Speculative Non-Buddhism

ruins of the buddhist real

How to Do Things with Non-Buddhism

Posted by Glenn Wallis on April 6, 2013

how to do thingsNon-buddhism is something that is done. It is not a program to be accepted or rejected. It doesn’t offer a doctrine to be refuted or believed. It can’t fail or succeed. It can only be applied or not. This site contains instruments for its application.

These instruments will enable you to deflate, flatten, and simplify the object of the application: x-buddhism. Then, you can place x-buddhism’s raw material next to mute reality. You can also democratize totalitarian x-buddhist material by putting it in dialogue with local knowledges. It is in enabling such acts of decommissioning  that non-buddhism is a radical practice, “radical” meaning rendering some x-material minimally transcendental.

The results of your application of non-buddhist instruments will surprise you. But your application will require struggle and resistance. For, x-buddhists themselves struggle furiously against and resist the force of Buddhism. Those who are faithful to its force are rare. If anyone believes that x-buddhists will let stand the flesh and blood humanizing of their specular materials, let the fate of Nagarjuna at the hands of the reactionaries and obscurantists be an abject warning. (Or, for that matter, consider the fate of one Siddhartha Gautama.)

How to do things with non-buddhism? What follows is an encouraging example. What makes it so?  Qualities such as creative re-description, shared, communal dialogue; use of the logic of question and answer; indefinite abstraction; fictional rigor; and performance. Most importantly, work–application–like this has the potential of producing real effects–in reading texts, in interpreting doctrines, in using concepts, in thought and imagination, in subject formation, in action.

The Sutra of Hallucinated Destruction  Since transference of identity is impossible, destruction of identity is impossible. The x-buddhist subject-practitioner is thus disabused of its exalted claim to destruction—of the taints, of desire, of delusion, lust, and anger, of ignorance and of the ignorant, of sorrow and lamentation, for instance. The x-buddhist subject-practitioner dreams its purity in bloodless reverie. The subject-practitioner is a fleshless phantasmagoria, fashioned from rootless language, thought, and desire. Regarding the person of flesh and blood, the x-buddhist subject-practitioner is the destroyer of nothing (from “Sutras of Flesh and Blood,” Sutra 07, at non + x).

Tomek Idzik: Glenn, could you make a short exegesis of the sutra 07 from “Sutras of Flesh and Blood” piece? I mean, particularly how the first sentence “Since transference of identity is impossible, destruction of identity is impossible” relates to the rest of this fragment ? Thanks.

John Connolly (JRC): An exegesis on Sutra 07 (The Sutra of Hallucinated Destruction) of “Sutras of Flesh and Blood,” as refracted through a non-buddhist lens:

As the axiomatic identity is foreclosed to thought, one is compelled to think according to the axiomatic identity rather than of the axiomatic identity. Transference and destruction imply separation and division, or more pointedly identity-with-transcendence. Thus, any claims to the cessation of suffering are fictive, as any and all instances of suffering are inextricably born of axiomatic identity. As such, one becomes incorporated into perpetual ideological struggle, the siteless site in which one observes oneself in all situations so that he or she might become one who persistently works to observe oneself in all situations and in turn makes real choices. As flesh-and-blood individuals, our living is rooted in our language, thoughts, and desires. Any attempt to subtract ourselves from ourselves would be to alienate ourselves from the truth. One can destroy only from a position of radical immanence and in doing so render oneself immortal neither from above nor below.

And onward ho…

____________

Image: Front cover from Joshua Landy, How to do Things with Fictions (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012).

27 Responses to “How to Do Things with Non-Buddhism”

  1. sometimes said

    “As flesh-and-blood individuals, our living is rooted in our language, thoughts, and desires. Any attempt to subtract ourselves from ourselves would be to alienate ourselves from the truth.”

    I love this. I try to live this. I write poetry about this. Meditation has made the loving, living, and writing of this more authentic. That’s all I can say.

    Simply radical, practical, yet beautifully paired down Idea/post. Thank you.

  2. Craig said

    Reading this gave me an idea about reframing the three treasures to me more real, meaningful and helpful. Maybe Life, truth and Community. I’m still working on it. Very liberating!

  3. Tom Pepper said

    “The highest form of ideology does not involve getting caught in ideological spectrality, forgetting about real people and their relations, but precisely in overlooking the Real of spectrality an in pretending to address directly ‘real people with real problems’.” Zizek, Less Than Nothing

  4. Tom (#3) Great, let’s hear more. What is the fuller context of Zizek’s use of the terms “spectrality” and “real”? “Real” upper case R, is the Lacanian Real, of course. Are there further echoes of Freud (Geistigkeit)? Hegel (the negative of Geist)? Is he referring to Derrida’s “specter”? I would think that Zizek wants us to attend to “the Real of spectrality” precisely because the spectral is constitutive of what is haunting our attempt to obscure the antagonism of the Real. The statement you cite goes on to say:

    Visitors to the London Stock Exchange are given a free leaflet which explains to them that the stock market is not about some mysterious fluctuations, but about real people and their products – this is ideology at its purest.

    In my naive reading of this, “overlooking the Real of spectrality” means missing the ideological mystification behind the claim that the market is not subject to “mysterious fluctuations.” This overlooking is to be avoided because in the real world the market is precisely subject to fluctuations that no logic can capture or predict. This overlooking is to be avoided because of the fact that the logic that actually haunts capitalism, a “spectral” logic, has real effects on real people. The contradiction in the statement “the Real of spectrality” is thus only apparent since there is always a relationship between that which resists symbolization and our productive processes. As I understand Zizek, the pivot point of this (antagonistic) relationship is where ideology sets up camp.

    In the text cited and commented on by John Connolly, another metaphor, that of the mirror, is intended with “specularity.” Laruelle speaks of specularity as “the great mirror of transcendence,” whereby reality is forever reflecting the posited (transcendent) differential of some x-system. Thus, to paraphrase Ray Brassier, the x-buddhist “is always a spectator who views everything (terms and relations) from above.” The “person of flesh and blood” is not some symbol-free Human. The real person is always implicated in ideology, but in a local, immanent, one. The specular Dharma wants to obscure this fact by postulating an ideologically-unencumbered type or subject. It then offers “solutions” to immanent real-life problems, solutions based not in the real situation but in the transcendent reflection itself.

    I wonder if there are parallels worth exploring, such as that between Zizek-Lacan’s idea of the undifferentiated Real, “without fissure,” and Laruelle’s “One” or mute real.

    I’ll have some coffee, and then see if any of this makes sense.

  5. Tom Pepper said

    RE 4: This is exactly Zizek’s point: we are only “pretending” to deal with “real people” when we ignore the social formations that construct them–we are actually only adjusting the transcendental mirror, trying to get a more pleasing image, and to keep the real (conventional, constructed, dependently arisen) person out of the frame. Zizek, as always, cannot even imagine ideology as a universal necessity and so as having some positive potential–he can always only see ideology as deception and illusion (this is why he cannot understand Althusser, Jameson, etc.). But I think he is right here that the claim to deal with “real people” and their “real problems” is just ideology in the bad sense–ideology that works to reify social relations and prevent us from seeing that it is, in fact, an ideology.

    The reason I posted this comment is that it seems to me to bear on the strange response of so many readers of this blog. They want to avoid dealing with changing social formations, and just focus on real concrete people and their real concrete problems. But it seems to me that if that is the interest–to adjust bodies to capitalist social formations, to interpellate good subjects, etc.–then Laruelle is not going to be of much use. His whole project, as I read it, is an attempt to get people to stop doing exactly this–to stop looking in the transcendental mirror and adjusting appearances, and start examining the real decisional structure that creates this very mirror. That is, for Laruelle, the social structure is very real, not an illusion, and is the thing we must notice and change. Zizek’s point is that insisting that this “spectral Real” is just illusion, we are avoiding true immanence and endlessly fall into the trap of mistaking our illusions for “immanence.” If this is the trap one wants to stay in, Laruelle is not going to be of much use in keeping the mirror properly adjusted–immanence, for Laruelle, doesn’t mean the illusion that the bodily individual is not at all socially constructed, but awareness that the social structure is very real and has real causal powers.

    If one wants to deal with “real people and their real problems,” busily rearranging transcendental mirrors on the deck of a sinking ship, then there are plenty of other thinkers who can help with this, whose whole project is to keep the system running a bit longer and help the privileged hold onto power and avoid uncomfortable awareness of the oppression that creates their wealth. Rorty, Metzinger and Boyer have already been mentioned often. The renewed interest in William James in the last decade or two is another good example. The Secular Buddhists are working on this project of delusion, as are many x-buddhist teachers. With so many options to choose from in the effort to cling to delusion and perpetuate oppression, I cannot imagine why so many reactionaries seem to be drawn to this Laruelle-inspired project. Laruelle just isn’t going to be of much use, is in fact going to remain impossibly obscure and incomprehensible, for such reactionary projects.

  6. Tom Pepper said

    Just to reiterate my point in the previous comment: I am seriously asking why so many reactionaries are obsessed with trying to prevent others from engaging seriously with the problem of Buddhism’s decisional structure? If the goal is to preserve the decisional structure, to avoid looking at the man behind the curtain, why not simply go to Tricycle or Secular Buddhism or one of the endless x-buddhist projects trying to do exactly this? My Freudian/Lacanian inclination is to assume that those projects just don’t do a good enough job–that too much of the repressed is still disturbingly returning, the delusions aren’t really adequate to keep things running smoothly, to keep the reactionary subject comfortably secure. The typical response, according to psychoanalytic theory, would be too seek out those trying to expose the illusions, and attack with unreasoning fury–the very irrational intensity of the attack would then serve as a new symptom, to keep the illusions in place: my illusions/delusions aren’t falling apart because they are in fact delusions, flawed, contradictory, etc., but are being weakened by this evil other! Sort of like the response in post-Soviet countries: the reason the triumph of global capitalism has made things worse instead of better isn’t because we were capitalists all along and capitalism is inherently flawed, it must be because we haven’t gotten rid of all the communists yet–the communists are out there somewhere secretly preventing capitalism from making the whole human race into a leisure class idly sipping martinis served by robots! And the furious attack against imaginary communists serves to convince people to keep the flawed and failing system in place a little longer. So the reactionaries come here because the illusions of x-buddhism are too transparent, and they respond by convincing themselves that the illusions are just fine, they aren’t transparent but merely stained with all that annoying thought–if I could just somehow stop thought from taking place, my illusions will give me that infantile bliss they’ve been promising.

  7. Craig said

    I’m listening to my in laws downstairs re-create this delusional again and again. Stupid indeed…the worst kind, white upper class Americans who think they know it all, but haven’t had one moment critical thinking other than, ‘don’t mess with my guns, money or comfort.’

  8. Geoff said

    Tom,

    So the reactionaries come here because the illusions of x-buddhism are too transparent, and they respond by convincing themselves that the illusions are just fine, they aren’t transparent but merely stained with all that annoying thought–if I could just somehow stop thought from taking place, my illusions will give me that infantile bliss they’ve been promising.

    Cheers for the psychoanalysis. You keep thinking the answer to undermining capitalism lies in more theory. But surely you must know that’s only the start (& look at how difficult it is to get others on this blog to agree with you – you couldn’t even put Metzinger to bed …).

    How are your thoughts going to be put into practice? Why don’t we hear anything about this? Will this be more workable than say, Scandinavian style capitalism? Maybe if you were a benign dictator you might have a chance (like Lenin et al who of course knew best). But the great irony is you are dependent for your ideas to be put into practice by the very people you are railing against.

    It’s one thing to argue that Teddy Meissner & Sujato et al aren’t quite what they are cracked up to be; it’s another thing to argue for the successful replacement of capitalism. I reckon you guys would have trouble running a bath. Apologies for the unreasoning fury.

    That reminds me… I should go check out Sujato again – haven’t pestered him for a while …

    Cheers

    Geoff

  9. JRC said

    Tom: Please provide us with an example from this post and/or its corresponding comments of the reactionary subject. Thank you.

  10. Tom Pepper said

    JRC: See the definition here: https://speculativenonbuddhism.com/2012/10/26/what-kind-of-buddhist-are-you/

    Although I have already mentioned many times which names are part of this reactionary subject, I’ll leave it to you to read what the term means and take a guess. I don’t think it’s hard to figure out.

    Craig: I know the feeling. Is this, perhaps, what makes you doubt that any change is possible? We can certainly change things, but it will almost always require an argument with the in-laws.

  11. JRC said

    “For the reactionary subject, it is imperative to deny the very existence of [a truth that threatens the stability and closure of the World] … and to ensure that everything will go on as it was, pretending that the present state of things is complete, full, non-contradictory.” Pepper, What Kind of Buddhist are You?

    Aaah, I see. Thanks for redirecting me back to those definitions.

  12. JRC said

    Tom: Could you give us some insight into the concept of immanent critique? In light of what Glenn describes as “creative re-description” and “shared, communal dialogue,” do you think that such a form of critique is relevant here in the sense that it might help to tease out contradictions for us to better behold?

  13. JRC said

    Tom: And you asked why so many reactionary subjects seem to be drawn to this Laruelle-inspired project. Do you think that they are in some way likening identity-without-transcendence, radical immanence, and living as immortals to the comfort of pure and incorruptible bliss?

  14. JRC (#12). I was about to butt in and explain how I see immanent critique as central to the non-buddhism project. As I was crafting a comment, it occurred to me that an entire post on the topic should be useful. So, I’ll do that instead–unless you want to.

  15. JRC said

    Glenn (#14): Butt away …

  16. Tom Pepper said

    JRC: I think immanent critique is essential for any kind of real thought–it is, on my eccentric reading, what Hegel means by “absolute knowledge”: not final and perfect models of reality, but the capacity to endlessly do immanent critique. And we do have to do this work endlessly to live “as immortals”–the benefit of radical immanence is that we will never run out of challenging work to do, we will never reach states of blissful comfort, like overfed cattle waiting for slaughter. The difficulty with using immanent critique is that it doesn’t seem all that effective with the x-buddhist crowd. I tried to do an immanent critique of Alan Wallace about a year ago, and for most of his fans and followers my review of his book was incomprehensible or just dismissed as “arrogant” and mean-spirited. A follower of Alan Wallace would not be convinced by immanent critique, because self-contradiction, aporia, and the need to believe in counter-factual claims is not a problem for them–it can be explained away with an appeal to “the ineffable,” and they simply assert that anyone bothered by these things isn’t yet among the enlightened, and needs more time in mindlessness training. I usually, then try to include some non-immanent critique, some argument which assumes that there are certain values to be supported that are excluded from the particular conceptual system–but that rarely works either. Ignorance, to paraphrase Lacan, is like a neurotic symptom–not a sign of a lack of effort, but something most people work very hard to maintain.

    I don’t know if people mistake radical immanence for transcendent bliss. Perhaps they do? Maybe they assume it is something like the Taoist ideology of thought-free effortless harmony? If so, it is still puzzling to me that so many supporters of capitalism make the argument that what is wrong with communism is that it is a fantasy of some imaginary state of endless ease which can never exist. Last year I was rereading Freud’s Wit and its Relation to the Unconscious and was struck, again, by the similarity between the “Jewish Joke” and the argument against communism:

    Capitalist: I have two reasons for opposing communism; the first is that you imagine a fantasy world of endless play were nobody ever has to work.
    Communist: Oh no, under communism we would all have to work all the time, both physically and intellectually, to share in the production and distribution of material and cultural resources–nobody would be without work.
    Capitalist: And that’s my second objection.

  17. Tomek said

    Glenn, you urge your reader “to deflate, flatten, and simplify the object of the application: x-buddhism”, promising that “such acts of decommissioning” will render “some x-material minimally transcendental.” Whatever that some means to you, I gather that this “decommissioning” you promote leaves quite a lot of that transcendental stuff intact. Why? See what you do in the next sentences, namely, you speak of “faithfulness” – Abandon the raft! – and than suddenly you drop the acid stamped with “Nagarjuna” and “Siddhartha Gautama” marks right into the blood and flesh of your reader. What for, I ask. To stir her gray matter and release the dharmic sentimentality and phantasmagoria once again thereby holding off the death of transcendent pretension? I thought that you’re a faithful subutist of rigor mortis and here you deal in Dharma-infused blotters as some shady Bodhisattva. Is that really how you plan to reach the ultimate transgression, walk away into the blind infernal extravagance of the sun? Gradually and compassionately, until the tainted xanax of your non-x will eventually kick in muting the very last of the dharmic fools? Is that how you’d really want to do it – gradually and compassionately – the same way as you used to compassionately try to treat Mr. Batchelor until fortunately you made up your mind and forcefully – and don’t forget, successfully! – reversed the whole tactic? If “(a)s flesh-and-blood individuals, our living is rooted in our language, thoughts and desires” why infuse them with those perennial fictive destroyers of taints straight from the bloodless dharmic reverie? Isn’t it the perfect example of that alienating subtraction that results in hallucinated identity and perpetual ideological struggle?

    I repeat, why do you keep resuscitating the x-buddhistic ghosts – I remember quite well that in the article you openly declared that “as a critical practice, as a way of looking and thinking, speculative non-buddhism is of necessity disinterested in ‘what the Buddha said’ and unbeholden to the Buddhist values”? Is your word of warning about the fate of “Nagarjuna” and “Siddhartha Gautama” – what those “reactionaries and obscurantists” did to them – a sign of faithfulness toward those declarations from the past?

  18. Tomek (#17). It’s not quite the resurrection it seems. My “Nagarjuna” and “Gautama” are, at best, clones of the x-buddhist figures. Same with the usage of “faithful.” It’s a technical usage from Badiou. It’s in a crucial sense exactly the opposite of what a Thanissaro Bhikkhu or a Stephen Batchelor would call faithful. This is not to say that I use these terms merely ironically. My usage has more force than that–and does more damage. Having said all that, I want to remind people that the “non” in non-buddhism indicates an initial acceptance of the postulates, etc. of x-buddhism. But it performs the flattening, etc., thereby transforming the material into something completely different from what it and its acolytes intend. We can thus still use Nagarjuna’s material in our effort to think. That doesn’t mean we are awarding him the title of non-buddhist. Nagarjuna, the author of the Mulamadhyamakakarika was still profoundly beholden to x-buddhism. He was caught in decision. But he was also laying mines for its destruction. We can walk in his bomb-strewn field and set off some transcendence-destroying explosions. In fact, only by doing so can we see what force his work has to offer us.

    Once we become comfortable with the subversive move of decommissioning some x-material, we can use literally anyone and anything we desire to help us think and understand. That’s an outcome of warrant cancellation. This not only means that we may look to, say, Althusser and Laruelle, but also Nagarjuna and Gautama. Althusser has not been turned into a mythological figure. His “original” works have not been mixed with those fashioned by others over millennia to the point of non-recognition. So, we may still say or write Althusser. We can’t say the same for Gautama; so, we have to say or write “Gautama.” Nagarjuna is approaching Gautama’s situation, but not quite. Except for the later tantric exploitation, his figure has remained largely historical. His works have not been mixed with others’. Still, x-buddhists have distorted by him and his works. So, “Nagarjuna” is a mix of some sort after all.

    Nuances like these are important.

    Don’t you make any allowances for rhetoric?

    Why don’t you do some work. I hope you will mine a chapter from the MMK and see what gems emerge. They may be gems placed there by the author Nagarjuna. They may be gems he did not intend. The latter writer/thinker is also “Nagarjuna.”

  19. JRC said

    A speculative position toward Buddhism neither embraces nor rejects Buddhism’s postulates. Speculation operates in the mode of interrogation. Therein lies its function as precursor of rupture. Speculation breaks open the closed systems of Buddhism. It is not difficult to see, then, how rupture of Buddhism also includes its disruption: the normative claims underlying Buddhism’s ostensible continuity and unity [are], in the interrogation of speculation, interrupted. [This project] neither takes for granted the salubrity of Buddhist teachings for the contemporary world nor forecloses on the possibility of adaptation, renovation, and application. It sees, rather, in the very questioning a speculative opportunity.

    Glenn Wallis, Speculation as Rupture and Disruption

    Despite its name, [non-Buddhism] is neither an ‘anti-Buddhism’ nor … the latest variety of deconstruction or one more manifestation of post-Buddhist pragmatism. Non-Buddhism is a theoretical practice of Buddhism proceeding by way of transcendental axioms and producing theorems which are Buddhistically uninterpretable. ‘Uninterpretable’ because … non-Buddhism is constitutively unintelligible to Buddhists, in the same way that non-Euclidian geometries are constitutively unintelligible to Euclidian geometers. Thus, Wallis suggests that the ‘non’ in the expression ‘non-Buddhism’ be understood as akin to the ‘non’ in the expression ‘non-Euclidian’ geometry: not as a negation or denial of Buddhism, but as suspending [the] structure [of decision] which Wallis sees as constitutive of the traditional practice of Buddhism. New possibilities of thought become available once that structure has been suspended and non-Buddhism is an index of those Buddhistically unenvisageable possibilities.

    John Connolly Invoking Glenn Wallis By Way of Ray Brassier on François Laruelle

  20. JRC said

    If there were no [individual] self, where would the self’s (properties) be? [Perhaps seen in our discourses/practices and their interstitial relations?] From the pacification of the [individual] self and what belongs to it, one abstains from grasping onto [the metaphorical] “I” and “mine” [and can then make efforts in dealing with the dynamics of discourses/practices]. Action depends upon the agent; the agent itself depends on action. [As such, action is agency and agency is action.] One cannot see any way to establish them differently.

    Nagarjuna, Mulamadhyamakakarika (re-manipulated)

    If I say “I become liberated,” this is only metaphorical. Rather, what occurs is something different, because the bodily individual that was part of a [discourse/practice] that worked by denying or obscuring its collective nature has now become a bodily individual that is part of, incorporated into, a different [discourse/practice], one that is aware of its collective nature. So “I” do not change “my” mind, except in the metaphoric language of conventional everyday speech. Until we can agree that there is never any individual mind at all, always only a collective mind, that the discourse proceeds (thinks) but no individual “decides” or “chooses” anything, then the question of agency remains unanswerable.

    Tom Pepper, comment #142 from The Myth of the Witnessing Mind, or: It’s Thinking all the Way Down (re-manipulated)

  21. Tomek said

    So “I” do not change “my” mind, except in the metaphoric language of conventional everyday speech. Until we can agree that there is never any individual mind at all, always only a collective mind, that the discourse proceeds (thinks) but no individual “decides” or “chooses” anything, then the question of agency remains unanswerable.

    What if we agree, as Brassier proposes in his View from Nowhere, following Sellars, to distinguish the phenomenon of selfhood from the function of the rational subject, in other words, to distinguish between awareness and agency? What if we constantly bear in mind the distinction between different levels of analysis, namely, that concepts are not phenomena. The concept of the subject, understood as a rational agent responsible for its utterances and actions, is a constraint acquired via enculturation – subjectivity is not a natural phenomenon in the way in which selfhood is. This dissociation would allow to leave the phenomenal selfhood to be explained by the natural sciences – neurobiology – and at the same time the category of agent would be entirely rooted in a collective set of rules governing the rational discourse.

  22. JRC said

    Tomek (#21): Do you have a link to Brassier’s View from Nowhere? I would be interested in reading more about his proposal. Thanks.

  23. Danny said

    Wanted to share this interesting bit I came across today, Lacan’s rewrite of the Cartesian cognito: “I think where I am not, therefore I am where I think not”

    The subject of the ‘enunciation’ and the subject of the ‘enunciated’, explained here:

    The subject of enunciation is the “I” who speaks, the individual doing the speaking; the subject of the enunciated is the “I” of the sentence. “I” is not identical to itself – it is split between the individual “I” (the subject of enunciation) and the grammatical “I” (the subject of the enunciated). Although we may experience them as unified, this is merely an Imaginary illusion, for the pronoun “I” is actually a substitute for the “I” of the subject. It does not account for me in my full specificity; it is, rather, a general term I share with everyone else. In order to do so, my empirical reality must be annihilated or, as Lacan avers, “the symbol manifests itself first of all as the murder of the thing”. The subject can only enter language by negating the Real, murdering or substituting the blood-and-sinew reality of self for the concept of self expressed in words. For Lacan and Zizek every word is a gravestone, marking the absence or corpse of the thing it represents and standing in for it. It is partly in the light of this that Lacan is able to refashion Descartes’ “I think, therefore I am” as “I think where I am not, therefore I am where I think not”. The “I think” here is the subject of the enunciated (the Symbolic subject) whereas the “I am” is the subject of the enunciation (the Real subject). What Lacan aims to disclose by rewriting the Cartesian cogito in this way is that the subject is irrevocably split, torn asunder by language.

  24. Tomek said

    John (#22), here I left a copy for you (at the very bottom of the page), plus I recommend this brief elaboration of Brassier’s postion.

  25. JRC said

    Tomek: Thank you. I will take a look at both.

  26. Patrick said

    Hello Tomek,

    Re:21

    Thanks for a great link,

    I wonder have I understood the key points in what follows?

    Brassier articulates a conflict (via Sellers) between conditionality and agency, or the materiality of the self and the function of agency, as follows:

    In this regard, the fundamental contrast at issue is one between man’s manifest self- image as a rule-bound rational agent participating in but not governed by the realm of physical law, and man conceived through the optic of natural science as a ‘complex physical system’ whose capacity for agency can ultimately be accounted for in terms of concatenations of spatio-temporal causation.

    As he says this is not an attempt to overcome a dualism between thinking and being but an attempt to reconcile the freedom exercised by an agent and a given necessity, but from within the immanence already established by science and by the mandate of philosophy which ‘distinguishes and separates, but always with a view to
    ultimate integration. In this regard, philosophy discriminates precisely in order to avoid dualism’.

    So the conflict is between the freedom posited by the manifest and the conditionality posited by science.

    Brassier presents Methzinger’s reconciliation of the conflict by way of a separation of the categories of selfhood (science) and agency (normative) as follows.

    Thus the PSM is not the shadow of a captive individual, nor the avatar of a supposedly authentic or even ‘transcendental’ subject beneath or behind the conscious individual, but rather a shadow cast by the cave as a whole: ‘It is the physical organism as a whole, including all of its brain, its cognitive activity, and its social relationships, that is projecting inward from all directions at the same time […] The cave shadow is there, the cave itself is empty.’ (2004: 550)

    In other words the mechanism that makes this projecting possible is not itself available for direct inspection… what we experience of it is its own shadow, a darkness that belies the transparency of the representing mechanism.

    What Metzinger explains here is why what in actuality constitutes the self…nuerobiological processes …are experienced as something other than the self while at the same time the self is itself experienced as something ineffable.

    As you then say:

    The concept of the subject, understood as a rational agent responsible for its utterances and actions, is a constraint acquired via enculturation – subjectivity is not a natural phenomenon in the way in which selfhood is. This dissociation would allow to leave the phenomenal selfhood to be explained by the natural sciences – neurobiology – and at the same time the category of agent would be entirely rooted in a collective set of rules governing the rational discourse.

    While the self is conditional on neurobiological processes, the Subject, in contrast, arises at that point described by Brassier as the point where:

    We had to learn to postulate thoughts as unobservable inner episodes in
    order to explain publicly observable speech. Only in doing so did we acquire the ability to understand ourselves as rational agents operating in the concept-governed space of reasons. Once ushered into this normative dimension, we developed ever more sophisticated resources for describing and explaining what we observe in terms of what we do not observe.

    My reading of this is that we should reverse the process… in order to find the ‘naturalised’ origin of the realm of the inner…thoughts, decision, agency.. we must look to the observable realm of language and acculturation…in the collective set of rules governing the rational discourse.

    So we have two processes, one generating a mistaken sense of self: a neuro biological process that generates an illusion of a substantive self…a transparent self model, embedded within a world model; and a social linguistic process that generates an illusion of an agent embedded within a given set of normative predispositions or rational injunctions… in both cases the illusion is negated without loosing either the possibility of a causal role for the self or the capacity for rational agency.

    My only reservation with all of this is that it fails to take into account the role played by social relations rooted in relations of production (a point constantly reiterated by Tom for good reason)…that the Subject arising out of these processes is embedded within given social conditions and must necessarily represent these in his thinking. In other words agency does not arise out of an interiorised set of agreed rules or norms… rather these norms are the expression of a concrete situation visa vie the relations of production..a conflicted situation in which different interests (classes) vie for political and cultural dominance in and already given situation of inherently unequal distribution of power and resources.

    Like wise in terms of the neurobioloical process…l wider biological and environmental conditions ( for instance competition between species for scarce resources) also plays a part in (for humans) what sort of subject arises… for instance one with a predisposition for territoriality or an instinctive ‘flight or fight response’ when confronted by an ‘intruder’

    I suppose though that the above can be extrapolated from the basic model. My point is that in both Brassier’s and Methzingers case the extrapolation is not made .

  27. Tomek said

    Hi Patrick (#26), thanks for the above thoughts – I wonder, have you read the other piece I linked to, where Pete Wolfendale actually tried to extrapolate from this “basic model” into the political real, at least theoretically. I mean especially what he says, starting on p. 7.

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