It is tempting to believe that thought, or something in thought, such as wisdom or knowledge, is accumulated and preserved: one often hears an appeal to the tradition of European thought, for example, as if a variant of thought was in Europe’s possession, like a penny in one’s pocket. The analogy is apt because the dead artefacts of thought – texts and more and more these days images of thinking/speaking beings reading and discussing texts – are a penny in someone’s pocket, media and publishing houses mostly, if not professors of philosophy. Indeed, once a potential for thought is materialised in a text, it is assessed and, if deemed worthy, appropriated by a priest-like caste of academics who venerate the text and promote it’s cult. Despite this, not one iota of a thought exists in a text. Whole libraries are empty of thought, even when full of bodies and brains. So too the skull of a professor of philosophy, guardian of the text and explicator of its dictum.
Thought is a mysterious thing.
Science, of course, won’t countenance a mystery, because science just is the redeploying of thought to the level of solvable problems, turning a generality – thought is mysterious- into a particular: how is information moved along neural pathways? Because general questions are infinitely reducible to particular problems, the work of science will never be exhausted. Only a general consensus will ever be possible, which is not a problem for science, which has a open posture, structure and methodology. A scientist will try anything to solve a problem. A generality is only an excuse for an inspired guess and a protracted period of experimentation given over to trying to disprove it. Still, outside the practice of science, one can still countenance a mystery, and even the scientist can do that as soon as he takes off his white coat. In fact the concrete and methodic engagement with the mysteriousness of life is surely the ground of scientific practice, even if scientific practice is always appropriated by more Worldly interests.
A text is the consequence of an act, of materials manipulated by a hand, a body, a brain, a mind. This act produces a non-material excess, what might be called a virtual potential of the material object. This potential remains dormant until it comes into proximity with another body, nervous system, brain, mind. All that which arises as the mind mulls over a text — thoughts, intuitions, imaginings, aesthetic pleasures, joy, sadness, fear, aversion – all of that exists neither in the brain or beneath the surface of the text. No idea, intuition, perception or aesthetic pleasure was ever found inside the skull, or circulating along the conduits of the nervous system, or inscribed into the bio-material of the sense organs. Nor was meaning ever secreted beneath the surface of a text, as if a writer could deposit it there simply by moving her pen across the surface of a page. The made object is as mute as the molecules of the brain, until a mind meets both. This meeting of mind and material is only a way of speaking necessary to enunciate the strangeness of an event called thinking-matter.
The biological individual and the social being are occasions necessary for the enactment of thought, but thinking arises in a space other than the space occupied by the object, the biological individual or the thought-world structures we collectively inhabit. Mind is not reducible to, or an epiphenomenon of, any of these spheres. Where do ideas about the text or pleasure in the text reside? Not, for sure, in the four dimensional space/time continuum in which our bodies, brains, practices of enunciation and social relations exist. In that space only materials are found — molecules, firing synapses, agitated nerves, habitual patters of social behaviour.
No thought was ever found in the sound waves produced by the act of speaking, no meaning in the visual formations which make up the elements of a written text. No aesthetic pleasure has ever been discovered between the pages of a book or recovered from the retina of an eye. No idea ever passed from one mind to another via a sound-wave passing between the voice box and the eardrum.
Which is not to say that the world is divided up into animate minds and inanimate matter. Only that there are levels of animate mind in proximity to levels of animate matter and that the mystery of their exact relation has not been solved.
Why compose such a fiction? Not to demean the work of scientists, at any rate. Perhaps science will solve the “hard problem”. Perhaps not. The sad presence of a corpse is all that is necessary to establish that a living being must be, at the least, the “occasion” for thought. Lets call that a generic form of materialism. Nevertheless, I claim the freedom to remain agnostic about the relation between brain, mind and the social/linguistic continuum out of which this text is emerging as I tap the keys. If, on reading the above, I find myself worried that I am flying in the face of scientific fact or descending into a form of spurious idealism, that might be an indication of how difficult it is to resist the authority of the ontologies forced upon us by the cult of sufficient reason, able to produce diametrically opposed philosophical iterations ( philosophy with a small p) while installing Philosophy with a capital P at the summit of human wisdom.
Philosophically naive, I take Deleuze at his word: a philosophical text is like a toolbox – use what you need and pass on. Many of the philosophical explanations, thoughts, intuitions and notions by which we formulate the problem “Man” have failed. I look around for new ones and find useful Laruelle’s notion of stranger-subject, Deleuze’s notion of plane of immanence, Badiou’s notion of truth procedure. I use these concepts to momentarilystructure in new ways, painful and debilitating thoughts about my own suffering and the suffering of the beings I share my life with, individually and on mass. I “individuate”, which is a way of saying that in the process of enfoldment of thought into life I recreate myself in relation to my experience via language. In doing this I am doing what human beings in every culture have tried to do: recreate themselves in the light of philosophical, ethical and scientific thought-materials they happen to find available to them. I am a node in the enactment of a plurality of becomings, sometimes in proximity to texts, more often in their absence.
I measure the usefulness of any system of thought against the horizon of my interests, of my life. I can decide on its merits: does it help me to do or not do something to myself and to my world? I can regard it as a practice on myself, say, but one instantly folded back into my experience in the blink of an eye, or at least in the time it takes to regard it as an object of my self-reflexive awareness, which renders philosophical material transcendental in the last instance. I can do all of this with as much rigour as I can muster, or I can do it in a more relaxed and poetic way, taking account of the many practices that deliver knowledge useful to a life lived-in-communion.
I refuse to flinch under the eye of the scientist, the priest, the logician, the professor, the expert, the bureaucrat, the boss, the cop. I will, of course, always and already exist under the eye ofauthorities. My very identity is conceptualised, abstracted, and institutionalised by way of philosophical posits – being, becoming, time, space, substance, etc. Only a madman, (or a philosophical heretic?) would question their validity.
It may seem startling to proclaim, gladly and against all reason, that I in-sist rather than ex-ist, and that the I-of-Existence is an effect of the concreted and institutionalised grammology into which I was birthed. What insists-in-us precedes what philosophy codifies as internal or external to us, an essence it has always tried to constitute,name, own and objectivise. To in-sist is to enunciate oneself into freedom as aphylo–fiction oraxiom of liberation, a stranger-subject able to do something in and to worlds. This non-subject comes into itself justas a doing in and to a World. Is this a solipsistic circle? Only if one steps inside the circle of philosophy, which insists on a transcendent constitution of the world as objectively identical with it’s abstract postulates. Philosophy of course will never agree, since it allows itself the power of transcending all of the circles of it’s own making in the act of creating an ever increasing circle to accommodate its conceptual productions and through that proliferation it’s auto-production of itself.
Such a sweet, life-affirming elucidation of the structures attending the re-enactments of thought. Your words arrive in me as a possible articulation for why NIklas Luhmann insisted that he was not a philosopher, but rather a social scientist.
There is an evanescence in your musings akin to the story that when Lord Shiva stops dancing, the world will end. It is a beautiful picture of the movement inherent in being, or in-sisting as you say. A constant re-enactment of our most recent pluralities.
A lovely piece of writing. Many thanks.