2.3 panopticonomata

The essence of spirit is the concept. By this Hegel understands not the universal which is intuited in a genus as the form of something thought, but rather the form of the very thinking which thinks itself: the conceiving of oneself—as the grasping of the not-I. Inasmuch as the grasping of the not-I presents a differentiation, there lies in the pure concept, as the grasping of this differentiation, a differentiation of the difference. Thus Hegel can define the essence of the spirit formally and apophantically as the negation of a negation. This ‘absolute negativity’ gives a logically formalized Interpretation of Descartes’ “cogito me cogitare rem”, wherein he sees the essence of the conscientia.

—Martin Heidegger, 1927

And how goes our “grasping of the not-I”? Not-well, we should say, insofar as (in contrast to such forward-thinking post-functionalists as Paul Churchland,) the predominantly post-Kantian (yet stubbornly anti-Hegelian) purveyors of philosophical idealism seem to be stuck in a spin-cycle of specular introversion (not to say narcissism) better suited for teetotaler’s pinochle than Texas hold-’em. But this is not a penne-ante parlor game, much less a practice run for a pundit’s punt. Should we wish to champion a discrete alternative to the beggar’s banquet of stone soup and dry bones (beside Buñuel’s ex-termini ad nauseum), we would first have to determine what sort is defensible, from whom, and by which offensive table maneuvers. While we (errant non-dupes, Mad Dogs and Englishmen) may well wish to orient one properly radical monism (in the midday sun, if not atop a deserted pillar) by the gnominious gnomons of science and philosophy, we shall neither attempt to do so from the present radix of these cramped quarters, nor hence in some coldly calculated tractrix—be it logico-philosophical or theologico-political in its asymptotic aim.

“conceiving of oneself—as the grasping of the not-I.

Descartes, Leibniz, Newton, Spinoza, Hume, Hobbes, Locke, Berkeley, and Kant to a man undergirded their high-flown flags with an invariably religious (if theologically variant) rigging that perseveres today as mind/world and/or mind/body dualism, under one name or another, in such guises as transcendental idealism, vitalist phenomenology, and immaterialist mysterianism. Alternate nominations abound, but should you forgive our short-shrift Who’s-Who of hoo-haa double-bookkeeping, we shall cut the better part of the ballast and float a few representative hot-air balloons. By tracking their lines of flight, we may with some luck see which we can deflate—or, to whatever extent, at which ponderous altitudes, by the force of what unceremonious prick.

For this is what disputes between idealists, solipsists and realists look like. The one party attacks the normal form of expression as if they were attacking an assertion; the others defend it, as if they were stating facts recognized by every reasonable human being.

—Ludwig Wittgenstein, c.1945

Thus, despite his youthful ladder-kicking bravado, unsatisfied by interim occupational stints as primary-school teacher and high-modernist architect, ‘L.W.’ returns as would-bee referee as if to dispell a swarm of sophistical buzz-kills. Even today, “this is what” such disputes still “look like” (but what would they “look like” if they didn’t “look like” this? etc.). Suppose we too wished for an escape route—be it upward, to some higher ground, or downward, to some fundamental substratum—to free ourselves from the hidebound non-paradigm? Should we first assess our odds of puncturing it from the inside or from the outside, in the reversible skin of (A) fallibilism or (B) fideism, we would immediately be forced to a dogmatic false choice between sophistry and naïvety, as ‘of course’ there is ‘no outside’ from which to scan the surface structure for weak points.

Perhaps we could take a Peircean tack, either towards a more sophisticated (not to say sophistical) realism, e.g., “contractual realism” (Eco), or (if “or” it be) rework Hegel’s “Absolute Idealism” (if not his “Absolute Spirit” by way of “Absolute Negativity”) into “Absolute Realism”—or, something that sounds less dogmatic—or, if nothing else, a process less convoluted—as we are no more the Hegelian than Bruno was the Lacanian. The Hegelian (or rather, the Lacanian) question posed by Wittgenstein’s “disputes between idealists, solipsists and realists” is of course: who takes up the mantle of the fourth corner?

We would submit that this is the real question (if not the “realism” question), as in light of the dynamic between and within his three nominations, the fourth corner could just as easily be occupied by ‘materialists’ as ‘immaterialists’—as a fortiori, obversely: the “subjective idealism” of Berkeley may be reckoned “immaterialist” to the point of requiring a transcendent theistic guarantor, whereas the “objective idealism” of Hegel may be reckoned “materialist” to the point of reflecting an immanent panpsychical warrantee. In any case, rhetorical strategies abound, even if inane aches recortical stringency rebounds.

[A]ny declarative sentence to which a speaker would give confident assent is merely a one-dimensional projection—through the compound lens of Wernicke’s and Broca’s areas onto the idiosyncratic surface of the speaker’s language—of a four or five dimensional ‘solid’ that is an element in his true kinematical state. Being projections of that inner reality, such sentences do carry significant information regarding it and are thus fit to function as elements in a communication system. On the other hand, being subdimensional projections, they reflect but a narrow part of the reality projected. They are therefore unfit to represent the deeper reality in all its kinematically, dynamically, and even normatively relevant respects.

—Paul Churchland, 1989

In terms of declarative, propositional argumentation (Wittgenstein: “the net”), the primary obstacle to an intelligible Realism (at least in the context of Anglophone philosophy-of-whathaveyou) is a slippery reversible proviso by which the scientifically-minded proponent of Materialism and/or Naturalism would deflect charges of surreptitiously propagating an outmoded and incompatible Kantian or Cartesian dualism (the Fallibilist scourge), yet—improbably enough—without invoking trustworthy rapport with either Kantian or Cartesian God (the Fideist girdle). We might describe the warp and weft of this slippery catch-all (or rather, catch-null) either as ‘contractual solipsism’—on the basis of its foreclosed objectivity, or as ‘naïve nihilism’—on the basis of its objectivized foreclosure.

This would be, in particular (and by no wise Universal—forfend!), an only half-acknowledged disavowal that revokes both the existence of noumena (things-in-themselves) and the subsistence of phenomena (things-for-us) only to convoke a correlation between one non-thing (e.g., “no-‘outside’-world”) and another (e.g., Ryle’s “ghost-in-the-machine”). By strategically invoking this proviso, the demi-solipsist pushes realism ‘for the net’ into the problem of getting ‘outside of itself’—temporally, spatially, or otherwise (Wittgenstein: “to be able to set a limit to thought, we should have to find both sides of the limit thinkable”), in order to underwrite its own revocation—or if you like, to authorize its own death warrant. Any takers?

To satisfy our doubts, therefore, it is necessary that a method should be found by which our beliefs may be caused by nothing human, but by some external permanency [...] something which affects, or might affect, every man. And, though these affections are necessarily as various as are individual conditions, yet the method must be such that the ultimate conclusion of every man shall be the same. Such is the method of science.

—Charles S. Peirce, 1872

Let us attempt therefore a mental experiment and construct an elementary model that contains a World and a Mind that knows and names it. The World is a whole composed of elements [...] structured in accord with reciprocal relations. As for the Mind, it is not necessary to conceive of it as human, as a brain, or as any res cogitans; it is simply a device for organizing propositions that serve as a description of the World.

—Umberto Eco, 1997

As we plod from Peirce to Eco, across the intervening scenic century, what stands between our abstract aggregate body and a concrete solution, one that might establish such a superhuman empirical method by way of such an inhuman formal model?

the nonprinciple of insufficient unreason

Bruno’s complaint that “Philosophy’s court admits of no synonyms” was half-answered in a sort of backflip-twist by Leibniz—who, while certainly the best-known inheritor of Bruno’s “infinity of worlds” also gave us the first major upgrade to Aristotelian logic—viz., what Quine (ahem) christened “Leibniz’s Law” (aka “Identity of Indiscernibles” aka “Indiscernibility of Identicals”). How does it work? How could it not work? Leibniz adapted the timeworn Principle of Contradiction, long restricted to propositions about strictly contemporaneous states of affairs—i.e., you cannot state that so-and-so both is the case and is not the case at any one time—and applied it to qualities (attributes, accidents, aspects, characteristics, features) predicable of an entity. So what’s the problem?

For example—with A, B, and C being taken to stand for tokens of types, we line up a tidy, unproblematic categorical syllogism: if all As are Bs, and all Bs are Cs, then all As are Cs—straightforward deduction, no problem. By contrast, take: if A = B, and B = C, then A = C. This may seem reasonable at a glance, at least insofar as we have granted “synonymy” to the entities under commutation—or put in reverse terms, contingent to the substitutivity of elements per notation. But only insofar as “insofar” is.

On what basis does Leibniz grant substitutive synonymy? None—it’s an axiomatic fiat—one with several facets, e.g., “A is A” equals “A = A” ; “A = ¬(¬)” = “A is not (not A)” ; “A = B” = “B = A” ; “A is B” = “all As are B” = “all Bs are A” ; “A is B” = “not-A is not-B”—and that pretty well takes care of A and B, no? (“Ralph” = “the man who mows the lawn.”) Now if we apply the same to (A and C) or (B and C), we validate “if A = B, and B = C, then A = C”—whether we take A, B, and C denote entities or propositions—but it holds if and only if the entities denoted by A, B, and C are so indiscernible as to be the same entity. That is, to put it in reverse terms (as with Quine’s reversible nomenclature), given point-for-point, aspect-for-aspect, accident-for-accident indiscernibility, any correlational construct predicated upon A, B, and C, must with no fanfare fold back up into the tautology of “A is A.”

Thus, a half-bit of non-information deeds Leibniz the emptiest statement in the history of philosophy, of a kind with his emptiest question: “Why is there something rather than nothing?” So long as the glyphs (A, B, C) refer to other glyphs, all’s well—but when we apply them to “something” in the manner of the Aristotelian propositions they superseded, even the canonical “all bachelors are unmarried men = all unmarried men are bachelors” falls apart in consideration of the widower, an entity (“a man”? a “something”? ask Quine?) who/which would surely be “recognized by every reasonable human being” as sharing ‘more identity’ with the unmarried man than with the bachelor. (“more identity”—?)

a thing not identical with itself

As his Law fails to account for causal relations between predicable aspects (‘accidents’) required for commutation of a denoted subject (‘substance’), Leibniz re-internalizes every (nominally external) predicable to every subject: as reformed in his bizarre (to boot, half-Brunian) Monadology, all things are in each—that is, each entity (monad) must ‘already’ contain not only ‘its own’ inter-relatable predicates—past, present and possible—but all predicates, in order to preserve potential relatability to all other monads. Otherwise, if they lacked this pre-packaged “containment” they could enjoy no such relations, or rather, correlations; or cause-effect connections, or rather, occasions-of-connection—all of which are animated by “a pre-established harmony” towards entelechy (purpose, directedness, actantial motive, etc.).

On the one hand, Leibniz’s monad (like Bruno’s) is not unlike a fragmented hologram within which each fragment encodes the whole, isomorphic from macro to micro. On the other hand (unlike Bruno’s), causal (co-)relations between (of? amid? by?) entities (monads) must then be retrospectively accounted for (abducted? retroduced? retrojected? presupposed?) by recourse to an occasionalism (of a type less reminiscent of Descartes than of al-Ghazali) that requires every event of an otherwise-natural character—from the drift of a dust mote to the collapse of a star—to have occurred only through the intervention (intermediation, coercive co-activation) of an ineffably perfect and incomprehensibly benevolent God, by way of an unquestionable edict.

I have tried to uncover and unite the truth buried and scattered under the opinions of all the different philosophical sects, and I believe I have added something of my own which takes a few steps forward. [...] But when I looked for the ultimate reasons for mechanism, and even for the laws of motion, I was greatly surprised to see that they could not be found in mathematics but that I should have to return to metaphysics. This led me back to entelechies, and from the material to the formal, and at last brought me to understand, after many corrections and forward steps in my thinking, that monads or simple substances are the only true substances and that material things are only phenomena, though well founded and well connected. [...] I flatter myself to have penetrated into the harmony of these different realms and to have seen that both sides are right provided that they do not clash with each other; that everything in nature happens mechanically and at the same time metaphysically but that the source of mechanics is metaphysics.

—G. W. Leibniz, 1714

Leibniz underwrote his Law of Identity with his Principle of Sufficient Reason, by which—to put it in common parlance, at risk of caricature—he generalized his “why is there something” question, in effect, to ‘why is there this-and-that?’—and, finding it equally vacuous, he was consequently compelled to grant ontological Necessity to every last footstool and doorknob. The physics buff may retrace Leibniz’s short-circuit—that, put to platitude, ‘things happen (and/or exist) for a reason’—up to Einstein’s double-bind dread of “spooky action at a distance” backed by his avowed Spinozistic pantheism. (No dice?) Or again: compare Gödel’s efforts to resuscitate Leibniz’s Ontological Proof. (Spin-cycle?)

Or, to take another tack, back to Peirce—given the external cause (the “something which affects”) prescribed for scientific method, such a prerequisite “would not be external, in our sense, if it was restricted in its influence to one individual.” As such, Leibniz’s Law (derived from non-contradiction) compares well to Peirce’s Law (derived from the excluded middle): we can use the latter to end-run categorical cart-horses without invoking infinite regression—but then we still need the causal fiat—wherefore Peirce’s neo-Hegelian “Law of Mind” panpsychism—to which we may compare, e.g., Whitehead’s “Process [Philosophy and/or Theology]” and Bergson’s “Élan Vital [-ism]”—or, barring such externalism from the purview of a causal fiat, we are bound to the internalism of the contractual solipsist.

Laws like the principle of sufficient reason, etc. are about the net and not about what the net describes. If there were a law of causality, it might be put in the following way: There are laws of nature. But of course that cannot be said: it makes itself manifest. One might say, using Hertz’s terminology, that only connections that are subject to law are thinkable.

—Wittgenstein, 1927

But here is the trouble with ‘law.’ If any and every truth counts as a law, or even any and every general truth, then this version of determinism can be shown to boil down to the empty ‘What will be will be’. If on the other hand some distinctive concept of law is intended, failure has long since attended the efforts to define it.

—Quine, 1986

Well then, in light our attendant failure, what can we state (LW: “say”) and what then can we demonstrate (LW: “shew”) to be “the case”? Many things—perhaps anything, if not everything—about some things, if not all things; but if we insist upon “saying” over “shewing” we shall persist in knowing nothing of the weather, nor the whether, less the whither.

mad nomad and monad man

By what should stand in stark contrast, Bruno resolved to what we might call a ‘principle of insufficient reason’ or ‘principle of sufficient unreason’ by which the absolute necessity of being (tout court ) provides no warrant for (fails to guarantee the necessity of) subsistent entities. He cut Cusanus’s Posse Ipsum to the core, in short, by taking the latter’s dependent surmises as independently veridical—e.g., “the mind sees that it is not Possibility Itself but an image of Possibility Itself” and “the mind is only its own possibility of being” and “the mind, therefore, sees itself.” And yet, if we subtract the second from the third, the first reduces to little more than saying “a world exists without me”—a folk-metaphysical statement which, while axiomatic, is of a type just as quickly granted (offhand, without further thought) by the material scientist as revoked (thought absurd, or unthinkable) by the material-ist philosopher.

You would be forgiven for harking these ruts back to the primary-school frippery of “if a tree falls in the woods, and no one hears it, did it really fall?”—but in the meantime, it has been raised to the level of a ‘serious question’ as to discerning (merely) unobserved events of the present from the unobservable non-being of our past and future—that is, of our local cosmogony (from whence—e.g., the “Big Bang”) and our local cosmotropy (to whither—e.g., the “Big Crunch” or “Big Rip” or “Big Bounce”). As you may have noted, we prefer the deceptively offhand insertion of the term “local” to the deceptively underhanded “for us” deployed by defenders of unthinkability. Why?

To risk a shortcut: the only way to confuse the non-empirical status of the long (cosmological) timeframe with that of the the short (organismic) timeframe is by promoting the individual horizon of mortality to epistemological equivalence with the collective horizon of extinction—i.e., by resolving “I cannot know my own death” to an identity with “we cannot know our own death”—a maneuver which, if not outright fallacious, is at best formally vacuous.

In any case—if, with Bruno and with Wittgenstein (contra Leibniz and Einstein), we too reject “sufficient reason” (in short, the “why?” of universals—if not the “wherefore?” of particulars), irrespective of the grounds (and/or Grounds) for rejection (which we would find differing in either case), we can move the problem from one of discerning (P) from (Q)—where (P-for-posteriori) is “the net” and (Q-for-quidditas) is “what the net describes”—to one of discerning (P2) the net, as a propositional framework composed of discrete elements, from (P1) itself, as a conceptual framework composed of continuous manifolds.

Put another way, it becomes a problem of revoking the (P2) linguistic constraints we presuppose to have been superimposed upon (P1) more fundamental conceptual schemas (or better, topological primitives) retroducible by way of extant (manifest, inherited) material vestiges of pre-human cognitive constraints (e.g., ‘fight-or-flight’ response, reptilian head-bobbing, etc.—as Hume or Peirce would say, our “habits”). At this juncture, should we exceed what we have speculatively surmised to be (P1) these same evolved (‘internally’ composed) conceptual boundaries in order to retrace the revolving contours of (P2) their (‘externally’ imposed) linguistic constraints, it would then become a problem of recasting the net from (P) the semiological substrate of “thinking” to (Q) the substrate question of “being” as such.

A ≠ A

Axiomatic packets of choice, or semiomatic Becketts of Joyce? Presto! In but a few strokes with a burnt stick, we sketch out the perspectival grid of a vast onto-epistemic minefield upon (or in, about, around, at the limit of, verging on) which armies stand paralyzed, supposing such a parched and abject steppe to be either impossibly lawless, or necessarily unthinkable, or both—a pair of categorical absolutes that would, alas, undermine their own basis in critical skepticism. Nevertheless, the occasional mad dog or lapsed Catholic strikes out across the plain in the unwarranted hope of picking more daisies than daisy-cutters, his odds undergirded by armadillo plates of Gedankenexperiment, self-deprecating wit, and recirculating reference:

Put another way, being is something that, at its periphery (or at its own center, or here and there in its mesh), secretes a part of itself that tends to interpret itself. According to our inveterate beliefs, this is the task or function of human beings, but this is presumption. Being could interpret itself in other ways, certainly through animal organisms, but perhaps vegetable and (why not?) mineral ones too, in the silicon epiphany of the computer. In a more complex model the Mind could therefore be represented not as if put before the World but as if contained by the World, and it could have a structure that enabled it to talk not only of the world (which is opposed to it) but also of itself as a part of the world, and of the same process whereby it, a part of what is interpreted, could serve as interpreter. At this point, however, we would no longer have a model but precisely what the model was clumsily trying to describe. And if we possessed this knowledge, we would be a God, or in a Fichtian sense we would have constructed Him. In any case, even if we succeeded in elaborating such a model, it would be didactically less efficacious than the one (still dualistic) we are proposing. Let us therefore accept all the limitations, and the apparently dualistic nature, of the model, and continue.

—Umberto Eco, 1997

Which he does, proceeding to spin the combinatoire through a variety of scenic, forking paths; then he abandons that model on returning it to Aristotle’s schematic lacuna, and proceeds to another, thence to spin the combinatoire. He does—if not for being, then certainly for semiosis—retrace the contours of (above, P2) a propositional framework composed of discrete elements—as per Hjelmslev, and its obverse, a (P1) conceptual framework composed of continuous manifolds—as per Peirce.

But Eco’s prudence is well-warranted, for on one hand, “getting outside” language can only be described as such “from inside” language. For example—foremost among linguistic constraints, one finds the paradigm case of one’s own name, buttressed by the names of one’s kin and clan, as it were. Should you take your (would-be self-contained) ‘identity’ to have been derived from these auto-nomata, their revocation should, in theory, simply reduce you to “some person” or “a human” (so to speak). But this acephelous phantasm is somewhat refractory to discursive conventionalization, and its view, from outside language but not of it, is like that of a mirror’s glass-refracted view of its own opaque backing.

being is something put another way

In contrast to how we find Eco (and, e.g., Quine)—who, by all appearances has maintained his personhood (and his prudence, e.g., by sidelining “Bruno’s infinity of worlds”), we find that Bruno (and, e.g., Peirce) pursued combinatorics to the point of non-humanity (or if you like, ‘inhumanity’). Not incidentally, Bruno arrived at his intolerably tolerant ontology by an exhaustive mnemotechnical permutation of the extant phantasmatic inventory, unto an ascetic evacuation of import for which the ere-not-yet-(never-mind-post-)modern Western mind is markedly ill-fit, at least insofar as it remains fixated on its own phantasmic semblance of subjectivized self-substance across any number of foreclosed horizons of objectivity.

That’s some two-bit jargon, well. Which horizons? Foremost, find temporal finitude, i.e., mortality—or, put in absurdist terms of foreclosure, barred post-life. Then there’s barred phonological self-interpretation (or propositional self-dialogue)—e.g., Wittgenstein: “If I listened to the words of my mouth, I might say that someone else was speaking out of my mouth.”—to which, compare the obverse: barred phenomenal self-interpretation—e.g., Cusanus: “If I were to see as I am seen I should not be a creature.” Thence Wittgenstein secures the foreclosure by imposing the former upon the latter: “I can not observe myself as I do someone else, cannot ask myself ‘What is this person likely to do now?’ etc.”

Now, if you take it that phenomenally-barred self-observation is not simply correlative, or analogous, or homologous, or adequate, or correspondent, or convergent, but equivalent to propositionally-barred self-interrogation, you may be suffering from an acute case of ‘Representationalism’. While its mechanisms of employ are many and varied, the clearest articulation is found in those age-old stocks (in which Plato bound his paradigmatic caveman,) by which ideal (or abstracted), virtual objects of both conception (Kant: the intelligible) and perception (the phenomenal) are at the same time deprived a real (or concretized), actual subject to whom a ‘re-presentation’ must, eo ipso, be re-presented.

A ≠ ¬(¬A)

Representationalism tends to serve up two inconsistent flavors—(1) incoherent or (2) incomplete—of which the former deserves our short shrift, while the latter preserves our short-circuit. For (1) the incoherent argument, take E. O. Wilson: “Inside our heads is a reconstitution of reality based on sensory input and the self-assembly of concepts [...] rather than an independent entity in the brain—the ‘ghost in the machine’ [...t]he alignment of outer existence with its inner representation has been distorted...” Has been what? or rather, what has been? a “reconstitution”? —or, a “representation”? —or, a “self-[re-]assembly”? —or, elsewhere, a “reconstruction”? This is not a case, as the lay pundit would complain, of “just semantics” but of a multivalent panoply of non-correlations unmoored from lexical footing—and thus, from categorical import. For (2) the incomplete argument, take Thomas Metzinger:

We don't create an individual world but only a world model. Moreover, the whole idea of potentially being directly in touch with reality is a sort of romantic folklore; we know the world only by using representations, because (correctly) representing something is what knowing is. [...] Nor is it true that we can never get out of the tunnel or know anything about the outside world: Knowledge is possible, for instance, through the cooperation and communication of large groups of people—scientific communities that design and test theories, constantly criticize one another, and exchange empirical data and new hypotheses.

—Thomas Metzinger, 2008

On the one hand, we could drive a ‘justified-true-belief’-sized truck through that “(correctly)”, as, contrary to his provision for cooperative-communal-collective verification, his parenthetical invokes nothing so much as Kant’s noumenal an-Sich recapitulating itself by evacuating Plato’s Cave. (Wittgenstein: “solipsism [...] followed out strictly, coincides with pure realism.”) On the other hand, we unfairly plucked it from its conditioned context in Metzinger’s The Ego Tunnel, a sort of popular-market distillation of his more thoroughgoing Being No One (2003). On the none hand, in striving to escape what he characterizes as the outmoded metaphysics of his countrymen past, he returns to Eckhart’s Istigkeit—and of what Furor Teutonicus could “Being No One” proclaim if not, as Heidegger convoked in Hegel’s self-relating negativity, the “conceiving of oneself—as the grasping of the not-I”—?

“So much for this, sir: now shall you see the other”

Lest you mistake our illustrations for surplus supplements, we might examine at least one mechanism at work in Katrin Sigurdardottir’s architectural installations (on view at the Metropolitan Museum, NYC through May 30, 2011). Moreover, lest we confuse Keats’ reciprocal axiom (“beauty is truth, truth beauty”) for Quine’s (sc., “identicles are indiscernible, indiscernibles identical”), we first must forcibly revoke middlebrow platitudes as to the “subjective merits” of Art (a stick-in-the-eye pricked more vigorously at semi-automata.net). While both of Sigurdardottir’s de-and-reconstructions are remarkable (e.g., as the achromaticity of both neatly captures the Cartesian-Lockean problem of primary and secondary qualities), we find her 18th-century Hôtel de Crillon simulacrum (above) more fully captures the representationalist problematic of phenomenologically-barred self-observation.

Being of a similarly contemporaneous milieu to the Leibnizian monad, one cannot help but compare Sigurdardottir’s treatment to Dave Bowman’s not-exactly-final resting place in Stanley Kubrick’s 1969 classic, 2001: A Space Odyssey. Nevertheless, we insist that Sigurdardottir has exceeded Kubrick in formal rigor. To wit: within Kubrick’s Monad(olith), we (the viewing audience) are drawn into a resolutely anthropocentric POV on the narratological in-humanity of the human characteristic as non-reflected by the proportionally anthropomorphic (and disproportionately impenetrable) Mon(ad)olith.

Through time-compression and spatial deterritorialization (Leibniz: “no windows”), our (via Bowman’s) phantasmatic convolution turns an immanent apprehension of self-instrumentality into a transcendental apperception of utilitarian vacuity. In other words, we are pulled backwards through a vicarious epiphany, or Via Negativa apotheosis, by way of a reduplicated semblable and surrogate (or triplicated, if you count the Star-Child, e.g., as a king of infinite space—or, quadruplicated, if you count HAL 9000 as the unheimlich Anti-Child, etc.—who knows? ask Arthur C. Clarke), only to find our null selves void.

By contrast, Sigurdardottir’s room—as the sharp tacks will have noted, figures (less the details) as a squashed octagon. What’s more, in lacking the ‘secondary qualities’ most associated with the notion of an ‘inside world,’ and conversely, where lack of color, odor, etc. indexes an ‘outside world,’ we seem to be peering through barred windows into an inside-out monad. The previous ‘cinematic’ view, through the two-way mirror on the long wall, faces what would be a double set of ‘french windows’ as in the Hôtel de Crillon, at a remove from the vanity seat: this is a properly Kubrickian mise-en-scène wherein austere symmetry is offset by constrained dissymmetric elements. By contrast, the view from the short corners places us (in cinematic terms) in an ‘over-the-shoulder’, subjectively-coded participatory viewpoint (cf. selectable POV in e.g., ‘first-person shooter’ video games) which, by way of a threefold chiasmic reflection, gives us a correctly-oriented yet impenetrable image of our own situated absence. There you aren’t:

Subjectivization—as the aporetic nexus of a name-too-many and an un-known operation—is what traces in situ the multiple becoming of the true, starting from the non-existent point at which the event has convoked the void and interpolated itself between the void and itself.

—Alain Badiou, 2009

As regards the array of vestiges that we may subject to empirico-formal ontography (taxonomy, lexicography, schematization), it would appear as though the scientifically-minded hypothetico-deductive investigator can no more purify herself of selection bias and semantic priming than could the Lutheran purify himself of sin and soil. In other words, so long as each or every discourse domain is left to circumscribe its own horizon, none can either undermine the platitudes of multicultural relativism nor overtop the bulwarks of skeptical nominalism. What does this mean? This is simply a rear-view snapshot of philosophic reasoning in self-imposed exile—if not the ignoble retreat of discursive intellect tout court. Are we forced to a false choice between fallibilism and fideism?

wherever you go, there you aren’t

By internalizing the post-Kantian revocation of dogmatism—whether it be retroactively reframed as a sophistical “speculative metaphysics” or an unsophisticated “naïve realism”—those who accept the false choice beat a retreat by which, as supposedly de-absolutized rationalists, they grant assuredly absolutist fanatics full license to whatsoever form of absolute they will by force of content culled from outside the contracted circle of critical disavowal—irrespective of said content’s degree of obscenity or absurdity.

We might repeat ourselves a bit here in hopes that you heard us correctly: the post-Kantian revocation of dogmatism propounds a choice between fallibilism and fideism; this non-choice is false insofar as it presents itself as a dogmatic absolute; by accepting this non-choice, every rationalist surrenders unto any fanatic the exclusive license to propound and enforce their choice of absolutes simply by calling on any content that falls outside the absolutized circle of post-Kantian disavowal. This is a deceptively simple mechanism.

For our part, as should be evident, we shan’t hesitate to dislodge specifically fallacious content, irrespective of its purported origins. Furthermore, we could certainly justify (or warrant) one “absolute” or another as purported under one name, no-name, or ninety-nine names—and moreover, by exercising discursive propriety, we could do so without propounding fallacious content. For example, by excising vestigial valuation from Cusanus’s Learned Ignorance, we specify the n-dimensional topology of ‘absolute relativity’—a strict bounding condition that cannot in any seriousness be confused or conflated with the falsely de-absolutized ‘relativism’ of pick-a-postmodernist. But then, as the post-critic would complain, to proclaim thus as such would make us dogmatists. Who’s “us”—? Well. . . .

“I asked what, not how many.

With the reductive extremity (or the extremity of reduction) demanded by any would-be monism (and/or any would-be monotheism), subtractive topology (if not ontological askesis) provides for a finite number of ways to skin a cat—or, as the case may be, a man—or, indeed, a globe. From bricoleur to butcher’s choice in two cuts flat. “sheep” or “mutton”? “pig” or “pork”? Despite our purports to disinterested objectivity, we are well aware there is no more politically “interested” occupation than cartography—be it virtual or actual, territorial or topological. Nevertheless, by aligning one compass to another (perhaps like Peirce, if not like Bruno—that is, if one must draw a line somewhere, if not somewhen), we might strive to square our circles without falling fore on our swords or falling back on flat earth. But that’s one mightily contentious “might”.

The (nominal? discursive? political?) problem of reckoning by the lights of any “Monism” resides in our nominations, our application of terminology—that is, once we name it (“It”)—for example, should we say “Materialism” we would of necessity expand the purview of the (categorial, substantive noun) term “Material” to the point at which such notional descriptors as “self-organizing” or “intrinsic intelligibility” self-evacuate. That is (as if) to say, e.g., “Well, yeah—of course matter ‘is’ intrinsically intelligible (in terms of ontic ‘being’) and/or ‘has’ intrinsic intelligibility (in terms of epistemic ‘thinking’) as made evident by—” By what? By our thinking being? That would be the Cartesian Cogito (take 2) but for Descartes having maintained a supernatural Guarantor outside the purview of matter (rather, res extensa) in order to undermine his terror and underwrite his phantasmic immortality in/of/as res cogitans—which is exactly not intrinsically intelligible . . . so again, take your pick . . . or, flip a coin . . . or, just keep backing up—at least, until you’re able to distinguish use from mention, reference from sense, real from ideal, existence from being . . .

next: 3. We will Never have been Postmodern »

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