philosophy as not philosophy: para-ontology, hauntology, schizoanalysis

"Articulating the past historically does not mean recognizing it ‘the way it really was’. It means appropriating a memory as it flashes up in a moment of danger. Historical materialism wishes to hold fast that image of the past which unexpectedly appears to the historical subject in a moment of danger. The danger threatens both the content of the tradition and those who inherit it. For both, it is one and the same thing: the danger of becoming a tool of the ruling classes. Every age must strive anew to wrest tradition away from the conformism that is working to overpower it. The Messiah comes not only as the redeemer; he comes as the victor over the Antichrist. The only historian capable of fanning the spark of hope in the past is the one who is firmly convinced that even the dead will not be safe from the enemy if he is victorious. And this enemy has never ceased to be victorious."
- Walter Benjamin, Thesis VI

"The materialist doctrine concerning the changing of circumstances and upbringing forgets that circumstances are changed by men and that it is essential to educate the educator himself. This doctrine must, therefore, divide society into two parts, one of which is superior to society. The coincidence of the changing of circumstances and of human activity or self-changing can be conceived and rationally understood only as revolutionary practice."
- Karl Marx, Thesis III

Thursday, April 19, 2007

The Ethical Question(ing) of Individuality

The ethical question I want to pose - or as I want to pose it, if we can think of the ethical question - is concerned with the way in which we are ourselves composed, with what makes us up, our composition or constitution. When I say 'ourselves', I mean our individuality, but this notion must immediately be rescued from the liberal-humanist interpretation which would understand us as essentially persons, and our mode of individuation as only individual persons. So we must, in posing the question of composition, implicate not only our own individuality but also individuality itself; that is, we must ask not only how is this individual here composed, but how any individuality might be composed.

Yet this does not mean we are seeking the conditions of possible individuation, as if there was an ultimate form to which any individual whatsoever must conform. In this way, we would already have delimited the modes of composition open to individuals, losing sight of the primacy of the question: how are individuals composed, and how might they be composed? When we ask after 'the individual' in the abstract, it is not in order to discover the general form or essence, but rather to destroy any possibility of generality or universality, and insodoing to make of 'the individual' nothing more than a diagram (work in progress!) of the various processes involved in composition of concrete individuals as such. There is no totalization of all possible individuals, because the diagram is always caught in the process of being drawn, never content with a given formulation.

So we must think the question in terms of reality, and conditions in terms of singularity: what are the limits and thresholds immanent in a given real individual? And following that, what thresholds can be crossed while maintaining this individual's consistency, and what limits are absolute, that is, constitutive of the 'extreme' form of this individual, drawn by the abstract lines of flight that make up the cutting edge of Absolute Deterritorialization? That is, what limits cannot be surpassed without dissolving the individual entirely? Hence, the question is always pragmatic; it always concerns the selection of the components within a given composition, and on the basis of criteria immanent in that composition.

When I spoke of 'ourselves', 'we', I meant explicitly to regard a collective, a collectivity; and again, we must avoid thinking this in liberal-humanist terms of persons who collectively make up a social body of some sort. Of course social bodies are important, as are individual bodies, but thinking exclusively in those terms is detrimentally limiting, excluding bodies of mechanical, semiotic, ecological, and aesthetic types, to name only a few. The notion of individuals as processual individuations (compositions, arrangements) is transversal to this typology, involving composites of components from multiple registers and never confining itself to one or another.

So the collectivity I was addressing would not only be the social amalgam of people reading, but the multiplicity of components amalgamated, reterritorializing on the most deterritorialized flow, which in this case would probably be the circuit of social-discursive-technical components that make up this blog and its audience. In this way, individuals are always composed out of a multiplicitous milieu, which itself might belong to one or several 'higher level' individuals, or might be caught between them, straddling their borders or evading their capture. The point is that individuals are always composed as such through their lines of flight, their most deterritorialized components or connections, which constitute the minimum of consistency ensuring a relatively stable complex entity or 'machine'.

It is through the selective action of the lines of flight, on the basis of the immanent criteria for that minimum consistency and stability, that 'something happens' - in a living creature, life thereby happens. By seizing on one's own lines of flight, and thus the thresholds of one's own transformative potentials, one constructs one's ethos, and then ethics can begin. Again, I must emphasize that the 'one' in question is not necessarily an individual person, and could in fact include several people as well as non-personological elements, such as the economic, political, ecological, religious, aesthetic, mechanical, or libidinal components or connections that make up the milieu in which these persons are immersed and individuated in whatever way.

The criteria for the composition of such individuals must be constructed in the very process of their existence as such, and are never preexistent, presupposed, or given. An ethos, and hence ethics, must always be made, produced, constructed, within a heterogeneous composition that questions itself, 'discovers' (which is to say, engenders) its own singularities - critical points, thresholds, attractors and bifurcators - and seizes on them, whether to extend to its limits and attain Absolute Deterritorialization, thereby selecting those components that will return, or to surpass them and cross the threshold of bifurcation, abolishing the weaknesses and burdens and opening onto new arrangements, connections, and evaluations, following the lines of flight.

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