Tag Archives: phenomenology

Continuing Toward a New Ontology

As should be obvious by this point, I have been having a great deal of difficulty with the ongoing Ontology project. Mallory has repeatedly stressed to me a need to move past the fine details and begin working out the bigger picture, which I am now endeavoring to do.

So, allow me to briefly sum up the argument so far. The biggest feature of this project has been the assertion that the Subject is total and indivisible. It cannot be broken into its component features and retain the qualities which it possesses as a subject. Indeed, the Subject, once resolved, is no longer composed of constituent units, but is totalized into a single, coherent whole. In short, the Subject is irreducibly complex. Now, I recognize that term derives from the largely spurious Creation Science movement, and I am not using it in that context. Biology as a science has sufficiently explained the means and mechanisms through which complex structures develop from simpler antecedents. In this context, I use the term irreducible complexity to describe the resolved Subject as that emergent property which cannot reduced to the structures from which it resolves. Indeed, I think this is the only fashion in which a concept like irreducible complexity can be made sensible: as volta. The resolution of the Subject is the volta which transfigures the prior system into something radically different and new. The Subject is irreducibly complex because it is no longer the sum of its parts, but a new emergent being.

Of course, the emergent Subject is reliant upon its substrate: the physical structures are necessary preconditions for the emergence of the Subject. Indeed, when we speak about the sanctity of human life, is this not what we are speaking of? The reduction of this argument to mere cells has produced a cacophony of nonsense arguments and sophistry which are no longer attached to the underlying issue (why ban abortion and legalize capital punishment? The murder of political adversaries is just as egregious if it is the mere cells which we privilege. After all, we’re all made of the same stuff, full grown humans just have more of it than fetuses, so surely, by weight alone, killing an adult is worse than killed a kidney bean sized cluster of cells).

Prior to the emergence of the Subject, there is nothing that would sufficiently differentiate the human body from other complex physical systems. The human body varies from other objects only in scale. Solar systems, atoms and the human body are all of equal importance prior to the emergence of the Subject, due to their engagement within the same network of formal relations. The network itself determines all relations even as it is determined by the totality of its constituent units. Value is not an objective quality.

It would sound as though, at this point, that I am working toward a justification of the soul, or some other ethereal substance unique to human being. Well, after a fashion, I suppose I am. This uniqueness I have been calling the Subject. The reflexive, interior spaces which certain beings inhabit, the realm of the Subject, is what we seek to preserve in our honoring of human life. The emergence of the Subject radically alters the formal network relations. The Subject suddenly emerges as a locus of intent, previously unknown in the formal network. The Subject destroys the equality of objects.

The next important piece is the Subject/Object divide. Subjects are differentiated from objects by the aforementioned interiority. Subjects contain themselves within their subjectivity: subject withdraw into themselves, whereas objects are in relation only to the network in which they are entrenched. Subjects are in relation to themselves in reflexive unity with the network. The network itself is a necessary precondition for the emergence of the Subject, the action of the Subject is primordially reflexive. The reflexivity between Subject and object partially allows for the Subject’s self-recognition as Subject.

I had previously leveled a critique at this project, aiming to entrench it firmly in ontology, as ontology, differentiated from theology need not produce a morality. I have come to feel that I was incorrect in making this claim. While I still hold to the sharp distinction between ontology and theology, I do believe that already we have here the beginnings of a moral concern. If we are concerned with the Subject, our concern must then spread back to the necessary preconditions for the Subject’s resolution. The substrate and the network become vitally important, and both must be maintained in order to ensure the development and flourishing of the Subject.

As this project continues, I intend to further develop these themes, as well as return to the tangled concept of the soul and its complex intellectual history.

Tagged , , , , ,

A Return to Beauty

I have previously spoken about the experience of art as a return to surface: the experience of art is the experience of pure perception. Indeed, the experience of aesthetic arrest I think perfectly illuminates my conception. Aesthetic arrest is typically used to describe the apprehension of beauty, which is itself a tangled and complex word, but I would argue that beauty, in the traditional sense of the word is unnecessary and vague. What we are struck by, in moments of aesthetic arrest, is not pure beauty, but pure perception. What, for example, significantly differentiates perceptual the apprehension of striking beauty from the apprehension of striking ugliness? Both captivate and bewitch us. Marina Abramovic’s frightening performance piece, Art Must be Beautiful, defies beauty. The performance is stark, obsessive, and disturbing. There is little within it that one would actually call beautiful. Yet, one is brought up short, arrested, by the experience of the piece.

I turn here to Merleau-Ponty who, in his mammoth work, The Phenomenology of Perception, describes moments when perception fails to align with the expectations of the analytical mind. He calls these moments queer. Queer perceptions turn the entirety of our world, they stop us and demand attention. These queer moments are not in themselves beautiful or ugly, those terms come after. Beauty and ugliness are characteristics applied by analysis, they do not spring forth from the experience itself, but arise from reflection. The maxim, the mantra which Marina Abramovic repeats only flourishes into meaning once the experience of the art itself has moved through perception into thought. The beauty of art exists only in as much art stops thought for perception itself to exist authentically, so that thought may return and bear judgement.

Beauty and ugliness exist in equal measure in aesthetic arrest. One is captivated by beauty and ugliness only in as much as they defy one’s expectations of the world. Andy Warhol’s Disaster Series directly address this concern. Horror is rendered into beauty through an analytic interpretation of the mode of representation. The images themselves shock through their disregard of the expectation of beauty in art, and then proceed through to beauty again from the analysis brought to bear on the formal qualities of the work (the repetition, the use of color…). Warhol’s Disaster Series emphatically queers the expectations of the viewer (especially at the time of their production) and achieve their effect by return the viewer to act of pure perception. The image must be understood, brought back into line with the world itself. That action complete, the beauty or ugliness of the image can then be ascertained. Art queers is such a way that the queerness of the interaction of perception and judgement is itself illuminated.

When art is beautiful, it is in as much as it disregards beauty. Beauty emerges from shock, from arrest. Art functions as the skillful manipulation of formal elements to achieve this return to perception, to enable the viewer to look without judgement.

 

Tagged ,

The Being of Being and Time & Towards a New Ontology…

I spoke to Mallory last week about our ongoing Onto/Theological project and we both expressed our frustrations wit the way in which I have presently been handling whole affair. I realized earlier this month that I have been going around in circles, defining and redefining terms, pouring over minutia and attempting to produce a razor sharp set of definitions from which I could then proceed. Unfortunately, I think the end result of all of that work is largely impenetrable. Hence my relative silence on that front. I’ve let that project fall away to focus on other material until I can relax enough to approach it again from a different perspective.

Mallory suggested to me, as a means of re-entry into the topic, that I find a succinct article or some-such on the internet which has already done the necessary work for me and link to it, then move on from the foundation already laid. Well, as luck would have it, upon checking the other blogs that I read this morning, I have found what seems to be the perfect solution. Philosophy & Theology posted this lovely set of youtube videos: Hubert Dreyfus explaining existential phenomenology.

I thoroughly encourage anyone interested in the discussion thus far to watch the full interview. It is split over several ten minute chunks, but it rather thoroughly investigates the movement out of which my own ramblings have emerged. It is worth paying particular attention to the way in which Heidegger describes the human experience, which he calls Dasein: Dreyfus’ explanation of that topic in particular is of crucial significance. It is worth noting that my usage of the Subject (definite article, capitalization) parallels Heidegger’s usage of Dasein in the simultaneity of the singular instantiation and the abstracted set of phenomenon (i.e. a person/all persons). I take, a feel, a slightly more radical position regarding the formation of the Subject than Heidegger does when discussing the presence of a Dasein among other Daseins, but the basic framing is the same, and also quite important.

It’s also fascinating where, and this isn’t directly addressed in the interview itself, the Foucauldian ideas of historicity pick up from Heidegger’s description of being.

And, again, because I just can’t get off my soapbox, these concepts are also precisely why I despise the vast majority of occult philosophy, especially nearly everything produced by Hermeticism.

Tagged , , , ,

Through the Subject

Rather than launching into a very long digression, which I already partially engaged in, to be fair, within the massive project that is Toward a New Ontology, I have decided to take a moment here to explicate further my conception of being in relation to objects and the Subject. In as much as I wear my influences on my sleeve, I should state that these ideas are heavily influenced by Phenomenology (no one is surprised), in particular my recent reading of Heidegger’s Being and Time as well as Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s Phenomenology of Perception. That said, I do think that I am veering wildly from their intended readings, particular in my metaphysical/ontological focus.

For the sake of clarity, here I will refer to the Subject on in the singular, though I by no means am making claims to an idealized Subject, such as a deity. The singular capitalized Subject is meant to refer to all singular instantiations of the Subject in their singularity. In as much as all subjects, as discrete entities, share sets of relatable characteristics which define and guarantee their subjectivity, the Subject is used to refer to that set of instantiated qualities. Therefore, the Subject is emphatically instantiated and does not refer to idealized form. It is used to describe a collective set, with the intention of maintaining emphasis on the singular units within that set.

Previously, I claimed that objects are not with the same intensity as the Subject is. Allow me to explain myself, I hope, more clearly. Objects certainly and indubitably exist. While it is true that all knowledge we possess of objects is subjective, is filtered through our senses and reasoning, we are forced, by the nature of our subjectivity to accept the presence of objects discrete of our subjectivity. Of course, the precise nature of objects need not necessarily correspond to our impressions of them. All that is required of objects for us to have assured knowledge of their presence is that, regardless of their private natures, they continue to impact upon our consciousness in coherent fashions. Therefore, we have knowledge of objects because our perceptions of them are such that they present consistently and coherently. Objects are known in as much as they present a network formal relations which we are able to process and comprehend.

Now, the presence of objects must be of a nature different from the presence of the Subject. Only the Subject is capable, as previously mentioned, of the reflexive actions of perceptions, that is to say only the Subject is simultaneously aware of itself and the World. It is not required of objects that they be aware of either. Indeed, it is not, I believe, controversial to claim that objects lack interiority. By this I do not mean that objects lack interior spaces, merely that they lack internal conscious states. Consciousness, in general, demands an interior, a presence withdrawn from the World, wherein only consciousness abides. I would argue that consciousness demands both interior and exterior, for it appears to be incoherent to claim that an object, possessing no exterior awareness, could be filled interiorly with consciousness, as then, lacking true exterior, the consciousness would have no interior space, either. If consciousness is withdrawn from the World, the presence of the World is vital for the necessary retreat of consciousness to its private demesne.

That which perceives must have an interior to perceive against, it must have a portion of itself discrete from the world for perception to penetrate. Objects lack such an interior. Of course, objects still interact, they merely have no consciousness of such interaction. Object relations are governed by formal properties according to the natures of the objects in relation. Indeed, this is the way in which we recognize objects are emphatically present. Objects will always relate to each other in coherent, consistent fashions. Inter-object relations come, then, to describe a complex set of formal relations which govern the actions of objects across a network. The complexity of actions within that network is determined by the number of objects in relation and their discrete natures in relation to each other. It is as a result of the formal coherence of the object network, and the formal nature of objects that we are guaranteed their continued coherent impact upon our consciousness.

Now, the presence of objects is not the same, I argue, as their true being. How is it that presence is distinguished from being? Being rests upon awareness. The confusion and complexity emerges from the simple fact that our entire conception of being rests upon our awareness of it. We are aware of our being, and being so aware are also aware of the being of other things. This entire action, the action of being, is fully embedded with the fascinating reflex of conscious awareness. Indeed, the action of being is embedded by its nature within the Subject. Being is an emergent property of the Subject just as the Subject is emergent, that is to say transcendent, of objects. Objects, incapable of awareness, are incapable of being. Any being which is ascribed to an object is ascribed outside of itself, being is not a property possessed of objects themselves. It is merely that our awareness of being makes incoherent the assertion that objects are not, when, in truth objects are through our awareness of being distinct from ourselves in the manifold of the interior/exterior divide necessary for conscious awareness. The intensity of being is dispersed through the conscious awareness of the Subject into the World. Thus, objects persist, amongst themselves, bound by their formal network. Only the emergence of the Subject, with its fully realized capacity for being is capable of bringing being into the World around it. Being, as an active state, is instantiated with the Subject.

Tagged , , , , ,

Towards a New Ontology, Part 2

So, then, having outlined the necessary conditions for its instantiation, what is the Subject? Simply put, the Subject is that mode of being which is reflexively self-aware and, so being, is emphatically engaged with the act of being at all points in its existence. One could claim that objects, which lack awareness of any sort, be in the most basic and fundamental sense. However, I would interject what may in fact be a radical reworking of the the verb, and suggest that being, in its most fully empowered sense, requires the Subject to actuate it.

Now, let us examine being. To be, without conjugation, is more than the state of mere existence, which I suggest objects possess. Objects do not be in the same sense as Subjects, they merely exist, subsist, or persist, but they have no active participation in the act. Objects are passive to the state of being, whereas Subjects are at all moments actively engaged in it. Therefore, being itself when applied to the Subject is modulated always into an active, perpetually refreshing state. The Subject is caught up in being by its nature in such a way that it must be constantly aware and interacting with its being. All action of the Subject is an effect of its own awareness of its being in a fundamental way. Objects lack this awareness, and so lack this direct engagement with being. Objects are bound up in a set of formal relations which determine all potential effects between all objects within a network, and so objects appear in being in a relatable fashion, yet are not possessed of being, meaning here both made full of being and possessing it as a manipulatable quality. Indeed, the Subject, I argue, is embedded within a strange reflex of being, both made of it and capturing it. The Subject is in such a way that being is altered by its presence. Being itself is enriched and fulfilled by the presence of the Subject. Being is realized in the Subject: no mere object can bring about the state of being.

I argue, thence, that the Subject is by its nature transcendent. What is transcendence? Well, now I must digress. I have always flexed against traditions which aim towards transcendence as a spiritual state, because such traditions universally fail to define transcendence in a way that leads the practitioner towards a recognizable goal. Transcendence is always something lost in the horizon, or else possessed only by the elect few, the transcendent masters (be they corporeal or ghostly), and never by the layman (unless they be a martyr or a saint, and then they must be dead to be so recognized). Now, I do not mean to say that one should not seek growth and expansion within one’s spiritual pursuit, merely that transcendence is something entirely different. The Subject, fully realized, must by its nature transcend the realm of objects. Indeed, the Subject, by becoming Subject has its basis entirely within transcendence. The Subject has, by brining itself into being, fundamentally altered its state of existence and has made itself transcend from object to Subject. The Subject is transcendent in as much as it is a Subject. To aim toward transcendence is to aim toward the most basic act of the Subject, the act which the Subject realizes fully upon its transformation into Subject.

I feel, now, like we are capable of addressing a question which should have arisen already. Why is a new ontology necessary? It is my belief that prior attempts to explain the creation of the World have always subjugated being to artifacts. By this I mean that attempts to explain being have reduced to an effect, a by product of other forces, of God, of Science. Rarely has the question of being itself been addressed, especially in a spiritual sense. God, Science, all these artifacts are secondary to being, and I do mean the enriched being of the Subject, and not primary forces. Only being itself is full enough to bring about the world, before which there was nothing, as there must have been, as something requires a something to notice it. Prior to being, there is no mechanism of creation. Being is not subjugating: nothing is declined in its presence. Being enriches and fills: it creates.

Is the Subject, then, being? No, the Subject is of being, and being is of the Subject, but they are not reducible to the same thing. Thus, objects are, in the minimal sense of the word, yet their being is made into being by the presence of the Subject. Being washes over and permeates, it transcends. There is an important difference, here, between extension and intensity. All things, objects and Subjects, possess extension. Everything extends through space, everything which exists exists dimensionally. Therefore, in extension, all things have equal ontological weight. Within pure extension, there is no greater value assigned to any thing, purely spatial relations govern all. The barest possibly meaning of being relates to pure extension. Intensity, however, incorporates much more into the meaning of being. Intensity relates to the powers of discrete beings. The Subject possesses greater intensity through its reflexive relation to being itself than objects. The intensity of the Subject, then, in relation to being grants it greater ontological weight than mere objects. The Subject is capable of being in a fashion which empowers it over the mere persistence of objects. Only the Subject can be in the fullness of the state of being, reflexively awash in being and being.

Tagged , , , , , ,

Being and Divinity

After having written my last entry, I had a long discussion with a friend of mine who holds not dissimilar views to mine. However, that conversation led me to realize that my own views, as previously explicated, require further refining.

I do firmly hold that the only useful definitions of Divinity are those which arise out of experience, however, I also feel that Divinity is not a thing which exists in the objective, formal world. It is my belief that Divinity is entirely entrenched within subjectivity, that it is a mode or aspect of the subject, and not a thing in the world, like a table or the sky. It seems to me that Divinity is a thing experienced, purely, in being.

As I stated earlier, I posit that being, as a verb implying continued action, requires a subject to execute it. Objects cannot be in the same sense as subjects. Objects subsist. Their presence is one without awareness, and therefore one without the sort of action which only the subject is capable of. Were I to posit a grammar of being, only subjects would take the perfect and progressive tenses, objects would be left with the simple present, the simple past & the simple future. Objects do not execute actions through time, but exist in successive present states, each moment a totality isolated from former and future positions. It is only the subject who presses itself against these objects which recognizes, through its own temporality, a temporality of objects. Objects subsist devoid of time.

Therefore, Divinity, belonging solely to the subject, cannot be constrained by the same sets of rules which apply to objects. This is not to say that there are no rules of the subject. There undoubtedly are. The subject, being within the objective world, is constrained by the formal nature of the world, yet, by its presence, radicalizes that world. That which would be purely formal, possessing no awareness or change, is transformed through the primary action of the subject, that of being through time, into something significantly queer. Within the objective world, all which can exist must exist. All relations are carried out explicitly and totally according to the natures of those objects in relation without variation or change: the initial conditions of such a world define explicitly the conditions of its conclusion. However, the subject, through the experience, mutates the world with the addition of meaning, quantification, categorization, organization and manipulation. The objective world is no longer simply formal, but thoroughly suffused with intangibles, theories, concepts which could never be present without the being of the subject. All of these are entrenched thoroughly within subjectivity, yet arising from the objective world as experienced by the subject, and, through that movement, pressing back upon the objective world in the reflexive nature of  being.

By its presence within subjectivity, Divinity possesses the mutable powers of the subject. The Divine, as mode of being, is given by pure experience: as the subject resolves itself out of the experiencing of the objective world, so does Divinity manifest through the subject. I suggest, then, that first we must have a subject, and then we may have the Divine. Divinity, then, acts upon the world in as much as the subject does, or through the same motion or set of processes: the action of the Divine is analogous to the action of the subject.

As yet, I have made no attempts to define Divinity, merely explore its nature in relation to subjectivity. In short, I am at this point merely attempting to establish the proper conditions in which the Divine can be explored. As a mode of being, as a thing which dwells in and resolves out of experience, I suggest that the only proper way to define Divinity is phenomenologically. Any definition of the Divine must begin within experience and then seek to clarify and comprehend, but, always and at every moment, maintaining its link to pure experience.

Tagged , , , , ,