Tuesday, November 29, 2011

These Days

These days I think of writing as a luxury.

Just because I find myself working so much that I don't know when I can write. Mainly just because I've been really tired. I don't always feel like I have the energy to think about abstract stuff for fun.

But I am still working on the outline for the final part of the AZI project. I'm feeling good about it. I'm trying to reflect on some recent reading. I finishing The New Leviathan today and don't know exactly what to think of it. I'll have to keep looking at it and thinking about it.

I'm excited to be moving on to other things. I got a copy of Manuel Delanda's A Thousand Years of Nonlinear History which I'm pretty excited about. Gonna start looking at that.

But I'm struggling to find time for my reading. I sleep too much lately. I have to go to work all the time. I sleep and I go to work. Well, I have nights. But many of my nights to go to socializing. I want to hang out with people. Meet people. Do things. Duh.

I was talking to my mother at some point. She said that I could always cut back my socializing in order to get more reading and writing done. And I was all like Bahhhhhh. I can't do that. My gut reaction to that idea is no thanks. Because right now I do want to be social more than anything else. I won't turn down socializing for the sake of reading and writing. But I do want to be thinking and working towards writing. Because I'm getting towards all sorts of stuff.

The outline for Part IV.4 is looking good. I think I've decided on an introductory session that will focus strictly on political themes in Collingwood's last four monographs. The Principles Of Art, An Autobiography, An Essay On Metaphysics, The New Leviathan, and The Idea Of History. I'm excited to take a chronological look at those books. I can't speak of his oeuvre. I haven't read some of the other stuff. But I'm excited to speak of his late oeuvre.

I am seeing a sort of pattern emerge in his concern with politics. He was consistently interested in politics and culture. I'm curious. I wonder.

There are many critical essays and books on Collingwood that I've yet to approach. That is one thing I want to start doing.

But I'm excited to be getting to work, slowly, on Part IV.4.

The main thrust will be the attempt to create a model of political-aesthetic decision making. One that will be collaborating with the Clausewitzian project of theorizing decision making and the education of political judgement.

Saturday, November 26, 2011


I've had some days off lately. Which has been great. I haven't had days off lately.

I've been working a lot. Work is good. I like where things are going. But god it is making me very tired.

I slept super late yesterday. Slept pretty late today.

I have all these outlines and books I'm reading and waiting on. All these somewhat fresh ideas.

I was out with some friends last night. I was thinking about Collingwood in The New Leviathan. I tried to say something to myself about Collingwood something something dialectic thinking something something aesthetics something something something. I can't think clearly about this kind of stuff when I'm so tired.

It takes so much time. I need time where I'm clear headed, where I'm well rested, where I'm reading and writing and producing.

And those times will come. But right now I'm working a lot and it is making me want to sleep a lot.

Oh well.

I can just feel sluggishness creeping its way into me. Temporarily. But still.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

A Forthcoming Short Essay On War, Society, Habit, And Freedom

I intend to write a short essay before I proceed with my work on the final portions of 'Art, Zen, and Insurrection'.

This new essay is tentatively titled 'The Militarization Of Society And The Decoupling of Habit And Freedom'. Generally, it will try and address the way that habit is no longer viewed as a viable source of freedom. Specifically, I want to ask if this decoupling of habit and freedom is due to the intertwining of military and civilian institutions that began in the sixteenth century.

There are two articles that are serving as my major starting points. The first, and perhaps the more important, is Zizek's 'Madness And Habit In German Idealism: Discipline between The Two Freedoms'. This is an article that really pushes me to think about the relationship between habit and freedom, and really forces me to ask why we think of habit as incompatible with freedom. It asks me to think historically about the relationship between habit and freedom.

The second article is Manuel Delanda's 'Economics, Computers, And The War Machine'. In that article Delanda urges scholars to create economic and institutional histories that do away with simplistic ideas like 'the capitalist system'. Instead, Delanda claims that we must recognize that different economic systems (feudalism, elements of capitalism, banks, command systems) existed at the same time and influenced one another. What we need is a better understanding of 'institutional ecologies'. The most important element of the article, however, is Delanda's claim that these " 'institutional ecologies' should include military organizations playing a large, relatively independent role" (Delanda, 2004, 4). In other words, economic and institutional historians have not payed adequate attention to the way that the military influences other institutions.

Perhaps the most important effect the military has had on civilian institutions is the imposition of its bureaucratic and command structure. The military, historically, was the first institution to try to craft people into highly disciplined machines, the first to try and instill habits deep into people to make them work more efficiently. This is a very Foucaultian notion. The main thrust of Discipline & Punish is the idea that the military model of discipline infiltrated our most significant civilian institutions. Thus, prisons, hospitals, insane asylums, and schools all resemble the military in command structure, spatial organization, and most importantly, in the way that they instill highly specific, normalized habits deep into their subjects. Delanda even cites Foucault in this article, showing me that I'm not crazy to read D&P the way I do.

This military 'invasion' of civilian institutions has major implications for the role in habit in modern culture. Habit is no longer conceptualized as a personal thing, as something we craft for ourselves. Habit is, rather, something that is imposed on us from above, something that comes from our most powerful institutions and their desire for us to conform with their rigid structures.

Doesn't it seem like the rise of Foucault's 'disciplinary society', or Delanda's 'militarization of society', has serious implications for the relationship between habit and freedom?

I sure as hell think it has serious implications.

How does one, then, reclaim habit as a viable source of freedom when all of our habits are instilled in us by impersonal, pseudo-militaristic forces?

What to do with all these habits, all these institutions, all these demands made on us left and right?!

How is one to behave habitually and still feel free?

My new essay will attempt to answer these questions.

I don't know when I'll get around to it, because I'm still very busy. I'm still working alllll the time. Oh well.

But I will have to reread Zizek's essay. I'll be getting Delanda's A Thousand Years Of Nonlinear History in the mail any day now.

I don't know when. But I will get to this essay. I believe I will be able to ask some interesting questions. And I believe that I know some people who can help me think about this. Here's to you, Zizek, Delanda, and Foucault. Here is to the others who will help me. Here's to all of us.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Notes On Habit And Freedom

Long ago I read one of Zizek's essays "Madness and Habit in German Idealism: Discipline between the Two Freedoms."

The only problem is that I read it on an ipod. I couldn't take notes. I was reading it on a tiny screen on a moving bus in the middle of the summer.

I remember certain things about it. Like that Hegel seems very difficult to read. But, more importantly, I remember certain things about Zizek's description of habit.

He says that in the "shift from Aristotle to Kant, to modernity with its subject as pure autonomy: the status of habit changes from organic inner rule to something mechanical, the opposite of human freedom: freedom cannot ever become habit(ual), if it becomes habit, it is no longer true freedom.... This eventually reaches its apogee in Christ, who is 'the figure of a pure event, the exact opposite of the habitual' " (1, My italics).

Why this incompatibility of freedom and habit? Because I don't think I have any option but to live habitually. I have devoted so much thinking and writing to the issue of modifying autopilot, or intuitive behavior, all of it culminating in the language of habit. I hope to stick with the term habit for a while, because it seems the most accurate to me.

I need to write a larger essay on this issue of the relationship between habit and freedom.

Because I have some hunches. I took this note last night: "Freedom and habituation. In ancient times large institutions were not the dominant source of habit. Thus habit was a feasible form of freedom. But in modern times habit comes primarily from above, it comes from a disciplined and militarized society."

This is very much speaking about Discipline & Punish, about how military models infiltrated civilian society with the purpose of crafting subjects, providing them with certain habits that would make them fit better into the social machine.

But the ancients didn't have to worry about disciplinary institutions like we do.

I don't know what I'll write about all of this.

It will involve Foucault, Delanda, Zizek, some others. I plan on rereading Zizek's essay at some point soon.

I think that this writing will be useful for Part IV.4 of AZI. It will be a good point to isolate, because it will have major implications for that thinking and writing.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Formal Language And Poetic Language


We all use language every single day. We can't get around it. We must speak to one another.

But how do we speak to one another? Do we do it along the normal lines, saying 'hello', 'goodbye', and 'I'm good, thanks.'

Or do we break that formula?

Do you say 'Oh, I'm doing well, but I'm having a very strange day because of such and such?'

In short, I'm asking you: do you use language in the formal, predetermined, scripted sense? Or do you venture beyond the scripts and use language to express yourself?

Do you use language formally, or do you use it poetically?

I think my professional work makes me very sensitive to this issue.

Because baristas, more often than not, experience language in formal ways. People say hi, you ask how they are, they might express interest, they might no5, and then they order something. Then you both move on, a few minutes closer to dying.

Customer service work exposes you to language at its most formal. Economic systems have the potential to make language so formal, so utilitarian.

But I refuse to give in.

I was watching Heidegger speak last night. Because lately I'm too tired to read, so I just watch philosophers speak instead.

Heidegger talks about the transformation of language going on in the 20th century. That in our normal life we use a type of technical language. We use normal understandings, scripts to speak with. We say 'hi how are you', 'oh I'm fine, thanks for asking'.

You don't give a fuck about how I am. We don't give a fuck about each other. Stop dicking around. We will never penetrate the economic definition of this moment. But thanks for sticking to the polite script. Now I'll explode. Thanks.

Adorno, too, discusses this. He says that all language is coming to resemble the formality of hello and goodbye.

In essence, that scripts are coming to dominate our speech. We struggle to use language as an instrument of expression. Instead, language dominates us. It traps us in its scripts, in its easy usages.

The truth is, however, that language can be used in ways that are far more exciting than this.

And Heidegger called those uses of language 'poetic'. As soon as we use language to talk about relationships, about emotions, about anything beyond formal or economically defined things, we enter the realm of the poetic.

This issue, the issue of language as both formal and poetic, is what I'm really after in all my reading and writing on aesthetics.

Because these politicians, the ones I see on TV, they seem to be using language in formal ways. They seem to cling to simplistic rhetoric.

Oh, the true aestheticization of politics awaits definition.

But, god dammit, can we please stop being so afraid of poetic/expressive language?

Fuck formality.

This is serious.

This is unique.

Our lives are novel and frightening.

We need a language worthy of our experiences.

That is, a language that is exciting and poetic.

We all have novel lives.

And we need novel language to communicate these lives.

Because I'm not 'fine'.

And I don't want you to tell me you are 'fine'.



Thursday, November 17, 2011

The Other Side Of Seriousness

I am contemplating cutting my hair.

It gets long and curly. People like my curls. I told my parents today that I kind of like the attention that my curls bring me. People want to touch them sometimes, people think they are cute, people think they jive with my silly and playful personality.

This is all well and good. The attention is nice. I like being complimented.

But I also like my hair to be very very short. Buzzed super close. I sometimes like my hair to be a bit more serious like that.

This tension in my hair reflects a larger tension in my own heart. I'm a deeply serious person. I take reading and writing and thinking very seriously. I'm very emotional. My life feels very intense to me.

But people don't always know this about me. They say things about how I'm never serious, how I'm always smiling and being playful. Which is true. I'm a very playful person. I love to laugh and goof around with people. I love to relax and express myself. But, for me, there is always some kind of intensity sitting behind all of that, supporting it.

Because in reality there is no tension between my playfulness and my seriousness. They are two sides of the same coin, they arise out of one another, support one another.

But I guess sometimes I worry that people don't recognize this in me. People sometimes just think I'm silly. But the truth is that my silliness has an intellectual foundation.

I was talking to my dad about this today. He said that I was so serious that I came out the other side. I'm on the other side of seriousness. I have tried to explain this before to someone. How if you take seriousness far enough you break through this wall and into a world of playful, lightheartedness.

Tonight I took a note on this issue. I wrote "Playfulness, dance, kindness, and expression are the only logical outcomes of my deepest convictions about the nature of existence, meaning, death, all that."

So what are my intellectual views that lead to playfulness? Well.

I was born alone.

I will die alone.

There probably isn't an afterlife.

There probably isn't any inherent meaning to life.

The meaning of life, as A.C. Grayling reminded me, is to make life meaningful.

Although I enter into a world of an already existing symbolic order, it is up to me to make something else of that symbolic order, to create myself and the world I live in.

Other people are on the whole good. They need love and should be loved.

Love is great, pain is bad but unavoidable.

A mitigation of pain is important.

An acceptance of pain is important.

So how does all of this lead me to the conclusion that dancing, singing, loving, joking, and being kind are the most important things?

I'm not sure how to articulate it clearly.

But it seems to me that if most things in life are transient and without inherent meaning then they are a space of potential creativity. They are there to be actively created, not passively experienced. And if I'm to create my experience it sure as fuck won't be one of pain, one of anger, one of disdain and disrespect.

It will be one of love, of jokes, of hugging and dancing, of smiling and of paying attention to people like they matter. Because they do.

Oh the years I was afraid to smile.

Oh how happy I am to see them gone, to regard them from a distance of years.

And what of all these people around me? All these customers I serve, some of whom are wonderful, and some of whom want nothing to do with me as a person.

What of those people who want nothing to do with me? What is going on in their lives?

Well, I imagine that the hustle bustle of their lives is quite a lot. They are worried about their jobs, about their children, about their spouses, their mortgages, their money. All very real problems. But transient and symbolically constituted problems nonetheless. The only real problem is life and death. How to live, how to prepare to die. The only real problem is people, their lives, and the way those lives interact.

I also have to take account of things like money and rent. But I want to do my best to recognize those things as transient and ultimately illusory. I want to get at the universals of life, things like love, pain, death. Relationships is what I care about.

I seek the other side of seriousness. I want to use intellectual work to clarify precisely what is important in life. And I can only conclude that the most important things in life are to love, to play, to laugh, to drink and be merry.

And, for me, always to think. Because thinking makes me happy. It gives me a sense of satisfaction, a sense of control, a sense of peace and love.

Stop fucking around with seriousness. Break on through to the other side.

Because on the other side of seriousness lies a world of playful love and generic affection for the world.

Wasting Time

I'm spending a bit of time this afternoon on a website called I Waste So Much Time.

Funny, the self-referentiality of the name. They understand this internet culture of distraction and they are claiming it.

I wonder how I should feel about distraction and amusement. I amuse myself. I distract myself. I can't read and write all the time. Sometimes you just need to relax a bit.

And I'm so tired lately. I have been working a whole lot. And it sucks. But I'm making money. Living hard, too.

I have to go to work at 4:30. I figured I'd relax for a while.

I could lie down and read The New Leviathan. But my mind just feels a bit too restless. I want to look at funny and clever pictures. See how many funny people there are in the world. There are a lot.

And man, this picture is soooooo funny:

I spent a good 20 seconds laughing out loud after I saw it.

I'm not sure why.

Chemistry jokes are funny.

But this blog of mine, this Savage Riley, is a bit stuffy. I usually go off about philosophy and shit.

But sometimes I just dick around, look at fun pictures and videos, explore the dredges of the internet.

My other blog is also a lot of fun. We write about mouths. Me and my friends. We write about mouths.

Yes. Circulate.

As Jeezy says. Circulate. Don't be scared. Let the dollar circulate. Let my intellectual capital circulate.

Sometimes I just need to relax. Because soon enough I'll be working again. Writing again. Reading again. Not relaxing again.

So today I'm just relaxing. And that website and that picture are relaxing to me.

I laugh out loud even just thinking about that picture. Nice.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The Material. The Ideal.

Today I was preparing a blog post about materialism and idealism.

But then I got distracted with laundry and a documentary about Joseph Goebbels.

Plus I was very tired from working hard.

Materialism. It means that we analyze reality primarily in terms of the physical world, in terms of the matter and space around us. It means that reality exists independently of mental activity.

Idealism. It means that reality is constituted primarily of ideas. Not that physical/material things don't exist. But that our experience of them is conditioned by our ideas.

I find both of them sensical on first examination.

But they need to be properly synthesized.

I believe the Collingwood and Delanda can both help me with this.

Also, tonight I had the Rogue hazelnut brown ale, and it was dope as shit. Tasted like fucking hazelnuts. Straight up.

SO good. I love hazelnut.

And it tasted so good in beer.

I love love nutty beer.

Philosophical reflections will be upon us all soon. Upon me. And upon any of the unfortunate readers of this blog.

What A Curios World, This World Of Thought

I'm still reading Collingwood, and I'm very happy to be doing it.

The New Leviathan is producing some interesting insights. In particular, I am taken by his assertion that politics must be a dialectical process, but that in his time (and I venture to say ours) it has become a largely eristical process. That is to say, our political system no longer aims at synthesizing ideas, but is about two or more sides fiercely and aggressively arguing one point with no intention of engaging in a real conversation. We have exchanged dialectical politics for eristical politics. How interesting.

As I move my way through Collingwood, however, I am preparing myself to encounter some new thinkers. In particular, I am going to read Manuel Delanda's A Thousand Years Of Nonlinear History. A book that is based heavily on Deleuze. So, I will also be grappling with Deleuze. Which is good, because he scares me.

I just watched a video of Delanda giving a talk in 2004. He explained how what he finds in Deleuze, and what he wants to refine in Deleuze, is a new materialism that can reinvigorate the left. He is critical of postmodern philosophy for being overly ideal, that is, wrapped up with the ways that ideas and language create our reality. Delanda, on the contrary, asserts that we need to reclaim material thoughts, and get out of this overly-ideal way of thinking. There is almost certainly still room for idealist thinking, language is still a monumentally important factor, but the material also needs to be accounted for. How difficult, though. I will have more posts on this opposition of material and ideal in the near future.

I also found another book/thinker that I am curious about. I actually just found out about it tonight. His name is Maurice Eisenstein, he is a political scientist at Purdue. The book I am most curious about is called The Phenomenology of Civilization: Reason As A Regulative Principle in Collingwood and Husserl. A most curious title. I don't know what goes on in the book. The title is certainly provocative.

I simply googled "collingwood and phenomenology" because it is an important connection I need to flesh out. Foucault's relationship to phenomenology became clear when I read Oksala's Foucault On Freedom, and I excitedly anticipate her new book, Foucault, Politics, And Violence. Lol. Great shit. So, I'll have to explore Collingwood's relationship to phenomenology, or look for elements of it in his writing. Eisenstein's book will probably be helpful for me. But I need to read Husserl someday.

But apparently this Eisenstein fellow is controversial. Apparently making racist statements, inappropriate statements about women. He was sued by some woman. Students at Purdue were protesting him just a week ago.

I wonder. I wonder indeed.

How funny, this world of people thinking and reading and writing. Yet they might still be assholes, might still be racists, or Nazis (ahem Heidegger). I wonder if his study of Husserl and Collingwood is worthwhile. I'll have to look. Racist or not, I wonder what he thinks of Collingwood's relationship to phenomenology.

Monday, November 14, 2011

My Mind Is Not Quiet

When I walk around I don't stop thinking.

I have one thought after another. They chase one another, build on each other.

They just keep coming.

Always in the form of language.

I experience one sentence after another.

I tried to focus on my breathing. This one in, this one out. Accompanied by words at first. This one in, this one out. I kept track.

Then I let go. This one in, this one out.

Without the words this time.

This one in, this one out.

Just this one in and this one out.

Words chirp beneath the surface.

But this one is already coming in, and then it went out.

I'm not sure if I ever lost the words. If they ever fully ceased. But I know that the process of breathing overtook them. There was a moment.

I need to take my interest in mindfulness a step further.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Ethics And The Aesthetics Of Existence

I haven't made it clear how the aesthetics of existence is a form of ethics. Because that is really what I think it is. It is supposed to be about how to live an ethical life.

I'll have to stress the point in IV.4.

I also thought it might be interesting to write about this idea in Foucault's work. I know its been written on already. But Foucault's aesthetics of existence is definitely about ethics. In particular, I wanted to write something about the relationship between The Use Of Pleasure and and essay called "What Is Enlightenment?"

I'll have to do that.

I'm also curious about exploring this idea because of something David Harvey said. He says something about the Reagan administration and the so-called 'aestheticization of politics'. Harvey basically says that the Reagan administration embraced "the shift from ethics to aesthetics as its dominant value system.”He frames aesthetics and ethics as antithetical. But I don't think that is the case. I think that political lying, image-crafting, and manipulation is both unethical and unaesthetic. You could only think aesthetics antithetical with ethics if you mistook art proper for mere representation. This is the main thrust of Collingwood's aesthetics. But I don' know how to work out the details yet. It confuses me. Can genuine aesthetic expression lead to violence on behalf of the artist? I dunno. I don't want that to be the case. But it isn't immediately clear to me if that is or is not the case.

Oh well.

I'm still reading The New Leviathan. Getting interesting. Eager to keep reading.

Once I've finished it I might starting seriously looking at the outline for IV.4. Right now I'm just gonna finish Collingwood's final work.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Science, Natural and Otherwise


What a curious word.

What a curious cultural fixation.

We love science.

By which, of course, we mean natural science.

This is America! Natural science is the only science!

The word 'science', however, has a more general meaning than the one we ascribe to it.

Science originally denoted an organized and rationally grounded body of knowledge that had claims to truth due to its organization/rational foundations.

Collingwood is one of the people who turned me on to this issue with the word science. "The word 'science', in its original sense, which is still its proper sense not in the English language alone but in the international language of European civilization," he explains, "means a body of systematic or orderly thinking about a determinate subject-matter" (An Essay On Metaphysics, 4). Collingwood explains how there "is also a slang sense of the word,... parallel to the lang use of the word 'hall' for a music-hall or the word 'drink' for alcoholic drink, in which it stands for natural science" (Ibid.). When I use the word science, when my friends use it, we almost always mean natural science.

What are the consequences of the word science being defined as merely natural science? Well, there are probably many. But I only want to reference two right now. One about our cultural fixation on natural science as our main source of knowledge. The second being with how I read authors, like Foucault, who use the word science without defining it properly.

I sometimes worry that other forms of thinking aren't respected. The humanities are what I'm primarily thinking. I think that natural science, and its methods, have come to dominate our ways of claiming knowledge. How do you know what you know? We would probably say that we know most things because natural science has told us so.

But what about history as a science? What about philosophy as a science? Are these not orderly modes of thought that deserve a certain claim to knowledge? But I don't think we regard those disciplines in that way. They at best offer uncertain or biased knowledge. Not what I think. I think they can offer very real knowledge. But it seems like our cultural fixation on natural science prevents us from taking advantage the possible knowledge that could be derived from these other disciplines. Oh well.

Then I read people like Foucault, and I wonder about his use of the word science. He is always discussing 'the human sciences', the importance of science in exerting normalizing power/knowledge, so on. I bet he is using the word science in the larger, continental sense. I am just unaware of it, or was unaware of it.

The word science deserves examination. Because it can't just mean natural science. We need to draw on the benefits of science in the broadest sense. We need to value orderly and careful thinking, regardless of its subject matter. There can be sciences of many things.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Language And Thought

As I move through The New Leviathan there is one thing that troubles me.

Which is Collingwood's claim that thought is always accompanied by language.

I don't know if I buy this.

Thinkers like Guy Claxton claim that thought does not require language. That Descartes' famous phrase 'I think, therefore, I am' should be reformulated as 'I act, therefore, I think'.

What, precisely, is thought?

What do we mean when we talk about thought?

I'm not sure. But for some reason Collingwood is explicitly claiming that thought and language go hand in hand, are inseparable.

I'm not so sure.

I should look at Heidegger's What Is Called Thinking? I already own a copy of it. And the title couldn't be more appropriate for my concern, right?

Oh well.

I'll sort this out at some point.

But the relationship between action, 'thought', and intellect is a complex one that awaits me.

I feel great about that journey though.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Absolute Presuppositions, Thought, And Mindfulness, Or, Metaphysical Mindfulness

Collingwood's An Essay On Metaphysics is a very interesting book.

He defines metaphysics as the historical science of absolute presuppositions. An absolute presupposition, like it sounds, is a "presupposition... which stands, relatively to all questions to which it is related, as a presupposition, never as an answer" (31). We must presuppose certain things absolutely if we are to continue thinking at all. The study of absolute presuppositions, however, must be accomplished through historical study. This is "because the question is not one that can be settled by introspection alone. Introspection can do no more than bring into the focus of consciousness something of which we are already aware" (43). This is why the study of absolute presuppositions, metaphysics, must be a historical science. If we want to know the absolute presuppositions of our own thought, or of other thought, we must be willing to compare our mode of thinking to other's. "It is only when a man's historical consciousness has reached a certain point of maturity," Collingwood asserts, " that he realizes how very different have been the ways in which different sets of people have thought. When a man first begins looking into absolute presuppositions it is likely that he will begin by looking into those which are made in his own time by his own countrymen, or at any rate by persons belonging to some group of which he is a member" (56). Thus, it should be clear that"Every metaphysical question either is simply the question what absolute presuppositions were made on a certain occasion, or is capable of being resolved into a number of such questions together with a further question of further questions arising out of these" (49). And this study of absolute presuppositions must be accomplished through historical study.

This is difficult to think about personally, however. How I discover my own absolute presuppositions and how do I go about thinking once I have discovered them? I wrote this last night while i was very tired. 'How to know what one absolutely presupposes and still continue thinking? I was brushing my teeth, thinking about my body, water, and heartburn. I presuppose absolutely that my body can be exposed to germs, that my stomach is full of acid that might cause me pain, that Tums will make me feel better. Yet I continue to think. I struggle with this idea of knowing an AP and continuing to think.' How to study your absolute presuppositions and yet continue to think?

Well, I think that last night I was aware of my absolute presuppositions but I was still thinking. As I said, I had heartburn, and I immediately thought 'oh I'll eat some Tums'. That thought absolutely presupposes the existence of stomach acid and the capacity of Tums to quell the stomach acid that has been irritated. I washed my hands after I used the toilet, which absolute presupposes the existence of germs. I went to brush my teeth and I was careful not to touch the bristles of the brush, because I knew that if I touched that part it would go into my mouth and germs might get into my mouth. Absolutely presupposing the relationship between germs and illness. So, in that case, last night, I felt like I was thinking about my absolute presuppositions, yet still letting them do the business of structuring my thought. I still followed all those thoughts, performed all those actions, but I was aware of my absolute presuppositions.

This type of historical work on absolute presuppositions, that is, metaphysical work, can never be "carried to completion, for it is a work which in the nature of it can never be complete, but done as required, piece by piece, when the need arises" (85). So what am I to do with this work, then? If metaphysics is a constant project, what is its purpose? What is it to help me do if I can never complete it?

Well, I think that the task of metaphysics is really to help us pay attention better. Collingwood explains how scientist's can fail to make a certain observation if they are 'too clever'. That metaphysics ultimately deals with the "simple and familiar, visible to the eyes of a child, and perhaps hidden from clever men because they are too clever" (172). One might be so wrapped up in a constellation of absolute presuppositions and the conclusions that it leads us to that we are entirely ignorant of our presupposing at all. Absolute presuppositions, however, are indispensable. They are the basic constituents of thought and "unless we have them already arguing is impossible to us" (173).

So if we can't get rid of our absolute presuppositions, what are we to do with our knowledge of them? Well, like I hinted above, I think that metaphysical study can be an aid to mindfulness. If we know what we are presupposing absolutely we open ourselves up to different types of observation. We can then be sure that we are not being too clever, having an obvious reality hidden from us by a certain absolute presuppositions. If we know what we presuppose absolutely we can examine reality more easily.

His conclusions in that Essay are much like Foucault's in The Order Of Things. Thats why I was able to write about Foucault as enabling a mindfulness. There is a lot to be said for historical study and the cultivation of mindfulness.

This explication of Collingwood is merely a part of my idea of Modern Zen, in which mindfulness is achieved by embracing historical ontological study.


More will be said of this in Part IV.4 of AZI, I suspect.

Or elsewhere.

I've got lots to say about these issues of history, philosophy, self-knowledge, mindfulness, etc..

My Mother Is Right

In that we should have no interest in anger.

Are you angry?

Frankly, I'm not.

Are you in pain?


I experience pain regularly.

Philosophical, historical, and personal knowledge can do that for you.

They might put you in a bit of pain, a bit of confusion about who you are, why you are living this way, and what you do.

But anger isn't what I feel.

Confusion is what I feel.

Pain is what I feel.

But don't fret. Everything is okay.

Death will take us away.

Steve Jobs, apparently, felt that death was a serious motivator. I feel the same.

Work hard!

Love yourself!

Be okay!

Drink and do whatever you want, within reason.

Everything is okay.

Problems are always false problems.

Death is the only problem

And this is a bullshit, free flow statement.

I don't know what is and is not okay.

But I watched the documentary 'Zizek!' today.

It was fun.

For Zizek, philosophy deals with the redefinition of problems.

If an asteroid is coming at Earth, he says, we do not need philosophy. We need good science. We need people to figure out how to blow up an asteroid so as to save Earth.

But if we are upset with our economic system, or our way of life, then, we need philosophy to show us how our problems are false problems.

Most of life, I venture to say, is full of false problems.

The real problems are hard to identify.

Don't be angry.

Everything is okay.

It really is.

To be angry is to be committed to false problems.


But we need to figure this out.

Because anger simply isn't productive.

Pain and sadness, however, might be.

I'm simply loving.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

What Is This Thing I've Been Doing?

I just published Part IV.3 of the Art, Zen, And Insurrection project. Frankly, I'm not super satisfied with that part. It felt like a sloppy inquiry into Foucault. It feels like an uncertain step in the project. But a necessary one. I needed to disentangle the idea of the aesthetic existence from Foucault's work. Because I want it to be more than Foucault was able to explain it to be. I want it to be a more properly political project than Foucault makes it seem. Because he doesn't really precisely say what this aesthetic existence is, or what it is supposed to do. He didn't get that far. He died.

But I'm working on asking the questions that I think need to be asked about the idea of the aesthetic existence.

Last night after finishing IV.3 I took a walk. It occurred to me that the whole project made sense in terms of a series of interconnecting essays. It isn't really a coherent statement. It is an exploration. It was an outline that prompted a research project.

All of the Parts correspond to a specific question. What is art? How is it connected with society at large? What would it mean to live an aesthetic existence? Would an aesthetic existence in anyway be a political project? Four questions for four parts.

Each of those larger questions, of course, breaks down into more questions. Thus all the subsections for the parts.

For a long time I didn't know how I was going to think about the aesthetic existence as a political project. But I still don't really know. But I took a six month break and the reading I did helped me begin to think about it politically, even if I haven't done it adequately. Which I will probably never be able to do. But it is a good exercise nonetheless.

I also feel good about the way the project has affected me personally. I have become a different person over the last year. I moved to Seattle. I started working full time. I've been working on these ideas nearly my entire time here. And I have been working on AZI for a little more than a year.

The crux of the whole project is the idea of self-creation. For Collingwood, Searle, Smith, and others, the world is constituted primarily by language or ideas. The idea of status functions and all that business. Humans therefore have some capacity for self-creation through language. This is what political institutions should probably strive for: attempts at the purposeful creation of a community through language (writing laws, having conversations). Art and the aesthetic existence, which is essentially an expressive existence, is all about self-creation. I value writing as a way of changing myself, asking myself questions, and I can see how this project has helped shape my thinking and my behavior.

I think the writing has helped me become more aware of myself and my social behavior. I still do certain things that I'm not crazy about. I get shy sometimes and all that. So I'm not always expressive. Sometimes things hold me back. But on the whole I think I've become more expressive, I think I try to be mindful. I try to remain in a willful state of uncertainty. I find that I pay attention better if I assume that I don't know what I'm looking at. And this is a crucial part of Collingwood's notion of the aesthetic process. The artist always particularizes experience, never naming the feeling, but expressing them through other means.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Art, Zen, and Insurrection: Finding Personal and Social Change In The Aesthetic Existence Part IV.3

This is Part IV.3 of the Art, Zen, And Insurrection project. Here is a table of contents:
IV.3. The Aesthetic Existence And Foucaultian ‘Individual Politics’

7. The Problem of Foucault: The Aesthetic Existence And The Individualization of Politics
8. Foucault as Artist: His Autobiographical Monographs as The Imaginative Expressions of Emotion
9. Politics And Personal Issues
10. Personal Actions As Political And Apolitical: Foucault And The Depoliticization Of The Self
11. Art And The Struggle Against Individual Corruption Of Consciousness: Concluding Part IV.3

IV.3. The Aesthetic Existence And Foucaultian ‘Individual Politics’
In the next two sections I want to understand if and how the aesthetic existence can be conceptualized as a political project. In order to do that I need to determine the political boundaries of thought and action. I need to determine what is and is not a political action in the mind. Clearly civilization is a mental process, it involves a mental component. Collingwood argues that “ ‘civilization’ is primarily the name of a process whereby a community... undergoes a mental... change from a condition of relative barbarity to one of relative civility” (The New Leviathan, 289). Politics is therefore about individual minds, their contents, and the bodies they are embodied in.
My body and my thoughts are politically formed or constituted. Political processes provide the frame work for my most personal thoughts, feelings, and actions. Politics condition, for example, my sexual thoughts, my attitude towards others and myself, and the actions I take in my day to day life to secure my means to subsistence. My thoughts and my body are therefore constitute by properly political processes. But does this mean that every thought or action that goes counter to the political nature of my thoughts is also ‘political’? Does all this imply that changing your own thoughts is a political process? My gut reaction is no. There must be a way to distinguish whether a thought or action is political or not. This is what I mean when I say that I want to determine the political boundaries of thought and action. That is the first step in understanding the political implications of the aesthetic existence, and the task of this section.
The thinker I most need to reckon with is Foucault. He is the one who planted this seed in my mind about the political nature of the mind and body. He is the one who told me that the transformation of my own mind and body constitutes a political action, an insurrection of knowledge. This section therefore will primarily be an inquiry into Foucault’s definition of the political and an attempt to refute his definition and its implications. This means grappling with Foucault’s oeuvre in an attempt to see him not as a political philosopher, but as one concerned primarily with “his private moral quest” (Lilla, 154).
7. The Problem of Foucault: The Aesthetics Of Existence And The Individualization of Politics
The title of this section is ‘the problem of Foucault’. I am referring primarily to my problem with Foucault. Which is that he blurred the line between peace and war to an extent that made me uncomfortable. He put me in a position in which I was no longer able to conceptually distinguish between the violence of peace, and the violence of war. In his definition of politics/power everything becomes a matter of politics. Our bodies, our minds, our thoughts, all of it. They all become a matter of politics, violence, war, struggle, so on. I tried to clear up the issue of violence in war and peace in Part IV.1, and I think I did enough for now. In this part, however, I need to try and draw the political limitations of the mind.
First I’ll be elaborating Foucault’s main argument from Discipline & Punish. I’ll then try to show how D&P, when read in conjunction with History Of Sexuality Volume I and Society Must Be Defended, elaborates a definition of politics and war in which every action and every thought becomes political. When these ideas are carried to their logical outcome the creation of knowledge becomes an act of ‘insurrection’, and we can in essence ‘wage a war in our own minds’. I’ll then spend a few sections refuting this idea, trying to show that there is a limit to what is and what is not political in the world of thought and action. I’ll do this both by examining the scope of Focault’s oeuvre, by analyzing his personal engagement with politics, and by engaging directly with his ideas. In short, I will show using both biographical and conceptual arguments that Foucault’s definition of politics and power needs to be reconfigured to take into account the apolitical nature of some forms of thought and action. In fact, I will argue that what Foucault truly sought was the depoliticization of certain forms of experience.
In Discipline & Punish Foucault (as usual) writes a sweeping history of the rise of the French prison systems. His main task is to explain how a judicial system based on torture transformed into one based on incarceration. Foucault argues that this judicial transition is primarily characterized by a shift away from the criminal’s body to his soul. That is to say, instead of violently controlling the criminal’s body, the sovereign begins to control the mind of the criminal. This mental control is achieved, Foucault argues, through a diverse set of loosely connected institutions that produce scientific knowledge that is able to exert a normalizing effect on a population. In other words, psychiatric, medical, educational, and legal institutions form a loose ‘apparatus’ that produces an interconnected body of knowledge that regulates individuals from within their own minds. Foucault claims that these diverse institutions are wielding ‘disciplinary power’: the power to create knowledge that can control and regulate the thoughts and movements of individual bodies. Or, as Zizek puts it, there are “very real undemocratic elements that sustain democracy. Does therein not reside the premise premise of Foucault’s... analyses of modern power: democratic power has to be sustained by a complex network of controlling and regulating mechanisms?” (IDOLC, 105). Discipline & Punish thus shows how government’s went from controlling populations through physical violence to regulating them through the production of knowledge.
One consistent theme in Foucault’s description is the use of militaristic metaphors. Foucault implies that both torture and disciplinary power are in some ways akin to war. He explains how criminals were perceived to be "quite literally, enemy troops spreading over the surface of the territory, living as they wish, as in a conquered country, exacting levies under the name of alms" (77). According to Foucault, "The right to punish, therefore, is an aspect of the sovereign's right to make war on his enemies: to punish belongs to 'that absolute power of life and death which Roman law calls merum imperium, right by virtue of which the prince sees that his law is respected by ordering the punishment of crime'" (48). The references in Discipline & Punish to war and disciplinary power are less explicit. But for some reason, when I wrote ‘Society’s Implicit War’ I was under the impression that it was heavily implied that disciplinary power also constituted a war of sorts. The only difference is that it is no longer a war of direct violence, but a war of ideas, of knowledge, of minds. An ‘implicit’ war of knowledge, rather than an explicit war of violence.
Even if Discipline & Punish is vague on this point, the Society Must Be Defended lectures are clearer. In those lectures, delivered between the publication of D&P and Volume I of HOS, Foucault continues his inquiry into the nature of modern power. His main goal is to analyze the relationship between political power and war. He examines discourses that claimed that ‘peace’ as we know it is merely a continuation of war. He examines thinkers who inverted Clausewitz’s famous phrase, and instead assert that politics is the continuation of war by other means. The question, then, becomes, “If we look beneath peace, order, wealth, and authority, beneath the calm order of subordinations, beneath the State and State apparatuses, beneath the laws, and so on, will we hear and discover a sort of primitive and permanent war?... Can the phenomenon of war be regarded as primary with respect to other relations (relations of inequality, dissymmetries, divisions of labor, et cetera)?” (46-47). The question is about the division between peace and war. If we look back into history won’t we discover the ‘founding crime’ of every nation? Isn’t all peace somehow ordered by something that was decided in war? Even if a political institution attempt to minimize violence during peace, “it certainly does not do so in order to suspend the effects of power or to neutralize the disequilibrium revealed by the last battle of the war” (15). On the contrary, Foucault claims that by this logic the task of political institutions “is perpetually to use a sort of silent war to reinscribe that relationship of force, and to reinscribe it in institutions, economic inequalities, language, and even the bodies of individuals” (16). Politics, therefore, is the continuation of war by other means, and political institutions are just way of waging this war through less-violent means.
If we follow this logic then we arrive at some interesting implications. For one thing, it means that the disciplinary society that Foucault describes is in essence a way of waging an ongoing war. Further, it means that the production of normalizing knowledge, the hallmark of disciplinary society and the origin of Foucault’s well known concept of power/knowledge, can be spoken of as a militaristic or war-like practice. If society is in reality an ongoing war being waged through other means, and one of those means is knowledge, then we are justified in speaking of the creation of knowledge as an act of war. It is this logic that allows Foucault to claim that his genealogical histories are “about the insurrection of knowledges.... above all, primarily, an insurrection against the centralizing power-effects that are bound up with the institutionalization and workings of any scientific discourse organized in a society such as ours” (9). To produce a discourse that is counter to the State-sanctioned normalizing discourse is an act of ‘insurrection’. Foucault’s task is noble. It is important to recognize the relationship between power and knowledge, to see that if people are to act to change things they need to have access to certain types of understandings. His definition of genealogy as the “coupling together of scholarly erudition and local memories, which allows us to constitute a historical knowledge of struggles and to make use of that knowledge in contemporary tactics” makes sense to me. But the thing that strikes me the most is that Foucault is willing to call the writing of history an act of ‘insurrection’.
By this definition of politics/power, the individual body, too, can be described in expressly militaristic ways. Recall above that Foucault said that ‘even the bodies of individuals’ were inscribed by the political institutions that were waging on ongoing war. The entire existence of the body and mind are therefore politically charged. All actions, all thoughts, all bodily practices are in some way political. This seems to imply that to transform an individual body, mind, or practice is an inherently political action. This idea led me to write about how I could wage a war in my own mind, have a battle with my thoughts, or how my body is a protest or something like that. But I don’t like this way of thinking, despite how guilty I am of doing it in the past. I have written this way many times. And it was because of Foucault. I was operating in his framework, taking his arguments and teasing out their logic. And this is where it left me: Knowledge is being used to wage an implicit war, my thoughts and actions are thoroughly political, and to challenge them is an act of ‘intellectual insurrection’ or something like that. I dislike this way of thinking.
This mode of thinking is problematic mainly because it blurs the line between war, politics, and individual living to the point that I can’t analytically distinguish meaningful political thought or action. I don’t know why it is so difficult for me to come to terms with this issue of militaristic metaphors. Part of me started thinking that it was irresponsible to speak of writing history, or rebelling against my own thinking, as a form of ‘insurrection’. It is nothing like war. There are no people being killed when we write history, or when we struggle with our minds and bodies. There are no bodies being torn apart.
It doesn’t sit right with me to politicize the mind and body to the point of speaking of them as being in a constant war. It doesn’t sit right with me to use militaristic metaphors to describe mental and intellectual processes. This is the problem of Foucault that I am referring to. Politics is so individualized that we are justified in speaking of our minds as a battle ground, justified in speaking of our intellectual work as an act of insurrection.
So now I’d like to present some arguments against this conception of politics. The main thing that I want to establish is that the aesthetic existence is not political only in the Foucaultian sense. It is not political in the sense that it is an attempt to overcome the discourses that have inscribed themselves into my heart and practices. I do not want to appeal to any kind of ‘individual politics’ like Foucault advocates. I hope it might be properly political. I sort of established this definition of politics and war in Part IV.1. But in that essay I was coming at it from other authors, taking a positive approach, trying to define politics and war in their own right. Now I am approaching the problem negatively by explicitly refuting Foucault. First I’m going to evaluate the scope of Foucault’s oeuvre and claim that he was, at his core, not a political philosopher. Then I’ll look at some definitions of politics more closely and explain how certain issues can be politically charged, but that does not mean that every action that takes place within their realm is properly political. Sexuality, for example, is politically charged in that political institutions effect it. To embrace a different type of sexual practice than what is State-sanctioned, however, is not inherently a political act. From there I’ll try to wrap it up and talk about what actions are properly political and which are not. I’m not sure why this type of analysis is important, and I’m not sure where its going to go. But here I go.
8. Foucault as Artist: His Autobiographical Monographs as Imaginative Expressions of Emotion
The task of this section is to argue that Foucault, in his core, was not a political thinker. But was rather a person engaged on a private philosophical-moral quest. That private quest, however, may have political implications. The crucial point is simply that it was not his primary concern. He is best characterized as a philosophical and existential artist.
When evaluating Foucault’s commitment to political thought it is useful to begin with the flow and direction of his oeuvre. If we only look at the Foucault of the mid 70’s he appears to be a thoroughly political thinker. He was protesting with students on the streets. He was having conversations with Maoists, talking about violence, about war, about revolution, about the relationship between intellectuals and revolutions, and so on. Foucault’s earlier work, however, was not expressly political in nature. He was concerned with large histories of institutions, and in particular, with the development of the human sciences. But he was not the political Foucault that we see in Discipline & Punish and The Will To Knowledge. Similarly, his final two books completely withdrew from the world of politics and focused instead on how an individual can craft themselves and live an aesthetic life. I aim to argue here, along with Mark Lilla and Zizek, that Foucault was ultimately a personal philosopher on a moral quest of his own. That his political engagements were not at the core of his thinking. That Foucault, in short, was more of an artist than an activist.
This view of Foucault is aggressively argued by Mark Lilla in The Reckless Mind: Intellectuals In Politics. In his brief biography he presents Foucault as an irresponsible thinker who made careless references to violence, and was only incidentally pulled into political matters. He frames Foucault as a ‘Nietzschan’ thinker in the sense that he was a thinker on a personal moral quest. And that until the 1968 student movements in France “his Nietzschean explorations had been limited to the Bibliotheque Nationale or closed rooms” (Lilla, 148). Suddenly Foucault was protesting in the streets with students, having conversations with Maoists, and talking about death and politics. Lilla claims that Foucault’s recklessness can be seen in one of his conversations on popular justice. Foucault said that “One should start with popular justice” (Power/Knowledge, 1) and that ultimately the state must “educate the masses and the will of the masses in such a way that it is the masses themselves who come to say, ‘in fact we cannot kill this man’ or ‘In fact we must kill him’.” (Ibid., 13). Lilla claims that Foucault’s political engagement was ultimately frivolous, that he merely “followed the... Parisian crowd” (Lilla, 153).
This reading of Foucault’s political engagement helps us make sense of his later work on ancient sexual morality and practices of the self. Lilla claims that Foucault abandoned “the illusion of transforming modern society as a whole” and “joined a smaller society of like-minded men who shared his tastes, outside the bounds of bourgeois respectability” (154). Lilla’s analysis shows Foucault to be an irresponsible thinker who fickly engaged with politics when it suited his whims. Foucault’s “life and his writings,” Lilla asserts, “show as clearly as one could wish just what happens when an essentially private thinker, struggling with his inner demons and intoxicated by Nietzsche’s example, projects them out onto a political sphere in which he has no real interest and for which he accepts no responsibility” (158). Harsh words. Lilla further claims that his notion of the ‘aesthetics of existence’ has no real political merit, and that “it is dangerous and absurd to think that such spiritual exercises could reveal anything about the shared political world we live in” (Ibid.). I value Lilla’s analysis because it gives me a way to grapple with Foucault’s whole oeuvre. It helps me understand that Foucault was a private thinker, an artist of sorts, and that his political engagement was a phase in his life. An important phase. But a phase nonetheless.
Zizek reads Foucault’s oeuvre in a similar way. In In Defense Of Lost Causes Zizek gauges Foucault’s political engagement by looking at his involvement with the Iranian revolution. I know very little about this phase in Foucault’s life. But apparently in 1978-79 Foucault visited Iran and was very interested in what was happening with the revolution there. This was in the years after the publication of Foucault’s most political book, and so presumably he was still in that frame of mind. Zizek, along with others, claims that the Iranian event was a crucial event that affected the direction of Foucault’s writing. I don’t know what happened, but apparently the whole thing didn’t end so well. He claims it is “no wonder, then, that, after his Iranian experience, Foucault withdrew to the topic of the care of the self, of the aesthetics of existence (and, politically, to supporting different human-rights initiatives...). (113). Zizek, too, believes that Foucault’s political engagement was ultimately a failure, and that later in his life he returned to his private moral quest.
One question I have for these two, however, is with regard to the political relevance of Foucault’s aesthetics of existence. Clearly, one of the crucial questions of this project, perhaps the question of this project, is whether the aesthetic existence is in anyways a political project. I believe that it can be. In the last section I believe that I started pointing at the possible ways it could be a political project. Indeed, Karen Vintges agrees with me in her essay “ ‘Must we Burn Foucault?’ Ethics as art of living: Simone de Beauvoir and Michel Foucault.” In that essay she argues that Foucault’s aesthetics of existence is indeed a political project. That Foucault “made philosophy out of his life and ‘lived’ his philosophy. With enormous power--and here I paraphrase Beauvoir on Sade--he transformed his eroticism from an individual attitude into a challenge to society, charging his experiences with an ethical significance” (3). Vintges says that he gave his actions ethical significance, but it also seems like political significance. Foucault was trying to change how people regarded their bodies and their practices. And he believed that this was a thoroughly political project. For Foucault, the personal was always political.
I appreciate Vintges’ moderate view here. She recognizes that Foucault was primarily on a personal quest, but that his quest still had political potential. I agree with her. I find Lilla and Zizek useful in that they free me from thinking of Foucault as a strictly political thinker. They bring to light the personal nature of his project, and the opportunism of his political engagement. They help me in this task of showing that Foucault was an artist rather than an activist. His work, I think, can be fairly described as the imaginative expression of emotions. He never seemed to know what precisely he was setting out to do. He called his writing a labyrinth in which he lost himself. He said he wrote spontaneously. Sounds like an artist to me. And, interestingly, he said that anytime he “tried to carry out a piece of theoretical work, it has been on the basis of my own experience, always in relation to processes I saw taking place around me. It is because I thought I could recognize in the things I saw, in the institutions with which I dealt, in my relations with others, cracks, silent shocks, malfunctionings... that I undertook a particular piece of work, a few fragments of an autobiography” (In Simons, Foucault and the political, 8). It is so interesting for him to characterize his books, which are so abstract, so thoroughly historico-philosophical, as fragments of an autobiography. Foucault was performing a genealogy of his own subject-hood.
Furthermore, this was an attempt at self-creation. This is a claim that Foucault explicitly made, and one that Vintges comments on. She says that “by putting his experiences in writing, he at the same time transformed or rather created himself” (Vintges). Roger Smith, too, comments on Foucault’s attempt at self-creation. In Being Human he says that Foucault “appeared to act out a life reflexively engaged with forming itself and the world even while describing the massive restraint on possibilities, for which the panopticon, or total institution, was a vivid symbol” (Smith, 248). This issue of art and self-creation is also addressed by Collingwood in The Principles. Collingwood says that the artist is someone who simultaneously comes to know his world and create his world: The artist’s “knowing of this new world is also the making of the new world which he is coming to know. The world he has come to know is a world consisting of language; a world where everything has the property of expressing emotion.... He is not god, but a finite mind still at a very elementary stage in the development of his powers. He has made it ‘out of’ what is presented to him in the still more elementary stage of purely psychical experience” (291). Because experience is linguistically constituted, the use of language to express oneself introduces new language into the world, it is therefore a creation of the world. To express is to create. All this assumes that philosophy is an art, or can be an art. And I certainly believe that it is. This is why Collingwood called philosophy ‘a poem of the intellect’.
This is a little meandering and unclear. But it should be clear that Foucault is best thought of as an artist, and not an activist. His work was deeply personal. He called it part of an autobiography. He was expressing things about himself and his world that he saw around him. His work has many of the hallmarks of Collingwood’s definition of aesthetics. And his final work is a testament to his interest in art, and life as an art form. He was a philosophical artist, involved in the business of creating himself and the world around him.
This does not mean that Foucault’s project has no political implications. It is the task of Part IV.4 to explore those political implications. But for now I need to level out my perspective on Foucault a little bit: he was not thoroughly political, some of his political thinking was misguided, and it needs revision.
Now that I’ve shown that Foucault was primarily an artist, I’d like to return to the notion of politics proper again. I now need to try and accomplish the main task of this section: drawing a line between the personal and the political.
9. Politics And Personal Issues
At the core of this is all is the idea that ‘the personal is political’. But what does it mean for the personal to be political? It means that the way we experience our lives is a byproduct of political processes. Our lives are politically charged through and through. Our sexual relations are hotly contested in political discussions (abortions, gay marriage), our economic lives are a hot topic (socialism, democracy, communism, etc.), and our health is closely monitored (disease, obesity, etc.). But just because the political process affects our personal lives, does this mean that personal actions are inherently political, despite their context? What does it mean for something to be properly political? The latter question is the one I wish to pursue.
My gut reaction to the question is that politics is a process by which a community makes decisions about agonistic situations. It must be about a group of people making decisions about conflicts. Further, I think of politics as being inseparable from the possibility of warfare. Indeed, I know of several scholars who share this belief about war and the existence of the state. Francis Fukayama, for one, advocated this view of the State when I saw him speak at Seattle’s town hall. Charles Tilly famously said that war makes the state and the state makes war. But there are three other thinkers making this claim who I know much better: Carl Schmitt, John Gray, and Slavoj Zizek.
Part of me is dismayed, though, because I already explicated Schmitt and Gray’s agonistic conceptions of politics in Part IV.1, and therefore I don’t feel like it. I merely refer you to those sections for the proof that Gray and Schmitt define politics as an inherently agonistic process of communal decision making.
I will, however, briefly explicate Zizek’s claim about the nature of politics. For one thing, Zizek says that democracy must be sustained by certain undemocratic elements. “If the state, democratic though it may be, is not sustained by this specter of the unconditional exercise of power,” he argues, “it does not have the authority to function: power is, by definition, in excess, or else it is not power” (IDOLC, 105). Later on in the book he discusses how democracy is all about a group of impassioned people making collective decisions. He says that “when leftists deplore the fact that today only the Right has passion, is able to propose a new mobilizing imaginary, and that the left only engages in administration, what they do not see is the structural necessity of what they perceive as a mere tactical weakness of the left. No wonder that the European project which is widely debated today fails to enflame the passions: it is ultimately a project of administration, not of ideological commitment” (101). This critique of politics as administration echos Gray’s claims. He argues that contemporary politicians and theorists have abandoned ‘proper politics’ for an overly-legal model of political decision making. “[T]he practice of politics,” he thus asserts, “is a noble engagement, precisely on account of the almost desperate humility of its purposes – which are to moderate the enmity of agonistic identities, and to generate conventions of peace among warring communities. The pluralist embrace of politics is, for these reasons, merely a recognition of the reality of political life, itself conceived as an abatement of war” (Gray, 194). Politics cannot be merely ‘anything that happens in the field of force relations’ as Foucault claims. It must be a larger, more communal process of agonism.
If we side with Schmitt, Gray, and Zizek, then politics must be a large, communal, agonistic process, and cannot be the personal sort of thing that Foucault acts like it is. There can be no politics alone in a room. And this is my problem with Foucault’s work, he makes it sound like it is an act of ‘intellectual insurrection’ to change your thoughts alone in your room. But I’m not sure if this is really what Foucault intended. I might be reading this into him. I don’t know him well enough yet. But it seems like a logical outcome of Foucault’s work, as I explained above, that the mind itself is thoroughly political, and independent acts of thought would therefore be political. But not so. Politics must be large, communal, and agonistic.
Yet, there must be a relationship between the political and the personal. I explained above how all those little things that constitute our personal lives are decided politically. Well, I think Zizek puts the relationship between personal life and politics quite well. He argues that “there is no proper content of politics; all political struggles and decisions concern other specific spheres of social life (taxation, the regulation of sexual mores and procreation, the health service, and so on and so forth) – ‘politics’ is merely a formal mode of dealing with these topics, insofar as they emerge as topics of public struggle and decision. This is why ‘everything is (or, rather, can become) political’ – insofar as it becomes a stake in a political struggle” (IDOLC, 290). Every part of our personal lives can therefore become political. But that does not mean that every action at every moment is politically charged. In fact, I think sometimes our actions might exist in an apolitical space. Moreover, I believe that Foucault is actually pursuing this type of apolitical space. Let me move on to this point.
10. Personal Actions As Political And Apolitical: Foucault’s And The Depoliticization Of The Self
I can now say that the relationship between the personal and the political lies in the way that properly political debates often structure the most important parts of our social lives. The fact that our social lives are politically constituted, however, does not mean that every thought and action is always political. But drawing this line is proving a difficult task for me. I don’t know how to state this clearly. This line between the personal and the political. They obviously blur in some instances. The main thing I want to say is not political is an act of thought alone in a room. Perhaps the thought is in opposition to the dominant ideas of my political environment. But just because I am working against politically constituted ideas in my own mind it does not mean that my thinking is political. But then I wonder about the fact that thoughts need to happen in order for people to be active in the streets. You can’t have any kind of actual political movement unless people are learning to think differently. So this is why it gets weird to think about where politics and end begin.
Perhaps this idea will help: the universal and the particular of politics. When I define politics as a communal process of agonistic decision making I am being general and abstract. I am speaking as if politics has a universal form. Politics, naturally, is not a universal thing, but only has particular historical manifestations. And right now, in America and elsewhere, political activity is heavily regulated with highly organized militaries. Our particular moment in politics is quite strange. Something like I described in Part IV.2. In order for something to qualify as political, nowadays, it would need to somehow interact with that highly organized sphere of bureaucracies, corporations, and militaries. Would it be fair to call a one on one conversation political at all times? In one sense, yes. It involves a certain amount of power relations. But when trying to draw a line between war and peace and the personal and political I have to say that it cannot be properly political. It has nothing to do with the real political sphere. Unless of course those two people are talking and collaborating on setting up a bomb somewhere. Then that talking leads directly to them blowing up a government building or something. Then that conversation would be properly political. But only if it led to that ending. Thoughts that don’t lead to action in the real world of politics do not possess a properly political quality.
Foucault, however, is an interesting case when it comes to the politics of thinking. Earlier I cited Vintges when she claimed that Foucault managed to politically charge his actions. He was, indeed, in front of a sizable audience and his words may have pushed someone to do something, and still may. But I am just wary of drawing a line somewhere. Foucault’s life, his thinking and his expression may have been properly political. He may have had an affect on a political process, and he therefore might be justified in describing his work as an act of insurrection. But my thinking and writing does not deserve that title. This essay in no way is an insurrection, it has no properly political qualities. This writing, rather, is personal and primarily in response to my surroundings. While my surroundings may be politically constituted, my writing is not inherently political, and is therefore not an intellectual insurrection. But is this what Foucault really wanted from his work? Did he really think that he was political through and through? And that his writing was a pure attempt at the insurrection of knowledge? I don’t think this is what Foucault wanted. In fact, I think he may have been pursuing the opposite, that is to say, he was after the depoliticization of certain experiences
Fortunately, I think I have some evidence that what Foucault was really after was the depoliticization of certain experiences. As I said, certain experiences, like sexuality, work, health, and sense of body, are determined by political forces. To find a way to experience sexuality or work beyond the dominant political/ideological narratives would be to escape the way those political effects on your perception. Foucault hints at this when he says, “For centuries we have been convinced that between our ethics, our personal ethics, our everyday life, and the great political and social and economic structures, there were analytical relations, and that we couldn’t change anything, for instance, in our sex life or our family life, without ruining our economy, our democracy, and so on. I think we have to get rid of this idea of an analytical or necessary link between ethics and other social or economic or political institutions” (Foucault Reader, 350). Foucault was deeply concerned with breaking new experiential ground, finding limit-experiences, thoughts and feelings at the frontiers of our mind. This is why he claims that “The critical ontology of ourselves has to be considered not, certainly, as a theory, a doctrine, nor even as a permanent body of knowledge that is accumulating; it has to be conceived as an attitude, an ethos, a philosophical life in which the critique of what we are is at one and the same time the historical analysis of the limits that are imposed on us and an experiment with the possibility of going beyond them” (What is Enlightenment?, 118, in The Politics Of Truth). Inherent in this explorative attitude is a attempt to step beyond the politically determined nature of our deepest thoughts and experiences. It logically implies the depoliticization of experience.
This idea of finding experiences beyond the sway of the political realm can also be seen elsewhere in Foucault’s work. In this quotation he puts the notion of depoliticization of the self even more strongly. He claims that for the ancient Greeks, ethics “was not related to any social–or at least to any legal–institutional system. For instance, the laws against sexual misbehavior were very few and not very compelling. The... thing is that what they were worried about, their theme, was to constitute a kind of ethics which was an aesthetics of existence.... Recent liberation movements suffer from the fact that they cannot find any principle on which to base the elaboration of a new ethics. They need an ethics, but they cannot find any other ethics than an ethics founded on so-called scientific knowledge of what the self is, what desire is, what the unconscious is, and so on” (Foucault Reader, 343). Foucault here claims that modern ethics, ‘liberation movements’, are bound to forms of knowledge that are either state-sanctioned, or that fall within the state-sanctioned scientific framework. The task for Foucault and other liberation movements, therefore, is to create an ethical space that exists beyond state-sanctioned discourses. In other words, Foucault hopes to find a space beyond political discourses, and thus the depoliticization of certain experiences.
I believe that this is what is at the core of Foucault’s aesthetics of existence. Well, perhaps I’m speaking too quickly. I no doubt am. I haven’t read The Courage Of Truth and don’t really know what Foucault thought the political stakes were for the aesthetics of existence. But my hunch is that he didn’t see it as having huge public political consequences. I agree with Lilla that Foucault was withdrawing into the personal world. And I agree with Zizek that Foucault’s political failure in Iran meant that he “withdrew to the topic of the care of the self, of the aesthetics of existence.” This, however, isn’t necessarily a problem. It is merely one form that the aesthetic existence can take. It can be a personal project. It does not have to be inherently political. Let me wrap up on this section on that point.
11. The Aesthetic Existence And The Struggle against Individual Corruption of Consciousness: Concluding IV.3
Foucault’s aesthetics of existence, therefore, is best thought of as a personal project, and not as a political act or something called ‘intellectual insurrection’. I find it important to clarify this so that we don’t mistake the character of Foucault’s oeuvre. There is such a sharp change in The History Of Sexuality from Volume I, The Will To Knowledge, to volume II, The Use Of Pleasure. I remember when I first read Volume II I could hardly believe it. My first reaction was to connect Foucault’s politically oriented texts to his final writings. The question I had for myself was, ‘If the Foucault of 1975 was talking about how his work was an act of insurrection against a discursive regime etc., should I apply that metaphorical stance to his late work? Should I think of the aesthetics of existence in the language of insurrection?’ A strange question indeed. And one I’ve tried to think about.
Foucault does briefly discuss the relationship between the care of the self, self-government, and the government of others. For the ancient Greeks “it is this relationship with the self that modulates and regulates the use the prince makes of the power he exercises over others (The Use Of Pleasure, 173). But right now I am inclined to say that Foucault’s aesthetics of existence was a more personal project. References to the political implications of the aesthetics of existence are sparse and I don’t recall feeling persuaded by them. It doesn’t seem like it is the main thrust in The Use Of Pleasure. It does feel like a more personal book. Thus my claim that Foucault’s aesthetics existence is in reality an apolitical practice.
Collingwood also thinks the aesthetic process can be highly personal. He explains how an artist’s existence is an ongoing struggle against the corruption of consciousness. “Corruption of consciousness,” he claims, “is not a recondite sin or a remote calamity which overcomes only an unfortunate or accursed few; it is a constant experience in the life of every artist, and his life is a constant and, on the whole, a successful warfare against it. But this warfare always involves a very present possibility of defeat; and then a certain corruption becomes inveterate” (284, my emphasis). I use this quotation for several reasons. Obviously I use it because Collingwood defines the aesthetic process as an individual process by which a person uses consciousness to its proper end of seeking self-knowledge, successfully avoiding a form of self-deception, which he describes as the corruption of consciousness. But I also use it because of Collingwood’s use of militaristic metaphors. He speaks in the language of warfare and defeat, as if though there was a battle or a war that was taking place in the mind of an individual.
Perhaps it is okay to use militaristic metaphors. It seems like it communicates the point. Because it does feel like a struggle to overcome your own thoughts, to tame your own habits. Interesting to speak in metaphors like that. To compare things to war. But because my main purpose is to apprehend precisely the way that the aesthetic existence is political, I have to say that what Foucault is talking about is not political. And Collingwood says some similar things. Foucault’s aesthetics of existence is a personal endeavor, it is akin to Collingwood’s notion of the artist working to overcome his own corruption of consciousness. Foucault’s aesthetics of existence is a personal struggle that ultimately seeks the depoliticization of experience, the discovery of thoughts and feelings beyond the dominant discourses of the state apparatus.
This is the line I wanted to draw in this section. I wanted to explain how Foucault’s aesthetics of existence is not a political project and is not to be thought of one despite his earlier political writing. The aesthetic existence should not be described as an insurrection of any kind. It is something a person does for themselves. And often it is in no way political. In the final part of this project, however, I do want to understand what is political in the aesthetic existence. How could it possibly be a political project. Because I believe there are ways. But those answers are not to be found in Foucault and his aesthetics of existence. Onward to Part IV.4.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

The New Leviathan

I have resolved to read Collingwood's The New Leviathan, Or, Man, Society, Civilization, And Barbarism.

I was trying to read War and Peace but it turns out I'm too much of an amateur (sorry J-dawg).

But frankly I'm delighted at the idea of tackling a big awesome philosophy book. Especially one by Collingwood. And especially one so relevant to my current interests. Politics, culture, war, minds, so on. Collingwood is all up on all of that shit.

Can't wait to sink my teeth into it.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Dead Musicians

I was just listening to a song.

"Thorns In Roses" by The Exploding Hearts.

Then I remembered how three out of four band members died in a car accident in 2003.

God dammit. Sometimes people just die. Terrible things happen and lives disappear. These people were younger than me. 23, 21, and 20. Thrown from cars. Bodies torn apart. Destroyed.

Someone fell asleep at the wheel. Three out of five people in the car died. How would it feel to be those other two? Horrifying. No doubt. But a relief. A horrible, guilt ridden relief.

I am simultaneously thankful and horrified to live in a country that keeps my exposure to real violence at a minimum. I am, however, simply horrified at my exposure to simulated violence.

Once I was in a huge arcade. Gameworks in downtown Seattle. I was drinking and playing games with friends. The entire night was strange to me. Then I said to my friend 'I'm standing in a room full of people who are all pretending to kill something'.

It scares the shit out of me.

I looked around the room and 3/4 of the games were about using a fake gun to shoot a fake person/monster/thing.

Football, video games, television. It is all loaded with simulated violence.

It's like when I went to a football game. UMD versus Berkeley. They fire fake cannons at half time. Pyrotechnics and simulated violence.

All this glorification of war, this simulation of violence and death.

I am so terrified of becoming desensitized to violence. I don't want to see war. I don't want to see death.

But at the same time, a part of me, an irresponsible and naive part of me, wants to see it. I want to understand that life is indeed nasty, brutish, and short. This world is loaded with violence. All these poor babies. All these poor bodies. All those destroyed lives.

God damn this American 'spectator sport militarism'.

Damn all this simulated violence.

I don't want people to die brutal deaths. But people do. And all I can do is think about it. I've never experienced it. I've never seen it. How terrible. These gapes in my empathic palette. I'll never really understand those others. But I'll try.

This is no attempt to give up on those dealing with violent worlds. Merely a lamentation at my own exposure to violence. Merely an expression of the frustration with American culture's careless representation of violence and death.

What a careless nation we are. What an attitude we have. I don't have any sense of war. No sense of violence. What a bubble I fear this country is.