After posting about “a year of immanence” a few days ago, it occurred to me that I could have called it “A year of living immanently.” And then I thought, What would that mean? Would it be living with one’s face to the wind, always in motion, responding to the flow of life, one’s heart beating in the cool air of open encounter? Living without calculation or manipulation?
Would it be, as Deleuze describes in “Immanence: A Life,” “a qualitative duration of consciousness without self,” “an absolute immediate consciousness whose very activity no longer refers to a being but is ceaselessly posed in a life”? Would it be living as pure poetry, art exhausted in the process of its artistry, with nothing left over and nothing to spare?
“A life is everywhere, in all the moments that a given living subject goes through and that are measured by given lived objects: an immanent life carrying with it the events or singularities that are merely actualized in subjects and objects. This indefinite life does not itself have moments, close as they may be one to another, but only between-times [mean-times, des entre-temps], between-moments. It neither takes place nor follows, but presents the immensity of the empty time where one sees the event yet to come and already happened, in the absolute of an immediate consciousness.”
“Very young children all resemble one another and have hardly any individuality; but they have singularities, a smile, a gesture, a grimace — events which are not subjective characteristics. Small children, through all their sufferings and weaknesses, are infused with an immanent life that is pure power and even bliss [beatitude].*”
*from “Immanence: a life” (I’ve combined two translations, Millet’s and Hodges/Naormina’s)
“For Buddhism,” Clark writes, “the negative path of the destruction of illusion is inseparably linked to the positive path of an open, awakened, and compassionate response to a living, non-objectifiable reality, the ‘nature that is no nature.’’’
Harman responds to my last post at generous length here. I realize I should have thought this through better before I sent it off, since I don’t really have time to work on a response or an involved dialogue with him at the moment. (And neither does he, as he has said a few times, so I’m grateful he’s taken the time he has to deal with the substance of my complaint.) But I’m of course not the only one pursuing the resonances between Whitehead and Deleuze: Shaviro, Stengers, Keith Robinson, James Williams, and Michael Halewood (and to some extent, at least, Eric Alliez and Jeffrey Bell) are among the others doing that. Not that that makes any of us right — and to the extent that Harman is correct about all this, his arguments should interest the others.
Keeping up with Graham Harman means continually being tempted to respond to him, and since he doesn’t allow comments on his blog, for reasons I completely understand, I can only hold my tongue or flap it here. (Or I can do the respectful thing and write up a lengthier and more in-depth argument, but that would take more time and energy than I currently have. For that reason, I’m not asking for or expecting a response from Graham, but since he reads this blog, he may as well know that I need more convincing.)
The level of discussion following my review/critique of Harman’s Prince of Networks, along with Harman’s brief but welcome response, has encouraged me to post a few more thoughts about this difference between “relationalism” and “objectology” (my term for a central part of his object-oriented philosophy or ontology), that is, between a view that holds that the world is constituted by “relations all the way down”, and a view that admits the world is characterized by relations (of all sorts) but asserts that each entity has an essential non-relational essence. (Thanks to Mark Crosby for his eloquent summary of the dispute in the comments to the last post.) Harman’s reply raises a couple of issues I’d like to address at a little more length.
Where Tool-Being presented a Heidegger flushed clean of his anthropocentrism, Prince of Networks takes Bruno Latour for a ride on a philosophical adventure toward a world not of actors and networks but of objects, pure if not so simple. The book’s first half provides a detailed, clear, entertaining, and precise exegesis of Latour’s metaphysics through an examination of his claims in four books: Irreductions, Science in Action, We Have Never Been Modern, and Pandora’s Hope. The second, slightly longer half investigates some philosophical problems his actor-network theory opens up; explores lengthy detours through Meillassoux (on relationism and correlationism), Whitehead, Husserl (immanent objectivity), speculative realism, and other by-ways; and ends with a detailed explication of Harman’s object-oriented philosophy, which, the argument goes, is made possible by Latour’s ‘flat ontology’ and deepened through Heidegger’s tool-being (with the aid of Zubiri and others), but which is ultimately Harman’s own. In effect, this is Harman building an all-star collective, enrolling Latour (who participates vicariously) and Heidegger (who’s too dead to tell us whether he’d go along with the project or not), with assistance from others, against the revolution by which Immanuel Kant installed humans at the philosophical center of everything.
Just by linking Carl Sagan’s eloquent little Pale Blue Dot to the teachings of Gautama Buddha, James Ure’s Buddhist Blog brings out the buddhism inherent both in Sagan’s words and in the imagery of the Earth from space. That imagery (as I’ve discussed before here and here) is multivalent, but Sagan’s spin on it — the pale blue dot as “the aggregate of our joy and suffering” on which “everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives” — deepens its ability to carry useful meaning. That ability will one day exhaust itself, if not turn into its opposite, but for now I don’t think it has. “The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled [. . .] the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner [. . .] Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light.”
We live in a universe of hazard, a place where asteroids strike, where car smash-ups pluck out a life like a boot squashing a centipede, where planes fall out of the sky, a heart attack takes a brother from behind in the middle of a night, a train runs over a friend’s passed out daughter, a truck runs over a fallen bicyclist girlfriend, where heartbeats blinking on a screen one day vanish by the next. (I won’t go into the personals of any of these; the asteroids, in my life at least, remain fictitious.)
When these events happen, meaning-craving beings like us seek an explanation, a story to give us some way of accounting for them. Sometimes the explanations are there — because the world is thickly networked and the connections leading from one thing to another are fairly evident (this thing led to that which then led to that), or they can be reconstructed through some pattern-observation and model-building, which is essentially what science does. But even when the hows are evident, the whys remain elusive. Most of us carry around maps of why — god-stories that make sense of anything with a little tweaking: it’s divine punishment or reward, a trial to make one stronger, some kind of karmic compensation for past misdeeds (back to the latter in a moment), a conspiracy of “them” or my own eternally recurrent failure, “that’s how it was meant to be.” These why-stories are like nests built out of twigs and branches and leaves. Some are built stronger than others. Some turn into multilayered, convoluted architectures capable of accounting for anything, as long as we focus well beyond the twigs and branches and leaves that disintegrate when we stare at them too closely.
I’m sure I’m not the only one following these events with excited trepidation and a feeling of almost wanting to be there (but glad also to be watching it from afar). Which makes me wonder: what is it about revolutionary moments that fires the imagination and keeps us, or me at least, plugged into them like to a virtual intravenous drip? Is it personal — that I grew up in the 1970s feeling that I had missed the 1960s; or a desire to re-experience the feeling I had living in Ukraine for a year during the tremendous societal opening-up of 1989-90 as the Soviet Union began crumbling all around? Or is it that these events capture, and never satisfy, that constant generic craving of something — to fill that lack or gap or “basic fault” in human nature that modern social relations exacerbate and that consumer capitalism is so expert at fueling (well beyond anything the Buddha could have imagined)? (For all its evident shortcomings and overextensions, Morris Berman’s Coming to Our Senses: Body and Spirit in the Hidden History of the West remains one of my favorite articulations of that gap, a quasi-Foucauldian psychosomatic excavation of the ‘modern soul.’)
Or is it mainly a hope for change, that utopian ‘principle of hope’ Ernst Bloch‘ writes about, that makes us want to believe that things can change for the better — which is why conservatives, who don’t believe change will ever be for the better, reject the whole idea as childish and annoying? But can this one turn out any better than, say, Ukraine’s Orange Revolution of a few years ago? (A few things did improve after that one: media control was loosened dramatically, or at least decentralized among rival oligarchs, with arguably positive effects on the whole; and political options became more open and more imaginable. But the last few years have seen a constant, ongoing deflation of political spirit in Ukraine.) Will Iran’s ‘Green Revolution’ be messy and bloody (as it appears today) or will it triumph only to then dissipate into political machinations, co-opted like so many others? What’s the activists’ game plan for afterwards? For that matter, would I have been there alongside Foucault cheering on the students and clerics in the 1979 revolution, and how is this moment different from that one?
Understanding the dynamics of revolutionary or ‘open’ moments is important — which is part of what attracts me to the thinking of Deleuze, Guattari, DeLanda, William Connolly, Brian Massumi, Teresa Brennan, Nigel Thrift, and others for whom processes of “affective contagion” make up a crucial dimension of political change. In his summary of models of affective contagion (Non-Representational Theory, pp. 235ff.), Thrift describes an intensifying anxious obsessive-compulsive “time structure” in Western liberal-democratic polities, where “a growth in desengagement and detachment is paralleled by moments of high engagement and attachment” (p. 240), like this one unfolding in Iran.
Another Thomas Berry quote worth spending a bit of time with:
“Acceptance of the challenging aspect of the natural world is a primary condition for creative intimacy with the natural world. Without this opaque or even threatening aspect of the universe we would lose our greatest source of creative energy. This opposing element is as necessary for us as is the weight of the atmosphere that surrounds us.” (The Great Work, p. 67)
Berry defines “the wild” as “the root of the authentic spontaneities of any being” (which sounds Deleuzian to me) and which is counterposed to a second constituent force in the universe, discipline or form. “The wild,” as my colleague Stephanie Kaza paraphrases in her review of The Great Work, “is the expansive force, the disciplined is the containing force, ‘bound into a single universe and expressed in every being in the universe’ (p. 52).”
I wonder how this dyadic understanding stacks up against the more monistic, Deleuzian-Spinozian (and Whiteheadian) views that see form-building, or morphogenesis, as part of the same process of spontaneous becoming (e.g. as developed by Manuel DeLanda in A New Philosophy of Society, Intensive Science and Virtual Philosophy, and A Thousand Years of Nonlinear History). This could probably be boiled down into the question: can the two (the expansive and the containing, the Yin and the Yang) also be one (the Dao)? Is Deleuze/Guattari’s ‘desiring-production’ (connection, becoming, subjectivation) analogous to the Dao, as Deleuzianacupuncture theorist Mark Seem has suggested, with any perceived differences being only differences of emphasis — Deleuze focusing more on the open-ended possibilities of becoming, and Daoism focusing on the patterns by which that process of becoming works itself out in time and in space, territorializing and deterritorializing as it goes?
These are rhetorical questions, of course. It’s time to go hear what wisdom my friend Cate Sandilands and British lit crit Greg Garrard can impart about “Our Critical Challenges: What’s Next for Ecocriticism?” (I’m at the ASLE conference in Victoria, British Columbia. More on it soon.)