Heidegger and the Presencing of the Gods: A Phenomenology of Religious Music

One of the forms of music that I consistently find to be the most profoundly beautiful and also deeply moving is the Gregorian chants which became an important part of the liturgy of the Roman Catholic faith beginning around the 9th to 10th century (a more detailed explanation of the musicology of the Gregorian chant and other information can be found at the Wikipedia article here). During a conversation I was having the other night with a friend after finding and sharing some extremely beautiful pieces from a 12th century abbess named St. Hildegard (link to a YouTube video here), we began discussing how it is that religious music may have been experienced by those who took place in the liturgy and were able to experience these songs in their proper world-historical context. This friend had also recently begun to look into the works of the later Heidegger and took this opportunity to talk about the music and the experience of the music as the presencing of God, this focus on the presencing of beings being the primary allusion to the later Heidegger’s work. I think the characterization of the music as the presencing of God is right, of course with qualifications, and leads us to an interesting avenue of thought.

I think such a characterization is right in sense that the music functions most certainly as a means by which God must have come to presence for these world-historical peoples. If this music still continues to have such a powerful effect on someone like myself who has no real alliance with the Christian faith, I can only imagine the impact that these songs and ceremonies must have had for the Christians of the medieval period as these songs reverberated through the halls of Gothic cathedrals. I can only imagine that God was certainly present to them in and through these songs. Bringing this back to Heidegger, we could think here of the music as a work of art, in the Heideggerian sense of art as that domain within which the truth of Being unfolds from itself, the conduit by which beings are brought forth from concealment into the clearing. Admittedly, art as treated in Heidegger’s essay has a deeper, more epochal (in terms of sendings of Being) and historical connotation but a rough analogy is fitting here. That formal structure of art translates in this case into the process by which God is brought to presence in things through the music performed during the liturgy. The music functions to tease out the divine radiance in all things which place man in contact with the divine, with God, as manifest in and through the entities of a world. This is similar to the function of language and poetizing in Heidegger’s essays such as The Way to Language, What are Poets For?, and Language, and indeed Heidegger will often remark the poetizing is an important element in all art, both in The Origin of the Work of Art and The Question Concerning Technology. In this sense, then, the music becomes a source of communion with God, a means by which God and the radiance of God is brought to presence through the songs and the world opened up thereby. The landscape in the light of the hymns ceases to be merely a landscape and becomes the landscape as the creation of God through which man comes to stand in relation to the divine. The entire world is transformed and shines anew in the light brought to presence through the songs. This kind of transformation is the kind which is best explained in the light of what Heidegger terms “the worlding of the world.”

While I do not personally hold to a Christian theology, I do flirt with some forms of theological speculation from time to time, and am willing to entertain (primarily thanks to Heidegger’s work) the notions of God and the divine, and I do find the above description fitting not only to Heidegger’s framework but my own experience of these pieces of music, and it is possible, if not probable, that my own interpretation of how a world-historical people must have experience these songs is based largely in the ways that I myself experience them. There is a determinate shift in what Heidegger would call the worlding of the world in the light of these pieces of music that does indeed seem to be expressed as the presencing of the divine in things, as a conduit by which the divine is brought forth in things. To stick with the general theme here we could use a quote from Heidegger’s essay on art to show an example of how Heidegger sees a work of art opening up and maintaining a world within which beings come to presence in their particular modes. It is a quote I have used before about the Greek temple and the world which is opened up around it, but it is so perfect I can’t help but use it again:

“Standing there, the building holds its ground against the storm raging above it and so first makes the storm itself manifest in its violence. The luster and gleam of the stone, though itself apparently glowing only by the grace of the sun, first brings to radiance the light of the day, the breadth of the sky, the darkness of the night. The temple’s firm towering makes visible the invisible space of air. The steadfastness of the work contrasts with the surge of the surf, and its own repose brings out the raging of the sea. Tree and grass, eagle and bull, snake and cricket first enter into their distinctive shapes and thus come to appear as what they are. The Greeks called this emerging and rising in itself and in all things physis.” – Martin Heidegger | Basic Writings, The Origin of the Work of Art, pp.167-168

This is a phenomenological description of the worlding of the world, that unfolding of the truth of Being, and along with it, the emergence of all things from that realm. Being is thus in a sense prior to and beyond all beings but also that basis within which and from out of which all beings come to stand as those beings which they are, in their particular ways of being. And it is this particular worlding of the world, that particular emerging of beings that is fundamentally altered in the experience of the music of religious worship. It seems futile to try to recount the particular ways in which the divine is experienced in things, so I won’t try to explain what the experience feels like, but I can say that the experience is one of a shift of the way in which the world worlds, in Heidegger’s terms. In other words, the experience of religious music (speaking personally, of course, but I’m sure it holds for others as well) brings about a fundamental change in the ways that the the world feels to us, seems to us, fundamentally changes the very essences of beings in the world to allow what we might call, for lack of a better description, this emergence of a flicker of the divine flame in all things. To call this music and the experience of this music the presencing of God is certainly an accurate description, and I find Heidegger’s framework to be the best way of talking about the phenomenology behind that experience.

I suppose it’s possible that not everyone experiences ancient liturgical music in this way, and indeed some people I’ve tried to share this music with have not had any taste for it at all. But those that are willing to remain quiet, and truly listen to these pieces of music invariably end up finding them deeply moving and describe them as having a certain kind of profound power to them, the kind of power that results in those fundamental experiential changes described in the above paragraph. I highly recommend giving the liturgical music of Hildegard of Bingen a listen, and remember to be patient with it, to sit with it, and attempt to truly hear it, and allow it to overtake you and enrapture you.

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The Ontological Constitution of the Being-there of Dasein as Immanence

The following essay is a piece that I wrote about a year ago relating the ontological frameworks of Heidegger’s concept of “lichtung” or the clearing to a Deleuzean immanental framework.

For the past couple weeks I have become obsessed with attempting to understand the ontological constitution of the Being-there of existing Dasein. In other words, I have been attempting to understand the ontological conditions of Being which render possible the “open-standing standing-in” of Dasein in Being. The essential, ontologically constitutive structure which renders this possibility possible is, for me, the radicalized immanence of Gilles Deleuze’s plane of immanence which is constituted not as immanence of something to something, in the case of the immanence of reality to and within consciousness, and we will see Heidegger himself denies the existence of such a kind of immanence. Rather, the Deleuzean plane of immanence which I believe encapsulates the ontological as well as phenomenological Being of the Being-there of ek-sistent Da-sein, as the later Heidegger will write, is the always already openness of the very structure of the immanence of Being itself. Deleuze writes on immanence in a brief sentence that encapsulates the essence of the plane of immanence in his final essay of his life. He remarks that, “It is only when immanence is no longer immanence to anything other than itself that we can speak of a plane of immanence.” This encapsulates the idea that immanence as such for Deleuze is no longer to be thought of as immanence of something to something else. But rather this idea is one that everything is wholly immanent to everything in a kind of pure openness of everything to everything. There is no privacy in an ontology of radical immanence. As I will note later, human beings are just as open to the world as are rocks, only in a different manner.

Heidegger writes in a cryptic manner in The Way Back into the Ground of Metaphysics that existence, as the way of being of Dasein,

 

“…designates a mode of Being; specifically, the Being of those beings who stand open for the openness of Being in which they stand, by standing it. This ‘standing it,’ this enduring, is experienced under the name of ‘care.’ The ecstatic essence of being there is approached by way of care, and, conversely, care is experienced adequately only in its ecstatic essence. ‘Standing it,’ experienced in this manner, is the essence of the ekstasis which must be grasped by thought. The ecstatic essence of existence is therefore still understood inadequately as long as one thinks of it as merely ‘standing out,’ while interpreting the ‘out’ as meaning ‘away from’ the inside of an immanence of consciousness and spirit. For in this manner, existence would still be understood in terms of ‘subjectivity’ and ‘substance’; while, in fact, the ‘out’ ought to be understood in terms of the openness of Being itself. The stasis of the ecstatic consists – strange as it may sound – in standing in the ‘out’ and ‘there’ of unconcealedness in which Being itself is present. What is meant by ‘existence’ in the context of an enquiry that is prompted by, and directed toward, the truth of Being, can be most beautifully designated by the word ‘instancy.'”

 

It would certainly seem that to the uninitiated such a passage from Heidegger is impenetrable gibberish. The Way Back into the Ground of Metaphysics was written in 1949, and as such is well into what is called the later writings of Heidegger, or the post-kehre. However, I think that upon closer inspection there is a certain necessity of a framework of a Deleuzean plane of immanence at play in the phenomenon that Heidegger has in mind. Heidegger remarks that when speaking of existence as the way of Being of Dasein, this way of Being denotes the Being of a being who “stand[s] open for the openness of Being in which they stand, by standing it.” It would seem that this standing open for the openness of Being is something which demands the radicalized immanence of Being that Deleuze would advocate, i.e. that Being has the structure of immanence in the Deleuzean sense noted in the first paragraph. In such a conception of immanence, as noted above, immanence is no longer conceived of as immanence of something to something, as in the case of the immanence of the world to consciousness or consciousness to the world. Immanence is, in the radical Deleuzean sense, pure immanence which constitutes the always already openness of the very structure of Being. Human beings are just as open to reality as are rocks, although in a different way. It certainly seems that this open standing of Dasein is possible on the basis of this kind of always already openness to Being which is possible on the basis of Dasein’s always already being-beyond-itself which is in turn possible on the basis of the validity of the plane of immanence being an essential ontological structure of Being. This lays the ontological frame for the ecstatic essence of Dasein as a being always already beyond itself and open to the world. Insofar as Dasein exists it exists in and always already immersed in Being, from Being. “The ecstatic essence of being there is approached by way of care, and, conversely, care is experienced adequately only in its ecstatic essence.” Care, as an existentiall structure of Dasein, is constituted by its concernful comportment with beings and is possible on the basis of the ecstatic essence of Dasein as that being always already beyond, which is best thought, both conceptually and phenomenologically, on the basis of the ontology of immanence. This always already beyond and always already in has the structure of radical immanence. As noted above, Heidegger explicitly denies the traditional concept of immanence which conceives of immanence as a relation of immanence of something to something. Heidegger clearly makes this point in the following sentence: “The ecstatic essence of existence is therefore still understood inadequately as long as one thinks of it as merely ‘standing out,’ while interpreting the ‘out’ as meaning ‘away from’ the inside of an immanence of consciousness and spirit.” Here Heidegger is pointing out that we cannot conceive the ecstatic essence of existence, the always already beyond, in terms of a “standing out” of consciousness from within consciousness to the “external world” or the reverse. Rather, the relation which constitutes the possibility of the always already outside itself is a more radical kind of relation. Heidegger follows the previously cited sentence with the following: “For in this manner, existence would still be understood in terms of ‘subjectivity’ and ‘substance’; while, in fact, the ‘out’ ought to be understood in terms of the openness of Being itself.” This seems to suggest that rather than conceiving the notion of the “out-standing” as the “standing-out” of consciousness into the transcendent sphere, as getting beyond the subjective sphere, this “out” must be conceived, in accordance with the ecstatic essence of Dasein, as the way in which Dasein finds itself always already dwelling within the inherent openness of Being itself, in other words, a radically immanent ontology in which the entire structure of Being is immanence, not in the form of immanence of something to something, but immanence in the sense of the radical openness denoted by the Deleuzean plane of immanence. Perhaps it may be more wise to, at later points, call this the radical transcendence of everything to everything in order to avoid confusion with the trace of the word “immanence.” However, Heidegger brings this paragraph to a close with the final sentence: “The stasis of the ecstatic consists – strange as it may sound – in standing in the ‘out’ and ‘there’ of unconcealedness in which Being itself is present. What is meant by ‘existence’ in the context of an enquiry that is prompted by, and directed toward, the truth of Being, can be most beautifully designated by the word ‘instancy.'” Heidegger here means again that the stasis of the ekstasis consists in this, once again, standing out into the there of the openness of the structure of Being itself which is itself present in the immanent relation of Being to man, which constitutes the relational structure of Da-sein.  This relationship is described as “instancy.” I believe that the instancy of the structure is the immediate openness of Dasein to Being itself possible on the conceptual basis of a Deleuzean plane of immanence at work in the structure of Being.

Heidegger will also write several lines later in The Way Back into the Ground of Metaphysicsthat,

 

“The proposition ‘man exists’ means: man is that being whose Being is distinguished by the open-standing standing-in in the unconcealedness of Being, from Being, in Being. The existential nature of man is the reason why man can represent beings as such, and why he can be conscious of them. All consciousness presupposes ecstatically understood existence as the essentia of man – essentia meaning that as which man is present insofar as he is man. But consciousness does not itself create the openness of beings, nor is it consciousness that makes it possible for man to stand open for beings. Whither and whence and in what free dimension could the intentionality of consciousness move, if instancy were not the essence of man in the first instance?”

 

Heidegger writes, several lines later, an explication of the concept of existence, which is very important to understanding the ekstasis of Dasein, as Dasein’s existence is constituted in a very large part by the existentiall structure of the ecstatic being-beyond and immersed within the world. Heidegger writes, in one of my most favorite lines, “The proposition ‘man exists’ means: man is that being whose Being is distinguished by the open-standing standing-in in the unconcealedness of Being, from Being, in Being.” What this suggests is that it is an essential ontological constitution of Dasein that we are being-there, where the being-there of Dasein is constituted by the mysterious sounding “open-standing standing-in in the unconcealedness of Being, from Being, in Being.” What this seems to mean is that the kind of being that we “are” is essentially the kind of being which stands in the always already openness of the immanence of Being. This is a structure which serves as the ontological foundation of the being-there of Dasein and is grasped in the phenomenological experience of our immersion in the world. The next tantalizing quote comes immediately after and states that “The existential nature of man is the reason why man can represent beings as such, and why he can be conscious of them.” This is a very interesting take on the possibility of consciousness and suggests that it is only insofar as we are the kind of being which stands open and immersed within the world that we can be conscious of those intraworldly beings. I would also add the ontological condition that there is a world beyond Dasein’s comportment toward beings which Heidegger also notes constantly, for example here in Letter on Humanism “Being is illuminated for man in the ecstatic projection. But this projection does not create Being.” It is on the basis of this world which exists always already before Dasein’s comportment to beings, and on the basis of their being a being which exists in the manner of Dasein, as having the essence of existence, that there can be representation of beings and consciousness of beings. Consciousness is thus the relationship between Dasein and the world. Heidegger sums up this very point nicely here, “All consciousness presupposes ecstatically understood existence as the essentia of man – essentia meaning that as which man is present insofar as he is man. But consciousness does not itself create the openness of beings, nor is it consciousness that makes it possible for man to stand open for beings.” Heidegger also makes a similar point in the final sentence of the quote, “Whither and whence and in what free dimension could the intentionality of consciousness move, if instancy were not the essence of man in the first instance?” Here he says that on what condition could the intentionality of consciousness direct itself toward beings if it were not by virtue of the very ontological basis of Dasein as being always already open to and immersed in the world?

I would also like to take the next portion of the paper to draw from Heidegger’s Letter on Humanism, which was published for public reading in 1947. So the work within Letter on Humanism was in a similar time period as the other work that we have looked at from Heidegger’s writing in The Way Back into the Ground of Metaphysics. I will take several quotes from throughout Letter on Humanism. The first is the following:

 

“If we understand what Being and Time calls ‘projection’ as a representational positing, we take it to be an achievement of subjectivity and do not think it in the only way the ‘understanding of Being’ in the context of the ‘existential analysis’ of ‘being-in-the-world’ can be thought – namely, as the ecstatic relation to the clearing of Being.”

 

This seems to be Heidegger again reiterating the idea that what was called projection in the context of Being and Time is not to be understood on the basis of the transcendence of consciousness beyond the subjective sphere of a human subject, but ought to and must be understood in the more primordial context of the existential analytic and the ontological constitution of Dasein as being-in-the-world. In other words, Dasein’s way of existing is constituted by the ecstatic being-beyond of the standing-in within Being, and not on the basis of the transcendence of a subject. This only reiterates our central thesis of the necessity of an ontology based on a Deleuzean plane of immanence in order to fully understand the ontological possibility of the being-there of Dasein as a being always already immersed within the world. Heidegger makes the claim later that,

 

“For us ‘world’ does not at all signify beings or any realm of beings but the openness of Being. Man is, and is man, insofar as he is the ek-sisting one. He stands out into the openness of Being. Being itself, which as the throw has projected the essence of man into ‘care,’ is as this openness. Thrown in such a fashion, man stands ‘in’ the openness of Being. ‘World’ is the clearing of Being into which man stands out on the basis of his thrown essence. ‘Being-in-the-world’ designates the essence of ek-sistence with regard to the cleared dimension out of which the ‘ek’ of ek-sistence essentially unfolds. Thought in terms of ek-sistence, ‘world’ is in a certain sense precisely ‘the beyond’ within existence and for it. Man is never first and foremost man on the hither side of the world, as a ‘subject,’ whether this is taken as ‘I’ or ‘We.’ Nor is he ever simply a mere subject which always simultaneously is related to objects, so that his essence lies in the subject-object relation. Rather, before all this, man in his essence is ek-sistent into the openness of Being, into the open region that clears the ‘between’ within which a ‘relation’ of subject to object can ‘be.’”

 

In this quote Heidegger sets out to explain the ontological constitution of the worldhood of the world. Heidegger immediately wants to make clear that world does not simply refer to some particular region of beings or beings as a whole. For example, the world is not constituted by some particular totality of entities in a region of Dasein’s concern. Rather, world has come to mean the particular openness of Being, which in turn implies the openness of Being to man as the ek-sisting one. Heidegger seems to note that this openness of Being to Being which man, as the ek-sisting one, can enter into, is a product of Being. In other words, the ontological condition of the possibility of this kind of openness of Being which man can enter into is grounded in the thrown projection from Being itself, and this possibility, as thrown from Being itself, is grounded in the structure of a radical immanence of Being. This is made clear in the following: “Being itself, which as the throw has projected the essence of man into ‘care,’ is as this openness. Thrown in such a fashion, man stands ‘in’ the openness of Being. ‘World’ is the clearing of Being into which man stands out on the basis of his thrown essence.” It then follows that being-in-the-world is constituted by ecstatic essence of Dasein as existing within the openness of Being. “‘Being-in-the-world’ designates the essence of ek-sistence with regard to the cleared dimension out of which the ‘ek’ of ek-sistence essentially unfolds. Thought in terms of ek-sistence, ‘world’ is in a certain sense precisely ‘the beyond’ within existence and for it.” This beyond within existence is the ek-stasis of man’s essential being-beyond within and immersed within the world, again, to reiterate, which is grounded primordially in the radicalized immanence of the structure of Being. The beautiful summary of this paragraph encapsulates the central thesis of this essay wonderfully, “Man is never first and foremost man on the hither side of the world, as a ‘subject,’ whether this is taken as ‘I’ or ‘We.’ Nor is he ever simply a mere subject which always simultaneously is related to objects, so that his essence lies in the subject-object relation. Rather, before all this, man in his essence is ek-sistent into the openness of Being, into the open region that clears the ‘between’ within which a ‘relation’ of subject to object can ‘be.’” Heidegger here is making the same point which has been made over and over again in The Way Back into the Ground of Metaphysics, and Letter on Humanism.That is, in accordance with the thesis of the essay, that man is, or Dasein is, primordially constituted ontologically by the ecstasis of its essence. That is to say that Dasein is constituted primordially in the open-standing standing-in always already in the openness of Being. And it is this primordial ontological essence of Dasein that I think is best thought of on the basis of the radicalized ontology of immanence of Gilles Deleuze which posits that the primordial openness of Being is an essential structure of Being itself and lays the groundwork for the ontological constitution of Dasein’s ecstatic essence, in other words, of Dasein’s existence as a being always already immersed within the world itself.

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More on Deleuzean Egos and Exploring Perception with Heidegger, Lacan, and Deleuze

I wrote recently about my reworking of my concept of the ego, as modified for a Deleuzean, or perhaps, Deleuze & Guattarian metaphysics. As I had noted before, I believe that what had led me most astray was my obsession with formulating the ego as some form of virtual object. While I think that may be in large part because of Deleuze’s discussion of the emergence of the ego on the basis of an objectal relation with a virtual center, which led me to think of formulating the ego as a virtual object, I do believe that this is misguided and believe now that the ego belongs on the plane of actuality, as I noted in the last post:

“While the ego is differenciated out of a virtual multiplicity of elements, larval subjects, or passive egos that make up the Dionysian substratum out of which emerge transient and passing egoic manifestations, the ego is a Deleuzean actuality, a contingent, passing product of virtual elements that produce an extensive form under the guise of the “I” or “self.” The ego…always takes place in the realm of actualities as a manifest form.”

Now, how does this reformulation situate us with regard to the Lacanian split subject? Following Freud’s schism of the psychic realm into the conscious and the unconscious, Lacan’s split subject follows a similar topographical character, i.e. that of the conscious and the unconscious psychic realms. We accept the Lacanian split subject in its basic form. Lacan makes the distinction between the realm of conscious life as the realm of egoic discourse, the discourse of the conscious self, the “I,” etc., and the realm of the discourse of the Other, the Other’s discourse is the mysterious realm of the language of the unconscious, the unintentional, the realm of the subject of the enunciation, etc.. For example, the split subject is manifest in the subject’s enunciations which take place on two levels, the discourse of the self or the ego, and the discourse of the unconscious which passes underneath the discourse of the egoic projections. In a given enunciation there are these two levels of discourse, two orders of signification. When I look at a person I love, and tell them that I hate them, while the corners of my mouth and my eyes express nothing but the image of pain, there are two signifying chains operating. There is the egoic projection, which Lacan will call the subject of the enunciated, “I hate you.” However, underlying this in a secondary signifying chain is the discourse of the Other, the unconscious. This is Lacan’s subject of the enunciation. This secondary chain of signification is the injection of the discourse of the Other into my egoic projections.

I don’t see any reason to deny that validity of the topography outlined by Lacan. I find it a valid topography of the psyche in Freud and it’s formulation in Lacan seems no more controversial (in relation to the topography in general, disregarding other ontological postulates). However, given that I accept the rough topography of the psyche as outlined by Freud and Lacan, I must now say how this topography can then be remapped using the concepts outlined in the reformulation of the ego in my last post. I have described in the last post that the ego is taken as a given provisional actualization which is differenciated out of a virtual multiplicity, producing the egoic manifestations. From the example used above, my exclamation of hate is a particular, contingent event that is an extensive manifestation produced by a differential ground. This extensive manifestation emerges on the plane of actualities. It is, as Deleuze and Guattari say in A Thousand Plateaus in their discussion of the Wolf Man from their critique of Freudian psychoanalysis, a given enunciation produced by a particular machinic assemblage, i.e. a particular set of relations between elements which effectuate a given event. So far, so good. All of this, for the most part, is able to take place on the upper levels of the split subject. I can tell the person that I love that I hate them as a purposive act, a consciously determined event, which would nevertheless be a product of a given machinic assemblage which produced that statement.

So what, then, of the unconscious? What about the subject of the enunciation? What about the downturned corners of my mouth or the pain in my eyes that give away that my proclamations of hate emerge from a deeper ground, something which belies the primary chain of signification by injecting a second order chain of signification that articulates something of the Other’s discourse in my enunciation? On this point, I believe that I was partially right in my first post dealing with the relation between the ego in Deleuze and Lacan. In this first post, as I also alluded to in my last post, I referred to these irruptions of the unconscious as the lines of flight of non-integrated passive egos. This is, I think, roughly correct. These irruptions of the unconscious which give away the Dionysian substratum producing our manifestations are indeed lines of flight which slip out of the edges of the egoic projection or manifestation. I note that these give away a deeper ground in the sense that the irruptions of the unconscious, as was noted first by Freud, although some like Michel Foucault will say that this discovery in Freud was preceded and possibilized by the work of Schopenhauer and Nietzsche, give a clue to the existence of something which betrays the apparent unity and concrescence of the ego as the “self” or “I” as a unified whole. The schism at the heart of subject created by the topographical chasm between conscious and unconscious is a serious one, and the possibility of a unified subject is a serious question, and one I continue to explore.

Why do these irruption, in our language, “lines of flight,” take the form of asignifying events, as Lacan has noted? Lacan describes these irruptions, and the realm of the unconscious in general in the following quote:

“The unconscious is the chapter of my history that is marked by a blank or occupied by a lie: it is the censored chapter. But the truth can be refound; most often it has already been written elsewhere.” – Jacques Lacan | Écrits, The Function and Field of Speech and Language in Psychoanalysis, p.215

In Lacan these events are asignifying because of the manner in which their discourse takes place on the basis of an alternate symbolic matrix that makes the integration of their discourse into one’s dominant discourse an impossibility (see the discordant and exclusionary nature of symbolic matrices and discourses here). They are then present as real (the Lacanian real), as non-symbolic, and in some cases completely non-symbolizable irruptions into a given imaginary which threaten to destabilize and deconstruct a given imaginary. One’s own dominant symbolic matrix goes to produce a certain structuration, which, in ciphering the real, manifests the imaginary, a quasi-Kantian phenomenal realm which comprises the world of lived experience. The ego is experienced in the context of this psychological imaginary. We can think of this, perhaps reworking Lacan to be less of representationalist than he is, as creating a structure of consciousness, to borrow a term from Jean Gebser. We can think of this not in terms of creating a particular representational system but a particular openness to the various unconcealments of entities, in the Heideggerian sense (first glimpsed in Heidegger’s analysis of Dasein in Being and Time). Through the ciphering of the real on the basis of a symbolic matrix, which hearkens back to a certain Kantianism or neo-Kantianism, the imaginary is thereby produced. However, in contrast to the Kantian we wish to conceive of this not in terms of representationalism but a kind of non-representational structure of openness (structure of consciousness) which was first brought to light in Heidegger’s B&T and continually expanded upon throughout his life. How does this relate to Deleuze? These irruptions are the products of the Deleuzean chaosmos, the products of a transcendental field which produces the irruptions of difference which hint at the Dionysian ground and emerge in these asignifying events which break the dominant structure of consciousness. Their appearance as asignifying is a result of their rupturing the structure of consciousness through the infiltration of difference. This also has the sense of Heidegger’s event ontology with a certain relation to the event of Ereignis, as the shining and emerging of beings which propriates Da-sein, at which point beings announce themselves in their being to our awareness, effecting transformations in the structure of consciousness. The Deleuzean chaosmos is employed here to give a structure to the Lacanian real, which is too much like an undifferentiated abyss outside of which there exists nothing but non-discursive emptiness. Lacan will use the term “ex-sists” to describe this irreality of the real. For Lacan, there is no such thing as a non-discursive reality, i.e. no reality outside a symbolic matrix which produces a world. There is nothing to the real for Lacan until it is brought into a discursive system. This seems too radical for me. Consequently, for the Lacanian real I wish to substitute a Deleuzean chaosmos. A transcendental field which “…leaps from one singularity to another, casting always the dice belonging to the same cast, always fragmented and formed again in each throw. It is a Dionysian sense-producing machine.” (TLoS, p.107) And in addition to the Deleuzean transcendental field, that other side of the chaosmos, the plane of actualities. This chaosmos which will replace the Lacanian real in the triad is capable of being ciphered, coded, ordered, in a multitude of ways depending on the particular symbolic matrix. The pre-existent structuration of Deleuze’s chaosmos is preferable to the void of the Lacanian real. The history of the realism-idealism debate has never seemed to know anything but the opposing poles of a binary relationship which has determined the developments in theories of perception since the Kant’s radical Copernican Revolution and the pathway created therein for the emergence of German idealism. Empiricism privileges the world while underprivileging  the subject and idealism underprivileges the world while privileging the subject. What I want is neither end of this binary but a philosophy which itself becomes multiplicity, in perhaps a Derridean deconstruction of these binary conceptual frameworks which preclude the thinking of the multiple and the interactions of multiple systems, i.e. Derrida breaking the ground for the emergence of Deleuzean multiplicity. It is, for me, in the work of Martin Heidegger that I find the beginnings of a mediation between the two, articulated perhaps most thoroughly in his work Contributions to Philosophy: Of the Event, which I consider to be one of his most important texts. His movements away from a philosophy of transcendence in which Being is something to which we must get, to his stress on an immanental philosophy in which we emerge from out of Being lay, for me, the tacit foundations of a new thinking, one which skirts an interesting line between the realism-idealism, rationalism-empiricism dichotomies. In addition to this starting point in Heidegger, I would like to add details from Lacan and Deleuze, as I have done above. I plan to do more work sculpting this idea. So, it turns out that I have answered the question of how the irruptions of the unconscious come to have their asignifying character by articulating a view on perception which melds together insights of Lacan, Heidegger, Deleuze, and Gebser, interestingly enough.

 

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Why I was Wrong on Deleuzean Egos

I’ve lately become deeply unsatisfied with my work on the ego in Deleuze and my attempts thus far to differentiate the Deleuzean ego from the Lacanian ego of the Imaginary. I remember getting a certain feeling of dissatisfaction with the theme of the work as I was working on it, but decided to continue writing and working it out in order to explore the territory and the directions that would be opened up by the analysis. However, as time has gone on I have come to doubt that I am correct in my analysis. In a certain sense I view the last two posts that I have done on this relationship to be failures. While I think there are certain elements in them that point the way to the correct interpretation, I think they have to be viewed as a stepping stone rather than any form of definitive analysis. I sound like Heidegger reflecting back on Being and Time fromt the point of view of his later works. But, nevertheless, I think it’s true.

So, where is it that I think I have gone wrong? I think I’ve been too obsessed with the ego as virtual and missed the important insight in Lacan and Freud that the ego always appears as manifest, whether in the subject of the enunciation in Lacan or in the manifest content in Freud. The point here being that the ego occupies the realm of actualities, of differenciated virtualities but is not itself self-identical with the virtual elements that produced it (i.e. it is not describable in terms of the reciprocally determined differential structure of the virtual Idea, although this is its possibilizing virtual element). This is something that I have attempted to do in forcing the ego back into the realm of the virtual while any decent phenomenological analysis would suggest that the ego is an actualization that exists on the plane of actuality and acts out its whole existence on the plane of actualities. While the ego is differenciated out of a virtual multiplicity of elements, larval subjects, or passive egos that make up the Dionysian substratum out of which emerge transient and passing egoic manifestations, the ego is a Deleuzean actuality, a contingent, passing product of virtual elements that produce an extensive form under the guise of the “I” or “self.” The ego, as I stated above, always takes place in the realm of actualities as a manifest form. Indeed, there is, as is a central piece of Deleuze’s metaphysics, a constant interplay between the virtual and the actual. However, the ego is never a virtuality. It is produced on the basis of a virtual system, but as I said above, is never self-identical to these virtual systems. The virtual forces which function as the transcendental condition of the egoic manifestations are an altogether different realm, i.e. that of the intensive, the differential, and the ego cannot be equated or identified with these forces. Doing so would even violate the critical distinction between the virtual and the actual and principle of non-resemblance that differentiates the Deleuzean virtual from the concept of the possible in the history of the philosophy, a distinction that is very important for Deleuze.

This all has the favorable outcome of keeping me at a distance from Lacan and Freud, which was an important goal for me when I embarked on this project, while also allowing me a better point through which to engage them, and in some sense agree with them phenomenologically, but disagree ontologically. It also has a second, interestingly paradoxical consequence of putting me both further from and closer to Deleuze himself. In terms of the reality of the ego, I am allowed the capacity to keep it in a more thoroughly metaphysical sense, or a more realist sense (which has been one of the driving forces of the project all along), even if it does have the capacity to dissolve into the Nietzschean multiplicity of selves, given that the virtual potentials always exceed the momentary actualizations that take place on the basis of them, just as the potential manifestations possibilized by the virtual structures of language are greater than any particular linguistic utterance. This keeps me in opposition to the Lacanian analysis and the primacy of the signifier in Lacan in favor of a more realist conception of the ego in contrast to an existence relegated to the Imaginary register of the Lacanian triad. In some sense, because I now feel that my framework is much more workable and less contrived, I am able to get closer to the analyses provided by Lacan and Freud and feel much more comfortable attacking their frameworks on the basis of  my more thoroughly reconstituted framework. Before, I felt as though I was going into battle with a badly splintered shield and a poorly forged sword which could quickly become disastrous if put under too much stress. My shield could easily shatter or my sword could crack if hit along any one of the numerous weak points. It (my analysis) increasingly felt as though it always existed on the verge of unraveling before my eyes. However, I think I am better equipped now. For example, my previous post on the manifestations of the unconscious seems overly complex and contrived because it is attempting to combat Lacan with a framework which is simply misguided and forced. The current, modified framework has the happy consequence of allowing me to say that I in large part agree with Lacan in terms of a phenomenology of the psyche, but disagree with his ontological framework. And in place of his ontology, I can substitute an ontology of the psyche which I now think is better suited for the job. This is important to me because while it may seem that I have a distaste for Lacan, I do think he, like almost everyone, offers important insights, even if I do not accept his system wholly. For that matter, it is important to me never to deify either a philosopher or their system, but to push their systems to the point of failure, at which point one is then able to step into the gaps in their systems and think more authentically, to really think in the Heideggerian sense. In terms of my paradoxical relation to Deleuze, I am also able to go beyond Deleuze in order to return to Deleuze (perhaps he would enjoy the “return” here) to produce a Deleuzean conception of the ego which seems more Deleuzean than even Deleuze’s work on the ego which was outlined, albeit roughly and in passing, in the discussion of Freud in chapter two of Difference and Repetition. So in this paradoxical state of affairs I get closer to Deleuze by moving beyond in order to return to Deleuze.

This concludes my late night confessional. I have to work in five hours but woke up with the sudden realization of, and ability to put to words, what it was that had been bugging me about my work with the relationship between Deleuze and Lacan and knew that if I didn’t immediately start writing I could lose it. I hope you all enjoyed the reworkings! I see much more potential here than in the previous framework.

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Lacan on the Mark of the Unconscious and Deleuzean Egos

One of my favorite quotes from Lacan deals with a constant experience when facing manifestations of the unconscious. To steal from Nietzsche’s descriptions of the nature of nihilism and do a little linguistic transposition into the contexts of psychoanalytic inquiry (which Derrida said was alright), it is that experience in psychic life when “…’why?’ finds no answer.” Lacan describes the unconscious as a blank, the inaccessible, the asignifying element of psychic life which yields only a dark abyss when questioned. The quote I enjoy comes from the essay titled, “The Function and Field of Speech and Language in Psychoanalysis” and is out of the collected essays which make up Lacan’s Écrits. The quote reads as follows:

“The unconscious is the chapter of my history that is marked by a blank or occupied by a lie: it is the censored chapter. But the truth can be refound; most often it has already been written elsewhere.” – Jacques Lacan | Écrits, The Function and Field of Speech and Language in Psychoanalysis, p.215

I have contrasted the makeup of the psychic realm as it is interpreted in a Deleuzean manner, with Lacan’s return to Freud in a previous post titled, “The Global Integration Function of the I.” In that post I explicated what I believe is Deleuze’s position on the ontological status of the Ego, as he outlines in his discussions of Freud in chapter two of Difference and Repetition. There Deleuze will give the Ego a certain metaphysical or ontological concrescence that is absent in Lacan’s placement of the Ego in the Imaginary or Symbolic registers, as he does in his essay on the mirror stage in infant development. While the Ego in Lacan is an imago, an image, and does function as a mechanism for globally integrating the disparate libidinal energies of the infant under the unity of the proto-I, this I is always an illusion, an imaginary construct or fantasy created by representational thought to assemble, out of the Nietzschean multiplicity of drives, an object of representation, thereby reducing the ultimate reality of the Ego to nothing more than a representational model inside one’s mind. The “I” for Lacan is like a master signifier with which one is capable of impressing upon the manifold of disparate drives the illusion of unity. Being of a rather schismatic nature, the infant’s identification with the proto-I, and the subsequent identifications of the subject with varying Egos are always identifications with a ghost of unity held in place by the master signifier of the “Self,” or the “I.” The unity of the subject or the self as it is created in the position of the imago is always, as Michael Downs notes in his video on Lacan’s Mirror Stage, “…a fuckin’ lie.” (Michael’s video can be found here) Deleuze’s innovation in chapter 2 of Difference and Repetition is to take the Ego out of the Imaginary and the Symbolic, and out of representational thought in general and inject it into his Virtual as an Idea or Abstract Machine. Doing so casts the Ego as a transcendental condition that operates immanently, effecting spatio-temporal dynamisms that produce a unified, identifiable, stratified subject with real metaphysical reality as the Ego becomes, producing a differenciated Virtuality, i.e. an extensive entity in the world. If we follow this line of interpretation of the Freudian Ego that Deleuze establishes, it has the interesting consequence of giving to the Ego a certain reality which is absent from Lacan’s treatment of the Ego as essentially illusory, a mere signifier or placeholder for a unity which the subject can never possess. Deleuze  makes the Ego an immanent transcendence, a paradoxical character that is a constant element of Deleuze’s transcendental empiricism (the realm of the Virtual in Deleuze is an immanent transcendence in the sense that it is an immanently operative transcendental condition of the objects of experience, i.e. a morphogenetic, possibilizing condition of objects, forms, etc.). In casting the Ego in this light, Deleuze is capable of skirting around a reliance on representational frameworks or correlationist ontologies (as much as I hate to use any term borrowed from a movement such as “Object-Oriented Ontology”) and giving an account of the Ego that does not reduce it to the machinations of a Symbolic order, an Imago, or fantasy. The Ego becomes no longer the mark of an illusory unity held together by a signifier but an actual entity in the world, although it is a Virtual one, a modality that seems to escape Lacan. I think one may get the impression here that Deleuze has a certain relation to representational models that may not be true. Deleuze’s relation to representation and concepts is a complicated one and runs throughout his entire corpus, both the individual works and the collaborative works with Guattari. The one answer I can give is that there is no one answer, and each case must be treated on its own terms for Deleuze, as it relates to a given take on representation and concepts. While Deleuze does believe that in this case the reduction of the Ego to a product of representation is misguided, he does not believe across the board that the reduction of things to products of representational thought are misguided. For the best treatment of this one is advised to closely study chapter three of Difference and Repetition and the treatment of concepts in the collaborative work, What is Philosophy? 

If we understand the Ego in this sense, as a Virtuality in the form of the Idea, or Abstract Machine, how do we interpret the irruptions of the unconscious through this Deleuzean lens? For Lacan the irruptions of the unconscious are best described in Lacan’s distinction between the subject of the enunciated and the subject of the enunciation. Lacan’s distinction here reflects a constant theme in his work, that of the split subject, which hearkens back to Freud’s distinction between the disparate psychic realms of the conscious and unconscious. The subject of the enunciated belongs to the conscious enunciations of the Ego, the planned, orchestrated enunciations which conform to the dominant Egoic function. The subject of the enunciation refers to the slips of the unconscious, those secondary chains of signification that Freud took as the doorway to the sub-Egoic machinations of the psyche. I described these irruptions of the unconscious in my previous post as the anarchic discourse of the lines of flight traced by the non-integrated passive Egos. An ever-present aspect of Deleuze’s chaosmotic reality is its tendency toward productivity. It, in some sense, mirrors Nietzsche’s Will to Power (probably in large part because of Nietzsche’s enormous influence on Deleuze). Deleuze’s world overflows with a pervasive tendency towards creativity, overflowing with a productive potential that is only subdued by mechanisms of capture and overcoding, which is an element of the Egoic function, although it is shown incapable of quelling the Dionysian turmoil of Deleuze’s chaosmos in cases of the manifestations of the unconscious. The overcoding and orchestrating of the Ego is always susceptible to ruptures and breaks which articulate subterranean lines of flight, breaking the overcoding regimes of the Ego and differenciating themselves in the form of alien manifestations. The manifestations of the unconscious take the form of these ruptures. However, it is important to note that not all ruptures of the Egoic function will take the form of unconscious irruptions. Socio-political Events, for example, can cause ruptures in the Egoic functions which cause the proliferation of lines of flight which cause the Ego to destabilize and destratify, and subsequently reconstitute itself through new stratifications.

What, then, are we to make of the psychoanalytic project? Is it the case that we are doomed to schizophrenia and multiplicity? Or is it the case that despite the Dionysian ground we can still engage in a sort of self-willing and self-production? Despite the chaotic bed, is the emergence of a unified and integrated subjectivity still possible? What exactly, presupposing the Deleuzean reworking of the psychic topography, is taking place in the psychoanalytic setting? It seems that a fundamental element of the psychoanalytic project, even in Lacan’s psychoanalysis, which attempts to distance itself from the Ego-Psychology that emerged after the dissemination of Freud’s work, involves this tendency toward self-production, self-creation, self-exploration, etc.. In Lacan’s treatment of the overcoming of fantasy one is asked to, more or less, integrate the source of one’s trauma into one’s self. To subjectivize one’s own traumatic origin is to bring the traumatic experience under the dominant Egoic function. It attempts to give a language to the heretofore asignifying nature of the unconscious drives, which is a semiotically charged way of talking about the metaphysical process of overcoding which we have been discussing as the function of the Ego. Under Deleuze’s framework, this means to integrate the lines of flight traced by non-integrated passive Egos into the Egoic function. It means to take into one’s self Nietzsche’s demon, the Jungian Shadow, etc., and to make that a piece of one’s self, so that one is capable of integrating it into their whole person, thereby actually creating a new person, which is an important nuance we must keep in mind in order to maintain Deleuze’s ontology of multiplicity, anti-essentialism, and differential identity. The recognition of unconscious drives and patterns which is uncovered in psychoanalytic treatment means to expand the Egoic function, and to encompass and integrate these alien manifestations and subject them to, or plug them into the Idea or the Abstract Machine. Of course, the addition of extra dimensions to a given multiplicity that makes up a particular Idea will change the nature of the Idea and change the effects produced by that Idea in the form of a unified subject. But this is exactly what we see with the psychoanalytic project. The overcoming of one’s trauma, the integration and recognition of one’s unconscious forces leads to the production of a new subject. In a sense, the integration of the non-Egoic forces produces a new Ego, which is exactly what we should expect given that the addition of elements to the n-dimensional structure of the Idea will alter the Idea and its manifestation as a differenciated virtuality, i.e. stratified subject.

In short, the Ego is, then, the virtual, unifying element of the subject which produces the relative stability and unity of the actualized person. This virtual unity may often be destabilized by the subterranean forces of the unconscious, which manifest their own effects in the form of alien irruptions as asignifying events which evade the overcoding and unifying mechanism of the Ego as Idea or Abstract Machine. These asignifying events are lines of flight, which are traced by the non-integrated Egos, which, as virtualities themselves, can be differenciated and produce actual effects which irrupt forth into conscious experience. The goal of the psychoanalytic project is the recognition of and subsequent integration of these non-integrated Egos into the unified subject. Because the Idea is an n-dimensional multiplicity, the addition of, or integration of, various elements changes the nature of the Idea in altering the virtual structure of the Idea, i.e. the reciprocal relations between the singular points which constitute it. The change in the virtual structure of the Idea produces a new Idea, or a new Abstract Machine and results in the production of a new subjectivity. This new subject emerges on the other side of the psychoanalytic project through the subject’s confrontation with the unconscious and integration of those unconscious forces, thus manifesting a more integrated subject. In the language of Jung, the confrontation with one’s Shadow has produced the light by which the person is capable of more fully knowing themselves and integrating the often times disparate and multiplicitous drives into a more holistic and unified self.

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My Venture into the Chaosmos

After publishing my last blog post tying in Deleuze and Guattari to the tacit head nod in Nietzsche to a dual power of nihilism, I got the idea of making a more simple post to talk about where I got into Deleuze, what I read, when I read it, and anything else that bubbles up out of the virtualities while I write.

I began my first tentative adventures into Deleuze’s thought about a year and a half ago. I remember that there seemed to be an outburst of a certain kind of Deleuze-o-mania on many of the Facebook groups at the time. There seemed to be a kind of fervor that surrounded his work. At the time I was mostly interested, as has remained a constant interest, in the work of Heidegger. I think at that point I had just begun to venture into some of Heidegger’s later essays. But Heidegger is neither here nor there in an adventure in Deleuze. The first introduction to Deleuze’s thought came from the YouTube videos by John David Ebert, and, as you could have guessed, the videos I looked at where his two on Difference and Repetition. Here is John’s first video in a two part set on D&R:

These videos were what first piqued my interest in actually taking the time to study Deleuze, and even though I did not immediately study Deleuze after watching these videos, it seems that it was enough to plant the seed in my mind. I eventually became more and more interested in Deleuze, though to be honest I can’t remember what the actual reasons were. It was probably the same kind of curiosity and fascination that led me to study Heidegger after glimpsing into Being and Time and being utterly confused and captivated. One of the first points of access into Deleuze’s thought where I was actually attempting to engage in a serious struggle with Deleuze’s work were the lectures on Deleuze by John Caputo. Caputo’s lectures on Deleuze dealt primarily with a close reading of the broad themes of D&R, and I still consider them a very useful set of lectures for breaking into D&R. They can be found here, with a host of other lectures on various continental thinkers:

http://trippfuller.com/Caputo/

From there I decided to purchase a copy of D&R as well as a commentary on the text by Joe Hughes from the Continuum set of commentaries. I remember listening to the Caputo lectures repeatedly, and reading half of the Joe Hughes commentary before deciding that it was completely worthless (as would become an all too common trend in secondary materials with Deleuze). It was some time before I decided to actually break into D&R on my own, but I ultimately learned that that was what you had to do with Deleuze. It seems that Deleuze scholarship, especially with D&R, is in its infancy, and when it comes to reading Deleuze there is a certain sense in which you’re on your own. There are some rare individuals that offer a candle to light the way, but very few that can actually illuminate the text. As far as works that offer a candle to guide the way through D&R, they are the Caputo lectures, the discussions by John David Ebert, and the commentary written by Levi R. Bryant, Difference and Givenness. Bryant is a philosopher associated with the Object-Oriented Ontology movement and the writer of the blog “Larval Subjects.” While I do appreciate Bryant’s work as reflective of good scholarship on Deleuze, it is written in a way that does make it difficult to understand to the beginner, rendering its potential as a beacon of illumination nothing more than a candle to help one clamor through the dark corridors of D&R. One other helpful work for elucidating Deleuze comes from an essay that appears in the Columbia Companion to Twentieth Century Philosophies. The essay is written by the translator of The Logic of Sense, Constantin V. Boundas. The essay is relatively easy to unravel and does a good job hitting the important points of Deleuze’s work. I remember having a maddening experience reading D&R. As I’ve noted before, Deleuze’s writing style is difficult to unravel to say the least. His writing is genuinely rhizomatic and the influences of his thought are not always clear. I remember, as I’ve also written about before, quitting Deleuze out of hatred and frustration for a long period of time before coming back. In total I think I read D&R four or five times before it clicked, and I continue to read that book, and it continues to make more and more sense as I piece together the metaphysical edifice that Deleuze is trying to construct.

While I was in the midst of D&R I also took the time to pick up a copy of A Thousand Plateaus, the work with Felix Guattari. While ATP is a bit easier to work with, in the sense that its playful character makes it easier to deal with the conceptual framework elaborated therein, this book was still a pain to read when I first started. Everything about Deleuze and Deleuze & Guattari is an exegetical pain in the ass. You really have to read the text back into itself in order to unravel what is happening. What I mean by this is that you have to get used to the feeling of wandering through the text without having an idea of what is happening until you hit moments of clarity, which you can then read into the previous pages to illuminate them. The works have to be read with a delicate attention to hermeneutics. For a long time I just kept at it with D&R and ATP, reading both over and over again attempting to unravel the right framework that would allow me to piece together the project of both, insofar as I do see them being related in the general trajectory of Deleuze’s thought from D&R onward.

The next text that I purchased by Deleuze was The Logic of Sense, which, like the rest of Deleuze’s texts, I hated for a very long time. I found it just as maddening as the rest of Deleuze’s works. However, I had hated D&R and been more than mildly annoyed by ATP only to come to love them later. For this reason, I decided to stick it out with TLoS, and have recently come to value it as another jewel in Deleuze’s body of work. It is full of insights that are spaced throughout the entire work, and one of the best introductory pieces to Deleuze’s work is included as an Appendix at the end of the text, titled “The Simulacrum and Ancient Philosophy.” This essay contains a rough and ready outline of many of the central principles in D&R, from the inversion of Platonism to an explication of his ontology.

I also received a copy of Anti-Oedipus from a friend and have yet to really delve into that book. I have tried several times but find it extremely difficult to hang with it. Although, if it is anything like the other three works of Deleuze it will end up being another jewel once I put in the effort to decipher its madness.

So all in all my ventures into Deleuze draw most heavily on Deleuze’s actual texts, and consists of a kind of relentless Death March as I slogged through the work, attempting to unravel these maddening works. In terms of outside sources that I would recommend, the lectures by Caputo are invaluable for giving some semblance of sense for what is going on in D&R, which is where I recommend that one begins reading Deleuze. From there, you will begin your own Death March through D&R as you work through the text. Once you have a solid grounding in D&R you will be ready to more easily absorb the rest of Deleuze’s work, which all work off of themes articulated in their purest form in D&R. Of course, there is this blog here, also, which can help (I hope!) to elucidate some of the things going on in Deleuze’s work. In addition to this blog, I do have plans for a future commentary on D&R, given that I believe it is such an important work in his corpus. And, that is my venture into the chaosmos, from where I began to where I stand now.

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Deleuze & Guattari and the Duality of Nihilism

The history of the concept of nihilism is a long one, with its etymological origins in Friedrich Jacobi’s criticisms of Immanuel Kant’s transcendental-idealism, dating back to the 18th century, and more properly philosophical roots tracing back to the skeptic strains of Greek philosophy. However, it receives its most notorious treatment in the work of Friedrich Nietzsche. In the collected notes that make up Nietzsche’s The Will to Power, Nietzsche says that the meaning of nihilism is the devaluation of all values, that is, the collapse of meaning and significance, the complete dissolution of any and all systems of meaning. As he says on page 9 of the Kauffman and Hollingdale translation, “What does nihilism mean? That the highest values devaluate themselves. The aim is lacking; ‘why?’ finds no answer.” While this all may seem rather, well, nihilistic, in the sense of the daunting presence of the all consuming darkness of the moral, epistemological, and ontological voids generated by the black hole of a nihilistic philosophy, Nietzsche held to no such negativity, at least he did not view nihilism as having only this all consuming power of negativity. He in fact makes a distinction between two forms of nihilism, an active nihilism and a passive nihilism. Nietzsche says the following: 

“Nihilism. It is ambiguous:
A. Nihilism as a sign of increased power of the spirit: as active nihilism.
B. Nihilism as decline and recession of the power of the spirit: as passive nihilism.” – Friedrich Nietzsche | The Will to Power, p.17

Here we have the first introduction to a dual character of nihilism. Nihilism, as envisioned by Nietzsche’s appeal to a second, productive power, has both the capacity of creation, as well as destruction, and in an almost Derridean character, destruction and creation exist not as binary oppositions but as two entangled forces of morphogenesis. Nietzsche gives us a glimpse of this productive potential at the heart of the destabilizing force of nihilism in his appeal to the willingness to will for oneself, to create, to engage in production in the wake of the devaluation of values:

“The nihilistic question ‘for what?’ is rooted in the old habit of supposing that the goal must be put up, given, demanded from outside – by some superhuman authority. Having unlearned faith in that, one still follows the old habit and seeks another authority that can speak unconditionally and command goals and tasks. The authority of conscience now steps up front (the more emancipated one is from theology, the more imperativistic morality becomes) to compensate for the loss of a personal authority. Or the authority of reason. Or the social instinct (the herd). Or history with an immanent spirit and a goal within, so one can entrust oneself to it. One wants to get around the will, the willing of a goal, the risk of positing a goal for oneself; one wants to rid oneself of the responsibility (one would accept fatalism).” – Friedrich Nietzsche | The Will to Power, pp.16-17

Nihilism in this double sense walks along the event horizon of the black hole, walking along the razor’s edge between the necessary destructions which effectuate becomings and the total destruction that waits on the other side of the event horizon, the spatiotemporal point of no return. Its schizophrenic oscillations between two diametrically opposed poles are both unsettling and fascinating. Nihilism functions as a devastating forest fire, leaving only apparent destruction in its wake, while nevertheless revealing upon closer inspection its intricate relation to numerous positive and productive ecological effects which its destruction makes possible. Destruction and creation constituting a dual character at the heart of becomings. The multiplicity betrays its presence here, as does a segue into the relation of the dual character of nihilism to the work of Deleuze and Guattari’s A Thousand Plateaus. 

I think an interesting entry point into how we will conceptualize this double character of nihilism in the context of the process ontology of Deleuze and Guattari is a comment made by a friend of mine in relation to Nietzsche’s question in The Will to Power“What does nihilism mean?” His comment was that if I wanted to understand nihilism, I should look to Dostoevsky’s Demons. I think this is a brilliant point for reasons he may not have even been aware of. I think that what we see in Dostoevsky’s work, or any novel dealing with nihilistic themes, is nihilism as a process, rather than a stable doctrine of nothingness. In the temporal progression of the novel (depending on the depictions of temporality contained therein) we are given a glimpse into the efficaciousness of nihilism as a force and its intricate relation to becomings. Roughly speaking, the destructive-productive potential of nihilism lies in its promiscuity in relation to the Body without Organs. Nihilism tends to operate on the basis of deterritorializations that open up a space on the BwO and the plane of consistency, both of which erode the strata on the plane of organization. With the erasure of striated space of the plane of organization, the smooth space of nomadic distributions is created, and these deconstructions at the hands of this perverted abstract-machine are what opens up a space on the BwO and plant of consistency, allowing the proliferation of lines of flight, effecting new becomings, new forms, ideas, values, etc.. In the 6th chapter of A Thousand Plateaus, titled “November 28, 1947: How Do You Make Yourself a Body without Organs?” Deleuze and Guattari relate this process of becoming, with deterritorialization and destratification and the BwO to the processes of self exploration and self-actualization. The chapter reaches its most explicit summation of the process in the following paragraph: 

“You have to keep enough of the organism for it to reform each dawn; and you have to keep small supplies of signifiance and subjectification, if only to turn them against their own systems when the circumstances demand it, when things, persons, even situations, force you to; and you have to keep small rations of subjectivity in sufficient quantity to enable you to respond to the dominant reality. Mimic the strata. You don’t reach the BwO, and its plane of consistency, by wildly destratifying. That is why we encountered the paradox of those emptied and dreary bodies at the very beginning: they had emptied themselves of their organs instead of looking for the point at which they could patiently and momentarily dismantle the organization of the organs we call the organism. There are, in fact, several ways of botching the BwO: either one fails to produce it, or one produces it more or less, but nothing is produced on it, intensities do not pass or are blocked. This is because the BwO is always swinging between the surfaces that stratify it and the plane that sets it free. If you free it with too violent an action, if you blow apart the strata without taking precautions, then instead of drawing the plane you will be killed, plunged into a black hole, or even dragged toward catastrophe. Staying stratified—organized, signified, subjected— is not the worst that can happen; the worst that can happen is if you throw the strata into demented or suicidal collapse, which brings them back down on us heavier than ever. This is how it should be done. Lodge yourself on a stratum, experiment with the opportunities offers find an advantageous place on it, find potential movements of deterritorialization, possible lines of flight, experience them, produce flow conjunctions here and there, try out continuums of intensities segment by segment, have a small plot of new land at all times. It is through a meticulous relation with the strata that one succeeds in freeing lines of flight, causing conjugated flows to pass and escape and bringing forth continuous intensities for a BwO. Connect, con­jugate, continue: a whole “diagram,” as opposed to still signifying and sub­jective programs. We are in a social formation; first see how it is stratified for us and in us and at the place where we are; then descend from the strata to the deeper assemblage within which we are held; gently tip the assem­blage, making it pass over to the side of the plane of consistency. It is only there that the BwO reveals itself for what it is: connection of desires, con­junction of flows, continuum of intensities. You have constructed your own little machine, ready when needed to be plugged into other collective machines. Castaneda describes a long process of experimentation (it makes little difference whether it is with peyote or other things): let us recall for the moment how the Indian forces him first to find a “place,” already a difficult operation, then to find “allies,” and then gradually to give up interpretation, to construct flow by flow and segment by segment lines of experimentation, becoming-animal, becoming-molecular, etc. For the BwO is all of that: necessarily a Place, necessarily a Plane, necessarily a Collectivity (assembling elements, things, plants, animals, tools, people, powers, and fragments of all of these; for it is not “my” body without organs, instead the “me” (moi) is on it, or what remains of me, unalterable and changing in form, crossing thresholds).”  – Gilles Deleuze & Felix Guattari | A Thousand Plateaus, pp.160-161

In the above paragraph we see Deleuze and Guattari outlining this destructive-productive process. This morphogenetic process mirrors the productive-destructive potential in nihilism and nihilism’s walk along the razor’s edge of the black hole event horizon. D&G comment on the dangers of “wildly destratifying” at the opening of the paragraph. They talk about the necessity of maintaining some semblance of form, in this case, some semblance of subjectivity, at least enough to be able to wake up every morning and function, enough to “…enable you to respond to the dominant reality.” You cannot tap into the Body without Organs by wildly blowing apart all systems of stratification precisely because occupying the BwO and the plane of consistency means occupying the space of lines of flight, which exist as deterritorializing escapes between various strata, territories, plateaus, etc.. This is the same theme encompassed by the danger of moving beyond the event horizon with nihilism. This is the meaning of the following quote:

“There are, in fact, several ways of botching the BwO: either one fails to produce it, or one produces it more or less, but nothing is produced on it, intensities do not pass or are blocked. This is because the BwO is always swinging between the surfaces that stratify it and the plane that sets it free. If you free it with too violent an action, if you blow apart the strata without taking precautions, then instead of drawing the plane you will be killed, plunged into a black hole, or even dragged toward catastrophe. Staying stratified—organized, signified, subjected— is not the worst that can happen; the worst that can happen is if you throw the strata into demented or suicidal collapse, which brings them back down on us heavier than ever.” (p.161)

The following quote also describes the nature of the BwO as a collectivity or multiplicity:

For the BwO is all of that: necessarily a Place, necessarily a Plane, necessarily a Collectivity (assembling elements, things, plants, animals, tools, people, powers, and fragments of all of these; for it is not “my” body without organs, instead the “me” (moi) is on it, or what remains of me, unalterable and changing in form, crossing thresholds).” (p.161)

 

Rather than plunging into the dark void of the black hole of nihilism, which puts one past the threshold of the event horizon, one must flirt with the event horizon, using the deconstructive potential of nihilism not to destroy the strata, but to loosen oneself from one’s implication in the strata, in the territories, in the plateaus, in order to delve into the inter-territorial, inter-assemblage space of the plane of consistency, the space of connections birthed by lines of flight opened up by the destructions of nihilism. This process is described by D&G here in the following part of the longer paragraph:

This is how it should be done. Lodge yourself on a stratum, experiment with the opportunities offers find an advantageous place on it, find potential movements of deterritorialization, possible lines of flight, experience them, produce flow conjunctions here and there, try out continuums of intensities segment by segment, have a small plot of new land at all times. It is through a meticulous relation with the strata that one succeeds in freeing lines of flight, causing conjugated flows to pass and escape and bringing forth continuous intensities for a BwO. Connect, con­jugate, continue: a whole “diagram,” as opposed to still signifying and sub­jective programs.” (p.161) 

It is in possibilizing this movement that nihilism reveals its productive underface. Its capacity to draw a BwO, tapping the plane of consistency, is what constitutes the double character at its heart. It is the deconstructions of a nihilistic power that allows one to “…gently tip the assem­blage, making it pass over to the side of the plane of consistency. It is only there that the BwO reveals itself for what it is: connection of desires, con­junction of flows, continuum of intensities. You have constructed your own little machine, ready when needed to be plugged into other collective machines.” (p.161) 

I think that this morphogenetic analysis of nihilism is, as is the case with all ontologies of process, a much more interesting analysis of nihilism. In analysing nihilism as a morphogenetic potential, a kind of perverse and schizophrenic abstract-machine, we look at nihilism not as a doctrine of all consuming nothingness. What nihilism becomes under an analysis in the ontology of D&G is a certain power, with certain capacities to manifest effects as it is unleashed in a morphogenetic process. We look at nihilism not as what it is, but what it does. And in turning our eye to nihilism as process we uncover a wonderful Apollonian and Dionysian duality at its center.

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