Wednesday, 27 August 2008

Transversality as ontology and ecosophy.

With transversality we appear to have a powerful and subversive tool with which to combat the problem of bureaucratic sclerosis, capable of a direct and intentional opposition to institutionalisation. As Guattari contends, “there is nothing inevitable about the bureaucratic self-multilation of a subject group” providing they are able to confront “irrationality, death, and the otherness of the other.” (MR, p.23). Transversality allows him to draw on alterity in a less cautious fashion than Sartre, as a resource with which to engineer opposition to bureaucratisation at the unconscious level. On this basis permanent transversal analysis breaks down both horizontal and vertical structures, generating transitional objects which auto-correct the aim of the subject group. However this conception is not without drawbacks, perhaps inherent in the psychoanalytic context from which it springs. Whilst Guattari explains that interpretation is not performed by someone “that adopts the role of the ‘analyst’”and might be performed by “the idiot of the ward if he is able to make his voice heard” (MR, p.17) this statement is less subversive than it superficially appears.

If only subject groups are capable of elucidating their own objects (hence able to speak for themselves), and the emergence of such groups depends on the analyst’s skilled manipulation of transversality, then the analyst retains a degree of authority. Perhaps this is inevitable given that transversality (akin to deterritorialization in A Thousand Plateaus) is not an unqualified good, rather a process which must be applied with caution and expertise to avoid traumatic and destructive outcomes. This threatens to replicate the active party/inert working class schema characteristic of dogmatic Marxism, relocated to the unconscious terrain of schizoanalysis. It also demonstrates the cost inherent in the use of transversality, the loss of the kind of genuine agency which Sartre was so keen to preserve. What is more, as Guattari ontologises transversality in his later work this erasure of agency and the focus on subjectivation over actual praxis (or functioning as its equivalent) becomes ever more evident.

i Cartographic ontology and the ecosophic object.

In Chaosmosis Guattari develops a complex theory of interactions between individuals, groups and pre-personal machinic elements of subjectivation. Here he abandons any notion of a traditional personological account in favour of a radically decentred metamodelisation of the unconscious, where “beneath the diversity of beings […] there is a plane of machinic interfaces” (CH, p.58). Here subjectivity produces itself and is always collective because “the unconscious is above all a social agencement, the collective force of latent utterances. Only secondarily can those utterances be divided into what belongs to you or me.” (MR, p.257). Subjectivity then is an emergent property, arising from interactions between four ontological functors (machinic phylums, material fluxes, existential territories, and incorporeal universes of value, containing components which are both virtual and actual, discursive and non-discursive). These distinct ontological domains are traversed and interfaced by entities termed collective assemblages of enunciation, collective in that they “exceed the problematic of the individuated subject”, and enunciative in the sense of a process of semiotization (rather than representation or signification reducible to a single subject who enunciates).

Bruno Bosteels has noted that because the schizoanalytic practice of mapping transversal linkages between functors is not one of representation, it acquires an entirely praxical dimension as “a process of autopoiesis rather than mimesis” developing “openings onto the virtual and onto creative processuality.” (CH, p.31). In other words it is an absolutely creative act itself. This develops a characteristic from the earlier work, the blurring of the boundary between action and interpretation. If as Guattari claims it is “the map that, somehow, engenders the territory” what of the position of the cartographer themselves? When he returns to discuss the practice at La Borde in Chaosmosis, it is explicit that now “only the network of nuclei of partial enunciation […] could arguably hold the title of institutional analyser […] the psychotherapist […] is only a link in this complex apparatus.” (CH, p.71). This erasure of the analyst but the continuation of the analysis, a mapping without a cartographer so to speak, demonstrates the absolutely immanent nature of the ontology Guattari is proposing. By no longer privileging the analyst within the institution or political movement Guattari appears to better conserve the notion of subject groups as genuinely autopoietic. But this also raises a serious question as to the role of the agent, now that the task of creating the conditions for the production of subject groups has shifted into the pre-personal domain of collective assemblages.

Guattari’s political concerns also become increasingly transversalised, into a new articulation he terms ecosophy: a transversally linked series of mental, social, and environmental problematics. Here virtual ecology is just as important as the ecology of the actual, the ecology of art forms as significant as the ecology of life forms. In the face of integrated world capitalism, and the threat posed in every ecological register by the technological transformations this has brought with it, (most importantly the serial type of mass media subjectivity) only a praxis which traverses the actual and virtual, the mental, the social and the environmental, will be sufficient to meet the challenge. As posed in Chaosmosis the chief ecological problem is an investment of human desire in production for its own sake. The issue then is how to “change mentalities, [to] reinvent social practices that would give back to humanity […] a sense of responsibility” requiring in turn “a refoundation of political praxis” (CH, pp.119-20). This praxis is to be focussed upon the deconstruction of the market in favour of centring all economic activities on the production of subjectivity.

The role of the group within the new problematic is set out in The Three Ecologies (1989). Guattari is interested in the development of the group desire, acting in opposition to more personological forms of social subjectivation. Instead of a social ecology revolving around the self or the family (key elements of the kind of mass mediatised identity cultivated by integrated world capitalism) we need to encourage “auto-referential subject-groups, which open onto the socius and the cosmos” (3Es, p.39). Such subject groups are formed by collective assemblages of enunciation rather than what Guattari describes as “mechanisms of empty repetition” (3Es, p.40). Guattari identifies two key movements in capitalist subjectivation: on the one hand an ever increasing split between the serial subjectivity of workers, an underclass, and the elite subjectivity of the executive classes. On the other a kind of reterritorialisation of the family to recode old workerist identities with new middle-class ones. To counter these forces social ecology must move into a post-media age, facilitated by the takeover of mass media outlets by subject groups, replacing the homogenous processes of capitalist subjectivation with newly singular, productive, responsible ones. Guattari’s concern here is “to institute, in particular, new systems of valorisation” (3Es, p42) rather than a fully worked through model of a new society. Such systems of valorisation would work to inculcate a politics of dissensus, rather than totalisation, a “multifaceted movement” principally concerned with “heterogenesis, […] processes of continual resingularisation” (3Es, pp.44-5).

A transversal ecosophical politics certainly has many advantages, chiefly the ability to think the compossibility of a diverse range of problematics within a single theory. In this respect it can better approach the irreversibly interlinked issues of contemporary geopolitics in a way which perhaps, for example, Badiou’s discrete truth processes might be unable (given that the zone of compossibility is reserved for philosophy itself). But at the same time the wide ranging “continual movement from one ‘front’ to the other” (MR, p.257) of transversal politics hazards the melting away of a singularly and committed politics in such a mêlée of assorted interests. What gives ecosophy a consistency that this description belies however, (and in spite of its extraordinary array of concerns, from media reforms, to reorganization of the free market, to the need for new experimental post-communist alliances), is its ceaseless return to just one question, subjectivation. This is not unproblematic in itself, for though within institutional psychotherapy this is legitimately the primary issue, is there not a distinction to be drawn between such contexts and the political or ecological sphere? Whilst his advice to the green movement to “concern itself, as a matter of priority, with its own social and mental ecology” (CH, p.129) has some merits, is this alone necessary? In other words, in focussing so closely on forms of subjectivation, does Guattari not remain too closely tied to the subject (albeit radically depersonalised, fragmented, machinically derived, transversally linked to a myriad of other ontological registers) at the cost of active political praxis?

ii. Transversality: intersubjective relation or intrasubjective self-differentiation?

If in his early work Guattari appeared to accord a privileged role to the analyst, his later conception erases this in favour of an immanent ontology ultimately determined by the activities of machinic pre-personal entities, the collective assemblages of enunciation. In so doing the later work can be identified as being more closely in line with that of his collaborator, Gilles Deleuze. Such systems have drawn criticism of late for conferring on the actor a kind of paralysis, perhaps even erasing the decisive subject altogether. Though Guattari himself is clearly deeply concerned with subjectivation, in the final analysis whilst subject groups are active, they are entirely dependent on pre-personal processes of formation. As he puts it

“it is less by way of voluntary decision than by induction of an unconscious collective assemblage that the psychotic is led to take the initiative, to accept responsibility” (CH, p.70 emphasis my own).

Guattari continues to use the Sartrean terminology of responsibility here, but it is responsibility of a most curious kind, (submissive responsibility by induction) and certainly not the sort that Sartre himself would recognise. The subject group is passive because it depends on a force outside or behind it to lead it towards the moment of autopoiesis. In this sense (and contra Genosko’s assertion that transversality in the later work has removed its psychoanalytic scaffolding almost completely) the psychoanalytic origins continue to overdetermine his group theory. Peter Hallward has critiqued Deleuze’s valorisation of the virtual over the actual for leading to a subject without agency or strategy, and hence whose decisions are devoid of genuine consequence. Similarly in Guattari’s own work though there is a great deal of strategic discourse, it is almost entirely focussed on a domain prior to the emergence of the subject itself. This reduces agency to a play of chasmotic processes, machinic assemblages without an engineer, self-engendering maps without a mapmaker.

Further, once ontologised and immanentised, Guattari’s processural theory of assemblages begins to present a problem for transversality’s status as a properly relational operator. Relation might be considered to require that between terms there exist a degree of tension, the condition of real alterity itself, the otherness of this term in relation to that. In Sartre’s system, due to his need to maintain the original posit of absolute subjective freedom, this tension is extremely high, and relation (between for-itselves at least) is cautious or even threatening, giving rise to positive characteristics only under the most exceptional of circumstances (i.e.: the group-in-fusion). From a Deleuzean point of view Sartre’s alterity is “totally compromised by an-all-too empirical acceptance of the other” or of the other as genuinely other. In Guattari’s later system alterity is set at an extremely low tension, given the lack of real autonomy for any of the components in the system (either human individuals or pre-personal machinic assemblages). Guattari does not conceal this, instead explicitly foregrounding the linkage connecting subject to object, focussing on the excluded middle, rather than the specificity of either term in themselves. Transversality allows this foregrounding and much more than merely that. In Chaosmosis it enables Guattari to think the existence of mutant virtual entities, described as

"half-object half-subject [with] neither inside nor outside […] becomings - understood as nuclei of differentiation [which] agglomerate in the same transversal flash the subject and object, the self and the other" (CH, pp.92-3).

At the level of these virtual machines transversality ushers us into a Deleuzean universe wherein relation is a term for the self-differentiation of reality itself. The ontologisation of transversality destroys the very idea of relation between discrete, specific, and autonomous items which are properly other to each other and must be understood precisely as a becoming other not a relation between others, an intra-subjective self-differentiation rather than an inter-subjective operator.

Saturday, 23 August 2008

The transversal Subject group in Guattari's early work.

Guattari’s ontology is in many respects opposed to that of Sartre’s: it rejects the very notion of lack (either thought in terms of the empty surging self-transcendence of an intentional consciousness or a material situation determined by scarcity) and stakes out a position which allows a far greater role for the social and relation in general (for Guattari even an individual human is actually a group in the sense of being the result of a multiplicity of pre-personal machinic relations). However as Guattari himself puts it “I spent almost fifteen years of my life being saturated not only by Sartre’s writings but by his actions. Everything I have said and done is in some way marked by him.” Indeed as Gary Genosko has accurately contended, “if a single philosopher may be said to haunt Guattari’s work, it is surely Sartre.” This inspiration is especially pervasive whenever Guattari comes to talk of the group, markedly so in his earliest writings but this continues to be the case even in Chaosmosis and The Three Ecologies. As such we will consider his early work on institutional analysis and gauge how well Guattari’s new conceptual technology and psychoanalytic standpoint is able to overcome the challenges to the group which beset Sartre. Then we will critically assess what happens when transversality slips the bounds of this initial setting and comes to define every level of Guattarian thought. What is at stake here is whether this expanded relational ontology is able to produce the kinds of groups capable of agency in the practical matters of politics, and whether in taking transversality as the key resource from which to construct an ontology it is even proper to think of it as relational at all.

i. Opening the blinkers: the group in institutional analysis.
Transversality, originally a topological concept meaning an “extending over, lying across, intersecting […] without a resulting coincidence”, first enters philosophy via Sartre’s The Transcendence of the Ego. Here consciousness “unifies itself […] by a play of ‘transversal’ internationalities which are concrete or real retentions of past consciousnesses.” In this way Sartre is able to unite consciousness with its past instantiations without recourse to any kind of transcendent ego. Guattari’s re-formulation of the concept in his early essays of the 1960s ‘Transversality’ and ‘The Group and the individual’ alter this in three primary ways. It mutates from a device designed to connect the past with the present into a newly future-oriented one, it spatialises a previously purely temporal notion, and finally it is now crucially intersubjective in nature.

Guattarian transversality originates as the solution to a very specific problem: how to conduct psychoanalysis in an institutional setting (indeed the very specific setting of the Clinique de La Borde where Guattari developed his experimental psychotherapeutic practice). An institution can be thought of as a complex network of lines of unconscious force, relation, and desire. In such a setting the usual concept of a bilateral analyst-analysand transferential relationship become ever more complicated. As set out in the essay of the same name from 1964, transversality is applied as a way of conceptualising and manipulating this intricate networks of unconscious relation of which a psychiatric hospital consists. In this sense transversality is deployed as a coefficient of openness between institutional sub-groups and strata, illustrated by allusion to a horse’s blinkers, which can be more or less open. Institutional analysis uses transversality as a tool to “change the data accepted by the super-ego into a new kind of acceptance of initiative” (MR, p.13) and thereby circumvent the usual castrating forms of subjectivation. From a Sartrean perspective, we might consider this to be the creation of the conditions necessary for patients to begin to take responsibility, to get a grip on their situation and emerge from inert passivity into activity, the activity here being the creation of new forms of subjectivity.

In the essay “Transversality” Guattari identifies two (non-absolute) kinds of groups in operation: subject groups and subjugated/dependent groups. A subject group “endeavours to control its own behaviour and elucidate its object, and […] can produce its own tools of elucidation.” (MR, p.14) whereas the subjugated/dependent group is merely passive and fits into the hierarchical arrangement of other groups within an institution. Here we can see parallels with Sartre’s group-in-fusion/serial collective gathering schema, both in terms of the active nature of the subject group and the manner in which it produces techniques designed to clarify its own objectives (comparable to the progressive-regressive nature of the praxis of the group-in-fusion). The object of institutional therapy is to create the conditions amenable to the formation of such subject groups.

Guattari adds to this Sartrean schema the manifest/latent distinction from Freud, with the manifest content of the group (the things it says and does, the role played by its leading members) being set apart from the latent content, in other words the group’s unconscious desire. The structure of the institution itself, consisting of the organisational configuration of doctors, nurses, and other staff operates as a block to the free movement and expression of the group desire of the patients. What transversality works upon is not merely the manifest communicative/organisational structure, but the latent and unconscious system of flows of desire. As Guattari describes it transversality “tries to overcome both the impasse of pure verticality and that of mere horizontality” (MR, p.18). The Sartrean echoes here are clear: verticality describes hierarchical structures, of exactly the kind formed once a group-in-fusion ossifies into a bureaucratic institution, and horizontality refers to the kind of structure of seriality, a sequential arrangement of isolated terms. Transversality as organisational tool liquidates both forms of structure, in favour of a more fluid and distinctively non-hierarchical system of intra-organisational unconscious relation.

Whilst Guattari certainly incorporates elements of Freudian psychoanalysis, his post-Sartrean conception of the subject group ought to be sharply distinguished from the kind of group psychology earlier developed by Freud. For Freud the group takes on a largely negative role as “a revival of the primordial horde”, allowing the individual to fall in love with a charismatic leader figure and hence fall into the mass psychology of fascism. The kind of group psychology he sketches is mediated through the libidinal bond to the leader, posited as the ego ideal of each constituent member of the group. Guattari certainly allows for such possibilities within the subjugated group, as set out in Anti-Oedipus (even if a group is revolutionary at the pre-conscious level, providing that they maintain a libidinal investment of a reactionary nature the “unconscious libido continues to invest […] the old form of power, its codes and its flows” ). However the subject group (like the group-in-fusion) is absolutely a figure of emancipation and empowerment, enabling the individual patient in question to attain new and more productive forms of subjectivity by joining the semiotic system of the subject group. Subject groups also depend upon the breaking down of precisely the kind of hierarchical mediation via the leader presented by Freud.

The group may remain couched in Sartrean terms, but the psychoanalytical context means that we are now dealing with a very different kind conception of individual consciousness. For Guattari the individual is no longer a closed system as seen with Sartre’s for-itself, irreducibly isolated from other such entities, but rather radically open, and hence always already a group phenomenon. As he puts it in the 1966 article ‘The Group and the Individual’: “beyond the Ego, the subject is to be found in scattered fragments all over the world of history” (MR, p27). As such alterity is no longer to be feared (and only redeemed via the mediated reciprocity of the group), but is rather the very property which guarantees transversal relations, and hence the possibility of creating new forms of subjectivity. Transversality is used to both set the conditions for the emergence of subject groups and to channel flows of desire so as to conjoin individuals with these new active groups. In so doing the patient “will be revealed to himself as he is beyond his imaginary and neurotic dilemmas.”(MR, p.20). As Guattari describes it transversality operates as “the unconscious source of action in the group […] carrying the group's desire” (MR, p.22). By breaking down pre-existing structural forms (for example by use of ‘the grid’ at La Borde to regularly shift all members of the institution, staff and patients alike, between diverse job roles) patients are exposed to multifarious new relations of alterity. This in turn enables a radical break with past forms of subjectivation, codings, and habits. This rupture with inherited models and forms of signification sets up the potential space within which subject groups can begin to produce themselves.

ii The transversal group in history and politics

In ‘The Group and the Person’ Guattari takes his institutional notion of the subject group and transversality and applies it to political movements. What is immediately apparent is that whilst we have moved from the domain of psychotherapy to politics, Guattari himself maintains a similar perspective to that demonstrated in the ‘Transversality’ essay. For him the actual efficacy of political group praxis, (in terms of achieving a concrete aim) is somewhat of a secondary issue. It is the kind of subjectivity which membership of the group fosters which is primary, and as such “whether there was real effectiveness hardly matters; certain kinds of action and concentration represent a break with the habitual social processes and in particular the modes of communication and expression of feeling inherited from the family” (MR, p.29).

Here Guattari emphasises the importance of group phantasy in a more emphatic manner than in ‘Transversality’, distinguishing between basic group phantasies and transitional group phantasies. Basic group phantasies serve to render the subjugated group the prisoner of its own phantasies, an example which Guattari gives is of the false territorialisation of the group-as-body, leading to racism and nationalism. Another example of basic group phantasies in bureaucratised societies is that of roles and career narratives, all of which in Sartrean terms serve to preserve a serial and inert existence. The transitional group phantasy on the other hand operates as a kind of internal process of subjectivation, enabling the reorganisation of the group structure and breaking with previously solid demarcations of roles. The transitional group phantasy seems to operate in a similar (though unconscious) fashion to that of the processes of mediated reciprocity which redeem the alienated third party from alterity in Sartre’s group-in-fusion. For when transitional phantasies are in operation, as Guattari puts it “everyone becomes ‘one of us’” (MR, p.42). Transitional phantasies enable the subject group to develop a transitional object, characterised as the constantly shifting and self-correcting aim of the revolutionary group that “keeps asking whether it is right, whether it should totally transform itself” (MR, p.39). This transitional object enables a kind of self-awareness, at the group level of phantasy, so as to oppose internal bureaucratisation with internal subjectivating forces.

In ‘Causality, Subjectivity and History’ (1965) Guattari discusses in depth how the subject group at the centre of the Leninist breakthrough operated. Here he is interested in picking apart the relation between historical breaks and breaks in chains of signification. Ruptures of this kind, Guattari claims, act to disrupt the standard flow of historical causality of the kind modelled by deterministic historical materialism. In a manner which recalls Sartre in Search for a Method he is resolved to hold firm to the idea that subjective interventions are capable of surmounting the mechanistic theories propounded by the dogmatic forms of Marxism. Like Badiou he stresses that the nature of the breakthrough event must be defended against these who would in a Thermidorean manner seek to claim that the event never happened. However his chief concern is to think what network of signifiers enabled the breakthrough, and what then led to this breakthrough subject group to collapse into the nightmare of bureaucratic Stalinism. The fall into Stalinism is diagnosed as being the result of factors present from near the very beginnings of the movement, as the result of certain “collective phantasies of omnipotence” (MR, p.187) which created a simplistic sense of articulation between the party and the people. In turn this meant that no lasting institutional structural innovations were created, leading to the rapid sidelining of soviets and worker’s councils. The fundamental Leninist breakthrough is traced by Guattari to a single defining moment, at the second congress of the All-Russian Social Democratic Party in 1903. Here, in the split between Lenin and Trotsky and their previous allies Plekhanov and Martov, Guattari thinks a new kind of revolutionary semiotics was born, leading both to the success of the 1917 revolution and unfortunately to “the uncritical acceptance of slick-sounding slogans” (MR, p.189) and a contempt for the desire of the masses.

Guattari’s position in this essay remains intriguingly poised between denunciation and endorsement of Lenin and his methods. The creation of a separate institutional object (the party) composed entirely of revolutionaries is at the core of many of the problems which the movement faced, and yet is deemed to be the best response to the accurate diagnosis that “the working class, left to its own devices, tends to slip into trade unionism, in other words into the primacy of production over desire” (MR, p.200). In looking towards the contemporary political situation and the kinds of revolutionary groups required in the current moment, Guattari professes that whilst Leninism has absolutely run its course, there remains one sense in which we should continue to follow Lenin’s example

“I think one should still be a Leninist, at least in the specific sense of believing that we cannot really trust the spontaneity and creativity of the masses to establish analytical groups in any lasting way, though […] the object at this moment is to foster not a highly centralised party but some means whereby the masses can gain control over their own lives” (MR, p.202).

The aim of such analysis is to lay the ground for the autopoiesis of subject groups, to enable them to become open to desire. As such Guattari proposes “not permanent revolution perhaps, but permanent analysis” (MR, p.202). Though he attempts to guard against replicating the party form, denying the analytical corpuscle a role of leadership per se and always surrounding it with the necessary actual revolutionary praxis, it seems fair to say that there remains the considerable danger that in privileging this element over the subject group itself we run the risk of undermining the genuinely self-determining nature of the group. If as Guattari claims it is transversality which is the unconscious source of action in the group, then the analyst as engineer of this dimension comes close to a psychoanalytic version of the active party working to energise the essentially inert working class that Merleau-Ponty critiqued Sartre for cleaving to in the early 1950s. With transversality we appear to have a powerful and subversive tool with which to combat the problem of bureaucratic sclerosis, one capable of the kind of direct and intentional opposition to institutionalisation that we found was necessitated by Sartre’s model of group subjectivity. However, what we might also note at this juncture is that this conception is not without drawbacks, perhaps inherent in the psychoanalytic context from which it emerges. The aim of institutional analysis is to produce the subject group, requiring in turn the manipulation of the transversal coefficients of unconscious communication and flows of desire within the institution. Guattari acknowledges that the analyst, the one who engineers the opening of transversal relations, are themselves absolutely an element to be considered within this system (which is logical given both Heisenburg’s uncertainty principle and the creative and praxical dimension Guattari wishes to accord to the process of analysis). As such the transversalisation of any institution would require the analyst themselves to take part in activities like ‘the grid’. But they seem to retain a degree of privileged authority (at least to the extent that they are the one within the structure who possesses knowledge of the dimension of transversality). Whilst this raises the risk of replicating the active party/inert working class schema at the unconscious level, constant transversal analysis might be exactly the kind of process needed to oppose the collapse of subject groups or groups-in-fusion into paralysing hierarchical structures. But it also serves to demonstrates the cost inherent in the use of transversal analysis, which is the risk of the loss of the kind of agency which Sartre was so keen to preserve.

Saturday, 26 July 2008

From a Contentless Consciousness to the First Critique.

The process by which Sartre arrives at the group-in-fusion model of political subjectivity can be grasped in two interrelated ways: as an attempt to remedy the shortcomings of his initial entirely individualistic ontology of consciousness to account for the social, alterity, and inter-subjectivity, and as a way in which to integrate his philosophical project with a growing interest in a form of Marxism. What both sides of this journey share is the struggle to maintain a fundamental doctrine of human freedom (and the responsibility which accompanies it) in spite of a mounting realisation of the scale of the barriers which confront such self-determination. In a sense we can identify the common thread that traverses the entirety of Sartre’s theoretical output as being the pursuit of a model of human existence, whether in terms of a phenomenology of consciousness or a dialectical account of history, capable of retaining the degree of freedom necessary for humans to, at the absolute minimum, make more of themselves than what is made of them. In order to grasp the peculiarities of Sartre’s group-in-fusion model we must first understand the problems which it served to attempt to resolve within his philosophical system, which in turn requires an assessment of his initial ontological position and the type of limited sociality he is able to ground in it. As set out in Transcendence of the Ego, Sartre’s ontology takes as its starting point Edmund Husserl’s phenomenological thesis of intentional consciousness. Intentionality here refers to the fact that consciousness is always a consciousness of something, an intending or self-transcending towards an object. Sartre’s primary conceptual move is to critique Husserl’s coupling of an intentional consciousness with a transcendent ego (operating as the force which lies inside or behind consciousness enabling its personalisation and unity). For Sartre if we are to take the notion of intentionality seriously, he argues, then even the ‘I’ itself must be an object of consciousness, and as such consciousness must be fundamental and radically empty. By purifying consciousness of all contents, even the ego itself, it becomes “a nothing, since all physical, psycho-physical, and psychic objects, all truths, all values, are outside it.” In rejecting the transcendental ego, consciousness becomes depersonalised and spontaneous, a pure upsurge of freedom continually escaping from itself and creating itself ex nihilo in each moment.

From the very beginning we find Sartre aware of the dynamic which would come to define his philosophical life, the tension between his phenomenologically rooted theory of consciousness and practical political activity. He concludes The Transcendence of the Ego satisfied that he had vouchsafed phenomenology from the “theorists of the extreme left” who critiqued it for collapsing into a pure idealism. Believing that by removing the ego from the absolute structure of consciousness he had preserved what he saw as the ultimately realist tendencies of phenomenology, he writes “no more is needed in the way of a philosophical foundation for an ethics and a politics which are absolutely positive.” But by the time of writing Being and Nothingness Sartre has become aware of the inadequacies of this conception:

“I thought that since I had emptied my consciousness of its subject, nothing remained there which was privileged as compared to the Other. But actually although I am still persuaded that the hypothesis of a transcendental subject is useless and disastrous, abandoning it does not help one bit to solve the question of the existence of Others.”

The ontology of Being and Nothingness expands on that sketched in The Transcendence of the Ego, and consists of two contraposed forms of being : the for-itself and the in-itself, the former the radically empty intentional consciousness, the latter the objects of such a consciousness. The in-itself is characterised by its determinate nature, it “is what it is, [and] is opaque to itself precisely because it is filled with itself.” So perfectly self-identical is the in-itself that it leaves not the slightest opportunity for it to be anything other than that which it is, this opacity being starkly contrasted with the transparency of the for-itself, which is precisely that which it is not, or as Sartre puts it “a perpetual surpassing towards a coincidence with itself which is never given.” The for-itself operates as a gap in the midst of the seamless in-itself, freely sliding through the concrete objectivity of the world of the in-itself and nihilating both the determinate world and its own past instantiations. This ontology is evidently absolutist in nature: on the one hand lies absolutely brute and concrete being, on the other the void of freedom represented by consciousness. It is perhaps this extreme ontological binarism (the radical freedom of nothingness versus unintelligible deterministic matter) which leads to the rampant individualism which is at the root of Sartre’s difficulties in comprehending the social.

Alongside these two primary categories of being there is a third quasi-category, being-for-others. In theorising on the existence of Others, Sartre takes as his starting point the way in which a given consciousness is taken as an object by another consciousness, (described firstly via ‘the look’) which operates as an assault on the fundamental freedom of the for-itself, fixing an indeterminate for-itself as a determinate self. My external view of you will be based upon certain qualities you display, (for example as being lazy, a pervert, an architect etc) but this is to reify and entirely misconstrue the for-itself which you actually are, which as Sartre has established, doesn’t have to be anything in particular, and is constantly escaping and transcending itself. Hence his analysis comes to be modelled on the idea of struggle, (“conflict is the original meaning of being-for-others”), as each for-itself attempts to gain control over the freedom of the other, and to resist their objectifying gaze. Crucially for Sartre “being-for-others is not an ontological structure of the for-itself.” Whilst as we have seen the for-itself is always necessarily in relation with an object, it cannot reach beyond the objective external form of a human being and relate directly with the for-itself which its consciousness consists of, or as Sartre puts it: “we encounter the other, we do not constitute him.”

On such a basis Sartre is hampered when he comes to account for the complexity of macro-social phenomena, which relies on the idea of ‘the third’. In a situation consisting of two for-itselves when a third party enters the equation and views both as objects, the initial two become constituted as an ‘us-object’. A sense of collective identity is forged, (and this enables him to think social features such as class) but only as a reactive negative external relation to another who is excluded. Further Sartre distinguishes between this ‘us-object’ and the ‘we-subject’, with the latter conceived as “of the psychological order and not the ontological”, being merely an individual consciousness’ feeling or longing for unity between for-itselves, which may not be shared by the rest of the collective in question, a longing which remains properly unrealisable as “subjectivities remain out of reach and radically separated.” In some limited regards Sartre does indeed gesture towards the kind of group subjectivity outlined in Critique of Dialectical Reason, relating the idea of the rhythmical nature of the potential we-subject and how an individual for-itself comes to follow a collective rhythm (of activity), as if in the slipstream of others, but always ultimately serving their own individual project. The chief distinction is that here a given consciousness may well believe they are part of a we-subject, but ultimately remain close to a parasitic entity, exploiting the activity of others for their own ends. In this sense at least, criticisms such as Herbert Marcuse’s (that the politics of Being and Nothingness come dangerously near to a bourgeois liberal individualism, predicated on competition), appear to hold true.

Between Being and Nothingness and Critique of Dialectical Reason Sartre worked to reformulate his ideas in the face of two movements: criticism from his fellow philosophers, and his own growing involvement with the French Communist Party (the PCF). Existentialism is a Humanism from 1946 is his first response, and here we can see some movement towards the Critique when he posits a new form of ethics, functioning as a restating of the Kantian categorical imperative, that “man is nothing else but that which he makes of himself [and] when we say that man chooses himself […] we also mean that in choosing for himself he chooses for all men.” By the 1950s Sartre moves closer to the PCF (explicitly siding with them but never actually taking membership) following both the arrest of the Communist leader Jacques Duclos in 1952 as well as the influence of Merleau-Ponty’s Humanism and Terror. Ironically it was to be Merleau-Ponty in The Adventures of the Dialectic who condemned Sartre’s uncritical enthusiasm for Communism in the harshest terms. His central charge ran that in essays such as The Communists and Peace Sartre had in effect justified the actions of the Stalinist party machine by replicating the ontological binarism familiar in the for-itself/in-itself divide in the newly politicised terms of active and dynamic party versus opaque or inert working class. However it is clear that even at his most uncritical Sartre maintained a degree of distance from the party, and in response to the brutality of the Soviet response to the Hungarian uprising of 1956 his position shifted again. "Marxism in France has come to a halt" he writes in "Le Reformisme et les fetiches." Badiou in his 1980 pamphlet on Sartre states that the new objective was "to put it back in motion, [and in order to do so] he raises the question of subjective activity, its forms, of collective and historical sets."

Friday, 4 July 2008

Badiou and Deleuze- brothers in relational arms?

Though I remain admittedly rather confused on the tricky issue of relation versus being, it appears to lie at the crux of what my project is attempting to get hold of. Again this is where Badiou's usage of Category Theory in Logics of Worlds is crucial. Badiou seeks to deny relation (for him deployed to describe the logic of appearance, or, as he puts it, of being there) an ontological primacy: relation comes after its terms, and has no bearing upon them. As Hallward describes it in Subject to Truth:

"Categorial elements are nothing but relations of self-identity, expressed by a function of appearing or measure of existential intensity. If relation does not create difference, we might say, it is because it creates identity itself" (Subject to Truth pp.314-5).

In summary then, Badiou employs two different regimes: being/the ontological/set theory and appearing/logic/category theory. Within the latter domain, whilst at first it might appear as if relationality is key, in fact this is constrained to self-relationality, with relations between elements being strictly a secondary derived property of this. Perhaps I am confusing things here, but it certainly seems that in this regard Badiou comes very close to Deleuze, in that relations between elements are always secondary to the relations of those elements to themselves (cf: difference-in-itself) This comes close to Deleuze's position (as Schoolboyerrors puts it):

"... the differential relation between bodies/forces/etc, in which the two terms in the relation are brought together, their degree of power measured against one another, and given specific qualities on the basis of this. (like, in the determination of forces two forces come into contact and the one that is of a greater quantity of force is designated active, the other reactive...)."

Instead of “quantity of force” we might read “existential intensity” or in CT terms, degree of self identity. Hallward's final word on this matter however is positively intriguing, critiquing both an ontological viewpoint determined solely by elements, with no regard to relations (ie- set theory) and an onto-logy/logic of appearing determined entirely by (self) relations and ignoring all elements. vis:

"...the alternative to either of these singular positions [is] that both elements and relations can be accounted for only together, as co-implied in a single process that maintains the elementary integrity of what is related precisely insofar as it is related." (Subject to Truth p.315).
In a sense this posits a genuinely relational theory and hints in the direction of Hallward's own project on relationality. A thorough going investigation of this question is essential in order to fully grasp an intersubjective theory of groups. Further, an interesting parallel presents itself. It is almost as if Badiou, in writing Logics of Worlds, is following the path of Sartre once more. Sartre's philosphical arc between his early work such as Transcendence of the Ego and Being and Nothingness and the later Critique of Dialectical Reason is one of attempting to build into his earlier, ultimately non-relational theory some degree of relationality, in this case admitting the social into a previously highly individualistic system. This attempt was not entirely succesful, given that he denies any positive role for sociality outside of the group-in-fusion, and even within it the relation is always between individuals, who remain entirely primary. Badiou begins from a different position of course, with his daring wager that the discourse of being-qua-being is set theory. His latest work attempts to introduce relationality into the system, but does so only on the basis of a primacy being given to self-identity or existential intensity within the domain of the logic of appearances. Further the relation between his two domains, between relation and being, remains somewhat obscure. In a similar fashion to his forebare, it appears that though Badiou gestures towards the direction in which he wishes to travel, he appears unable to complete the journey.

Thursday, 19 June 2008

Why groups? Why then and now...?

One question which has to be addressed is as to the relevance of group theory as such at all. Why was it that in seeking to update his basic existential-phenomenological theory of the subject did Sartre necessarily need to invoke some kind of group dynamic for what was at least initially an absolute individual freedom of consciousness? One can only presume that this was in the face of his more doctrinaire Marxist critics, who pointed to the very real exigencies which face his conception when applied to the social world. In acknowledging these criticisms, and in light of his discovery and near obsession with the dialectic, Sartre phrased his new project as a return to a pure Marxism, free from the dogmas which had befallen it by the time of the early 1960s. Whilst it is true that an overly determinist-mechanistic view of history combined with a dangerously obsequious pro-Soviet Union line were damaging the intellectual and moral credibility of continental Marxist parties, what Sartre did was quite distinct from a mere corrective. In actuality his project (in Critique of Dialectical Reason and Search for a Method) emerges as a way of integrating the Marxist dialectic with his previous work, and as such there remained an irreducible tension. This tension, between the grand sweep of the dialectic and the ultimate freedom of the individual reaches its highest point in his understanding of the group, for it is here that individual freedom, dialectical motion, and the exis of the practico-inert situation meet and are negotiated. For Sartre at least the theory of the Group evolved as the solution to the tensions of combining an individualistic existential phenomenology with a dialectical view of history. In this sense the group is the point where he cedes some ground (in terms of the originary freedom of the individual) in the face of the viscous gluey stability of the already socially formed world.
Why now? Because the problem still hangs partially unresolved. Whilst Badiou prima facie (in Being and Event) at least seems to dodge the question entirely, both he and Guattari have recourse to strikingly crypto-Sartrean accounts. In terms of empirical history, the very issue which was both the spur and ultimate limit for the CDR remains highly problematical to anyone thinking post-Marxist political theory: the collapse of the Soviet project into a tyrannical bureaucratic Stalinism. Any account of revolutionary strategy must deal with this, and it will be interesting to disentangle this historical challenge in the works of Badiou and Guattari. For Guattari the resistance to micro-fascisms is a central part of his answer. For Badiou his ethics of the truth process would seem to preclude such collapses into neo-Stalinism. But still, whilst these answers go some of the way towards satisfying the need for an answer to this question, in operational terms they remain somewhat unsatisfactory, mere moralising injunctions against such a collapse - for me at least there is a need to answer at the very level of the intersubjective structure of the revolutionary group itself.

Badiou and the mathematical group-subject.

A fascinating footnote in Hallward's Badiou: A Subject to Truth relating the advantages of category theory for his project:

Among other things, category theory allows Badiou to reformulate his theory of the subject, conceived as a group in the mathematical sense (Court traité d'ontologie transitorie, p.165-77). In categorial terms "a group is a category that has one single object, and whose arrows are all isomorphisms" (p.172). This sole object provides the name of the group, its "instantiating letter". Call it "G". Its arrows all go from G and end in G, and these provide its "operative substance." they emphasise the fact that what makes a group a group, what makes G, G, is "the set of different ways in which the object-letter G is identical to itself." Any such "group-subject is infinite" that is, the number of ways it has of being identical to itself is inexhaustible" (Court traité d'ontologie transitorie, p.176).

Badiou: A Subject to Truth (p.418, n.32)

What we can see here are definite vestigial traces, albeit in highly mathematised forms, of Badiou's Sartrean legacy at work. If, as I understand it, a subject is here defined as a group through its manner of self-identity, expressed via the "sole object", then there are parallels with Sartre's non-mathematical group's identity being forged via the relations with the third party, seen by each member as "the common individual". Obviously, I think this may well be somewhat of a simplification, but it would be an intriguing argument to trace elements of Badiou's underlying mathematical ontology back towards a CDR-era Sartrean schema. Adding to these complications however is the fact that here we are clearly dealing with topos/category theory, rather than the earlier and slightly more transparent set theory (used as the basis of Badiou's discussion of being-qua-being in Being and Event) and hence why this begins to stray into the territories explored by Badiou in Logics of Worlds. Referring again to Hallward on the distinctions between these methodologies:

Category theory and set theory offer opposing approaches to "all the decisive questions of the thought of being (acts of thought, forms of immanence, identity and difference, logical framework, admissible rationality etc...)" (Topos, ou logiques de'lonto-logique: Une Introduction pour philosophes, tome 1 p.5) They are, in short, different ways of conditioning philosophy. If the first volume of l'Etre et l'envenement was written under the sole mathematical condition of set theory, the second volume will be written under the double condition of both theories... Where set theory directly articulates being-as-being, category theory is "the science of appearing, the science of what signifies that every truth of being is irredemably a local truth" (Court traité d'ontologie transitorie, p.199)... in categorial logic "relation precedes being" (Court traité d'ontologie transitorie, p.168)... The theory offers "a highly formalized language especially suited for stating the abstract property of structures." ... the theory is designed to allow for the most general possible description of logical relations or operations between such structures and entities... Methodologically, the way these structures are represented is essentially geometric: isolated manageable parts of a category are expressed in diagrams... These diagrams are made up of objects, on the one hand, and of arrows or "morphisms" on the other. Arrows are "oriented correlations between objects; an arrow 'goes' from object a (its source) to object b (its target)." ... The single most important principle of category theory is that all individuating power or action belongs to these dynamic arrows alone...

Badiou: A Subject to Truth (pp. 303-306)

All this certainly goes someway to explaining how a category theory "group" can be constructed. The type of category known as a group is specifically designated by a structure consisting of only one object, but an infinite number of isomorphic arrows (each beginning and ending with the object). Diagrammatically perhaps (!):

What remains to be seen however is the manner in which Badiou applies this: is he getting at a kind of internal structure to the group-subject? Certainly it seems his deployment of category theory (specifically the world-building device of the sub-species of category theory known as topos) is designed to enable him to think through the local logical implications of decisions set in motion by truth process sequences. Further this brings us dangerously near towards the vexed question of relationality, (for that is what the logic of appearance in Badiou's system ultimately enables him to do, to think relations rather than merely bare being-qua-being as in the ontological discourse of set theory). This idea of relationality in many ways can be seen as operating at the core of dialectical reason and transversality also, and hence will have to be a central theme of this work.

Wednesday, 18 June 2008

A few brief thoughts on individuality and subjectivity.

If we are to think of the chief difference between Sartre and Guattari as being rooted in the distinction between an ultimately individualistic and group/social conceptions of subjectivity, (with Sartre essentially holding that even a group is ultimately still predicated upon the ternary relations existing between individuals, and Guattari holding that even prior to the formation of any explicit subject group subjectivity is social and pre-personal) the interesting point which is raised is where precisely that leaves Badiou. For him at least the subject does not exist prior to the group, prior indeed to the truth process. Outside of such sequences there is no subject in any meaningful sense, or at least, in any sense which Badiou himself is interested in. If we are to consider this line of thinkers as a gradual withdrawal from an existential-individual conception of the subject, we might place Badiou as lying at the furthest remove from Sartre, arguing in Being and Event that a subject is "any local configuration of a generic procedure from which a truth is supported" (BE p.391) and further "the subject is rare... the generic procedure of a situation being singular every subject is rigorously singular" (BE p.392). The latter point demonstrates how far Badiou's subject is from Guattari's also: There is no need for a process of transversalisation to restore singularity- the subject, if it is to exist at all, is radically singular, situated and effectuated only in response to a specific truth process, at a particular site. One point of investigation for this project might be on how close these notions of singularity are between Guattari and Badiou.

Another problem is clearly how Badiou structures his subject(s). We know they are finite portions of a (potentially at least) infinite truth process, but what of the relation between subjects? A number of related questions: Is there a single subject to each truth, of which individual human beings are merely (and only from the standpoint of the situation) segments of? Does Badiou have anything to tell us about the internal relations within (for example) groups of revolutionaries, or scientists, artists etc? In his transformation of subjectivity into an incredibly rare and specific thing, has he abandoned any interest in the complexities of the social, in a trade off with an elegant hyper-structuralist formalism?