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Heidegger

Introduction

In this essay I want to discuss suicide from within a Heideggerian perspective as a form of freedom. In doing so I will be making the distinction between suicide-as-event and suicidality-as-possibility. To deepen the discussion I will be drawing on Stoic accounts of possibility and fate, situating suicidality in terms of Baudrillardian seduction, theories of sublimation and briefly connecting the discussion to contemporary psychotherapeutic practice. I intend to open a discussion on the place of suicide and suicidality after the post-nihilist turn and to recognise in it not only the moment of despair but also a path toward the sense of liberation and opening of possibility that a catastrophia inflected post-nihilist praxis sees as the pre-requisite for living after nihilism.

Suicide

 ‘There is but one truly serious philosophical problem and that is suicide’ (Camus 2005, p.1): this is how Albert Camus  opens his book The myth of Sisyphus. It is a book that forms Camus’s elaboration of his ideas on the Absurd, ideas that have a more readily accessible form in his novels such as The outsider and The fall. At the outset of The myth of Sisyphus Camus is setting up the question of whether we should live or die as the paramount philosophical problem. In this way of thinking about suicide, it is presented to us as a question, a provocation and, at the same time, as an accusation. The question is: what is the status of suicide, and what is the status of life? Camus is quick to state that to treat this question as a purely social phenomenon in the manner that Durkheim did, and that Franco Berardi does today, is to evade the centrality of the question. It is to flee from the intimate proximity of the suicidal person to themselves and to the terrain of their life. As Camus puts it

 An act like this is prepared within the silence of the heart, as is a great work of art. (2005, p.3).

Within the silence of the heart the suicidal act is locked into Beckettian profounds of mind; the urge to kill one self lurks subterraneous and mute, being prepared but without communicating to the one who prepares it. This is a work, ‘like a great work of art’, that writhes beneath the everyday consciousness  in ferocious activity; working itself out, but unknown to the one who will put the gun to their head or tip the pills from their crumpling plastic cup. This is almost like the kind of process that Charles Bukowski somewhere speaks of in the ideal experience of writing poetry: you should not write unless the poem surges from your mind onto the paper, a torrent lashing from the fractured sky. And just like the great work of art there is a sense of culmination, of destiny fulfilled, of the work coming to fruition, as if all preceding acts were merely rough sketches, vague gestures, and preliminary experiments in style. Prepared in the silence of the heart, it is as if Camus thinks of suicide as a great love or a great sadness that can finally confess itself to a world that it spurns, as if suicide were its mode of intimacy with that world, like the cruelty of a rejected lover. As a great work of art suicide may be the smallest act in a vast and cold universe devoid of final salvations or consolation, but it is sublime nonetheless and even perhaps because of it.

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Infrastructure, after all, is about how worlds are made, how forms of life are sustained and made viable. To think politics as infrastructural is to set aside questions of subjectivity, identity, demands, promises, rights and contracts, and instead to render visible the presumptions that the knots of attachment, adherence, care or fondness and have already been tied by nature or supposedly incontestable forms of connection (by kinship, race, money, sexuality, nation, and so on). The materialities of infrastructure render it the most pertinent political question there is. Everything else is distraction. Infrastructure is the undercommons – neither the skilled virtuousity of the artisan, nor regal damask, nor the Jacquard loom that replaced, reproduced and democratised them, but the weave.   – Angela Mitropoulos

Angela Mitropoulos‘ post above (which is an excerpt from her book) is brilliant and very timely, at least for me. Lately I have been obsessing on the need to rethink all available options for large scale social organization. Democracy? Maybe. Communism? not sure. Some hybrid? Perhaps. But one thing is for certain: what have right now really isn’t working for a lot of us. Maybe what we need is a whole new set of possibilities and a new kind of “infra-politics”, as Angela suggests above.

And, with this, I keep coming back to the idea that our real and imagined infrastructures might be the best point of departure for imagining alternatives AND, more importantly, for actually enacting new modes of existing. Infrastructure could be best understood as the intra-active medium and context of human subsistence and social relations. The skeletal supports of any social organization is its infrastructure: the ecological and material conditions of human assembly. The forces, modes and means of ecosocial (re)generation are determining, and operate at levels and in ways beneath or removed from representation, discourse and ideology. Such conditions provide the affording ‘soil’ within which the weeds of justification and ideology grow, but are not to be confused with them. Marx knew this, Foucault knew this, so many great thinkers knew it, even if they didn’t quite articulate it strongly enough. Infrastructure is the ‘weave’ that supports our worlds and organizes all consequential flows. Or, as Angela writes, “Infrastructure is the answer given to the question of movement and relation.” And engaging the social field at the multiple levels and strata that form infrastructure means augmenting political ideologies with the power of praxis and its results.

We believe it is time to rethink an infrastructural model at risk of quickly becoming obsolete. This should be, particularly in our days, a vital task for architects: vindicating and domesticating a framework for action they have habitually been sidelined from. Aware of our scarce resources, it is time to re-program the rigid models of the past, from the margins, designing flexible infrastructures free from rhetoric. – Angela Mitropoulos

Infrastructure, then, is truly about enacting worlds, or “worlding” [see Mei Zhan (2012), “Worlding Oneness: Daoism, Heidegger, and possibilities for treating the Human.” Social Text 29:4 (109):107-28]. And we need to develop the sense-abilities and response-abilities capable of sorting out what works, or what affords, facilitates and generates the most adaptive and eudaemonic (and perhaps creative) modes of human being and becoming. In a trivial sense we could say we need more Aristotle and less Plato.

To be clear, focusing on what “works” is not about seeking some naive form of neo-utilitarianism, techno-rational grid, or purified cultural deadening of diversity, but rather a rigorous and reflexive investigation and sensitivity to what is appropriate at different levels of reality and in different contexts. Praxis is about intelligent functioning not totalitarian instrumentalization. And an adaptive orientation to praxis looks at all available forms of life and relations and seeks to enhance those that generate the most positive effects, regardless of pre-established convictions, conventions and assumptions.

A focus on attending to infrastructure also fits well with we are calling “post-nihilist praxis”. Loosely, if nihilism results from the delegitimization of all appeals to transcendentals (“the death of God“), and a direct confrontation with finitude and radical contingency in all things, including language and logic, then a post-nihilist turn would be to deliberately create tools and practices and language-games – and thus infrastructures – for engaging and enacting worlds after the collapse of dogma and ideology via a more affective and corporeal ‘coping-with’. Post-nihilist praxis thus seeks to deactivate human tendencies for erecting (phallic connotation intended) yet more “gods” or universalizing ideologies in place of the old, dying and dead idols, and operate within worlds in a decidedly pragmatic way.

This, incidentally, is why post-nihilist praxis is not post-nihilism. “We don’t need another hero, we just need to know the way home”, so to speak, and to quote Tina Turner. Any strategy, practice, tools or ‘onto-stories’, as Jane Bennett has written, self-conscious and effective enough to help us adapt and be creative among the ruins of ideological certainty, and in relation to the ongoing ruination of planetary eco-systems and tradition social matrices, must be on the table.

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the-practice-turn-in-contemporary-theoryIt is through action and interaction within practices that mind, rationality and knowledge are constituted and social life is organized, reproduced and transformed. During the past two decades, practice theory has emerged as a potent challenger to prevalent ways of thinking about human life and sociality, which have until now focused either on individual minds and actions or social structures, systems and discourses. The Practice Turn in Contemporary Theory is the first volume to bring together philosophers, sociologists and scholars of science to explore the significance of practices in human life.

The essays focus on three overall themes: the character and establishment of social order, the psychological basis of human activity and contemporary posthumanist challenges. Philosophers such as Wittgenstein and Heidegger who have been influential in the shaping of practice theory are also discussed. In examining these themes and thinkers the essays document how practice theory stands opposed to prominent modes of thought such as individualism, intellectualism, structuralism, systems theory, and many strains of humanism and poststructuralism.

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“Once upon a time there was a world full of meaning, focused by exemplary figures in the form of gods and heroes, saints and sinners. How did we lose them, or, might they still be around, in the form of modern day masters, in fields like sports, music, craft and cooking. Are these masters able to inspire us and bring back a sense of wonder?”

Being in the World is a documentary film by young filmmaker Tao Ruspoll exploring human beings ability, through the mastery of physical, intellectual and creative skills, to find meaning in the world. Some of the most renowned philosophers take viewers on a gripping journey to meet modern day masters – people who not only have learned to respond in a sensitive way to the requirements of their craft, but have also gathered their communities in ways that our technological age threatens to make obsolete.

The film includes interviews with Hubert Dreyfus, Charles Taylor, Albert Borgmann, Mark Wrathall, Taylor Carman, John Haugeland, Iain Thomson, and Sean Kelly.

Tao Ruspoli graduated with a degree in philosophy from UC Berkeley in 1998. The first philosophy course he took was called “Existentialism in Literature and Filme” taught by professor Hubert Dreyfus. This course inspired Tao to become a filmmaker and he went on to take all of Dreyfus’ courses, all of which had tremendous influence on him and his outlook on the world.

Ten years after graduating, Tao returned to Berkeley to revisit Dreyfus and was inspired to make Being in the World, as an attempt to bring these profound philisophical ideas to a non-academic audience. Dreyfus introduced Tao to all of his students who had now become well-known professors in their own right—from Sean Kelly at Harvard to Mark Wrathall at UC Riverside, as well as Taylor Carman, Iain Thomson, John Haugeland, and several others. Tao and his team traveled to meet and interview each of these professors and then researched and found masters in different fields who best illustrated their ideas.

Theodore Schatzki is a professor of Philosophy at the University of Kentucky, whose research and teaching deal with social ontology, theory of action, social theory, the philosophy of the social sciences, and 20th-century continental philosophy. He is the author of four books: Social Practices (1996), The Site of the Social (2002), Martin Heidegger: Theorist of Space (2007) and The Timespace of Human Activity (2010), and various other articles on Wittgenstein, Heidegger, and various topics in philosophy of action, social thought, and continental philosophy.

Below Prof. Schatzki delivers a lecture on ‘The Spaces of Practices and Large Social Phenomena’, as part of the 2011-2012 Alexander von Humboldt Lecture Series on “Spatial Practices”:

Abstract: This presentation argues that the spaces of large social phenomena are versions of the spaces of social practices, or rather, versions of the spaces of bundles of practices and material arrangements. It begins by discussing how practice-arrangement bundles both have and make spaces, differentiating between objective spaces and something called ‘activity space’. The presentation then explains how the spaces of such large phenomena as universities, economic systems, and international federations embrace the objective spaces, and draw on the interwoven activity spaces, of the practice-arrangement bundles they encompass. The talk concludes by disparaging the idea that society, or social life, is composed of levels, arguing that micro and macro phenomena, like small and large ones, are laid out in the same one plenum of linked practices and arrangements.

Mostly Green, by Michael Bizeau

Mostly Green, by Michael Bizeau

Levi Bryant has a interesting post up on Heidegger (here), wherein he moves from a damn fine summary of ‘equipmentality’ to a discussion of cognitive blindness (although without reference to the massive amounts of empirical research being done in this area outside of the humanities), to a powerful statement about the need to think and write against the biases and shortcomings of distinction-making or symbolic differentiation, to an important statement about the use and limits of reflexivity.

What I enjoyed most about Bryant’s post is how well he drove home the point about the selectivity of human awareness, and how more integrative (cross-disciplinary and multi-methodological) approaches to knowing and considering are required if we want to have adequate understandings of particular social and political situations. If we are to activate a practical awareness of complex dynamics we have to attend to as many causally implicated systems and processes at the various scales as are available to us. ‘Availability’, thus, being an issue of how our cognitive-sensory capacities encounter things and how our instruments and theoretical tools help us disclose the myriad of objects, assemblages, systems and flows existing within the field/context of our inquiry. Enter Heidegger.

Of course, much of what Bryant suggests in his post is typical of what you will find circulating within most developed anthropology programs. There has been much ado in anthro about Donna Haraway’s work on “situated knowledges” and Clifford Geertz’s work on the need for “thick description”, among other theoretical advances that attempt to traverse categorical purity and methodological fetishes, and anthropology generally attempts to offer a “4-field approach” to knowledge generation that makes ample use of linguistic, materialist, cognitive, and historical methods in the search for comprehensive descriptions and analytical insight. What is important, then, in terms of Bryant’s post, is that he is specifically addressing philosophers. By marshalling the pragmaticist aspects of Heidegger’s thought Bryant successfully contrasts the tendency of so-called “detached philosophers” to get caught up/distracted in categorical concerns and contemplative specularity at the expense of appreciating the “everydayness” and practical engagements of our being-in-the-world. Initial disclosure of an ontological world is always a non-thetic and “pre-reflective” disclosure (as first-order ‘structural’ relation). And I argue, in a related sense, that contemplative ‘specularity’ (as second-order ‘epistemic’ relation) is, as Laruelle and others have suggested, a key feature of the philosophical miscontrual of radical immanence. In other words, philosophical speculation has a tendency to gloss over the practical situatedness (dare I say ecological materiality?) of being and knowing in favor of creating marked and highly abstract distinctions leading to a variety of metaphysical confusions. Enter Wittgenstein.

Moreover, it seems to me the effect of working from an appreciation of situated knowing (viz. fundamental ecologicality or radical immanence) would be substantial for those pursuing speculative thought. From a worldly and embedded, or what I have called elsewhere creaturely, praxis-oriented philosophical approach scientific/empirical knowing (as mode) and knowledge (as product) can be recognized for what it is: an extension of a more general human ‘know-how’, but also for how it is enacted, co-constructed and socially/ecologically generated. Human knowledge is produced from embodied and embedded ‘know-how’, and is at its core about pragmatic coping (‘coping-with’) in the wider field of beings, forces, powers and becomings.

To be sure, I don’t follow Heidegger in everything he had to say about “at-handedness”, preferring instead to appreciate and emphasize the autonomy of entities endowed with capacities to affect, intervene, interfere and “appear” in the co-disclosing enactment of ‘worlds’ or situations (with our ‘being-with’ as fundamental), but his more pragmatic leanings are highly instructive. As human beings, our involvement in the world is not initially ours, because these everyday activities, or ways of understanding, are always already part of a shared way of going about everyday life. And knowing takes place in this context: it emerges from background conditions, or the plane of consistent and structured practical action. ‘Being’ is only insofar as contingency is produced as cosmos, as a wilderness teeming with flora, fauna and all sorts of mutant assemblages thereof.

  • “I have said in some of the earlier books that anthropology to me is anthropos + logos or logoi, so if you are interested in anthropos which in Greek is the human thing, and if you agree with Foucault and others that there have been different figures of anthropos, including man, and we may or may not be out of that figure, and if you think that the sciences or the logoi are extremely important in shaping the understanding of anthropos, then the anthropology of the contemporary in the way I seek to practice it has to take into account these logoi, and the potentially emerging figure of anthropos, which is with sciences and with these questions about what it means to be a human being.”Paul Rabinow