Monthly Archives: June 2013

Multifarious Philosophy

I found the cutting-edge of the creative advance of Whitehead studies.  It’s in the new anthology edited by Jeremy Fackenthal and Roland Faber, Theopoetic Folds: Philosophizing Multifariousness (Fordham, 2013).  It takes its cue from Whitehead’s philosophy, particularly on two points.

First: Multiplicity.
“Philosophy may not neglect the multifariousness of the world—the fairies dance, and Christ is nailed to the cross” (Whitehead, Process and Reality, 338).

Second: Poetics.
Theology is most effective and interesting when it is theopoetics, not only in the sense that poetic speech about God is more accurate than prosaic or formulaic speech, but also in the sense that God is “the poet of the world” (ibid., 336).

This is a must-read book for anybody dealing with Whitehead studies.  Even if you aren’t interested in poetics or radical theology, the book contains a lot of other discussions relevant to metaphysics, cosmology, ecology, and the history of philosophy.  My favorite essays in this collection are in the penultimate section, “The Pluriverse,” which focuses on the cosmological/ecological dimension of Whitehead’s theopoetic philosophy, including pieces from Catherine Keller, Luke Higgins, and Roland Faber.

The piece by Faber presents an “eco-theopoetics” that synthesizes Whitehead and Deleuze in a radical affirmation of wild multiplicity after the “ecological death of God.”  Moreover, “wild” does not refer to any identity or opposition of nature or culture, but is about the necessity of our constitutive contingency in the chaosmos.  Nature and humanity are put back in their place (khora), becoming “eco-nature” and “becoming intermezzo.”

Choreographic Objects

Synthesizing Whitehead and Deleuze, Erin Manning  (Always More than One) explicates William Forsythe’s notion of choreographic objects.

First, it’s important to clarify that choreography isn’t just something that professional dancers do.  “Choreography happens everywhere, all the time.”  Our lives are immersed in “everyday choreographies.” (91)

Choreographic objects can take their departure from any “everyday object: a balloon, a piece of cardboard, a mirror” (92).  The choreographic object opens the question of what else a body can do, a question that calls for experimental movement.  How does the object create open situations for movement experimentation?  “The choreographic object activates experimentation and play by bringing together the pastness of experience (the object as we know it) and its futurity (the object-ecology in its novel unfolding)” (95).

For Manning, choreographic objects are relational, ecological, participatory.

They extend beyond their objectness to become ecologies for complex environments that propose dynamic constellations of space, time, and movement.  These “objects” are in fact propositions co-constituted by the environments they make possible.  They urge participation.  Through the objects, spacetime takes on a resonance, a singularity: it becomes bouncy, it floats, it shadows.  The object becomes a missile for experience that inflects a given spacetime with a spirit of experimentation.  We could call these objects “choreographic objectiles” [in Deleuze’s sense of objectile] to bring to them the sense of incipient movement their dynamic participation within the relational environment calls forth. (92)

How to Study a Philosopher

Some helpful advice from Bertrand Russell, The History of Western Philosophy (London: Routledge Classics, 2004).

In studying a philosopher, the right attitude is neither reverence nor contempt, but first a kind of hypothetical sympathy, until it is possible to know what it feels like to believe in his theories, and only then a revival of the critical attitude, which should resemble, as far as possible, the state of mind of a person abandoning opinions which he has hitherto held.  Contempt interferes with the first part of this process, and reverence with the second.  […]  This exercise of historical and psychological imagination at once enlarges the scope of our thinking, and helps us to realize how foolish many of our own cherished prejudices will seem to an age which has a different temper of mind. (p. 47)

Cosmopolitics of Bodies: Participatory Ecologies

Still thinking of bodies, remembering Spinoza’s point that no one has yet determined what a body can do.  This is a crucial point for ontological accounts of bodies as well as for ethicopolitical interactions with bodies.  Don’t just create new determinations of what bodies are.  Create open situations for the activation of the virtual capacities harbored in the unfathomable indeterminacy of bodies.

Still thinking of bodies, colliding and colluding with the “participatory ecologies” of the distributed, complex, relational body articulated in Erin Manning’s new work of philosophical choreography, Always More Than One: Individuation’s Dance (Duke, 2013), p. 110-122.

More-than its taking-form, “body” is an ecology of processes (and practices, as Isabelle Stengers might say) always in co-constellation with the environmentality of which it is part.  A body is a complex activated through phases in collision and collusion, phasings in and out of processes of individuation that are transformed—transduced—to create new iterations not of what a body is but of what a body can do.  What we tend to call “body” and what is experienced as the wholeness of a form is simply one remarkable point, one instance of a collusion materializing as this or that. [..] Continuity and discontinuity commingling to activate the singular in a field of difference. (p. 19)

The inventive task of the ecology of practices that Stengers calls “cosmopolitics” is not simply to map relations of difference, but to activate virtual singularities….

Singularities of the cosmos unite!

Catalogue of Bodies: Corpus-Oriented Ontology

In his Corpus (Fordham, 2008), Jean-Luc Nancy develops something like an object-oriented ontology.  Instead of an object or actor as the primary focus of his orientation, it is a body, a corpus, and instead of Latour litanies, he develops a catalogue.

Hoc est enim: this world-here, stretched out here, with its chlorophyll, its solar galaxy, its metamorphic rocks, its protons, its deoxyribonucleic double helix, its Avogadro number, it’s continental drift, its dinosaurs, its ozone layer, the stripes of its zebra, its human beast, Cleopatra’s nose, the number of petals on a daisy, the ghost of a rainbow, the style of Rubens, a python’s skin, André’s face in this photo taken on January 16, this blade of grass and the cow that grazes on it, the nuance of an iris in the eye of the one reading this very word, here and now? (p. 33).

…we’d need a corpus: a catalogue instead of a logos, the enumeration of an empirical logos, without transcendental reason, a list of gleanings, in random order and completeness, an ongoing stammer of bits and pieces, partes extra partes, a juxtaposition without articulation, a variety, a mix that won’t explode or implode, vague in its ordering, always extendable… (p. 53)

A corpus of tact: skimming, grazing, squeezing, thrusting, pressing, smoothing, scraping, rubbing, caressing, palpating, fingering, kneading, massaging, entwining, hugging, striking, pinching, biting, sucking, moistening, taking, releasing, licking, jerking off, looking, listening, smelling, tasting, ducking, fucking, rocking, balancing, carrying, weighing … (p. 93)

A corpus of the weighings of a material, of its mass, its pulp, its grain, its gulf, its mole, its molecule, its turf, its trouble, its turgidity, its fiber, its juice, its invagination, its volume, its peak, its fall, its meat, its coagulation, its paste, its crystallinity, its tightness, its spasm, its steam, its knot, its unknotting, its tissue, its home, its disorder, its wound, its pain, its promiscuity, its odor, its pleasure, its taste, its timbre, its resolution, its high and low, right and left, its acidity, its windedness, its balancing, its dissociation, its resolution, its reason … (p. 99)

A world where the body is squeezed, febrile, fibrillated, engorged, engorging on its own proximity, all bodies in a promiscuity thick with microbes, pollutions, defective serums, excessive fat, and grinding nerves, obese, emaciated, ballooning, vermin-mined, cream-smeared, burning, gleaming, toxin-stuffed, losing their materials, their waters, turning to gas in the vomit of war or famine, nuclear infection or viral irradiation. (p. 103)

…places are just so many spasms, rubbings, viral and bacterial swirls, gasolating bodies, immunitary bodies, immuno-depressors, in an indefinite reticulation of sequence-bodies, message-bodies, dissolving, coagulating, contaminating, replicating, cloning, breaking, streaking, biting, the whole chemical, archi-chemical corpus, an overpopulation of acidic, ionized psyches, bristling with the blind signals of a world of bodies in which bodies, identically, decompose the world. (p. 105)

Hoc est enim corpus meum

Interfaith Dialogue, 1240

Putting a book on trial?  That’s exactly what happened in the 13th-century trial in which King Louis IX of France decided to hold a trial prosecuting the Talmud, a central book for rabbinic Judaism.  Many documents from that trial have been translated and are available in a new book, The Trial of the Talmud: Paris, 1240.

The book lost that trial.  However, the trial still holds relevant lessons for cultural contact and interfaith dialogue today.  One of the main lessons is that interfaith dialogue puts too much emphasis on…dialogue.  Peaceful religious coexistence is not always the result of dialogue or conversation.  Instead of aiming at mutual understanding, where both parties have a proper knowledge of one another, it could be helpful to let different parties differ.  Instead of hermeneutics , deconstruction (I’m siding with Derrida in the Gadamer-Derrida exchange).

Instead of religious coexistence facilitated with dialogue, I’m more interested in religious coexistence facilitated sans dialogue, indeed, sans voir, sans avoir, sans savoir.   This resonates with some of Michael Schulson’s comments on the new translation of the documents from the 1240 trial.

[I]ntellectual examination can actually interfere with the daily realities of religious coexistence. Above all, religious groups need to be respected, and to see that someone is making an active effort to coexist with them. Listening is important, for sure. But some of the details of religious traditions don’t make for easy hearing. To repurpose an old saying about marriage: in interfaith relationships, it’s wise to be a little deaf.

Coexistence, not through dialogue and vision, but through a touch of deafness and blindness.

Socrates and Place

Socrates can’t learn from place.  He’s too anthropocentric.  I always think of Plato’s Phaedrus (230d), where Socrates says this:

You see, I am fond of learning. Now the country places and the trees won’t teach me anything, and the people in the city do.

He is fond of learning (philomathes), but country places (chorai) and trees (dendra) don’t help, whereas anthropoi do.  What really interests me here isn’t the obvious anthropocentrism of Socrates, but this: Phaedrus is able to use written discourse as a drug to lure Socrates to the countryside (where he might be capable of learning in place, of place), and after he is drugged-dragged out into place, he asks forgiveness for his anthropocentrism.  Here’s a slightly more complete version of the passage.

Forgive me, my dear friend. You see, I am fond of learning. Now the country places and the trees won’t teach me anything, and the people in the city do.  But you seem to have found the charm [pharmakon] to bring me out.