GABlog

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

Praxis

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.

January 19, 2020

Design and the Attentional Economy

Filed under: GA — adam @ 6:55 am

I’ve been working for a while with the assumption that the “Axial Age” created the conditions for the generation of a new, post-sacrificial morality. Sacrificial morality relies, ultimately, on human sacrifice: someone is put in the place, ultimately, of the sacral king, who served as the target of the mimetic crises that plague any human community. Girard called this “scapegoating,” and I have been calling it “violent centralization,” and I have been following Girard, and then Gans, in attributing to the Christian scriptural tradition the revelation of the “bad faith” of sacrifice—the members of the community must blind themselves to the fact that what they see as an act of deserved retribution (the victim must always been rendered “guilty” in some way) really has nothing to do with the victim and everything to do with their own internal relations as a group. Calling the social orders marked by this revelation “post-sacrificial” is not to argue that such bad faith centering of the other no longer takes place—obviously, it’s quite common—but that everyone knows it’s wrong, can see it in others, and require elaborate rationalizations to carry it out. When we do it, we must insist it’s something else—and, of course, sometimes it really is.

I believe that, so far, I share this understanding of what Gans calls the “Christian revelation” with just about everyone who has been working in GA since, say, the 90s. In other words, it’s “canonical,” or “orthodoxy.” There is a seemingly obvious corollary that is equally canonical or orthodox, but which I reject. This corollary is that a certain understanding and reality of the “individual” results from the transcendence of scapegoating: the individual who is “equal” to other individuals, within the framework of what gets called “moral equality.” I’ve criticized this concept before, but my recent thinking about design provides it with a larger frame. My initial claim is that the social injunction to refrain from scapegoating implies nothing, and need imply nothing, regarding the “being” of the potential victim. In order to justify and reinforce that injunction, or the prohibition on scapegoating, it might indeed be helpful to project onto those not to be sacrificed the qualities which make them undeserving of such treatment. So, for example, if human beings all inherently somehow possess something we can call “dignity,” then it is because of that dignity that they must be treated in certain ways. The same goes for things like “consciousness,” “conscience,” and what Gans has always called an “internal scene of representation.” Rather than such projections, all we need to be able to say about the self is that is continually constructed as a sustainable center of attention, that of others and the self itself. These qualities and entities, along with the aforementioned “moral equality,” and notions of the “soul,” are all, that is, parts of a mythology of the individual, a way of invoking the center (drawing from it imperatives) to match the imperative to refrain from marking individuals in ways that have proven communally destructive.

It would be at least as easy to say that this prohibition on “marking” the other as victim (or “stigmatizing”) leads us, not to an ontology of the “individual,” but a semiotics of marking. So, we could say, if you frame this kind of behavior in this way, it is likely to incite this kind of response from a particular audience, and so on. A cataloguing of such “markings” would tell us nothing about individuals, but only of possible social constructions of them. And which markings needed to be attended to, and cautioned about, in different cases, would differ considerably—in other words, the prohibition on scapegoating could just as easily lead to an insistence on attending to lots of differences among individuals. Such an approach would be far more effective than the one based on “moral equality,” which leads us to scapegoat anyone who notices anything that might make us skeptical of that moral equality, and the way it is enforced under any given regime, and therefore leads straight to our current victimary order, which is has significant sacrificial elements. It would be more effective because it would direct attention where it needs to be, on the proclivities of the community and the various fluctuations in mimetic tensions, rather than upon the imaginary qualities of potential victims and potential perpetrators.

If our only interest is in “marking,” then, we need no ontology of the individual—nothing, no consciousness, no soul, inner being, free will, nothing. But people would, naturally, construct their behaviors in ways that make the markings most potentially relevant to them as irrelevant (or “counter-relevant”) as possible—to put it simply, they would both be aware of the way certain stereotypes might apply to them, and do what they could to disrupt the application of those stereotypes—which, in turn, would make things easier for those who don’t want their thinking to be in the grips of such stereotypes, but also don’t want to censor themselves for noticing differences. In fact, we would be finding ways to take the sting out of stereotypes, for ourselves and others, by making them explicit and thereby making it possible to modify behaviors, even by turning “negative” stereotypes into “positive” ones. All this would obviously be very different from the way we go about things now, and, I’ll repeat, requires no projection of an ontology onto the “individual” nor any assumptions of “equality.”

What it will do, though, is turn individuals into designers—of practices and institutions. I’ve been doing some reading in contemporary design theory, of the kind that is very cognizant of postmodern thought (I’ll mention briefly the work of Benjamin Bratton, especially his The Stack, and his colleagues in the Strelka Institute in Moscow), and one can see the tendency towards a very promising post-humanism. The notion that individuals were “constructed” was once a fairly esoteric theoretical speculation, but how does one deny it now that our whole lives are very tightly governed by algorithms under the control of corporations and states that now, between them, regulate all social interactions? Now, this intellectual tendency is very clear about how the complex of systems constructing our lives—which they are sure to do far more intensively, down to the molecular level, as technology improves—practically dismantle the mythology of the individual I’ve been referring to—where does one find “freedom,” or “conscience” in all of this?—assertions of such qualities are themselves programmed gestures. But the same does not hold for the prohibition on scapegoating, which I would say, counter-intuitively, but in agreement with Girard’s claim that Europe didn’t stop burning witches because it became scientific but, rather, became scientific because it stopped burning witches, that the prohibition of scapegoating has made all of modern technology and even more so its current, scary, intrusive, seemingly uncontrollable social media technology possible.

It’s not hard to find people with complaints about the totalitarian nature of social media and the forms of government surveillance and information gathering and keeping that work seamlessly with them. But, despite the very serious criminality of sections of the American government that has been revealed through inquiries into the Russia collusion hoax, a criminality almost universally shared with the major American media (which is really nothing more, and probably never has been anything more, than a racket trafficking in information and what we could call “information laundering”), it is still worth pointing out that, for example, these ubiquitous means of social monitoring and control have not led, say, to the isolation and targeting for elimination of large social groups. You could say I’m setting a low bar, but if it were the case that this thoroughgoing construction of the individual revealed morality to be a myth concealing sheer utilitarian power struggles or the conveyance of collective resentments, such things would be happening (as they seem to be in China). Meanwhile, if it’s the case that it’s the origin of these technological capacities in the study of the various “dangerous” markings that the prohibition on scapegoating calls for, then the evidence of clear moral limits on the use of this immense power is no surprise. In fact, if we set aside the dominance of much of social media by the “wokeratti,” what this media mostly does is provide security and enhance knowledge dissemination. It’s actually much easier to use it to exonerate rather than frame the innocent.

A lot of scapegoating takes place on social media—at times it seems like little else goes on there. My claim here is that the nature of social media is more to be used to design social interactions or “interfaces” that foreground dangerous markings along with ways of deferring their danger. I’m obviously also saying that those who want to abolish victimary practices should be using social media in this way. Also, I’m just using social media as an example here—post-liberalism should be a project of design across the board. The human sciences should be practices of design—mimetic theory channeled through the originary hypothesis allows us to diagnose institutional dysfunction in terms of ineffectively designed modes of deferral caused by undetected modes of mimetic rivalry; and such diagnoses would lead to proposed designs that would acknowledge the rivalry and re-set them.

You could say that this leads to a practice, if not ontology, of the individual—the individual as designer of social interactions. Again, nothing needs to projected onto individuals—we don’t need to say that humans are “by nature” designers, that it is their telos to design, that they are genetically determined to be designers, etc.—it’s enough that we are designers as a result of the ways our ancestors and predecessors designed the institutions producing us. We don’t all need to be equally good at it. Those who are better at have an interest in helping the less skilled; indeed, they have an interest in designing institutions and practices that will make people better designers. Making design the definitive neo-absolutist practice supports the kind of dedifferentiated disciplinary spaces I’ve argued for elsewhere. We’re always starting with a practice, which we can assume fits a model, and has therefore been designed more or less directly. We can start right where we are, in other words, in improving the design of our own practices and interactions so as to minimize the damage unthinking mimesis does to them. Once we’re committed to a particular practice, we become interested in organizations and institutions that can house and support them. This, in turn, generates new design projects. Designs can be made across the moral, aesthetic, pedagogical and political spheres—we design assignments to enhance learning; we design impossible objects, like perpetual motion machines or Rube Goldberg-style devices, to satirically expose failing institutions and unconsidered assumptions; we can design inspiring utopian visions in the great tradition of such visions; we can unite the infinite with the infinitesimal in our designs; we can design projects for social reform for potential patrons (indeed, wouldn’t they demand it?). In this way, any discussion can be put on entirely new footing, and piles of ideological baggage swept away—we can be designing to make sure that happens as well.

Design involves translation: a problem into confluence of reciprocally counter-acting designs; desires into a project; a territory into a map; a map into directions; patterns of social interactions into accumulations of reciprocal mimetic modellings; declaratives into an imperative meeting an absolute imperative; imperatives into extended ostensives; any utterance into spread out presuppositions and implications of that utterance; oral into written. Measuring is translating; money is a medium of translation. Any two terms you could put an “=” sign between involves a translation. Even more, then: the use of words and phrases at different times involves what we could call a translation of a term into itself, insofar as it becomes different over time. The designing frame entails looking at everything as problems of translation (and if we want to push this a bit further, transcription and transliteration as well0. You ascertain that the two terms are the same, that the “=” is appropriate, which makes you identify all the ways one could introduce a / through or an ~ above the =. When you design you confirm the = by eliminating all the /s and ~s. This is done on the scenes upon which you design narratives and articulate human movements with materials so as to inhabit and suspend the /s and ~s; you are being designed on this same scene, since the most basic reciprocal translation is that between design and designer.

January 8, 2020

Design, Imitation, and the Transfer Translation

Filed under: GA — adam @ 2:25 pm

Where do opinions, ideas, beliefs and arguments stand within the production system of modern life? Everyone has ideas, opinions and beliefs, and everyone makes arguments all the time, but through what process of mechanism can one imagine all this mental machinery being translated into institutional modifications that would be recognized by their possessors as realizations of the intentions manifested in them? For that matter, where do ideas, beliefs, and so on come from? Anyone could point to books one has read, education received, events that led to revelations, influences by parents and media, but where do all those sources come from? Once the Enlightenment fantasy of a conversation among equals being directly translated into the creation of social relations is dismissed, we can’t do better than invoking Plato’s cave metaphor in describing ideas, beliefs, opinions and arguments—they are descriptions of shadows playing on a wall. Then again, what would make what I’m doing here any different?

Social practices are commensurable with each other as practices, and, so, if we set aside terms derivative of the metalanguage of literacy like “ideas,” “beliefs,” “opinions” and “arguments,” and think of speaking, writing, listening and reading as practices, we can speak of media practices that might be converted into or made interoperable with other media practices. A practice is something that one or some do, that can be done again and be the same thing. A practice is a doing in the middle of things that are happening. Part of the practice, then, is marking the difference between what you are doing and what is happening. So, if your saying or doing (your saying as doing) can be iterated by others in such a way that others can say it’s the same thing, well, you can’t guarantee specific results, but you can distinguish the ordering of your practices from a world of events that, as far as anyone can tell, are just happening.

The most elementary understanding of knowing is that it is being able to say that two things are, or the same thing at different times, or to different participants, is, the same; insofar as things are parts of other things, this means that knowledge is being able to say that the proportions of the ingredients comprising the parts of one part are the same as the ingredients comprising the whole. In other words, that a sample is the same (in some respect) as the population it is selected from. Selecting a sample by doing something is a practice, that may or may not be the same as a system of practices it self-selects from. Nothing is lost if we say that a sample is a translation of the population, or the whole—the whole being nothing more than all of the actual and possible translations of it (in collections, new arrangements, measurements, etc.). A translation produces something in one medium that is the same as some original in another medium. So, all social practices are translations of all the other translations, with the question always being, what makes it a translation, or the same, in this new medium as all the others. When people gather into a disciplinary space, it is to answer this question.

This now returns us to the “transfer translation” Marcel Jousse found at the basis of the “oral style”—while Jousse is not completely clear about this, the transfer translation seems to be the written residue of the most repeated and most broadly applicable, the most embedded in rituals and other practices, of the oral traditions of a community—the parts of the oral tradition that must be preserved and therefore cannot be allowed to dissipate with the loss of or diminishing intelligibility of the language in which they have been articulated. Since these central discourses have been transferred into a new medium, with different idioms, much of the original is lost, so ascertaining the identity of the translation is the most important of social practices. Let’s say that in the original God “breathes” life into humans, but Gods don’t “breath” in the target language—maybe God “gives birth” to humans in that language. Now we have two origin narratives, the difference is noticeable and problematic, and therefore must be reconciled. All our ideas, beliefs, opinions and arguments are the effluvia of these efforts at reconciliation.

We begin with the assumption of sameness and commensurability because doing so is a precondition of the maintenance of linguistic presence and then we create original cultural forms by showing that the new form is the same as the old. This happens because showing it’s the same requires that we generate the idiom within which the repeated form will indeed be a repetition of the form previously embedded within another idiom. This is a way of saying we always assume order, continuity and centeredness. It is also the case that translation is a form of language learning, insofar as we learn a new idiom, or how to use a new word, by treating it as synonymous with ones we are familiar with while also guessing at its proper use in each new context until the responses of other tell us we’ve got it right. Keep in mind the way Google learned to translate—at first, word for word synonymous translations produced laughably bad results; then, drawing upon previous translations of the same words, phrases and sentences produced seamless results. That search process, for humans, involves trial and error, as we have to find idioms that fit an entire field of discourse in the target language.

I have mentioned on occasion that discourses on racism, sexism, homophobia, etc., are really just “superstructures” erected over anti-discrimination law, which makes it ridiculous to argue over what these words “really mean,” and I’ll return to that now because it’s a good example of translation as a fundamental cultural practice. Liberalism declares all members of a polity to be “equal”—equal in relation to the state, but in relation to the state as form of centralizing power directed at demolishing formal differences, one after another. To align yourself with the state is to point to a difference to be demolished. This is what counts as being a good person. That this is really not about equality in any possible sense is clear from the fact, intrinsic to such a demand, that you or others like you be given power over those now benefiting from the difference under attack. One form of hierarchy is being replaced by another. So far, this is all familiar enough. But in applying liberal law, or anti-discrimination law, all kinds of distinctions and decisions need to be made: what actually counts as a violation of the law? We need model events, narratives, to make sense of this, like those involving fat Southern sheriffs harassing innocent black people. These stories are translations of the practices involved in enforcing the law, and they are reproduced, refined, and modified as necessary by legal institutions, journalists, politicians, schools, and so on. Broader sociological, anthropological and political concepts are generated to supplement these stories, to make the accounts of differences and attempts to eliminate them as consistent as possible. You can’t argue about these concepts and stories without participating in the practice of translation that produced them—which is why, again, it’s pointless to argue about them.

Now, we can propose, “logically,” the abolition of liberalism, thereby getting directly to the heart of the problem. But this can’t work without a network of practices generating the translative practices that would plug such an argument into narratives and supplementary concepts. And such practices are excluded by the ones already in place. The system of practices and the translations they generate needs to be exposed; but whose “need” is this, what imperative demands it, and from within what set of practices can this exposure be effected? If we want to think in the long term, this becomes a question of which disciplines to infiltrate and how. I would suggest that transdisciplinary practices of meta-translation can be summed up on the problem of design, which is a way of constraining translative practices. To engage in design, of a block, a neighborhood, a city, an institution, a network of institutions, is to think in terms of how the work of all the different disciplines would be translated into each other and into the design as a whole.

We can think very productively about design in terms of mimesis and deferral. If we know that a certain social arrangement regularly leads to certain rivalries, and those rivalries lead to conflicts which disrupt the ends for which participants engage in that activity, then, rather than talk to the individuals (or “types” of individuals) commonly led into those rivalries, and “explaining” to them why they are really wrong to distrust each other, that it would be better if they worked together, and so on, we would simply redesign the social arrangement so as to avoid the emergence of those rivalries. Of course, another arrangement might lead to other rivalries—we’re talking about a complex business here, in which various disciplinary spaces would need to participate. But framing, from the start, every problem as, in essence, a design problem, directs attention towards media, technology, and capital (the power to command the disciplines), rather than ephemera like opinions, beliefs, principles, opinions, policies and so on. The question we pose is, what deployment of media, technology and capital might render a particular conflict irrelevant? We don’t want to resolve the conflict itself, we don’t want to reconcile the parties, we don’t want to hear them out, we don’t want dialogue, we don’t want to take sides, etc.—we want to render the conflict unintelligible, like an argument over the proper way to arrange the sacrificial animal on an altar in some archaic community would be unintelligible to us now. All conflicts, actual and potential, are to be transformed into means of providing informed feedback to duly appointed authorities.

All practices, then, are to be translated into design practices. The media, technology, capital and power that have gone into producing a certain practice (of, say, conducting an ongoing debate) are included in the practice as part of its idiom. This is not a question of pacification—mimetic practices and practices of deferral are represented all along the line. New forms of mimesis, of modeling our behavior on others, must be proposed for each element of the design. You can imitate someone in such a way as to shrink the object you learn from him to notice and desire, so that there is only enough for one of you; or you can imitate another so as to enlarge the object so it can be shared. The latter is easier if we openly acknowledge that we are modeling our behavior on others, which we all know but will all reject for those practices we take to be most distinctive to us. It may be easier to openly acknowledge our unpayable mimetic debts to others if we learn to treat our own practices as design problems, which would naturally involve studying models and distinguishing what is usable and what is not, including what we are already using and misusing. Our transfer translations of design hypotheses would generate stories and supplementary concepts, like any transfer translation, but they would be stories of anthropomorphized beings engaged in translating the “human” into a current set of practices.

Engaging in full scale design requires power and capital, which excludes those who are not privileged actors within the liberal order. But every institution within the liberal order has a non-liberal purpose (liberalism has no purposes that is not parasitic on non-liberal institutions and practices) and insofar as public discourse is part of a post-liberal political practice, rather than offering up our opinions, beliefs, principles, and so on in pointless back and forths with those of others, we can present designs in the form of thought experiments that would eliminate the problem caused by liberalism by making liberalism impossible or irrelevant. There may not be any need to be explicitly anti-liberal—one could be ingenious enough to even propose voting systems that make voting irrelevant. These would be thought experiments that would re-formalize the differences and hierarchies that have been demolished, and would displace statements with practices (would insist every statement generate a practice to be part of the game). Whatever organizational form post-liberal politics eventually takes, it will be predicated upon presenting hypothetical designs, large and small, as demonstrations of the capacity to embark upon transformative design practices.

December 30, 2019

As Who Does One Speak?

Filed under: GA — adam @ 7:26 pm

When I listen to Michael Bloomberg, I hear a very wealthy and powerful man who, whether out of a lack of self-awareness or indifference to the effect of his attitude on others, sounds very much like a man speaking directly from his wealth and power. He has no hesitations in dictating to subordinates, prescribing behavior to poor people and other presumed inferiors, casually discussing various legal arrangements to channel behaviors in ways approved by social elites, and, perhaps most “shockingly,” seemingly spontaneously identifying with China’s “authoritarian” rulers in discussing ways of influencing China’s environmental policies (has he had anything to say recently about Hong Kong?). I am assuming that Bloomberg’s casual rhetoric of power will not win him the presidency, but it’s worth asking the apparently obvious question of why that’s the case, and of noting Bloomberg’s singularity here. Other extremely prominent and powerful billionaires don’t speak like that—Donald Trump, for example, doesn’t. In other words, billionaires very rarely “own” their power—they much prefer to speak as ordinary citizens who have risen from among us in a way any of us could, and as people who want to use their good fortune and the lessons they’ve learned to show us the way. Or, of course, to speak for the “powerless,” or the “environment” (of course, Bloomberg does this as well) It’s unfortunate, but probably to be expected, that Bloomberg’s fantasies (which he has been able to partially realize as mayor of New York) are petty and schoolmarmy—that interview on China, where he took his outraged interviewer through the various considerations the “dictator” Jinping must enter into his decision-making process was undoubtedly his most interesting moment. Maybe that’s the arena he views himself as best suited for.

So, Bloomberg himself may not be very interesting, but the complete absence of a serious rhetoric of power from the modern world is. Wouldn’t detailed, honest, accounts of everything that goes into their decision-making by the most powerful people in the world be the most informative disclosures we could imagine? Wouldn’t you want to see how the world looks to them? (Maybe they themselves don’t really know!) Think of how irresistible it seems for reporters, pundits and various left and right dissidents alike to pretend to be inside Donald Trump’s head: he’s worried now, he’s being played by his advisors, he’s too lazy to see that things are out of his control, how can he be so lacking in self-control, etc., etc. All of these (often hysterical) speculations are certainly wrong in important ways, and for reasons that should be obvious—from his perch, Trump knows lots of things none of us do. It’s not very often that one sees this pointed out—or that Trump has known many things very few people do for decades. And yet it’s easy to see why Trump can’t speak explicitly from within that perch, that is, drawing upon is vast array of sources and inside knowledge of those he must work with and those he must undermine. Insofar as Trump has ambitious plans for the use of power (unlike the anemic Bloomberg—but, then again, do I know what he knows?), such openness would diminish rather than enhance its exercise. The less others know about the precise sources of his power, the better—except for when he wants to bring a very precise quantum of power to bear in a particular instance. In any plural, and therefore unstable, order, power is exercised through leverage, and if others know your points of leverage they might be able to target those points with some kind of counter-leverage.

But I think there’s more to it than that. Were Trump, or any powerful figure, to speak so explicitly about the sources and purposes of his power, he would be presenting an image of the world most of us would be incapable of reproducing or picturing for ourselves. It would sound crazy. For one thing, we wouldn’t be in it, and there would be no “characters” for us to “identify” with. Any medieval peasant would have easily understood that his own understanding can’t begin to encompass that of the king’s, but such a realization is almost impossible now—to suggest it is to sound insulting, and as if you are describing massive “abuses” of power rather than the basic conditions of its use. I can’t think of a single work of art or entertainment set in the present that takes the perspective of the powerful, or the social center—which would be very different from the very common representation of the persecuted individual trying to evade or overthrow the center. This represents a very serious intellectual deficiency—a crippling one, really—and one we should start remedying.

We can’t remedy this defect by pretending to speak from power ourselves—that would be mere fantasizing. We have to read power off of the effects it produces down the line. And we can only do this as those who have themselves been produced by power. We have no choice but to make sense of power because power is disordered and disordering, and disorder can only be made sense of, indeed, recognized as such, against a residual, possible or implicit model of order. The most basic indication of order is things remaining the same. Which things? By what measure of sameness? We’d have to select a sample of things, and establish a disciplinary space that ascertains its identity over time—this amounts to showing that you can point to what others have named. There are always such spaces underway, and it’s a question of joining one, and then improving it. Ascertaining sameness over time is a problem because everything changes, and there are two ways of solving this problem. First, you can ignore all changes and differences and keep repeating those markers of sameness most evident to one’s fellow learners. Second, you identify the sameness in the midst of differences; this involves an oscillation between noted differences and retrieved or re-affirmed markers of sameness. In the process new markers of sameness will replace the old, which means what counts as a marker of sameness will be markers of continuity and transition, or repetition with a difference—an originary logic of iteration, according to which our “sample” is a marker of the origin of our inquiry into it, and the origin of that inquiry is in the production of that sample, in which our inquiry is a, furthermore, participation.

Committing to the origin and history of the sample involves some form of impersonation—not in the sense of taking on another’s identity but of taking on a persona. Conducting an inquiry means being shaped by the inquiry; the more engrossing the inquiry, the more deeply shaped by it the inquirer; so the sample itself, as constructed by the learners, provides the names that provide the materials for impersonation. A good persona, or mask (or costume), is one that can exist on both the scene of inquiry and the scene inquired into, or the sample. Charles Sanders Peirce said that all knowledge is knowledge of the relation between a sample and the whole—more precisely, whether the “proportions” of whatever “ingredients” you are interested in are the same in the sample as in the whole. Of course, the whole is changing as you extract each sample, and you could never extract enough samples to equal the whole, so we’re always approximating. There are measures we can take to ensure that the sample will be as close a simulation of the whole as possible, and we learn what these measures are through the process of sampling itself.

If it is knowledge about power that we seek, then the “ingredients” we want to discern the “proportions” of are those of power that generates order relative to power that generates disorder. That’s really a question of whether the practices of the center remain the same over time. The practices each of us participates in, and those we are made aware of via the more or less reliable media we have access to, provide us with our sample, which is always at some distance from the center. We are interested in the inquiry because we want more order, and we want more intelligent order, which is really saying the same thing. It’s possible to want more disorder, but only because you see the possibility of a more orderly setting for your own quest, at this moment, within a broader increase in disorder—but, even then, you’d have to try to stabilize the conditions enabling the continuation of that quest, or the preservation of its results. In that case, the fundamental disagreement we wish to isolate is between those seeking more direct and those seeking more indirect paths to order. Within the sample we help to comprise, we distinguish between more and less direct paths to order, and in doing so try to pave more direct ones. The smaller, more infinitesimal differences we can mark between more and less indirect paths, the more effectively we can leverage that distinction. The identity you take on, then, in the ongoing iteration of your inquiry, is one that represents the ordering subject marking the distinction for another insofar as that other is marginally less ordering. If the difference between the two is reduced to the infinitesimal, the two will be changing positions, so your identity is simultaneously that of a learner as well as teacher. Identities will take on names, but more fundamentally the notion refers here to style, figuration, and idiom.

Your maintenance of an identity, given to as much as taken by you, is the way you know things and make things known to others. The “flaneur” of 19thcentury Paris communicated knowledge of the street as a series of passing scenes. Philosophers like Kierkegaard and Nietzsche did much of their thinking through impersonations—everyone does, but they were just more explicit and knowing about it than others. Epistemologically, such positions are superior to those occupied, discursively, by those in the seats of power—Bloomberg’s remarks on China startle because he says what is forbidden within democratic discourse, and doesn’t seem to care, or, perhaps, realize, that he is doing so—but he gets pretty banal pretty quickly. From a position of power, it’s easier to make disorder than to create order—the direct advantages to be gained from the former are much more obvious. It’s hard to see how anyone with proximity to the center would choose sustainable order over the marginal utility of disorder without knowledge of its possibility, along with knowledge of the futility of exploitable disorders, being transmitted upwards to those in power through displays of discipline from below. This means having names, styles, idioms—an aesthetic.

Here’s a good way to think about aesthetics. There’s some object, or person, or type of practice, that draws dangerous, i.e., mimetically convergent attention. It’s the kind of thing you’d want to render sacred, so as to defer the violent attraction—you want to put it beyond bounds, so it can remain safe, and so can we. But you can’t render it sacred, because only a shared event can do so, as you realize in the course of your efforts. So, your representation of the object is now a representation of the impossibility of sacralizing it, and since this does not diminish the need to protect it, the aesthetic representation makes a case for a different mode of deferral, one to which the spectator/participant’s contribution is more explicit. The aesthetic takes up space ceded by the sacred, and aesthetic representations are representations of the unsacralizable and of a world needing new powers of deferral. This is a world requiring more explicit knowledge of mimesis, and its historical articulation in power, media and technology.

Aesthetics, then, also refuses degraded and decadent forms of sacrality, like the bizarre Christian heresies that have devolved into liberalism. Aesthetics seeks out a more direct representation of sociality, of both desires and resentments, stripped of their justifications, and of the institutional forms for naming, pre-empting and countering those desires and resentments—also with no more “elaboration” than that needed to make imperatives issued from within those institutions known. Of course, doing this might involve displaying and exposing lots of justifications and elaborations. The work needs to exhaust the attempts to sacralize as well as the attempts to pretend it’s unnecessary to try. Aesthetics itself should ultimately be dissolved into more knowing and thinking modes of authority, designed so as to eliminate the imperative exchanges in which resentments are bound up (resentments themselves would, then, be directly converted into reasonable and helpful criticisms of the exercise of authority). To put forth an aesthetic, then, is to embody, or impersonate, a form of authority—authority, we could say, is power retracted completely into the ostensive, so presence itself models the proper ordering. So, we want to create identities that tacitly call forth an ordering, that add one more increment of sameness amongst a broader field of difference than existing positions have so far identified.

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