Being Is Primary Over Knowledge, Jamming, 10/04/2018

Being is primary over knowledge. That’s the fundamental principle of empiricism, that human knowledge and thinking always has something to learn from the world. The world can surprise a human thinker easily, ordinarily. Or maybe rarely. But it always can.

I’m keeping it short tonight. I’ve had a super-long day. I’m going to have a lot of super-long days moving apartments, and I’m only moving up the road.

Pictured: The logic of colonialism expressed in mass murder.
Knowledge doesn’t exist to determine being. Knowledge is a means of exploring existence. We contribute to building the world, but it’s a dynamic process of feedback – far from the determination of logic.

The refusal to be surprised is a refusal to take what’s different from you as something to learn from. It rejects the dignity of the different. The logic of colonialism is expressed ontologically.

This doesn’t reduce that complex ontology of high modernism – the kind Deleuze found in Immanuel Kant and Georg Hegel – to a colonial ideology. One is the expression of the other. Neither is primary absolutely. Ontological vocab works to develop the idea in one context. Political vocab in another.

Michael Hardt’s book about Gilles Deleuze’s early years describes the older man as a young thinker. Not about his daily life, of course, which was unexciting – teaching secondary school, mostly in Lyon, raising his young family, bored out of his mind.

A man who’d lost his brother to a Gestapo prison cell might wish for an unexciting life, I suppose. Though he applied all the time for jobs back in Paris.

Deleuze saw the influence of that ontological chauvinism – that human reason determined the fundamental structure of reality – as something that desperately needed to be overcome. It had led to disaster politically, and increasingly insular navel-gazing among the philosophers of his country.

He sought to overcome it not by arguing against it, but my articulating a philosophical vision so alien to it that it didn’t even need to refer to the hubris and ego of ontological rationalism. In doing so, he set a model for the most thorough empiricism to come yet from the Western tradition.

And he argued for that empiricism by showing all the amazing things you could do with that approach to thinking that you simply couldn’t with hubristic rationalism.

That, to me, is the most interesting part of his career because it’s the most creative part, especially after he junked his Freudian influences through collaborating with Félix Guattari and wrote some explicitly political philosophy.

Having read Hardt’s book, I’m not sure that it really does Deleuze’s thinking justice to frame all of his creative later developments in this early, reactionary phase of his thinking. He’s still running away. Not yet able to stand on his own (and with his friends) to articulate a real philosophical alternative to the modernist model.

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