1980s. What is ‘contemporary’ in art, and not just in art, are those assemblages that are capable of ‘crossing the line’ to produce something new. A ‘politics of truth’ means nothing else. Raunig’s postscript gives his account another twist. Entitled ‘After 9/11’, it traces the overwhelming impact this event has had on the anti-globalization movement. It has led, Raunig argues, to a kind of massification and spectacularization on both sides of the conflict. The anti-globalization movement has increasingly been caught up with a mass-mobilization strategy that has played into the state’s hands both practically, on the ground, and in the realm of the media, where such demonstrations are controlled by being turned into spectacle. This was the fate, broadly speaking, of the PublixTheatreCaravan participation in the antiglobalization movement, but it was a fate they then resisted ‘nomadically’ by shifting their energies to the development of the ‘no border camp’, such as the one at Strasbourg in July 2002. This move is read by Raunig as part of PublixTheatreCaravan’s successful employment of self-critique that retained its commitment to techniques of parrhesis, but that refused the spectacularization of the movement after 9/11 to make the concatenation of art machines and revolutionary machines ‘permanent and transversal’. This suggestion that a truly contemporary revolutionary art – an art that has, at last, employed the linguistic turn of the 1960s against our biopolitical conditions of ‘life’ – is an ‘updated’ political activism forms the conclusion of Raunig’s argument. It is the considerable achievement of Raunig’s book to present this suggestion in such a strong and intelligent manner. But the price paid is the jettisoning of ‘art’ along with any concept of ‘life’ that could be understood in its terms. This seems, finally, too high a price to pay, both aesthetically and philosophically, for a ‘politics’ of art. In imagining the ‘life’ of constituent power to be expressed through the organizational interventions of activist groups, it denies to art its greatest weapon – sensation – just as it denies to life its creative ‘nature’, both of which are already political in continually creating new, and so contemporary, worlds. Stephen Zepke
Enjoyment in the required fashion Yannis Stavrakakis, The Lacanian Left: Psychoanalysis, Theory, Politics, Edinburgh University Press, Edinburgh, 2007. 328 pp. £60.00 hb., 978 7486 1980. In his introduction to what is – as is so common these days – a collection of previously published papers which have been expanded or filled out, Stavrakakis poses the question: what is the meaning of the ‘syntagma of the Lacanian Left’? It’s a good question, which the book struggles to answer. In essence, what Stavrakakis does is to try and derive a political praxis from a Lacanian account of the subject, a task at which he is less than successful. What he fails to do is to establish why this praxis might be distinctively left, or indeed, what left might mean at this historical moment. Though Stavrakakis wants to have the ‘Lacanian Left’ as a site of articulation, much like its apparently kindred terms ‘the Hegelian Left’ and ‘the Freudian Left’, in fact ‘Lacanian’ is here more a gesture of subsumption: the Lacanian apparatus is foundational. The failure of the model of articulation lies in the fact that the political has no independent characterization outside the field of the psychoanalytic subject: as in his previous book, Lacan and the Political, Stavrakakis reduces the political to the working out of a particular operation of that subject. In the latter case, it was the moment of expulsion and homogenization that produced a field of consistency (and identity) and the threat (or promise) of the avatars of objet a; in the current contribution, it is the workings of jouissance and the nostalgia for fullness, which Stavrakakis discusses in relation to nationalism, European identity and consumerism. If we compare Stavrakakis’s project with that of Reich or Marcuse, the differences become manifest. Their problem was a deficiency in the political schemata of their different periods, which prompted a move to psychoanalysis to account for the failure of Marxism. The name of that failure was ‘fascism’ in the first case, and ‘affluence’ in the second. Stavrakakis, unlike them, and unlike his named objects of critique, Laclau and (more problematically) Žižek, looks to Lacan to found the possibilities of transformation as such. He quotes Jacques-Alain Miller approvingly: ‘Psychoanalysis is subversive – it encourages distrust in all official ideals and institutions – but not revolutionary, since it also distrusts idealistic notions of a bright post-revolutionary future.’ But there is not the least trace of critical engagement with Miller’s tendentious banality, and then, endorsing Badiou’s notions of negativity and the truth event (the revelation of
being otherwise and possibility), Stavrakakis argues, or rather asserts, that the politically innovative is ‘more Lacanian – Left Lacanian’. The equivalence of ‘more’ and ‘Left’ here is both audacious and undeveloped. The form of the book also makes it difficult to assess sympathetically. Its first part settles some scores with Žižek and Laclau: the former for misreading Lacan and falling into a ‘fetishism’ of the act, the latter for being insufficiently Lacanian and separating the symbolic from affect. (This is a separation that Laclau moves to annul in his On Populist Reason, with drastic and damaging consequences for his account of politics, as John Kraniauskas argued in Radical Philosophy 136.) It also includes a critical dialogue between Castoriadis and Lacan over the issue of creation (Castoriadis loses) and a brief approving discussion of Badiou. Much of this material is strictly (and occasionally tediously) ad hominem, leaving the second part of the book to open out into something more theoretically general. The central idea of Stavrakakis’s account is that political identities, submission to authority, the workings of consumerism and advertising – indeed it could be claimed all contemporary social phenomena – find their primary support in the deployment of jouissance; a core, if varying, concept of the Lacanian corpus. Stavrakakis, like many Lacanians, pays fast and loose with the notion. Sometimes it is a synonym for libido, a sort of energy or force of investment. Sometimes it finds its equivalent in enjoyment, in some physical sense. At the end of its theoretical wanderings, it will name another sort of enjoyment. Thus, in its various incarnations it works to tie the social and the corporeal. In its ur-Lacanian version, jouissance is that which never was, an originary fullness posited as having once been prior to castration and the trammels of metonymic desire. Desire is not jouissance, but Stavrakakis will occlude the distinction. In Laclau’s current appropriation of the term, jouissance is what haunts the object as the trace of an impossible totality (or universal). This is projected (and I think the echoes of an earlier idealism in the Freudian/Kleinian operation are not coincidental) onto aspects of the social, granting them a value which anchors political action, understood as the workings of hegemony. Stavrakakis has this in mind when he discusses nationalism and its pathologies, or
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rather nationalism as pathology, since it is just this unconscious attachment to the nation as the promise of totality (and social peace) that makes it so intractable, so worth dying and killing for. Yet the problem here is why it should be the nation as form that becomes the bearer of this trace, and not any other identity. Or, since Stavrakakis will explain all political identities as grounded in the promise of fullness, why this identity has been historically dominant since the mideighteenth century. The disclosure of a fundamental moment of subjective investment still fails to account for the emergence of the object of investment. Oddly, Stavrakakis raises this problem in his discussion of the failure of a (jouissance-saturated) European identity: what is it about Europe that militates against it becoming the bearer of the trace of fullness? Or, more negatively, what allows Europe to be the object of the sort of exclusionary fantasies that ‘Brussels’ conjures? The problem here is precisely that of psychoanalytic reductionism: the complex of subjective engagements with ‘Europe’ and the particular structural (political-economic) features of the European Community, together with the various ‘fatalities’ – as Benedict Anderson has described the singularities of language and history – are all levelled to the moment of ‘identity’, as either misrecognition or obscene enjoyment. The famous ‘No’s in the French and Dutch referendums on the European constitution are read as evidence for the failure of a European identity, rather than an extremely crude summation of complex political, social and (well, yes) individual decisions. (Later, however, Stavrakakis will nuance this argument to allow that they may indicate a rejection of ‘post-democracy’, the empty forms of democracy that cover capitalist administration, without reflecting on what this does to his argument here.) Similarly, jouissance is wheeled out to account for the workings of consumer capitalism (as, in the past, was desire, with similar levelling effects). The various investments in the objects of consumption endlessly produced by capital are not ‘enjoyed’ in some version of use value, but rather ‘enjoyed’, purchased as promises of fullness. Yet, as fullness is unachievable, the objects must be cast aside as failing to satisfy. Or, in another Lacanian move, the old prohibitions on consumption are cast aside to be replaced by their ‘obscene underside’, the imperative to enjoy. Either way, the only options are constant consumption, the treadmill of life in the mall, or nostalgic demands for repression, or the random acting out of violence. This really does rephrase the worst excesses of Marcuse’s pessimism, but also his assumption of
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the non-contradictory articulation of the subject and political economy. That Stavrakakis cites Ballard here as the social portraitist of late capitalism is significant: Ballard’s extraordinary social conservatism and his writing out the apocalyptic fantasies of that declining element of the English middle class, heirs to the fading wealth and constant fears of Empire, precisely limn not general features of the subject under capitalism but historical subjects in a particular configuration of political economy.
The fantasy of fullness thus becomes the source of evil, and its malign influence is seen in the desire for radical social transformation, which as ‘utopian’ necessarily becomes nostalgic, and fraught with peril. Rather, what is left and endorsable by Lacanians must be the integration of lack and negativity, the recognition of perpetual antagonism and disagreement. Democracy is the name of this recognition, and here Stavrakakis approvingly cites Chantal Mouffe. However, an intellectual acknowledgement of the structural desideratum of democracy is insufficient: more than a symbolic engagement, there must be an affective commitment. But, ex hypothesi, such commitment cannot be one which mobilizes jouissance, since this would constitute radical democracy as utopian, a fantasy that offers the possibility that, in the institutionalization of antagonism, the reality of conflict would be overcome. Rather, Stavrakakis invokes an enjoyment of the not-all, a putative ‘jouissance beyond accumula-
tion, domination and fantasy’, which would underlie democracy. What might this be? For so crucial a component of the Lacanian Left project, this is cursorily dealt with, and emerges only at the theoretical level. In effect, this enjoyment is what is left after the subject has divested itself of a fantasy identification with the all, or the Other that is all. Now, if the transition of jouissance to desire in the neurotic subject is the passage of fullness to the hope of satisfaction in language, then the move to another jouissance is the abandonment of the possibility of satisfaction through, in the words of Joan Copjec, ‘formalizing [jouissance] in a signifier that does not mean, but is, rather, directly enjoyed’. This is the Lacanian idea of suppléance, derived from his work on Joyce, and now brought into relation with feminine jouissance, as the jouissance of the not-all. Such enjoyment makes up for lack without becoming objet a. But how does this work for democracy, and more crucially for a politics: what might be those examples of such a jouissance at large in the world?
Sadly, Stavrakakis, normally garrulous, is now taciturn. There is a reference to Sahlins and Clastres, and the possibility of things being (socially) otherwise, and a brief discussion of cooperative economic possibilities from a scattered list of writers – Unger, Santos, and so on – but the allegedly profound difference of this form of enjoyment remains unexemplified, and its possible generalization unexamined. The suspicion remains that only the subject after psychoanalysis can be said to enjoy in the required fashion and that a project of social change with political actors remains untheorizable or unimaginable. There is also the suspicion that the anti-utopian thrust of Stavrakakis’s Lacanianism misreads the history of utopia as social imagination, reducing it to a form of libidinal bad faith, and resuscitates the anti-totalitarianism of Popperian liberalism. The mournful (but mature) acceptance of partiality slips towards an affirmation of piecemeal transformation. To make sense of Lacan’s possible relevance to the project of the Left requires more than this. Philip Derbyshire
Another Isis Christine Battersby, The Sublime, Terror and Human Difference, Routledge, London & New York, 2007. 226 pp., £60.00 hb., £19.99 pb., 978 0 415 14810 8 hb., 978 0 203 94561 2 pb. Christine Battersby’s latest book builds on aspects of her earlier critical engagements with Western aesthetics and metaphysics in Gender and Genius (1989) and The Phenomenal Woman (1998). But here her attention is specifically focused on the category of the sublime within this philosophical tradition and the ways in which it operates as a nexus between aesthetics, ethics and politics. As always with Battersby’s work, the main argument is rooted in a deep engagement in the history of the category with which she is working. One of the delights of the book is the way it illuminates the emergence of the notion of the sublime from classical traditions of rhetoric, and its imbrication with a specifically alchemical discourse of sublimation. At the book’s heart, however, is eighteenth- and nineteenthcentury European philosophizing about the sublime as a mode of aesthetic response (whether to nature or art) that challenges settled modes of understanding and of being in the world. As Battersby demonstrates, the different ways of characterizing the sublime are always already morally and politically loaded as distinct ways of responding to, and accounting for, difference. The aim of the book is ‘to explore the usefulness – and the
dangers – of the concept of the sublime for dealing with the politics of difference, including sexual, racial and religious difference’. Philosophically, the key reference point for Battersby’s exploration is Kant, in both his pre-critical and his critical work; politically, it is the aesthetic representation and reception of the attacks on the Twin Towers in New York on 11 September 2001 – although the author is somewhat ambivalent about this. Battersby’s account deals with two distinct philosophical responses to Kant’s account of the sublime: Hegel’s (terroristic) interpretation, associated here with the argument of Jonathan Strauss, and a postmodern, agonistic interpretation offered by Lyotard. The former sees the Kantian sublime as ultimately reducible to the subsumption of the particular object of experience under the abstract universal of the moral law. On this account, the challenge of what appears initially as ungraspable is met by the reassertion of the capacity of the judging subject to subsume the apparently ‘other’ under universal law. In this way the sublime experience becomes tied to the abstract autonomy of the universal subject that Hegel identified as underpinning
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the ideology of the French Revolution and of its Terror. The problem with this account, for Lyotard as well as Battersby, is threefold: first, it renders the sublime a justification for political terror, in which the sacrifice of the individual for an abstract justice becomes permissible; second, it suggests the possibility of romantic transfiguration, in which the subject transcends his limitations in a kind of spiritual leap into the realm of pure reason; and third, it confirms the idea that there is only one description of an act or experience. In contrast to this, the Lyotardian reading of Kant recognizes that the sublime is not ultimately to do with the relation between subject and object, but rather with the conflict of the faculties within the subject. In his view the Kantian sublime affirms irresolvable conflict and difference in a way that prefigures his own account of the differend and paralogy. Battersby finds Lyotard’s reading of the Kantian sublime much closer to Kant’s own argument than the Hegelian version. However, she argues that Lyotard draws back from an adequate exploration of the politics of a postmodern sublime, and risks withdrawing into an abstraction equal to that of the terroristic sublime characteristic of the Hegelian tradition of which he is critical. The problem is that Lyotard, like Kant himself and his Hegelian interpreters, does not take the category of empirical difference seriously enough. Speculating on a Lyotardian response to the 9/11 attacks, Battersby writes: The question that Lyotard’s analysis raises is not simply whether there are multiple narratives that might be provided for this event (the answer is ‘yes’); nor whether these narratives are incommensurable in terms of the framework of meanings (‘yes’ again); but ‘why remain complicit with Kant’s occlusion of materiality and questions of power from the domain of aesthetics?’
Ultimately, Battersby challenges both Hegelian and Lyotardian readings of the Kantian sublime by digging deeper into the question of how the pleasure in the sublime encounter is generated, and the nature of the subject for whom such pleasure can be generated. In doing so she unpacks the politics of the Kantian sublime as both gendered and raced: the sublime encounter emerges as an experience of radical difference which is itself premissed on a difference that is given as a norm, a norm that is explicitly identified with a certain subcategory of empirical subjects, namely white, European men. For Kant, it turns out, pleasure in the sublime is bound up with the affirmation of a particular experience of manliness in the encounter with others. Contrary to the claims
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of the Critique of the Power of Judgment, this is an experience that is neither universally grounded nor universally communicable. As Battersby goes on to demonstrate, the incommensurability of the subject and its other encountered in the sublime is to do with neither abstracted particularity nor abstracted universality, but with flesh-and-blood bodies and histories. Battersby shows how Kant identifies women as emotional, fearful and lacking autonomy in relation to men – they are not excluded from moral agency, but their moral duties relate primarily to their domestic and reproductive role. Women have a duty to avoid the experience of the sublime, Kant argues, because even if they were to be able to cope with the experience, it is necessary for women to be educated to retain their fearfulness and dependency if they are to fulfil their role as women. Battersby goes on to explore Kant’s ambivalent attitude to people of non-Christian cultures. On the one hand, he associated Judaism and Islam with the sublime, both being religions in which the unrepresentability and incomprehensibility of transcendence is central. On the other hand, Kant’s rather eccentric categorization of ‘other’ (i.e. non-European) races and peoples stresses their limitations as both moral and aesthetic subjects. Those that Kant classifies as Oriental demonstrate their inferiority as aesthetic subjects by the focus on ornamentation in their art, which indicates their attachment to particularity. Battersby’s point is not simply that Kant’s sexism and racism unfairly exclude women and people of other cultures from the experience of the sublime; rather, that the experience of the sublime he outlines is the product of a specifically sexed and raced history. So this then opens up the possibility of producing or appreciating the sublime in ways that are differently sexed and raced, as in Gilroy’s account of the ‘slave sublime’. In her later chapters, Battersby explores this possibility in the idea of the ‘feminine sublime’, elaborated through an examination of how Romantic accounts of the sublime have been confronted by women writers and artists – such as Dickinson, Günderode and Hartoum – resulting in alternative models for thinking of self and transcendence. But Battersby is insistent that we should not fall into the trap, characteristic of feminist thought influenced by psychoanalytic or Levinasian ideas, of identifying a feminine sublime. As Battersby sees it, the idea of a feminine sublime confirms rather than subverts the ethics and politics of the masculine Kantian subject, by identifying the feminine with ‘unrepresentable excess’, beyond the ken of thinking beings, rather than with the specifi-
city of the female embodied subject. Here Battersby draws on her argument in The Phenomenal Woman to counter the romantic tendency to identify the feminine with transcendent otherness whilst excluding women’s embodied subjectivity from aesthetic and political realms. Her argument is that positioning either women or non-European peoples as an unrepresentable ‘other’ blocks, rather than enhances, our imaginative capacities, effectively letting privileged subjects off the hook of reckoning with material difference. My approach does, however, involve looking at the specificity of the exclusions relating to human differences, and considering, for example, how women artists and writers have responded to their positioning as ‘other’ and as barred from the sublime by virtue of their all-too-material bodies, as well as at the new modes of the sublime that have emerged out of these tensions.
The metaphor of the ‘veiled Isis’ offers a further discrimination between Kant and German Romanticism. Kant is highly critical of Romantic ideas of access to the absolute through an act of intellectual intuition, such as Novalis’s contention that it is possible to encounter the sublime ‘other’ directly, thereby raising the veil of Isis. He identifies the sublime encounter as that between a masculine subject (active, rational) and his feminine counterpart (passive, natural); however, the masculine subject’s capacity for the sublime is bound up with the impossibility of ever penetrating the veil. These different but overlapping accounts both identify the other with a radical difference that is itself highly abstract and undifferentiated. In contrast, Battersby interprets the work of certain women artists and writers as being premissed on an encounter with an otherness within, one that is bound up with the embodied, historical experience of being part of something (an aesthetic, political, philosophical tradition) by which you are also silenced. For example, in her discussion of an installation by Hartoum, Battersby suggests that it makes us ‘more aware of ourselves as physical beings, whilst emphasizing also the fragility of the body and the non-autonomy of the ‘I’”. In the final chapters of the book Battersby tackles the question of how to conceptualize the sublime in ways that avoid the pitfalls of Kantian and Romantic accounts. To do this, she draws on Nietzsche. Battersby first traces Nietzsche’s critique of the Romantic and Kantian sublime, in particular in The Birth of Tragedy, and then argues that he usefully reconfigures the notion of sublimity in Thus Spake Zarathustra, even though he does not necessarily use the language of the sublime in order to do so. For Nietzsche, on Battersby’s account,
the sublime is not about encountering an ungraspable externality in such a way as to confirm the dominance of the judging subject. Instead, the sublime encounter is the disruption of unifying conceptual frameworks by acts of forgetting that condition the possibility of those frameworks and that unity. This is exemplified by Nietzsche in the example of how the actuality of a specific leaf confounds the abstractness of the concept ‘leaf’ that we use to describe and understand it. As Battersby observes: This shattering of conceptual understanding via the remembrance of forgotten differences – differences that don’t relate to a truth hidden beyond the veil, but that concern the forgotten ‘other’ within – is, in effect, the role that Nietzsche gives to his reconfigured sublime in his late works. And it is this aspect of his theory of the ‘sublime’ and of the ‘event’ that can help us to think more productively about those ‘others’ who are not outside the symbolic order, but who nevertheless vanish inside its folds.
Even though Nietzsche’s ontology assumes that the norm is male, his linking of the sublime encounter to an immanent otherness fits well with the renegotiated sublime Battersby finds in Hartoum and others. In both cases there is an ‘unfreezing’ of taken-for-granted understanding provoked by an encounter with difference, a difference which is not understood as transcendent and undifferentiated otherness, but rather as material and historically specific. In her final chapter, Battersby compares this way of thinking the sublime with the ‘inhuman’ in Lyotard’s work, arguing that it remains too close to the depoliticized and dehistoricized Kantian and Romantic traditions. Battersby returns to the example of the destruction of the Twin Towers as a historical event that could have the same unfreezing (sublime) effect on our understanding as that brought about by looking at art or nature. But this could only be possible if we don’t allow this shaking of our existing modes of understanding and identity to become the reaffirmation of ‘our’ subjectivity in relation to the radically other ‘them’. Battersby’s reconfigured sublime challenges the idea that there are identities and actions that are in principle and forever behind the veil of Isis. Instead it challenges us to think about how to think difference differently, in a way that doesn’t pretend either to give an exhaustive account of multiplicity or to bind understanding to a given and unchangeable set of limits. The Sublime, Terror and Human Difference is rich in argument and insights. The book sets out a tantalizing set of possibilities for making the link between the aesthetic category of the sublime and addressing
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ethical and political questions in modernity. In this respect, however, the argument of the book never quite fulfils what it promises. The example of a contemporary terrorist attack appears at both the beginning and the end of the book, with intermittent references between, but it is never quite clear to the reader how to make the connection between this event and the sublime encounter. As Battersby herself recognizes, the spectacle of ‘9/11’ has been experienced more in terms of the ‘picturesque’ than of the sublime. And because of this it becomes hard to see how it is that it could do the ‘unfreezing’ work that is accomplished by her reconfigured sublime. The danger is that rather than recognizing ‘human differences and the blind spots of history’ as the ground of the sublime encounter and as resources for new thinking inherent in our experience of events such as 9/11, Battersby’s reconfigured sublime may collapse into an abstract ethic, as opposed to a politics of difference. In this respect, whilst Battersby makes an extremely powerful case for the political underpinnings of aesthetic experience and creativity, the case for the aesthetic experience of the sublime as a resource for politics is less well developed. Kimberly Hutchings
Mind the gap Jacques Bidet, Exploring Marx’s ‘Capital’: Philosophical, Economic and Political Dimensions, trans. David Fernbach, with foreword by Alex Callinicos, Brill, Leiden and Boston MA, 2007. xxiv + 328 pp., €129.00 hb., 978 90 04 14937 3. This book was originally published in French in 1985, but, despite the twenty-two years that have passed, it remains a relevant discussion of the theoretical system of the critique of political economy that Marx developed in the period 1857–67, from the Grundrisse to the French edition of Volume 1 of Capital. Its theoretical significance derives from Bidet’s efforts in attacking some of the ‘open questions’ of Marx’s œuvre, which still divide Marxist theoreticians into opposing camps. The first of these questions concerns the ‘sources’ and theoretical content of Marxian theory, particularly Marx’s relation to classical political economy (especially Ricardo) and the philosophy of Hegel. The traditional assumption was characterized succinctly
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by Gramsci: ‘the philosophy of praxis equals Hegel + David Ricardo’. But this was famously challenged by Althusser’s claim that ‘Capital represent[s] … a theoretical revolution, simultaneously rejecting the classical political economy and the Hegelian and Feuerbachian ideologies of its prehistory.’ Bidet identifies Marx’s break with political economy in the fact that he ‘inaugurated a theory in which the wage relationship, as a relation of domination, is a constituent moment, which was not the case for “political economy”’. Regarding Hegel, Bidet argues that the Science of Logic initially functioned as an epistemological support – it ‘provided Marx with the most elaborated form of a thought that conceived society as a totality and this totality as developing on the basis of its contradictions’ – but that the principal concepts on which Hegel focused ultimately became an obstacle to Marx’s project. The second point of contention is the relation between the different texts written by Marx in the period under consideration, especially between the Grundrisse (1857–58) and Capital, Volume 1 (1867). The contraposition of these texts is fairly well publicized. For example, Hans-Georg Backhaus argued, back in 1970, that a vulgarization of Marx’s theory of value by Marx himself took place after the Grundrisse, as he abandoned his dialectical development of concepts (see his ‘Zur Dialektik der Wertform’, in Dialektik der Wertform, 1997); whereas Antonio Negri, in his Marx beyond Marx of 1979, saw in the Grundrisse a theory of workers’ revolutionary subjectivity that had been suffocated by the ‘objectivism’ that prevails in Capital. Bidet argues that Capital constitutes a ‘correction’ of the previous texts, including the Grundrisse. As he undramatically puts it: ‘Capital proposes a construction in which the elements are logically arranged into a coherent theory, in the light of which the earlier expositions appear relatively artificial.’ The third issue is the transformation of values into production prices. This ‘problem’ is that, if one conceives of value according to classical (Ricardian) political economy, as a quantity of labour embodied in a commodity (‘labour expended’), then the theory of value is incompatible with the existence of a uniform rate of profit in the capitalist economy. When the same amount of labour power (thus producing the same amount of value per year and being equally remunerated) is employed in corporations of different constant (fixed) capitals (capital intensive vs labour intensive), then the profit rate (profit per unit of capital employed) in the labour-intensive enterprise will be higher. If one assumes a uniform profit rate, then the value produced
in the labour-intensive enterprise must be lower. Ricardo considered such cases to be ‘exceptions’ to the ‘law of value’. However, Robert Malthus commented (in 1822) that these exceptions ‘are both theoretically and practically so considerable as entirely to destroy the position that commodities exchange with each other according to the quantity of labour that has been employed upon them’. Marx attempted to solve the problem in the second part of Volume 3 of Capital, working with mathematical relations deriving from the hypothesis that the sum of values equals the sum of production prices (i.e. prices ensuring the uniform profit rate) and simultaneously the sum of profits equals the sum of surplus values: the double invariance principle. The discussion which started soon after the publication of Capital, Volume 3, and which continues up to the present, shows that Marx’s hypothesis can hardly be supported. The whole discussion on the ‘transformation problem’ gained a new momentum after the publication of Piero Sraffa’s Production of Commodities by Means of Commodities (1960). Sraffa presented a model of calculating production prices without any reference to values. In accordance with this model, which was described as neo-Ricardian, Ian Steedman formulated the view, in Marx after Straffa (1977), that the Marxist theory of value is redundant for analysis of the capitalist economy. In fact, Steedman asserted that the Marxist theory of value is ‘a major fetter on the development of … the project of providing a materialist account of capitalist societies’. Bidet’s response to this third issue is to conceive these neo-Ricardian approaches as belonging to a different discourse to historical materialism, whose object is the capitalist mode of production. Rather, these approaches belong to a discourse of ‘production in general’ or ‘pure economics’, which have as their object ‘the functional generalities of economics, categories to be found in all modes of production: production, consumption, distribution, circulation’. Bidet further argues that Marx’s texts also include this second discourse – and, besides this, even a third one: ‘a “normative” theory of planning’ – and that even the cardinal Marxian notion of abstract labour belongs to this second discourse of pure economics: ‘We cannot
follow Marx when he makes this “abstraction” into a category specific to commodity production as such.’ I will focus my criticisms of Bidet’s book on this last point, because I consider it to be crucial for the comprehension of the overall theoretical status of Marx’s œuvre, and especially his theory of value. Let me start by saying that the ‘classical’ theory of value – whether in the Smithian version of ‘labour expended’, or in its Ricardian version – did possess a theory of exploitation of the workers by the capitalists, as it argues that the incomes of the capitalist and the landowner derive as mere deductions from the value produced by the labourer. Thus, Smith writes in his An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations: As soon as land becomes private property, the landlord demands a share of almost all the produce which the labourer can either raise, or collect from it. His rent makes the first deduction from the produce of the labour which is employed upon
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land. … Profit, makes a second deduction from the produce of the labour which is employed upon land. [emphasis added]
What distinguishes Marx’s theory of value is his conception of the value form. According to Marx, the social relations of production exist only under a specific form; he does not claim simply that ‘there is exploitation’, but rather explains why this capitalist exploitation attains its specific form, a commodity and money economy. Marx neither comprehends profit as a ‘deduction’ nor allows for a theory of ‘pure economics’. Profit is the aim and the regulating principle of the whole production process in capitalism. Marx attacked the ‘classical’ notion of labour as the ‘substance’ of value as early as 1859. Where classical political economy believed that it was giving a conclusive answer – qualitatively different use values are rendered economically commensurate because they are all products of labour – Marx simply sees a question which has to be answered: just how can different kinds of labour be made equivalent? In this framework, the Marxian notion of abstract labour refers solely to the common quality of all labour expended under the command of capital – that is, in the process of capitalist production-for-the-exchange and for-profit. Bidet’s affirmation that circulation can be grasped as a functional instance of the ‘economy in general’ is to my view not correct: non-capitalist modes of production do not presuppose commodity production and exchange. Only, to cite Rubin, in capitalism, ‘exchange is the form of the whole production process or the form of social labour’ (Rubin, ‘Abstract Labour and Value in Marx’s System’, Capital and Class 5, 1978). It follows, then, that value produced in the capitalist process of production can be measured solely in terms of its form of appearance – that is, in terms of money. In order to elucidate money as the form of appearance of value (and thus capital), Marx introduces the scheme of the ‘simple form of value’: ‘x units of commodity A are exchanged for y units of commodity B.’ Classical economists have thought this scheme to be barter; Marx shows, however, that in this scheme we do not have two commodities of pre-existing equal values exchanging with each other. Instead, we have only one commodity, the commodity acquiring the ‘A’ position or the ‘relative value form’, whose value is measured in units of a different use value – the ‘commodity’ acquiring the ‘B’ position of the equivalent, and thus serving as the ‘measurer of value’ of the commodity in the relative form. The ‘B’ ‘commodity’ is not an ordinary commodity – a unity of exchange value and
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use value – but plays simply the role of the measure of value, of ‘money’, for the first commodity. The value of the relative (‘A’) is being expressed exclusively in units of the equivalent (‘B’). The value of the latter cannot be expressed; it does not exist in the world of tangible reality. The relation of general exchangeability of commodities is expressed only in an indirect, mediated sense, namely through money, which functions as general equivalent. The essential feature of the ‘market economy’ of capitalism is thus not simply commodity exchange but monetary circulation and money: ‘The social character of labour appears as the money existence of the commodity and hence as a thing outside actual production’ (Marx, Capital, Volume 3, p. 649). Marx’s monetary theory of value demonstrates that value and prices are not situated at the same level of analysis. The difference between values and production prices is thus not a quantitative one, but a difference between two non-commensurate and so non-comparable quantities, which are, though, intertwined in a notional link, which connects causal determinations (values) and their forms of appearance (prices). The neo-Ricardian approach cannot target Marx. It simply shows that a non-monetary theory of value is redundant. Apart from this, it is situated in the category of pre-monetary, theoretically ‘vulgar’, approaches, since it takes as its point of departure a system of equilibrium between material quantities (use values) and then introduces ‘prices’. Bidet himself accepts that ‘value is not “measured” but established in the confrontation of the market’. However, this formulation becomes ambiguous when correlated with his approach to the notion of abstract labour. In reality, it is not Marx or the Marxist theoretician who ‘abstracts’ from concrete labour, but the capitalist production process itself! What Bidet seems to ignore is that, in Part 2 of Volume 3 of Capital, two theoretical discourses exist: both the Marxian and the classical. When dealing with the transformation of values into prices of production, Marx distances himself from the implications of his own monetary theory of value (non-commensurability between value and price) and draws a quantitative comparison between values and production prices. In this way he retreats to the classical viewpoint that values are qualitatively identical and therefore quantitative comparable with prices. Between the two discourses there exists a notional gap. They are incompatible with each other. John Milios
Flat and grey John Rawls, Lectures on the History of Political Philosophy, ed. Samuel Freeman, Harvard University Press, Cambridge MA and London, 2007. xix + 476 pp., £17.82 hb., 978 0 674 02492 2. From the mid-1960s until he retired in 1995, John Rawls regularly lectured on the history of political philosophy to his Harvard students in his course ‘Philosophy 171’. These lectures have been reconstructed from his notes and from some recordings and are now published in this volume. The style of the written version is flat and grey; one gets little sense of what Rawls was like as a lecturer. But they record the intense and sustained engagement of one of the most important modern political thinkers with some of the greatest philosophers of the past. Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau, Hume, Mill and Marx were staples every year, occasionally supplemented by Sidgwick as an example of pure utilitarianism and/or Butler as a representative intuitionist. Given Rawls’s strong Kantianism, it may seem surprising that Kant is not included, but that is because Rawls also taught a course on the History of Moral Philosophy in which Kant was the main subject (Rawls, Lectures on the History of Moral Philosophy, 2000, reviewed in RP 110). Rawls’s approach is outlined in a helpful brief Foreword by the editor, and by Rawls himself in an initial introductory lecture. Rawls claims that he is going to pose philosophical problems as the philosophers he is studying had themselves seen them. He is fond of quoting a dictum by Collingwood: ‘the history of political theory is not the history of different answers to one and the same question, but the history of a problem more or less constantly changing, whose solution was constantly changing with it.’ In fact, Rawls is a lot less interested than this suggests in the historical specificity of the ideas he is considering. His account is unified by the concerns that he himself brings to it. Rawls focuses particularly on the liberal tradition of political philosophy, and, indeed, on one strand of this tradition, the social contract theory. This is portrayed in a surprisingly Hegelian fashion as developing progressively, with the suggestion that it culminates in his own social contract account of justice. Rawls at first included his own theory as the conclusion of the lecture series, but later preferred to cover it in a separate course (published as Justice as Fairness: A Restatement, 2001). However, it is frequently a point of reference in these lectures.
Rawls takes the social contract theory to be central to the liberal tradition as a whole. For fundamental to liberalism, he believes, is the idea that ‘a legitimate regime is such that its political and social institutions are justifiable to all citizens – to each and every one – by addressing their reason, theoretical and practical.’ All the philosophers included are considered for what they can be seen to contribute to this idea, whether they support it or not. Unsurprisingly, this approach works best with those philosophers who do support it. There are meticulous and illuminating discussions of Hobbes, Locke and Rousseau in which Rawls traces the progressive development of the central ideas of the social contract theory. The reading of Hobbes is particularly suggestive and sympathetic, stressing his adherence to the social contract approach and the idea of rational consensus. Above all, Rawls focuses on what he can salvage from Hobbes to develop his own account of rational agreement as the basis for political right. But Hobbes himself, of course, has other concerns as well. The result is a rather lopsided picture which downplays the less liberal aspects of Hobbes’s philosophy: including his materialism, his radical individualism, and his decidedly illiberal views on the nature and extent of sovereign power. The results are less satisfactory when Rawls deals with opponents of social contract theory. He does not engage with their criticisms in so far as he can manage to avoid them, preferring instead to focus on what can be retained from them for the social contract theory. The charity of this approach is admirable but its results are not always productive. Criticisms of the social contract theory are all but ignored (whether they come from within or from outside the liberal tradition). Utilitarianism as an alternative philosophical foundation for liberal values gets short shrift. Hume suffers particularly from this treatment since he is an out-and-out critic of the whole social contract idea. All that Rawls manages to salvage from Hume is his idea of the ‘impartial spectator’ – slim pickings indeed. Otherwise, Hume’s criticisms are rejected with uncharacteristic impatience. Hume attacks the social contract theory for attempting to base political authority on the palpable fiction of an ‘original contract’. This is not only false, it is dangerous, Hume believes, since it can all too easily lead to the ‘anarchical’ view that established governments are illegitimate and can rightly be overthrown and replaced by ones that have the support of the people. These are important arguments, both historically and philosophically; but Rawls has little time for them.
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He rejects the idea that social contract theorists are talking of an ‘original contract’ as a misunderstanding. Be that as it may, it is a misunderstanding that is widely shared, even by some of the authors of these theories themselves. The argument that the social contract theory can lead in dangerously radical directions was widespread in the eighteenth century, in the shadow of the English Civil War and of the American and French Revolutions. But Rawls’s determination to see these ideas in their historical context deserts him when he gets to Hume. For all Hume’s worries, Rawls argues that Hume agrees with the social contract theorists when it came to practical politics – they are all good liberals at the end of the day, no matter how much they may disagree about philosophical foundations. There is some truth in this, but that hardly discounts the point that thinkers like Hume were making. In the eighteenth century, the social contract was indeed a revolutionary doctrine – see the US ‘Declaration of Independence’, for example. With Mill, Rawls takes a different approach. On Rawls’s reading he is quite simply ‘not a utilitarian’. This is not as strange as it may sound. Rawls is right to stress that Mill tries to move away from the narrow and doctrinaire utilitarianism of Bentham and of his father, James Mill. Yet this reading ignores the undoubted utilitarian commitments in his thought. A fuller discussion of utilitarianism comes with the lectures on Sidgwick in an Appendix, but even here there is little engagement with utilitarianism as a critique of the social contract approach. Again Rawls stresses that the utilitarians and the social contract theorists are broadly within the same liberal political tradition and pretty well agree on substantive political matters. The implication would seem to be that philosophical foundations don’t much matter in practice, an uncomfortable position for Rawls to take since most of his work concerns the philosophical foundations of the idea of justice. A noteworthy feature of the lectures is their sustained and sympathetic account of Marx. Rawls says that he is going to treat Marx as a critic of liberalism, but this is not how things work out. Most of the lectures on Marx are taken up with the controversy about whether or not Marx criticizes capitalism for its injustice. This debate has unduly dominated analytical Marxism for the last two decades. A naturalistic and utilitarian reading of Marx has been pitted against accounts which claim that his critique of capitalism relies on the concept of justice. The argument between utilitarianism and justice is thus played out yet again. In the process Marx is assimilated to familiar liberal positions and his criticisms of liberalism are ignored.
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Rawls provides a useful summary of the arguments on each side. Not surprisingly, he then comes down with those who maintain that Marx appeals to universal principles of justice, even while admitting that Marx himself explicitly repudiates them. Marx is thus incorporated into the social contract tradition and Rawls misses the opportunity to engage with the one philosopher he discusses who not only rejects the social contract idea but the liberal tradition more generally. For example, there is no mention of Marx’s criticisms of the individualist assumptions of traditional liberalism as developed in the critique of ‘natural rights’ in ‘On the Jewish Question’ (1843) and elsewhere. Moreover, saddling Marx with the notion of universal justice obscures the fact that Marx questions the idea of ‘rational agreement’ upon which, as Rawls insists, this notion is based. ‘The history of all hitherto existing societies is the history of class struggle’ say the well-known opening words of The Communist Manifesto. Conflicting classes have different and conflicting notions of justice. When those conflicts become intense, out goes rational consensus. In short, the rational agreement of ‘all and every citizen’ is not the reality of liberal society but only an ideal, an imaginary construct of liberal theory. Moreover, Marx maintains, it cannot be achieved within liberal society because the economic system of private ownership on which liberal society is based itself generates fundamental conflicts. Though Rawls does not engage with Marx’s criticisms of liberalism, he is sympathetic with much of Marx’s critique of capitalism and with the aims of socialism. Even so, he cannot go all the way with Marx in envisaging a ‘full communist’ society in which the market is eliminated and which is ‘beyond justice’. There will always be a need for the idea of justice, Rawls argues: ‘The absence of concern with justice is undesirable as such, because having a sense of justice is … part of understanding other people and of recognizing their claims.’ In these lectures we see how Rawls’s reading of the history of political philosophy has contributed to this conclusion. This reading is most valuable when it is showing the development of the social contract account of justice. In other respects it is limited: the history of political philosophy becomes a mirror in which only Rawls’s own ideas are reflected. For a more balanced and critical approach one will need to look elsewhere. Sean Sayers
Gülsen Bal Mahmut Mutman Hasan Bülent Kahraman Süreyyya Evren Kevin Robins Peter Mörtenböck & Helge Mooshammer Asu Aksoy Nermin Saybaili Ali Akay Beral Madra ener Özmen
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Radical Philosophy 148 (March/April 20 08)
The writer’s malady André Gorz, 1923–2007
hen André Gorz committed suicide with his wife last September, even President Sarkozy felt obliged to pay tribute to ‘a major intellectual figure of the French and European Left’. Gorz never courted fame or celebrity, but the dramatic manner of his death created a storm of publicity and turned his last work, a beautiful paean to his wife, into a financial godsend for the small publishing house Galilée. In fact, Lettre à D. Histoire d’un amour (2006) had already been an unexpected success, with the first print run selling 20,000 copies in a matter of weeks, and a regular stream of French and German journalists and camera crews arriving at the couple’s house in l’Aube for interviews. Old friends, whom they had all but lost touch with, suddenly made affectionate contact again. Strangers, including young lovers inspired by what they had read, wrote to the couple asking for the secret ingredients of a sixty-year romance. Gorz himself was so amused by the attention that he repeatedly announced, with playful irony, ‘We’re becoming famous!’ Yet the personal story behind Lettre à D, and the publicizing of the couple’s life that it entailed, was more complex than a sentimental reading of the book would suggest. It was at a game of poker in September 1947 that Gorz, then known by his real name Gérard Horst, first met 23-year-old Dorine Kier, who had recently arrived in Lausanne from England and was working as an au pair. They married three months after moving to Paris in June 1949, with Gorz gaining a work permit through the promise of a secretarial job in the World Citizens’ Movement, a pacifist organization whose newsletter the couple had sold on the streets of Lausanne. In 1951 Gorz was appointed to the staff of the right-wing tabloid Paris-Presse, writing, invariably with the help of his wife, a daily review of foreign newspapers. Told that German names were unpalatable to the French public so soon after the end of the war, and that there were already two ‘Gérards’ on the paper, he chose to write under the pseudonym ‘Michel Bosquet’. After his fellow columnist Jean-Jacques Servan-Schreiber left in 1955 to start a new weekly, L’Express, Gorz found himself recruited by his former colleague, gaining French nationality for himself and his wife in the process. When L’Express reversed its centre-left stance in 1964, Gorz, who by this time was part of Sartre’s inner circle on the editorial board of Les Temps Modernes, founded Le Nouvel Observateur with Jean Daniel, Serge Lafaurie, Jacques-Laurent Bost and K.S. Karol. A collection of articles for Le Nouvel Observateur, from which he retired in 1983, was translated into English and published, under the pseudonym Bosquet, as Capitalism in Crisis and Everyday Life (1977). It is possible to divide Gorz’s intellectual output into three phases, and instructive to follow these phases in reverse. My own generation of students, scholars and activists encountered Gorz in the 1980s, our attention seized by the sparkling utopianism and moral libertarianism of Farewell to the Working Class (1982) and Paths to Paradise: On the Liberation of Work (1985). These books opened up, with unusual clarity and eloquence, a world of politics and theory that was the complete antithesis to the intellectual posturing and verbiage that post-structuralism had brought into vogue in British universities. In a strange way, with his critique of dogmatic Marxism and his attack on the glorification of work by a de-radicalized labour movement, Gorz actually made Marx interesting again; or, rather, he laid a path which, if you were willing to follow led through Marx and out again.
Radical Philosophy 148 (March/April 20 08)
On the other side of Marx was an understanding of capitalism as a system of heteroregulation which aggressively de-civilized human beings, undermining their ability to look after themselves and meaningfully navigate through the social, economic and technological environments in a life-enhancing, self-determining way. Gorz’s critique of the employment society, which he developed further in the brilliant Critique of Economic Reason (1989) and then in Reclaiming Work (1999), reached out to trade unionists and party activists by translating theoretical insights into policies for alternative income distribution systems and a programme for the managed reduction in working time designed to energize debate and practical thinking. This was accompanied by Gorz’s distinctive moral voice, which quietly insisted that there could be no meaningful political agency unless the actor – and most certainly the reader – strived to constitute him or herself as a subject. This meant refusing the escape routes of dogmatism, conformism, and submission to the coercive domination of logic over meaning. It meant, in Hannah Arendt’s Heideggerian terms, a resistance to ‘the social’ – that anonymous, anodyne, taken-for-granted world of natural self-evidences that every individual must wrestle with and defy in order to be themselves. Technocratic science was one major adversary in this regard. His writings on ecology, including the seminal Ecology as Politics (1980) and later Capitalism, Socialism, Ecology (1994), challenged the ideology of productivism. But Gorz also argued for an anthropocentric humanism that made our unique capacity for self-restraint not simply a means of environmental sustainability, but a source of ethical autonomy and ‘time for living’ – what Kate Soper felicitously calls an ‘alternative hedonism’. In this respect technology had contradictory potential. It could, by its ubiquity and complexity, and by its spellbinding efficiency, become the irresistible template for mechanically judging, measuring and ultimately modelling human beings themselves. Yet through his engagements with the theories of the knowledge economy and the Negrian Marxists, Gorz also argued, most recently in L’immatériel (2003), that the digital revolution had made freedom from wage-labour and the obsolescence of exchange-value a reality already inherent in the logic of capitalism. Gorz’s challenge to productivism owed something to his friendship with Herbert Marcuse, which began with their chance meeting at the Mexican National School of Political and Social Sciences in 1966. It was also inspired by the charismatic influence of Ivan Illich, whose writings Gorz had translated and published in Les Temps Modernes and Le Nouvel Observateur. Concepts such as heteronomous and convivial technology, industrial nemesis, the modernization of poverty, and radical monopoly, were all adopted by Gorz in his attempt to develop a humanist critique of capitalism that retained some of the analytical rigour of Marx’s political economy. If the third chronological phase in Gorz’s thinking was marked by his interest in ecology, it is a tribute to his forward-looking outlook that this interest overlaps with the second phase of his work, rooted in the 1960s, which is what first brought Gorz to the attention of socialist thinkers and labour process theorists in Britain and the USA. As a political journalist in the 1960s, Gorz was a regular visitor to the offices of the various French trade-union federations, knew many of the central figures in the Unified Socialist Party (PSU), and had links with Italian intellectuals and trade-union leaders associated with the Italian General Confederation of Labour (CGIL). Strategy for Labour (1967), which appeared in French in 1964, was targeted directly at radicalized trade unionists and those attempting to build a European labour movement strong enough to tackle the internationalization of capital that had followed from the formation of the Common Market in 1958. Strategy for Labour had a companion volume, Le Socialisme Difficile (1967), published in English as Socialism and Revolution (1975). Both texts explored how different groups of workers could be politically mobilized and a process of ‘non-reformist reform’ initiated in the most economically advanced societies. Later on, Gorz was Radical Philosophy 148 (March/April 20 08)
surprised to learn of the impression Strategy for Labour had made on the ‘Juso’, the Young Socialists in West Germany. In 1983 he welcomed to his home a busload of forty militants and former Juso activists who wanted to talk to him about the strategic implications of the seemingly heretical Farewell to the Working Class. In these three days of discussions, Gorz not only discovered a new generation of German intellectuals but also rediscovered a language he had not spoken for over forty years. A constant theme in Gorz’s writings is the delicate interface between freedom and necessity. In The Holy Family Marx and Engels had argued that once the proletariat had been fully denied their humanity, the revolt against that inhumanity would take the form of an ‘absolutely imperative need’. The simple demand for survival, in other words, was already a fundamental challenge to the structure of capitalism, for the need for food could not be satisfied without contesting the suppression of freedom. Gorz himself resisted the temptation to reduce freedom to necessity, but he agreed that the choice of freedom was more probably for those whose world was unliveable, whose lives, riven by contradictions, could not be seamlessly perpetuated by recourse to an infallible law of human nature, a social identity, or a sense of absolute moral legitimacy. What was critical was to ascertain the kind of theoretical and political mediations that could turn the ‘probable’ into something meaningful and desirable. This task was made more urgent by the rise of the ‘affluent society’, which seemed to have disproved Marx’s theory of the immiseration of the proletariat. Now the challenge was to expose those needs which ‘affluent’ capitalism could not meet, as well as those needs which commerce deliberately created – by privatizing natural resources, for example, or combining the useful with the wasteful and the superfluous – in order to profit from satisfying them. This critique, which Gorz developed by drawing on American thinkers such as C. Wright Mills, J.K. Galbraith, David Riesman and Vance Packard, contained most of the ingredients of his later political ecology. An exploration of the link between freedom and necessity was partly the aim of La morale de l’histoire (1959), which, in its fusion of historical materialism with existentialism, forms the bridge between the second phase of Gorz’s work and the first phase of pure Sartreanism. In 1946, spurred on by having met Sartre, Gorz had begun writing a philosophical treatise aimed at addressing the unresolved tensions in Being and Nothingness. This book had been his intellectual compass since its publication in 1943, conferring a near-redemptive philosophical credence on his own sense of meaninglessness and illegitimacy. Yet what Gorz saw in Sartre the person – his striking concreteness, his absolute presence in the here and now – he could not find in Sartre’s philosophical manifesto, which ultimately concluded that all choices were equally absurd, that ‘it amounts to the same thing whether one gets drunk alone or is a leader of nations’. Fondements pour une morale, which took ten years (and 1,500 pages) to write, was Gorz’s answer to this conundrum. Rejected by publishers at the time, an edited version was finally brought out by Galilée in 1977, read mainly by Sartrean scholars and sadly never fully translated into English. The book used Sartre’s discussion of temporality in Being and Nothingness to outline a hierarchy of values the ascendance of which required a progressively more intense, and therefore more difficult, degree of ‘nihilation’. Valorization of the past, where consciousness chooses to be permeated by the facticity of its natural and cultural world, thus gives rise to ‘vital values’; valorization of the present, in which consciousness refuses the facticity of being in order to make itself, nothingness, the origin of all experience, gives rise to aesthetic values; and valorization of the future, where consciousness chooses to assume its facticity in order to change it, gives rise to moral values. Gorz proposed that the contradictions of each ‘ethical plane’ could only be surmounted by access to a higher level of consciousness capable of mediating and relativizing the pursuit of a specific region of value. Failure
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to do so resulted in inauthenticity or bad faith, and a considerable part of Fondements is devoted to describing the range of fixated personality types or ‘attitudes’ which are characteristic of the lower levels of consciousness. Only by choosing oneself as the doer of an open future could the individual begin to accomplish what Sartre, Beauvoir and Francis Jeanson had called a ‘moral conversion’. When Gorz delivered the finished manuscript to Sartre in 1956 he was left wondering what exactly he had achieved. Ten years of philosophical introspection had not brought him any closer to his own moral conversion, for his reconstruction of Sartre’s existentialism, he realized, was itself a form of evasion, of losing himself in the abstract anonymity of thought. Suspecting, in any case, that Sartre would not read his magnum opus, he immediately embarked on a new writing project, the purpose of which was to apply the method of self-analysis outlined in Fondements to himself. The result was Le Traître, published, with a lengthy preface by Sartre, in 1958. Mindful of the hurt it might cause his mother were she to read it, and wary of endangering, due to its political content, his status as a French citizen, he chose ‘Gorz’ as his new pseudonym, finding the word imprinted by the manufacturer on a pair of Austrian army binoculars he had inherited from his father. On the border of Italy and Slovenia, Görz was a town with an identity whose history was as ambiguous as his own. The Traitor (English translation 1960) is a remarkable text. It begins with a cataloguing of the author’s most definitive personality traits – his emotional and material asceticism, his intellectualism, his addiction to systematization, habit and routine – then traces this ‘constant total means of existing as little as possible’ to the childhood formation of his ‘original project’. This was, he realizes, a ‘choice of nullity’ fashioned initially as a defensive reaction against the unattainable demands of his overambitious mother, then elaborated and enriched by his discovery of his (incomplete) Jewishness, his experience of anti-Semitism, and then his ‘second exile’ as a half-Jewish Austrian teenager in Switzerland. Gorz made clear in The Traitor that he understood how his compulsion to write was also an articulation of this original choice, a way of rendering the factual world inessential by re-creating it in thought and language. In the course of writing the text, he also appeared to transcend this fixation, recognizing that his choice of not-being and not-belonging made possible a positive alliance with the politically oppressed, the excluded and the silenced. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Gorz at eighty was still essentially the same person depicted in The Traitor. He retained his bird-like gestures, his barely audible voice, his aversion to people, and his liking for precision, predictability and routine. On one occasion he veered off the forest path we were following, ducking under branches to find a damp refuge in which we could crouch undetected, continuing our hushed conversation until
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the boisterous voices ahead of us had passed and faded. He was also permanently distracted by his wife, whose company he was increasingly reluctant to leave, and on whom he lavished unwavering attention and tenderness. It was as if loving Dorine to the exclusion of everything else was the one task at which he simply would not fail. Gorz’s writing career would not have been possible without the moral and intellectual support of his wife. The decision not to have children was undoubtedly a sacrifice for Dorine, who could not immortalize herself in words as her husband had done but who might have gained comfort from the thought that her offspring would outlive her. And comfort was a luxury for Dorine. For although she had survived cancer of the endometrium in 1975, she continued to be plagued by an incurable, and desperately painful, neurological disorder known as adhesive arachnoiditis, caused by the oil-based and toxic myelographic agent lipiodol being injected into her spine to sharpen the contrast levels in an X-ray (a tragic example of Illich’s theory of iatragenesis). Lettre à D. Histoire d’un amour, a homage to Gorz’s ailing wife, was also an attempt to immortalize her life, to show that none of his accomplishments would have been possible without her, that he was her creation and that his creations were also hers. Yet the conception and birth of this book was not a painless affair. As the couple aged and Dorine’s health deteriorated, a number of passages in Gorz’s most famous work, The Traitor, had begun to bother her. Why, she demanded, did he portray her as a lost and lonely figure whose life he had ‘made liveable’ with his self-redeeming love, when in truth she was a happy and mature woman with plenty of friends, a variety of commitments, and even a fiancé waiting for her back in England? For how long would this feeble image of her endure in the minds of his readers? In Lettre à D., Gorz tried to set the record straight. He renounced the claim, which he had previously made in The Traitor, that he had ‘converted’ himself through the very writing of the book. In truth, his transformation only occurred after the book had been published, when his writing achieved a worldly existence in the public sphere, and when he was forced to be accountable to what he had thought and said. His inaccurate depiction of Dorine, though hardly shameful, was a symptom of his unresolved ‘nullity complex’, his attraction to the aesthetic idea of ‘shipwrecked love’ (in a bourgeois society, he pretentiously wrote, no complete union between equals was possible), and his search not for life but for an ‘excuse’ to carry on living. ‘To be passionately in love for the first time, to be loved in return, was apparently too banal, too private, too common’ for the person Gorz was in 1957. It was incompatible, he explained, with his infantile project to escape the concrete and ‘accede to the universal’. The critical acclaim for Lettre à D brought happiness to the couple in the months before their death, but Dorine remained uncomfortable with its publication. Suicides are not unheard of among arachnoiditis sufferers, and the couple had long-established plans for their ‘final exit’, using Derek Humphry’s book of the same title as their medical guide. In the aftermath of their death, which was prompted by another vicious episode of Dorine’s illness, but which the publication of their love story, for Gorz at least, must certainly have made easier, I understood her reservations more clearly. The temptations of publicity, the opportunity for fame-by-association, the invasion of the public sphere by the fleeting display of private feelings and experiences, endangers the things we cherish most. Just as Gorz did not want children because he wanted his wife to himself, Dorine did not want her husband’s love for her, and hers for him, to be shared with the world. Writing, for Gorz, was always an aesthetic escape from the facticity of the world, and even the humble and moving letter of devotion he penned to his wife, when crafted and displayed as a work of beauty, had the aesthetic effect of rendering the relationship it depicted inessential. In their joint death, I think, this incurable malady of the writer was finally put to rest, and Gorz – for me, a peerless intellectual and irreplaceable friend – committed his life, not his words or ideas, to the woman he loved. Finn Bowring 56
Radical Philosophy 148 (March/April 20 08)