The In-itself (1)


To exercise one’s capacities to their fullest extent is to take pleasure in one’s own existence, and with sociable creatures, such pleasures are proportionally magnified when performed in company… It is simply what life is. We don’t have to explain why creatures desire to be alive. Life is an end in itself. And if what being alive actually consists of is having powers—to run, jump, fight, fly through the air—then surely the exercise of such powers as an end in itself does not have to be explained either. It’s just an extension of the same principle… – David Graeber

Perhaps somewhere between the explanatory Scylia of ‘emergentism’ and the theological Charbolis of ‘panexperientialism’ lies a robust theory of living systems capable of integrating what we already know about physical and chemical processes with the subtle descriptions and eliminations following from the study of complex-adaptive assemblages and cognitive neuroscience?

The stuff of this world becomes what it is in the emanation, extension, mix, mangle, fold and flow of primordial potent materials – the in-itself. And what we humans are is only different in organization, context, degree and intensity than all other entities. Our powers are expressions of what we are composed of, and we are composed of many things. This is how the Other is both ‘out there’ and within; and we only ever encounter and understand (in our limited ways) the existence and life of things – of minerals, plants and animals – because of this cosmic kinship and the ontological intimacy it affords.

Even as there is no escape from this open (wild) composite nature of being, there is consistency in this clamor; and hence communicability, vulnerability, and therefore connection. We are in-ourselves and in this erotic wilderness of being together.

11 responses to “The In-itself (1)

  1. hey M, I get that we are messy/leaky/always-in-process assemblages and deteriorations (and or outright conflicts) of all kinds of materials&critters but not sure how that buzzing-blooming-confusion translates into anything like communion/consistency, how/where does that happen? thanks,d.

  2. That’s exactly the right question Dirk! In brief, let’s just say that the quark-‘bone’ is connected to particle-‘bone’ is connected to the atom-‘bone’ and so on… Every “thing” is inter/intra-dependent. There are no absolute vacuums. What can be said to exist that isn’t already composed or communing with some other thing?

    These connections or consistency run through ecologies within ecologies, and so things are never simply connected like legos, and everything is not connected to every other thing. All things are related and connected to particular things in particular ways which afford subsequent dynamics: from the molecules that cycle through our living assemblage to the air we breathe, to the gravity that allows the earth to move in a way that maintains a biosphere, to the forces that hold our atoms together to our solar parent blazing away in space – all things have origins and components and SUBSIST viz. others. This is the unbroken ontological ‘thread’ or plane of consistency running through and as everything. Some philosophes have talked about called Immanence: it is not mysterious, it is not speculative it is directly experienced as the very texture of existing. Immanence is our ontological commons, or what we most people refer to casually as “reality”.

    And here we can link the two philosophical senses of the term immanence following from phenomenology and metaphysics. There is a radical immanence fundamental to our experience of the world as embedded in the world. This was Heidegger’s insight when he ontologizes Husserl’s transcendental phenomenological idealism into the notion of Being-the-world. There is no escape from the tangible movements of being (time) because we are of being – we are beings as such. Or, we can say that there is a such-ness or is-ness (to use some Buddhist terms) to reality that cannot be explained away that abides as the very condition for possibility itself, and without which things would not have access to each other or be able to touch or meet each other. Hence M-P and his positing of the ‘flesh’ that connects.

    So you ask “how does this happen”? Reference above. And “where does that happen”? Anywhere existence happens subsistence happens. Subsistence all the way down.

    I would be interested to know how you would argue that this is not the case ?

    • when you say “All things are related and connected to particular things in particular ways which afford subsequent dynamics” I’m with you there but than not sure how these many things/doings than becomes any-Thing like “consistency” for/with us or how we would experience anything other than the many (as you note below and Pickering says in that recent talk we can only approximate/reduce/caricature even those things at hand, so that’s not communion as I understand the term),
      and then I’m afraid I don’t know this other radical/traumatizing experience of the Real that you reference or at least I don’t recognize it yet in what you are kindly spelling out for me, am I suffering some kind of aspect-blindness?

      • I’m honestly not sure how you can agree that interdependence is a ubiquitous feature of reality and then not recognize this ontological condition as a type of consistency? I’m not talking about some esoteric monistic theology but rather about what is directly available in our awareness. When we stop and dwell in experience of existing there is a constant presence of our bodies AND basic context in which our bodies operate. We are never cut off from general stimulus of being-there, or our embeddedness. There is an ambient (dis)order of objects, temperatures, obstacles, pathways, oxygen, animals, and so on that our bodies not only navigate and relate to but subsist on. From a non-Husserlian phenomenological vantage we are always already engaging the Background as beings-in-the-world, starting with our own bodies and then the ground under our feet (or more specifically the clothes we wear) and extending outwards. This is what I mean with regards to consistency. Consistency is not ‘a thing’ but thingness generally: the very texture of existing as disclosed via our particular kind of being (dasein).

        Now, again, there is zero we can say about the general presence and creep of things that isn’t a theoretical construct or language game, but regardless of the poetics, heuristics, or logistics (all types of synthetic assembly and communicative adaptation) we use to cope within this ontological commons the actualities of non-conceptual flows, forces and objects continue to exist and have consequential access to each other and us. When I talk about consistency all I’m trying to say is that there is a way in which the universe does not fly apart in every moment but instead ‘hangs together’ to afford a field of distributed complex causality, or ‘wilderness’. Without some consistency or common ground between things they would never meet. How could they?

        As for what I mean when referring to the radically traumatizing nature of the Real I would simply suggest that to exist is to be vulnerable – to death, to disease, to viruses, crocodiles, to rape, but also to handshakes, to LSD, to affection, and rain. To exist is to affect and be affected, which is why ‘coping’ is a fundamental condition of being. The creep of things can be horrific and anxiety inducing but also nourishing and comforting. And these “creeping” presences come out of the “dark” (non-intentional) background-flesh from which we ourselves come and in which we are consistently embedded. Ernest Becker wrote a bunch on how we try to deny or rationalize away our lack of permanence and the autonomy of nonhumans without and within us. Consciousness always teeters on the abyss of absorption (and extinction) as a composite temporal achievement. The threat and reality of necessity, being affected, and decomposition is a general feature of existence. This is not a speculative assertion but confirmed in our most basic AND practical experiences. And I believe recognizing and then finding a way to operationalize conceptually/discursively both the unavoidable consistency and the precariousness of being/nature is the most pressing task of speculative philosophy.

      • hey M, we are at a bit of loss/gap than because phenomenologically speaking I don’t know what this is that you are saying that we can do this “stop and dwell in experience of existing there is a constant presence of our bodies AND basic context in which our bodies operate” I just have a lived-sense of parts of me and various objects/aspects nothing like a existing/basic-context at hand from where I am sitting here.
        I think that EB and others are wrong about their projections of repression/denial and replace this with pre-judicial cog-biases, if we momentarily experience something like sartrean nausea it quickly fades and our usual habits gear back in without any effort on our part, we may (as i recently said to larval-Levi about such traumas or even highs) mistake that fleeting moment for a glimpse of Reality, or get fixated by it, and than confuse it with How things are (people often make gods, intuitively not consciously, out of traumatic (b)lows and manic-flights like LSD/meditation experiences).
        All that aside, I think we agree on the need to come to terms with our inabilities to have god-like powers and reshape the world to fit our preferences, and to try and come up with humane way of living with such all-too-human limitations in an often brutal world.

      • In a sense I do think there is a type of ‘aspect blindness’ at work here Dirk. It is like you only see ‘ducks’ and ‘rabbits’ but completely miss the raw perceptual interaction with the paper and ink used that forms the basic context of the duck-rabbit ‘object’ (referring here to Wittgenstein’s use of “aspect perception” to discuss how we understand the meanings of words, of course).

        As I explained above:

        We are never cut off from general stimulus of being-there, or our embeddedness. There is an ambient (dis)order of objects, temperatures, obstacles, pathways, oxygen, animals, and so on that our bodies not only navigate and relate to but subsist on.

        Sit down in a chair and let yourself just dwell in the present moment. Let the pure visceral quality of experience abide. That is, actually do phenomenology. Get a sense of what arises in awareness: the vibrating presence of one’s own body, the movement of breath coming in and out of your body, the visual gestalt of things at a distance, perhaps some smells or an itch on your skin, the chair pressing on your ass through your clothes, your feet on the ground, and other vague presences and intensities. Now my point is that none of this can be explained away a priori. The general sensorial AND practical horizon disclosed by bodies-in-worlds forms a gestalt context or ontological niche (worldspace) wherein we find ourselves existing. This is what Heidegger called “thrownness”: we are born into a world of practical and perceptual context, i.e., the Background.

        Your “lived-sense” discloses the context/consistency/world within which you are dependent. If you choose of not to attend to the wild forces which compose the Background you will perish. All I’m trying to do is get people to reorganize their conceptual habits in relation to the sheer visceral (and radically empirical) practical/consequential context within which we must find our way. [see also here: John R. Searle on ‘Wittgenstein and the Background’

        As for Becker, I don’t see why theories of repression/denial have to conflict with what we are learning about cognitive biases? Cognitive biases are mainly a result of our unconscious neural-anatomical architecture and correlative subconscious processes (Kahneman’s system 1), and denial/repression takes place more at an egoic low-grade conscious level. The research on trauma, repressed memories and post-traumatic triggers is fairly robust.

        However, what you refer to as making a “mistake” or becoming “fixated” or “confused” is a secondary synthetic interpretation/abstraction of reality and not a primary synthetic apprehension of the Background. What we make of getting hit by a bus (how we cope with it or make meaning out of the experience), for example, does not change the causal force/consequences of that event. The bus still came out from the ‘uncanny’ nonhuman background context breaking my face in the process. I want to acknowledge the ever-present (phenomenologically speaking) primary plane of material-energetic intra-action – the so-called machine phylum – as ground ZERO for secondary syntheses, prior to interpretation.

      • Dirk in order for us to survive and adapt and promote modes of existence tending towards flourishing I think we need to expand our sense-abilities and ethical reasoning beyond or below the human. Which is to say that the only route towards a genuine humanism is through a kind of Inhumanism – a deeply affective recognition of the powers and potency of all those nonhumans “agents” within and without that we sometimes depend upon and sometimes must defend ourselves against. Being capable of determining how and in what manner these intensive differences and extensive relations offer up ecologies of possibility relative to us depends upon our perceiving ourselves and the world differently than we have thus far. I believe we the way forward is a return to the ‘flesh’ of existence and an augmenting of our cognitive powers towards new perceptual ratios. Something has got to give before we act to affect these changes and I believe we need to not only challenge our most cherished assumptions but disrupt the very cognitive habits which support our tendencies towards delusion, or what you have called ‘magical-thinking’.

      • And regardless of all that, this post was originally meant to suggest only that life itself (and Being generally) does not require “meaning”, and certainly not that of the human-centric variety, because it is sufficient in and of and for itself. The dynamic potency from which all life be-comes just is as it has emerged out of the primordial background prior to human signification, and it will exist after every human on earth fades away. And so nihilism does not necessarily lead us into despair, like little children flailing on the floor of a supermarket because they did not get the toy they wanted, but can actually liberate us from the habitually conditioned chains of thought strung together by a thousand generations of people often trying to flee or buffer themselves against the darkness and precarity of reality. Existence is an opportunity for the exploration of forms of life and speculative imagination. It’s time to actually start keeping it Real.

      • Wittegenstein in <Philsophical Investigations, p. 192: “What has to be accepted, the given, is – so one could say – forms of life.” … our ‘games’ require a Background from which form-ation is generated…

  3. So this gesturing at a pre-conceptual consistency within our dealing with the world is what I am talking about re: the Background. Until this default realism becomes a central part of our copings we will remain mystified by our conceptions and folk-valuations. I think the nuance for our project will be with attempting to find ways to express and operationalize certain insights following from various strains of nihilism in light of the intuition of how there is ZERO we can say or theorize about the background that isn’t already a caricature of it. The background is our context and necessary field of operations but it can only be coped-with or adapted to or engaged at a material or structural (practical) level, and never to be captured or laid bare through linguistic constructions/projection. Everything we say or think about the background or ‘wilderness of being’ is SYNTHETIC construction generated by associative cognition – an evolved capacity to cope with the often traumatizing experience of the Real. Axiomatic negation is the nihilist insight codified and turned into a self-deprecating theory-device intended to compel some critical distance between what sensation discloses (primary potency) and what conception encloses (secondary potential). After nihilism we give up our theory-hope for hyper-reflexivity and start getting to the actual work of fashioning situational-appropriate tools for adapting to and exploring the wilderness.

    • m, I appreciate you spelling this all out in more detail no way currently at hand for me to grasp the parts that just evade me but I’ll keep at it, would like to hear more about what this ” I think we need to expand our sense-abilities and ethical reasoning beyond or below the human” in particular might look like,
      this part is more familiar “ZERO we can say or theorize about the background that isn’t already a caricature of it. The background is our context and necessary field of operations but it can only be coped-with or adapted to or engaged at a material or structural (practical) level, and never to be captured or laid bare through linguistic constructions/projection” and close I think to the recent Pickering talk on our all-too-human limits and as you know my approach is to try and make the fact that I am offering/making mere protoypes and not arche-types as clear/upfront as possible
      and to try and work with folks to re-figure them (and or to make their own from what is striking/moving to them in their context) as might be helpful for their particular projects/environs.
      As for freudianish repression it calls for some-thing/experience to be had, to register, and than be repressed/reworked, and with cog-biases they pre-judice/shape experiences and so many aspects never really register at all.
      I’m with Dreyfus not Searle,
      as you know the Wittgenstein wars are endless but I take him there to be making a logical/not experiential point and the as-if “one could say part” is vital as he may well be pointing to a kind of familial resemblance and not a kind of meta-physics about which one should, as he would say, remain silent, a point I think you are in agreement with?

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