GABlog Generative Anthropology in the Public Sphere

February 25, 2020

Hunger Artistry of the Word

Filed under: GA — adam @ 1:25 pm

The hunger artist of Kafka’s story ultimately reveals that he has spent much of his life eating no more than was absolutely necessary to barely stay alive not as an astonishing feat of asceticism but simply because he could never find any food he really wanted to eat. I’m working on putting GA on an equally rigorous diet for a similar reason—while GA is already extremely minimal, there are several concepts that pose problems of digestion. The ideal would really be to have just two concepts—and, then, to get gluttonous and set forth into the world and repurpose the rest of language into GA concepts. The centrality of Anna Wierzbicka’s work to my thinking also comes into play here—I find her contention that any theory should be articulable in the primes, and therefore universally intelligible, compelling—especially for a mode of thinking with the kind of universalist and “absolutist” pretensions GA claims.

Let’s start with “resentment,” the most problematic of all. Resentment is the emotion (?) or attitude (?) one has towards whomever denies you your desire. On the originary scene, this is the sacred center, which “withholds” itself from the desiring community, and becomes even more desirable as a result. This resentment toward the center must alternate with love for the center which has, after all, saved and even created the community. It then follows that anyone who denies a desire after the originary scene is taken to be doing so on behalf, or in the name, or under the authority of, the center (how else could another have the power to deny one’s desire?). The originary desire is for the center as such—to be recognized by, or even possess, the center—while subsequent desires would be for one’s “proper” allotment from the center. So, if someone denies you your “allotment” (and what this is can, of course, never be fixed once and for all), say, by robbing, cheating, or even out-maneuvering you through some “creative” interpretation of the rules, your resentment may be directed first of all towards that person but ultimately toward the center itself, which must have “allowed” this “injustice.”

This is all coherent and powerful, but I don’t see a consistent way of identifying “resentment” in a practice. It all seems to be “internal”—as I suggested above, a “feeling,” “attitude” or “sense of things.” But if we want to speak of someone acting resentfully, what are the markers of resentment in that act—presumably the other way of acting beyond desire is in love, so what marks an act as undertaken out of either love or resentment? Even if we take an extreme, revenge porn style example, like hunting down the guy who attacked me and responding in kind, couldn’t I be said to be acting out of love for his potential future victims just as much as out of resentment for the injury done me? We’d need some protocols for reading the particulars of the act itself upon the scene of its enactment, making “resentment” a hermeneutic or heuristic principle—in that case, though, more fundamental would be the interpretive practice through which we identify markers of resentment. If we zoom in close, we may see resentment, while if we pull back we see love—in that case, the question is, how do we decide to focus? Presumably out of resentment or love ourselves, which means someone must be reading our reading in turn. None of this necessarily invalidates or vitiates the concept, but it does make its use contingent on what kind of scene that application of the concept helps maintain.

Bound up with this is the moral and intellectual status or meaning of resentment. Can resentment be justified, or is it intrinsically wrong (at least as a “motive” for action)? If it is justified, is it still resentment? Is “justification” or a refusal to justify itself simply another act of resentment? To gesture towards “love” as the transcendence of resentment is to beg the question: what counts as “love”? Eric Gans in his latest Chronicle(#649) seems to suggest that the sharing of food provides a model of love, but it’s always possible to claim that food has been shared “unfairly.” And, if resentment is toward the center, wouldn’t love also have to be first of all for the center? Is resentment a form of insight, or even cultural productivity, or is it merely a source of violence and conflict to be repressed or controlled? If it can be either, how could we tell whether the kind of resentment we’re looking at in a particular case is one or the other? We can find examples of these opposing ways of discussing resentment across the literature of GA, without, as far as I know, there being any real attempt at reconciling them.

Another problem, connected with the above, is that resentment might be a very good “third person” concept but it is certainly a very bad “second person” concept. In other words, however useful it is for speaking about others, it is useless and harmful for speaking to others. To point out someone’s resentment to them is to accuse that person, which means that one is generating resentment in that person, thereby interfering with the observation one was purportedly making. Even more, it would be hard to deny some resentment on the part of the one making the “accusation,” which even further introduces more of the “disease” in the process of “diagnosis.” Even if it’s necessary to reveal another’s resentment to that person, there are better ways of doing so than telling that person they seem a bit resentful. And if our concepts are to serve the purpose of social interaction and engagement, our concepts should be just as helpful in second as in third person situations.

One can see in much GA literature the suggestion that resentment can be alleviated in some way—either by conceding something to the resentful subject or learning how to control resentment. But this raises the following question: if resentment can be minimized, it can then be minimized further, and if it can always be minimized yet further, can’t it eventually be eliminated? If the answer is yes, all of moral and political discourse within GA should be oriented toward this possibility. But if the answer is no, presumably because resentment is so basic to the configuration of the human, then it follows that resentment can’t really be reduced or controlled either. In that case, what, exactly are we doing when we engage in all kinds of actions and institution building that certainly seems aimed at protecting us from resentment? Is resentment simply “deferred,” like violence—is civilization building just an endless deferral of what remains a steady “quantity” (and if we don’t want to speak about resentment in terms of quantity, how would we do so in terms of “quality”?) of resentment, which must mean an awful crash lies at the end of it all. That conclusion might be convenient for those of certain passive and cynical habits of mind, but the implication would be that the human is ultimately a failure as a species, so why are we talking about this in the first place?

Next up: “Violence.” I’ll first note that Wierzbicka mentions “violence” as one of those specifically Anglo words that doesn’t translate into other languages. I don’t remember where she says this, or her precise reasoning, but my guess as to what makes it specifically Anglo is that its contextless “doing bad things to people’s bodies” presupposes the possibility of a neutral application of physical force. More important is that, as I was reminded recently in discussions with Joel and Josh regarding the constitutive GA definition of “representation,” in arguing for the primacy of the “deferral of violence” one has to be very specific about what kind of violence is meant. We can, for example, imagine on the originary scene that some members of the group, after discovering and sharing the sign amongst themselves, had to then turn on some “unsigned” members and use physical force to restrain them from approaching the object. Even if we assume that a great deal of “violence” had to be used in thereby saving the scene, violence that we would have to accept as necessary, even beneficial, it would not change the fact that another, very different kind of violence must have already been deferred to make that collective effort possible. In this context I will also mention something I discussed years ago—that, in fact, the kind of pan-destructive violence conjured by specifically mimetic crisis could never have actually occurred. If the participants on the scene did, indeed, overrun the pecking order and begin attacking each other, there’s no reason to think it would continue until all, or even most, or even many, of the group had been killed. Most likely, everyone would forget what they were fighting about and the former order would be more or less restored. The kind of violence deferred on the scene, then, is a phantom.

None of this vitiates the power of the originary model—quite to the contrary, I would say. There’s no reason why a kind of omni-destructive imaginary couldn’t both lie at the origins of the human, and be a kind of fantasy. In fact, it makes a lot more sense than assuming that language was founded on a kind of accurate “risk-assessment.” But this reading of the scene makes the kind of “violence” we are talking about even more specific, and calls the usefulness of the concept of “violence” here further into question. What we would really need is a word for a kind of violence that is an intimate betrayal, an exploitation of one’s most vulnerable and irremediable weaknesses, by the last person in the world you would expect to commit such a “violation,” and at the worst possible time. (Maybe the “deferral of violation” is better—but “violation” often refers more specifically either to rape or to more commonplace transgressions.) Like, say, your twin brother stabbing you in the back as you’re about to confront a shared enemy. But this means that the “violence” in question doesn’t simply come before the sign, and the sign doesn’t just halt it. It would mean that the emergence of the sign and the near climactic perception of imminent violence are simultaneous. There is a moment where the sign is put forth and sharing it has begun and this emergence both incites and registers an even more frenzied mimetic surge toward the center. In other words, only as framed by the sign could this very precise form of “violence” be perceived, feared, and deferred. The “ultimate” terror is of the shattering of this novel form of solidarity—and, the “ultimate” violence is towards those upon whom the grace of the center shines. But this also means that this “satanic” violence need not be particularly violent, or even threatening, physically. In issuing the sign, the first signers create the conditions for and defer the “violence” of a refusal of solidarity when it’s most needed. This, in turn, is possible because at this moment the center emerges as “self-aware” and both bestows sameness on the group and demands they constitute themselves as and around an other.

I should say that I see no problem with “mimesis,” both because it is not a specifically human concept and because I see a fairly easy way to translate it (and its escalation into mimetic crisis) into the primes, indicating its universality: “Someone can say: ‘I see you do something.’ This person wants to do like this other someone. This person wants to have what this other someone has. This someone wants to be this other someone. This someone knows this someone cannot be this other if this other lives.” The “center” may turn out to be problematic, but I would eventually like to speak about the center in terms of a “this-it” relation or oscillation. “This,” what we are looking at, becomes “it” (or IT) as we all see it through the other members of the group. “Desire” I find much less problematic than “resentment,” but it’s certainly not a universal term, and it would be more coherent to see desire as coming from the center than from the subject—desire would be a kind of “ITwardness,” which we “feel” or “know” when some “this” becomes “it-like.” Terms less directly tied to the necessities of describing the originary scene, and which are even more clearly indebted to very specific intellectual and ritual traditions need not detain us long. I don’t see any need for a word like “transcendence,” for example—“presence” is a much better word for our purposes, and is more easily translated into the primes: all can say “all see the same thing now”—not to mention that it is a grammatical tense, which we assume to be the first one, the first to create a world that both is and is not “here and now.”

What would replace all this would be the oscillation between mistakenness and presence. In terms of the primes, this involves the shift from “It’s not the same” to “You can say it’s the same.” I’ve reviewed the concept of “mistakenness” recently, and so I’ll now emphasize the subtle but decisive shift in the way it leads us to speak of human intentions. The metaphysical, which has become the commonplace, way of speaking about “intention” is to imagine a kind of internal map that projects some transformation in the world (itself always already organized as a map). We could then speak of an intention realized if the world is made over to look like that internalized map (which can, of course, be externalized and made public). And we can speak about degrees of realization depending upon how different the intentional and actual maps are from each other.

Instead of this “picture,” we would think in terms of someone wanting to do what someone else has done—i.e., we start with a model, who commands you to emulate, conform to, continue some work, etc. The more faithful you are to the model, the more certain you are to mistake the imperatives issued by and through the model, because you must fulfill imperatives issued from a previous scene upon a new one. Your actions will be mistaken according to the “rules” implicit in the imperative itself, as well as according the rules of the new scene or field, to which you are bringing something at least to some extent unprecedented. Your action will have to be redeemed within the scene, by participants who will have to stretch or bend the rules so as to make them applicable to the novelty you have introduced. So, you don’t really know what you’re doing until you see what they take you to be doing. Your “intention,” then, is really a prolonged act of attention, carried over from your original attraction to the model to the signs of reception given and given off by your audience or collaborators. And if at points along the way you stop and state in explicit terms what you’re trying to do, how, and why, that itself is an act, and one which involves you following some model and seeking “redemption” in some shared scene.

Talk of intention can therefore shift to the question of what makes any act the same in the course of its performance, what makes any agent the same over the course of carrying out successive actions, what makes a scene the same from the start of an event enacted within it to the completion of that event. We know that in each case the “object” in question can be treated as not the same: the act can be seen as broken or inconsistent, the agent as a fraud, the purported scene in fact a product of shared illusions and reciprocally cancelling actions. We know this because on the originary scene this was the first problem nascent humanity had to solve—determining where all members put forth the same sign as the others and none were advancing some design upon the central object. This is the problem we solve through names, designations, rituals, repetitions, self-referentiality, markers of authenticity—and pretty much everything else we do. The first command from the center is to determine that your gestures be the same.

Let’s return to the problem of turning “resentment” into a second person concept. We would have to be able to say that what we now call “resentment,” which Eric Gans in his latest and aforementioned Chronicledefines, in its originary form, as “the hostile reaction to the object’s self-refusal,” as a “mistake.” It’s not much of a stretch—since the object’s self-refusal is the basis of the foundation of the community, “reacting” in a hostile manner is a “misreading” of the situation. (In relation to what “correct” reading, though?) But we could look a bit more closely at that “reacting.” First of all, it seems that the resentful member doesn’t really do anything, insofar as the scene holds, so the reaction is either “internal” or delayed—say, until the sparagmos, when the central victim can be torn apart with special ferociousness. I don’t see any way of positing anything “internal” to the human at this point (or any other—but that’s a different issue), since the center hasn’t yet provided a model for anything that could be described in that way. So it’s delayed—but if the sparagmos is, in fact the central being giving itself up, wouldn’t that “appease” rather than exacerbate any resentment? Isn’t it simpler to say that the sparagmos is the first trial run of the new sign, and the “aggression” displayed by members of the group are tests of its deferral capabilities?

If the members on the scene “experience” (more indigestible words) “hostility,” it must be because the central object first of all drew them all in, led them on, gave a promise of itself. It was a tease. In taking his fellows as models, each member was taught to approach the object in such a way as to confer more power of compulsion on that object in the course of approaching it. We don’t have an imperative yet, but the central being is “telling” one and all to become more and more like the others—and it continues to tell them this, but suddenly in a totally different way. Everyone was told to be the same in one way, and now to be the same in an utterly opposed way. The mistake was in thinking all could be the same in appropriation; a mistake that would be revealed as the approach of the others toward the object progressively close off one’s own opportunities to approach: the central being then becomes other. This mistake is corrected with the new practice of sameness in restraint, and distribution, and, even more precisely, in relation to an other (another prime word); but the central being cannot help but provoke that same mistake forever. Even the practice of deferral participates in that same mistake by making the central being more estimable and desirable. What we call “resentment” is seeing and hearing the other as we become more the same. But that practice of having the other emerge as sameness reaches its limits and then revising the terms of sameness might include much that we wouldn’t call resentment, but would be included under this seeing and hearing the other.

So, we can then get rid of psychological terms like “resentment,” “reaction,” “hostility,” and so on, and speak in terms of signs emitted from the center that are mistaken. The mistakenness-presence oscillation is a same-other-same dialectic. We tried to be the same—the same as each other, the same as the being modeled by the center, the same as ourselves—but we mistook the signs needed to verify that sameness and found otherness instead. The mistake is then taken as a sign of presence—everyone is here now before the other—which compounds and redeems it. We need never leave the space of imitation, centrality, mistake, presence, sign, same, other. We must imitate, and we always get imitation wrong; certain ways of getting imitation wrong are prolonged and reversed into a new form of imitation that includes imitating the being we thought was pulling us in, vortex-like—but was in fact arraying us, vertex-like.

The mistakenness of any practice will become apparent in unforeseeable ways, as will the redemption of that mistakenness. This doesn’t mean we can have no goals, projects or purposes. It means having goals, projects and purposes that include generating scenes upon which our mistakes will create presence. The more aware and attentional we become regarding our models—the deep and vast streams of traditions inflowing all our practices—and the more explicit we make our indebtedness to them, the more obvious must all the ways we are mistaking them also be. Once upon a time we could call these mistakes sins and expiate them through sacrifice. Now, we can present our mistaken practices as calls for presence, as innumerable ramifications from the present each of which faces the other and faces the others as other and asks to be redeemed as the same.

Nor do I mean to suggest that we should stop using terms like “resentment,” “violence” and the rest. It’s important to undergo the rigors of conceptual clarification—a hunger strike, if you like—so that we can know better what we’re doing with the conceptual resources at our disposal. Afterwards we can gorge on our inherited vocabulary. It’s good to know that we can go without using familiar terms so that we get clearer about how we use them when we do—and maybe in more and different ways than we tend to realize. It’s good to be able to slim down to the dimensions of Wierzbicka’s primes—maybe it will even be helpful to someone doing translations somewhere down the line.








February 14, 2020


Filed under: GA — adam @ 10:23 am

I’ve written this post in response to the following comment on the Absolutist Neoreaction reddit page:

I’ve noticed that even in your recent articles there’s something still off. That’s in regards to GA and mechanics.

It’s fair to say that liberalism has an obsession with the self and super-sovereignty in general. I don’t see how focusing on these pragmatist mechanisms is really actually transcending that. It seems like all we’re building is just some superior version of Gentile, which isn’t going to actually solve anything.

We, ourselves, can’t fall into this trap of evaluating liberal mechanics. As you’ve put forward there needs to be a direct scenic participation; however, I dont see how anything less than embodying paradox will solve this issue. Rather than speaking about paradox (predicate) we should speak paradox (subject).

When I say paradox I speak about asymmetry, first-ness, outside-ness, paranirvana, etc.. All of these are great examples of this emerging paradox that GA elucidates.

If we focus and bring a further awareness of what we’re even talking about, it becomes obvious that this is GAs true calling card. In order to properly transcend liberalism in toto, we can’t just simply focus on design even.

Rather than a flat rejection of super-sovereignty we should be gathering threads of older imperatives in history in order to develop a constantly evolving praxis. We’re only ever actually going to get anywhere if we can participate fully, ultimately that’s what’s going to make us different. Not evaluation of ‘why these are bad’ or ‘inquiries into language’, but rather the focus is the most direct participation available.

Now to address the morality issue of simple charisma and unifying centers. This, once again, is part of the same issues. There needs to be a recognition of unity in dissonance. Embodying and speaking anthropological and moral paradoxes. It really can’t be distilled so easily to static and even dynamic charisma vs transgression. We need to further pick apart moral agency even, with that focus on paradox/asymmetry. Ultimately we shouldn’t be unifying to distill into one bigger center, but rather recognizing that we can turn centers themselves (paradoxically) into larger grander ones, simply by digging down (backwards in history).

I should add before I conclude, that what I’ve typed is by no means fully formed or all that probably has to be said. I’m open to being wrong but I hope I got my point across.

To conclude, don’t speak about asymmetry, embody it to generate praxis.


Since this message is a call for praxis, I’m in a bit of a double bind because my response here can hardly be anything more than speaking about all of the above. I certainly wouldn’t know how to begin to speak about something like strategy or logistics in this context. The question of flatly rejecting super-sovereignty might be a good place to start. In a sense we shouldn’t be flatly rejecting anything—all language is language we can inhabit. Participation is first of all participating in another’s language. If you surface the paradoxes constituting the other’s discourse, then you’re embodying paradox. A good place to begin is making explicit the distinctions and boundaries implicitly established in the other’s discourse. You find a way to represent some position that both can’t and must exist in the other’s discourse. A simple example: I’ve noted that if you listen carefully to certain victimary discourses, especially on gender and race lines, you can, with very minor adjustments in the feminist’s or anti-racist’s discourse, show them to be essentially confessing the inadequacy of women or blacks to fully participate in a modern social order. Too much offends them, too much frightens them, too much disables them, too many minor obstacles for others are insurmountable stumbling blocks for them, etc. You can learn to simply read this off the other’s discourse and enact it, without making any overt argument of your own. You can then, not present yourself as the real anti-racist who is quite confident that the victim group in question is quite capable of meeting all the rigorous demands of modern life, but, rather, initiate a discussion of institutional and social design. The feminist or anti-racist might be stymied—if you perform well—but I think my notion of the “sovereign imaginary” could be effective here in laying out some of the governing prerequisites for meeting some of the other’s explicit and implicit demands. What kind of state are you imagining such that it could do what is necessary to address what you want addressed?

I’ve been experimenting with a kind of “vocabulary reform” within my anthropomorphic version of GA. I’ve been working with the concept of “mistakenness” for quite a while now, and it’s one of the concepts that some seem to have found the most interesting and useful. I want to first of all emphasize that this concept is derived directly from Gans’s analysis of the succession of language forms from ostensive to imperative to interrogative (which has still not quite gotten its due) to the declarative. The imperative derives from an “inappropriate” ostensive, which the interlocutor tries to rescue by actually producing the demanded object. The declarative, in a more complex way, derives similarly from an inappropriate imperative. What leads to the rescue of the inappropriate gesture or utterance in each case is the desire for what Gans calls “linguistic presence,” and which we can perhaps simply call “presence,” because what would a non-linguistic presence be? The need for maintaining or restoring presence itself derives from the originary scene—we can say, a little anachronistically, that preserving linguistic presence is the first imperative of the center. And what it meant first of all was that each member on the scene ensure that his sign was the same as that issued by others. A sign that wasn’t the same would be a marker either of an intent to resume the approach to the center or to cease defending the center along with the others—either possibility would threaten the collapse of the group.

So, from the start we have this basic dialectic of mistakenness-presence. My hypothesis is that this dialectic can do all the work of what I have increasingly come to find to be the clumsy and imprecise concepts of “desire” and (especially) “resentment.” With “resentment” in particular, not only do I not see it attain a stable meaning in Gans’s work, but it’s the kind of term that impedes praxis or “participation.” Once you call the other “resentful” you disqualify him as a participant—he really has no choice but to throw the same epithet back at you. My “bet” is that anything we refer to as a marker of resentment could just as illuminatingly be referred to as an instance of mistakenness—an imperative from the center has been obeyed “inappropriately.” The most stable meaning of “resentment,” I think, is that it involves accusing another of receiving more from the center than he “deserves,” which in turn is an at least implicit accusation directed toward the center—the substance of that accusation being that the center is insufficiently central, since a genuine central would distribute benefits “appropriately.” But since the center always distributes appropriately, this accusation must be mistaking the command of the center as one to point out this insufficient centrality. The restoration of presence on the part of the other participants on the scene then involves obeying that command in such a way as to ensure that both the accuser and accused have “something to do,” and a more explicitly named (not necessarily better) status within the community. Insofar as the center was insufficiently central, that deficiency lay in some failure in our obedience to its commands. In scriptural terms, the problem is that we were “of little faith.”

If you were determined to prove to another that he was acting resentfully (not just prove to others who, like yourself, might be too prepared to convict), what would be the best way to go about it? It seems to me you’d have to construct a scene upon which his resentments were acted out without any “objective correlative” to those resentments in the scene itself. If you, for example, suspect someone of resenting his friend’s success, while he in fact believes he has a perfectly good reason for criticizing that friend (e.g., he’s a “sell-out”), then you’d need a situation in which that friend is demonstrably not selling out but the criticism gets triggered all the same. This is essentially a comic, or satiric, episode. You’d then be able to point to how the “resenter” acted, and what he responded to, and help him see the incommensurability, or “inappropriateness.” If it’s done well, and he’s at all willing and able to see, then he will. But the best person to be at the center of this enactment would be the friend himself, which is to say the person who actually elicits the resentment. So, “participation” here means being willing to put yourself forward as the “trigger” for resentments that you could then expose, elucidate and find some way to share and thereby dissolve.

But I said that I don’t want to speak in terms of “resentment”—or, at least, I want to not have to do so. That makes things easier—rather than proving that the other is mistaken, you create presence and prove it by canceling the mistake. And we’re all always mistaken within some frame. You can think about mistakenness as someone making a move that would be appropriate in some actual or possible game, but not in the game everyone else happens to be playing at the time. Since the person presumably wasn’t making the mistake on purpose (in that case it wouldn’t be a mistake), they were making a move that can be seen as “analogous” in some way to moves that would be proper within the ongoing game. In that case, someone can find a way to revise the game so that move would now be a proper (but not necessarily winning) one. But this also means that someone could stumble into a new move which renders all the appropriate ones inappropriate, i.e., turns the entire game into a new one (it would have to be a strong move to enact its own mistakenness so insistently).

If we’re focused, in this way, on countering and building on one another’s moves, with the main goal being to keep the game going, make it more inclusive, more productive of better moves and new kinds of coordination, then we never have to step outside of the game to question someone’s motives or whether they are the bearer of feelings or “states” like desire and resentment. Whatever we need to know about them will be exhibited in their moves. So, this is a kind of paradox to be embodied: knowing it’s a game—or, really, the more open-ended “play”—while simultaneously taking it completely seriously. The more self-referential the play, the more each move points back to and repurposes previous moves. The existence of the play, and the increasing density of the “traditions” of moves embodies an adherence to the center around which we revolve, however unevenly; meanwhile, the ongoing play provides opportunities for the players to occupy centers by making moves that create “temporary monopolies” (a term of Gans’s) of attention—all on the condition that no one steps outside of the play into a meta-language (super-sovereignty) that would claim to codify the rules from outside of the play. (Any attempt to do so would be treated a mistake and recouped within the presence of the play.) Such temporary monopolies would be, within this analogy, “governance,” and one possessing such a monopoly would govern so as to sustain that position as a node within the field, that others could subsequently occupy, insofar as they model themselves on the present occupant and make that region of the field especially productive and “corporal” (that is, involving all its members).

Wherever you are, whether thinking or acting, someone has just made a move for you to translate into the first in a sequence of moves, governed by rules that will become more explicit while generating more tacit rules along the way. There’s even a practice of composition here, as you can counter and build on your previous “mistaken” moves, creating structures that contain a margin of mistakenness acknowledging their own historical limitations, and making implicit requests for saving presence from participants yet to come.

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