Susana Caló “Semio-pragmatics as politics”

Caló, Susana 2021. Semio-pragmatics as politics: On Guattari and Deleuze’s theory of language. Deleuze and Guattari Studies 15(2): 266–284.

A move to pragmatics is advocated as the proper level of analysis to account for the political life of language. Such a conceptual move revolves around the following ideas: there is no language in itself that is not already an intervention in an extended material and social field; meaning is not necessarily, nor intrinsically, linguistic; and expression is a separate formalisation to content, but they interact in reciprocal presupposition. (267)

Deleuze and Guattari’s political task is, on this reading, to restore language to its practice. According to them, it is necessary to construct a pragmatic framework that includes an analysis of how language is inseparable from a concrete world which it affects and is affected by. In broader terms, it is necessary to construct a pragmatic framework that addresses the connection between the semiotic and the machinic, in both synchronic and diachronic terms. (269)

For Guattari and Deleuze, what this means is to ‘recognise that expression is independent (and that this) is precisely what enables it to react upon contents’ (99). Thus, for them, the expression–content relation is best seen as a ‘battle’, rather than one involving isomorphism or homology: ‘there is no isomorphism or homology, nor any common form to seeing and speaking, to the visible and the articulable. The two forms spill over into one another, as in a battle. The image of a battle signifies precisely that there is no isomorphism’ (Deleuze [1986] 2006: 66). (270)

The key idea is that form is not a particular privilege of expression. Content has its own form too: ‘bodies already have proper qualities, actions and passions, souls, in short forms, which are themselves bodies. Representations are bodies, too!’ (Deleuze and Guattari 2004b: 95) Expression, in reality, is that which is inscribed in bodies, not a representation of bodies. (270)

[…] only through separating the form of content from the form of expression is it possible to problematise the capacity of expression to intervene in content, and the capacity of content to intervene in expression. To grasp the political nature of language, Guattari and Deleuze argue, one has to turn to the ‘form of content that is simultaneously inseparable from and independent of the form of expression [with] the two forms pertain[ing] to assemblages that are not principally linguistic’ (111). (270)

Their semio-pragmatic approach attempts to account for language as an intervention in the relations between discursive and non-discursive domains, linguistic and non-linguistic elements, and between matter and form. In their use of Hjelmslev, the precedence of form over matter that is maintained at the level of the sign in the original model is dissolved, so that the constitutive relation between expression and content is not only accounted for at the level of form, but also at the level of matter – that is, accounted for at the level of the relations within the triad purport–substance–form. This is described as a double articulation of content and expression within each of their triadic strings of purport–substance–form. (272)

Guattari and Deleuze’s position is that the political lies not at the level of linguistic form, but rather at the level of the deep interactions between planes of matter, form and substance, along two axes of expression and content: ‘the inter-penetration of language and the social field and political problems lies at the deepest level of the abstract machine, not at the surface’ (2004b: 91). (272)

In Kafka: Toward a Minor Literature ([1975] 1976), a minor use of language is described according to a specific relation between content and expression whereby expression frees content, ‘anticipating the material’ (1976: 28). (273)

[…] the three essential characteristics of minor literature are the deterritorialisation of a language (langue), the connection of the individual with a political immediacy, and the appeal to a collective
assemblage of enunciation (agencement collectif d’énonciation).11 The deterritorialisation of language (langue) refers to the need to break language free from the structure of identity, the purpose of control or normativity. Political immediacy refers to engagement with a political and social struggle, which requires us to see language not from the point of view of an individualist instance of enunciation, but from the point of view of a collective subject. (274)

The role of the writer therefore is to detach expression from content by introducing statements which, when entering into contact with nonformalised content, force the field of signification to be reorganised. (275)

The problem is how systems of power can use a signifying formalisation to unify all other means of expression, forcibly obscuring the political origins of the articulation of content and signification. (275)

The unity and stability of language can be properly understood only as the result of an operation of power to hide the political multiplicity lying below the linguistic representation. To quote Deleuze and Guattari, ‘there is no mother tongue, only a power takeover by a dominant language within a political multiplicity’ (2004b: 116). (276)

Deleuze and Guattari describe language as the ‘transmission of the word as order-word, not the communication of a sign as information’ (2004b: 77). (277)

The constants of grammar, for instance, impose orders of duality upon the world: ‘the compulsory education machine does not communicate information; it imposes upon the child semiotic coordinates possessing all of the dual foundations of grammar (masculine-feminine, singular-plural, nounverb, subject of the statement-subject of enunciation, etc)’ (76). Seen through this prism, it can be said that grammar is first a power marker, and second a syntactic marker. (277)

[…] Deleuze and Guattari disentangle the command from the imperative. Although the imperative might be a particular feature of language, it is the study of the performative and the illocutionary that grounds the entirety of language: ‘pragmatics becomes the presupposition behind all of the other dimensions and insinuates itself into everything’ (78). (277)

[…] the basic unit of language is indeed the order-word, as an act that is linked to statements by social obligations. (278)

[…] the social obligations here are not those that are external to language, for by social obligations Deleuze and Guattari refer to non-discursive presuppositions – later defined as collective assemblages of enunciation. As the example of the judge’s sentencing makes clear, order-words
are characterised by the immediacy of their effectuation. Deleuze and Guattari refer to them as speech acts, following Austin, since they constitute acts that are accomplished in a statement and statements that are accomplished in acts, which, as a consequence, constitute an immediate change in the general semiotic context to which they apply. (279)

To undertake a concrete analysis of a concrete situation is therefore to ‘intervene’ in that same situation, thus changing it. (280)

The duality of order-words captures Deleuze and Guattari’s attention: ‘Death, death; it is the only judgment, and it is what makes judgment a system. The verdict. But the order-word is also something else, inseparably connected: it is like a warning cry or a message to flee’ (2004b: 107). The two sides of the order-word refer to constants (death sentence), and to pushing language towards a continuous variation (flight). For Deleuze and Guattari, the militant task is to ‘draw out the revolutionary potential of the order-word’ (121). (281)

[…] the problem of language is posed in connection with the use by systems of power of signifying formalisations, which obscure the political origins of the articulation of content and signification. (281)

Martin Savransky “The pluralistic problematic”

March 21, 2021 1 comment

Savransky, Martin 2021. The pluralistic problematic: William James and the pragmatics of the pluriverse. Theory, Culture & Society 38(2): 141–159.

One and many, ongoing and unfinished – like mental and social life, James’ ‘world of pure experience’ discloses its own intrinsic precipitousness. Indeed, I propose that, where James is concerned, the pluriverse has a thoroughly problematic mode of existence. Enjoying no absolute foundations, it insists and persists as a generative buzzing of myriad differences, frictions and transitions, an ongoing and unfinished blending of purpose, accident and drift. And rather than an absolute celebration of the many, rather than a philosophical exposition on multiple worlds and ontologies, or a theory of the organisation of a diverse polis, pluralism is first and foremost a pragmatics of the pluriverse – a political, experimental and pragmatic response to the ongoing insistence of the pluralistic problematic. One that troubles any philosophical effort to dissolve in abstractions the generative problem that animates it. One that resists any political attempt to turn the pluriverse into a single order. (144-145)

Indeed, I would go as far as to suggest that, rather than have a concept of the problematic, it was the problematic that had him. (145)

[William James]: “[i]n all voluntary thinking there is some topic or subject about which all the members of the thought revolve. Half the time this topic is a problem, a gap we cannot yet fill with a definite picture, word, or phrase, but which, in the manner described some time back, influences us in an intensely active and determinate psychic way. Whatever may be the images and phrases that pass before us, we feel their relation to this aching gap. To fill it up is our thought’s destiny. “(1890: 259, emphasis added) (145)

In other words, James keeps taking up and dropping models because, if the significance of life lies in its precipitousness, in that thoroughly problematic nature that makes life a strange blending of aim, intensity, endurance, accident, and drift, one cannot ask ‘for whom? in whose life?’ – for that chemical combination is not be found in any single form of individual life, but in difference itself. And this does not just simply refer to the difference between human individuals or groups, for ‘[e]very it carries in itself an infinite number of differences from an infinite number of other its’ (James, 1988: 124, emphasis in original). (151)

Indeed, it might be that, in asking the question ‘what makes life significant?’, James was perhaps gravitating towards what, many years later, Deleuze (2001) was to call ‘a life’, as distinguished from any individual life: an impersonal yet singular plane of immanence, on which everything leans while it leans on nothing. And as his own thoroughly immanent notion of ‘pure experience’ took definite shape alongside the development of his radical empiricism, James emphasised that what makes an empiricism radical is precisely its imperative to do ‘full justice’ to the reality of both conjunctive and disjunctive relations, to feelings of and and but and if, continuities and discontinuities, actuality and potentiality, divergence and togetherness (James, 2003: 23). (152)

The problem of the one and the many is generative because, were one to side with the One, as monism does, one would have to reject the felt reality of difference; in rejecting the reality of difference, one has to renounce the element of precipitousness that gives life its expressive and dramatic character; and in renouncing that, one denies life any significance. As James noted, however, something similar happens if one sides with the Many in an absolute sense, for indeed
divergence presupposes togetherness, and vice versa: a world that is absolutely many and never, in some sense, one, is not ‘a world’ at all, not least because one of the ways in which the world is relatively one is by virtue of the possibility of it being named as one (‘the world’) (see James, 1975: 66; 1996a: 125). But the ‘relativity’ of discursive oneness matters – it is not relativism, which undermines the meaning of truth, but a relativity that affirms the reality of relations. And so discursive oneness should be taken with a pinch of salt, for ‘‘‘chaos’’, once so named, has as much unit of discourse as a cosmos’. (152)

[…] the introduction of the pragmatic question does not, despite appearances – and more, despite its philosophical and political trajectory after James – propose some sort of ‘third way’ that would allow monists and pluralists to ‘tolerate’ each other a little more. The pluriverse may be a world of many worlds, but it is not one where many worlds simply ‘fit’ (cf. Reiter, 2018). Just as James grants that some forms of oneness in things do exist, he also shows that for each one of these ways in which the world discloses itself as one, something always escapes: chaos cannot be contained in its discursive oneness, paths of continuity are constantly broken by interruptions and blockades, generic unities are imperfect, networks of acquaintanceship and power do not, often despite their best efforts, dominate every single fact. ‘Ever not quite’, James (1996b: 321) wrote, ‘has to be said of the best attempts anywhere in the universe at attaining all inclusiveness’. (154)

Pluralism, in other words, is a name for staying with the feeling of and, of but and if and with; for staying with the one and the many, with the pluralistic problematic. (155)

If pluralism stays with the pluralistic problematic, it is precisely because the latter generatively impregnates the world with differences, relations, novelties and potentialities that make the pluriverse think, dream, fear, and aspire. In other words, because they make it go on, creating an after to every ending. (155-156)

Which is to say that the primary aim of a pragmatics of the pluriverse is that of contributing to the pluriverse’s own verification (Savransky, 2017b). A self-congratulatory process, one might suspect. How can a philosophy get its own verification wrong? In fact, the opposite is the case. It is a thoroughly risky task. First, because without being able to justify its difference by appealing to some transcendental principle, it strips itself from any philosophical authority. And second, because as it is bound to respond to the imperative of the pluralistic problematic, a pragmatics of the pluriverse prevents us from thinking of ourselves as the only true actors, capable of making and unmaking worlds with words. The pragmatics of the pluriverse, by contrast, must itself operate as a singular, generative vector of precipitousness in what will nevertheless remain a wider, disparate, dangerous and multifarious pluriverse. It holds out a trusting hand to a world which it trusts may meet its hand, but holds it out at its own risk, without guarantees. (156)

Sophokles “Kuningas Oidipus”

February 12, 2021 Leave a comment

Sophokles 2006. Kuningas Oidipus. Tlk Ain Kaalep, Ülo Torpats. Tallinn: Avita.

Esimene episood



Ja tõesti raev mu haarab! Ütlemata nüüd

 ei saa ma jätta, mis ma taipan, sest ma näen:

kaassüüdlaseks peab selles teos ju loetama

ka sind! Ei läinud enda käega tapma sa,

ent kui näeksid, teoski süüdistaksin sind!



Tõemeeli?… Nõuan, et sa täpselt jälgima

pead käsku, mille andsid: nüüdsest peale sul

on minu ja nende poole keeldud pöörduda,

sest selle maa su enda roim on reostanud!


Mis jõhkrus sellist mulle näkku paisata!

355 Kus loodad veel sa leida pääsu endale?


Ma pääsin ju – mu jõud on tões ja õiguses.


Kust said sa õppust? Enda kunstist mitte küll!


Su enda käest, sest sundisid mind rääkima.


Mis rääkisid sa? Korda, et ma taipaksin!



Kas sa ei mõistnud? Või mu juttu endas vaed?


Ei mõistnud pooli asju. Teistkord ütle veel!


Siis tea: sa enda leiad tapjat otsides.


Kaks korda ei see teotus nuhtlemata jää!


Kas ihkad, et veel rohkem süttiks raev su sees?



Las tulla kõik need tühjad jutud korraga!


Ma ütlen siis veel sulle: hirmsat pattu teed

sa teadmatult: sa enda sooga rikud verd.



Kui võim ka kuulub sulle, siiski õigus on

mul kosta võrdsel kombel, sest mu keel on prii.

410 Ei pea su teenriks end ma, vaid Apolloni;

Kreoni sõltlaskirjas ka ei seis ma.

Ma ütlen: mind sa silmituks küll pilkasid,

kuid enda õnnetust su, nägija silm ei näe.

Kas tea ka, kus ja kelle juures viibid sa?

415 Või kes su ilma kandis? Enda hõimule

nii siin- kui sealmaailmas said sa vaenlaseks!

Kaht ränka needust kannad: isa eest nuhtleb üks

ja teine ema eest. Välja siitmaalt tõukavad

maapakku need sind ning su silm peab kustuma.

420 Kõik kaldad peavad kuulma pea su kaebusi

ja kaigub pea neid kõikidelt Kithaironeilt,

kui kuuled vaid, mis õnnetuste randa sind

siis kandsid soodsad tuuled, kui sa naitusid.

Ka teisi hirmsaid asju sa ei märka veel,

425 mis teevad võrdseks sind su enda lastega.

Kreoni eks siis pilka, teota mindki nüüd

mu jutu eest, kuid saatus ühtki hingelist

ei saada iial hukka julmemalt kui sind!



Kuis ikka on nii mõistatuslik kõik su jutt!


440 Kes võita saaks sind mõistatuste mõistmisel!


Nüüd pilkad mind. Kuid siiski selles on mu jõud.


Just selle jõuga saatsid enda hukka sa.



Ma lahkun, andes teada, miks ma saabusin,

su palge ees, su kättemaksu kartmata.

Tea siis, et sa ei peagi kaugelt otsima

450 meest, kelle vastu laususid neid needusi,

sest siin on see, kes surma saatis Laiose.

Veel arvatakse, et on võõrsil sündinud

ta küll, ja siiski selgub: teeba verd ta on.

Ei rõõmu tee see talle: kustub silm ta pea,

455 ta rikkusest saab sandipõlve langema,

maapakku peab ta kepi toega leidma tee.

Pea selgub see, et ta on enda lastele

nii isa kui vend, ja enda ilmakandjale

nii poeg kui mees, et olnud üks on nainegi

tal isaga, kelle tappis. Astu kotta nüüd

ja mõtle järele! Kui sa siiski leiad veel,

et eksisin, siis kiida ennast targemaks!

Kolmas episood


Siis pead sul küll ei maksa murda sellega,

mis sult ma kuulsin. Tõesti võid mind uskuda:

ei oska maa peal mõista endeid ükski hing.

710 Ma selle kohta sulle väikse näite toon.

Ka Laios ükskord ende sai – ei ütle ma,

et Phoiboselt küll otse, vaid ta teenritelt –

ja ütles see, et saatus olla määranud

tal surma leida minu ja enda lapse käest.

715 Kuid räägitakse, et ta tapjaiks olnud ju

on võõrad röövlid kolme maantee risti peal!

Ning lapse, kes veel polnud kolmepäevane,

ta köitis kinni jalge liikmekohtadest

ja laskis heita laane põhja mäestikus.

720 Nii eksis Phoibos siiski, öeldes, et see laps

isamõrvariks kord saab, ja pääsis Laios ka

sest õudusest, et enda poeg ta tapma peab.

Nii ütles küll oraakel, kõik ent tühja läks.

Ei maksa endeist mõelda! Kui on taevasel

725 mõnd asja tarvis, küll ta ilmsiks selle teeb!



Et vanemad ei saaks teada, läksin vargsi siis

oraakli juurde Delfis. Vastamata kuid

seal Phoibos jättis mulle, hoopis hirmsamat

790 ja õudsemat ta lausus mulle selle eest:

ma emaga heitvat ühte – hõim sest sündivat,

kes kõige rahva silmis jälk on vaadata –

ja isa, kes kord mu soetas, saatvat surma ma.

See kuuldud, kaugel hoida end Kórinthosest

795 ma võtsin nõuks ja taevatähti jälgides

paopaika seal ma otsisin, kus iialgi

ei peaks ma kartma ennustatud teotusi.

Sel teel ma jõudsin sinna siis, kus käskija,

nagu sa praegu ütled, olla hukkunud.

800 Täit tõtt ma räägin sulle, naine! Viibisin

ses paigas just ma, kus on kolme maantee rist,

kui vastu sõitis vanker, veetud traavlitest,

ees paistis käskjalg, istmel – kirjeldatud mees.

Me saime kokku. Püüdsid teelt mind tõrjuda

805 nii vankrijuht kui raukki jõudu pruukides.

Lõin raevuhoogu sattunult ma kutsarit,

kuid siis sel hetkel, kui ma tahtsin mööduda

just vankri kõrvalt, haaras astla pihku rauk

ja kähku täie jõuga lõi mind vastu pead.

810 Kuid kätte maksin selle eest ma kuhjaga:

mu rännusaualt nõnda ränga hoobi sai

ta selga siis, et kukkus vankrist otsemaid.

Ja kõik ma tapsin. Kuis ses võõras raugas on

ja Laioses üks raaski ühtelangevat,

815 siis terves ilmas ükski mees küll õnnetum

pole iial olnud kui ma, neetu taevasist!

Niihästi võõral rahval kui ka linlasil

peavarju mulle anda, tervist öeldagi

on keeldud siis – peab uste alt mind aetama!

820 Ja teised mind ei neednud, vaid mu enda suu.

Ma surnu voodit teotan selle käega siis,

mis kord ta surma saatis – oh mind jälki küll!

Oh ränka teotus, mis mu pakku mõistma peaks,

mis naasta keelaks enda hõimu juurdegi

825 ja sünnimaale, kus on ootel hirmus oht,

et emaga ühte heidan ning saan mõrvariks

ma isale, kes mu soetas ning mind kasvatas!

Ja see, kes arvaks mingi õela vaimu tööks

kõik, mis on juhtunud mulle, ütleks tõesti tõtt.

Teine stasimon

Antistroof II

Jäägu minugi austusest

maailmakeskme ohvripaik,

Olympia ning Abaigi

900 tõesti ilma sootumaks,

kui kõigi silme ette

tõel ei lasta ilmuda.

Oo Zeus, sa kõrgeim kõikidest – kui selleks

ma hüüda sind võin, käskija! –,

905 su palge ees kõik peagi tulgu ilmsiks!

Mis Laios kord

sai oraaklilt kuulda, see

nüüd on naeruks pandud ju,

võetud on Apollonilt auhiilgus ning

910 ei austata taevast!


Stroof II


On Apollon see, on Apollon just,

1330 kes nii mind on löönd ja nii piinanud.

Vaid enda käed ent silmad peast mul torkasid.

Mind vaest!

Miks pean nägema veel,

1335 kui ühtki head ei näinud silm mul ennegi!

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Gaston Bachelard “Corrationalism and the problematic”

February 5, 2021 Leave a comment

Bachelard, Gaston 2012. Corrationalism and the problematic. Radical Philosophy 173: 27–32.

Scientific research demands, instead of the parade of universal doubt, the constitution of a problematic. It really starts with a problem, however ill-posed the problem. Once the scientific self is a programme of experiments, the scientific non-self is correspondingly already constructed as a problematic. (27)

[…] a scientific object is only the instructor with respect to a preliminary, to-be-rectified construction, a to-be-consolidated construction. (29)

[…] every experiment on the reality already informed by science is at the same time an experiment on scientific thought. It is this double experiment of applied rationalism that is appropriate for discursively confirming an existence, in the object and in the subject at the same time. (29)

In order to understand the statement of a problem, it is necessary to normalize the neighbouring questions; in other words it is necessary to develop a kind of topology of the problematic. (30)

Patrice Maniglier “What is a problematic?”

February 5, 2021 Leave a comment

Maniglier, Patrice 2012. What is a problematic? Radical Philosophy 173: 21–23.

A ‘problematic’ in this pedagogical sense is not simply a set of questions; it is rather the matrix or the angle from which it will become possible and even necessary to formulate a certain number of precise problems. For instance, if you pick as your essay question ‘What is self-evident?’ (as is perfectly possible in France), your problematic will consist in discovering the philosophical topos that the term alludes to, perhaps opposing formalist and intuitionist approaches in the philosophy of mathematics. Similarly, if you are asked, ‘Does freedom mean doing whatever I like?’, you could oppose individual and social concepts of freedom, or contrast the notion of pleasure with that
of law, or even combine the two in a dialectical order. But the point is always to go from a rough theme or question to a precise problem, which has the form of an alternative between already elaborated or structured options. (21)

First of all, the concept of problematic initiates a critique of the subject–object relation in the explanation of thought in general and of science in particular. To think is not to try to tell the truth about any particular given objects (be these living organisms, things in motion or brains), as if there was a world out there waiting for us to lay our eyes on it; to think is to try to solve specific, singular problems. (21)

Problems cannot take the form of an inquiry about the essence of things (‘what is matter?’, ‘what is life?’, ‘what is X?’); instead they constitute that which makes it important, relevant, critical, to know about X. (21)

there is not, on the one hand, the world, divided into large ontic domains (matter, life, etc.), each one characterized by a certain number of properties or laws that the various disciplines (biology, sociology, etc.) would have to learn about, and on the other hand, the mind, which would try to map this reality and fill in any blanks with the right information; there are only singular problems which simultaneously determine the subject to think and the object to be thought: ‘We must first posit the object as a subject of the problem, and the subject of the cogito as a consciousness of the problem’ (RA 56). (22)

The second important point worth retaining from the Bachelardian concept of problematic is that it is not only (as it might seem in the first instance) a promotion of interrogation over affirmation, as we can find in the Heideggerian hermeneutic tradition for instance. On the contrary, it is meant to oppose notions like ‘wonder’, ‘bewilderment’, ‘curiosity’ and ‘enigma’. To think is indeed to ‘problematize’, but to problematize is not simply to interrogate or to refer to Being as a Question and not as an Object; it is to criticize the questions themselves. (22)

We can call critical a kind of knowledge that does not content itself with filling an already given frame with new items of information, but one that forces the frame itself to be reconfigured. Knowledge is not only an enterprise of acquisition; it is also an exercise in self-transformation. ‘In selfquestioning rationalism [le rationalisme questionnant], the bases for knowledge are themselves put to the test, and brought into question by the question’ (RA 57). (22)

To answer these two questions we simply need to understand that a ‘problematic’ does not involve the substitution of one set of (bad) questions by another set of (good) problems; it is rather an operation on the very substance of our ordinary life, and an operation that is best described as a ‘structuration’. Scientific practices are indeed determined by their relation with ordinary practices, but this relation is negative (dialectical) and progressive (pragmatic). It is negative in the sense that it only consists in diverting and emptying the semantic content of the notions used in our ordinary intelligence of the world, intuitive notions like weight, speed, volume, and so on, through their being redefined in relation to one another. (23)

The problematic is not the theory itself, it is not the set of formulated laws held to govern any particular domain: it is the structure of the theory; that is, the way the different concepts are diverted from their isolated and immediate ordinary semantic sense and redefined in relation to one another. (23)

[…] if we problematize the world, it is neither because the world reveals itself in some enigmatic light, nor because our theories offer different alternative routes of empirical verification, but because our own thought proceeds as a process that structures a set of propositions. The structure is neither given in advance, nor constructed: it is all in the making. (23)

Martin Savransky “Problems all the way down”

February 1, 2021 Leave a comment

Savransky, Martin 2020. Problems all the way down. Theory, Culture & Society 0(0): 1–21.

[…] for Bachelard, the activity of science is not best conceptualised by the relations between subject and object, knower and known, and it needs no appeal to ‘the bravado of universal doubt’ (Bachelard, 1949: 51). Instead, it is characterised by the manner in which both subjects and objects become assembled in relation to a problematic which demands to be constructed and whose articulation as a problem in turn distributes their relative values and positions – the scientific object becoming a subject of a problem, and the subject or knower becoming its consciousness (Bachelard, 1949: 56). Thus, the primary concern of science, according to Bachelard, is not objects but problems themselves. For more than historical facts resulting from observation, the empirical objects of science are also and above all answers to problems. (5-6)

For a scientific mind, all knowledge is an answer to a question. If there has been no question, there
can be no scientific knowledge. Nothing is self-evident. Nothing is given. Everything is constructed’ (Bachelard, 2002: 25). (6)

For as Patrice Maniglier (this issue) argues in his discussion of Bachelard and the problematic, the latter’s reconfiguration of problems as the very vectors that institute the correlation between subject and object implies that neither the world nor the mind precedes problems, but that it is the problems that determine, simultaneously, the objects and the modes of thought. As a result, Maniglier provocatively suggests that rather than treating problems as obstacles to be overcome, the question itself must change, and we must ask in what way one may come to desire one’s problems. (6)

One cannot respond to a problem one has not learned how to pose. And to proceed as if problems were given ready-made, as if they took after jigsaw puzzles and the task before one was merely to arrange the received pieces so as to reveal their prefigured design, is to constantly be in danger of entertaining what, before Dewey and Bachelard, Henri Bergson (2007) would have called ‘false problems’: not problems that are insoluble, but ones that are badly composed, born of a confusion between different orders of reality. (7)

[…] the Herculean image of problems as ready-made obstacles to be overcome is itself the case of a
false problem which presupposes the unproblematic as norm and the problem as anomaly, and therefore assumes that all that is required is precisely the restoration of the norm in the face of its temporary unravelling. (8)

Rather than the problematic situation being less than its eventual state of resolution, therefore, the becoming-problematic of a situation always involves an excess, the unruly insistence of a generative otherwise which introduces an opening and precipitates its possible metamorphosis. Insofar as the problematic insists on the edges of the present, insofar as it calls upon the attention and demands a response without ever saying what that response should be, it is not the solving but the posing of the problem, the very dynamic of invention devoted to the possibility of posing the problem ‘well’, that itself becomes the most vital element in any response. (8)

Whereas the Herculean image would render the relationship between the living being and its milieu into a battle to be won by turning life into an object of investigation, knowledge, and determination, it is the problems posed by life itself, in other words, that precipitate the genesis of the living as such. And they do so precisely insofar as ‘the living being solves problems not only by adaptation, that is, by modifying its relation to its milieu (as a machine can), but by modifying itself, by inventing new external structures, by inserting itself completely in the axiomatic of vital problems’ (Simondon, 2005: 28; emphasis added). (10)

Indeed, what according to Simondon renders the living being singularly problematic is precisely that it retains, within its own individuated being, an active remnant of pre-individuated potential, such that every vital individuation simultaneously involves ‘an interior problematic and its involvement as an element in a problematic greater than its own being’ (Simondon, 2005: 29). Unlike physical individuations, living beings are self-problematising and perpetually problematic. For they are never completely individuated, and as such never constitute final solutions to the problems that brought them into being and that make them go on living. The living individual is more-than-one, and problems insist and persist in the solutions that living beings become, keeping them in the hold of an ongoing and unfinished process of problematisation and individuation with regard to their associated milieu, confronted with tensions and incompatibilities emerging in their relation, and resolving them by virtue of the invention of new functions. (11)

But what distinguishes Deleuze’s (1994a: 140) own version is precisely his gesture of granting to the problematic the character of an insistent, generative virtuality, which is neither recognisable nor representable, but which is sensed and as such ‘moves the soul, ‘‘perplexes’’ it – in other words, forces it to pose a problem’. Which is why, when Deleuze writes that the problematic corresponds to the objectivity of Ideas – or indeed that they are Ideas – it is not because it is merely cognitive or ideational, but because Ideas are real, even when they may not be actual. In other words, it is because “[s]omething in the world forces us to think. This something is an object not of recognition but of a fundamental encounter. What is encountered may be Socrates, a temple or a demon. It may be grasped in a range of affective tones: wonder, love, hatred, suffering. In whichever tone, its primary characteristic is that it can only be sensed.” (1994a: 139) (14-15)

It is this object of an encounter, this sensible something in the world, which is the genesis – rather than the object – of both thinker and thought, forcing thought to invent a manner of posing problems through ‘acts of constitution and investment in their respective symbolic fields’ (1994a: 159). Indeed, it is thanks to the generativity of the problematic that an ‘I’ is born to think at all. (15)

Indeed, to affirm that problems do not exist in our heads but occur in the historical production of an actual world, that they are genetic forces for worlds in the making, is to make present that the sensible encounter happens not in or with thought but with an outside thoroughly populated by differences and events. (15)

This is why Deleuze (1994b: 64) would say that the ‘mode of the event is the problematic. One must not say that there are problematic events, but that events bear exclusively upon problems and define their conditions. [. . .] The event by itself is problematic and problematizing.’ The event is problematic because it introduces an opening, a difference between a before and an after, yet it does not determine what that difference will be to the futures it engenders. (16)

Bruno Latour “‘What’s the story?’ Organizing as a mode of existence”

January 25, 2021 Leave a comment

Latour, Bruno 2012. “What’s the story?” Organizing as a mode of existence. In: Passoth, Jan-Hendrik; Peuker, Birgit; Schillmeier, Michael (eds.). Agency without Actors: New Approaches to Collective Action. London; New York: Routledge, 163–177.

There is such a hiatus, such a gap in between time t–1, time t (the reference point of the present) and time t+1 (tomorrow) that we are meeting in order to carry the school one step further, beyond the gap, beyond the hiatus. It won’t go by itself. It won’t jump the gap by the force of its own inertia. Contrary to celestial bodies, there is no inertia at all in an organization. You stop carrying it on: it drops dead. As Garfinkel has shown so well, you have to achieve it, so that it goes to what he marvelously called “the next first time” – it repeats itself until the next time, which is always the first time (Garfinkel 2002). Repetition, in other words, is never repetitive (Butler 2009 [1878]). (166)

[…] in the thick of being an organizer, it is utterly impossible to distinguish organization and disorganization. There is no way to make a distinction between being organized and being disorganized, or between being well organized and badly organized – which has no meaning for those who are in the middle of it. The state of crisis where you catch up and patch up one crisis after the other is the normal state of affairs […]. (167)

[…] we could say that to organize is always to reorganize. The little prefix “re” is there to remind us of the gap that is always yawning (or smiling) at us between time t and time t+1 and that no momentum will ever allow us to cross without pain. There is the same difference between organizing and reorganizing as between “the first time” and “the next time”. (168)

A description should be careful to avoid the false transcendence of super-organism, but just as careful to avoid ignoring that tiny little transcendence, that little cleft through which any organization should, so to speak, gain its subsistence. To act organizationally (horrible word I know) is to situate oneself at this growth point: that is where the obstacle lies over which the horse should learn to jump. Either you recognize it and you act as an organizer or you don’t and then you simply talk “about” an organization. (168)

There may be no real difference between organization and disorganization – contradictory scripts come to maturity at any time and in any shape – but there is a huge difference between taking up again the task of organizing and ceasing to do so: in this case the institution dissolves for good. No substance will come to its rescue. As to the essence, it will fade away. (168)

[…] organizations possess an original mode of existence – a term I use to point out the various types of agencies that circulate in the multiverse (James 1996 [1909]). (168)

Essence is the consequence and not the cause of duration. Thus such a risky, fragile, provisional character is not what is so strange in an organization since all entities run the same risk and pay for their continuation in the same small change: namely alterations. Or, to say it in still other words, subsistence is never caused by some underlying substance. (169)

[…] from the point of view of organization practice there is never an inside or an outside, there is never a small and a
big. It is some entirely different puzzle that organizing has to solve, and to solve again and again. It is precisely at this point that we might finally distinguish organizing – as a mode of existence with a specific type of agency – and organizations as what is talked “about” when we stop organizing (using the apt distinction made by Czarniawska between “theories of organization” and “organization theory”). Organizations – the things – are the phantoms that appear when organizing – the mode – disappears. (170)

[…] organizations as things are the spurious image produced by conflating two types of agencies: the political and the organizational modes of existence. Everything happens as if social theory, because it could not differentiate the two, had tried to make sense of an artifact: the whole is apparently superior to its parts because of a suspension of organizing practices. (170)

I hope I have made clearer why this flip-flopping has nothing to do with the right link to be made between “individual actors” and the “structure” of which they are a part. There is no individual to begin with but many different characters inscribed into many contradictory scripts with different deadlines (for instance, the “same” dean may be expected to sit in four meetings at the same time); as to the structure, it is never more than what has been inscribed in the script by various authors (the dean and his secretary meet over the schedule to try to clean their common agenda by rewriting it somewhat). This is precisely why, in organizing, the whole is always smaller than the parts – as long as we are in the act of organizing. It should be clear by now that I am trying to replace the individual versus system dichotomy by another rhythmic variation, the one between residing above or under a script. (171-172)

Whatever the metaphor or the concepts put to work to follow organizations, they remain useless if they don’t manage to register this flip-flopping of positions distributed in time and varied in capacity. In my view, this flip-flopping is not well understood by saying that there exists a dialectical tension between tradition and innovation, order and disorder, actor and system, and so on. As soon as you lose the rhythmic pulsation of the scripts, the spurious after-image of an organization as a whole “inside” which “we” as individuals try to act jumps out at you. (172)

[…] we are never “in” an organization, no matter how “gigantic”: rather, organizational scripts circulate through a set of actors that are either attributed some tasks or are in a momentary state of crisis to re-instruct the scripts with new instructions for themselves or for others. (172)

The creation of a path that links the parts and the whole is a crucial feature of the political regime, what I have called, for this reason, the circle of representation and obedience (Latour 2003). “Are we one or many? Is the whole more than the sum of its parts? Should the whole really consist of its constituents?” Those are some of the essential questions for making the Body Politic continue its existence for one more turn. (173)

That the two processes can be distinguished may be exemplified by the small crisis that made us bow to the bust of Emile Boutmy. For once, this time, it is not political at all. There is no question inside the board that we are a coherent bunch of co-directors, that we agree on who is the leader, and that we belong to the same ensemble. In brief, we know the assemblage that is designated when we say “we” – “we should”, “we don’t know”, “we have to decide” and so on. And yet, while the composition of the “we” is not in question, we have no idea what we should do! In other words, the political assemblage is not in crisis, while the organization is very much in trouble; proof enough that the two regimes can and should be distinguished. (173-174)

We may thus advance the suggestion that when Durkheim (and so many social scientists after him) had invented the notion of a “society” which is at once what is above us and what we have internalized, he tried to register the organizational mode of existence but had forgotten its peculiar rhythm. When we are “under” scripts, we are not individual actors but are trying to follow the many contradictory characters delegating us to do many different things at once; and when we are “above” scripts, we are simply rewriting highly localized instruments in order to reshuffle characters and deadlines. In other words, the real collective experience is never that of being an individual in a society (Dewey 1954; 1927). Sociologists have taken the notion of organized actions for the whole of the collective (Thévenot 2006). (174)

There is no transcendence (the whole) except this tiny transcendence, namely this tiny gap we managed to overcome this morning in the council room. By contrast with its mystical version – the chimera of the political fused with the organizational whole – this is what I call the secular definition of organization. (175)

To use again Whitehead’s term: what lasts (the essence of the school) is generated by what does not last (the constant work of taking it up again). (175)

Matthew Ellis & Tyler Theus “Is it happening again?”

January 22, 2021 Leave a comment

Ellis, Matthew; Theus, Tyler 2019. Is it happening again? Twin Peaks and ‘The Return’ of history. In: Sanna, Antonio (ed.). Critical Essays on Twin Peaks: The Return, Cham: Palgrave Macmillan, 23–36.

If oedipal relations between children and fathers are invoked—as in the case with Agent Cooper’s doppelgänger Mr. C (both played by Kyle MacLachlan) and Richard Horne (Eamon Farren)—they tend to be relegated to the margins of the overall narrative or generally treated as narrative dead ends. This reading of the new series in terms of a move from the oedipal to the pre-oedipal has the advantage of partially explaining its peculiar narrative logic. No longer concerned with the law of the father and its relation to an obscene, forbidden enjoyment, The Return presents a ‘paranoid-schizoid’ world of phantasmatic relations between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ objects (Klein 1986, pp. 295–296). Accordingly, the narrative is not centered on solving a crime and assigning guilt, but on unambiguously separating good and bad so that the source of persecution can be identified and isolated, if never successfully defeated—something attested to by the frequent representation of eating and vomiting throughout the new series. Cause and effect relationships—even of the non-linear variety—become less important, and characters become much more two-dimensional. (24)

In much the same way that Fire Walk with Me (David Lynch, 1992) ‘returns’ to the scene of Laura Palmer’s (Sheryl Lee) murder to problematize spectators understanding of the original event, The Return presents a story haunted not by the memory of ‘the little girl who lived down the lane,’ but by the ungraspable past where she still resides. (24)

The reference to the pre-oedipal also suggests that implicit in this relation between the two series is a certain conception of history and its narrativization, one that moves forward only to problematize conclusions drawn about its own enigmatic beginnings. (25)

We are told repeatedly throughout the entirety of Twin Peaks that ‘it’ is ‘happening again.’ But is it really happening, again? And beyond the diegetic question about what “it” is, what is the meaning of repetition in this context? The Return asks us to repeat the past with a difference. Whereas the postmodernism emerging in the latter half of the twentieth-century treats the past as a collection of so many reified tropes able to be mined for empty aesthetic purposes, The Return treats its original historical moment as something the meaning of which has to be continuously worked through in the present. If ‘the past determines [35:] the future,’ as the title of the first episode of the two-part finale suggests, it is not in a linear causal way. Rather, it is the past’s own indeterminateness that determines the future. (34-35)

Bruno Latour “An Inquiry into Modes of Existence”

January 14, 2021 Leave a comment

Latour, Bruno 2013. An Inquiry into Modes of Existence: An Anthropology of the Moderns. Cambridge, MA; London: Harvard University Press.

12. Invoking the phantoms of the political

If politics has to be “crooked”, this is first of all because it encounters stakes that oblige it to turn away, to bend, to shift positions. Its path is curved because on each occasion it turns around questions, issues, stakes, things – in the sense of res publica, the public thing – whose surprising consequences leave those who would rather hear nothing about them all mixed up. So many issues, so much politics. Or, in the forceful slogan proposed by Noortje Marres: “No issue, no politics!” It is thus above all because politics is always object-oriented – to borrow a term from information science – that it always seems to elude us. (337)

The political institution has to take into account the cosmology and the physics through which things – the former MATTERS OF FACT that have become MATTERS OF CONCERN – oblige the political to curve around it. (337)

[…] what form of life can bring off the following feat? Start with a multitude that does not know what it wants but that is suffering and complaining; obtain, by a series of radical transformations, a unified representation of that multitude; then, by a dizzying translation/betrayal, invent a version of its pain and grievances from whole cloth; make it a unified version that will be repeated by certain voices, which in turn – the return trip is as least as astonishing as the trip out – will bring it back to the multitude in the form of requirements imposed, orders given, laws passed; requirements, orders, and laws that are now exchanged, translated, transposed, transformed, opposed by the multitude in such diverse ways that they produce a new commotion: complaints defining new grievances, reviving and spelling out new indignation, new consent, new opinions. (341)

What is most magnificent in the political, what makes those who discover its movement shed tears of admiration, is that one has to constantly start over: beginning again with the multitude – perhaps this time more confident, more reassured, more protected – to take up the thread of representation again – perhaps more easily, and more faithfully, too; then go through the unification phase (the millions become one: what a strangling bottleneck!); next – the operation may have become a little less risky thanks to the preceding turn – establish the prescribed order, which may be a little better obeyed (unity becomes [342:] millions: can you imagine the impossibility of this new translation/betrayal?). (341-342)

The best one can hope for is that, by dint of tracing the Circle and starting it over again, beings form habits that make it possible, little by little, to count on a reprise. Each segment feels obliged to act and able to speak in such a way as to avoid interrupting this paradoxical movement [HAB : POL], as if each were preparing to take a position in anticipation of the following stage. When this happens a political culture begins to take shape and gradually makes the maintenance, renewal, and expansion of the Circle less and less painful. DEMOCRACY becomes a habit. Freedom becomes engrained. But things can also turn in the other direction: they can literally “take a turn for the worse”, “turn out badly”; obstacles can accumulate and make it less and less possible, more and more painful, to renew the Circle, the defining exercise of the political. Then it’s over: time indeed to abandon all hope of being represented, of being obeyed, of being safe. (343)

[…] the proof that one is not lying is given by what follows in the curve and by the anticipation, the hope, of its necessary return, its renewal, and its future extension – return and renewal and extension, a reprise that depends entirely on the followers, all along this chain in which the lack of a single one would suffice to make it collapse. (344)

[…] the TRANSCENDENCE of the political; what we are sketching in here by the overly geometric notion of curve that makes it necessary to distribute the little transcendences all along what is becoming a Circle, against the temptation to go straight. It will have become clear by now that everywhere there are only little transcendences. (347)

This definition of the curve also has the advantage of keeping the State of exception from needing an “exceptional man” who would “be decisive” because he would be “above the law”. Schmitt’s error lay in his belief that it is only on high, among the powerful and on rare occasions, that the political mode has to look for exceptions. Look at the Circle: it is exceptional at all points, above and below, on the right and on the left, since it never goes straight and, in addition, it must always start over, especially if it is to spread. This exception is what cuts this mode off from all the other modes that the true political philosophers all have tried to capture. (347-348)

Nietzsche proposed to replace moral exigency with the thought of the Eternal Recurrence: “Act in such a way that you can wish for your action to be repeated eternally”; his readers quaked at the harshness of such a demand. What must we think of the yoke of this maxim: “Speak publicly in such a way that you will be ready to run through the entire circle, coming and going, and to obtain nothing without starting over again, and never to start again without seeking to extend the circle”? If there is such a thing as the dignity of politics, the truth of its enunciation, it lies in its having agreed to put itself to the wheel in this way, to have yoked itself to such a grindstone. (349)

The case of the political mode is actually simple enough: without the Circle, there would be no groupings, no group, no possibility of saying “we”, no collecting, quite simply, and thus no collective, either. All the other modes thrust themselves into being and alteration. This one […], this one alone, comes back to assemble those who otherwise would disperse. This one alone comes full circle. But it comes back through the effect, constantly renewed, of a reprise that has an exhausting aspect, since it cannot, it must not rely on some substance, some form of inertia, for that would amount to substituting a different body for the Circle and thus suspending its own movement. (350)

A body that is not one; harmony that never harmonize; unity that disperses immediately; dispersal that must be reassembled at once; different issues, every time, around which people have to assemble because they don’t understand each other … We have to admit that this Circle, constantly renewed is a pretty odd creature. (351)

Here is the particular alterity that the political extracts from being-as-other, an alternation, an alienation, that no other mode has ever attempted: producing oneness with multiplicity, oneness with all, but doing so phantomatically, provisionally, by a continual reprise and without ever being undergirded by a substance, a durable body, an organism, an organization, an identity. It is for just this reason – Walter Lippmann may be the only person who really got it – that one can respect the ontological dignity of the political mode only by grasping it in the form of a PHANTOM PUBLIC to be invoked and convoked. Neither the public, nor the common, nor the “we” exists; they must be brought into being. If the word PERFORMATION has a meaning, this is it. If there are invisibles that one must take special care not to embody too quickly – for example in the State, that other cold monster – this particular phantom is one of them. (352)

Johannes Fabian “The other revisited”

January 8, 2021 Leave a comment

Fabian, Johannes 2006. The other revisited: Critical afterthoughts. Anthropological Theory 6(2): 139–152.

It is now time for some remarks on Time and the Other (Fabian, 1983 and second edn, 2002b). The aim of the book was not to develop a theoretical concept of the Other (or to give an anthropological twist to a philosophical concept). Nor was the other proposed as a sort of methodological device – as if I had deployed the concept in order to see where it would get me. Though it was a short book it told a complicated story. It is not difficult, however, to state the major points of the argument. The beginning was a simple observation: As a discipline of practices of making and representing knowledge, anthropology is marked by a contradiction. Anthropology has its empirical foundation in ethnographic research, inquiries which even hard-nosed practitioners (the kind who liked to think of their field as a scientific laboratory) carry out as communicative interaction. The sharing of time that such interaction requires demands that ethnographers recognize the people whom they study as their coevals. However – and this is where the contradiction arises – when the same ethnographers represent their knowledge in teaching and writing they do this in terms of a discourse that consistently places those who are talked about in a time other than that of the one who talks. I called the effect of such strategies a ‘denial of coevalness’ and qualified the resulting discourse as ‘allochronic’. (143)

One of the likely misunderstandings of my critique of ‘denial of coevalness’ is that it is an attempt to ‘overcome’ otherness, alterity. (146)

The confusion arises when what I called allochronism is equated with creating alterity (see later). The failure of anthropological discourse has been a failure to recognize the epistemological significance of alterity. Here is a possible way to argue this: Recognizing an other = alius as other = alter is a condition of communication and interaction, hence of participating in social-cultural practices (or whatever sociological categories, from
group to society, apply); or of sharing a Lebenswelt. (147)

When I argue that alterity is constitutive of the project/object of anthropology this could also mean that denial of coevalness is denial of otherness in the Levinasian sense. Without otherness there would not be a problem of coevalness. Like Levinas I probably want to overcome a philosophy of immanence and autonomy, or, as I would prefer to put it, of identity. Except that my target of critique is not so much a philosophy as an ideology of identity. Therefore there is no contradiction when I criticize anthropology for constructing in its allochronic discourse on an other with the help of conceptual and rhetorical devices that deny coevalness to that other. (148)