All 3 entries tagged Foucault

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July 11, 2005

Research Notes: Singularity/continuum, a multiplicitous event

Follow-up to Overman, creativity and beyond transcendental recognition from Transversality - Robert O'Toole

The second chapter of Germinal Life contains some brief commentary on Badiou`s critique of the concept of event in Deleuze and Guattari. I've not succeeded in reading Badiou yet, but can understand the need for a clarification, as the concept of 'singularity', Deleuze and Guattari's event, can be misleading.

Keith writes that for Badiou:

the event does not come into being from the world, whether ideally or materially, but from not being attached to it. The event is an 'interruption' that is always separate from the world. Instead of a world defined by 'creative continuity` there is the 'founding break'.

I had, at one point, a confused concept of singularity that privileged the 'interruption' or 'coupure' (Foucault's cut/break). It worked like this:

  1. The break has an irreversibility. In fact it is the irreversible – about as real as real time can be.
  2. A break can be repaired, but only with the addition of something to the closed system of that which is repaired.
  3. The loss of the originary state is therefore irreversible.
  4. But the break also originates the new individuation, which may be the synthesis of the broken and the repaired.
  5. It then acts as the singular fact of the event of that individuation.

In this model, the break is the singularity around which an individual is oriented. It is the missing, the irrecoverable, the inaccessible that prevents the individual from becoming other. We can then say that the individual is a response to the break, its activity copes with the break, with its history, its singular specificity. That coping is its function, its telos. And its tendency to either simulation or creation, simulacra or originary form, defines its authenticity. The break is the singular first and final cause.

But as Keith states, this:

fails to understand the work being done with Deleuze's conception of the event, namely that, it seeks to provide an account of how rupture and discontinuity are explicable and possible.

This is the very meaning of "schizoanalysis": looking into the specific conditions for each schizm or discontinuity, and considering how those conditions form a continuum with that which is broken, carrying it across the break.

In this way, Deleuze and Guattari run counter to phenomenology and its bracketing-out. In schizoanalysis, as for Nietzsche, everything is implicated in the event. Nothing can be bracketed out, only moved in and out of focus (or folded and un-folded). They say: look at chaos, death and by implication life, right in the eyes, get to know each individual chaos, each death and each life on its own terms…

…to look into the break is in fact to look towards a horizon in which detail disappears into confusion, into chaos. It is to look into a Body without Organs, through which one may deterritorialize by relative degrees, moving around to gain further clarity and to provoke a response, to feel its unique texture and possibilities.

This is not to deny irreversibility or real time. Or indeed that individual A may never become individual B because in doing so individual B is destroyed (which amounts to saying that there is no possible world in which A = B, the difference being absolute). Rather, we can say that there are different kinds of irreversibility. Each exchange with the Body without Organs, the horizon, is itself a different recipe of irreversibility. There are as many such recipes as there are events. In some cases they tend towards entropy. In other cases they provoke outbursts of creativity. Even the individual that seeks never to enter into the exchange, that seeks isolation in the safety of its refrain and turns chaos away with large blocks of redundancy, in fact engages in a brutal interchange with the Body without Organs and provokes a response. In all cases, whether convoluted or relatively direct, the interchange between individual and Body without Organs operates an eventual non-linear effect throughout, resulting in complex but irreversible involutions specific to each unique assemblage. Singular and multiplicitous continua of disappearance.

Importantly, we shouldn't deny the possibility of the kind of 'foundational break' described above as a confused concept of singularity. Rather, consider that such behaviour may occur in certain types of system, such as those in which large blocks of redundancy create highly isolated individuals. This is not however typical, merely one specific type of event. It is interesting to speculate about why philosophy, and so many other aspects of modern Capitalism should raise such a rare case to the level of a universal. We seem obsessed with apocalyptic events, with foundational breaks.

In what sense is the notion that philosophical concepts perform an absolute deterritorialization (D&G What is Philosophy?) also an expression of this fascination with destruction?

And in what sense does the statement "we never deterritorialize alone" (D&G ATP) – provide a model for passing into the BwO with concepts and artworks (monuments) as catalysts and helpers?


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June 01, 2005

Deleuze's abuse of the history of philosophy

With regards to his books on key conceptual personae such as Leibniz, Deleuze was not an archaeologist in the style of Foucault. There is no careful uncovering of strata. It is more like excavating with a JCB. But that doesn't matter, the creation of good concepts is more important.

The important thing is to create concepts with 'precision'. Not many achieve that aim, especially in this field. Papers on Deleuze tend to the extremes of either grand impressionism on the one hand, and vacuous taxonomic pedantry on the other. Perhaps that could be said of much that passes as philosophy. So when writing on Deleuze, it is important to understand exactly what is meant when he calls for precision in philosophy and in writing about the history of philosophy.

The precision of a concept is defined by its wealth of connections, by the work that it does in relation to the plane external to the concept, the plane in which it is constituted. Deleuze befriends the conceptual personae of Leibniz, Spinoza and others primarily with the aim of stealing their concepts into a plane that is different to those in which they were born. Faithful authenticity is never really the aim. The precision to which Deleuze aspires is not that of the authentic reading, of the recreation of long dead philosophical problems and their concepts. If it were, then perhaps all of those books about the history of philosophy would simply act as a long drawn out answer to the question "what is a concept?". In fact when he does finally address that question he couldn't be more flippant with his reading of Descartes.

Deleuze knew from that start that reconstituting concepts on a plane that no longer exists and no longer does any work only results in vacuity. Even the most authentic reading lacks precision. He was not an archaeologist in the style of Foucault, there is no careful uncovering of strata. This is more like excavating tombs with a JCB. Seeking and reanimating concepts that have been aborted by the history of philosophy is what he does best. But his Leibniz and Spinoza are Frankensteins. Picture this: Leibniz with an arm amputated from Thom, a leg stitched on from Cache, Koch's curve for a back, and Klee's hands. What a monster. Are we supposed to laugh at it? Or be terrified?


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June 07, 2004

Fearless Speech, Foucault, parrhesia and blogging

Follow-up to Journalists, imperceptibility and the threat of blogging from Transversality - Robert O'Toole

The Greeks of course have 'been there, done that'.

One of the books that I am reading at the moment is Fearless Speech, a transcript of Michel Foucault's lectures on parrhesia in Ancient Greece. It's a complicated concept which, as Foucault demonstrates, evolves within the Athenian debate on democracy and good governance. He explains how, to start of with, the concept expressed how the Greeks valued most highly the speech given by an individual citizen both in a state of freedom and in defiance of the threat of violence. That threat was fundamental, for it shows that the statement of the speech was more important than the speaker. It goes so far as seeing the life, welfare and continued existence of the speaker to be of no importance in relation to the importance of the utterance, of a sequence of utterances that together form a dialiectic from which the best policy will be logically selected. The speaker is made imperceptible.

It seems odd at first that Foucault, at the cutting edge of a new approach to ethics, should have given such a scholarly series of lectures on the Greeks. He doesn't seem to be too concerned with unpicking the obvious contradictions in this concept of parrhesia, which after all was quite adequate for a long period of history. But what Foucault is really interested in is showing how a smoothely operating concept like parrhesia becomes problematic and is disrupted by a change in circumstances, by something imperceptible in its operation being drawn out from the shadows. Just as blogging draws out the previously imperceptible traits of the blogger from the journalistic process.

Foucault describes the problematic of parrhesia as it became posed for the Greeks:

Democracy is founded by a politeia, a constitution, where the demos, the people, exercise power, and where everyone is equal in front of the law. Such a constitution, however, is condemned to give equal place to all forms of parrhesia, even the worst. Because parrhesia is given even to the worst citizens, the overwhelming influence of bad, immoral, or ignorant speakers may lead the citizenry into tyranny…

So the personality of the speaker is drawn out, made perceptible, and allowed to disrupt the smoothe communication of the parrhesiastic statement. Although it is posed here as an issue of morality, it is clear that the driving force is a technical development: commerce based political organisation, which increasingly has power amongst the demos. Pushing the integrity of the speaker out into the open challenges the concept of parrhesia, and adds to it a critical function in the analysis of the role of power and money.

For us now, with the onset of blogging as a new arrangement of speech and identity, it is what comes after this crisis that is of most interest. In response to the technological drawing out of the speaker, a technics of the individual, of integrity, balance, morality and judgement develops – what Foucault calls 'the care of the self'. A set of techniques for identifying and managing the person to promote good parrhesia. Resulting in an approach to the self that, although not Christian or modern, remained influential.

The question now then is this – will the drawing out of the blogger from imperceptibility transform in some way our techiques of self? For readers of Foucault, this is of prime interest.