badiou, distinction, event, identity, void

Identity and Division


Identity Project (Skull Lab), oil on old silkscreen frames (February / March 2006)

What is the relation between experience and identity? Clearly, a purely logical account of identity cannot lay claim to our ‘experience’ of identity, only its most formal aspects. Even an ontological account of identity, identity as collection of experiences or even identity as a pure cognitive event, would again demonstrate only the tautological function of identity (for example, agent A is that entity which experiences ‘being-agent-A’.) Like the tangled hierarchies implicit in the cogito, the ontological perspective aims to resolve at a higher position than it began: it seeks to make decisions based on a total comprehension, which is to be accomplished by a rigorous division. We say that logic studies this same schism, but algebraically rather than differentially. Yet a profound question remains silent: why is the subject missing from our experiential space? Where has identity gone?

It is to Alain Badiou’s credit that we now think the relation of a subject to an event as essentially multiple. But this same principle undermines the mathematical principle of continuity upon which we must base any ontological analysis of a ‘system’ of events. Even if we approach identity naively, as meaning a “belonging in a certain way to a certain state of affairs,” we cannot thereby functionally account for its continuity (a subject still maintaining its identity despite, even perhaps because of her transpositions, or non-continuously varying degrees-of-belonging.) We already see that we have need for a more complicated algebraic structure, one which at least allows for division into partial membership classes. The very nature of equivalence depends fundamentally on this division into ‘similar’ sets.

Furthermore, the fact that inclusion itself is already an ontological division demands further explanation. For example, an identity cannot be ‘induced’ from the situation by the simple observation (or negotiation) which decides that such-and-such belongs to the state of affairs, or does not. In reality, we cannot rigorously establish the existence of the void or the multiple from a pure induction. Rather, even induction depends on a rigorous subdivision of the One until this operation approaches its ‘vulgar’ limit (of non-accuracy, of meaning ‘nothing’.) So when we say this ‘limit’ (zero) belongs to every set, even to itself, we mean that induction (the operation-as-limit) has meaning only when the situation its observes is already understood as meaning ‘nothing.’ Hence the infallibility of the inductive process; it is already a “transductive” tautology! So ‘identity’ (as singularity) refers only to the void’s self-belonging (by subdivision into n classes of varying degrees of ‘belonging’…)

We can of course use induction to demonstrate that the endless process of the self-division of the void will “eventually” produce a pure distinction, a tautological “A is A (and not B)” which, by being so utterly commonplace, completely escapes attention. Distinction masquerades as some sort of absolute truth-event, a pure objective identity. We claim to the contrary that the void is never self-identical, that it never belongs to itself or anyone else. In fact, the power of the void is not ‘activated’ by its emptiness but rather the mathematical intuition of the operator, the one who utilizes the void in order to reconstruct a shrinking remainder of the ‘original’ existential-schematic, again only of this ‘layer’ of being. Thus, we claim that this operation of division cannot in fact account for the reciprocal yet asymmterical relation between experience and identity.

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5 thoughts on “Identity and Division

  1. thank you for checking out my work (the painting) ^_^

    I would be grateful if maybe you could include a link to my site to credit me though!

    I like the article, very interesting (and complex!)

    peace.
    skull-lab.com

  2. justin McDaniel says:

    You pose a fine question: “What is the relation between experience and identity?” Though I am not sure why we should come at it with overt this sort of mathe3matical flovored hocus pocus.
    The relationshiop between experience and identity is a patterning relationship between phenomena and memory. I would argue that identiy, the ‘autobiographical self’ in Damasio’s words, is an evolutionary byproduct of a long process of selection that demanded that bipedals such as ourselves needed the abilitiy to sense complex paterning in the external mileau and coordinate (couple) our actions in response to such a volitle changinging world. The ‘self’ that arises from not only from isolated (non communicative) memory, but also the linguistic domain that arose with the complex level of intra-species coordination. The self that I can bring forth in meditation or other reflective thought is heavily influinced by the coordination (linguistic signifying0 attempts of other agents in the adaptation game.

    “why is the subject missing from our experiential space? Where has identity gone?” The subject is never missing from experiential space, the subject is in itself the place where experience ‘totalizes’. Identity is a the epiphenomena of this world-to-agent communicative process.

    “Even if we approach identity naively, as meaning a “belonging in a certain way to a certain state of affairs,” we cannot thereby functionally account for its continuity (a subject still maintaining its identity despite, even perhaps because of her transpositions, or non-continuously varying degrees-of-belonging.) We already see that we have need for a more complicated algebraic structure, one which at least allows for division into partial membership classes.”
    As long as there is a feedfoward process of cognition, that previous encoded states can be brought up to ‘higher order’ cognitive processes, there is the (albeit ungrounded0 stable sense of self. As soon as damage occurs that prevents taht feed-foward process, identity is gone. (such as with Alzheimers in latter periods of regression).
    Is it not best to try to answer these interesting and highly complex quesitons sans recourse into ‘the void’ and other such nonsense that only obscur a truly intelligenct discussion of the matter?

  3. You may be interesting in reading the paper this article developed into, which hopefully is more accessible. Briefly, though:

    Cognitivism simply isn’t capable of answering the question I’m posing here.

    Very basically: how are distinctions made in the first place?

    This question isn’t, in other words, just about sensations or qualia. Nor even does a “feedforward loop” explain the paradox that identity is a recommencement. There is a broken circularity, a kind of hyper-recursion occuring here, which already undermines any radical division or dualism between the “world” and the “agent” — both are already worlds, already agents.

    There is indeed a break or division at the heart of cognition itself — but this means that conscious and identity are precisely non-unified! — and are always returning and escaping from their constituent division.

    This is not nonsense, but a serious question of identity and difference — which precisely a cognitivist dogmatism loses sight of. Sense is built upon nonsense — and we need a new kind of logic to see this, a logic capable of grasping phenomena in a different light. The ‘real’ is precisely that point of contact between our experience and a profound abyss of difference and non-identity…

    Just because the world is not a totality, because it doesn’t “fit” into our analytical models — this is no reason to reject the serious dicussion of experience or to relate everything to a pre-existing abstract model of communication. On the contrary: we have to go out into the world and learn to speak its language, we have to survey a large variety of different fields and processes — in short we have to “quantify” writing.

    In other words, how exactly does the abstract-cognitivist “signal-sign” approach help if we are going to understand language, awareness, creativity? Cognitivism can’t even understand language except as information, so secondary language keeps getting in our way of primary questions… It’s an old problem, really — the abstract identity which language brings along with it obscures the orientation of the philosophical decision — are we on our way to or from first principles?

    That’s Plato’s question. Mine is a little different — more like a cry really — “Away from ‘first’ principles!” All ‘principles’ are secondary to expression itself. If you like, to enjoyment. Why can’t cognitivists talk about joy, why is it always pleasure in a relation? I think something gets lost here — it’s a thoughtless rejection of metaphysics — which has the ugly penalty of preventing us from thinking entirely… Science begins when it doubts “first” principles, doubts the efficacy of a general “model,” when it makes contact with the real — this where real ideas, innovation, revolution, begin — when identity is seen in a new light as a ‘side-effect’ of turbulent sentience.

    Only when thought brushes up against chaos do we see the manifold variety of the cosmos, the constitutive difference at the heart of being…

    Joe

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