Sunday, September 25, 2016

Ernst Jünger’s The Forest Passage - Repost

HERE from Telos Press.  The book is the full translation of Juenger's essay which previously appeared (in small excerpts) as "The Retreat into the Forest" in the 1954 issue of Harvard University's Confluence literary journal.  See Confluence: An International Forum, vol. 3, no. 2 (1954): 127–42.  (I've posted those excerpts HERE.)

The below video discusses Juenger's Die Schere, a book closely related to the Der Waldgang essay in its nature spirituality.  A better translation for "The Forest Passage" would be "The Forest Fleer" or "Those Who Flee to Forests."

Previous posts about Juenger (written by me or by others posted to from my blog) HEREHEREHERE, HEREHERE, and an interesting photo of Promethean time travel HERE.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Imagine alien signals are detected: Here's what happens next | Aeon Videos

Imagine alien signals are detected. Here's what happens next | Aeon Videos
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Comparing Kant and Sartre (NDPR review)

Comparing Kant and Sartre
// Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews // News

2016.09.18 : View this Review Online | View Recent NDPR Reviews

Sorin Baiasu (ed.), Comparing Kant and Sartre, Palgrave Macmillan, 2016, 262pp., $99.00 (hbk), ISBN 9781137454522.

Reviewed by Henry Somers-Hall, Royal Holloway, University of London

As Jonathan Head et al. note in the introduction to this volume, while there is growing interest in the connections between Sartre and his German idealist heritage, until recently, work actually addressing the connection between Sartre and Kant has been scarce. This volume aims to begin to explore Sartre's debts to Kant, and while it is not the final word, it provides a useful collection of essays that pick up various intersections between the two. The collection is organised into four sections: an introduction, which provides a useful survey of the current state of research into the interrelation of Kant and Sartre, followed by sections on metaphysics, metaethics, and metaphilosophy. This organisational schema is rather loose, largely because these categories bleed into each other within...

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Nick Land (and Ernst Juenger) on Ultimate Exit - Repost

Nick Land put up THIS post about "tech secessionism."  The basic idea stems from "seasteading" where, because no government will give up its lands yet 70% of the world is covered by ocean, experimental city-states not bound by current existing government law could be floated upon the water.  In other forms tech secessionism looks to a mass "ultimate exit" into the frontiers of the Net, where alternate currency and new forms of expressive freedom could be found.  See THIS article on the "ultimate exit," for example.  In short, "cloud-based communities of individuals are imagining city-state-like sites escaping state jurisdiction."

In many ways this sort of fleeing or inner emigration reminds me of the flight-to-the-forest imagined by science fiction author and philosopher Ernst Jünger. Jünger (himself "apolitical") in several places wrote about and anticipated the sort of retreat into the Net that we see beginning to happen today.  But instead of taking the uncolonized frontier of the Net to be an autonomous zone of individual liberty he had a sort of inner spiritual domain represented by the forest in mind.  The frontier of individual liberty, he stated, is any zone where inner freedom is the pillar allowing escape from extraneous forces.  One may look to his science fiction masterpiece Eumeswil (1977) or his essay "Retreat to the Forest" (1951) to see this idea take shape.

In his writings Jünger develops the prototype of the "Forest Fleer," a version of his "Anarch" (neither anarchist nor libertarian but a kind of fusion of both).  In Jünger's words, "One becomes a Waldgänger [Forest Fleer; sometimes translated as Forest-Goer] and by extension an Anarch not only when one enters or flees to the literal forest but at the deepest level of being each single person is already in the forest, is already a forest-goer, the forest being the original untamed core of one's being."  (See THIS post for more.)

Jünger's book The Forest Passage is a testament to opposing the power of the omnipresent state, where freedom found in the forest is found in each individual. "No matter how extensive the technologies of surveillance become, the forest can shelter the rebel, and the rebel can strike back against tyranny."  Indeed, the book is a manifesto for freedom.

I've written about Jünger periodically before, see my posts "The Forest Passage" HERE, "The Magic of the Real" HERE, or "More on Juenger" HERE.

Finally, I think that there is a neat tie between Jünger's embrace of technology as an accelerationist device for freedom - a device that he developed very early on in his writing career in his The Worker: Domination and Form (1932).  The book was never published in English although I do have a copy of Dirk Leach's proposed translation that he had once submitted to SUNY Press in the early '90s.  I plan to scan and post that typescript here time permitting.  But the interesting thought is that Landian themes conducive to a "Right Accelerationism" are primarily Jüngerian in orientation.  There is definitely an affinity, and if I can I'd like to write an essay on NRx, Land, and Jünger in my forthcoming speculative realism book Speculative Naturalism: Speculative Realism as an Ecological Metaphysics (as it covers some of Accelerationism too) which I'll be polishing up this coming winter break.  It would fit in the theme of a metaphysics of freedom, environmental thinking, and political ecology.

My last post touched on wandering and the exploration and colonization of space. Landian-Jüngerian themes are timely (especially given the excitement over Interstellar) in that more individuals are looking not only to the deep space of the cosmos, but also to the deep space present within.  It seems that the renewed dream of space exploration is not only a proposed escape from ecological collapse then, it is also a proposed escape from the forces which deny the human quest to transcend the current and embark into the limitless space of the future.  It is truly a form of Promethean time travel where the "inside" and "outside" become one.

More on "ultimate exit" - thoughts on Accelerationism, Promethianism, and Neoreaction (NRx) - A Repost from Last Year, Roughly

Ernst Juenger's Eumeswil (1977)

My take on the issue of mega-privacy-invading social media networks who effectively turn human populations into "neurolivestock" can best be summed up in the following:

It's not that Twitter, Facebook, Google, etc. are evil.  Maximum freedom, or the inner emigration to untouched and ultimately free space of cyberspace and deep Net - the deep Net being the last frontier of any individualized or personal freedom - is usually thought to occur in literal places where the individual can "escape."  Whether escape from the Cathedral or the reach of the networks, in the end avoiding the reach of any external impediment upon human freedom is the ultimate goal.  (Of course death is the ultimate challenge to human freedom as it ends forever freedom's exercise within the living organism, but freedom taken in the name of profit by the mega-networks who have no regard for privacy let alone the exercise of human freedom takes a close second.  Afterall, if you haven't succumb to the networks and exist as a "brand" you may as well be dead.  You certainly wouldn't be surviving with the necessary social currency to exist - let's put it that way).

Paradoxically, escape is possible through the tools of privacy-invasion and enslavement which are in question.  The key is know-how, awareness, and the ability to "go dark," of course, in addition to mastery over the means of control in question.  If control is exercised over one's self then freedom isn't inhibited, it is enhanced.  This was, to my mind, always the "core" of both Accelerationism and NRx.  It actually doesn't matter if one pull one's self off the grid or technologically accelerates and disappears into the deep Net...both are merely means to an end, but not "the" end itself.  The end in question?  That's simple.  The activity of freedom itself.  (And note well: freedom also means creativity.)

Thus, place so much doesn't matter as does the reality within which one is able to exercise freedom and creativity unimpeded or unrestrained.

Ernst Juenger's scission between an inner realm - an "inner light galaxy" or "inner forest" as he called it - and the ordinary world of perception was a division between one reality which represents radical freedom and creativity and another which represents external restraint and control.  He advocated an "inner emigration" or "flight to the forest" which was to be a retreat to the interior realm of the individual. Such a flight can occur in a number of ways: literal retreat to the forest and hence escape from networks and means of societal manipulation and control, enhancement of the body via technology to augment human ability and re-obtain control over one's own body/information/self, or by altering states of consciousness and achieving insight into the self unfettered be external forces - a true inward "spiritual" retreat to the last bastion of freedom and privacy: one's own personal consciousness.

The above was inspired by "Come With Us If You Want to Live: Among the Apocalyptic Libertarians of Silicon Valley", Harper's Magazine link HERE, and as always, the ultimately venerable Nick Land whose blog Outside In touches upon these subjects and so much more.

Related After Nature Posts:

  • "Nick Land (and Ernst Juenger) on Ultimate Exit" HERE.
  • "Prometheus" HERE.
  • "Accelerationism" tag at After Nature HERE.
  • "The Forest Passage" HERE.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Re-thinking Relationality in the Sociotechnological Condition (19-20 May, 2016)

Link HERE.

"Re-thinking Relationality in the Sociotechnological Condition"
 (May 19-20, 2016)

Understandings of relations and relationality are currently under reconsideration both in sociology and media studies. Substantialist ideas of "the" social and "the" technological are frequently understoodto have been effectively replaced by concepts of hybridity,sociotechnicality, naturecultures, spatiality, networks, etc. However,t seems as though these more holistic notions again need to be revised to adress the intersection of power, technology, and normativity in contemporary societies. A more radically relational perspective which adresses modes of experience within and through relational orders may be better suited to grasp both the horizontal (interactive, valuative) as well as vertical (hierarchical, ordering) aspects of realities in the cybernetic sociotechnological condition. It promises to account for the constitution of reflexivity and agency in the co-individuation of technologies, norms, and subjectivity. Recent developments in sociological and media research contribute to this debate with a triadic concept of relationality. The symposium brings together different strands of relational thought and research in social theory and media theory. It adresses the following questions: In what sense is the relation prior to what is being related, such as subjects, other living beings and things? Do technologies supplement, augment or replace institutional, normative power? How can the related entities re-work relations? What are agency and reflexivity in communication, discourses, assemblages, infrastructures, dispositifs, institutions, when these are understood as radically relational phenomena? An attempt to re-think, describe and understand relations at once lived and engineered may allow us to come to terms with the affective, emotional, normative and political underpinnings of contemporary communication societies. The two-day event engages sociologists and media scholars in a dialogue about the artificial nature of contemporary social and technological relations and their epistemic, agentic, political and normative dimensions.
See also After Nature posts:

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Transplanting the Metaphysical Organ: German Romanticism between Leibniz and Marx (NDPR review)

Transplanting the Metaphysical Organ: German Romanticism between Leibniz and Marx
// Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews // News

2016.09.20 : View this Review Online | View Recent NDPR Reviews

Leif Weatherby, Transplanting the Metaphysical Organ: German Romanticism between Leibniz and Marx, Fordham University Press, 2016, 462pp., $35.00 (pbk), ISBN 9780823269419.

Reviewed by Elizabeth Millan, DePaul University

In recent years, there has been much more attention directed to the philosophical dimensions of German Romanticism, a movement that for far too long was dismissed as merely literary. The welcome result of this attention is the emergence of a richer dialogue that reveals the historical context of a movement whose leading figures included Friedrich von Hardenberg (Novalis), Friedrich Hölderlin, F.W.J. Schelling, F.D.E. Schleiermacher, and Friedrich Schlegel. We are, at long last, in a position to appreciate how much these thinkers have to offer to contemporary discussions ranging from questions of culture, art, and religion, to metaphysics, epistemology, and the natural sciences. Leif Weatherby's excellent study is a welcome contribution to the growing scholarship on the philosophical dimensions of German Romanticism, and his careful, creative...

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Does Nietzsche reject Truth in his "On Truth and Lie"? Definitely not. [feedly]

Does Nietzsche reject Truth in his "On Truth and Lie"? Definitely not.
// Aesthetics Today

"On Truth and Lie in an Extra Moral Sense" is a justly famous short work of Nietzsche.   It discusses the nature and value of truth in a way that is radically different from most other discussions of these topics.  The fundamental opposition of the essay is between the rational man and the intuitive man.  But to see it as favoring just one of these is problematic.  Instead, N. gives us clear reason to believe that humanity needs both types.  In a sense the essay seeks to bridge the gap between what C.P. Snow called the two cultures. However, some have seen the essay as mainly a denial of truth itself.  Such writers, for example, Maudemarie Clark in her Nietzsche on Truth and Philosophy (Cambridge, 1990), see a radical break between the truth-denying early Nietzsche and the truth affirming, even Kantian, later Nietzsche.  I will not talk about the later Nietzsche here.  Instead, I will argue against the notion that N. denies truth in this essay, either its reality or its value.  What he does, and admittedly he is sometimes confusing on this point, is to insist that much of what we consider truth is really a form of deception. However, this is not his last word on the topic. Deception, on his view, can actually be quite valuable.  More than that, it is necessary for human life, and essential to what it is to be human.  Man is essentially the deceptive as much as the rational animal, and in fact, is deceptive insofar as he is rational.  The deceptive structure of concepts and categories, deceptive because we take it to be true, to mirror the world of things-in-themselves, which it cannot, is actually immensely useful not only for action and science but also as a framework within which the the artist or creative thinker can function, and without which he or she cannot. The artist functions within that world by way of messing with it, by way of crossing categories and creating metaphors.  What Nietzsche called the columbarium, after the Roman burial building, turns out to be a set of dead things (concepts as dead metphors) that can come alive only with the right, artistic or creative or imaginative, treatment.  

Readers should think of the relationship between the rational man and the intuitive man is much like, although not the same as, the relationship between the Apollonian and the Dionysian in the Birth of Tragedy.  It is similarly a kind of marriage that involves both conflict and reconciliation.  N. speaks of their conflict, for example, when he speaks of ages in which the rational man fears intuition and the intuitive man scorns abstraction.  But there are also implicit reconciliations in the need that the intuitive man has for the very structures set up by the rational man.  You cannot creatively violate structures if they are not already constructed.  The Dionysian represents the inexpressible truth of the real world that underlies all of our experience, and it is expressible only by way of myth of the tragic play.  So too, the intuitive man cannot express what he perceives except in metaphor and image.  Note that even when the intuitive man is dominant, presumably in the classical period of ancient Greece, and has assured "art's mastery over life," it is through a kind of illusion (different from that of the rational man), one based on disregarding the very needs to which the rational man is so attentive, for example "foresight, prudence, and regularity." The point is that there is disguise on both sides, both for the rational man and for the intuitive man, the later disguising needs under or behind "illusion and beauty."  In culture like that of classical Greece, houses, personal style, clothes, and pottery are all invented and beautified with less regard for need than for expression of happiness.  Nietzsche, interestingly, identifies this with the Apollonian world of "Olympian cloudlessness."  So, we are not to strictly identify the Socratic or Alexandrian rational man with the Apollonian:  actually the reverse is true since, here, the Apollonian/Olympian is identified with the man of intuition.  Now, to be sure, the intuitive man is a different type than the rational man, and Nietzsche would certainly rather be an intuitive man than a rational man.  For example, the rational man only seeks to avoid pain whereas the intuitive man reaps "continually inflowing illumination, cheer, and redemption" while at the same time avoiding misfortune.  And when he does suffer he does so more intensely and frequently.  Nietzsche likens him to Thales, the ur-philosopher, who falls into a ditch when looking at the stars.  The intuitive man is just not practical and does not learn from experience.  Nietzsche ends this unfinished essay with a contrast between the intuitive man and the stoical man (presumably a sub-type of the rational man). The later creates his own deception insofar as in misfortune he wears a mask "with dignified symmetrical features."  But if he were to go on he would surely say that the rational man is needed as much as the intuitive man for the further development of culture.

The essay, one might say, is more about intellect than it is about truth.  For example, at the beginning we learn that man is just another animal and that his intellect is a tool much like claws for a bear.  To put human intellect in its place is not to deny truth or to deny that truth exists, however.  For Nietzsche, the intellect deceives us in the first place by the haughtiness and self-satisfaction we get from the knowledge we have (or perhaps the "knowledge" we have).  This seems like such a great thing that man is deceived about the value of his own existence.  His evaluation of knowledge is itself self-flattering.  We think ourselves greater than other species because we have this marvelous thing called knowledge. What the intellect mainly does however (and intellect is not really to be distinguished here from "knowledge"), in its effort to preserve the individual, is to simulate, deceive, flatter, lie, cheat.... etc. So how do we make sense of the notion of the "pure urge to truth"?  That is Nietzsche's main question.  But this question is not, in itself, a denial of truth or a claim that truth does not exist.  
The trouble is with language, the main instrument of our intellect, and more particularly with language in its static, literal, or to be more dramatic, dead state. Nietzsche does not deny that there is a world that we experience or even gain knowledge of.  The problem is with our instrument, or rather with how we usually see it.  We usually see it as paradigmatically literal.  And the problem isn't that literal language is without value.  It has immense value.  The value however is not contained in the notion that it is the main instrument of the search for truth.  Actually, it is metaphorical language that is the main instrument for that search.  Bear in mind that, as creativity researchers have long known, only when creative thinkers break conventional boundaries and use words in non-literal ways do we have advances in knowledge. 

In reading the essay one must always keep in mind the radical distinction between real truth and what we will call "truth." The latter consists of most of the things that are actually held to be true and which constitute, however, a kind of useful illusion.  For example we might think that the explanation for why someone does something honest is because he has the internal quality of honesty, but in fact, "honesty" is just a useful fiction that "explains" without really explaining.  (This kind of fiction can get in the way of being a good teacher, for example when one thinks that a student plagiarizes because he is a dishonest person.  Useful falsehoods are not always useful.)  Truth is available to the intuitive man (or, rather, the intuitive aspects of ourselves and our cultures) whereas "truth" is the only thing available to the rational man.  Nietzsche does not deny truth.  But neither does he deny "truth," since "truth" does have value.  He simply denies that "truth" is equal to truth, i.e. the true truth.  

Clark worries about the common belief that "Nietzsche proves the non-existence of truth, at least of any truths accessible to humans." And yet there is nothing to worry about here since he does not deny such existence and even allows that truth is accessible to the intuitive man (and implicitly to man insofar as it is only by an working together that the rational and intuitive man can arrive at it.)

But part of Clark's concern is whether he denies that "any of our beliefs correspond to reality."  What would Nietzsche say in response to that?  If all of our beliefs are in the form of statements made using words that are essentially dead metaphors then I doubt that he does believe that any of those correspond to reality.   Words that are living may not correspond to reality if one means by that that there is a one to one matching of sentence to fact as in "snow is white" is true if and only if snow is white.  But they could well be said to correspond to reality when they express truth via live metaphor, if by "correspond" is meant that there is a harmonious convergence between the language and that which is expresses.  

Clarke finds an "explicit denial of truth" in the famous paragraph that begins "What, then, is truth?"  Nietzsche follows the question with an answer:  it is a "mobile army of metaphors, metonyms, and anthropomorphisms" so that it is really "a sum of human relations" which have been enhanced and embellished, at first, but then, and this is important, have been used for so long that they "seem firm, canonical, and obligatory."  It is from this point that he comes to the conclusion that "truths are illusions about which one has forgotten that this is what they are."  Clearly N. is talking here not about truths but about "truths."  The rational man lives with "truths" and with the illusion that they are not dead metaphors.  Ironically the original metaphors from which they came are more true than they are.  Nietzsche speaks of "truths" as "metaphors which are worn out and without sensuous power."  This is intended to contrast with the metaphors that have not lost sensuous power,  i.e. the metaphors that give us access to true truth.  Following this, the "urge to truth" is really the urge to "truth," that is, metaphors that are "customary" and hence dead

Relying on "truths" based on dead metaphors is nothing more than lying "according to fixed conventions."  It is an unconscious lie. Clark thinks this is a denial of truth, but it is only a claim about the uses of "truth."  And it isn't even a denial of "truth" since, again, it is not denied that "truths" are immensely useful.  (One could say that Nietzsche holds a pragmatist theory of "truth" but not a pragmatist theory of true truth.)  Clark thinks these are not really lies since to lie you have to consciously tell a falsehood, but of course one can lie by way of being in denial about something one knows deep down.  

Clark believes that N. thinks that all assertions we call truths are actually false:  but this is not true.  It is that all assertions that the rational man calls truths are false.  Only some of the assertions the intuitive man calls truths are false.  So N. is not guilty of claiming that any true assertion is also false and is not guilty of absurdity. The point is so simple, one wonders how carefully Clarke read the text.   Clark's mistake in interpreting and evaluating N.s theory is just another example of what happens when philosophy fails to recognize the centrality of aesthetics to its enterprise.  In fact, her mistake is just exemplification of over-reliance of the rational man, and no real recognition of the intuitive man, or the way in which they two inter-relate, all of which is pretty typical of contemporary professional philosophy.

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Debate between Sloterdijk and Stiegler (27-28 June, 2016)

Link to conference website HERE, YouTube embedded below. HT Yuk Hui HERE.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Lecture on Latour’s Gaia Series [feedly]

Lecture on Latour's Gaia Series

Today in M.Phil program. I post for those interested.

The Anthropocene

September 21, 2016

Latour's "Facing Gaia"

Any discussion of the Anthropocene and anthropogenic climate change risks a melange of different authorial or professorial voices, ones seen time and again in the literature on environmentalism. There is the cloying, bereaved writer who mourns the loss of large parts of the earth to hyper-industrialization, as if nature were this or that patch of land she can no longer trammel and she is lost for all that. There is the moralizing "god be thanks, I am not like that" sermonizing: we know what can easily be done if only reactionaries bumpkins such as Trump or Bush or Harper or Sarkozy just finally recognized the consensus of a science they can't begin to understand. Then there is self-regarding academic, who takes the current and coming calamities as a good time to give real-world import to whatever it is they were studying before ("What John Donne can tell us about living green" is no doubt somewhere in the literature), or worse, as an opportune time to do us the pleasure of inventing new words to understand old ideas. This is not to deny the sincerity of any of these types of writers–at various moments, I am one or more of all three–not least since I can never sincerely question anyone's sincerity. Rather our reactions to the anthropocene, as philosophers and theorists, is shaped by the sheer ubiquity of the problem, of a size and scope our nation-state systems are too-outdated to begin to approach. Latour puts the conundrum well in the lectures we read:

We are all climato-sceptics. I certainly am. …So is the climatologist I was interviewing a few months back [who said], "I am a sceptic, nonetheless, since, from the fully objective knowledge I contribute to producing, I do nothing to protect my two kids from what is coming." This is the terrible quandary in which we find ourselves: being either one of those who deny that there is a threat, or one of those who, knowing full well the extent of the threat, do nothing to meet it. Nothing, at least, that could be at the right scale. I am not sure what is worse: to be a denier or to be impotent? (109)

Moreover our various forms of media (FB, twitter, and so on, all with the same font for anything that pops up) have leveled down the problem to one media event among others. I mean, sure the Earth is warming at a rate unseen in millennia, but Brad and Angelina did just break up. (I haven't seen them, but is the language of the headlines and their size any more or less dire than any recent article on climate change? When all is hyperbole–as we Americans in the age of Trump can quickly attest–then attempting to shout just a bit louder about a problem is like trying to breath harder to counteract the wind.) Thus the theorist or philosopher is led to the last pose, perhaps in what is the last stage of grief when dealing with the anthropocene: brushing right past what can and should be done, since it can't and won't be done in our literal political climate, to theorize the end itself. Like Christian millenarians of the Middle Ages, the end is ever nigh, thus the many deaths in recent decades in what gets called theory: the end of the author, the end of the human, the end of nature, and now the end of the worldtm.

We will see just what Latour does with this problem, calling for something like a strategic use of millenarian apocalypticism. But first, let's back up to discuss Latour's political ecology. In important works in the 1980s, Latour helped to form what became known as both Act Network Theory and Science and Technology Studies. For Latour any thing, event, etc., exists only through "trials of strength" with others. His method was avowedly anthropological, which is still the case in the Gaia lectures. How would we explain the religious beliefs of a community to which we didn't belong? We wouldn't treat their practices as unreal, since of course they have performative effects in terms of family rearing, political practices, and so on. They are very much real, but the anthropologist brackets out any reference to an outside: she discusses these practices without adjudicating the truth of these beliefs, which are besides the point. Latour does much the same for science (or Science) as he does for religion, the law, and ecology in his different writings over the last thirty years. Latour argues that things only exist through alliances, through acting on others, through getting things to engage with them. There is no "out there" of a nature that Science describes, but rather those things that science describes exist only through a network of relations between the human and non-human, between that which Science describes and the actants through which it makes new relations: the scientific institutions, people, and so on, that make its "discovery possible." In this sense, for Latour, the germ didn't pre-exist Louis Pasteur, but came to form alliances in and through him, through the real relations to a given network of actants. Without those actants, no bacteria. So too with God: Latour, a devout Catholic, does not think religion is about belief, but about the practice of community; it's not about a great outside that religion points to, but something like an internal sphere (to use a metaphor that comes up often in these lectures) that has its own felicity conditions of right and wrong conduct. So too with science: there are only its practices and the task of those who study science is not to bow down to external "facts" but to politicize science, to show how it gets underway, to demonstrate the alliances that make possible some discoveries, while others never do, and for all that, in the strict sense do not exist.

Latour's version of STS has always faced the charge of relativism: that there are truths only insofar there are human and non-human actants forming alliances that keep it going. In this way, the God of the Catholics was very much real, and the death of God as churches turn to mausoleums is also very much real. In terms of political ecology, Latour's striking claim is not that nature or science is a social construction, but a construction among and between non-human and human actants. This is the core of his thought, one that is easily missed by critics who can't handle subtlety in thought and less so in action: Latour is a constructivist, but social constructionism, he thinks, makes the mistake of following modernity in making a binary split between nature and culture, between science and politics, between facts explained by science and the values we cherish in our encounters. Latour argues, to cite the title of one of his most famous books, that we have never been modern, that there never has been a major split between nature and culture simply because the human exists, such as it is, through more-than-human actants that in turn are influenced by it. Our modern era is characterized, then, by one basic split: the division of the collective in which we are into Society and Nature, politics where we shape values and science that describes the facts of nature. In his 2003 book, Politics of Nature, Latour argued for politicizing science–to show how it depends on power and practices that it nevertheless denies in the cool rush for objective and bloodless statements of facts: water is H20, and so on, even as this is a revisable proposition that exists only so long as a network of actants continues to engage practices that make it true (produce textbooks, convince others of its validity, and so on). What Latour argues for in Politics of Nature is to show how we can advocate what he calls a "parliament of things" where the non-human and the human are not so split off, and the facts of the sciences are seen as hybrids among and between nature and society.

Latour's enemy is one confusing labeled "epistemology," those who think they can have transcendental notions of Science and Nature, that is, a pointing to something that transcends the practices that bring it about. This view is self-evident, but the moment the practices of sciences go away, so too goes away its view of nature, and Latour is scathing about what he calls the "epistemology police" who stammer about Truth in ways reminiscent of Plato: there is something beyond appearances that we few witness and any discussion of practices and institutions is all-too-worldly, all-too-contaminated with values, all-to-relative to a here and now to deliver the Truth or Facts. This policing of what is True–this matters to Latour, because there are many different modes of life that provide truths beyond Science–is inherently political. To borrow a phrase Charles Taylor once used about liberalism: Science is not neutral; it is a fighting creed. Science avers that it is a-political, even though the sciences in the plural form the very alliances that are the stuff of our politics, the "techno-scientific" hybrids that would include mad cow disease, the cod fishery, and so on. In the Politics of Nature, Latour asks us to get rid of the idea of nature in the name of ecology: nature is that which stands over and again the human, waiting for some philosopher or scientist to detail the facts about this dead, inanimate set of things over and which we are free and very much animated. Over and against this dead nature, Latour proposes the parliament of things as engaging in a experimental set of processes and see how science is brought into the political and vice-versa. He argues the examples are too numerous to mention of members of this parliament, from climate change to HIV. Against the hierarchical Platonism, dependent on theorists and scientists to deliver a truth that we mere mortals cannot access, this parliament would be "democratic" in recognizing the trials of strength that make both science and politics possible. This does not make Latour anti-realist, that is, denying a reality to which we belong. As can be seen above, he likes the paradoxical type of statement that throws us off our usual understanding in order to rethink staid categories. For example, what ecologist would tell us nature is dead? What scientific anti-realist would deny that science describes a reality beyond it would claim to be the true realist? Latour's rhetoric is meant to get us to quit the alliances that we have formed in the modern world–say with a belief in a Nature that transcends us–in order to form other collectivities, that is, theories, apparatuses, things, events, and so on, based on what he calls a Dingpolitik (a politics of things) where we recognize facts are, etymologically, things that are facere, made. He writes, "this is common to all entities: they have to be made, constructed, elaborated, fabricated" (15). This does not mean that science is only about power. Rather, in a parliament of things, the point is to produce new, healthier hybrids, in particular those that are not destructive of what he believes we too quickly call the Earth.

This brings us to his writings on Gaia in his Gifford lecture series from 2013 and what he dubs his cosmopolitics. Cosmos means a well-ordered world, but Latour argues there is no pre-given whole, no pre-given universal (as Kant and others believed). Rather a cosmopolitics looks to fabricate a politics for what he dubs the Earthbound, given that the industrialisation produced by techno-science threatens any future collective. This brings us to a choice, he believes: either we continue to modernize modernization, that is, double down on collectivities that are destructive, as when we want to produce nature in our own image, e.g., thinking we can simply invent some new geo-engineering to get out of the problems of the Anthropocene, or we see that our lives are already ecological in the strict sense of that term: caught up in webs of relations without tight borders and always in uncertain, fragile conditions. In the lectures we read for today, Latour revisits this ground, arguing that our notion of nature is theological. Indeed, polemically he tries to show those who most critique religion reproduce a thinking of a Nature, an external third party to our practices that will be able to settle all of our political problems, i.e., if we just say one more time it's a damn fact that there is climate change, then we will have settled everything. He writes in the first lecture:

[T]he question of politics will not be limited to humans but will be extended to non-humans as well, that is, to all the agencies that make up the cosmos inside which humans do reside. Such an extension will force us to disengage political theory from its long attachment with an epistemological definition of Nature. If Nature known by the sciences is no longer the ultimate referee able to settle conflicts, then politics has to take over and the common world has to be progressively composed. (8)

In Latour's phrasing in the lecture course, the point is to see science as performative, as enunciating and creating networks, composing them. In fact, by composing ecological networks, those fearing the worst of climate change will not only be unable to "settle conflicts" by pointing to external facts, but will have to go to war. He argues that far from dealing with an inanimate nature, the sciences (note the multiple) multiply the actants, since they bring more to our attention:

[T]he practice, here again, is exactly the opposite [of dealing with a dead Nature]. Even if you factor in duplication, replication, and the race to 'publish or/and perish,' a calm and cold consideration of the scientific literature shows that it ceaselessly multiplies the number of agents that have to be taken into account for any course of action to be achieved. If you now replace the technical name of each of those agents by what they do, as the simplest semiotic method requires, you are not faced by the oxymoron 'inanimate agencies' but, on the contrary, by a fabulous multiplication of the potentials for action. This is exactly what allows so many engineers, inventors, innovators, and investors to devise unprecedented, improbable, and surprising courses of action. The net result of the scientific disciplines is an immense increase in what moves, agitates, boils, warms, and complicates; what in brief, yes, animates the agencies making up the world. (17)

In the third lecture, this brings Latour to the Gaia hypothesis of James Lovelock, one that has been treated as thinking the Earth (the god of earth being Gaia; see p. 57 for a rendition of the myth from Hesiod) as a single living organism. Far from revolted by this quasi-new-age idea, Latour argues that Lovelock's notion of Gaia has been misunderstood simply because scientific and other critics of Lovelock remain too modern, too quick to separate the sciences and what they describe. What Lovelock shows is not that the Earth is one unimportant speck among others in the universe, but rather is quite special and fragile: it is a fragile composition–a continuing thing under construction–of living and non-living, which as yet we cannot find anywhere else in the galaxy. For that reason, the collective to which we belong could exist nowhere else.

You may still spend huge budgets on what used to be called, ironically, the 'conquest of space,' but it will be to transport, at best, half a dozen encapsulated astronauts from a live planet across inconceivable distances to a few dead ones. Where things will happen is down here and now. Don't dream any more, you mortals. You won't escape to outer space. You have no other abode than down here, the shrinking planet. You can't compare it with any other. Earth is what in Greek is called an apax — a name used once — and that's the name that your species, Earthlings, deserves as well — or if you prefer a word with the same etymology: idiot. (p. 56)

We are all idiots in the Greek sense of the term: we can't leave home, we can't leave this assemblage we call the earth, but we should see the earth as itself an assemblage of earths, of "agents that" should not "be prematurely unified in a single acting whole" (59). Gaia, he argues, is not a sentient being, as some have supposed, but

every organism intentionally manipulates its surroundings to its own benefit. No agent on Earth is merely superimposed on any other as a brick juxtaposed on another brick as would be the case on a dead planet. Each of them acts to modify its neighbours, no matter how slightly, to render its own survival slightly less improbable. This is where the difference lies between geochemistry and geophysiology. It is not that Gaia is some 'sentient being' but that the concept of 'Gaia' captures the distributed intentionality of all the agents that are modifying their surroundings to suit themselves better. (67)

For this reason, Latour, as does Lovelock, argues against any thinking of the environment, since in the age of the Anthropocene, there is no environment outside of us, but rather every organism is itself has effects on what is outside of it: the environment is a part of the ecological, not outside of ecology. This means we have gotten rid of levels:

Climate is the historical result of reciprocal, mutually interfering connections among all growing creatures. It expands, it diminishes or it dies with them. The Nature of olden days had levels, layers and a well ordered zoom; Gaia subverts levels. There is nothing inert, nothing benevolent, nothing external in it. If climate and life have evolved together, space is not a frame, nor even a context. (71)

Following others, then, Latour argues that Gaia has a history, just as humans were supposed. We are part of that "geostory," those changes occurring within a long political ecology that arrived long before what we too quickly dub the human. The irony is that the Anthropocene at once brings the "human back on stage" ("we" actants produce carbon emissions that lead to climate change) but also "dissolves the idea that [the human] is a unified giant agent of history" (79). There is no view from nowhere, no view from on high, and neither a god nor the human as instrument of history can save us. What then is to be done? This long summary out of the way, I wish to discuss the last sections of his work, where Latour, too quickly takes up the work of the Nazi philosopher Carl Schmitt. It is notable in this work that Latour leans heavily, when it comes to composition, on Hobbes and Schmitt, who put sovereignty and the friend-enemy distinction at the heart of their politics. No doubt, like the earth itself, Schmitt's thinking of the decision and the friend-enemy distinction exerts a gravitational pull on all those who read him; his categories seem inexorable. But while we are in a state of exception, Schmitt's "nomos of the earth"  is not the model for a new politics, as he avowedly is for Latour (e.g., 105, 119, 135, and especially 138, but indeed all of the last chapters).  What Latour wants, it seems, is a declaration of a new enemy–the Earthbound versus the Human, he says–who uses a strategic use of the end of the world to name enemies and "kee[p] politics alive" (113), since politics requires not homogenization, but rather places and territories to be protected, all in the name of a universal, a mundus or cosmos towards which we, little by little, assemble our way. Gaia would be this new sovereign, in the strict Schmittian sense, as that which provides for the decision and the state of exception (135). This decisionism is as dangerous in our time as it was in Latour's. Breaking off here, there are other ways of thinking the political than Schmitt's decisionism, other ways to think without a third-party outside the politics in which we exist. It's my wager that if all we are left with is Schmittianism, we're better off with the end of the world.


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Emotional arousal of a drama increases social bonding [feedly]

In Philosophies of Art & Beauty I am now covering Aristotle and tragedy, while watching Sophocles' Oedispus Rex. The below article seems relevant. Ht Bill Benzon.

Emotional arousal of a drama increases social bonding

Royal Society Open Science

Emotional arousal when watching drama increases pain threshold and social bonding

R. I. M. Dunbar, Ben Teasdale, Jackie Thompson, Felix Budelmann, Sophie Duncan, Evert van Emde Boas, Laurie Maguire
Published 21 September 2016. DOI: 10.1098/rsos.160288


Fiction, whether in the form of storytelling or plays, has a particular attraction for us: we repeatedly return to it and are willing to invest money and time in doing so. Why this is so is an evolutionary enigma that has been surprisingly underexplored. We hypothesize that emotionally arousing drama, in particular, triggers the same neurobiological mechanism (the endorphin system, reflected in increased pain thresholds) that underpins anthropoid primate and human social bonding. We show that, compared to subjects who watch an emotionally neutral film, subjects who watch an emotionally arousing film have increased pain thresholds and an increased sense of group bonding.


Fiction, in the form of both storytelling and drama, is an important feature of human society, common to all cultures. Though widely studied in the humanities, the reasons why we become so engrossed in fiction, and the likely functions for this, have attracted very little attention from either psychologists or behavioural biologists. Yet, it is evident that people are willing to spend a great deal of time, and often money, to be entertained in this way, whether casually in social contexts or formally in the theatre or cinema, often incurring significant costs when doing so. Storytelling forms a major component of evening conversations around the campfire in hunter–gatherer societies [1]. One important function is that it enables us to pass on, in the form of origin stories or a corpus of commonly held folktales and folk knowledge, the cultural ideologies that create a sense of community. Shared knowledge forms part of the mechanism that binds friends [2–5] as well as communities [6,7].

As important as these cognitive aspects of storytelling may be for community bonding, they do not explain why we are willing to return again and again to be entertained by storytellers and dramatists. One plausible explanation for our enjoyment of comedy might be that comedy makes us laugh, and laughter activates the endorphin system [8–11], thereby providing a sense of reward and pleasure. Endorphins act as analgesics and increase tolerance of pain [12], being responsible for well-known phenomena like the 'runner's high' [13]. As a result, comedy that makes us laugh out loud results in an increase in pain threshold [8–10]. But why should we be just as engaged by emotionally stirring plots that 'reduce us to tears' (i.e. tragedies)? One possibility is that the emotional arousal triggered by such stories also activates the endorphin system, because the same areas of the brain that support or respond to physical pain are also involved in psychological pain [14–17]. There is now an extensive literature suggesting that social rejection or viewing emotionally valenced pictures, and even just musically induced mood change, elevate pain thresholds, thereby seeming to allow subjects to attenuate their responses to negative emotional experiences [18–22]. There is even some suggestion that watching a dramatic film increases pain threshold, albeit with small samples and somewhat mixed results [23,24].

While the cognitive component of social bonding is important in maintaining relationships through time in humans, primate social relationships and the bonding of social groups in humans, it is also underpinned by a psychopharmacological mechanism in what is effectively a dual mechanism process [25]. Endorphins, while part of the brain's pain management system [12,26–29], also play a central role in social bonding in anthropoid primates [30–33]. This latter effect is mediated through the afferent c-tactile neural system [34] by the light stroking that occurs during social grooming, and PET imaging has confirmed that this behaviour activates the endorphin system in humans [35]. It seems that a number of other social activities, including laughter [8], singing [36] and dancing [37], also activate this system and, through this, enhance the sense of bonding to the other individuals present.

We used live audiences to test the hypothesis that emotionally arousing film drama triggers an endorphin response (indexed by change in pain threshold) and, at the same time, increases the sense of belonging to the group (social bonding).


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Kant, Critique of Pure Reason, Lecture 3 Robert Paul Wolff (YouTube)

Here It Is
// The Philosopher's Stone

All right, here is the link to the Third Lecture, posted on You Tube.  Enjoy!

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Tuesday, September 20, 2016

What kind of citizen was he? [feedly]

What kind of citizen was he?
// Aeon

Conventional wisdom sees Socrates as a martyr for free speech, but he accepted his death sentence for a different cause
By Josiah Ober
Read at Aeon


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Why panpsychism fails to solve the mystery of consciousness [feedly]

Why panpsychism fails to solve the mystery of consciousness
// Aeon

Is consciousness everywhere? Is it a basic feature of the Universe, at the very heart of the tiniest subatomic particles? Such an idea – panpsychism as it is known – might sound like New Age mysticism, but some hard-nosed analytic philosophers have suggested it might be how things are, and it's n...
By Keith Frankish
Read at Aeon


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Monday, September 19, 2016

Pragmatism, Kant, and Transcendental Philosophy NDPR review


Toadvine updates Maurice Merleau-Ponty SEP entry

Maurice Merleau-Ponty
// Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

Ted Toadvine replaces the former entry on this topic by the previous author...

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Do only humans have souls, or do animals possess them too? (Aeon article)

Do only humans have souls, or do animals possess them too?
// Aeon

In common parlance, the word 'soul' pops up everywhere. We may speak of a vast, soulless corporation or describe an athlete as the 'heart and soul' of his team. Soul music gets us swaying. We want our lover, body and soul. In each case, 'soul' connotes deep feeling and core values. 'Feelings form...
By Michael Jawer
Read at Aeon


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quote of the day

"The agony of the rat or the slaughter of a calf remains present in thought not through pity but as the zone of exchange between man and animal in which something of one passes into the other."

- Deleuze and Guattari, What Is Philosophy?

Just a comment about this quote: pity is much like sympathy - feeling for another. The exchange mentioned here is external. But, empathy is unlike pity or sympathy in one crucial respect. Empathy is feeling with another. There the exchange is internal, immanent. This is the "firstness" or continuum of feeling - exchange - about which all of C.S. Peirce, Whitehead, and Charles Hartshorne wrote.

Here we might say that this first exchange of feeling is one of onto-empathy and is in another respect an Uexküllian standpoint, in the sense that from this sort of exchange through feeling one loses one's self in the objectivity of another's felt world.  It is the ultimate act of de-anthropocentrism ethically. Something hardly anyone in speculative circles addresses; actually, no one at all.

See After Nature posts "Emapthy in Rats" HERE and "Another Fantastic Uexküllian Paragraph" HERE.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Saturday, September 17, 2016

BLOGOS SYNOPTICON: six years of philosophical blogging [feedly]

BLOGOS SYNOPTICON: six years of philosophical blogging

The blog AGENT SWARM has existed for a little over six years. There is a great coherence in my blogging over this period.

My constant theme has been epistemological and ontological pluralism. In fact, pluralism has been my concern for over 44 years, it was behind my coming to live in France 36 years ago. The only philosophical pluralist of any note in the Anglophone world during the 1970s was Feyerabend. Despite working in a philosophy department that took an active interest in contemporary French philosophy I was very intellectually isolated during that period and I was overjoyed to discover Deleuze, Lyotard, Foucault and Serres as fellow proponents of the pluralist hypothesis.

Today pluralism is still a living hypothesis in France, elaborated and defended by Badiou, Latour, Stiegler, and Laruelle. This French pluralism is the major context for my thought. It has determined my amused interest in such storms in a tea cup as OOO and Speculative Realism.

From 1980 to 1987 I lived in Paris and I attended the seminars of Deleuze, Lyotard, Serres and Foucault. Now I live in Nice, but I follow Badiou's and Stiegler's seminars on youtube, and have been doing so for 5 years now. I participated in Latour's AIME project, made some contributions to the site, and Latour published a chapter by me in his catalogue RESET MODERNITY. I gave a paper at Stiegler's Summer Academy (French: video, text; English: text). Michel Serres is still going strong, and his pluralism has evolved over 50 years. I follow his publications, and I often listen to him on the radio or watch him on TV. I have just received his new book on philosophy of history.

I have had no career inside the university, but I have had and continue to have priceless access to pluralist thought in the making. I speak out of this immersion. I am living the pluralist dream.

Another of my interests is science fiction. I publish a science fiction oriented blog XENO SWARM. Twice in Nice I have given a paper on science fiction and philosophy. The first paper was on DUNE AND DELEUZE, the second was on Neal Stephenson's ANATHEM discussed from a Deleuzian-Badiousian perspective on immanentising Plato as the contemporary task of both philosophy and speculative literature.

The general compatibility condition of my philosophy blog is pluralism. This distinguishes it from other philosophical blogs which make scientism, or worse "speculative realism" or OOO, their boundary condition.

The principal contribution that has emerged from my philosophy blog is the treatment of the differing pluralist Continental philosophies, of Badiou, Laruelle, Zizek, Serres, Stiegler and Latour, as alternative metaphysical research programmes (in the sense of Popper). I analyse and evaluate these research programmes in terms of a set of criteria (pluralism, realism, diachronicity, apophaticism, and democracy). These criteria are taken from Feyerabend's later philosophy.

Note: François Laruelle has produced a constipated long-winded jargonised version of Feyerabend's view and criteria. His Anglophone disciples and popularisers have not the slighest care for situating Laruelle's thought within any realistic context. They prefer to contribute to a more general movement of rewriting philosophical history and of falsifying the recent past so as to create the illusion that their own research programme is unique and in progress over other programmes.

Bruno Latour has elaborated a very innovative system of modes of existence based on the concept of being-as-other, expressed in accessible prose, that well satisfies these criteria. Although Badiou has trouble reconciling his demand for universality with his criterion of equality, his system is also a good embodiment of these criteria. His immanence of truths project is pluralist, diachronic, apophatic, realist, and egalitarian (he calls this criterion of equality "communism" instead of "democracy" for his own special reasons).

Note: we are not talking about voting or government here, but about epistemology and ontology.

The problem with Laruelle is he thinks that he can define himself out of metaphysics. The linguistic naivety of his approach astounding. Badiou, like Deleuze, has no problem with the category of metaphysics, even if they transform it. Their philosophies are at least as "non-standard" as that of Laruelle, as are those of Zizek and Latour. Laruelle preaches non-philosophy, but he does not practice it very well. And "democracy" and "pluralism" even less.

The principal concept that has emerged out of my SF blog is that of "noetic estrangement" which permits a unified approach to SF and fantasy. A good example of this approach is to be found in my review of China Miéville's most recent novel: THE LAST DAYS OF NEW PARIS.


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Friday, September 16, 2016

Whitehead’s Influence on Susanne Langer’s Conception of Living Form

Due to the fact that I've been engaging in research in aesthetics as much as I have been teaching it (both this past summer but also this fall), my Philosophies of Art & Beauty class has propelled me through Whitehead into the very interesting work of one of his most important students, Susanne Langer.

Susanne K. Langer (1895-1985)
For those of you who haven't heard of her work it is most certainly worth looking into, even if at first glance a skimming over of it, before finding a text that would suit one's own vision in aesthetic philosophy, might be found. In her work I see much of Dewey, Merleau-Ponty, Schelling, and Whitehead; but of course, her work is highly original and impressive in its own right.  If I had more time I definitely would like to write a "Philosopher Profile" about her (I've been meaning to, in addition to one on John William Miller - another important American philosopher connected with idealism, realism, process-relational philosophy, ecological and environmental aesthetics.)

First and foremost I would recommend her Feeling and Form (1953), a .pdf of which can be found HERE. Otherwise do look over a nice biography concerning her life and work, also a .pdf, HERE.

Dryden's "Whitehead's Influence on Susanne Langer's Conception of Living Form" is quite excellent, HERE as is his "Susanne K. Langer and American Philosophic Naturalism in the Twentieth Century" HERE. Both are taken from Anthony Flood's very honorable page dedicated to her work, HERE.

Some very nice Langer quotes HERE, some of which I'll put below.
"Art is the objectification of feeling and the subjectification of nature." 
"Every artistic form reflects the dynamism that is constantly building up the life of feeling." 
"Feeling, in the broad sense of whatever is felt in any way, as sensory stimulus or inward tension, pain, emotion or intent, is the mark of mentality." 
"If a work of art is a projection of feeling, its kinship with organic nature will emerge, no matter through how many transformations, logically and inevitably." 
"Music is 'significant form,' and its significance is that of a symbol, a highly articulated, sensuous object, which by virtue of its dynamic structure can express the forms of vital experience which language is peculiarly unfit to convey. Feeling, life, motion and emotion constitute its import." 
"Music is the tonal analogue of emotive life."