Wednesday, August 30, 2006
This essay is laid out in a series of thesis/propositions. But we will not engage all of them, only the once pertinent to Badiou’s understanding of truth and philosophy.
Thesis 1: Philosophy today is paralyzed by its relation to its own history.
Thesis 2: Philosophy must break, from within itself, with historicism. This break with history is to assume a definition of philosophy which will judge the history of philosophy, rather than the other way around.
These 3: A definition of philosophy exists. But this definition must distinguish itself from modern sophistry. “Who are the modern sophists? The modern sophists are those that, in the footsteps of the great Wittgenstein, maintain that thought is held to the following alternative: either effects of discourse, language games, or the silent indication, the pure ‘showing’ of something subtracted from the clutches of language. Those for whom the fundamental opposition is not between truth and error or wondering, but between speech and silence, between what can be said and what is impossible to say…The modern sophist attempts to replace the idea of truth with the idea of rule.” (117).
So, Thesis 4a: Every definition of philosophy must distinguish it from sophistry.
Thesis 4b: The category of truth is the central category, be it under another name, of any possible philosophy.
Now this (re)turn of philosophy to the category of truth flows through Plato. Why? Well, for all those claiming the End of Metaphysics, they point out that Plato was the down fall, the “moment of the launching of metaphysics” (121). For Badiou, both continental philosophy following Heideggar and analytic philosophy following Carnap proclaim the end of metaphysics, the end of Plato, the emblem of metaphysics. But, Badiou wants to announce the end of the “End of metaphysics” and announce the return of philosophy, of truth, and therefore of Plato. Badiou, in other writing proclaims a return to a “Plato of the multiple”, the multiple of set theory.
So, continuing on from thesis 4b, Badiou sketches the category of truth, in another list.
1) “Prior to philosophy, a ‘prior to’ that is not temporal, there are truths. These truths are heterogeneous, and proceed within the real independently of philosophy” (123). These truths are the sites of/for philosophy. There are four sites (for Badiou’s Plato): Mathematics, Art, Love, Politics.
2) “Philosophy is a construction of thinking wherein the fact that there are truths is proclaimed against sophistry. But this central proclamation supposes a strictly philosophical category, the Truth.” There is a relationship between the multiple truths and the Truth, such that we can maintain the “plural state of things (there are heterogeneous truths) and the unity of thought”(123).
3) “The philosophical category of Truth is by itself void. It operates but presents nothing. Philosophy is not a production of truth, but an operation from truths”(124) When Badiou speaks of the void, he is not talking of some vague, existentialist notion of angst, nor of the beyond being of God, but of the mathematical void of set theory, the null/void set from which all other sets are built. Badiou points out that this is the fundamental crossing of philosophy and mathematics (ontology = mathematics), and that while Truth is an operational void, it is not the void of being. The Truth is a logical void, not ontological (but to illuminate this will get us a bit off track). So,
4) “What is the structure of this operation?” (124). The structure of this operation borrows from the discourse of philosophy’s two longstanding opponents: the sophist (dialectical reasoning, endless definitions, proofs and refutations) and the poet (metaphor, images, myths, and narrative). The Truth is the un-known of sophists fictive knowledge, and the un-utterable of fictive art (125). Truth is a set of tongs or pincers, one side being the being argumentative proofs (sophistry) and the other being subjective potency (art).
5) “The pincers of Truth, which link and sublimate, have a duty to seize truths”(126). Philosophical Truth seizes truths, captures them for thought.
This seizing of Truth by the thought of philosophy can also be thought of as “subtractive”, based in the thought of the void. Philosophy subtracts thought from the maze of sense, from the hold of presentation, for the Truth is never merely presented, it has no immediate presentation. This seizing effect of philosophy (seizing the truths of life for thought) is “first and foremost a rupture with the narrative and with commentary about the narrative…Philosophy separates itself from religion because it separates itself from hermeneutics” (127).
Now, in the above, Badiou has outlined the ‘structure’ of the operation of Truth, but not what he calls a “truth procedure” or the “procedure of truth.” This will have to wait for another time. From here Badiou examines some consequences of (mis)understanding this conception of Truth.
One misunderstand is to confuse the condition of Truth (which are the truths of mathematics, art, politics, and love) with the operation (which is empty, formal) of Truth. We can’t think of particular truths as identical to the operation of Truth. Philosophy is not identical with art (Nietzsche/Heideggar), politics (Plato/Marx), love (Pascal/Kierkegaard), or science (Husserl/Carnap) (129). The Truth is never found in the being of these situations (art, mathematics, politics, love); Truth is not!
For Badiou, to claim that Truth is, to substantialize Truth, is to give up on truths, the multiplicity of life, and reinstate the One, the God of metaphysics. Badiou is for the metaphysic of the multiple, the “Plato of the multiple” but not the “Plato of the One” beyond being. Badiou does not want anything to do with the beyond being, the sacralization of eternity or infinite, because eternity/infinity can both be happily understood via set theory, one of the conditions (truths, ‘mathematics’) of philosophy. And for Badiou, via Derriad, Levinas and Ricoeur, sophistry leaves the door way too wide open for religion to enter back in.
Badiou ends the essay with this helpful summary:
“Asserting the end of philosophy and the irrelevance of Truth is strictly a sophistic appraise of the century (speaking of the disaster of the 20th century toward which much continental philosophy is directed)…Language games, deconstruction, feeble thinking, irremediable heterogeneity, differends and differences, the ruin of Reason, the promotion of the fragment and discourse in shreds: all of these argue in favor of a sophistic live of thinking and place philosophy at an impasse.”
Against this reign of sophistry, Badiou ends with,
Thesis 5a: Philosophy is possible.
Thesis 5b: Philosophy is necessary.
On this return of Truth, the return of philosophy, the seizing of truths, Badiou claims that while Truth is not, it is becoming, and this becoming is the work of philosophy, such that Badiou can affirm with Marx, the “point is to change the world.”
Wednesday, August 23, 2006
I think all the new map software is pretty interesting, but I'm wondering about its effects on culture. For one, it continues to reduce the world and put everything on a grid. In this sense, of course, map making is the epitome of modernity: rational presentation of an area of study.
Also, this illustrates what many have been calling the shift from virtual reality to augmented reality. Instead of escaping reality for a 'reality' of ones own making, you simply augment the reality you are participating in via carrying a computer with you everywhere. This augmented reality is already seen in "on-star" in car, the proliferation of portable computers, cells phones, and PDAs, and I think will continue making in-roads through eye-wear.
As with all technology, there will the be good with the bad on this. I'm hoping that this will open up the door to receiving a renewed sacramental theology in all areas of life; but it very well might turn narcissistic.
Reno begins with a distinction between foundationalism and anti-foundationalism, with modernity championing the former and postmodernity the latter. Reno asks, Against the appeal of postmodern thought and its reveling in the positive side of nihilism (Vattimo), must we revert back to a foundationalist enterprise? Must we either, in rejecting violent universalizing discourse, embrace postmodern thought and its loss of Truth, or embrace a foundationalist Truth?
Reno answers, No. You can be post-foundational, yet retain truth, in analytic philosophy!
Drawing on the history of philosophy, he draws a line between ancient philosophy as "way of life", a "disciple of the soul," where as scholastic philosophy "does not so much sing about the meaning of life as prepare for, clarify, order, support, and clear away interruptions to the song sung according to another score." (please see the very helpful commenton the difference between "playing music" and "music criticism" by cynthia). Analytic philosophy has taken the mantle of this scholastic understanding, while continental philosophy has spoken in the dialect of the ancients.
But analytic philosophy is not a foundationalist discourse (in a sense) and ought to be embraced in it scholastic function, rather than passed over as a conversation partner in favor of the more prophetic continental discourse.
He concludes with affirming the analytic tradition as holding out the most promise "as a suitable conversation partner for theology in the crucial jobs of strengthening the doctrinal backbone of theology and restoring a culture of truth.
That is the gist of Reno's offering:
please, no more continental philosophy; analytic is very heplful.
Tuesday, August 15, 2006
So I won't be posting much for a little bit.
but come join us. It should be interesting.
Friday, August 11, 2006
The basic thesis, explored through the many detours of ‘sematics,’ ‘action theory,’ ‘narrative temporality of the self,’ and ‘moral/ethical obligations,’ is that “the selfhood of oneself implies otherness to such an intimate degree that one cannot be thought of without the other, that instead one passes into the other, as we might say in Hegelian terms” (3). This selfhood, or just the self, is to be distinguish both from the ‘cogito’ (Descartes is paradigmatic) and the cogito’s shattering (a la Nietzsche). “The quarrel over the cogit, in which the “I is by turns in a position of strength and of weakness, seems to me the best way to being out the problematic of the self…[namely] that the hermeneutics of the self is placed at an equal distance from the apology of the cogito and from its overthrow”(4). We could say that the cogito which posits itself (its world) begins with Descartes and its modern variants, while its overthrow is exemplified in Nietzsche and his postmodern offspring.
Now, skippng about 300 pages, and landing in R.’s sustained reading of both Husserl and Levinas, we find out that they are the latest incarnations of the cogito (Husserl) and its over throw (Levinas). The gist of it is that both presuppose an asymmetrical relationship between the cogito and its other. Husserl, beginning from a phenomenological position, posits the ego, master of its world, which then must somehow account for alter egos, those ‘people’ who must be assumed to have a cogito as I do, but I can’t really prove it. Husserl finds it difficult not to be solipsistic. Now, for Levinas, he begins from the opposite pole, that of the Other. This Other breaks all the pretensions of the “I” and its knowledge and truths. The asymmetrical relationship comes from the Other to the ego, and overwhelms the ego. The problem with both views is that they absolutize the poles of Same and Other. In fact, R. claims that these perspectives are symmetrical, or mirror of each other, in that to consistently how to one position, you must also hold the other, for “The two movements do not annihilare one another to the extent that one unfold in the gnoselogical dimension of the sense, and the other in the ethical dimension of injunction”(341). The problem is that from these original asymmetrical position, it is almost impossible to account for ‘everyday’ experiences of reciprocity.
The problem for R. in both of these approaches is that they neither the realm of the Same nor the Other ought to be absolutized. Instead, we must admit that “Same” or identity is split between idem-identity and ipse-identity, which means, somewhat like Freud, the self (ipse-identity) is not the ‘cogito’ or “I” (idem-identity), and because of this, the Other is split (The Other is not identical to itself). So back to Levinas, R. claims that Levinas makes a mistake by only allowing the Other to find its trace in the face of the other person. Ricoeur wants to place the Other, not only (1) in the face of the other person, (2) but also into the divide between the self and its body/flesh (the experience of your own body is an encounter with Otherness), and (3) between the self and its conscience (Conscience as some Other voice in your head, from God, the anscestors, other people).
At the end of all this, and more so in The Course of Recognition, ch. 3, R. moves toward a Hegelian understanding of reciprocity as the constitution of selfhood, rather than an original asymmetry. So the ‘self’ is situated between the sameness of the cogito, and it shattering by the Other, where the self is always already, othered in various ways.
This turn toward Hegel has also been heralded by two other schools of thought (but in very different ways). American pragmatism has taken up Hegel’s critique of the social contract and his theories of sociality, and Continental/philosophical psychoanalysis (of the Lacanian variety, as to be distinguished from the American reception of Freud) also has taken up Hegel’s master slave dialectic (via Lacan’s appropriation of Kojeve’s reading of Hegel).
So, both of these Schools are now my playground, and I will take leave of Levinas for now. Thank you, and good night.
Thursday, August 10, 2006
(back to Levinas. The 3rd party must wait for meaningless philosophy!)
The reasion I am (dis)interested in Levinas is because of many contrasting themes and approaches to other philosophers I’ve been reading (of which I’ve already noted from Badiou and Zizek), all of which have political/ethical ramifications.
Briefly, concerning Lacan, I note:
1) the similarity that the subject is broken from something Other (for Levinas it is the Infinite of the Other outside; for Lacan it is the unconscious inside, which Zizek calls the Inhuman).
2) For Levinas it is the Desire (the disinterested desire) which reveals the Other before us, but, oppositely, for Lacan it is desire which ensnares/captures us in the Other (which dominates us), for we don’t have a Desire (interested or not), but rather we are always overtaken by the “desire of the Other,” the “Other’s Desire” within us.
3) For Levinas the goal is to give up on Desire (to be dis-interested), but for Lacan the goal is to ‘never give up on your desire,’ with the emphasis on your desire, not the Other's desire.
4) For Levinas the trauma is the Infinite outside us, but for Lacan it is the Inhuman within us (the death drive).
Each of these contrasts highlight the fundamental difference between the ethical uses of Levinas, and the more recent political uses of Lacan (via Badiou and Zizek).
Each of these contrasts highlight the fundamental difference between the ethical uses of Levinas, and the more recent political uses of Lacan (via Badiou and Zizek).
But before I get to this ethical/poltical divide, I will finish these reflections on Levinas via Riceour. So soon I’ll note how Riceour helpfully (dis)places Levinas, and offers a helpful move forward through Hegel, which will set up the problematic between American pragmatism (its use of Hegel) and Zizekian psychoanalytic(ism?) (and its use of Hegel via Lacan via Hegel via…).
Wednesday, August 09, 2006
(Let's take a break from philosophy)
Senator Lieberman has lost his bit for re-election in the primary for
Now many in the EC and beyond are talking about what it means for the church to be political (does the Church have its own politic, if not the Christian Right then the Left?, and such). I for one have felt the Sojourners option to feel like a Christendom of the Left and that Jim Wallis sounds like he's more for the Democratic Party than anything else (yes I need to nuance more!).
I have recently thought that if Christians really are meant to engage in national politics, then the most important contribution would be to form a viable Third Part (either with a platform or coalition of independent candidates).
So along with Lieberman (who is Jewish), perhaps Christian politicians should pull the plug on their party affiliation, and form a Third Party. A Third Party would be a truly astonishing political innovation in
So Let's do it! (err, wait! maybe I should think about this for a couple of years...)
Tuesday, August 08, 2006
(I posted this over at churchandpomo.org, but I thought since it also rings true for this blog, that I might as well...)
Many of you have probably heard of the slow food movment (against the fast food industry), and perhaps even a slow life city (heralding a slow pace, slow education, slow industry, and slow aging). But what about slow blogging, or slogging? (Slow + Blogging = Slogging)
If you are looking for the next microwaved ‘critical theory’ with a side of canned theology, sprinkled with cheesy pop cultural references, then maybe this won’t work out for you.
But if you like things to simmer and stew for a bit, if you like chopping up the salad (adding those sugared walnuts), and setting the table with a reasonable argument, then pull up a chair and let’s have a conversation.
for the time being aims to be, hopes to be, longs to be, a place where we can reason together (and maybe argue a bit, together). And to do that takes a little time. So that is why we hope to be a SLOG, a Slow Blog.
Monday, August 07, 2006
So far my theme from Levinas has been the infinite, not to the neglect of the Other, a persistent theme of L.’s, but rather as a way of understanding how, beyond the phenomenological horizon, the Other break in from a height, from an elevation of transcendence, beyond that of Being (which goes under the guises of Subject, "I", consciouseness, Same, experience, theme, or horizon). The linking of the Other, Being, Infinite, and the Subject are my concerns (especially as they relate to the work of Badiou, who fundamentally disagrees and seeks to subvert all the work of Levinas, more on that later).
So, more on the Infinite from “God and
The problem guiding Levinas in this essay is the challenge from Derrida that “Not to philosophize is still to philosophize,” drawing attention to Levinas’ hopes of escaping Greek Onto-theo-logy into Judean Ethics of the Other. Levinas’ response is to question whether or not God, the Other, the tout autre, can “be exposed in a rational discourse which would b neither ontology nor faith” (131), a discourse beyond the opposition of the God of philosophers and the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (as Pascal likes to say).
Levinas thinks there can be. And after many twists and turns, blind alleys of the phenomenon and “no outlets” of the Same, Levinas returns to the ‘idea of the infinite’ as that which is constitutive of thought while at the same time its ‘beyond’, the condition of subjectivity as totally beyond the subject.
Let me stitch a quote together from page 138.
“The figure of the Infintie-put-in-me, and according to Descartes, contemporaneous with my creation, would mean that the not-being-able-to-comprehend-the Infinite-by-thought is somehow a positive relationship with this thought…The not-being-able-to-comprehend-the Infinite-by-thought would signify the condition—or the unconditionality—of thought…The Infinite affects thought by devastating it and at the same time calls upon it; in a “putting it back in its place” it puts thought in place. It awakens it. The awakening of thought is not a welcoming of the Infinite, is not a recollecting, not an assuming, which are necessary and sufficient for experience. The idea of the Infinite puts these in question….The infinite signifies precisely prior to its manifestation.”Desire
Levinas continues by asking what is the meaning of this “idea of the Infinite” put into me, why is it there at all. The idea of the infinite awakens a desire in the subject (which is the very shattering of the subject) for a Desire beyond all end or utility, beyond all enjoyment or pleasure (all of which is merely a desire for being, and its ‘interests’). The desire for/of the beyond the finite is a dis-interested Desire, for “Affected by the infinite, Desire cannot proceed to and end which it would be equal to” (140), but rather an end totally unequal, non-reciprical, utterly dissymmetrical to the Subject, and is therefore the Desire for the Other.
In this the idea of the Infinite (which is the condition and devastation of the Subject, of Thought) subjects us to our responsibility to the Other, which is the Good, or goodness. For “to be good is a deficit, waste and foolishness in a being; to be good is excellence and elevation beyond being. Ethics is not a moment of being; it is otherwise and better than being, the very possibility of the beyond” (141).
This idea of the Infinite, which affects a Desire beyond interestedness, soliciting the Other and the Good, is “a trauma that could never be assumed; it consisted in being struck by the “in” of the infinity which devastates presence and awakens subjectivity to the proximity of the other.” “This trauma, which cannot be assumed, inflicted by the Infinite on presence, or this affecting of presence by the Infinite—this affectivity—takes shape as a subjection to the neighbor. It is thought thinking more than it thinks, desire, the reference to the neighbor, the responsibility for another.”
Phew (brush the sweat from your brow, drink a cup of water)…and wonder why you ever read this blog. I have more, put I will stop today.
Questions? (like why do you do this?)
Wednesday, August 02, 2006
So here are some quotes/thoughts from his Basic Philosophical Writings (all paginations from this text). The themes which interest me (and I know Levinas hates the ‘thematic’) are ‘subjectivity’, the Infinite, and language. So of course there will the themes of Freedom, Desire, Substitution, and others which I will pass over. Today will be his essays on "Is Ontology Fundamental" and "Transcedence and Height", and later will be his "God and Philosophy".
Today will be his essays on "Is Ontology Fundamental" and "Transcedence and Height", and later will be his "God and Philosophy".
“Is Ontology Fundamental?”
In this early work L. is seeking to resituate phenomenology, opening a door (or rather taking the roof off) toward a height of transcendence beyond the mere horizon of Being, which locks everything into the immanence of the Same. The relation with the Other, as toward a Height beyond the Horizon of Being, is one of language (a language preceding ontology) which is full of invocation, calling, and response which is the relation of Ethic to the Face of the Other.
So, he begins, “The pages that follow will attempt to characterize in a very general way this relation which is irreducible to comprehension,” a comprehension resting in the openness of being. The understanding of a particular being is always against the horizon of Being, a being’s openness and going beyond itself to Being. “To comprehend the particular being is already to place oneself beyond the particular. To comprehend is to be related to the particular that only exists through knowledge, which is always knowledge of the universal.”(p. 5)
But, Levinas maintains, the relation with the Other is not one of comprehension where the being we perceive is stands out upon the horizon of Being, because in relation to the Other “he is a being and counts as such” without reference to a horizon. The Other presents a being without it also presenting an openness to Being (nor comprehension, nor knowledge). Hence, the Other is a (particular) being which escapes the openness/horizon of Being (universal), and as such is not enclosed by our themes or projects (against Heideggar). “The other is not an object of comprehension first and an interlocutor second….The comprehension of the other is inseparable from his invocation.” And it is this speaking, this language, which precedes ontology, a speaking to the particular as particular, neglecting his universal being. This relation which precedes ontology, irreducible to representation or comprehension, is an ethical relation. This relation to a particular being in one of invocation, of address, demanding a response.
So, “In relation to beings in the opening of being, comprehension finds a signification for them on the basis of being. In this sense, it does not invoke these beings but only names them, thus accomplishing a violence and a negation”(p 9). So while the knowledge of being(s) only names, and is therefore nominalist, the relation which invokes, which calls to us, which exceeds comprehension, is that of the ethical. “A being as such (and not as incarnation of universal being) can only be in a relation where we speak to this being. A being is a human being and it is as a neighbor that a human being is accessible—as a face” (8).
The face of the other witnesses to this (ethical, non-ontological) relation with a depth/height, rather than as a horizon, which carries a significance not established by the horizon of Being, but rather a face which signifies itself. “To comprehension and signification grasped within a horizon, we oppose the signifyingness of the face” (10) which comes from a height.
[This transparency of the ‘face’ as self-signifying (without recourse to the horizon of Being) with what Zizek questions. Not because Zizek wants to bring back the horizon, but rather to question whether the ‘face’ is not already a mask provided by the symbolic order to keep us from our neighbors.]
Moving on to “Transcendence and Height” which was published just after “Totality and Infinity”. In this essay L. moves from questioning philosophy (as phenomenology), to the questioning of me by the Other, to the question of Infinity as the invasion of what is beyond being (the Other) into the immanence of the Same.
“The Other thus presents itself as human Other; it shows a face and opens the dimension of height, that is to say, it infinitely overflows the bounds of knowledge” (p. 12).
Levinas argues that philosophy is assimilation, is adequation of knowledge/representation to Reality where every true Other is made into the Same. The “I of knowledge is at once the Same par excellence, the very event of identification and the melting pot where every Other is transmuted into the Same” (p 13), but “the resistance of the Other to the Same is the failure of philosophy” (p. 14). The myth of philosophy is broken in the intrusion of the Other. “The myth of legislative consciousness of things, where difference and identity are reconciled, is the great myth of philosophy. It rests upon the totalitarianism or imperialism of the Same.” The Other, the face of the Other, resists this totalitarianism. This Other which resist the pretension of the I, of consciousness, demands a responds in which my respons(ibility) is founded.
The cogito of Descartes, the ego of Kant, the I of Husserl, and the Dasien of Heideggar, are all punctured by this approach of the Other, who before ontology calls be to respond, to ethical responsibility. This provocation is nothing other than that of the Infinite. “The Other who provokes this ethical movement in consciousness and who disturbs the good conscience of the Same’s coincidence with itself compromises a surplus which is inadequate to ntentionality. Because of this inassimilable surplus, we have called the relation which binds the I to the Other is the idea of the infinite.” “The idea of the infinite consists precisely and paradoxically in thinking more than what is thought while nevertheless conserving it in its excessive relation to thought. The idea of the infinite consists in grasping the ungraspable while nevertheless guaranteeing its status as ungraspable” (p. 19).
This idea of the infinite takes thought outside of immanence, outside of being. Through this idea, which Descartes introduces into his through, shatters immanence. This Cartesiansim is akin to Plato who seeks a ‘beyond being’ attesting to the thought that the idea of being is younger than the idea of the infinite (p. 21).
So, from philosophy of the Same (and its I), to its shattering before the face of the Other, to the idea of the Infinite, ontology is not first philosophy, rather, ethics is.
Well that is enough for now. I've mostly been summarizing rather than reflecting/engaging. I certainly need to think through more how this has worked out in the Emerging Church (for good/ill) and what we should be doing with it.
Soon I’ll post on L. “Essence and Dissinteredness” and “God and