Tuesday, January 12, 2016

The Use of Metaphysics

A fear common among many philosophers is that they don't matter, that their work is unimportant. I presume anyone who has had a philosophical thought has also felt this way, though different philosophers will of course have different ideas of what "mattering" is, and their lack of mattering could be due to a wide variety of factors.

One of my own fears in this regard is due to political commitments. I instinctively so hate the category of individuality and the individual that I wonder whether I can reconcile metaphysical issues with political ones. It used to be that I used the defense of "truth" or "knowledge" or any other such lofty goals, but in the end this truth or knowledge would probably be for me and the few people I influenced directly, at this point only in conversations and almost entirely fellow students. But how can I justify my thought through appeal to truth, when this truth is not for all? It may be "for all" in some sense, as in its address, but in all likelihood such abstracted desires are just rarefied ego-inflation.

Does thought matter? In particular, does academic and intellectual production matter? I would ask: Does it matter for politics, for the collective? Even if I analyze capitalism, even if I attempt to champion a watertight reading of Badiou as an egalitarian, what does such a thing do?

I have to believe that thought matters, that academics matter. Certainly, politics matters. The problem is that sometimes I think that only politics matters. I would imagine that many intellectuals, raised on Marx and currently invested in communist theorists like Zizek and Badiou, feel this way as well.

Perhaps I am becoming more pessimistic about the possibilities for changing the world. The old Gramscian phrase "pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the will" offers no respite.

I do believe that metaphysics is one of the most important things, and something which is governed not simply by practical expediency. But as far as justifying my own intellectual practice, I run into problems. It is not as if I am doubting either metaphysics or my political commitments. But I am questioning my role regarding politics, the production of knowledge, and so on.

I want to know what it is possible to think. I think philosophy and mysticism allow one to approach a viable answer, though of course the possibilities, being endless, can only be accrued, added together, conjoined, and filled in by more and different thoughts and theories which allow for their production. This is not to say that I have become a relativist with regard to philosophical systems, only that different systems allow for different thoughts. True and false, correct and incorrect, useful or not, are all further potentialities. The goal is both to survey the landscape of thought and then chart a path to traverse it. Ontologies, broadly conceived in the new and most eminently fashionable way, are the most general kind of mapping (this, combined with speculative experience of a perhaps esoteric type). The bones are then filled in, with perhaps even concrete analysis as a final product. But that is not my specialty, not my capability. Maybe at some point.

So what am I to do? Keep reading, keep thinking, realize my project is not necessarily justified. Probably even come up with a theory glorifying this impossibility of justification.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Notes on the Ineffable & Its Relation to Philosophy

The various esoteric traditions provide a jumping-off point, particularly in the bizarre combinations of symbolism and intuited systems of relation between those symbols, for theorizations of form and formlessness. The “ineffable” is of course a central category of mystical and magickal philosophies, but to remain, willfully or not, on the experiential level is to miss a prime opportunity to theorize the relation between form and formlessness (or non-relation as the case may be). However, every occurrence of formlessness is simultaneously experiential and “abstract” or theoretical. A study of form and formlessness must therefore incorporate the insights of its experience.

One cannot fail to be struck by Austin Osman Spare's use of sigils as a way to escape language. This then would be a further possibility of escape beyond Lacan's proposals of mathematics and punning. A sigil is emptied of content, becomes pure form to consciousness. But then its content is only occulted in some manner, manifesting of course as the wish if the casting is successful. While the implications of this line of thought remain cloudy to me at this point, the promise of a formal ontology informed by speculative experience is tantalizing.

Another obvious point of contact is non-duality, advaita. The non-dual is the ineffable, since language is partition, splitting, duality. The experience of non-duality, however, is said to transcend both language and rationality. I do find it interesting, however, to contrast non-duality and Oneness. If reality has a more interesting and complex structure than simply duality (say, complex differentiations of various types), non-duality could relate to some of those differentiations but not others. For example, non-dual states of consciousness could still apprehend triadic differences. Of course non-duality is supposed to include all differentiations, but the word choice is suggestive of new possibilities of thinking speculative consciousness.

Many writers are unclear, however, as to whether the ineffable (taken as an esoteric category) is unthinkable, unrationalizable, unspeakable, or whatever else. Certainly, since language is not in essence reason (and the problems encountered in formal languages as they relate to natural languages are here instructive), there may be things unspeakable in some sense which are yet thinkable in another, most likely highly speculative, sense. It seems obvious to me at least that speculative reason and speculative imagination can apprehend things not communicable, or at least beyond the current system of linguistic or even more broadly communicative possibility. This is to suggest a dialectic (of a sort) between the ineffable and the thought of the ineffable.

There is also the related question of the relativity or absoluteness of the ineffable. Is there an absolutely ineffable reality, experience, or entity? Or, as seems intuitive to me, is the ineffable always such in relation to some system of putting-into-words or putting-into-thought, or perhaps better, of en-forming? The question of all religion, and of the occult philosophy, seems to me a question of the relation between the formless, form, and the proper method of en-forming.

There is a great intellectual conservatism within the esoteric community. This primarily manifests as a baulking at the crucial philosophical moment of en-forming. Either the ineffable shall forever remain ineffable, or it will be en-formed in an ill-fitting form, within an ill-fitting philosophical structure.

Note that this is not the problem of explaining or somehow putting experiences into words, as if qualia could actually be contained in words and summoned to the surface in all their intensity through cognition. While this is certainly possible in certain states of consciousness, it is a separate question than the one being posed here.

Here, the issue is the structuring of experiences into a system. I claim that experiences can be theorized, and furthermore that theory can be experienced. There is not so great a gulf between the two as has often been supposed, especially within the esoteric community. Theory and experience are both thought. And lest one think that this a “mere” thought, it is worth pondering the meaning of Parmenides when he says that “thinking and being are the same thing”.

Is it, then, a kind of Marxist thesis, in which structure and history (or in Badiouian terms, being and event) are at odds, history providing a moment of disruption of the structure, which it then reorganizes. The result is a new structure, transformed by the moment of history. This new structure has, in turn, its own possibility of history or breakdown. The question is: How are these various ineffable moments related to one another as regards the question of absoluteness or relativity?

Obviously, within the system these extra-systemic moments are ineffable. Hence from within the system they all appear, perhaps, as the same thing, a kind of undifferentiated ineffability. The system follows the principle of the identity of indiscernibles, or at least appears to follow it in the case of mysticism. Whether this is warranted is difficult to say, but perhaps it would be a matter of (speculative) decision whether there is a oneness to ineffability or whether it is multitudinous. This undoubtedly corresponds to various esoteric doctrines.

There will always be ineffability, or formlessness, so far as I can see. No system is complete, no structure lacking the moment of history. Although perhaps certain religious or esoteric beliefs can be interpreted as positing God's system, which of course cannot have history in the above way. Nothing can be ineffable to God, and this is perhaps also another take on the justification of all actuality. On the other hand, certain esoteric currents coincide with left-wing politics in that the justification lies not in structure but in history, not in actuality but in the ruthless criticism of everything existing transposed to the spiritual, ideological, political, or whatever level.

As Mao said, “It is right to rebel”.

These considerations in some sense lead me to conclude that, perhaps, Badiou's four truth-procedures need to be complemented by a fifth, that of religion/mysticism/esotericism, various manifestations of which could be related to Badiou's subjective forms.

Friday, January 8, 2016

Molluscan Metaphysics Part I

The world is populated by bizarre shadow-objects, which really are neither objects nor simply processes. Beings have numerous components, including processual vectors, primary and secondary qualities more statically construed, relations necessary and accidental, essences, and even formal principles of entailment on a more abstract level.

It is the art and science of (often speculative) abstraction which marks a "thisness" as envelope or shell of a being. Speculative imagination essentializes it on a qualitative level, and speculative reason illuminates its formal structure. Ordinary consciousness of course apprehends in most cases only accidents.

It is conceivable that there are beings which are made up only of essentialities, just as there may be beings with nothing essential in them whatsoever. It is also possible that there are many empty shells. Shell secretion is a natural function of all beings but for a few, equivalent in their structure to the modern day gastropods if relatively terrestrial, or to stellar cephalopods if their relations and non-relations are of a more speculative character. These are, it should go without saying, the formless.

Most of being passes successively from hierarchy into form, where the seeds of hierarchy exist only as a certain entailment between the essences of beings. The power of this entailment, however, cannot be overstated, and it sometimes occurs that essence becomes accident under its sway (or vice versa).

A universal is not something which exists in each being, nor is it a shell under which all beings fall (though there is such a thing, and it is pure chaos). Instead, it is a principle of entailment (we might say, artistically, a rule of derivation) which has an unrestricted domain. These probably exist in the rarefied atmosphere of the purest emanations, or perhaps in the burning passage of a stray comet. No one said such things were eternal.

Of course all this remains to be more clearly formulated, and at some point even formalized.

Notes Towards a Manifesto

Form is the new essence.

Form and formlessness constitute a non-relation. Form alone brings about the breakdown of form, through its own necessary and formal entailment. Just as a new proposition is derived, so is the very breakdown of intelligibility.

We need a new Wissenschaft der Logik. Something which reunites speculative reason with the recent advances of formal ontology. But since thought is generic, we will need speculative imagination too.

There are formless "things" and things which are only form, and sometimes the two are indiscernible.

Our goal, then, will be en-forming the formless. But in delicate matters such as this, one cannot lead head first with the light. Paths must be followed, debts paid. Thought must enter the darkness, grapple with the unthinkable, and emerge victorious on the other side. Or perhaps it must learn to see in the dark.