What Can Become a Tradition? Research Time, 01/03/2018

The term ‘resurrection’ is loaded, especially to someone who grew up in a historically Christian culture like me. It’s ironic today, because I want to talk about the resurrection of pagan religion in the West.

It was an illuminating example in a densely brilliant essay by Isabelle Stengers in The Guattari Effect. It extends a dialogue she and Guattari had when he was alive, about what it means to continue a tradition.

Question – Does a tradition need unbroken transmission across all generations from origin to now, if it’s going to be a genuine tradition?

The last several decades have seen a revival of Pagan rituals,
festivals, and genuine devotional religious ceremonies in the West.
Not only in Europe, but among settler cultures in North America
as well. But is it an authentic paganism if the tradition of the
religion was broken, and broken so long ago?
It started with an exchange between Stengers and Guattari about the nature of progress in anything’s development. The first context was how to understand the implications of evolution. If you take Darwinism seriously, you actually have to throw out any talk of higher and lower organisms.

The Medieval way of thinking ordered the world into hierarchies. The classification system in the Great Chain of Being may have been getting more complicated, and all the talk of God never needed to be said anymore. But until Darwin, you still ranked them.

And we kept ranking them after Charles Darwin the person wrote. But you now had this thoroughly materialist way of thinking about life. What does that imply for the reality of rank? Of a scale of “higher to lower” organisms by phylum or species? A chain that you moved up as you developed?

It's gone. Start from this fact – All the species that exist today are genuinely contemporary. This includes the bacteria. Folks typically think of bacteria as the lowest form of life, because one-celled organisms were the first to develop and bacteria are one-celled organisms.

But the bacteria that exist today are bacteria that have gone through nearly four billion years of contingent evolution. They’ve had just as much time as us. So if passage through time means advancement up the great chain of evolution, why are they still bacteria?

Because Earth is not the current place in an evolutionary process of creatures growing more advanced. Earth is a highly entropic system of hydrocarbons that’s had energy pumped into it for four billion years. We are the current era in a roiling chaos of highly complex contingent activity.

Bryozoans have existed for nearly 500 million years. They are
literally bags of microorganisms that live as a fist-sized single
organism. It moves, perceives, eats, excretes, and reproduces
asexually. The Bryozoans of today are utterly different from
the ones that lived hundreds of millions of years ago, except
that they are still bryozoans.
What the hell does this have to do with neo-paganism?

That conception of existence – roiling chaos of highly complex contingent activity – is an incredibly abstract description. Words heavy with very precise meanings expressed generally enough that many other contexts express it too.

Cultures change over time – contingent development in a chaotic world. The competing, older concept is the chain of being from lower to higher forms – progress as advancement in rank. A tradition consists in a common task developing over time. So you continue a tradition by relaying that task – passing it along.

Pagan religions in Europe – Greek, Roman, Celtic, Norse, and Germanic – flourished two thousand years ago. Christianity wiped out all the theology and absorbed pagan customs into its own practice, now seamlessly. New Pagans build their new tradition from archaeological and anthropological research on those ancient religions. They build their own practices from these fragments.

If you think of tradition as a chain, any temporal break ends the tradition. The reconstructed version developed in the late 20th century isn’t authentic to the organic Pagan religions of ancient Europe because of that break. There were no Pagan Yoda figures in hiding until Christianity let its institutional guard down.

But if you understand development as contingent chaos, then temporal continuity doesn't matter. Recurrence without continuity can happen, if conditions develop that make a tradition’s resurrection possible. So authenticity is a matter only of engagement, care, and a spirit of fidelity. You’re no receptacle. You can learn.

The Dreamtime Is Real Places After All, Research Time, 27/02/2018

I said I wasn't going to talk much about the review I’m working on – for Bryan Van Norden’s polemic, his gauntlet throw-down, pistol-packing, Crip-walking graffiti on the university walls, Taking Back Philosophy. But I am a little bit.

There's one idea that I don’t quite have the room to fit into my review, but that actually converges with some of the research I was doing on Félix Guattari’s thinking. Barbara Glowczewski, an anthropologist and former colleague of Guattari’s, wrote an essay for The Guattari Effect volume about a disagreement they had over the ontology of the Warlpiri worldview.

The Pleiades, by Alma Nungarrayi
Van Norden’s book is a call to globalize university philosophy in a very literal sense – change the curriculum of degree programs to include thinkers in traditions other than the Western. Van Norden writes about the Chinese and Indian traditions in more detail because he knows them best.

But Indigenous philosophy is one – actually very, very many – traditions that need to be at the philosophical table. I feel lucky in Canada that my country’s universities host brilliant Indigenous thinkers – and that many other philosopher-activists thrive outside that system too.

The Warlpiri are an Indigenous Australian people. We often think of Indigenous Australians as all having one culture, or being one people. Generic Aboriginie. Or as they say less formally – Abos. Or the most awful one – Boong. As in, Bung. Australians call their continent’s Indigenous “Shit-people.” As in “people made of shit.” Literally.

So Australia makes me cry a little, but the Warlpiri ontology is very interesting. See, we typically think of Indigenous Australian spirituality as revolving around Dream Time – the entry into an eternal or literally time-less astral world.

The real concept is much more complicated. Not only are there many distinct Indigenous Australian cultures, languages, spiritualities, religions, and philosophies – even the Warlpiri Dream Time concept is different from this simple popular concept.

Dream Time isn’t a no-space, or an eternal reflection of the ordinary world kept mystically separate. Conceive of it more like a collapse of all space and time – past, present, future, everywhere at once – into a single location. It’s a totemic marking of territory. Northern Australia itself becomes a topographical map of totemically staked places.

Dreamtime Sisters, by Colleen Wallace Nungarrayi
When Glowczewski shared a concept she’d used to understand the Warlpiri totemic experience space with Guattari, he was less than pleased. Instead of attempting to understand the Warlpiri concepts on its own terms, she’d introduced a Western mathematical concept to them, to explain their totemic spaces.

A hypercube. Guattari was worried that Glowczewski’s topological mathematics was erasing the details of the Warlpiri concept. When they discussed and explored Dream Time, their mysticism was integrated with a complex web of ideas and practices, networked together into a multidimensional multiplicity of meanings and manifestations.

They argued over this for a while. But at the same time, the Warlpiri elders that Glowczewski had come to know had their own answer to the dispute.

That's really the best way to find your answer, honestly. When you’re arguing about some complicated philosophical issue in another culture, a thinker of roughly your own skill from that culture is the best to set you on the right course. At the least, they’ll let you know which of you is the most wrong.

It turned out to be Guattari. The Warlpiri elders and shamans were well ahead of Guattari’s own hesitation. I can see where he was coming from – the white person well aware of the eggshell walkways of post-colonial conversations. You don’t want to risk telling an Indigenous person what their worldview is “really about” because that’s exactly the kind of cultural and philosophical erasure they’ve been dealing with for centuries.

Those Warlpiri philosophers had a surprise for Guattari, at least in Glowczewski’s telling. They liked topological mathematics. They liked the hypercube concept. It worked really well to explain some important aspects of their spiritual thinking and its ontological connection with particular places and place in general.

It wasn’t complete, of course. Topological math couldn’t explain everything, but it was a useful tool to put in their own philosophical bundle. They used it well.

You Come to Swell the Numbers, Advocate, 26/02/2018

I’m not going to write about philosophy today. One is that most of the philosophy I read this weekend was for a book review I have to write, so I’m not going to throw it out on the blog.

I started work on a new novel manuscript this weekend too, but I only just finished the prologue. On to page three! Yeah, not much to say here.

But I’m coming to protest on Saturday. It’ll be a good protest, a damn fun protest, a beautiful protest, and a necessary protest. The rage will be necessary, and channelled through the power of a group.

So this Saturday, there’ll be a Justice for Tina Fontaine protest, and yeah of course I’m fucking going.

There are two arguments that I can imagine getting trotted out about this. One is the legalist’s, the other is the quietist’s.

To Mr Legalist

The lawyer’s argument is the most insulting to me, because it’s so reductive. These are the people who say that Jian Ghomeshi deserves his job and office back at CBC because the criminal trial found him not-guilty. Who reduce all truth to the verdict of a jury.

Rather, they expand what was designed to be a narrow, difficult standard of proof to stand for the entire truth of the matter. Yes, a jury decided that Ray Cormier’s drunken ramblings weren’t sufficient grounds for criminal conviction. Would “Justice for Tina Fontaine” really be complete if this one evil jackass went to prison for 25 years?

I don’t even believe in the sufficiency of retributive justice as an individual, and I came to that decision as a Westerner. Indigenous Canadian cultures lived under justice institutions – the customs and methods of redressing crimes – whose grounding principles were restorative, communitarian values. Centuries of cultural continuity.

Do you seriously think Indigenous Canadians would have only the punishment of a perpetrator in mind when they chant “Justice for Tina Fontaine”?

To Ms Quietist

I understand the centrepiece of this argument, I truly do. But you can’t just say that this is only for Indigenous people and cluck sadly as white extremist opposition goes unchallenged.

Remember what I said about the communitarian values at the centre of justice questions larger in scope than “Who did it?”

Tina Fontaine – and everyone else who’s met an untimely death after a life of neglect, suffering, and marginalization – doesn’t achieve justice when a jail cell closes. Because people still live as neglected as Tina Fontaine was.

Many of the causes and conditions of that neglect are the structure and operation of Canada’s government institutions. It may not be the residential schools anymore, but the child welfare agencies in some regions are very effective with the spin they’ve put on the basic process.

As a person who lives in Canada, I’m enmeshed in the same institutions, the same cultural currents as everyone else in this country. If our institutions and cultural beliefs, common sense, and habits are set up in such a way that many people needlessly suffer neglect and indignity, we all have to work together to change them.

When you’re suffering, you need to know that you have friends. That minimal level of friendship – respect and solidarity – is the relationship that constitutes community.

I’m not going to be some presumptuous ass trying to speak for Indigenous people. I haven’t gone through any experience like they have. But if anyone needs to know that they have friends, at least I’ll be there.

Swell the numbers until everyone joins.

Third Format’s a Charm, Composing, 25/02/2018

I’ve had a super-stressful week, and I’ve dealt with it as best I can in a few ways. Most of those involve writing about Félix Guattari, getting some research work done where I can, and lots of coffee.

I’ve also taken another artistic decision. I’ve laid my project of Doctor Who essays to the side – I still want to write philosophical reviews of the new series on the blog as episodes come out later this year, but I don’t think my energies will work best on major statements about the show.

Reasonably accurate depiction of myself. Once I get into a groove
On Saturday, I outlined how the novel version of You Were My Friend will go. And I made a symbolic gesture for myself – I wrote its first sentence.
She wasn't doing much of anything at all when the knocking came from the door.
I’ve been trying to do justice to this story since I first developed it – it’s been about four years since I first pitched the idea. I hoped that You Were My Friend could be the ground of work as a theatre writer.

But we had virtually no box office – we were swamped by audiences flocking to see Billy Bishop Goes to War at the higher-budget theatre down the road from our production in Hamilton. They had a higher promotional budget – and more experience marketing theatre. Hamilton was consumed by mournful patriotism after Nathan Cirillo’s murder – which happened less than two weeks before our debut.

The director and crew I worked with on the play You Were My Friend returned to the more sure bets of bigger-budget productions of established content. It suited them well – I approached Mel and Jeannette because I’d seen their brilliant production of Harold Pinter’s Betrayal the year before, and she was already a friend.

Beyond the poor luck of our debut, I also think the story was still incomplete. Its presentation was powerful, but having to stick to one set and two actors may have been too much constraint. When I adapted You Were My Friend into a film script, I expanded its world.

You saw key background events that were only described in the theatre. You met other characters at the supporting or bit level who I could flesh out in more detail than I could when their only existence was as a name in someone else’s dialogue.

You can only do so much on a stage. I mean, you can do so much on
a stage, but not all stories are suited to it – at least not without some
serious changes in expression. Could you do a stage adaptation of,
for example, War and Peace on minimal budget and with only four
or five actors? Maybe. But a lot would have to change.
I hoped to ground the abstract quality of the play in the material reality of Toronto as a city. You Were My Friend began with a single set that became surreal nightclubs and Albertan mountains.

But I wanted to shoot in Trinity-Bellwoods, the streets of Kensington Market and Chinatown, surreptitiously in the back of city buses. It never worked out, though.

In nearly three years, I could never get the damn thing shot. Shooting a film takes equipment, crew, and actors. Acquiring all those takes money and time. I didn’t have the money, so I didn’t have the time as I was too busy trying to make sure I had enough money.

I first started working on the project with Sam, the lead actress from the first version in the theatre. We had a few conversations, but eventually we decided to part ways on the project. I think it was largely down to me – Looking back, I think I appeared dismissive and argumentative when we would critique each other’s work and ideas. I didn’t mean to, but I did.

Oddly, it's the lowest-investment and most isolating form of art that I think lets me create the most expansive world. You Were My Friend the novel can let me fill out the characters’ minds and memories as well as the world they move in. The labyrinths of the narrative can wind deeper into time, space, and thought.

All thanks to being able to string the whole world together with words alone. As for publishing, I’ll soon start reaching out to small publishers in Toronto, but may ultimately publish and promote independently.

This story began as an artistic inspiration from some of the struggles the GF went through earlier in her life, when she was underemployed and had little to no family support – just like my lead character Vicki.

I want You Were My Friend to be reasonably successful not just to honour her in this powerful figurative way, but also to share that struggle with other people who’ve experienced it in my society. It's a work of artistic and ethical solidarity. I want it to breathe and live beyond those nine forgotten performances in a Hamilton indie theatre.

Let the pages fly.

Could Resistance Ever Have Won? Composing, 23/02/2018

I have two very profound* goals for Utopias. I want the book to capture and examine fundamental concepts in the material relationships of humanity in the world today. The unfolding ecological and social disaster of voracious consumption to the point of disintegrating the conditions of our civilization.

* Equally very pretentious.

What any half-ambitious work of philosophy should shoot for, really. That was one goal. What’s the other?

You can figure out the general frameworks of how events will go,
but the actual events are always surprising. And ickily perverse.
Motherfucker was a celebrity billionaire and game show host.
I want the book to explore some alternatives to that way of life, conceptually. I want to consider new conceptions of what humanity is, what’s good and bad, what’s right and wrong, that can hold off this disaster. Or at least provide us a dignified end trying to resist our self-extinction.

Those aren't as rare in philosophical writing as you might think. I mean, if you’re thick in the most anxiety-producing conditions of grad school, you might think so. If I can say there’s a common image across all students’ personal crises, it’s understanding yourself as perennially not good enough.

That’s impostor syndrome – I’m not good enough. If you’re creating anything under those psychological conditions, you’ll be sapped dry. Able to bring yourself to write only commentaries on commentaries, narrowing arguments to the smallest points. No ambition.

Most philosophical works are written with ambition – I have a couple of them on my list to review for Social Epistemology. My research for Utopias consists almost exclusively of those kinds of books. Books with ambition don’t just argue over words – they use words to show readers pivotal framework principles of the universe.

Félix Guattari was one of those writers. Gary Genosko’s work combines high-quality scholarly care for Guattari with creative philosophical works that use the older man’s words with ambition.

Guattari died pretty young, at only 62. It wasn't his first heart attack.
Stress and smokes will do that do you, or at least make it way more
likely. But at least he never lived to see Donald Trump become
President of the United States. Hell, he didn't even see much of the
career of Silvio Berlusconi. The real absurdity came too late.
Genosko has written essays that carry Guattari’s concept of semio-capitalism to the 21st century. The term applies still, more intensely than ever. What does it mean? Just unpack the word.

First word – word. That’s the semio part – semiotics. So what’s the capitalism of words and ideas? It’s an economy that’s figured out how to monetize intellectual property and acts of communication themselves.

Communications infrastructure and activity used to be a means of creating wealth – orders flowing through a factory floor, or from a head office to a far-off mine. That kind of wealth generation still happens. But there are now equally powerful economies on the globe that generate wealth from communication actions themselves, as if messages were a mine.

That’s basically the Silicon Valley economy – social networks, web search algorithms. Guattari understood the semio-capital economy in the 1970s and 80s, when it wasn’t nearly as in our faces as it is now. By the time Genosko was writing this essay for The Guattari Effect, it was in full swing.

Bitcoin and blockchain were far in the future still when Genosko was writing. Oy.

But when the knowledge economy was still very nascent, Guattari was one of the folks who saw its potential. He came to understand that potential largely through philosophical thinking – identifying pivotal concepts and following their logic through to the end. Then try to articulate that logic as best you can.

Now you can create wealth just by feeding huge amounts of
electricity into servers running algorithms. It's the most perversely
transparent semio-capitalism you could imagine. Fuck.
It reads like an atheist’s description of a prophet. Well, philosophy has slid into and out of prophecy over the millennia. Nothing necessarily wrong with that, as long as you don’t get too pretentious about it. For one, it would simply be gauche.

For another – Here’s the big question for a political philosopher** today. You can identify core concepts that may drive the disasters of our future. But how can you affect material change in our society to keep the logic of those concepts from spilling out in the world, not just in your thought?

** Me included.

Guattari did his best. He was a revolutionary medical doctor and political militant fighting state control and corporate power. All that while he was writing such insightful and difficult books. And I don’t just mean difficult to read.*** Difficult to write.

*** Though Félix, you test me sometimes.

Yet he couldn’t hold back the tides. He died long before the resurgence of the utopian politics of freedom in the 21st century. We’re far from guaranteed to succeed either.

At least there’s some dignity.

The Emptiness of Meaning in an Exploded Life, Research Time, 22/02/2018

Jean-Claude Polack once wrote a wonderful essay about Félix Guattari. Polack is a French psychiatrist who worked with Guattari at La Borde for more than a decade. His essay in The Guattari Effect volume blends philosophy, psychiatric theory, medical practice, and memoir of an old friend.

My personal favourite in the volume, even more than the essays by Guattari himself. I love Guattari, but I can never expect him to write in a straightforward way.

For that reason, Polack explains a bit better than Guattari what the core principles of their practice were, and why they constituted such a major break from Freudianism.

We are material assemblages all functioning together, and sometimes
those functions can break down or overheat.
Polack describes in very clear terms the experience of working in an indefinite-term, in-patient, live-in communal facility for the most intense psychotics in France. Their patients literally were totally unable to control their minds.

The mainstream schools of psychiatry in France in the 1960s and 70s were shot through with a rationalism that was utterly inadequate to deal with such people as psychotics.

Polack describes Freudian rationalism as the quest for the one true meaning of all the deranged and delusional behaviour a person expresses. If I can put it in the language common to semiotic and postmodern philosophy of the time – because Polack did – it’s a quest for the signifier.

This is why, from this important epistemic perspective, I find a lot of postmodernist philosophy a bit tiring compared to the concepts of Guattari and Gilles Deleuze. The emptiness of the signifier as necessary ground of meaning was a serious philosophical issue to so many – Jacques Lacan, Jean Beaudrillard, Jean-Francois Lyotard, Jacques Derrida, Gilles Deleuze.

Hang on. Yes, I did just say Gilles Deleuze. The Logic of Sense included a lot of inquiry about the signifier-signified relationship, how solid meaning in language and communication always slips away. In his creative philosophy, I consider Deleuze to have been in danger of slipping into the same lostness that so much postmodernism fell into.

We shouldn't be so afraid to conceive of ourselves as machines. No
matter how scary the prospect might be to us sometimes.
Not much danger, but a danger nonetheless. Then Guattari showed up to demonstrate that none of this signifier stuff was really all that important to the human mind and thought. It fit well with another set of concepts in Deleuze’s work – expression.

Each body has a range of potential activity that you can explore. Some of that activity is productive, helps augment and strengthen a body. But that kind of productive activity depends on restraint – channelling, controlling activity.

A seriously schizophrenic psychotic isn't able to channel her activity at all – she can only act, or follow an obsessive central idea to its endpoint. When that’s the kind of mental illness you're dealing with, a narrative explanatory technique like psychoanalysis isn’t going to work as therapy.

Guattari and Polack – and never forget the contribution of La Borde’s chief, Jean Oury – designed therapy regimens that literally retrained psychotics to control their thoughts, moods, and actions.

The stroll through the clinic gardens built relaxed spaces in experience. The grid – a communally-managed timetable of chores – reintroduced patients to performing tasks, focussing on the practical world, and responsibility to others.

It didn't work for everyone, of course. Some people’s neural systems were too damaged. Guattari often combined these re-socialization therapies with anti-psychotic drug regimens to keep people physically on an even-enough keel to function. But they worked far better on schizophrenics than the “talking cure.”

It was therapy that repaired the machine.

Knowing the Causes of Power, Research Time, 21/02/2018

There were a lot of reasons Félix Guattari broke with Jacques Lacan and the whole rest of the Freudian-influenced schools of French psychiatry. I talked about a couple last time.

How one point of unquestioned rationalism survived into the science of psychiatry – to understand the causes of the condition is itself part of the cure. How the images arising from singular cases were taken for universal symbol structures of human personalities. Both thanks to the influence of Freud.

Here’s a third issue that constituted such a radical break – the image of the therapist’s authority.

I don’t mean this in the sense of practical, institutional authority. Guattari understood that therapists, clinicians, and those who are responsible for the care and cure of the severely mentally ill required authority to do their jobs. They needed to prescribe drugs, coordinate clinical activities, design a therapy regime.

You don't really want anyone to be authorized only by themselves, do you?
All those required legal authority – the power of a signature. Your decisions had weight, and so needed to be taken with responsibility. That responsibility required thought and devotion, an ethical weight of obligation to act in the patient’s best interest – to let their good guide you.

I read an essay by Guattari a while ago that described the dominant culture of psychiatry and mental health care practice drifting from that ideal. He gives us Lacan’s words, “The analyst is authorized only by himself.”

There are two ways to read this. One is ontologically. The cause of some practicing psychoanalyst in some little town – call him Jack from Paris* – having his authority doesn’t come from Jack himself.

* Paris, Ontario.

Jack has to earn degrees and certifications in the fields you need to be expert as an analyst and therapist. He’s cultivated deep technical and philosophical medical knowledge. His legal powers are enabled by a complex web of institutions, laws, and regulations.

Another way you can read it is ethically. Jack’s authority flows from the trust people put in him – those who hired him, administer his certification renewals, maintain the laws that give him the right to prescribe drugs and therapies, and enforce those laws when they're broken.

Both are correct, of course. And not mutually exclusive. Just looking at different features of the world. The conclusion from both sides of that argument is that the statement “The analyst is authorized only by himself” isn’t adequate to empirical reality. Such an attitude isn’t going to fit properly with the real circumstances of an analyst’s working life.

What happens when a guiding philosophical element of training conflicts so brutally with the reality of practice? Breakdown. You end up with a body of professional analysts who tick the institutional boxes, but practice with none of the respect for the mentally ill that you need to practice properly.

Certainly not enough to transform respect into mutual respect. That’s the authority of expertise, an inescapably ethical relationship. Guattari understood that a philosophical principle of considering the analyst an absolute power – the revealer, prober, curer – undermines the possibility of ethical relationships among therapists and patients.

You can't really hold such a principle and practice medicine at the same time. Thought conditions reality when the reality is our actions and relationships.

Chaos Is the Natural State of Your Mind, Research Time, 20/02/2018

Researching Utopias, it's a book of ethics as well as politics and political theory. As it should be. Any political inquiry mixes questions of ethics and morality – Who are we? and What do we owe each other? respectively.

Any comprehensive book of ethics will need a conception of the subject underneath, an ontological one. If I’m going to explore questions of character, I’ll need to know what the limits and potentials of the human character are. Or at least, I’ll need a solid, dependable picture of those limits and potentials that will – at minimum – be a decent set of premises someone can consider for the sake of the wider argument.

This post comes from some notes I took on an old essay by Félix
Guattari called "Schizo Chaosmosis."
So where did I develop my general conception of the subject, of selfhood? Well, in my case, I’m picking up what Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari threw down.* It’s a fairly complex concept, but holding it doesn’t prevent me from engaging with anything else in philosophy or broader human science.

* Not wholesale, but with a suitable grounding in the basics of medical, neurological, and psychological science, as well as some input from Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s phenomenological thinking. But those converge more closely than you might think from stereotypes about the field.

If anything, it gives me a better grounding than researchers in the humanities whose knowledge is more discipline-bound. Guattari has a reputation among the more closed-minded majority of North American scholars as a freak opposed to real scientific inquiry.

But that’s a ridiculous stereotype – Guattari wrote like a freak, but he was a dedicated medical scientist.** He was a psychiatrist who worked with near-permanent in-patient schizophrenics. Severe schizophrenics.

** See, Merleau-Ponty researched The Phenomenology of Perception with detailed help from cutting-edge neuroscience research in the major research hospitals of Paris. He built his materialist phenomenology from some of the most influential studies of brain injury in the 20th century.

What did Guattari learn about the nature of human subjectivity from working with schizophrenics? He understood the chaos that’s always roiling inside each of our supposedly rational minds.

Learning the scientific knowledge and skill of so many thinkers
who too many mainstream North American philosophy departments
consider anti-scientific helped me realize something in my own
writing. I can be as experimental as I want in my own philosophical
work, and how I express myself. But not all the time. And carefully.
This isn't a matter of Freudian sub-conscious. The Freudian model of the mind is inherently rational – the talking cure is cure by understanding the origins. As soon as you figure out the root cause of your neuroses – the driving principle of your personal narrative – you’re cured.

Add to that, the whole point of Anti-Œdipus. Freud and the Freudians mistook the images that arose from Sigmund’s contingent practices – these patients from this city at this time in history – for universal organizing principles of human consciousness.

At La Borde, Guattari saw something much more obviously visceral, animal, dangerous, and fascinating than symbols and arguments. Schizophrenia – especially in the midst of a serious, intense breakdown – is the removal of all restraint on thought. It’s the closest humanity can get to pure chaos.

Guattari worked this out from studying his patients’ actions – how they thought and lived. Contemporary neuroscience has uncovered an appropriately literal cause of the condition – schizophrenics have a severe shortage of the neurotransmitter that inhibits our thoughts.

He saw the raw, unfettered force of the human personality. It was the liberation of a person from every constraint they had – everything they learned through enculturation and education was inconsequential. The schizophrenic was totally free.

Guattari also saw that the schizophrenic was a total basket case, unable to function in the world at all. His therapy – aside from stabilizing drugs – was accustoming them to social life through routine involvement in the operations of the clinic. Doing laundry, cleaning up, playing games, helping make meals.

Literally re-socializing them. That’s why it’s always a mistake to read Deleuze and Guattari as saying that to deterritorialize is freedom itself. Being totally deterritorialized is to become chaos – pure high-energy entropy with no limits. That’s no life. It’s an explosion.***

*** The cutting-edge neuroscience research at the heart of Merleau-Ponty’s philosophy couldn’t have happened without so many patients with so many different brain injuries. France had plenty – war veterans who had shrapnel slicing up different parts of their brains. No need for a dubious ethics board application to study serious brain injuries – the Second World War gave them all the patients needed and then some.

Guattari's was an ethical and political medical practice. He treated schizophrenia by re-socializing people – rebuilding their characters as better versions of themselves. Versions less likely to fly apart again.

Rejecting the Core of Your Own Identity, Research Time, 16/02/2018

The funny thing about reading up on the influences of contemporary thinkers is how much baggage you have to sort through and throw away. And I’m not just talking about the poorly-written essays.*

* But there are a lot of poorly-written essays. I won’t name names, but I really want to.

I mean the concepts that create intractable, insoluble problems. These are the problems that define philosophical and metaphysical inquiries for literally centuries. Thousands of people across the tradition search for solutions – major, minor, underground, and utterly unremarkable thinkers.

But the most success they have is remixing the problem into new contexts. They can never solve these problems because the terms of the problem are set up in such a way that it is insoluble.

In particular, I’m talking about the mind-world problem. There are a few essays in Deleuze’s Philosophical Legacy that talk about this – which I find hilarious, because Gilles Deleuze never considered it an issue.

You could say – because I don't want to say it
definitively, but I still find it fascinating – that
Deleuze's most important idea for any thinker
to understand is his notion of philosophy as
the exploration and mapping of conceptual
terrain, rather than finding definitive answers
to questions.
I used to consider it an issue. It was the main concept I latched onto when I was first studying philosophy of mind in my early 20s. And it was one of the first philosophical concepts I ever studied, because my first ever philosophy course started with a month studying Descartes’ Meditations.

The mind-world problem has persisted through centuries of Western thought. The main reason it did was because it’s literally an insoluble problem – you can’t repair it on its own terms. You always end up in some terrible situation.

A big one is the problem of other minds – when you separate mind from world, you end up threatened by a solipsistic prison. In the essay in that volume about Edmund Husserl’s influence on Deleuze, they discuss how Husserl’s thinking floundered and even crashed on the problem of other minds.

He theorized endlessly – especially in the unpublished draft manuscripts, of which there are horrifyingly large amounts – about the encounter between yourself and others. But he could never really get past conceiving it as an encounter with the Other.

At most, other people become abstract. They’re the harbingers of an encounter with the Other. But the actual identities and existence of those other people can’t break through.

So when Deleuze engaged this problem, what did he do to get around it? Well, seeing how Deleuze repaired the mind-body problem was a big part of what first turned me on to his thought.

He didn’t. He just didn’t care about it.

That’s all you need to do! The mind-world problem arose from a few key works that engaged with the philosophical problems of their own times, and were influential enough to change the orientations of whole fields of philosophical questioning.

What the mind-world problem ends up doing is creating an empirically senseless dualism. There’s the individual mind of a single creature on one side – on the other side there’s all the other variety and diversity in the world. But its core framework reduces all that variety in our actual experiences to an abstraction – the encounter with the Other.

Understand this, and it isn’t a problem to be solved. You understand the mind-world problem as a breakdown in thought – an obsessive focus on a problem that takes you away from the problems of real existence.

The problem breaks thought because it keeps you from thinking of anything else and can’t actually be solved. So get rid of it.

Returning to Pages in a Dank Tunnel, Composing, 14/02/2018

Taking a break from philosophy today, because I came home last night after a long day at work. I want to make a legitimately short post today, to talk about some of my artistic work.

Some good news on the artistic front. I have an audio-play coming out in The Twelfth Doctor Adventures, an independently produced series in Britain. Quite a fun fan production that explores a trans companion character.

The series producer JR sent me her script for the first episode, which portrayed their companion, Toni Perkins.* It made a good guide for the character when I was writing my episode, “The Walls Are Alive.” At her best, Toni has a strength with two foundations – her empathy and knowledge of her own fragility.

Books are my home.
* JR tells me the name Antonia Perkins was not an intentional reference. I will never be capable of believing this.

As you can probably tell from the title, I took a crack at another Lovecraftian horror story of the underground spaces that defy human comprehension. I even had some input on the sound design, so JR knows how I want the creepiness of the story to flow from the setting.

Most importantly for the sound, we talked about different ways to make the normal spaces of human existence become disturbing, weird, shocking. The territory that you think is safe actually startles and destabilizes you as a listener. It’ll be a subtle aspect of the story that messes with listeners.

“The Walls Are Alive” is set in a country estate on a human colony world in the far future. Underneath the mansion is a network of tunnels curving through spaces that are typically impossible for humans to traverse.

It was a good use of the Digger aliens I developed for Under the Trees, Eaten a few years ago. I wasn't done exploring the potential of those creatures for fiction, so I was happy to get another opportunity to set a story with them.

The opportunity to contribute to the project came along at a time when I was feeling stressed in my life. My old teaching job was getting tough – I was beginning to suffer from what I realized was improper training and a workplace culture that encouraged instructors to let each other fail as small errors snowballed into serious problems.

Some of my favourite spaces in the Doctor Who fan community
are the queer ones. Not necessarily the gay ones, which have
their own unavoidable problems at the moment. But the queer.
So I was glad to get an offer – even if it was for free – to contribute to a project built in making explicit the values of liberation and queerness that so many fans saw in Capaldi-era Doctor Who.

I think it’s time I focussed more on smaller projects like this for my writing. The last couple of years, I’ve been trying to produce a film version of my play from four years ago, You Were My Friend. But I’ve frankly had a lot of trouble raising the money for it and getting a crew together before I had the money to make it.

Now that I’m working full-time as Anderson College’s Director of Education, I have more money and don’t have to hustle all the time. But I’m also no longer in a position to devote three or four weeks of my life to eight hours of shooting a film on no notice.

But I do have time to devote every week to writing another short-ish novel. Which the latest version of You Were My Friend can be. It’s the kind of work where my talents can work best. And developing connections in the Toronto art and publishing world over the next year can make for a respectable indie author career.

So I’ll be getting back to pages. It’s where I belong.

A Continuous World of So Many, A History Boy, 13/02/2018

One of the most important insights a person should have in the 21st century if you want to settle yourself, and give yourself come perspective, is this – Accept the continuity between humanity and other species.

Now, I’m not just talking about human-ape proximity. Though I am. All too often we forget how close we are to primates, how similar they are to us. All too often, we know how close we are to primates, and acknowledge it in the worst way. All too typical of us, I should say.

Seeing the continuity of your own life with that of an orangutan
isn't all that hard – they're laughing, silly, joyful, and quietly
experience such an enlightened wisdom of knowing that a loving,
silly, joyful life is the best one for creatures like us.
They're what we aspire to be.
The continuity I’m talking about today has much earlier roots, and much deeper in our bodies. Literally and figuratively.

I spent quite a few years studying philosophy of mind, and one reason I walked away from that as a major research focus was frustration – Frustration that so many researchers ignored the obvious answer to so many of their problems.

So many discussions I had and papers I read about the “hard problem” of consciousness fell to dust to me as I accepted that the human mind is a perceptual field. Our thoughts aren’t just in our heads. Our brains and nervous system develop through environmental interaction. They continue to function through complex feedback loops that we’ve been refining for our entire lives.

Henri Bergson was on to a similar way of thinking. He just expressed it in a totally different way.

The tragedy of Bergson is that he so radically misapplied true and valid philosophical principles of becoming. In the most notorious* example from his work – No Henri, the cause of life getting more complicated isn’t a force of life energy constantly struggling against the inertia of matter’s torpor.

* And simplest to explain.

But yes, large amounts of matter interacting in complex systems that constantly generate energy – say, from giant balls of gas falling in on themselves until they become nuclear fusion furnaces that can be stable for billions of years – tend to become more complex over time.

Here's the life story behind that set of links. At 21, mystified why Chalmers
thought consciousness was a hard problem at all. At 22, puzzled why Putnam
even had to argue that meaning was more than thoughts or neuronal flickers.
At 23, Merleau-Ponty gave me a wonderful vocabulary to let me walk away
from Chalmers’ limited point of view. At 24, learning the biological ground
of that wonderful vocab from Varela. At 25, learning the power and ubiquity
of life and memory to grow, refine, and develop a creature thanks to Allen
and Hofstatder. If you let the problems be your guide, you’ll figure them
out. Don’t specialize too early.
Bergson’s ideas are much more useful today – better applicable to the current state of human science, where we understand that complexity really is everywhere. And his concepts of what consciousness is, and what its roots are, matter today too.

Think about Chalmers’ hard problem of consciousness – that a scientific understanding of consciousness will never help us understand the experience of consciousness. An essential premise of that concept is unspoken, but necessary for someone to arrive at that concept at all.

Consciousness is exclusively human, and only humans experience the world as a phenomenal sensory field. Absolutely untrue.

Everything that is capable of action in response to external stimuli – whose reaction to fields of force and affects in its environment – is conscious. That covers every organism. Humans have peculiarly complicated and complex perceptual fields, because we’ve refined our powers of communication and memory with language and technology.

But all those actions are mechanisms. They aren’t deterministic in the most strict sense, because organic responses are based on feedback loops – previous responses condition future responses. The feedback loop is the most rudimentary form of memory.

Even the simplest organisms perceive because their responses are actions – the movement of response itself originates internally and kicks off a feedback loop of the organism with its environment which couples them into a single dynamic field.

Add Bergson to the history I’ve strung together. Even if he might not have realized he’d become a member.

A Thinker Is a Process Because She’s a Person, Jamming, 12/02/2018

Two passes at the mistake of searching for the universal, for the one true truth.
• • •
I pity the fool who had to write the essay on Sigmund Freud in Deleuze’s Philosophical Legacy. It’s because there actually isn’t much to say when a thinker so powerfully rejects a former influence in a fit of rage.

One of the most influential books Gilles Deleuze ever wrote was Anti-Œdipus with Félix Guattari – definitely the most influential among the political thinkers who build on his work. That book was built around a detailed, incisive, forceful, and total rejection of the core dynamics of all Freudian thinking.

Freudian concepts of desire dominated French thought about
psychology early in Deleuze and Guattari's career. They
wrote against it with the fury of a betrayed disciple.
Now, before meeting Guattari, Deleuze did take Freud’s ideas seriously. Many of Freud’s ideas were the core principles of the analysis in Deleuze’s book on Leopold Sacher-Masoch. Several chapters in The Logic of Sense explicitly relied on Freud to build a theory of desire and sexuality.

Nothing reversed so radically in Deleuze’s intellectual life than his belief in Freudian ideas. It took meeting Guattari for him to realize that Freudian psychology was the closest thing possible to an opposite of the direction he wanted to develop – a metaphysical framework based on heterogeneity, variety, difference, becoming.

Working with Guattari helped Deleuze realize that Freud’s entire system was built on a premise that those images – Œdipus in particular – constituted a universal structure to human consciousness.

Guattari – a man who worked all his life with schizophrenics – knew from the examples of his daily professional life that it was far from universal. More than that, the dynamics of Œdipal imagery, concepts, and principles in action on people’s personalities and identities grounds an ethic of unearned submission and servitude to authority of force and might. Father–King–Policeman–Gun–Man.

Fucking patriarchy, man.
• • •
Ronald Bogue ended up writing the most boring kind of history of philosophy paper imaginable – the list. He lists and dispassionately describes the appearances Freud’s ideas made in Deleuze’s work. Doesn’t contribute any more analysis than that.

There's a masterful essay in cultural theory on how Freudian
philosophy of desire and sexuality leads to the ideology of Zardoz.
But I'm not about to write it. That would mean I'd have to watch
Bogue’s essay expresses a weird kind of regret that Deleuze rejected Freudianism and never relied on Freud’s work again. I can’t quite explain it.

Best I can do is speculate – about the habits and norms of the academics of the global university system. Not what everyone does, of course. I’m just talking about the tendencies people get socialized into as they teach their courses, hunt for research grants and contracts, submit their articles and edit their journals, chase tenure.

There’s a tendency to crave wholeness in a primary material philosopher. At conferences, in classes, and in articles, so many ask questions like, “What was Aristotle’s concept of the soul?” for example. As if there could only be one answer to that question.

Some philosophers are allowed breaks. Ludwig Wittgenstein was one of those, but he was so extreme in declaring it in his life that no one can deny it. Kant was way more professional with his declaration, but it was still pretty extreme.

I was trained to think of such figures as outliers in the broader tradition of philosophy – those were consistent thinkers. Even the two Kants and the two Wittgensteins are each treated as being consistent. The concepts are clear in each one. You’d get weird looks if you suggested that the primary material thinkers were just as uncertain of the ideas they wrote about and the concepts they developed as anyone else.

So much secondary material is scholarship arguing over what a given philosopher really meant by a particular concept. If even the primary material writers didn’t quite know the exact concept – if they were figuring it all out like the rest of us – there isn’t any real hook for why they’re among the ranks of the great philosophers.

Well, there is. It’s the ambition, care, and skill with which they wrote their battles with difficult, vital concepts. Plus, they had the social and institutional connections and reputations to publish their work where it would be widely read and taken seriously.

If you think primary material philosophers reached any truth that make them categorically different from anyone else. We don’t read Aristotle to follow and join along with his concepts about the nature of the soul – We read Aristotle to know Aristotle’s concept of the soul.

Maybe we shouldn’t. You know that everybody shits, right?

Reaching for Respectability, Jamming, 08/02/2018

Sociology and I have an interesting relationship. Aside from the fact that two of my oldest friends are a husband-and-wife sociologist team, I’ve relied on sociological studies for a good number of empirical sources in my own work.

Sociological theory is also a pretty fertile ground for philosophical creativity too. Pierre Bourdieu, Max Weber, Randall Collins, Claude Lévi-Strauss are just a few sociological theorists who have been influential in philosophical circles.* I’ve gone to the work of these and other folks for my own research.

One of those artistically-rendered maps of the internet, allegedly
composed from every individual IP address.
* And departments, which overlap far too often.

Niklas Luhmann gets listed as a sociologist and social theorist – grappling with the concepts of his systems theory of communication and meaning takes up most of a chapter of Ecology, Ethics, and the Future of Humanity.

Jürgen Habermas’ communicative action theories has influenced huge swaths of sociological and human rights theory. Bruno Latour is a philosopher whose actor-network ontology of social relations was so influential that he’s taught as if he were a sociologist.

I’m no stranger to this discipline. It’s my main transdisciplinary direction when I take a flight.

But some sociologists are dangerous. They’re shunned. Or at least considered creative thinkers whose strange directions were never worth following empirically. Gabriel Tarde seems to be one of them.

The essay about him in Deleuze’s Philosophical Lineage is pretty fascinating. Éric Alliez wrote it, and I’ve loved his essays on Deleuze whenever I’ve come across them. I’d describe his writing style as the most artful lack of restraint. So here’s the short version of what Deleuze saw in Gabriel Tarde.

An implicit theme of this book is to show the depth of Deleuze’s debt to Gottfried Leibniz as a thinker – aside from the essay on Leibniz himself, there’s Wronski and Tarde, identified as Leibnizian thinkers in their own spheres.

So when Deleuze was hunting for concepts of existence as fundamentally heterogeneous, he stalks through a shadowy Leibnizian tradition. What made Tarde’s ideas Leibnizian?

Gabriel Tarde
Gabriel Tarde developed a model of sociological thinking that preserved psychological dimensions of human life at that macro level. I’ve just terrified every sociologist in the room.

The first thing about sociology you learn – seems to be in all the introductory courses – is that its founding principle was that the social was its own set of causes. The social was a level of existence with its own governing laws and principles that could never reduce to psychology.

It almost sounds like sociology is justifying its existence – which was actually the founding process of sociology.

Alliez explained this in his essay – Tarde and Émile Durkheim were contemporaries. Tarde was a marginal figure, who made his name developing criminology. That work eventually got him appointed to a professorship at the Collège de France, the platform for his critiques of Durkheim.

Durkheim was at the centre of important intellectual networks in Europe – building the first French university department of sociology at University of Bordeaux, then joining the Sorbonne.

That institutional role as the leader of sociology’s installation in the French research university saw Durkheim in a curious intellectual pressure. Sociology was caught between a firm division – too empirical and mathematical for the humanities, too humanistic for the sciences.

Durkheim, in laying out the core principles of sociology, did so to make sure it would be recognized as a science. He worked to build a consensus in the French academic world for the reality of the social as a plane of existence with its own rules and composition processes.

In this context, Tarde’s theory was very dangerous – especially given the awful 19th century European tendency to see all causal connection as reduction. Tarde’s theory was that built the social and all its processes emerge from the collision of huge numbers of individuals.

Today, we understand that theory as emergence. But 19th century thinkers didn’t understand emergence at all – they only understood reduction. So if one process comes from another, you don’t need to understand the resulting process in itself – only its components.

That attitude would have led people to think that the social was unreal because it was a product of individual interactions. So Durkheim suppressed it.

Yet Tarde – and that underground lineage of thinkers that Deleuze drew so much from – seem to have won out. Our universe is heterogeneous, a world of changes, where was emerges can be radically different from what was.

Can a Philosopher Let Herself Trust? A History Boy, 07/02/2018

After a very intense post yesterday, I want to relax a little bit. So I’m going to talk about the philosophical implications or mutual expressions of Riemannian geometry.

That's a serious joke. See, I’ve studied mathematics as someone learning about mathematics. So I know how to follow and read equations, I can see what a given operation is doing in a particular step, I can look back at the whole thing and have a decent idea of how you got from the beginning to end.

Here's how Deleuze described how Riemann changed the way people
did geometry. How he shook it to its core. Geometry had traditionally
been about the construction of different shapes. But Riemann figured
out a way to study mathematically space itself, how to construct
different spaces as well as different shapes, to see how different
shapes would behave in different spaces. A whole new axis of
complexity in geometrical possibility.
If I read the history or philosophy of mathematics, I can understand all the concepts fairly easily. I have to think a bit about it, but as long as the writer is reasonably competent, I can understand what they’re talking about.

It’s like being able to read a language, but not speak it.

I know enough mathematics to know that I’d be a terrible mathematician. When it comes to mathematics, I rely on colleagues I can trust. I run an idea by them – sometimes on a space like this blog. I ask them to comment, give a few thoughts. Tell me if I’m on the right track – definitely if I’m missing something.

I feel like university-trained researchers – I’m talking especially about the humanities and social sciences – get trapped in some paradoxes. Quite a lot of them. This one is mistaking a need to build expertise for your job, for expertise being the necessary condition of saying anything at all.

For instance, my case. If I were at a research conference, and there was a talk on some really interesting ideas in philosophy of mathematics in an otherwise lacklustre timeslot, I’d probably go. I’m pretty sure I have gone.

Sometimes – not all the time – folks would react with astonishment that I’d go see a talk in a field in which I wasn’t some level of expert. I do political theory, ethics, European thought, philosophy of ecology and biology.* Why would I go to a math theory talk?

* The people who know philosophy of ecology and biology would know that you have to understand mathematics at least as well as I do. But anyway.

There is a solitude of space
A solitude of sea
A solitude of death, but these
Society shall be
Compared with that profounder site
That polar privacy
A soul admitted to itself—
Finite infinity
My best friends in the university sector would, if that slot was lacklustre for them too, consider coming to the math theory talk with me. But others have been incredulous. As if the only thing you were allowed to be curious about anymore was what you were already an expert in.

Gilles Deleuze was a much better mathematician than I am. He studied mathematics well enough to teach it at the secondary level in France, which is more than I ever managed.

Study of Gottfried Leibniz’s work on differential calculus and Bernhard Riemann’s heterogeneous geometry helped Deleuze develop concepts of change and variety as fundamental principles of existence.

So when I read an article by someone who’s themselves become an expert in philosophy of mathematics and Gilles Deleuze’s philosophy, I’ll learn from what they say. Same way I learn from anyone who’s become an expert in what I want to learn about.

I read about how Deleuze interpreted Riemann’s work as tracing the mathematical structures of heterogeneous spaces – spaces that have entirely different properties, but are contiguous, that flow into each other. Objects can travel casually among all these spaces – ordinary as a walk between neighbourhoods – and be unaltered.

They just tumble differently. Into a valley, up a hill, around a bend, around several bends that seem like straight paths when you walk through them. Whatever. Doo bee doo.

Reality seen topologically. Perfectly legitimate – simply not quite what most of us are accustomed to. Let’s explore what makes us uncomfortable. And rely on people we trust – in their expertise and their character – to be our guides so we don’t lose ourselves.

Being Without Existing, Composing, 05/02/2018

It’s a basic rule of thinking decently-well that you shouldn’t apply concepts from scientific fields to moral or political thinking, and vice versa. But . . . .

The most famous example of these cross-domain applications gone horribly wrong is social Darwinism. There are plenty of opportunities to read up on how this popular interpolation of a scientific idea to a political imperative caused horrifying human disasters. Please read the links – they’ll open in separate tabs.

Riffing on a hilarious misinterpretation I've heard from too many
old conservative academic philosophers – Deleuze as simulacra.
Aside from the horrifying political consequences of the most notorious example, it’s just bad form epistemically. You can’t make a straight translation of abstract scientific concepts into a moral imperative. Especially when your example gets all the actual principles of the science totally wrong anyway.

Even Gilles Deleuze, well known philosophical weirdo, would say so. One of the major principles of his last book, What Is Philosophy?, was that scientific knowledge was mathematical and referred to specific situations – philosophy operated very differently.

But . . . . there’s a way to carry scientific concepts into other domains of thinking. It’s a process of abstraction.

Identify the most fundamental aspects of a scientific concept, abstract them into a diagram – so hold onto the complexity, but without the specificity – and experiment to see where else that abstract diagram makes sense.

You aren't so much drawing a conclusion – like the social Darwinists did – as you are an investigation. Where else can this concept apply fruitfully?

Where’s an example of this actually working? Then we can see, in specific terms, how that process of thought works. Well, Deleuze developed one – how the abstract structure of the scientific concept of the infinitesimal and the strange attractor can make sense of the existence of impossible ideals.

That’s a weird and dense thing to say. So what do I mean? In Leibniz’s calculus, an infinitesimal is the smallest possible differential relation. No differential – a dynamic relationship of ∆x/∆y – can ever reach zero. That’s just zero. But their smallest possible relationship is an infinitesimally small difference.

The thing is, infinitesimal quantities can’t exist. They definitely can’t exist in experience, because our perceptual powers give out at sizes of objects and movements way bigger than the infinitesimal. They can’t exist in reality either – the smallest any physical fluctuation can be is about 1.6x10-35 metres. Way longer than infinitesimal.

All you have to do for your dream to become reality is become a
god. That's well beyond the realm of possibility, but sadly, it's an
ideal that all too often guides our actions.
Infinitesimals can’t exist materially, but they exist as asymptotes in reality – you approach it, and can get closer and closer to it, but never actually reach it. It’s infinitely far from you, or infinitely small. An unreachable target that guides the trajectory of your approach.

And that’s what a moral ideal is – an unreachable target that nonetheless guides your real action. An ideal is real without existing – it’s the principle that provides the underlying logic of your action.

Any ethical act or project you work on will always be disappointing and an utter failure if you treat your ideal as achievable – if you think that a practical action plan will actually make an ideal come true.

Best case scenario, you’ll be disappointed when your ambitious plans to make the world a perfect place fall short of what you aimed for. Instead of pride in what you’ve achieved, you’ll feel ashamed that you couldn’t have done more.

Worst case scenario, you’re Mao Zedong leaving tens of millions dead and a nation of a billion horrifically traumatized. Yeah, that’s fine.

The function of the moral or ethical ideal in human thought is to be the asymptotic attractor for our lives – it governs our development without itself ever being a real state of affairs.

Now ask how such an ideal can be used for the betterment of humanity or for brutal destruction. What facilitates its progressive uses? What facilities its destructiveness?

That right there is what Utopias is about. I think I’ll start the introduction this weekend.

What In the World Will People Think?! Research Time, 04/02/2018

When I was reading through that book of essays on Gilles Deleuze’s influences, one name struck me for an odd reason – it was totally unfamiliar to me.

Who are some of these guys?
Josef-Maria Hoëne-Wronski. Who the hell was this guy? He got a brief mention in a small corner of Difference and Repetition, Deleuze’s most dense book. But I’ve never come across him in all my research into the corners of Napoleonic-period German philosophy.

Here was his major project, in a few paragraphs.

It’s the 1780s. Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason drops, and blows a lot of the intellectual scene in Germany away. It broke with long-established ways of thinking about human nature and thought, but did so by explicitly engaging with its major problems and solving them.

Naturally, Kant's solutions set up an entirely new set of problems. Wronski was a major figure in Polish mathematics and physics, so he had the knowledge base to approach many of the problems Kant’s work posed for the foundational principles of physics.

Kant’s first revolutionary book described how the structures of the mind – frameworks as simple and built into our experience as space, time, number, causality – conditioned experience. Human reason alone – as in logical reasoning – had no power to reach any foundational principle for why the frameworks of our mind were as they were.

Now, Kant would ultimately centre those principles in ethics and morality – practical reason. Wronski would move in a totally different direction – physics, particularly calculus.
• • •
Quick jump out of this to talk history. At the undergraduate level, the history of Western philosophy is usually taught as though there are clear boundaries in its development – classical, medieval, modern, critical, contemporary. 

Steve and I disagree on a lot of substantial ontological and
epistemological issues and debates. But we always have very
fruitful – or at least very entertaining – engagements and
All too often, those boundaries settle into researchers’ thinking as they progress as a scholar and specialize. That’s why philosophical work that shows the continuity through all these breaks – the little differences and influences across what we think are distinct periods – is the most valuable history of philosophy to me.

I’m indebted to my SERRC colleague Steve Fuller for having written books that taught me so much about those continuities that our oversimplifying undergrad curriculum paints over and erases. Of all the mentors, teachers, and elders I’ve had over the years, he’s taught me the most about this.
• • •
The choice made sense to Wronski. He was a physicist who came from the German-Polish professional world, where you learned Leibniz’s calculus alongside his complex and imaginative ontologies. So intensely creative, ontologically fertile metaphysics was an ordinary part of mathematical thinking for him.

In most of our undergraduate educations in philosophy, we learn that no one thought this way after reading Kant’s Critiques. That was the long-term effect, but just because it’s happened by now, doesn’t mean that it never took a long time anyway.

Wronski may have thought little of bringing Leibniz’s multivector hybrid approaches to physics, mathematics, and ontology. But the presumption got him into trouble, costing him a job at the Marseille Observatory.

It turns out that it isn’t always acceptable to develop a complexly hybrid ontology of the origins of the universe when you’re supposed to be mapping star movements. At least not outside your lunch breaks anyway.

Who are these guys, Kemo Sabe? Another inadvisable direction.
Wronski eventually became most famous in the intellectual circles of his day as a bit of a crank. As people were abandoning the approaches of Leibniz, he was carrying them forward. As it became less acceptable to motivate philosophical and scientific work using religious and theological principles, he was discussing how mystical visions helped inspire his metaphysical work.

The first major product of this exploration was his Introduction to the Philosophy of Mathematics and Algorithmic Science. It was a massive synthesis of Leibnizian ontologies of calculus with Pythagorean numerological mysticism, all tuned to the problems of post-Kantian philosophy.

His correspondences and friendships with major figures in European mathematics like Joseph-Louis Lagrange meant that this first book was reviewed in high-rolling circles. This quickly turned into a problem for Wronski, since IPMAS was universally panned, including in the review by Lagrange.

Eventually, Wronski’s own faith in the universality of algebra and calculus ended up just as limited as the Pythagorean faith in flat-planed geometry. After ambitious mathematical papers were likewise panned, he spent the last 30 years of his life in poverty. Still grinding away at epochally-ambitious philosophy and mathematics. But fruitlessly.

Wronski’s work turned out to be a dead end. So associating him with Deleuze becomes incredibly dangerous. The insults Wronski received on his way out of intellectual prominence – mystic spewing madness and nonsense – sound very similar to the insults academician analytic philosophers spew at post-structuralist thinkers like Deleuze.

So an essay talking about the influence of such a reviled figure as Wronski on Deleuze – who is widely reviled as a charlatan in many university circles – has to be careful not to associate them too much. Lest you justify the haters.