The Fastest Possible Revolution, Composing, 30/11/2015

I picked up some Leo Strauss again, after having put the book down during some hectic weeks. But I think his ideas, particularly as they’re expressed in Natural Right and History, are undeniably insightful about the utopian, revolutionary drive in humanity.

Strauss is supposed to be the philosophical inspiration of the neoconservatives! you shout. And you do. Because it’s true, at least as far as popular discourse – the flows of punditry and political analysis throughout television and the internet – is concerned. 

Is this man a Straussian? No, he's Bill Kristol.
If I involve Strauss’ ideas in the Utopias manuscript, and it looks like I will, it’ll be as a demonstration. The idea that the intellectual leaders of the neoconservative movement that took the American military to Iraq are dedicated Straussians is an intellectual conspiracy.

I literally mean a conspiracy. This article traces the first appearances of the modern consensus Strauss-influenced-the-neocons meme to have begun with an article published by Lyndon Larouche. Larouche apparently claims in this essay that several figures in the Reagan Administration and their associates were followers of Strauss’ political philosophy.

Then Larouche makes an absurd claim that Strauss’ political philosophy is profoundly opposed to his Promethean nature as an engine of progress for humanity in the ever-progressing power of our technology to conquer nature. 

Larouche, in his heyday, was an American communist revolutionary who attempted to build his new society on the recruitment model of a cult. Right down to allegedly brainwashing citizens to have a completely different set of moral presumptions, premises for a morality of Marxist utopia.

From this man and organization came this conspiracy that many in popular discourse believe. I took it for granted so much that I started reading the book as research for my Utopias project. Yet if its source really is a fellow-traveller of Jim Jones, the notion must be absurd.

As I read in Strauss this weekend when I was relaxing with Natural Right and History, you find the truth of a phenomenon by examining its origin.

Yes, Lyndon Larouche is still around and doing things.
In material history, the connection between Strauss and Team Wolfowitz is the product of a philosophical Marxist L. Ron Hubbard. But the myth is widely enough believed that examining conservative thinking AS IF it were true can now teach us a lot about what contemporary conservative ideals are philosophically.

We can find the noble concept that sits in horror at how much violence and war has happened around it. No one ever thought of this concept until after the fact. But it’s the unspoken attractor in the phase space of society. It never even existed until after enough events, actions, and thoughts expressed it. A tendency that manifests without governing.

The conspiracy that the neocons are Straussians is so widely believed by now as to make Strauss part of the intellectual atmosphere of the real conservative movement. Some young Republican is probably reading him now, because he’s heard the same conspiracy theory that the liberal press believes. He just likes what he hears.

What would he hear? I think there’d be two principles.

1) Democracy is the best form of human government we’ve come up with, and people shouldn’t have to live in constant fear of their government. 

2) The world will be at peace when all people are free and treat each other as brothers – this is the natural right of all people for justice, arrived by reason.

I don't think Strauss would be amused to hear
how I talk about him, but he's dead. So he
can become a retroactive inspiration
without making a big deal about it.
That second principle makes Strauss sound more like an anarchist than a contemporary conservative. He describes how democracy leads to a peaceful society where everyone helps each other. But becoming such a society requires everyone to follow their powers of reasoning well enough to uncover the truth for themselves.

This is still revolutionary. Even if the universal truth reason discovers is pretty much what you already believed, if you’re really using your reason, then you’ll have turned against your society anyway. You’ll reject your starting moral beliefs because they’ re products of authority, not reason.

That’s a tough transformation, as if the only way to build a democracy is to be their Socrates, only actually effective. Person by person, you inspire and nudge them to be more mindful of freedom, and to care for others. That makes a society full of people who wouldn’t kill or hurt another.

But that’s a really slow process. The Bill Kristol that lives in our collective head, the magazine editor of neocon doctrine, believes that this will be when every government in the world is democratic. And we can just bomb and invade our way to global democracy.

“As fast as you can!” is not the same as, “As fast as is possible.”

To Live as the Cosmos, Doctor Who: Heaven Sent, Reviews, 29/11/2015

Sartre wrote, through the mouths of his characters, a detail that people always forget when they misunderstand him, that hell is other people. Well, Doctor Who demonstrated the opposite this week. If hell is anything, it’s isolation.

No, it’s worse than that. But you’ll need some 


because the solution to the mystery of what the mysterious castle of Heaven Sent is, reveals probably the most terrifying concept that Steven Moffat’s ever come up with.

The Doctor arrives in a teleportation chamber, seemingly for the first time. It’s right after Clara’s death in Face the Raven. He’s pursued by a creeping, unstoppable monster. It says nothing, and is only a spectre of death, drawn from his first nightmare, relentlessly tracking him. 

He knows that if it touches him, it will kill him. So he runs, figuring out the mechanics of the clockwork castle he’s in. He figures out how to manipulate confrontations with the creature to rearrange the castle and give him more time. 

He figures out the mystery of the place one step at a time, and reaches the last, inescapable dead end: a 25 foot thick wall harder than diamond that he’ll have to punch through to escape.

But he’ll only get a few punches in before the creature catches up with him. Just a few punches to slowly chip away at this harder-than-rock wall. All the time, he’s terrified of death. And when we finally see it, it’s horrifying. 

He can only get a few punches in at a time, the impact almost shattering his hand. After all the effort of investigating the trap, all the fear and terror of fleeing this unstoppable murder machine, he’s still lost. He achieves no more victory than a raindrop’s erosion against a cliff.

The Doctor dies. He loses. It’s his worst nightmare, that all his effort, ingenuity, and fear adds up to nothing. Just another undignified death, burned almost beyond recognition and climbing back through the stairs of the castle to the teleportation chamber.

Where he starts again, from the same spot, as if he’d just arrived from the end of Face the Raven. With none of the knowledge he’d accumulated from the last time. The Doctor disintegrates his body to recreate himself from the memory banks of the transporter.

The climactic montage makes it clear. He does it all again. Step by step. Exactly as before. The fall into the sea where the castle rests, the chases through the corridors, timing how far away he can get from the plodding spectre of death. Those few pathetic punches against a cliff face. Death.

And again.

The version Heaven Sent spends itself with takes place 6000 years after the Doctor arrives. Eventually, he repeats this exact sequence of events – the terror, the puzzle, death – for another 7000 years. 12,000 years. 1,000,000 years. 400,000,000 years. 2-billion years. 

He repeats the events of Heaven Sent, probably only a few days of his own life, over and over again for 2-billion years. 

At one point, the Doctor thinks about the castle’s nature as a prison for himself, a personal hell. Nothing wrong with that, he thinks, “Hell’s just Heaven for bad people.” Then he asks himself, “How long will I have to stay here?”

This is what I love about Moffat more than Russell T Davies. When Davies wanted to apply a sense of scale to the Doctor’s travels, he’d talk about the huge swaths of time we’ve covered in an episode. “We’re in the year 500,000!” “We’ve gone to the year five-billion!” “We’re at the end of the universe! 100-trillion years in the future!”

All these are huge numbers, but they’re just numbers. Declarations.

Moffat has written a story that displays for you the visceral experience of actually living through 2-billion years of time. You see a full story that, as you watch the montage of that slow wearing impact, its narrative gives you a sense of each repetition’s lived duration.

Once you feel the grit of that experience in watching the hour of Heaven Sent, you have something more than a superficial conception of just how much time an astronomical figure like 2-billion years really is. 

Our sense of lived time that we follow through a story gives us a sense of time’s accumulation, and we can conceive astronomical quantities as more than just empty words. 

And it’s the Doctor’s experience. He’s the only speaking role in the episode. It’s his story and his alone. He can actually think and act on the scale on which a Time Lord can think. 

People have tried to communicate the Doctor’s alien, inhuman nature in different ways throughout the show. Sometimes, it’s with a morality that’s often callous, letting some tragedy or great evil happen for a cosmological scale judgment that it will all turn out for the best.

Sometimes, the Doctor is just written as an ass, emotionally oblivious to how others think. “He thinks like an alien, so he doesn’t know how to relate to people.” Even Moffat has written the Doctor this way, with Peter Capaldi’s callousness and Matt Smith’s comic self-absorption. 

No, Moffat has just pushed himself farther into the truly alien than he’s ever gone as a writer of Doctor Who. Here’s how alien the Doctor is.

The Doctor has one confession left, and the creature is after his confession. If he gives it when he’s still in the castle and under the creature’s power, there’ll be no reason to keep him alive anymore. So he has to get away without giving the last of the information it wants. 

To get that last bit of information, the castle will let the Doctor run through the process again. And he gets that must closer to escape each time. One more raindrop on Mount Everest. 

On his own, he thinks it’s perfectly reasonable to live through Heaven Sent enough times to wear the Himalayas down to a prairie plain by smacking it with his fist. Just so he’ll be able to break out.

That is the time scale at which the Doctor operates as a practical individual. He even plans his quip to unfold over 2-billion years of repetitions.

The end of Heaven Sent leads into the season finale and the return of Gallifrey. After the pinnacle of this episode, adventuring with the Time Lords and Maisie Williams again will be a bit of a comedown.

But maybe that’s the real underlying theme of this season, exploring what it means to live on a cosmic scale of duration. Ashildir explores this in one way, and haunts the Doctor through the season, a spectre of how to break immortality badly.

This episode shows, more than any direct confrontation between the two, how their immortality differs.

Ashildir drifts from job to job, life to life. Viking storyteller, nurse, soldier, landowner, highwayman, watcher of the Doctor for a while, then administrator of a refugee camp. She drifts, she gets bored, restless, and forgets. She forgets her past, her motivation, her purpose.

The Doctor is able to maintain a sense of purpose and dedication through the repetitive wearing of 2-billion years. A purpose so powerful that he'll experience his actual death every few days for 2-billion years. Because eventually one of him will wear down the Himalayas. If he keeps losing for that long, he'll win.

Thinking and living on a cosmic scale, and capable of maintaining dedication the entire time. That's the ethical power of the character.

Gilles in LA V: Speculate Pragmatically, A History Boy, 27/11/2015

Since this series on the LA Review of Book's essays on Gilles Deleuze is done, I'm going to include all the links to my other posts. Here's Deleuze, Guattari, and the fluidity of identity; the self-destructive habits of academic scholarship today; how philosophy helps us understand our world in ways we've never thought of before; and why everyone should read philosophy, but not the way it's taught in schools.
• • •
Brian Massumi wrote one of those essays in the LA Review of Books about Gilles Deleuze. I remember reading one of his books, Parables of the Virtual, just over three years ago. It was remarkably dense, and a little too long for its purpose, but a wonderful book.

Massumi is one of the most metal philosophers working
in the academy today.
It took me a while to read it because I had just started work at an answering service, and I hadn’t yet adjusted how I scheduled my days around it to get enough reading time in. Reading is part of how I relax. 

Massumi talks about how Deleuze took so long to take off among the American followers of upstart French philosophy. He says a major reason was because there were so many different concepts, ideas, and inquiries threading across Deleuze and Félix Guattari’s works, you couldn’t focus on one single theme that stands out among them and could define the whole.

But there is, says Massumi. I agree with him, even if I think his essay is too long for what it ultimately achieves. I suspect this might be a feature of Massumi’s work.

Anyway, Massumi calls Deleuze’s philosophy, in its buzz-worthy phrase, Speculative Pragmatism. As he unpacks the label, it fits quite well with how I’ve come to understand Deleuze’s ideas and what they can do in the tradition of philosophical writing and discourse. 

Here’s a little story about philosophy. It’s really simple. So simple, it doesn’t really explain anything, except why I think Deleuze was our last real vanguard of thought.

Jean-François Lyotard came up with the term post-
modernism, so blame him if you have a problem.
So post-modernism was a thing that happened in the intellectual scene. The ideas this tradition developed were really useful to understanding the limits of human knowledge and how our knowledge can be manipulated. 

But the philosophy could never quite escape charges of relativism. It was the first school in the Western tradition to go all the way in rejecting transcendent sources or grounds of knowledge (like God, or eternal being, which amount to the same thing). 

Without this, it was left without any hooks to secure our knowledge. No to distinguish the truth from my, your, our, and their truths.

Postmodernism developed through the 1970s into the 2000s. It was largely French, though the German Martin Heidegger was an important influence. It gained a few American adherents, like Richard Rorty in philosophy, and became a standard framework in literature studies. 

Postmodernism makes contemporary meta-textuality in fiction possible. So thank you, or damn you, depending on what you think of that.

The relativism problem had a solution, but it had been developed decades before among the American pragmatists. Charles Sanders Peirce was the first to articulate the problem and engage with it. William James dealt with it as an ethical problem, and came up with the definitive pragmatist solution.

I'm always a little saddened that William James didn't
live longer than Charles Peirce. Peirce was older, and
did much more cocaine.
Stop thinking about knowledge as having the ultimate goal of being true. Knowledge is instead fundamentally about being useful. Knowledge is a tool to work in the world.

After James died, John Dewey expanded and applied this idea in fantastically interesting ways through pretty much every domain of human knowledge. The man’s archives are enormous, and he kept writing steadily until he died in his 90s. 

The Big Three American pragmatists were the only group of historically noteworthy writers in philosophy to solve the postmodern relativism problem. But no one realized it* because they never engaged with it explicitly. How could they? They wrote decades before postmodernism existed.

* Until Larry Hickman, in his book Pragmatism as Post-Postmodernism. In 2007.

Pragmatism had two problems. After Dewey, no one really rose to be his equal, the way he did to James. So by the time we reach today, pragmatism as a sub-discipline in academic philosophy consists of mostly of commentary on Peirce, James, and Dewey. The ambition’s gone out of it.

More than this, pragmatism doesn’t really leave room for philosophy. The project that used to be called metaphysics, thinking about the fundamental structures of reality, gets relegated to science.**

If philosophy can be said to progress, then its greatest
writers push the tradition in new directions. Deleuze
pushed farthest of anyone in the direction he wanted.
Many others had many different directions, but none
pushed harder and farther than Deleuze.
** Like the analytic philosophy school that adopted all the basics of pragmatism while ignoring the Big Three’s names. And frankly, science is more conceptually inventive than a lot of analytic metaphysics, because the metaphysicians rely on our intuitions as a guide to truth. Because quantum physics has made so much progress following our intuitions about reality.

At a conference four years ago on pragmatism and wider American philosophy, I told the organizer, Colin Koopman, that Deleuze clarifies all the mysteries and problems that Dewey’s thinking left behind.

So we’re back to speculative pragmatism, the theme-as-buzzword of Deleuze’s philosophy. He made philosophy itself a practical matter: we create concepts that help us adapt human nature to a changing world. All the metaphysical systems and ideas we develop amount to these profound transformative agents. 

Philosophy as the most powerful conceptual tool in human capacity.

Gilles in LA IV: We Are Fluid, Research Time, 26/11/2015

Adrian Parr’s essay about what it means to create and employ concepts cuts to the heart of what makes Gilles Deleuze a brilliant inspiration for our era of political, social, and economic tumult.

The basic idea is that when you do philosophy at its most powerful, you're creating concepts. New ways to think, new ways to understand the world. They let you perceive and activate potential in the world and yourself that you never knew existed before.

Sounds pretty utopian, and a little hippie-dippie. But that’s the idea.

She lists a bunch, and I like lists. Not ranked lists, or ordered lists, just random lists that you can find your own order in.
“Deterritorialization and reterritorialization, smooth space and striated space, the molar and the molecular, majoritarian and minoritarian.”
That’s just a few. If there's a common theme, it's becoming. How what was becomes what we are, and how what we are contains the potential to change completely. And all of that potential for flux is in us, and everything, every day. It’s ordinary.

And if there's a more specific theme to most of Deleuze’s concepts,* at least as it relates to politics, it's that everything about human identity and existence has the potential for complete transformation. That potential is in us every day. It's ordinary.

Reading a good book is like speaking
with a ghost. Sometimes, writing a
good book feels like channelling
ghosts too.
* I’m including, of course, the concepts that he created along with his collaborator, Félix Guattari, because when they worked together, they were practically the same person and a huge crowd all at the same time. One of the sweetest gestures Deleuze ever made in his life was giving Guattari a co-author credit on What Is Philosophy?, when he was too sick from heart disease to take part himself. The freaky thing is, What Is Philosophy? still reads in the style of their actual co-authored books.

That's an idea we should think about in our era of campus and student politics today, especially if you're looking at the American situation. There are many ways to think about today’s campus demonstrations, University of Missouri and Yale being the most notable.

Some of their most visible critics think of these protestors as against liberalism, against free speech. Sympathetic analysts have more complex interpretations, like when Jeet Heer described the rise of trigger warnings as a legitimate politicization of the language of trauma

Popular discussion of PTSD, through which psychology developed a new understanding of memory, experience, and trauma, gave us a new political language. Where and when the philosophy happened depends on how you want to trace the concept's history. I don’t really have time for that right now.

But a common critique of the campus protest movement is that it’s a resurgence of political correctness and identity politics. Which is wrong, but interesting.

I own a fantastic biography of Deleuze and Guattari, Intersecting Lives. Among its many wonderful stories about the two men, it includes their fascinating and horrifyingly awkward collision with the feminist activists of American universities in the early 1980s.

This is when identity politics was genuinely huge. Deleuze and Guattari held a panel at a conference in Columbia, and many young feminist scholars and activists were in the audience. They reacted with rage to how they presented their concept of becoming-woman. 

A reality TV star becomes an icon of a new definition
of human existence. That's mass media for you.
In modern language, we'd call it mansplaining, with a concept that seemed to deny the validity of the female experience. But Deleuze and Guattari’s ideas about how gender can fluctuate beyond a binary seems much more ordinary today.

Because we’ve had three decades of development in trans activism since then, an intellectual field where gender and sexuality fluidity is the norm. Binary talk about gender and sex is now understood to be itself discriminatory, violent language. 

Look at the bile about trans people that spews from Germaine Greer's mouth whenever she gets the opportunity to vomit it out. She denounces, for example, trans women as men trying to appropriate women’s experiences and identities. 

When what's really going on is that the conception of gender as fixed is being thrown out the window. Trans activism and philosophy is teaching us that the material reality of gender has so much more potential than a fixed binary framework can make sense of. 

Like all visionaries, the world has caught up to the strange expressions of Deleuze and Guattari. The next step is to push thought forward again into strange new directions. And our reality will follow.

Gilles in LA III: Beyond Exhausted, Composing, 25/11/2015

Brad Evans is another academic who wrote about Gilles Deleuze in the LA Review of Books.* He talks about a curious academic phenomenon, which I want to talk about in more detail. Let’s call it critical exhaustion.

* It’s been a few days since I last wrote about this series, so here are those links. Deleuze is a really important influence on a lot of my thinking and writing in non-fiction, arts, and in my daily life. But because most of that reading came before I started this writing blog, he isn’t always on it as often as he should be. At least explicitly.

The PowerPoint graphics of an exhausted generation.
Exhaustion, generally speaking, is a pretty common concept among my generation. This is the generation of people in North America who entered the workforce through the last decade of recession. 

We’re all desperately trying to build a respectable career and life in a social context where so many social safety nets have been stripped bare, and so much labour has been casualized or interned. Exhaustion and anxiety has become an ordinary state of mind. I’ve certainly felt that quite a lot lately.

But there’s a different kind of exhaustion, which I noticed was becoming dangerously common in my old field of academics. Evans makes a good summary, and it goes something like this.

Most folks in the philosophy discipline, especially those who specialize in “Continental” philosophy,** aren’t really encouraged to do creative work of their own. The cultural atmosphere of the field encourages them to build their research profiles writing secondary literature on major figures in their chosen sub-tradition.

** A false label if there ever was one. Basically, in North America, all the French and German writers in existentialist, phenomenological, structuralist, post-structuralist, radical political, or broadly post-modernist strains are called Continental. Europeans don’t really know what this word means.

He is seriously the Gilles Deleuze of rap music. I will
make this metaphor work. Somehow.
In the 20 years since his death, Deleuze has blown up like Kanye in North American academia, at least among the Continental scholars. So a huge number of people started writing on Deleuze. 

And the articles are flowing out of people and into journals*** at a skull-crushing pace. So many academics are stuck in precarious adjunct employment, that they’re desperate to grow their publications to land the shrinking number of tenure-track positions. So they produce an enormous number of articles on their chosen sub-disciplines and central figures.

*** Most of which are behind paywalls so high that even universities themselves can’t afford to stock them anymore. Countless articles that no one reads. 

But they can’t just repeat what another scholar has said. Even in a culture that encourages coat-tail riding over real conceptual originality, you need to find your own take on your focal figure. 

This ends up producing a research culture in philosophy that desperately uncovers as many possible interpretations of the various canonized writers as are plausible. Then the community moves on to the ridiculously implausible interpretations. 

Like Daniel Smith’s career-long contention that Deleuze was a closet Kantian the entire time, or Alain Badiou and Peter Hallward’s case that Deleuze was actually a massive hypocrite who really believed the opposite of everything he wrote.

Evans thinks we’ve reached that point in Deleuze scholarship. That there’s not much else to get out of interpreting the man’s philosophy as such. But that doesn’t mean it’s over.

Here's how I explain what a creative person is. Deleuze
had something to do with shaping the idea, but I was on
this track even before I started reading him in detail. A
genuinely creative person writes with the ambition of
one day becoming someone who gets written about.
Critical exhaustion is the atmosphere in modern academia that exhausts these interpretations. More quickly than ever, what can be said about someone is exhausted. Everything sensible to say is already in someone else’s words. So the academic commentariat drifts away to tear into the next idol.

But real creativity isn’t piling these interpretations on top of each other. An interpretation is a creative act, but it doesn’t go as far as possible into the new. It’s just talking about something or someone. 

Evans says that exhaustion can turn into defeat. Looking at Deleuze scholarship, and at the lives of an entire generation of North Americans, that appears to be the case. But it also means we can return to these books without the burden of having to talk about them.

Instead, we can talk with them, and develop new ideas and approaches to our common problems with these books as companions. Let the commentary die away for a while. Let’s start to think instead. 

Let’s not think only with our favourite authors. Let’s think with each other, and maybe find solutions to the problems of our world.

The Only Way, Doctor Who: Face the Raven, Reviews, 22/11/2015

I’m glad this episode was as good as it is. From the top,


because Face the Raven will go down as the best companion death episode that’s ever been done in Doctor Who. Though I’ll be the first to admit that this was about the right time for Clara to go, the actual death of a companion is some serious business. 

Steven Moffat often talks about how important it is that
Doctor Who not become stuck repeating its past. It has
to try new things to survive. So I'm glad Clara's death
comes when it does. It's the departure of a regular cast
member that, while superbly effective, isn't treated
with the bombastic context of a season finale.

But it made for legendary Doctor Who.I mean, we’re not dealing with Adric here. 

Let’s contrast the case. Adric’s death was a needless ploy in a story that would probably have had him leaving the TARDIS anyway to return to his home dimension. 

Instead, his death became the perfect symbol of how wasted he was on the show. A decent, if over-earnest, young student-style companion to Tom Baker, he had no place in the Classic Season 19 TARDIS crew. With Tom, Adric was half of a double-act, the companion that would mess up and get into trouble.

Adric was always that type of character: he was smart enough to think he knew how to fix a problem, but not smart enough to figure out the right thing to do. Fine when you’re the only companion. 

But Classic Season 19 introduced a less domineering Doctor in Peter Davison, the adventurous and stumbling Tegan, and the more assured scientist Nyssa. The two new companions had a brilliant dynamic together since Castrovalva. Adric had no place left. He was just flailing around on the TARDIS.

So while Adric had to leave the show, there was nothing particularly compelling about how he left. He was a companion whose potential on the show ran out of steam when there was plenty left to explore in the rest of the crew. So Adric had to leave, but he didn’t have to die.

It was an event – let’s kill a long-running companion for the first time ever – but without a reason. The death of a companion in Doctor Who is serious enough, both in its rarity and its power in the show, that it becomes a major event. 

While my main argument in this post is that Clara didn't
have the potential in her character to stay on Doctor
Who anymore, at least her death was properly tragic.
Adric's death is, in contrast, celebrated among Doctor
Who fandom as something we love to watch happen
to one of the most annoying characters in the show's
history. Kind of undercuts the event's drama.
And that major event was for a character who was such a damp squib as Adric? Trying to generate powerful drama without any attempt at establishing it over the long term. Mistaking a vague sketch of the dramatic for the real thing.

But let’s leave aside John Nathan-Turner’s narrative aesthetics. What can this teach us about Clara?

Her death was powerful. A beautiful and affecting moment. The direction certainly helped, with understated music playing over her otherwise silent scream. Her final speech to the Doctor was also moving, and cut straight to the heart of their relationship.

She was the voice of conscience that saves the Doctor from being a true genocidal killer.* An opposition to cynicism is probably the ethical stance that Doctor Who most consistently makes, and it’s at the heart of the show.

* And Doctor Who from revolving around an aching abyss of moral contradiction, the hero who murdered billions of innocents.

The Doctor is a character who, as he’s developed, has become someone dedicated to finding a better resolution to intractable conflict. “There’s always a better way.” That’s exactly what The Zygon Inver(s)ion was all about a couple of weeks ago.

The one terrifying moment where this broke down was the Time War, which was overwritten when Clara Oswald appeared in its climactic moment. The Doctor today is a harsh and intense character, especially as he’s developed under Peter Capaldi. Such a character can easily succumb to cynicism, the damnation of everyone because of their situation.

Conscience is the voice of calm, the engine of sympathy. It’s why the Doctor, after Clara’s last instructions, tells Ashildir to hide from him, so as not to risk his anger. But I’m getting ahead of myself again.

Clara had to leave Doctor Who because she had run out of
potential, a curious concept. See, Doctor Who thrives by
doing something new, building on what had gone before
to change completely. Its successes are lessons that let
you make new mistakes later. The driving concept
of Ashildir's character illustrates this principle.
Conscience is the foundation of ethical behaviour, our inner motive not to give into to the worst solution for the world. It’s the kick of energy that makes us care for those who suffer. Clara’s role in The Day of the Doctor put this aspect of her character at the forefront.

So it’s narratively fitting that her death would call back to this central part of her character, which was so important to the most important episode of modern Doctor Who.** It’s also fitting that Ashildir, whose current villainous nature is the result of the Doctor’s misplaced conscience, is responsible for Clara’s death.

** The second most important episode being The Time of the Doctor, for kicking away this moronic continuity of the 12-regenerations limit that was holding Doctor Who’s future hostage.

Getting ahead of myself again.

She also mentioned Danny Pink, whose own death (all three of them) were essential to the climax of Clara’s most important narrative arc on the show.

I originally wrote in my posts on Death in Heaven that this was Clara’s perfect departure, her and the Doctor’s tragic moments of personal loss. But since Jenna Coleman returned to Doctor Who, they needed another year out of the character.

The problem is that when you have a storyline as brilliant as Clara and Danny’s relationship over the last season, it’s damn tough to top. It’s no surprise that they couldn’t find something else as powerful. 

So Clara found herself being written out of her own show. Little by little, she had less and less to do this season. A substantial lead role in The Magician’s Apprentice became the Master’s stooge in The Witch’s Familiar

Ashildir is immortal, and The Woman Who Lived sees
her compare herself to the Doctor, as a fellow
immortal. But the Doctor is an immortal who can
change, each regeneration remixing his personality in
a new way each time. Ashildir is an immortal who
remains constantly the same.
Under the Lake / Before the Flood was a pretty ordinary story with an ordinary role for her. And her role was big enough in The Girl Who Died as in most episodes with a strong guest character. 

But then The Woman Who Lived was a solo Doctor adventure, with a single appearance from Clara. The Zygon Inva(er)sion saw Clara totally sidelined in favour of Bonnie. Jenna Coleman gave her best performance of the year, apart from this week’s, as Bonnie. It was another sign that the character was through. Coleman’s performance was most interesting when she was playing another character.

Her story arc this year was especially thin. All they really had for Clara this year was that she was growing especially reckless. Without Danny, she really didn’t have a home to go back to – and we never see any of her home, family, or Coal Hill School this season. 

So her joy at the wonders of the universe becomes a mad adventurousness, thrill-seeking, risk-taking. Compare it to her love story with Danny and its conflict of Clara’s love of travelling with Danny’s joy in building a community and life.

Clara’s thin development this season finally gave in to the initial complaint about her character, that she was a stereotypical generic competent companion. This complaint was based in a perceptual mistake of the audience that believed it. 

Her first season’s story arc, the mystery of the multiple Clara’s, was a red herring to trick the audience out of seeing her real story. Clara’s first season was the story of a woman with a conscience powerful enough that she’d give herself up to save someone she cared about. 

Clara is a young woman with an incredible sense of joy at the beauty of the universe, but who also had this deep ethical core. The same Clara who risked sacrificing herself to save the Doctor and the universe in Night of the Doctor is the same one who did sacrifice herself to save her friend Rigsy in Face the Raven.

Each time we see Ashildir, she becomes less interesting.
In The Girl Who Died, she's remarkably creative enough
to merit the Doctor saving her, and to become the hero
of the story. By Face the Raven, she's become another
typical Doctor Who petty tyrant with a chip on her
shoulder. In never changing, she becomes
progressively less than what she had been.
All this makes for a truly satisfying end to her character in Doctor Who. Her recklessness gets the better of her, but it does so thanks to her conscience, to protect her friend. She calls back to Danny, the love of her life. 

Even the TARDIS memorial Rigsy makes for Clara is a touching callback to the original arc of the TARDIS’ initial distaste for her.

And she reminds her best friend, the Doctor, never to forget his conscience, even when her death will make him very much want to. So Ashildir gets the most appropriate ending for her arc as well.

Ashildir gets told, essentially. Her scheme to steal the TARDIS key for a mysterious third party*** is an attempt to punch above her weight as a villain. She becomes a villain capable of luring the Doctor into an iron-clad trap, a control of Doctor Who’s narrative that only the greatest villains can achieve.

*** Who’ll be the main villains of the finale, Hell Bent, in the conclusion to another brilliant three-part story. They’re rare in modern Doctor Who, but when they have a solid structure and purpose, they work brilliantly.

Because other than that, Ashildir is basically just another petty tyrant with a wild concept behind her. She runs the refugee street as a tyrant, ruthless in her enforcement of brutal rules. It’s the paradigm concept of villainy in Doctor Who, but she's just another example. Depressingly ordinary. She shouldn't be given the narrative weight of forcing terrible violence from our hero in a quest for revenge.****

**** Another wonderful meta-fictional aspect of Clara's death. She makes the Doctor promise not to make her death the motive of an anti-heroic revenge narrative. Essentially, she promises the Doctor not to put her in a fridge.

But her key concept makes her a fitting parallel to Clara’s perfect narrative culmination. Ashildir is an immortal who sheds her memories, becoming dissociated from them as they’ve become stories in her notebooks instead of visceral experiences. 

All her lasting associations and friendships disappear into a past she doesn’t even remember. Ashildir has truly become Me, a pure indexical, a presence and personality without her own lived narrative. 

Rigsy, meanwhile, is the perfect character to spur Clara's
death-by-conscience. The entire meta-fictional joke of
her first season's storyline was that underneath this
elaborate sci-fi problem, Clara was always an
ordinary person who stepped up to become a hero
when it was needed. She died doing the same for
another ordinary person who had become a hero
helping defeat the Boneless in Flatline, Rigsy.
Her choice of a Janus woman as supposed victim is appropriate in this sense. These aliens can telepathically perceive the complete narrative of everyone they meet. No one has any secrets from them, and they perceive everyone around them completely.

No wonder the Janus disguised her daughter as a non-telepathic male. Female Januses must be the most hated creatures in the universe. But she’d also be a call of conscience for Me, able to recall her entire narrative for her. 

Because when you know the whole of someone’s narrative, you understand how they became the way the are. That knowledge makes it impossible to hate anyone.

I don’t know if we’ll get to explore that potential for Ashildir / Me, since Maisie Williams’ time on Doctor Who seems to be finished. As is Jenna Coleman’s, though her potential as a character has been thoroughly explored. 

Yes, I always liked her character. Especially her interaction with Capaldi, and her pivotal role in Day of the Doctor. Face the Raven wasn’t the perfect ending to her character’s time on the show. That would have been if Death in Heaven had been her last episode. Her largely superfluous role this season is a sign that her character stuck around a season too long.

But as an end to one of the longest, deepest, and most complex companion narratives in the history of Doctor Who, it was fantastic.

We’ll always have the DVDs.

Gilles in LA II: Ziggy Bizaggy, Composing, 20/11/2015

I like this essay by Patricia Pisters about Gilles Deleuze and the weird, unexpected, non-intuitive collisions and convergences of his thought with other regions of knowledge and reality. It makes me smile.

Deleuze also explored languages and writing styles that
emerged from cultures who blended multiple influences.
Like Kafka, who wrote in German but was Czech, and
was deeply connected spiritually to the Hebrew language.
There are other, maybe less refined, examples.
When you read a book or an essay of his, you never know where he's going to take you, which conceptual intersections will turn out to be meaningful. I’ve heard this used as a reason to insult Deleuze, that he connects things at random, which have nothing to do with each other.

Is that right? Or is he revealing connections that have always been there, always mattered, but that most of us rarely see because they're counter-intuitive to us?

I mean, you can probably tell that I think so. I’ve already said that he’s one of my favourite authors. 

There are a few common ways of building arguments in academic philosophy, as a discipline, that I think are utterly wrong-headed. The dumbest of these, in my opinion, is the argument that begins from the obvious. 

“We all know that these principles are true,” he writes, “and from these intuitively and obviously true facts, we can derive the following, which must be true because they are derived from the obviously true.” Bollocks.

For one thing, human intuitions and what appears obviously true to us are the worst guides to actual truth imaginable. As far as you can say that science progresses, our improving knowledge has overturned more and more of what seems comfortably or intuitively obvious to us.

Deleuze really was a pretty radical guy. You'd never
know it to look at him, though. That's France.
But most importantly for human creativity, building an argument solely on deriving conclusions from obvious, intuitive, uncontroversial points is dull. It’s boring. It’s an exercise in conformity and self-satisfaction. Great works of art and philosophy challenge you and take you to territory you’ve never explored, along paths you never knew existed.

Those paths are what Deleuze, in his last long videotaped interviews, called zigzags. A genuinely creative person – no matter the field: philosophy, art, even business – can discover these unintuitive, but meaningful and effective, relationships in the world.

The last buzzword I remember that described creativity this way was “lateral thinking.” It eventually went the way of all buzzwords. Too many were using it who themselves had no idea how to think.

Pisters talks about what she considers one of the most useful concepts in Deleuze’s work. How he and Guattari understand the world with metaphors of geology and metallurgy. We don’t usually think that way, but when they do, it feels like they’re transforming your world.

They let us see how much of the modern industrial world is rooted in the manipulation of metals, and how scarcity of metals produces inescapable cruelty at the material centre of what makes it possible: the mine. You refuse to buy blood diamonds? You can’t turn away from blood coltan. I’m typing on it right now.

Imagine enormous mountains of rusting metal, leaking
into the earth over thousands of years. They're
Metal is ubiquitous in our society, but we so rarely notice it. All the press in environmentalism is about oil, and deservedly so. But mines for the metals required for industry can cause just as much pollution.

Also, I discussed e-waste dumps in Ecology, Ethics, and the Future of Humanity, and Edward Burtynky's photographs of them. We've dotted the Earth with enormous dumps of rusting metal objects. Some are massive cargo ships, and some are six-story-tall piles of motherboards. Computer part waste leaks many toxic chemicals from their production process into groundwater.

In most of our mass media and the way popular culture thinks of pollution, mining and metal pollution aren’t really on the radar. I don’t even think computer waste ever got into a Captain Planet story.

That’s one of those zigzags in thought. A particular set of metaphors to explain our social phenomena can, in a practical sense, reveal dangers and injustices that were totally invisible to us before.

Gilles in LA I: Philosophy Should Be For Everyone, Jamming, 19/11/2015

I just wrote a review of a book about Plato to appear in the Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective. I wrote a couple of years ago about how I wanted to explore new ways of writing book reviews, and this is another one of those experiments.

My first encounter with Socrates.
It's written as a Platonic dialogue between me and Socrates. And I'm pretty sure I avoided being a pretentious fuckwad, which is the biggest challenge of all when you approach any kind of writing with “I’m going to write this as a Platonic dialogue between me and Socrates.”

Part of what I talked about in that book review was the legacy of dead philosophers. How we remember them, and what role they play in our larger culture. My generation has seen philosophy losing a lot of its public relevance. It’s another discipline regularly bashed by right-wingers – most recently by Marco Rubio – as useless and worthless for the economy and wider society.

Rachel Lu's article critiquing Rubio's advocacy for ignorance is valuable for several reasons. It contributes to the growing awareness that education in all sectors is growing increasingly inaccessible and produces crippling individual debt levels.

She’s right to emphasize the importance of the soft skills of proper philosophical education. Actually exploring these texts in full is quite difficult cognitive labour. It builds the soft skills of analysis and abstract creativity that will be very useful in whatever future career a person chooses. 

I was talking with a client the other day about how hard it can be to find genuinely creative people in some business-focussed careers like public relations and communications, where I ply my freelance contracts and day jobs. 

American conservatism has long had a strand of anti-
intellectualism, but the growing emphasis on the
virtues of ignorance and hostility to knowledge and
science has grown beyond worrisome. Here's a photo
of Marco Rubio looking smug, continuing my
tradition of posting unflattering images of political
leaders I dislike.
A communicator might advise that you should build your company’s image as a creative force, but not actually know how to communicate that unique personality. I thought of this when I was reading Gregg Lambert’s essay on Gilles Deleuze and his thinking in the LA Review of Books. 

Deleuze was a university professor, and embodied many stereotypes of the profession. Thankfully, it was mostly the positive ones. But Lambert chooses the death of Deleuze to meditate on a notion of the public intellectual that's disappeared in our culture for the most part.

It had to do with, in Deleuze’s words, the difference between the public intellectual as a “private thinker” who speaks her mind on issues and ideas, and a “public professor” who represents a particular dogma or brand.

Here's a really stark example. Jean-Paul Sartre discussed complex issues in public venues and challenged the French public on many problems of justice, especially, later in his life, anti-immigrant racism and post-colonial politics. Contrast Richard Dawkins, who has an impressive pedigree in science, but today mostly writes screeds advocating an aggressive, racist atheism that demonizes religious and ethnic minorities in Britain and Europe.

Deleuze was one of the last “private thinkers” in the academy, even though he had a reputation as a “public professor” because he was such an academic. But his life, work, and ideas were as singular as his concept of singularity.

Lambert doesn’t really explain it well in his essay. He mostly explains an illustration from Dickens’ Our Mutual Friend, used in Deleuze’s last essay before his own death. The novel's villain Riderhood nearly drowns in the Thames, and the people of a bar who know the bastard well still work to save his life.

Face it, he's always looked and acted like such a
stereotypical university professor.
The impersonal fire of life itself motivates people. That simple fact of being alive, in its very minimal sense, is the heart of humanity’s ethical call to care for each other. When Riderhood is a barely living corpse, he's precious, a life on the verge of sniffing out. 

As he wakes up, his disgusting nature as an individual is apparent to everyone, and they turn away. Probably with regret.

The singular is the particularity of a process or an existent (really the same thing), but without a fleshed out individuality. It’s unique, but only in its facticity, as the singular alone has no nature. Identity is built on the singular, its a-personal foundation.

Lambert gets the illustration wrong. He talks about the scene as if it happens early in a short story. Really, it's a dramatic scene about 600 pages into a massive tome. He sort of skirts over Deleuze's point too.

We think of individuality as uniqueness, but that’s not quite right. Being an individual means that you have properties that can be described in general terms. Once you have an identity, you're the instantiation of universal properties. You can be subsumed into a category.

The singular, not at all. It’s pure existence, the indexical – this here it. All that it is, is what it can become. It’s pure potential. A process in the instant before it starts moving and roiling along. The ability to change that hasn’t yet changed. The transition between nothingness and the Big Bang.

Wrap your head around that, which even long-experienced academic philosophers have trouble doing, and you can explain the uniqueness of anything.

When It’s Okay That Everything Changes, A History Boy, 18/11/2015

As humans – hell, as organisms – we’re uncomfortable with change. It’s quite a paradox. Life itself requires fluctuation, dynamisms in tension at so many different levels: cellular, ecological, medical, personal, economic, social. But the uncertainty of flux is a main source of anxiety. 

We enjoy security. Sameness comforts us, because stability protects us. Change means risk. There can be gains with risk, but there can also be loss. Ambition and anxiety go hand in hand. It's an inevitable dynamism. 

I’ve suffered from the anxiety of economic instability, though I’m slowly digging my way to a reasonable position again after several years. But for a long time, I’ve at least had the comfort that I know change is inevitable and positive. 

Deleuze looked like an eccentric, but he was actually a
pretty normal guy. From age 27, he had only one lung,
thanks to tuberculosis. He smoked heavily all his life.
And he had peculiarly sensitive fingertips, such that he
grew his nails extra long to protect them. And holy
shit, that combover!
Probably my most important source of this knowledge was the philosophy of Gilles Deleuze. I recommended one of his books, What Is Philosophy?, to a new client.* We were talking about the importance of creativity in a company’s communications, getting beyond generic guidelines to develop a singular personality for a company and a brand.

* I seem to have clients now. This is a nice feeling.

I’ve long found it frustrating about corporate communications that guidelines for how to be creative are so often incredibly generic. I cited What Is Philosophy? as an important book for understanding how creativity works. 

Now, it's absolutely fucking weird. Trippy in all the best ways. I’m interested to see what he thinks of it because neither English nor French is his first language, and Deleuze’s writing can be a challenge to anyone. But the challenge is worth it.

I know because What Is Philosophy? was the first book of Deleuze’s I’d read in full. I was 22. I’d had his book on Kant as a supplementary book in an early undergrad class, but I never read much of it until years later. And I mostly discovered Deleuze’s work in reverse.

He’s such a complicated writer that a lot of the academics I’ve met who specialize in his work think that you can't understand him until you've read everything. And he was absurdly prolific, writing more than 20 books and a ton of essays. 

But I think Deleuze is easier to understand than his reputation insists. Deleuze is complicated to study and write about as an academic because he wrote about so many different topics and figures, and approached his core ideas in so many different ways. 

That's why you can dive in pretty much anywhere. He always explored the same fundamental ideas from a ton of different angles. Just find the angle you like best, and that becomes your favourite of his books, no matter how many you read. 

There can be as many Deleuzes as you want.
My favourite is probably What Is Philosophy?. I find A Thousand Plateaus the richest. I like how punk and prophetic Anti-Œdipus is. The Kafka book turned out to be really important to how I approach writing fiction and scripts. The Nietzsche book most fun. The Leibniz book most beautiful.

He was constantly experimenting, working through different approaches, seeing what they enabled and constrained. His collaborations with the often-underrated Félix Guattari pushed an especially experimental writing style. It was a result of Guattari’s dream of being able to write philosophy like James Joyce wrote fiction.

Yeah, it got weird.

Here’s just a few lists, off the top of my head, to show how diverse Deleuze's corpus is.

He wrote books that explicitly focussed on David Hume, Friedrich Nietzsche, Immanuel Kant, Henri Bergson, Leopold von Sacher-Masoch, Marcel Proust, two on Benedict Spinoza, Gottfried Leibniz, Michel Foucault, Franz Kafka, Francis Bacon.

In those author-centric and his topic-focussed books, he referred substantively (in addition to the people on the last list) to Georg Hegel, René Descartes, the Marquis de Sade, Jakob von Uexküll, Lucretius, Gabriel Tarde, Zeno, Marcus Aurelius, Plato, Duns Scotus, Georges Cuvier, Karl Marx.

His books also touched on scientific disciplines outside philosophy, like evolutionary biology (and its history), physics, differential mathematics, astronomy, war, sex, art, literature, embryology, sociology, music, psychology, anthropology, geology, ecology, psychoanalysis, and architecture.

But underlying all this complexity are simple ideas. All his works explore the implications, in all these different authors and disciplines, of what it means for change to be inevitable, the world to be process, and dynamism essential to life.

The LA Times ran a series of essays about Deleuze for the anniversary of his death. I may talk about them on the blog.