“We have never been postmodern”; or, Notes toward a new concept of the chiasm

1. Baudrillard, that paragon and scapegoat of postmodern ephemerality, once proposed that

a certain form of thought is bound to the real. It starts out from the hypothesis that ideas have referents and that there is a possible ideation of reality. … The other form of thought is eccentric to the real, a stranger to dialectics, a stranger even to critical thought. It is not even a disavowal of the concept of reality. It is illusion, power of illusion, or, in other words, a playing with reality, as seduction is a playing with desire … This radical thought does not stem from a philosophical doubt, a utopian transference, or an ideal transcendence. It is the material illusion, immanent in this so-called ‘real’ world.

The fractures between thought and the real in the spectacular age were nowhere more evident than in the simulacra of war, according to which Baudrillard could argue that the (first) Gulf War “did not take place”. We still, today, have not grasped the rhetorical strategy and intervention into the media terrain deployed by Baudrillard in this claim, which continues to be interpreted by friends and foes of postmodernism alike as the godfather of our contemporary “war on truth”.

Baudrillard continues:

at all events, there is incompatibility between thought and the real. There is no sort of necessary or natural transition from one to the other. … It has doubtless not always been so. One may dream of a happy conjunction of idea and reality, cradled by the Enlightenment and modernity, in the heroic age of critical thought. Yet critical thought, the butt of which was a certain illusion … is in substance ended. … It has broken down under pressure from a gigantic technical and mental simulation, to be replaced by an autonomy of the virtual, henceforth liberated from the real, and a simultaneous autonomy of the real which we see functioning on its own account in a demented — that is, infinitely self-referential — perspective. Having been expelled, so to speak, from its own principle, extraneized, the real has itself become an extreme phenomenon. In other words, one can no longer think it as real, but as exorbitated, as though seen from another world — in short, as illusion.

It is with the second Gulf War that we see Baudrillard’s thesis nakedly in the destruction of the twin towers (which, according to some, were not destroyed by planes): a pure event in its indiscernibility from a non-event.

towers

Mitchell described that event as “a new and more virulent form of iconoclasm” because the destruction of the towers was “a globally recognizable icon, and the aim was not merely to destroy it but to stage its destruction as a media spectacle. Iconoclasm in this instance was rendered as an icon in its own right, an image of horror that has imprinted itself in the memory of the entire world”. Thus every image of the twin towers is an image of an image: the event of 9/11, what “took place”, is inseparable from its mediatization* or what Mitchell calls the “biopicture”. “The terrorist is the figure of iconoclasm and the destruction of living images, literally in the form of human bodies, metaphorically in the destruction of monuments”. The collective American fantasy in response has produced, from within, the very unspeakable and unimaginable horrors of the terrorist through the expansion of its juris-diction (as Mitchell observes, “the law against the representation of something in words or images must, in effect, always break itself, because it must name, describe, define — that is, represent — the very thing that it prohibits”).

*Mitchell defines a “medium” as “the set of material practices that brings an image together with an object to produce a picture … understood as a complex assemblage of virtual, material, and symbolic elements”.

Baudrillard’s thesis is both epistemic and ontological: the claim is not that we can have no knowledge of the real but, rather, that we do not know (at least anymore) what the real is because the real (including the reality of consciousness) has become not the “product of discourse” but always duplicated, encoded, disseminated, imaged, simulated, and overdetermined.

There is some irony in the fact that the critics of postmodernism have themselves confused the hoax for the reality. There is no more important concept than truth, for example, in the late Foucault’s work on the parresiac utterance as “the introduction, the irruption of the true discourse [that] determines an open situation, or rather opens the situation and makes possible effects which are, precisely not known. Parresia does not produce a codified effect; it opens up an unspecified risk” (here one could also analyze the logic of the differend in which the codification of discourse silences the articulation of a wrong). If postmodernism is to blame for the present quagmire of relativism and “alternative facts”, it is perhaps not because we have read too much Foucault but because we have read too little.

2. “What does critique want?” (for M.K.) When Mitchell asked of pictures what they want, he was gesturing not only to an analogy between images and life, nor to the viral propagation of images but, rather, with the particular form and content of images within the present biopolitical regime of the reproduction of terrorism as the acephalic clone wherein the destruction of an image (e.g., the twin towers) is also the production of an image (e.g. Abu Ghraib).

This duality of iconoclasm and iconoclash mirrors our “double consciousness” with respect to images, as both a shadow thrice removed from reality and also autonomous from it. The question “what do pictures want?” arises in this chiasm of the lack and excess of the image: the lack of vitality in an image allows it to receive a hyper-reality through its communication, circulation, and dissemination until the real is transformed into what had “only” been an image.

2a. In a pair of lectures from 2004 and 2010, Latour worries that the general structure of critique (viz., of naturalism, truth, etc.) has ironically given its weapons to the “instant revisionism” of conspiratorial dogmatism against which, as its counterfeit double, no form of rationalism can mount an adequate defense. Instead of asking, however, what demands critique, we might also ask what desires are produced by the critical impulse. On the one hand, critique must be both timely — in its response to particular material, historical, local, and contingent conditions — and untimely; thus the aporia of critique since Kant: critique always gestures behind, beneath, or beyond the given (as ideological, phenomenal, etc.) toward what cannot be known an sich. When philosophizing with a hammer that demolishes the appearances to reveal the chaotic monster of energy beneath, we languish in negativity (“how hetero!” “how bourgeois!”) and, thus, in nihilism.

On the other hand, as Nietzsche had reminded us, to speak of “illusion” requires us still to believe in truth. Latour accuses the critical gesture of disingenuity when it proclaims simultaneously that (1) any “fact” is merely the projected “white screen” of ideology, discourse, etc., while at the same time insisting that (2) all thought and behavior are determined by the brute facts of (in both senses of the genitive) objectivity. Latour thus suggests a new orientation (“composition”) that leads not away (e.g., from facts toward their conditions) but toward facts, i.e., that not only debunks but assembles, toward the thingliness of things in a “renewed empiricism” that asks “how many participants are gathered in a thing to make it exist and to maintain its existence”. The Thing is no longer opposed to objects but, given the collapse of the bifurcation of Nature, “they have to be gathered first in order to exist later as what stands apart [ob-ject]. … What the etymology of the word thing [as object and as juridical apparatus] … had conserved for us mysteriously, as a sort of fabulous and mythical past has now become, for all to see, our most ordinary present”.

We should hear, however, not only the Heideggerean but Lacanian (and Levinasian, as Critchley has argued) resonances in this claim. The production of images and fantasies not only protects us from a direct exposure to the Thing but just is the sublimation of the death drive. Within our “most fundamental” metaphysical activity, however, the aesthetic contains a trace of the excess of the ethical, viz., in the fact that there is more to the life of an image (e.g., that of myself or others) than its reality as an image: that you and I are both an image (e.g., a digital image) and more than an image.

Just as Bergson had argued that possibility is not less than actuality but an addition to it, so too Latour asks whether we ought to add reality to matters of fact rather than subtract it (what is impossible, of course, is the isomorphic correspondence between the two). It is not merely that we must “fight for the facts” in the face of, e.g., climate change denial but we must ask what comes “after Nature” or, rather, after the postmodern collapse of the distinction between nature and politics. Latour’s own “politics of nature” attempts to address this need to re-compose both science and politics given the irreversibility of critique (i.e., in the fact that the “simply true” cannot even serve as a regulative idea), despite the apparent reversibility of “progress”.

Like the Bergsonian élan, the problem of subjectivity is not only one of lack but that of a figure of excess, in which we see the objective correlate in the basic ontology of modernity: production as over-production. As we know, scarcity is constructed as the abject remainder of excess and what we must confront today is the saturation of ontology by capital (as the primary objective cipher of excess). The dialectic of lack and excess is both intra- and inter-subjective. McGowan has recently argued that the point at which lack and excess become indistinguishable is the comic, in which we momentarily encounter this chiastic relationship:

our everyday life is distinctively humorless because it sustains itself by keeping excess and lack at a distance from each other. … The strict separation of lack and excess produces whatever stability our social existence has. The disturbance of excess remains confined to a separate domain where it doesn’t intrude on everyday existence. It might be funny if one showed up at work after drinking ten shots of tequila, but if everyone did it, the work would cease to function efficient. The social order punishes those who bring excessive acts into the everyday world by taking away their jobs, their friends, and ultimately even their liberty to act excessively.

What, then, does it mean to grasp the truth of the subject (e.g., in its “care”) when what appears to be its fundamental truth is contradicted at every turn by the real(ity principle), e.g., when the truth of desire is what must be disavowed (“I don’t really want to be drunk at work”)?

3. Toward a concept of the chiasm. We cannot approach this question without understanding the relationship between lack and excess. The postmodern sensibility presents us with (at least) two possibilities: dialectics or deconstruction.

On the one hand, after the end of history, we have now seen what escapes dialectics. Anthropogenic climate change, for example, is the dialectical catastrophe of history that has produced a real excess that escapes capture. But the central question for dialectics is whether that which escapes is immanent (thus totality) or whether there is an exteriority (or, better, an élan or tendency) that eludes dialectical construction (thus infinity).

The logical form of dialectics resolves contradictions at the point of self-reference by enclosing the transcendence of totality. Deconstruction excavates a second reflexivity internal to each contradiction: what appears as a binary is more like an Aristotelian contrary, in which the priority of the one term over the other can be reversed and, subsequently, the entire opposition displaced.

In both cases, the dialectical and deconstructive gestures would show the participation of lack and excess within the totality (which, thus, can be named as such in the absolute idea) or that excess is itself a lack that must be overcome. The chiasm of lack and excess would locate the point at which it is indiscernible which appears, thus neither equating them (i.e., as exchangeable in explanation) nor to resolve the contradiction (e.g., by demonstrating their interdependence) but to tarry at the point of freedom where the indiscernibility of the two suggests an escape (a clinamen?). Thus the chiasm is a triple appearance: lack, excess, and the third. According to dialectics, the third is nothing but the difference between lack and excess (the difference between lack and excess is thus immanent to the contradiction); but in the chiasm of lack and excess, the third appears because of the difference (and thus is emergent from the contradiction). If dialectics begins with two, chiastics begins with three.**

**There is, perhaps, a deconstructive relation between dialectics and chiastics, given that chiastics presupposes dialectics and yet cannot itself be the result of dialectical criticism. If there were a chiastic relation between dialectics and chiastics, we will have conceded too much to dialectics. Chiastics, then, are a sort of supplement to dialectics by which there is the possibility of reference from one to the other but preserving an incommensurability between them.

The double genitive is exemplary of a chiastic structure: the duality that is both distinct but wherein each has a trace of the other (like the taiji of Daoism). Certain polysemies are also chiastic in this sense: to be “significant” (in the sense of “important” but also to “function as a sign”) rests on both the distinctness between the meanings of the word but only momentarily, as we can hear the trace of the one meaning in the other or, in other words, the indiscernibility of their identity and/or difference.

Thus the infamous problem of dialectics: whether we can speak of the identity of identity and difference or of the difference between identity and difference. The chiasm of identity and difference is not simply the possibility of their transposition but the fact that they become indiscernible at the point of reflexivity. It is precisely because it is possible to speak of the identity(n) of identity(n) and difference(n) — like the Gödel sentence as a chiasm of the mathematical and metamathematical — that there is an alternative to the dialectical resolution of the Third Man.***

***The tendency of Hegelian dialectics is from the either/or to the both/and (the same and the different are seen as the same from the point of view of semantic ascent, in an analogue to the problem of Forms). The tendency of Platonic dialectics, on the other hand, is toward pure multiplicity of an-archic principles beneath all hypotheses, including the idea of the good that is not the form of forms (the lack of which guarantees such multiplicity).

On the one hand, the identity of identity and difference is the dialectical totality of the absolute; on the other hand, the immanent production of a difference between identity and difference (e.g., the Badiousian event) can only be named after the fact (in “fidelity”). The chiasm of identity and difference is an indiscernibility that allows for the emergence of a concrete exterior within a determinate triadic relation that is neither wholly outside the relation (e.g., as a negation of the difference) nor a two-dimensional totality but, like the resolution of paradoxes, a three-dimensional relation (e.g., not the creation of but a triangulation of (an) identity).

There are, of course, different forms of indiscernibility: for example, there is that which is vanishingly small, that which is simply outside our capacities for perception and conception, or that which is too much for it (e.g., the sublime). Indiscernibility is itself a chiasm between lack and excess. We see this chiasm too in the indiscernibility of the dialectics of lack and excess both as logical and ontological: on the one hand, it is the concepts of lack and excess that are dialectically intertwined as well as the real itself as the dialectical relation between lack and excess (e.g., in the subject). This duality of the onto/logical is a chiasm, just as the dialectic of lack and excess is itself the chiasm of the qualitative and quantitative (i.e., lack and excess refer both to the quantitative and the qualitative, separately and yet simultaneously).

The supplement of chiastics to dialectics is especially urgent for our post-modern sensibilities that has rejected the possibility of grand narratives and the subsequent rise of “post-truth” wherein truth and falsity are indistinguishable. There is today an ethical imperative to see both beauty and barbarity, as well as both truth and falsity (clumsily proclaimed in the cliche that we must “see all sides”). What must be resisted, however, is the convertibility of the two: we must see the barbarous in the beautiful (as Benjamin famously said, to see that every document of civilization is also a document of barbarism) but not vice versa. Of course, through perversion, it is possible to equate beauty and barbarity by seeing the beauty in the barbarous. The chiasm forces upon us a choice that cannot be settled by the logical form of the problem: the third that arrives at the heart of the contradiction, in this case, is the face of ethics.

Ethics, as we have known since Kant, is the chiasm of freedom and responsibility, whose dialectical collapse in the Holocaust has resulted in the indiscernibility of active and passive nihilism in the present age (e.g., in the conflation of postmodernism with dogmatism and relativism). But while the indiscernible is not an escape from determination, our search for the determinations of that which exists must be Janus-faced, i.e., not only toward what has escaped our efforts at lucidity, transparency, and totality, but toward what has been forgotten — to what is but not present, that is to say, toward the future.

From love of truth to the truth of love

As her brother André was working on developing new foundations for algebraic geometry – in prison, even – Simone Weil expressed to him her philosophical excitement for Eudoxus’ solution to the problem of incommensurables because in that problem Weil found that its “essential point” for thinking was “outside geometry”. Eudoxus took the first step up Cantor’s ladder; Weil recognized the move as dialectical: by finding a way to express relations between incommensurate quantities, the real numbers include both the naturals and the incommensurates, preserving the incommensurability while also transcending the impasse of incommensurability. This discovery was “beautiful” in a precise sense for Weil:

Beauty is the manifest appearance of reality. Reality represents essentially contradiction. For reality is the obstacle, and the obstacle for a thinking being is contradiction. The beauty in mathematics lies in contradiction. Incommensurability, logoi alogoi, was the first radiance of beauty manifested in mathematics.

Although Weil seems not to have been aware of Cantor’s discoveries, like Cantor’s ladder, Weil recognized that this solution to the problem of incommensurability could not guarantee a highest unity because no matter how high we may climb, “we are denied access to the level at which [the contraries] are linked together. … Once arrived there, we can climb no further; we have only to look up, wait and love. And God descends”.

Weil’s God is necessarily a Trinitarian God, whose mystery is the ultimate incommensurability. The (Pythagorean) harmony of unity and plurality, viewed simultaneously from opposite sides,* is expressed neither in thought nor being but in love or friendship. Here theology yields to religion in the literal sense: in love we are bound to the task of producing the good and the right.

*Weil specifically uses the analogy of triangulation to describe grasping the mystery of the Trinity.

Against the more familiar ontotheologies of which philosophy is still suspicious, the Catholic mystical tradition searches not only beyond being but what lies between thought and being (always seeking the mediation, as Weil says). The metaxu is given neither in logic nor ontology, however, but in love, which is prior to the true and the good. We find God in ourselves not as an idea stamped on our minds but in our love. “The soul is united to God through love’s affection”, says Catherine of Siena, because in love the “soul becomes another [Christ]”. This love is directed neither toward ourselves nor toward God but, rather, is born from the infinite sorrow for the salvation of souls. Universality is within us through the soul’s imperfection: if our imperfection is the cause of evil, then my contrition must be for the suffering that I have caused. Conscience, not consciousness, is the indubitable fact of the mind, which is the ultimate truth of the inward journey. “In this life guilt is not atoned for by any suffering simply as suffering, but rather by suffering borne with desire, love, and contrition of the heart. … You asked for suffering, and you asked me to punish you for the sins of others. What you were not aware of was that you were, in effect, asking for love and light and knowledge of the truth.” The mind cannot resist a true idea, Spinoza says, but the truth of the mind itself is its love.

This blood [of Christ] gives you knowledge of the truth when knowledge of yourself leads you to shed the cloud of selfish love. There is no other way to know the truth. In so knowing me the soul catches fire with unspeakable love, which in turns brings continual pain. Indeed, because she has known my truth as well as her own sin and her neighbors’ ingratitude and blindness, the soul suffers intolerably.

True contrition, then, is not merely to atone for what is one’s own but the will to accept what is not. As Augustine reminds us, however, it is not by the strength of our will that we escape suffering but, as Catherine says, “by virtue of your infinite desire. For God, who is infinite, would have infinite love and infinite sorrow”.

Like the friendship between the persons of the trinity, love expresses the unity of the human and the divine in imitatio Christi. In the Itinerarium, Bonaventure describes the triplicity of being as corporeal, spiritual, and divine. The transport and unification of the mind with God is not only the understanding of the identity of being and the good in divine perfection but

this is a good of such a sort that it cannot be thought of unless it is thought of as three and one. For ‘the good is said to be self-diffusive’ [quoting Dionysius]. … In the supreme good there must be from eternity a production that is actual and consubstantial, and a hypostasis as noble as the producer, and this is the case in production by way of generation and spiration. This is understood to mean that what is of the eternal principle is of the eternal co-producer. In this way there can be both a beloved and a co-beloved, one generated and one spirated; that is, Father and Son, and Holy Spirit.

The mystery of the trinity is therefore not one of metaphysics but of love (charity) and thinking refuses ontotheology only to the extent to which it finds the identity of being and the good only in its suffering. Suffering cannot be controlled, as Heidegger warned, but perhaps it can be redeemed.

The body of the soul (continued)

1. The popular masterworks of American composition in the last ten years have shared at least one distinctive trait: the manipulation of sonic architecture. Architectural theory in the last half of the twentieth century has shown how spatial organization and orientation not only affects our understanding of time and place but are at least partially constitutive of understanding and subjectivity itself. The task of contemporary architecture has been to raise the art from the bottom of Hegel’s hierarchy to the top: i.e., to construct experience as such. If the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries consisted of the inversion of the baroque, i.e., as an attempt to control the flight of the soul by mechanisms of discipline (the panopticon* is the obvious example here), however, current “neo-Baroque” chic should come as no surprise (and notice that what should be most irrelevant in any depictions of futuristic architecture is a body whose motility is no longer limited by continuous locomotion).

*As Bentham said, the doors of the panopticon, as the building’s name suggests, must, “like the doors of all public establishments ought to be, thrown wide open to the body of the curious at large—the great open committee of the tribunal of the world”—the consequences of which Foucault understood immediately.

Yet that future is already here, for example, in works such as Theofanidis’ “Rainbow Body”. What Theofanidis attempts is not a representation (in the way, for example, that Tchaikovsky gives us a life in the sixth symphony or Hayden’s famous oratorio narrates the creation of the world) but, through the materiality of sound, the creation of new bodies. The term “rainbow body” he explicitly borrows from the mystical notion of the body’s transformation into light, which should not be confused with a separation of body and soul but, rather, the soul’s final and complete unification with the body.

Although Theofanidis draws the principal motif of “Rainbow Body” from Hildegard of Bingen, such unification has been the singular mystical vision not only of the Tibetan and Indian traditions but of the Latin west easily since the thirteenth century. In a strange sort of anti-Platonism, as Bynum has shown, the mystical act consisted not of the escape of the soul from the body but their transformation. The eucharist is not only the transubstantiation of the body of Christ but, in consumption, an ecstatic encounter “with that humanitas Christi which was such a prominent theme of women’s spirituality. For thirteenth-century women this humanity was, above all, Christ’s physicality, his corporality, his being-in-the-body-ness; Christ’ s humanity was Christ’s body and blood”. Lest, however, the body be confused with the source of base and carnal desire, Catherine of Siena reminds us that in the search for the eternal truth “the soul catches fire with unspeakable love, which in turn brings continual pain. … Still, this is not a pain that troubles or shrivels up the soul. On the contrary, it makes her grow fat [emphasis added]. For she suffers because she loves me, nor would she suffer if she did not love me”.** Just as the body suffers to give birth to life, so does the soul suffer to give birth to beauty—to become beautiful—by its communion (koinonia [Plotinus!]) with the divine.

**Later in the dialogue we read that “often … the body is lifted up from the ground because of the perfect union of the soul with [God], as if the heavy body had become light. It is not because its heaviness has been taken away, but because the union of the soul with me is more perfect than the union between the soul and the body”.

2. But, as Catherine says, such beauty consists in a life of virtue and charity. For us, however, who are unable to hear the convertibility of conscience and consciousness (on which little work has been done, unlike the Anglo-Saxon misspellings of “God” and the “good”)—we have been forced to adopt the morality as the child of a poor will with the resources of technically advanced intellect. In this respect, Kant is thoroughly medieval: the moral will is necessarily beholden to an intellect that can never satisfy the task necessary to motivate virtue; on the other hand, if Schopenhauer were right, (reflective) consciousness would be impossible. Perhaps we might in the end be able to rescue something of the moral sense: neither understanding nor will but as a capacity (dunamis) for suffering. Moral suffering, however, is not my suffering but suffering for suffering, embraced for the love of the good.

Histories

Among the various writers who have challenged the ideologies of “objective history” (e.g., Heidegger, MacIntyre, Ricoeur, White, and, most recently, Megill’s Historical Knowledge, Historical Error), it was Deleuze who has most insistently pressed the issue despite rarely explicitly thematizing the problem as being “historical”. We cannot, Deleuze says, speak of “the” history of philosophy but, rather, only of histories of philosophy. (Is this not also a direct consequence of the famous relevant sections of Being and Time?)

When Deleuze’s monographs explicate a history of philosophy, each author is presented as a complex or a composite: it is well-known that Deleuze’s Bergson, Spinoza, and Nietzsche are inseparable, for example; Deleuze is explicit about the “monstrous children” of philosophy in this regard.

We can escalate this procedure in the case of Bergson and Merleau-Ponty by literally intertwining two texts on philosophy and history:

the relation of philosophy to earlier and contemporary philosophies is not … what a certain conception of the history of systems would lead us to assume. [Bergson] Between an “objective history of philosophy” … and a meditation disguised as a dialogue … there must be a middle-ground on which the philosopher we are speaking about and the philosopher who is speaking are present together, although it is not possible even in principle to decide at any given moment just what belongs to each. [Merleau-Ponty] The philosopher does not take pre-existing ideas in order to recast them … The truth is that above the word and above the sentence there is something much more simple … [i.e.,] the meaning [sens], which is less a thing thought than a movement of thought, less a movement than a direction. [Bergson]

In a letter, Bergson would say that an “ism” is not merely the name of the set of principles held by a particular doctrine but rather a “tendency, a direction of thought followed by a philosopher”. Is this not precisely what Deleuze means by presenting a “Bergsonism” under the guise of a “return to Bergson”? This is obviously not a reactionary move; Bergson performatively made the same point when he instructed his executors and wife to destroy many of his writings on his death.

The “history of philosophy”, above all, must resist the temptation to become a museum or a marketplace. The task of history is to attest (this word is important) to the “life” of ideas. History is not this life; nor can history—lest it devolve into the ideologies of “objective history”—orient itself toward the ideas themselves (nor to concepts—Deleuze, again). The only proper history of philosophy is neither philosophical nor historical but, rather, metaphilosophical and, perhaps, metaxiological.

The persistence of ethics

If life is thought, even if thought is conceived in more contemporary terms such as reflection (Sartre), a fold (Merleau-Ponty, Deleuze), or self-identity (Fichte and idealism), need one be naïve to hold that the task of philosophy is essentially an ethical one? One might say here that we are still dealing with Hegel (see Marcuse’s thesis under Heidegger on the role of life in the theory of historicity in the Phenomenology), which ultimately means the persistence of Kantianism, especially insofar as the center of the Kantian system was precisely in morality. Even if our allergy to speaking of morality is the result of crude readings of Nietzsche, we need not be trapped between a choice of a return to Kantianism or fundamentalism (even though morality is arguably intrinsically theological or “religious” in the strictest sense of the word). One way in which philosophy is moral is insofar as it is metaxiological. There has already been significant work at the intersection of aesthetics and ethics; what remains is the conjunction of metaphysics. The question is not “what is the meaning of life?” but, rather, what is a life?

Images IV

(This is a spinoff from a work in progress.)

The primordial rain is Lucretius’ central image. “It is raining”, Lucretius says. The impersonal “it” of this expression is not quite like the silence of Cage for whom silence is filled with the rush of sound that is my presence to myself. This is the “it” of a positivity without presence, without concept—of that indefinable space between the raindrops that fall with a muted clamor not into the earth but into the ocean where it is not a question of limit or nourishment but, rather, the conjoining of infinity to infinity.

Can there be an experience of this image? This is the metaxiological question. Lucretius presents us with a conception of poetry that is nothing less than the imagination of matter (à la Bachelard): matter cleaved from form—a pure matter, an-archic matter, power, dunamis, tendency. But this presents a problem, for thought cannot admit of a material imagination thus separated from formal being, for such an imagination is by definition infinite, liquid, without principle or measure.

Thus we begin, as always, in sensation, that is, in aesthetics. The verticality of rain effaces location. On the one hand, the rain violates the law of the elements: it is a downward motion that does not move to the center. We cannot experience the downwardness of the falling rain, for a face turned upward is already immersed in the rain—it is all around—and no index permits a “there” (a Da-sein). There is only a “here”—I am here!—but it is not the rain that is around me. There is no outside because the rain is in me insofar as I am in the rain. The rain that falls on my skin does not merely entreat entry, but I become “soaked to the bone”. There is no inside; there is no location. If it is the rain that falls, it is I who rise—taking to the sky, to reverie. The rain lifts us from the earth, away from the center.

But is this not to imply a direction (to move away from the center)? Rather, the (primordial) rain “returns” us to the origin insofar as the center is not originary. But neither can we properly speak of an “original” rain. The primordial rain is infinite: it is the image that has taken the place of God—not the masculine creator but the feminine genetrix. There is no thinking of images, just as there is no thinking of God (Dante, Paradiso XXXIII). What the medievals had called the beatific vision can now be called material imagination. The image does not come from elsewhere, through the rays of emanation, from the outside. This form of absolute transcendence is, of course, impossible; but is not, too, the imagination of matter?

The imagination of matter requires a propaedeutic. Several candidates have been previously proposed for thinking: aporiai, contradiction and dialectic, epoche, reflection, etc. Lucretius proposes “attention”; similarly, perhaps what we need to expect is not clarity of vision but, rather, we need to learn how to listen.

Panagia: the poetics of politics

Why the image? Panagia has also answered this question, though perhaps less emphatically as one might like (for one, Panagia explicitly avoids the term “the musical” in favor of “the poetic”). In proposing a poetics of political thinking, Panagia has taken important (though early) first steps, faithful to the spirit of Rancière, in the diachronous (or what Desmond would call the metaxological; or what could even be called metaxiological) thinking of aesthetics and politics. But the insight expressed by Panagia’s method is not simply the value of aesthetics for politics and political thinking (although the reading of Rawls given therein, for example, is second perhaps only to MacAdam’s deconstruction of the original position) but the development of a poetics of thinking that preserves the (not just formal) distinction between ontology and logic and the refusal to reduce ethics to either (a poetics of political thinking is, rather, an account of the ethics of representation).

In other terms: the image is what, in representation, exceeds the subject. But of course this is unhelpful because everything exceeds the subject. It is something like, in the Lyotardian-Kantian sublime, the experience of this excess. Or, succinctly, the image is precisely what Bergson said it was (no one else has managed to say it better): the universe is simply an ensemble of images.