night, other, speculation, vision-in-one, world

New Translation of Laruelle’s ‘Biography of the Eye’

Biography of the Eye by François Laruelle

Originally published as “Biographie de l’oeil,” La Decision philosophique 9 (1989): 93-104.

for Adolfo Fernandez Zoila

“Man is this night, this empty nothingness that contains everything in its undivided simplicity…he is this night that one sees if one looks a man in the eyes.”


Supplement to Hegel’s judgment concerning man

A philosopher has never looked a man directly in the eyes. The philosopher is the man who turns his eyes away to look man in the eyes: he is a man with a distorted gaze. The philosopher misrecognizes the immediate for he himself is not immediate.

To look in the eyes: a maxim of philosophical curiosity, of its oblique indiscretion.
The philosopher is the man with an oblique gaze who lacks the straightforwardness of man.

To look in the eyes: this multiple sounds like a singular, like the penetration into the unique depths of the soul, if it isn’t simply a possibility of untruthfulness or contradiction between the eyes, quickly effaced.

The philosopher looks at man from outside: in the eyes, and he can only see the void and the night, a haze that thickens into nothingness or dissipates in the light of day.

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ethics, learning, levinas, other

Ipseity and Illeity, or Thinking Ethics without the Other of the Other

Faceless Care

In conversation three of Ethics and Infinity, Levinas recounts the philosophical and existential implications of the il y a, the ‘there is’ or what he calls the “phenomenon of impersonal being” (48). The “there is” is many things at the same time: it is a belief, a feeling, an experience and even an affect (the source of the Judaic affect proper to one of philosophy’s “turns” in the 20th century) on one side and an ontological claim, an objective state of affairs, and even the (proto-)origin of Being and Nothingness on the other.

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ego, freedom, humanity, justice, other, peace, philosophy, Politics, truth, war

Explosions in the Sky

Common to both capitalism and democracy is competition as the basic principle of social organization. Politics in a purely competitive key has a majoritarian ring — it is monistic, totalizing, self-absorbed — whereas philosophy from the competitive perspective — and we may wonder whether there have yet been any others — are egologies. The complementary model, or sharing, has been more frequently preached than practiced. Yet it is the meaning of language: the demand for social justice is expression par excellence, the very thirst for peace. Both violence and love aim for the other in their vulnerability, but only in non-violence can truth reconcile us together.

Like a smooth or empty space, peacefulness operates without principle, without direction, without form. Yet even as a formal relation to another, it connotes a kind of difficult freedom, a consciousness which refuses to compete, which questions not its abilities but rather itself as such. A force grasps hold of us, an explosion which limits without thereby enslaving us — a relationship which forms the lineaments of a new kind of relationship between human beings, as well as between human beings and themselves.

Yet non-violence would never really be an emptiness, a pure void or absolute gap — even if war enjoys the practical status of something like an ultimate cosmic principle. While the future may appear bleak, I believe we can find a way to think, act and speak together, singularly as well as plurally, and to do so more peacefully — that is to say: more freely, more honestly, more creatively, more joyously.

The difficulty of freedom is also the problem of war: it lies entirely within the fact that the future demands our service as individuals. There is no middle-ground. We become responsible for slavery, which faces us at every turn as the “primal” injustice. The material conditions of others, the ravages wreaked upon human beings by historical “consequence,” present us with a non-transferrable ethical demand, one which is active in a concrete and fundamental sense in every dimension of life. Inhumanity is a silent anonymity, the obliteration of language, freedom and society all at once — a negative indication of the primacy of our responsibility.

Peace can only begin with myself. The passivity such a mode of human existence implies indicates a kind of subjectivity completely different than the one we have inherited from Greek philosophy. Yet passivity indicates not a lack of reason, but rather the submission to a dimension of absolute externality: a responsibility which is unlimited, which is not a debt, which is not restricted by the extent of an active commitment.

The hostages’ responsibility for their captor.

aesthetics, Bakhtin, chronotope, dialogic imagination, event, genre, literary theory, novel, other, space, time, Todorov

Bakhtin’s Chronotopic Events: Notes on Novelistic Space-Time

Bakhtin, Mikhail. Form of Time and Chronotope in the Novel.” The Dialogic Imagination: Four Essays. Ed. Michael Holquist. Austin: UTP, 1981. 84-258.

I apologize ahead of time for the informality of this post, but “Form of Time and Chronotope in the Novel” is an incredible piece of theory, and it’s a shame that it’s size will prevent many readers from engaging with it fully. Thus the need for some hardcore notes.

Bakhtin’s chronotope is all about the relations and implications of space-time. For Bakhtin, the chronotope “defines genre and generic distinctions,” which may explain his approach throughout the essay as well as Todorov’s own interest in Bakhtin (84-85). If we can think Bakhtin with Bergson, the chronotope can be considered a material assemblage of images with a duration that contracts them into a volume. Analyzing the various forms of chronotope leads to producing a problematics of narrative types.

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consciousness, ethics, metapsychology, other, phenomenology, society

Time Warp

A little time warp this time. This extract is from the first ‘series’ of scattered early writings, almost two years ago now. I hate looking at old stuff but in practice it can end up teaching you a lot. So here it is:

A personal relationship with the universe is accomplished in the separation which constitutes daily existence. The portion of the universe which is given meaning by my observation and interaction is absolutely separated from the perspective and comprehension of the other. What we speak of is not an absolute reality from which we are separated; our individual perspectives, our relationships–interactions, connections–with external reality constitute appear to constitute a totality. this totality is the self, which we believe to be a unity, that is, to be singular. Common sense suggests that there is only one you. A personal relationship with the universe is the existence of a conscious mind: they are not isolated from one another, but in fact are defined by one another. However, a self-aware creature’s reality is unique, singular unto itself, isolated by an infinite abyss between the realities of other conscious minds, yet the conscious mind is not limited by this separation: a personal relationship with the universe is a linking of finite consciousness with infinity, the absolute, with Being.

Strong but loose. For clarity’s sake, I’ll try to identify two of the major theoretical mistakes I made here. It’s strange indeed to see the resurfacing of themes and examples. Also the way I’d emphasize different aspects of the relation to the other now, like the machinic interfaces and images which mediate the relation between singular beings. I’m now starting to think that the issue of class and money comes into the whole question of ontology much more strongly when you consider the political and sexual connection between systems of knowledge and systems of power. For example, we can’t just say: absolute being is one thing, and processes (natural or human) are different: they have different rhythms, cycles, and so forth. This is because their cycles are all in some sense interdependent even though always seemingly only locally informed–this primal ‘reconnection’ I assumed to be absolute being, but it seems in the light of a more psychoanalytically inclined mindset to be pure narcissism, the desire to assume primary importance in a parasitic modality.

This leads us to the second theoretical mistake: question of ethics remains completely unraised in this text–even as the relation to the other is ceaselessly invoked. It goes implicit, unmediated but ultimately unstated. Perhaps, after all, we cannot state an ethics–but nonetheless, a certain degree of meta-ethics is always required in any project. I would now identify a link within conscious self-reflection to the idea of a bad infinity, a good infinity being represented more clearly in discourse, reason, cooperation, co-evolution. A ‘pure’ meta-ethic would run something like: abuse and addiction are negative forms of infinity; restoration and ethical practice are positive forms of infinity.

This question of being always seems to elude, in one way or another, the traumatic realization that nature’s rhythms are not always sensitive to ours, and likewise that ours are not sensitive to nature’s; but this is no will of a capricious deity, no contradiction– but a fractalized interdependent network of impressions and movements, that is, there’s nothing but different events. And isn’t the ultimate mystery the locus of our own self-difference? The key to this crisis is the relation to the other, and is identified fairly clearly in the text, but still–without any sort of mediation, or modulation of this ‘personal’ relation to the universe.

How is such a relation, after all, not supposed to totalize us, to reduce us to a naked singularity, to quantize us and see us as interchangeable and replacable? It’s only in the rhythm and pulse of the social realm that we are irreplacable–but at the same time, through economy made completely replacable, through politics completely displaced… Society plays a much more complex role in terms of transcendence and sense than can be accounted for merely in the idea of the infinte, or the relation to the other as such… This, then, would mean we need a sort of phenomenology of social forces, or put another way: a meta-psychology of ethics.

culture, difference, freedom, love, name, non-life, other

Against Culture

The identity of the same is an equivocation, a place without place. The “I am” is an assertion of allegiance before it attains any sort of meaningful substance, and this allegiance to the same name in the face of the other is the second term of meaning, the same/other dyad being exceeded by their connectivity, which erases their separate identity– and resolves an irreducible separation by re-inscribing this self-difference already in the name of the Other.

Your name declares your genealogy, arrives as the for-what and for-whom you stand; your name stands for you, it already effaces your identification as any separate, autonomous being. A name is a confession to belonging, inclusion into a community of speakers, who at the least acknowledge your awareness. The name is the essence of symbolism. Thus the name presents us with a triple reflection towards/away from/towards the subject: my awareness of the others’ consciousness of my presence already convokes the declaration of my name, albeit by the voice, or even the slightest movement of the others’ hand, at last, merely her gaze accomplishes the same reflection which is sanctified, or rather purged of sanctity, in a name.

But the name only refers to the break within identity; it is the first material, or rather vocal illusion, which in hiding a deeper separation and mystery from itself, refers back to the ultimate illusion. This being the faith in appearances, images, letters, the religious illusion, if you like– though this is confounded still more by cross-currents from the premodern, modern and postmodern re-crisises of faith– but what all of this amounts to a sort of status quo, not progress but exactly a deadlock.

Faithlessness, whether in divinity, in institutions, in religions, in society, or in culture, is here to be read as that symptom of a heartbreaking disappointment, “yet another defective situation.” It is a resistance– to the other in whom trust is not to be placed, leaders who fail at their post and take us not into the promised safety but rather deeper into danger than we were before. The death of God is neither ontological nor religious–it occurs in the loss of faith in the Other, when we observe that justification and responsibility are no longer the criteria of political economy.

Or worse, they never could be: power is not fairly distributed, even so the distribution is irrational, “up for grabs,” as it were; the world seems bent on continuing a destructive spiral of violence and war… Even though boredom is counter-revolutionary, it is not hard to see that apathy is intelligent psychological self-defence in the midst of this perfectly reasonable, terrifyingly irrational society we’ve become. Alienation, disillusionment, disconent–all this speaks to a mass abreaction, to a steadily quickening pace of Events, and to the failure of static institutions to adequately respond, to represent, to keep count, as it were.

The fact is that many if not most of the institutions we are supposed to have faith in have long been exposed as a sham, whose main accomplishment was accomplished at its founding–and it seems as though these institutions have continued existing as if in mourning for the ecstatic heyday of its inauguration. But reactionary behavior patterns, acting only insofar as a spectator, affirms the spectacle of the culture industry, interacting with others through an interference pattern of images.

Belonging to modern society is a non-participation, a relation without relation– Our identities have only a derivative existence, mediated through the mass market, which was the historical moment in which the production of identical lives was made possible. So there is a sort of inevitable, irreducible gap within identity itself, not just in its relation with the Other; but there is another kind of break with time which currently prevails, a dangerous amnesia or alienation of identity from its own future, which with respect to the individual is equivalent to the void (uncounted) place of the individual in the prevailing political economy, his (social, legal, religious) position of powerlessness and weakness in the face of an absolutely transcendent Other.

This is why much of the discourse on ‘respect for the other’ is misguided, since it recognizes only an apologetic stance towards the approach of the other. But what if the other comes to me with war and hate in his heart? Should I both to attempt a face to face resolution? Or, rather, should I protect what is mine, protect myself from the machinations of his evil intent? The resistance towards the repressive other is also an unavoidable ethical stance. But a society without peace is a non-society, and mercy towards the other cannot exist without love.

Freedom is not merely our birthright; it must also be excerised, demanded, that is to say, we must produce freedom positively. Negative freedom is slavery; this is the weakness of the doctrines of ‘tolerance’. They reflect only the powerlessness of the spectator, or rather the false choice of the spectator (what to watch, not whether to watch,) reducing the gap between cultures to the choice between, say, marlboro and camel lights– it speaks of the disconnected, unsatisfied lack inherent in the cycle of addiction without truth or completion, in which it becomes easier to accept than challenge, and we resign ourselves as spectators of the tragic dramaturgy opened up by this radical separation, this inversion of life into non-life, and thereby we are convinced into giving away our birthright: finally, we accept the prevailing status quo, quite ready to defend our right to non-freedom at all costs.

Against culture, we must produce freedom constantly if we are to be free; not hectically, at though trying to catch up with it, as though it escaped our grasp: we produce freedom not by exerting our power, but our right to powerlessness– that is, living without paranoia, without the need to grasp and conquer and destroy, without allergies to the differences of others, without this primitive, aggressive culture of dominance, acquistion and nihilism.

Freedom is the constant demand of this right, the right to peace, without which there can be no society at all. Else we are merely spectators, devourers of the perverse, apathetic images which mediate our entire existence– without peace, there is only non-life, a closed life without life, as a defective, uncounted, exploited appendage of some incomprehnsibly colossal, terrifying war machine and its endlessly entertaining, fantastically profitable culture industry, which together invade, colonize and dominate our entire existence.

Thus freedom is a wager on peace, on the possibility (however slim) of a non-repressive society which lives and breathes freely, which has maturely accepted a limitation of its spontaneity. Culture as it currently exists is a spectacle of images which interpose and mediate our relation with the Other; it is anti-ethical. Thus culture is the socio-political surgery of separating Being into beings, infinity from itself, a reduction of the subject to the pure form of the void. We belong to a culture to the same degree we are de-formed by it–that is, how deeply we believe in its truth. The “truth” of such a violent, permissive culture is the moment in a falsehood in which it is expressed, for this culture will tell you whatever you want to hear, as long as you’re paying up. Thus the political consequence of not resisting such a monological and destructive modality of culture is the revenge of the same violent logic of subtraction: the sudden reduction of every infinite multiplicity– to the same empty image reproduced forever.