Tuesday, June 07, 2011


I know that this blog wasn't intended for these types of updates, but I don't think I will see most of you any time soon, and an exchange of this type of information is long overdue. You may find what I say below to be extremely dry in parts, and for that I apologise. However, I hope that some of it sparks your interest at least a little.

A couple of years ago I decided to move into psychiatric research. This was partly precipitated by acknowledging that I didn't have a future in academic philosophy, firstly because I am rubbish at it and secondly because the career didn't really appeal to me. The latter reason isn't intended to disparage people who are academic philosophers, it just isn't for me. The former meanwhile means that if anyone has any philosophically orientated responses or questions about anything that follows, I probably won't be able to give a satisfying answer. I shall however try.

I am now focused specifically on schizophrenia, which has been of interest to me for some time, and which provided the original motivation to pursue my career. I work as a research assistant at the Institute of Psychiatry, which is a department of King's College. My current job involves conducting a clinical trial of a technique to optimise the way Olanzapine, which is a type of antipsychotic medication, is prescribed to patients. The technique works by taking blood samples from the patient and using the blood plasma concentration of antipsychotic medication to determine the best dose for that patient. In effect, it takes into account the particular metabolic and other biological differences that exist between patients that determine the percentage of medication actually having a therapeutic effect, rather being discarded by as waste, primarily in urine and faeces. I work as part of a research team and we liaise with clinical staff on inpatient psychiatric wards where patients with acute psychotic symptoms are brought to be treated. We then try to recruit eligible patients into our study, and collect blood samples and conduct a 90 minute psychiatric interview. The interview consists primarily of assessments of their schizophrenic symptoms, of the side effects they experience from their antipsychotic medication, and of their history of alcohol/substance use. The study will run for around 4 years, and for that time I will also be a part-time PhD student. My PhD will use the same patient cohort as the clinical trial, and will focus on the neurobiology of poor cognitive function in schizophrenia. I am currently thinking of investigating the questions: 'Does Olanzapine improve neurocognitive function?' and secondly, 'To what degree are neurocognitive deficits associated with schizophrenia the result of glutamatergic dysregulation?' The patient cohort I will be using is unique insofar as they are being treated with Olanzapine about as well as any group of patients ever realistically will be. How Olanzapine impacts the full range of schizophrenic symptoms is something that has been explored quite a bit in the past, but never with a group that is so effectively treated with the medication. As such, this is an ideal opportunity to investigate the potential of the medication to work in other domains rather than just psychosis. Indirectly then, the PhD will ask 'to what degree are cognitive symptoms the result of the dopaminergic dysregulation?', as this is the problem antipsychotic medication is intended to improve, and 'to what degree are cognitive symptoms the product of psychotic or negative symptoms'. I shall explain a little more of what all this really means in a moment. The second question in my PhD about glutamatergic dysregulation will be answered using either Positron Emission Tomography or Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy to correlate levels of glutamate or glutamate transporters in the brain across different cerebral regions with cognitive symptoms. In addition to these two jobs, I also work as a nursing assistant in a number of psychiatric wards. These include open and secure wards, acute and long stay. This has allowed me to gain a fair amount of clinical experience of psychiatrically ill patients, with diagnoses from autism, eating disorders, alcohol abuse, or depression, to schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, etc.

Contrary to widespread belief, schizophrenia does not mean a fracturing of personality or psyche. 'Schizo-' does refer to fracturing, but the term was coined to refer to mental faculties. It is described as a complex psychiatric illness, and by Kurt Schneider as being characterised positive, negative, and general psychopathological symptoms. This view is still the norm in the medical categorisation and definition of the illness. The definitions of psychiatric illnesses used most commonly are presented in either the DSM or the ICD. Both these texts function as diagnostic manuals for psychiatrists, and contain the current definitions of each recognised psychiatric illness. Definitions vary slightly between the DSM and the ICD, and for that reason researchers and psychiatrists sometimes stipulate which text has been or should be used for making a diagnosis. To clarify, researchers don't make diagnoses, but they do sometimes screen control subjects for possible undiagnosed illnesses, or state in articles which text was used to diagnose the psychiatric participants they use. Schizophrenia typically becomes manifest for the first time in people in late adolescence, however may present at almost any time in a person's life. Studies indicate that smoking cannabis is a risk factor in developing schizophrenia. Meanwhile, psychosis can be induced by frequent and long term use of amphetamines and other stimulants. One type of psychotic illness is 'substance induced psychosis', which generally requires substantial and sustained use of amphetamine or cocaine over a period of weeks or months, and generally fades once the patient detoxes. Ketamine and PCP are sometimes used by researchers to create short term psychotic symptoms (such as thought disorder), which last for a few hours, in otherwise healthy participants.

Positive symptoms are conceptually understood as present in the participant as 'additions' to what is normal. This category includes hallucinations, delusions, anxiety, suspiciousness, grandiosity, and unusual thought content. Negative symptoms are viewed as 'subtractions' from what is normal, such as an impoverished or inappropriate emotional range or reactions during the conversation. People with schizophrenia sometimes present with little or no emotional responsiveness to the content of what they are saying. For example, if they are describing something sad, their facial expression and vocal tone will be almost indistinguishable from when they are talking about something happy. They may appear severely withdrawn, and their speech may demonstrate little or no tonal fluctuation during the conversation, or they may appear to be more or less incapable of laughing or of overtly demonstrating any other feeling. Other negative symptoms may involve a poor understanding of other people's emotions, motivations, or feelings. In psychological terminology they have a poor theory of mind. Additionally, they may appear to have a poor memory, poor executive function (reasoning, planning, strategising etc.), slow mental processing speed, poor abstract thinking, or difficultly maintaining attention on a task. General psychopathological symptoms involve just about everything else, including depression, disorientation, guilt, and poor insight.

The negative symptoms overlap to a degree with autistic symptoms. In fact the term 'autism' was originally coined to describe a category of schizophrenic symptoms, and was later appropriated to name the psychiatric disorder it is now associated with. The positive symptoms of schizophrenia, meanwhile, comprise psychosis, more or less. Psychosis is a state that can occur in numerous psychiatric illnesses, such as bipolar disorder (manic depression) or extremely severe depression. It is by far the most investigated aspect of schizophrenia, and it is also the most widely treated. Antipsychotic medications were initially developed as sedative drugs until a French physician during WW2 noticed that they also had an excellent therapeutic effect on psychotic patients. That led to a surge in the research into new pharmaceutical treatments of psychosis. Up until then physicians had used insulin shock therapy, ECT, and lobectomies to treat the illness, most of which is not particularly effective with the possible exception of ECT, which can provide some relief and is still offered to some patients on a voluntary basis. Antipsychotics work by reducing dopamine levels in the brain. While this helps to combat psychosis, it also results in a wide range of unpleasant side effects in most cases. Most of these look like Parkinson's disease as Parkinson's involves a depletion of dopamine in the basal ganglia in the base of the brain. So the patient's limbs may visibly shake, have joint rigidity, or they may move their tongue in and out of their mouth, gurn, chew, roll their eyes, or 'pill roll' with their fingers. Additionally, other side effects include feeling restless, moving their weight from one leg to the other, pacing, inability to sit still, inability to stop moving their legs or arms, etc. These side effects are one of the reasons why some patients stop taking their medication. But on a side note, if they stop taking their meds and their psychotic symptoms relapse, then they can be brought into hospital and sectioned under the mental health act and forced to take their medication again.

There are various sections of the mental health act. Some intended to detain people in hospital while they are being observed to allow clinicians to make the appropriate diagnosis, some intended to allow clinicians to force patients to take their medication, either while they are in the community or in hospital, and some as a substitute to a prison sentence, so they can serve their sentence in hospital rather than prison. Someone should only be detained in hospital and forced to take medication if they would otherwise represent a danger to themselves or others, and this is left to the interpretation of the patient's clinical team. However, their decisions are subject to scrutiny by the courts if the patient challenges it by going to a tribunal. Most patients who are sectioned and forced to take meds have solicitors and challenge their detention through tribunals.

Patients are sectioned for either being a danger to themselves or other people, but this is something that is very broadly interpreted. Evidence that psychotic patients represent a danger to other people is mixed. A recent large scale (involving 100s of cases) found that psychotic patients were not significantly more likely to commit serious violent crime, such as assault or murder, than the general population. However, they did also acknowledge that when they do, it is often in relation to their delusions or hallucinations, suggesting that treating such symptoms may help to lower crime rates in relation to people with psychosis. Meanwhile, the rate of suicide is much higher in psychotic patients than the general population, but so is the rate of depression, and suicidal ideation is much or likely to correlate with depressive symptoms rather than delusions, hallucinations, etc. suggesting that treating the depressive symptoms is more important than treating the psychotic symptoms when it comes to preventing self-harm. It is sometimes argued that the widespread belief that psychotic patients are more dangerous or unpredictable than healthy people is essentially unfounded and is largely or wholly a matter of societal/culture stigma. Stigma towards the mentally ill, society's treatment of them, and society's apparent inclination to purify itself of irrationality and difference are some of the subjects of Foucault's A History of Madness. In a similar vein, Thomas Szasz argues that mental illness isn't really illness, since it has no physical pathology (which is a very questionable assertion), and instead refers to behaviours most of us find difficult to deal with and so society detains these individuals in secure wards and forces them into treatment, ideally to make them behave like the rest of us. This is not a widely held view, and it is one that I think is very simplistic.

To return to the nature of schizophrenic illness, perhaps the most interesting symptoms are hallucinations, delusions, formal thought disorder, and lack of insight. While hallucinations have a clear definition - the presence of perceptual phenomena that have no external cause (although I suspect philosophers will want to discuss that definition), notable facts about hallucinations include that they occur in all 5 senses - visual, auditory, somatic, olfactory, and gustatory, and that they rarely co-occur such that a heard voice has a corresponding and concurrent visual hallucination. So most filmic representations of psychosis are normally inaccurate insofar as the individual normally sees hallucinatory figures who talk to them, rather than just hearing or seeing them in any given moment. Furthermore, visual hallucinations are quite rare. Roughly speaking most common are auditory hallucinations and then somatic, olfactory, and then visual or gustatory. Delusions are more difficult to define. They used to be thought of as unusual or bizarre beliefs that do not belong to the individuals cultural or societal belief system. But this is a poor definition. They are now widely regarded as unusual or bizarre beliefs that have a poor evidential or rational basis. The terms unusual and bizarre roughly speaking refer to highly unlikely/improbable and impossible respectively. An unusual belief may be that they are being targeted by MI5 on the basis that strangers give them funny looks in the street, or because they have noticed that cctv cameras follow them when they walk down the street; or that they are on the way to becoming a saint because God sent them a sign in the newspaper that morning. A bizarre belief may be that they have the ability to heal through touch or that their internal organs have been replaced with mechanical versions. It is questionable when a delusion is bizarre or not, and it isn't critical. The examples I gave would be variously described as non-bizarre or bizarre by different clinicians. More importantly the point at which a belief becomes a delusion is a much debated issue. Particularly since it relies when something is rational or irrational. This issue has been addressed to a degree in terms of cognitive psychology, which I will come on to.

Lack of insight refers to the patient's failure to identify themselves as being psychiatrically ill. Many or most schizophrenic patients do not believe they are ill. Instead, they provide delusional explanations of their symptoms, such as that they are being persecuted by demons, or that they have hypersensitive hearing and so their auditory hallucinations are actually speech being uttered by other people, but too quietly or far away for anyone else in their locale to hear. Almost every patient I have met had a different explanation of their symptoms, with only one person attributing them to being psychiatrically ill. Normally patients attributed hallucinations either to being persecuted by a supernatural being or a shadowy organisation, or that they had a superhuman ability such as the ability to read other people's minds, or a special contact with God. Another symptom, termed disorientation, involves the individual being 'lost' to a degree in time and place. They may remember the year, but fail to remember the date, day, or current time. Moreover, they may forget or be confused about other aspects of their life, such as where they currently are, or the identities of their family members. This is commonly tested by asking the patient the date and time, where they currently are, and about who the current prime minister is, current local mayor, or the current president of America. Patients who are very disorientated may severely confabulate events, or confuse people or places with their past. For example, one patient I met was convinced that she was in a hotel rather than hospital, and that I was someone from her past named Peter, who was the brother of her ex-partner. She believed that I had personally contrived for her to be in hospital, and that I planned to drug, rape, and kill her. Another person had merged all her hospital admissions with the present one, such that she believed she was in Lambeth hospital, which she wasn't, and that she was in the wrong room, and that someone had stolen her stuff, when in reality she had been admitted on this occasion with only the clothes she was wearing.

Formal thought disorder broadly speaking refers to incoherent or illogical thinking. What the person says may often become tangential, and in extreme situations almost entirely random given the topic of conversation. When asked to make semantic associations between things, such as 'what do you associate with a car?', the person may say fairly random words like sun, elephant, or start to talk at length again about God or whatever issue is preoccupying them. They may start to talk about how the individuals persecuting them drive cars, and then talk about the ways in which they are being persecuted, and the identity of the persecutors. This is often termed a flight of ideas. Meanwhile, formal thought disorder can also refer to other problems with thinking or conversation, such as stereotyped thinking, so the person focuses on one idea and will keep talking about it despite the clinician's attempts to change topic. They may only talk about their relationship with God, for example, and not respond to attempts to move on to other topics. Alternatively they may repeat single words, such as 'Jesus was the son of God, God, God'. Or they may show poor abstract thinking. This is typically tested by asking the individual to interpret proverbs, and to describe similarities between things, for example circle and triangle, or red and yellow.

Aspects of formal thought disorder almost certainly underlie delusions because delusions are normally irrational interpretations of internal, such as hallucinations, or external phenomena. On top of this, delusions often contain persecutory ideas, so they may believe the police or some group of people are 'out to get them'; or they may say that they are being attacked by ghosts or demons, which is an explanation sometimes given by patients for their somatic, auditory, and visual hallucinations. Additionally, schizophrenic patients may also be grandiose, so the person may think they are special, or unlike 'normal' people. One patient I remember stated that they had the special ability to heal through thought, and that this was because they had been chosen by God to be special. Another meanwhile said that they were a special human being, and so the staff had no right to keep them in hospital. They also said that they were the Virgin Mary and that their father was Elvis, and that they had brought good into the world, and that they were extraordinarily gifted musically and could not understand why no one seemed to appreciate how special they were. However, each of these symptoms are rarely all present in a patient. Normally, a patient will present with some combination of them, and this has meant that patients with a schizophrenia spectrum disorder are further labelled as either schizoaffective, in which the patient experiences severe changes in mood similar to those in bipolar alongside continuously present psychotic symptoms; schizophreniform, which refers to a brief or limited period of schizophrenic symptoms of more than 1 month, but less than 6, with no apparent relapse; paranoid schizophrenia, which is characterised by the strong presence of positive symptoms such as hallucinations, delusions, and persecutory ideas; disorganised schizophrenia, which is characterised by the relatively strong presence of negative symptoms; and finally undifferentiated schizophrenia, which covers those that don't fit any other category.

The cognitive deficits associated with schizophrenia include memory problems, both short term and long term memory, attention problems, processing speed, and executive functions. They tend to have reduced IQs compared with their IQ level prior to developing the illness. It is also unclear to what degree these deficits are the result of patients' preoccupation with their internal, hallucinatory, and delusional worlds. However, it is likely that irrational or illogical thinking correlates strongly with drops in IQ and executive function. It is less clear to what degree it correlates with attention and processing speed.

My PhD will examine some of these issues, alongside the question of how well antipsychotics treat these symptoms. Previous studies indicate that antipsychotics have little or no impact on cognitive deficits. If this is the case then they must involve neurotransmitters in the brain other than dopamine, and must exist outside of the psychotic symptoms of schizophrenia, as discrete symptoms. However these studies are unable to draw conclusions with much confidence because of the haphazard way medication is often prescribed. So this will be the starting point of my PhD.

There are three main neurotransmitters in the brain - dopamine, serotonin, and glutamate. All three are believed to be involved in schizophrenic symptoms. Dopamine hyperactivity is present in the mesolimbic region and is treated using antipsychotics. However, despite this treatment psychotic symptoms are still present in most patients. Moreover, they do not treat the other symptoms of schizophrenia at all. They are used to try and control hallucinations etc. and patients report that medication decreases the 'volume' of these hallucinations. As such it is believed that there is an underlying neurobiological condition which dopamine exaggerates, but in addressing the dopaminergic dysregulation in the brain with medication, current medication is not really addressing the fundamental biological problems involved in schizophrenia.

One possibility is that glutamate is responsible. There is a substantial body of research being conducted at the moment investigating this. So far new glutamatergic medication hasn't helped patients, but this is probably due to the right medication having not yet been found. More needs to be understood about which aspects of the glutamatergic system are dysfunctional to be able to design new and effective pharmaceuticals. During my PhD I will investigate this possibility using neuroimaging, and secondly to what degree glutamate is responsible for the cognitive symptoms.

I am going to bring this post to a very abrupt end. I am sorry for the degree to which the above at times felt like a statement of intent for my PhD. I had intended it to be a rapid discussion of some important points in schizophrenic research, but at times it may have drifted from that. If anyone has any questions, or would like any elucidation, please don't hesitate to ask. Perhaps the philosophically interesting questions haven't really been brought up. For me, there are various questions that are interesting, and for which I have no definite answer. Firstly, what is an illness and does psychiatric illness qualify? Secondly, what makes a delusion irrational? Thirdly, what medicine has to say about the nature of irrationality, or of supposedly abnormal perceptual experiences, and why are these problematic? Fourthly, what does schizophrenia and its related illnesses tell us about the way the mind works?

I have no doubt that psychiatric medicine stigmatises certain behaviours to a degree, but I think that all medicine is stigmatising to a degree. Foucault discusses how the leper houses became used to house the mentally ill during the middle ages, as they were normally positioned outside of the city walls. It seems to me that this is a good example of how all forms of disease or illness are shunned. AIDS patients do not get sent out of cities, but I would have thought that many people feel slightly uncomfortable around someone knowing that they have the illness. It is because mental health problems have always been considered forms of illness that they are stigmatised. The resulting, interesting question here, I think, is 'what is health'?

Monday, December 12, 2005

Conference Report: 'Is The Politics "Truth" Still Thinkable?'

Conference Report: 'Is The Politics "Truth" Still Thinkable?'

I don’t know how useful this article will be. Reports, transcripts and downloads have been available since shortly after the conference. I am a bit late to fulfil this function and the conference is no longer a ‘current event.’ I want to offer both reportage and also thoughts and conclusions in some form. It was a vital and happening occasion, with Zizek dramatizing the whole thing with his statements, and this may need to be critically evaluated and reflected upon. It was of course a ‘celebrity’ event, one where Zizek described his relationship with Alain Badiou (who was in the audience at the time) as akin to that between analyst and patient. He, Zizek, was the hysteric and Badiou the calm analyst. This gave it a genuine sense of authenticity so that one had to be careful not surrender critical judgement to the lure of the spectacle.

Therefore, as I remarked at the beginning of my review, posted on this site, of a talk by Ranciere, one cannot escape the inevitable thrill and awe of hearing living and ‘famous’ philosophers speak. This is impossible given that what happens is mediated by such auras in our culture. Also, we find that the events of thought have become inextricably attached to certain names. On the one hand thought is not personal and psychological and yet it comes from this mouth and through these oratorical gestures. Yet beyond these inevitable worries it was the experience of the direct manifestation or presentation of currents of thought which are shaping a certain direction of thought today. The conference, held on 25-26th November at Birkbeck college, was organized by Slavov Zizek. My view of him is heavily influenced by his book 'Organs without Bodies.' Here he attempts to set up an encounter between Deleuze and Hegel. His desire for encounter instead of dialogue (in this way affirming Deleuze) was disappointing because it lacked the rigor and 'fine differential mechanisms' of Deleuze's own practice of encounter. It seemed a grand gesture but without being convincing or structured. It seemed to me as if Deleuze was lost in the allure of a less rigorous creativity. The man himself was uncontrollable as a speaker - a ceaseless flow that no chairman could really control - and a great comedian. However, he ultimately justified this by feeding in ideas that were effective (without being worked out at length) in the discussions and by telling jokes that were extremely good.

Zizek opened the conference by describing the event as a 'closed conference.' This fed out of his dislike of ‘debate’ (as defined in liberal democracy and the relativistic equality of all ‘opinions’). Yet it also expressed decisively the whole tenor of European philosophy. Instead of thinking difference or within the limits of ethics, there is a determination that resistance and political subjectivity must now be thought without limits. As such this grand gesture was not necessarily empty but necessary and direct, setting the ground for a conference that had now to develop with rigorous interventions into the contemporary malaise. Thus he said 'We have nothing to say to the world.' The world demands tolerance and caution and yet Zizek calls for a wager or leap of faith. The new field of thought establishing itself takes as its condition that nothing is forbidden, that there be no compromises and that democracy is not an absolute. 'We just do it', he cried.

Alberto Toscano developed, in 'A Brief History of Fanaticism', Foucault's writing on the Iranian revolution. He explained that Foucault was writing during period when he was critical of Marxism. In this spirit he suggests that religion is not a mask or vehicle for other forces but a veritable 'crystallising force.' Here was developed a defence of the relationship of politics of truth by in this way combating the inevitable charge of fanaticism that is levelled against it. Religion represents a mode of social relations, a common will. For Toscano the aim seemed to be to do justice to the instance of egalitarian politics. This would be to treat the political subject in terms of its specific conditions of emergence and organization. However, for Foucault political practice can intensify thought and in the case of the Iranian revolution politics was not grounded in truth. Spiritual plebeian intervention, that of the common will, takes Foucault beyond historical materialism to fanaticism. This meant no determinate thinking of the nature of politics and a Rousseauean scene in Islamic government. This is non-teleological and non-political. Following the analysis of Foucault it was argued that the truth of the subject and dense historicality of the world must not be separated. The non-totalization of being diffuses fanaticism - as in Zizek's finitude and Badiou's mathematical secularization of finitude - to the extent that the enthusiast may become only a spectator. Yet the politics of truth - in the form of the political subject - overcomes this. Beyond the non-political to the event and its specific conditions. The conclusion was that the politics of truth must not be over-determined by fear or terror of fanaticism. If politics of truth is to be limited it needs to do this through itself rather than being limited in advance by a debilitating concern with the dangers of fanaticism. The reactionary concern with responsibility blunts political intervention and Toscano developed this through the history of thought.

Peter Hallward's paper, entitled 'Where is a Political World', began with a defence of spatiality. He wanted to revive the term 'front' as an operator that situates a political world. It divides and orientates the objects composing it. The concern was to supplement a politics of time with one of space, giving rise to an adaption of Marx's words: We must not just try to understand the world but attempt to ‘split it’. Biopolitics was critiqued for losing 'political edge' because it does not divide or draw into grasps. It distributes around the norm, in a fluid political space. Hallward made the significant claim that Ranciere, Deleuze and Badiou keep this 'political edge' only within an abstract space. As opposed to this alleged abstraction he wants to show how the subject takes on a body in a political space. Space is dense and full of points - which means that there is not just event and non-event but gradations and levels. Points structure a subject and Hallward argued that Badiou only includes this in his later work. Only the subject can 'connect the dots in its militancy' in 'Being and Event.' This neglects the structuring of territory as a basis of connecting. This analysis shows what kind of reader of Badiou Hallward is. His independent thought provides a productive counterpoint in his elaborations of Badiou's thought. The need for a ground for a 'front' launched the paper into an elaboration of the various meanings of the latter term. Being 'out front' - not behind, on the sides, on top or somewhere inside - is how the political world operates. Effrontery and shamelessness follow from this. It exposes something in it truth but also disguises and masks when it is a case of 'pitting on a brave front.' The offensive strategies of world war one show a front being draw in a place, connected to a particular territory. Yet the place is oriented towards the future and is mobile. This is attack and not defence, always moving forward. It is not just local, it is a front of something else. Hallward then moved to the weather fronts and their properly relational antagonism. Significantly, and continuing his critique of established and allegedly more temporal thinking, these terms are not created by their relations. They have distinct properties. He suggests that while Manuel Delanda would get ‘carried away’ with the fluidity of weather, the two fronts in the relation do not change that much. Moving to the character of a politics of truth, he suggests a ‘common front’ is formed out of the need to understand fronts that divide the situation. Forming a front is the ongoing commitment of crossing and holding a line. This front must be a cover because only particular people can take up universal equality. This is putting up a front - an outward appearance. This is called duplicity which divides how power works. It is opposed to enthusiastic spectators who form nothing distinct. In this way the operator, which is the political subject, requires spatial conditions opposed to fluidity because the latter does not allow the determination of such an operator in the first place. Resistance relies upon this determination and in this way connects with space in order to effect political truth. Given difference in ontology, there must be an operation of identity and Hallward brings in the spatial aspect of this with critical and productive effect.

During the questions Hallward added that the Stop The War movement suffered from having no location. It was too general because it was uncoupled from 'effective insertion into a political space.' In this sense it couldn't resist the continuation of this policy. Perhaps this means that a front must divide power not simply by opposing a policy with argument but in denying the operation of a whole system of power. Debate cuts protestors off from power because they can be integrated into its space. They need to effect a concentration that, in its singularity, effects a disruption of all power in the name of the universal. If everyone if different, everyone has their own difference, this perhaps seems to be only a state of consumerism that works through an integral disruption, satisfying the need to feel political. He went on to add to his remarks upon the deficit of spatial thinking in recent thought. He found that Badiou's evental site has no location and no content. This means that it can't be situated in relation to anything else. One wonders whether this might not be a strength that avoids the event being swallowed into a dialectic of the opposition of actual and given terms or concepts. However, this paper was a highlight of the conference. Alberto Toscano questioned whether the emphasis upon place tied the universal down to one place, as the only one where it could come through. He argued that Badiou's evental site was mobile and wondered if independent political activity was being precluded by limiting events to particular places. Zizek added that in Deleuze and Negri we have the celebration of the site which is not a site. But for him this misses the need for the filthy, real and fully embodied individual. Hallward developed this by suggesting that you can only choose the war if you dominate the enemy. This is making the best of the terrain you have, the reality of having little room for manoeuvre means that a politics of truth mustn't abstract from social conditions. In answer to further questions Toscano identified the etymological link between fanaticism and hallucination. This leads to the denial of political subjects. He pointed to the danger that this attitude leads to the political subject being the only one who is not doing anything.

Zizek added that if the proper moment for revolution has to be prepared for this can mean that nothing happens. This was very much the spirit of his remarks, ones made with spirit and great passion, throughout out the conference. It did leave one wondering whether these gestures stood up against the points put, particularly by Peter Hallward, concerning the need to contextualise situations. He added that ironical distance which avoids identification is part of the game of liberal capitalism. Postmodernism was given a hammering throughout the conference. This was the spirit of the moment and Zizek made this come alive dramatically. Yet in wanting to avoid ironic theatre Zizek was utterly theatrical – the grand gesture that perhaps became ironic in the face of Hallward's rigor. Perhaps that is why some criticise Zizek's popularity – how he is prone to be integrated into popular culture. Hallward defended his thesis further by saying that whilst you have the freedom to make something of what is given there is not the room for manoeuvre that Zizek claims. He pointed to the changing of spatial conditions and mechanisms over time in Palestine and areas of conflict. Spatiality changes and is pressing. Zizek ended the first day by declaring that the place of truth is here – adding to the gestures that had battled with Hallward's sober analysis.

The second day began with Lorenzo Chiesa speaking on 'Remarks Prior to Any Possible Treatment of Lacanian Truth and Marxian Materialism.' He set up Lacan's aim for a materialistic science of subject divided between knowledge and truth. The split of the cogito was opposed to unifying the subject as a closed set of knowledge. Knowledge does not bother much about the foundation of truth. Truth is the other of knowledge. Thus it is not a paradox to say 'I am lying.' Language is structurally incomplete, making truth unconscious enunciation. This the sentence becomes 'It says I am lying.' The question of a politics of truth was being opened up through the subject and not prior to its production. Chiesa thus sets up the encounter with knowledge as lack, something that is domesticated by science. The productivity of lack now emerges, truth is cause and psychoanalysis acts as a hope, giving it a privileged position. Lacan talked about 'men of truth' who were sustained by the lack, truth acting as a cause, and carry out the revolution of truth. This opening onto pure structure sets Lacan against the Marxists writing at the time. Chiesa showed how they closed any lack with knowledge and thus continued the concern articulated by Zizek that truth and the resistance that relies upon it may be lost if given, empirical conditions are allowed to dominate. Thus Marx is said to have failed to give rise to a new collectivity of Marxian subjects because of how he often came to be interpreted, in terms of economic science that stifled a Marxist power of truth. This reading was said to be the source of the reactionary dogmas of 'really existing socialism.' The singular emergence of truth as material cause must be combined with a politics based upon it.

Zizek's paper followed and opened by sketching the post-ideological era in terms of the events of New Orleans and Paris. These protests have no program and there was no positive vision. He affirmed the point (perhaps made by nearly all philosopher at all times) that the first task of philosophers is not to answer the questions set to it but to shift them. There is violence and counter-violence. Trying to understand terrorist beliefs from within is inevitably racist, according to Zizek. The other is made ridiculous. Resentment against inequality cannot be suspended. Zizek operated in this way a reduction of solutions to contemporary questions to their absurdity and failure. This being also the function of humour we can see this as the method at which he excels. In this way he seemed to be making a case for the 'untimely' in that only questions not posed and not given by present conditions could create change because they alone could overturn and overcome the stifling facts of the situation defined as contemporary or as ‘the real world.’

He then went on to give a powerful critique of facts, going against the concern to present these in the media. The unconscious knows no negation and this means that the signification of something that is true depends not merely upon itself. Facts are not neutral. Facts stated about a hated racial group might be true in certain cases but considering this alone fails to relate them to the implicit beliefs that give them their significance. Lying can be practiced in the guise of truth when it is produced by the beliefs of the situation. In this way Zizek built towards a critique of Laclau, for whom populism is a neutral matrix. The subject is constituted performatively by this matrix through the opposition of 'us against them.' Thus different struggles are part of a global antagonistic struggle. Particular groups stand in for the universal but none is privileged. Populism works by displacing the antagonism and constructing the enemy as positive. Demand is the ultimate horizon of politics. For Zizek Laclau neglects the concrete character of the figure of the enemy. Politics at its most radical, he argues, does not depend on demand. The political subject or agent does not precede the political process. The agent is constituted through its politicisation. The excess of antagonism over institutional democracy, in a post-political age, cannot be limited to the term 'populism.' This energetic attack upon Laclau continued as his view of political economy as an 'ontic science' was considered. This was taken to reduce the political to an epiphenomenon, ontology being a 'science of ghosts.' This he further characterised as a theological dimension at the heart of political economy. Laclau's populism was thus made to seem an inauthentic attempt to embody the excess of antagonism, one making it not the production of a subject but an ineffectual imagery. Cut off from the concrete and the external antagonism it reproduced a theological escape from thought and action.

He went on to describe capitalism as a formal transcendental matrix, thus siding with structuralist readings of Marx. In this light he read Badiou's notion of the transcendental as being for him what capitalism is for Marx. This was the horizon of a certain field of reality. Referring to a case where the excess of antagonism did not have the horizon needed for its realisation, where the conditions of this were not grasped, Zizek points to Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez. He is a populist (claiming to be the voice of the people) because he cannot and does not dare to intervene radically into the social fabric. Nothing exceeds the limits of populism except the epiphenomenon it designates as ontological and outside of the friction of the concrete and its possibility for explosion. The left, he concluded, needs a political space outside the populist domain.

The questions began with Zizek being desperate to know what Lorenzo Cjiesa’s position was? Where are you? This need to take a stand was a demand to bury postmodernism in the rubble of an explosive intervention. Chiesa replied that he is asking what happens after the encounter with lack of material cause. How do we reinscribe the symbolic? This, he said, is where I am. The chairman, Costas Douzinas, wondered if Zizek's question was a good one to ask. This seemed a good point because the need to take a stand seemed empty if no groundwork had been done. It might be argued that Zizek was promoting a question or imperative of ungrounding, an dice-throw or aleatory point in the spirit of Deleuze. Yet Deleuze, as I read him, demanded critique preceded creation. The rigorous work that grounds the ungrounding question or imperative – this perhaps was what Chiesa was doing in his analysis, making Zizek's gestures seem empty, perhaps turning his criticism of Laclau upon himself. What if this is the wrong question because it repeats what is given, having failed to clear the ground. However, it is unfair of me to condemn Zizek in this way since this groundwork may be done in parts of his work with which I am not familiar.

Chiesa emphasised how, for Lacan, reinscription must be more profound than 'really existing socialism.' This reflected a key imperative of the conference: to recognise that the politics of truth was still open and in a way that the baggage of previous thought was not essential to it. It could only be an ungrounding (to continue the Deleuzian motif I am reading into this) if it was capable of being a repetition of difference, beginning again every time and this requiring an active forgetting. Zizek continued this theme by tackling belief as something 'outsourced.' Beliefs are located in others, they are objectified and this means our universe is not post-theological. In this sense they are seen as given rather than produced. Identity is not the enemy. He pointed to Lukács and his thinking of supreme sensitivity for grasping the moment, as opposed to universality of perspectives and consensus. This allows us to reassert truth out of conditions of contingency allowing universal truth to be approached only through subjectively engaged oppositions. Thus Zizek proclaimed we need an end to leaders who employ self-mocking and irony, not taking themselves seriously. We need not distrust leadership in all cases and circumstances, he argued.

Badiou added to the discussion by reading revolt not as the creation of a new subject but of a new problem, a national one. Adding to comments on the Paris riots he characterised the protestors as saying 'This country is my country but this state is not my state.' Revolt thus created a new visibility of the problem. In this was he drew the thinking of the event away from those things that are well recognised media 'events.' The Paris riots do not explain and exhaust a politics of truth. To think this is to exceed actual states of affairs. The state is not a state of the people and this contradiction is productive. Yet it is part of a process, one exceeding the terms of what happened in this case or a dialectic of actual cases. Zizek added that this visibility will be automatically integrated into liberal solutions. If we see these media events as problems they do indeed lose their singular power by becoming related to what is established and possible. Knowledge helps us to sort out the problem by relating them to what is known. Truth – to which the revolt is connected by expressing it in making it visible – would overturn these solutions and problems. Truth becomes the singular as opposed to the ordinary.

Zizek declared that he would never give up the idea of the minority standing for the 'voluntary will.' Given the limited time and many questions he certainly couldn't develop this but it opens onto questions concerning the politics of truth. In what sense is a will voluntary when it is a production that proceeds individual beings? The minority 'stands for' this will such that the voluntary is the exception, the place without place and by this mode it is authentically voluntary and true. It is the potential ‘becoming-minoritarian’ that makes genuine creation possible.

The last question of this session came from the chairman. He asked Zizek whether, in his popularity, he was the 'obscene other' of the bourgeoisie. This reflected not just Zizek's status but the danger that in his gestures he fails to break with how society works. Perhaps his Ideas are open to re-integration because they took a stand without clearing the ground. He reflected that his popularity is used against him, finding little comfort in it and feeling that what he was saying wasn't listened to. He complained of being reduced or nullified as the lone player, eccentric and not taken seriously, such that he was amusing and entertaining rather than effective. He pointed out that he worked as part of a team at his university, being not the caricature of a lone thinker.

The final session of the conference began with Alenka Zupancic presenting 'The Case of the Leaking Finitude: Remarks on Hegel and Comedy.' This was an account combining clarity with a broad reach. Taking Hegel's high valuation of comedy as something unusual, a Deleuzian approach where the neglected style and operation of thought effects a radical rethinking. Comedy invokes the physical residue, the human side of representation that is revealed by its failure. All the figures of the universal essence and its powers are exposed to laughter by Hegel, from the standpoint of the subjective and concrete. Because this is the work of the negative, Zupancic shows that comedy has necessity, universality and substantiality within Hegel's system. Its undermining of absolute power means that it becomes the only absolute power. It takes forward dialectic because it is not represented as being action but is the action itself. Zupancic argues that here the universal is revealed, where the negative power of comic movement, undermining the universal, is the universal itself. Added to this was the indestructibility of the comic universe such that it is not stopped by accidents. The comic also represents the loss of immediate self-identity where identity becomes absurd and self-defeating. This realises the becoming substance of subject because it splits and starts relating to itself. The comic relation becomes the movement of dialectic, offering masks rather than the tragic fusion of acts and their character. The subject emerges in another place because this 'comic subjectivity' is a gap through which the subject is related to itself and representing itself.

Zupancic references this to tragedy, a movement starting with the significant individual with a proper name. However, in comedy the subjective work of the universal must produce an object to which all spectators can relate. This, Zupancic argued, makes comedy’s materialism the materialism of the spirit. She referred to the movement of the ‘Phenomenology of Spirit’ as the production of the concrete universal. She developed this by taking the chapter titles from the book as reading like comedy titles. In this way Hegel was worked upon from inside, upon the basis of a thorough (within the limits of the time) and rigorous reading of his system. Comedy becomes a way of recognizing and dealing with the limits of human finitude. She then diagnosed our contemporary conditions on this basis as a great narrative of finitude. It is the new master signifier, allowing us to say ‘you are only finite so give yourself a break.’ If nobody is perfect then this implies nobody should worry or seek to the authenticity (whether in infinitude or the overhuman) when it cannot be achieved, nor should be. For Zupancic comedy is the antidote because it shows finitude corroded, something won’t go away and persists. She made use of Lacan’s contradicted finitude, where the radical negativity of desire makes it as a failed finitude. It has a leak in it, with Lacan locating the leak in incidents of the signifier and all phenomena that draw their life from the leak.

This is a paradoxical finitude which erodes finitude from within. Perhaps this the limit of the exercise of finitude. Zupancic referenced Badiou’s reading of Beckett as a writer of comedy. Immanence must mean including the whole or leak in the finitude (of course this reminds us of the Lacanian’s affection for Deleuze’s ‘Logic of Sense’). This was developed in terms of a topological space that generates physical notions. We are not infinite but also we are not even finite. Are we then ‘in between’? Between two terms of a circuit? Zupancic wants to oppose irony to comedy, the former pointing out the limits of the universal, of its concrete place of enunciation. Yet the comic spirit cuts across this opposition in order to attain the concrete universal. It includes the point of enunciation in the very statement. The leak, the paradox, functions within finitude – this seems to draw upon it is an infinite resource with a finite functioning. The place of enunciation is therefore what is universalizable.

Badiou’s paper was perhaps the most impressively presented because he alone stood at the lectern and he also delivered it with a gravity and style that wasn’t matched. He began with our suggesting that we are today beyond ‘classical revolutionary politics.’ A politics of truth must operate in ways that are not outmoded. It is expressive dialectics that are to be left behind. These are the modes of struggle, insurrection, revolution. The concentration of social contradictions in the moment, as purely singular and universal. The name of the big chief is then the symbolic expression of the becoming of classes. Badiou opposed to this the non-expressive political dialectics that would be without the ‘becoming-proper-name of the action of the masses.’ This new way of thinking and doing political actions was no longer to be the expression of the concentration of political contradiction. The political process is taken not to express but to separate. Perhaps the political ontology of Deleuze is being attacked here because there is no room for expression and no room for being cautious about political action. Badiou pointed to the separation of truth from perception in Plato. This was to take thought beyond contradiction, negation or becoming, to its separation as a politics of truth.

To further this critique the contemporary opposition or identity of law and desire was another limit to get beyond. A politics of truth seems to be blocked. Badiou sought to unblock using the model of a dish of fruit. This is a set, its elements are fruits. We have the good and delightful in the bowl. He added that this was a real object of desire after the fish and chips he had endured that day. If we add to the elements of the set also stones, dry mud, dead frogs etc., the bad and disgusting are present to. Now what can be said about the set. What are its subsets? All strawberry’s are a part of the dish, as are all the dead frogs. They are clear predicates or predicative parts. Yet what about the mix of contents? It is a part but without a clear name. You can give a list of elements but no synthetic name. Badiou then defined a law as the prescription of reasonable order. As a decision to accept as really existing only some parts of the dish of collective life. Parts with no name are forbidden by the law. The law says what exists and what does not. The latter is an unnameable part of the practical totality. A law, then, is always, a decision about existence. What exists is that which has a clear description. Desire is always of what does not exist. This makes true desire the desire of a monster – it affirms pure singularity across and beyond the normality.

Badiou then accepted that maths is very often linked to terror and claimed to always speak from a non-terrorist conception of maths. He brought in the theory of pure multiplicity in order to further unblock a politics of truth, perhaps, we might say, to liberate it from ‘the clamour of being.’ The constructible sub-set of a set has a clear description. This leads to the law of laws, of what is the possibility for a law. This axiom of constructability formulates a decision about existence. All multiplicity is under the law but the law is not a restriction of life and thinking. We don’t lose anything when we say this using mathematics. All parts of a clear definition are constructible. It makes one think of the opposition between art as law governed and art as ‘free expression’. One is reactionary and the other a desire satisfaction supposedly without direction but in fact directed by the creativity of capital. It is a false dichotomy. This point, I think, went beyond politics to the present need for philosophy to engage with mathematics, a pressing case being the need in this country for Deleuze’s scholars to put his use of mathematics at the heart of their readings.

Badiou described how the mathematician desires to go beyond the order of constructability to a mathematical monster. They want a law but their desire takes them beyond it. To find the object which is without name – how can I find a non-constructible set? Finding mathematical object without clear description of it. He refers us back to Paul Cohen’s set without specific predicates. This was a victory of desire over law. Like many other victories of this type, he proclaimed, this happened in the 1960s. Generic sets were then one of the revolutionary actions of the 1960s. Generic humanity is humanity in the movement of its emancipation in Marx. It is the becoming of the universality of human beings. The truth of sets is generic because the pure universality of multiplicity is not on the side of clear description. The divide between desire and genericity, on the one, and law and constructability, on the other, is not one that sets each against the other. It is a formal division only and we are complex compositions between the two. He characterized fascism as being on the side of giving meaning or classification to the situation and yet also being the complete destruction of the law in favour of a destruction of other objects through desire. Laws of death through genericity and constructability.

If revolutionary desire is a realization of the universal there is a fusion of law and desire. This is as a creative affirmation of humanity as such. Thus we have a law of life. This legalization of desire produces nomad desires. This is read by Badiou as a reactionary conception of desire, a dictatorship of normal desires. Democracy is a constructible conception of desire. In this way Badiou shows the need to inject a rigor into political thinking – free desire being always vulnerable to an expression of the forces they seek to escape. Democracy was thus the imposition of the construction of a completely clear political name everywhere. Badiou pointed to Iraq as a situation where this is made visible.

Badiou drew from this what he described as the most important political problem today, that of a new fiction. The process of truth is also, he said, the process of the new fiction. In Paris he saw no great fiction and therefore no real belief. This is not to be the historical moment of the masses under a proper name. We need another composition than the proper descriptions of twentieth century politics and fiction. The other composition was to be a final belief in the local possibility of finding something generic. This new form of courage created the real possibility of our new fiction, of a new localisation. This courage is reducible neither to law or desire and is the place of political action and not of political theory. It creates the local place for something generic, a generic will. He expressed his hope in this possibility of a place for our new fiction.

In answer to questions he added to this by describing the 'new courage' which we are after as different to that of contradiction, struggle, the negative and radical opposition. Instead it is the courage of the local experimentation of genericity. The classical is saturated and the masses, classes, parties and other proper names are ended. Global integration of action and proper names is to be left behind. We have neither truth or a fiction and we therefore need a form for the process of truth. Local events are pieces of truth. He saw the obligation to seize this newness in something having finished. Yet we cannot say absolutely that proper names have finished, the sequence of truths having come to an end. This I interpreted as the necessary modesty of a philosopher of events who did not want to claim to know which things are events. Otherwise we are lost in claims about whose opinion or reading of events is correct. He could not claim to know that this series of truth (as proper names) was finished but only to grasp the emergence of a different series. Badiou sees the need not to seem to be a prophet claiming to give out an approved list of events and to name the point at which certain series have ended. He returned to the Paris riots and the creation of a new visibility for inexistence, for which we have no place.

Zizek ended the conference by proclaiming that we would all be back like the Lacanian real, ‘in the spirit of separation.’

I think that what had really made the conference a success was the vitality of the theme along with the rigor of such notions as front, comedy, proper names and lack. I think it says a lot about the need for caution in the thought of a politics of truth. Postmodernism, liberalism and relativism cannot gag all thought, claiming it is fanatical, dangerous or cut off from the real world. Yet, if in taking a stand the rigor of thought is lost, the imperative and its potential will be betrayed. Philosophers should not abandon the future to the direction that capitalism is giving, one making even Marx a commodity for the shopping basket of leisurely, down to earth and accessible thought. Yet in opposing this thought must have the rigor that was at work a great deal during this conference.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

From Wilhelm Waiblinger's essay: "Friedrich Holderlin's Life, Poetry and Madness" (1830)

[I attached this extract because I found it amusing in all sorts of ways. It is at once bland and factual but then again very funny...]

. . . Now if one were to step into this unfortunate man's house, he certainly would not expect to meet a poet who had merrily wandered along the Ilyssus with Plato; but the house is not ugly, it is the dwelling of a prosperous carpenter; a man who has an uncommon degree of culture for a man of his standing, and who speaks about Kant, Fichte, Schelling, Novalis, Tieck and others. One inquires after the room of Herr Librarian - for Hölderlin still enjoys being addressed by title - and then comes to a small door. Talking can already be heard inside, and one assumes that Hölderlin already has company, but is then told by the honest carpenter that H. is completely alone and talks to himself day and night.
One ponders, wondering whether or not to knock, and feels a sense of uneasiness. After finally knocking, a loud and forceful "Come in!" can be heard. Opening the door, one finds a haggard figure standing in the middle of the room, who bows as deeply as possible and will not stop bestowing compliments, and whose mannerisms would be very graceful were there not something convulsive about them. One admires the profile, the high forehead heavy with thought, the friendly, lovable eyes, extinguished but not soulless; one sees the devastating traces of the mental illness in the cheeks, the mouth, the nose, above the eyes where an oppressive and painful wrinkle has been etched. With regret and sadness, one observes the convulsive movement which sometimes spreads throughout the entire face, forcing his shoulders to jerk and his fingers to twitch. He wears a simple jacket and likes to keep his hands in his pockets. One says a few introductory words which are then received with the most courteous obeisance and a deluge of nonsensical words which confuse the visiting stranger. Gracious as he was and, for the sake of appearance, still is, H. now feels obliged to say something friendly to the guest, to ask him a question. One comprehends a few words of his question, but most of these could not possibly be answered. Nor does Hölderlin in the least expect to be answered. On the contrary, he becomes extremely perplexed if the visitor attempts to follow up a train of thought. More about that later, when we discuss our conversations with him. For now, our concern is simply with the fleeting appearance. The visitor finds himself addressed as "Your Majesty", "Your Holiness", and "Merciful Herr Pater". Hölderlin, however, is extremely upset; he receives such visits with the greatest displeasure and is always more disturbed afterwards. For that reason it was always against my own will whenever someone requested me to lead them to Hölderlin. Yet, I would rather do this than let one visit him unaccompanied. The visit would be too upsetting for the lonely man, who is shut off from all associations with people, and the visitor would not know how to treat him. Hölderlin would soon begin to thank the visitor for the visit and would again bow, whereupon it would then be best for one not to tarry any longer.
Nor does anyone stay with him longer than this. Even his earlier acquaintances found such conversation too uncanny, too oppressive, too boring, too senseless, for the Librarian was at his most eccentric in his behavior toward them. Friedrich Haug, the epigrammatist who had known him for a long time, once came to visit. He, too, was addressed as "Your Royal Majesty" and "Herr Baron von Haug". Though the old friend assured H. that he had not been ennobled, H. positively would not cease bestowing him with distinguished titles. Toward complete strangers he speaks absolute nonsense. But first of all, we shall describe the outer appearance he presents of himself, and then we will consider this in greater detail.
He wrote a lot at first and filled every sheet of paper which was handed to him. There were letters in prose or in free Pindaric metrics addressed to his dear Diotima, others more frequently in alcaics. He had adopted a thoroughly peculiar style, the contents of which were: remembrance of the poet, struggle with God and celebration of the Greeks. As for his current train of thought, nothing has appeared yet.
At the beginning of his stay with the carpenter, he still broke out in attacks of madness and rage many times, which forced Zimmer, as a last resort, to strike the frenzied man with his sturdy fists. Hölderlin once chased the man and his whole family out of the house and locked the door.
He instantly became enraged and convulsive whenever he saw anyone from the clinic. Since he often wandered about at liberty, he was naturally exposed to the jeers of the dreadful people who can be found everywhere, and to whose bestial nature such a frightfully spirited unfortunate becomes an object of ignorant viciousness. Now when he realized this, he would become so wild that he would throw stones and dung at them; and one could be certain that he would still be furious the following day. With deepest regret we were forced to acknowledge that even university students were animalistic enough to taunt and enrage him. With regard to this subject, we can only say that of all the wicked traits which laziness engenders in the universities, this is certainly one of the most worthless.
The carpenter's wife or one of his sons or daughters often took the poor man into the garden or vineyard, whereupon Hölderlin would find a rock to sit on, waiting until they would go home. It is notable that persons in his company had to act as if they were with a child, if he were not to be made restless.
If he leaves the house, he must first be reminded to wash and tidy himself, as his hands are usually dirty from having spent half of the day tearing grass from the ground. Then, after he has dressed, he must be led, for he positively will not lead. He wears his hat pulled down to his eyes, and if he is not too deeply withdrawn into himself, he will raise it in greeting to a two-year-old child. It is both praise- and noteworthy that the people in the city who were familiar with him never made fun of him but quietly let him go his own way, while they often said to one another: Ach, how bright and educated this gentleman

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Film: Even Dwarves Started Small (1968). Dir. Herzog, W.

“There is something midget-like inside of us.” (Werner Herzog)

Following the critical success of his first cinematic release, Signs of Life,(1) Herzog, along with Wenders and Fassbinder, was on his way to becoming recognised as part of the German new wave. His next release was thus eagerly awaited in certain circles. Scripted within four or five days – Herzog had trained himself to write without correction – Even Dwarfs Started Small, filmed during 1968, however disgusted audiences and was in effect banned on release.(2) Furthermore it was castigated by both the left and right – the left for appearing to ‘belittle’ attempts at revolution, the right for the film’s lawlessness; its utter nihilism. The film also encountered criticism from animal rights campaigners, not least for the images of a crucified monkey, but also of chickens pecking at each other’s throats, dead pigs, and so forth – as Herzog suggested “something isn’t right with nature.” Hence it was in this context, the context that is of political unrest and student revolutions in Europe, that Herzog found himself the target of regular death threats.(3) Yet such an introduction to Even Dwarfs Started Small can only briefly intimate something of the challenges that are here brought to bear. It would nevertheless surely surprise a great many of Herzog’s admirers and critics that he acknowledges it as a film more likely to stand the test of time than other more established works like Aguirre and Fitzcarraldo. He describes Even Dwarfs Started Small as drawn from “a nightmare” communicating “something desperate…we cannot brush it aside.”

The film depicts dwarves railing against the institution of which they are a part in a world, it appears, entirely given over to dwarves. Observed from the dwarves’ perspective, machines in this environment like cars, typewriters, doors, and so forth appear outsized, incongruous, and essentially entirely alien. Against the oppression of this unfamiliar landscape, with their leader having been imprisoned, the anarchistic dwarves run riot – laughing in(s)anely, throwing chickens, and generally destroying everything in sight. It is a revolt against oppression which however threatens in turn its own oppression, in which hysterical laughter is one small step away from the laughter of meglomania and madness. In this respect it bears a nagging relation to the syndrome that afflicts Aguirre. In the context of the revelling dwarves, dionysiac revelry is the pretext for hysterical, pathetic cackling. Nevertheless, Even Dwarfs Started Small is an extremely amusing, comic film. It is, as Herzog reflects in that unmistakable German brogue, “the darkest comedy you could imagine.”

(1) The Carl Meyer prize for Signs of Life presented him with the money to fund this remarkable adventure, filmed as it was in the landscape of Lanzarote. Please refer to the film stills available on the photo gallery together with a few fine examples of Herzog's dialogue.
(2) Herzog recalls of having to hire out private cinemas to get the film shown.
(3) For Herzog this was no doubt a useful preparation for the later relationships that he was to forge with respect of his work, particularly with Klaus Kinski.

Saturday, July 02, 2005

Baudelaire Poem: Correspondences

Nature is a temple, where, from living pillars, a flux
of confused words is, sometimes, allowed to fall:
Man travels it, through forests of symbols, that all
observe him, with familiar looks.

Like far echoes that distantly congregate,
in a shadowy and profound unity,
vast as the night air, in its clarity,
perfumes, colours, sounds reverberate.

There are fresh perfumes, like the flesh of children,
mellow as oboes, green as prairies,
- and others, rich, glorious and forbidden,

having the expansive power of infinities,
amber, musk, benjamin and incense,
that sing of the ecstasies of spirit and sense.

- Baudelaire

Sunday, May 29, 2005

Deleuze and the Literary Machine

[1] I would like to offer a review of a particular construction in Deleuze’s encounter with literature. This is very much in response to Joseph’s recent postings and the issues of literary production they raise. Literature that is a production of the ‘outside’ is something that Deleuze works hard to understand and to rid of illusions. This is very much an anti-Hegelian endeavour of critique through connection with differential production. Yet – we must be careful here - it cannot be anti-Hegel because in contradicting the dialectic we can become integrated into its movements. There has to be self-sufficiency about Critique that avoids the threat of Hegel. Deleuze has to make connections only upon the basis of a production that is self-sufficient in each particular case and where each part cannot be united with its opposite. What is production without an Other? One answer is that it is Nietzsche’s will to power. Here I take a different approach to the question by considering Deleuze’s writings upon the specific production functioning in Sacher-Masoch’s literature. We will then come back to Hegel and ask whether Brusseau’s book ‘Isolated Experiences’ helps us further to think articulate non-dialectical difference through the his elaboration of the sovereignty of isolation. Of course this will be isolated from thinking against Hegel if it is to avoid the dialectic. We will of course find that Hegel haunts us if we don’t base our practice upon its own production, from within it, and do not oppose it to the dialectic. Production links to an excess over concepts but the problem for us is whether it avoids opposition and contradiction such that it has no need to oppose itself to the dialectic: it is already beyond it. This clean air is what I think Joseph seems to breath in his postings – he is already beyond the dialectic despite its apparent haunting. Rather than react we must be Dionysian, unable to oppose because of our humour and light feet – I know that Joseph is a dancer.

[2] Deleuze writes in ‘Coldness and Cruelty’ of taking ‘the literary approach’ because both sadism and masochism were originally defined from this practice (CC14). In pursuing this he makes symptomatology a question of art. Instead of pursuing a dialectical attempt to link opposites the need is to form a connection with the particular production of each symptom of sought. This leads us to pursue the logic of sense that is articulated through the practice. The differential mechanisms reveal the particular production going on in each case and this is neglected if symptoms are covered over by generalising concepts. My previous posting upon Spinoza seems to articulate a different view when it argues that ‘everything connects.’ Yet this is the key to Deleuze’s anti-Hegelian practice. He wants to connect everything to its production but this production must be differential and therefore specific so that it isn’t integrated by a dialectic. Symptoms must express a greater specificity than would be the case if more and more general concepts could account for production. If we envisage a virtual production then we exceed the actual in thought. With actual terms alone there would only be greater generality found in the finite set of combinations. Through the excessive potential of the virtual we find that in each production and its performance (for example, sadism and masochism) the actual is exceeded through a production that only differentiates. To generalise is to suppress the full expression of production in thought. We need not rely upon what is given as actual – habit, common sense, prediction – to account for what is produced. Therefore Deleuze can argue in ‘Coldness and Cruelty’ that Masochism need not be explained in terms of Sadism, which has been already analysed and written on at great length. There is no common sense to these two practices that must be extended but the particular and unpredictable symptoms of a specific production in each case. An orientation to the production of the artwork and to experience in all its forms must therefore seek to understand Masochism through itself. Production is both about connection and limitation or specification through difference, a point that we will explore further.

[3] Configuring symptoms and signs – this is the practice of Sade and Masoch (CC16). New forms of expression thus arise from the ‘literary machines’ that must work if they are to be works of art. This resonates in Deleuze ‘Proust and Signs’ where the temporal apprenticeship is oriented to the future and not the past, to different worlds of signs (PS4). ‘In Search of Lost Time’ time regained is a multiplication of signs – Madeleine, steeples, trees, cobblestones, napkin, noise of a spoon, pipe (PS11). This veritable production is differential and does not tie parts together – instead difference is expressed as the principle of production. These have difference intensities, different levels of profundity depending upon whether or not the translation of the sign is a failure. It might be that it goes no further than memory, which is an orientation towards the past. Combray rises up not as it once was but absolutely, in a form that was never experienced, in its essence or its eternity (PS12). This profound level of production is common to both moments such that they manifest their specificity in each case. This takes us beyond the resemblances or memories to the common production of what is new and different in each concentrated case. The product of difference is expressed with profundity in each case not by resemblance – repetition of the same – but through difference. Translation is the practice that stages the intense expression of what is otherwise covered over by habit and common sense (good example of this is worldly signs that build up or assemble through imitation and habit into great geological edifices). It is potentially the involuntary animation of the faculties, which have a higher function, a free state of pure expression. This is a connection with production because it is pure and orientated to a future unencumbered by the past. The past is to be reinscribed by the production we find in it as the past and present moment both express a potential future, which is production through difference itself. According to Deleuze Proust denies man a will to truth since it is searched for only when we are forced to do so in terms of a concrete situation (PS15). This makes the involuntary ‘encounter’ with signs the mark of their purity, the unfettered production that cannot be given in experience. Absolute original time is this production, the creative whole only encountered through its own autonomy. A different practice is highly specific; it expresses a common production and not a common concept (just as Spinoza’s infinite substance does not deny but works through difference so that concepts must follow this production and not limit it from the start). There is no reaction between the two moments (past and present) but only the expression of this production in different ways. Its future is not one of bringing together through concepts but further differentiating in a production that exceeds and continually overcome or overtakes what concepts present.

[4] The second part of ‘Proust and Signs’ was added in 1972 (the first part having been published in 1964) and reflects complex developments in Deleuze’s thought in between these two dates. Significantly, the second part is titled ‘The Literary Machine.’ It moves from the translation of signs to their production. The Search is a machine because the modern work of art, according to Deleuze, is anything we like as long as we make the whole thing work (PS146). This brings us again to differential production, which must be connected with but doesn’t dictate a common sense of possible experience. This is ‘Antilogos’ and according to Deleuze this means that the machine depends upon the functioning of its separate parts (ibid). This substitutes the problem of meaning for that of involuntary use, the animation of the artwork by the forces of production. The involuntary machine of interpretation (PS 148) relies upon this affirmation of production in itself, whatever its effects may be. The singular essence must not be generalised through other signs – this pluralism preserves the role and purity of expression of difference in its production. The unity is that of the search, of the orientation to what is plural so that only the different returns (to refer unavoidably to Deleuze’s reading of Nietzsche’s Eternal Return). Only difference can express production but only an apprenticeship can express the necessary affirmation and openness adequate to constructing the literary machine.

[5] To return to ‘Coldness of Cruelty’, we are now armed with ‘the literary machine’ as a concept created later in Deleuze’s thought but a tool that helps us to grasp the workings of his reading of Masochism. Deleuze writes that the sadist demonstrates through thought or reason (a higher functioning of this faculty) whilst the Masochist educates through the imagination. Both rise to an impersonal element. Notice the Kantian dimension to this. Deleuze does find a higher functioning of a particular faculty that expresses the formal and grounding production that is precisely ungrounding. Production is powered by negation through dialectic but freer and pure functioning from which the new and different emerges in concrete situations. Transformation follows from this higher, purer and freer function. The sadist’s institution, and the masochist’s contract, instantiate a practice that aims for pure production and thus to overcoming of what is given and established. Deleuze in this way builds up the case that symptoms indicate different productions in terms of literary machines that function. Making Sadism and Masochism the two parts of one conceptual entity (Sado-Masochism) is the formation of ‘a badly analysed composite’ (a term used in his ‘Bergsonism’ book of 1966). It is a transcendental illusion where symptoms are suppressed by syndromes that generalise whilst ignoring the gaps in the unities they propose. It does not allow them to function as literature does, allowing them to work in their specific and autonomous ways. Where such a syndrome breaks down we find production is expressing itself as differential, as irreducibly specific in each case. The gap is the mark of production, which is Antilogos and thus opposed in principle and in its workings to a common sense. Therefore any talk of a common production must be that of difference itself, of a groundless ground where only the difference returns or is repeated. The challenge is to affirm difference as the principle of production when this makes the mechanisms irreducibly singular, divided by their production. Any dialectical aim will deny the production, which exceeds what can be expressed by concepts.

[6] In Sade’s work the omnipotence of demonstrative reason leads to the dream of a universal and impersonal crime. This is a transcendental form that cannot be experienced but only thought in the practice of sadism (CC28). This coldness of demonstrative reason must have its pure logic of sense, an apathy that allows no impulse or enthusiasm (CC29). This is because for such a production to be a transcendental form the Sadist must envisage a pure production without interference from that which is personal or material. Otherwise nothing new can be produced, no pure and infinitive ‘sense- events’ (to put this in the terms of Deleuze’s ‘The Logic of Sense’ of 1969). Without this only the combination and reactions of actual elements can go on – a logos, a law and a predictability establishing a common sense that denies the excess manifested in Sadistic practice. According to Deleuze, the Sadist must think out the Death Instinct such that production is expressed through itself. This is pure negation, the totalising of what he can achieve in experience only through partial negations (CC31). The latter are the demonstrative form oriented to the Idea of pure negation, developed through this orientation. Against Sadism’s negativity and negation there is Masochism’s disavowal and suspense. The latter is an Ideal of pure imagination (CC35). Deleuze writes that both Sade and Masoch want to define the ‘counterpart of the world capable of containing its violence and excesses’ (CC37). This means drawing out its violence and giving it a ‘spiritual’ quality as purified and self-conscious. This is a reconstruction of the world, which finds the pure sensible reality underlying forces of nature and tradition. It is the ‘being of sensation’ that the artwork produces without the baggage of what is given. The ‘blocs of sensation’ form literary machines. This means extracting the ‘logic of sense’ operative in what otherwise can simply be generalised if it does not have the specificity of the artwork (or of other forms of creation). Masochistic practice comes in this way to define itself when it isn’t limited by comparisons with other practices. Thus Deleuze speaks of the ‘specific universe’ of masochism (CC42) and this brings us to role of the artwork in capturing production precisely because it is singular, limited and cannot be generalised to the exclusion of the autonomous differentiation that exceed what is actual and captured by concepts.

[7] The orientation of the artist towards the being of sensation must be one of affirmation, of openness to the involuntary shock of thought. The emergence of the infinitive, the sense-event, cannot be limited by the conceptual practices of generalization. Otherwise the purity of production is lost because it cannot be separated in each case and thus thought through itself. A symptom becomes for the artist something to be expressed rather than something to be compared with, with and so limited by, what is already given. For Deleuze this is necessary to capture a production, to express the event rather than the given. If a painting is supposed to add to opinions or insights into the ‘nature’ of humanity it can never expand or overcome humanity. It can never capture becoming but only being. It can never be inhuman or over-human. Expression is infinite because it expresses a groundless ground. This leads us to find that production can only be found within the limits of a particular practice or expression and not across general similarities. What ‘is’ is produced and always already overcome by what can become, by the future. This makes what is given the burden that Nietzsche complained about, the baggage that leads thought to connect up with other givens in order to limit and impose responsibilities to tradition and to what people believe. Thus we have the separate dramas that are complete in themselves if they are not to be burdened (CC45). Deleuze’s Kantian dimension is at work here (so often his silent partner in his early studies). The transcendental conditions must be established if any sense is to be found, if generalisations are not to deny us production and its affirmation in practice.

[8] We have seen that Deleuze finds production in evidence in the purity of thought and imagination and within Masochism this leads to the birth of a ‘new man’ (CC52). Through the great primary nature of the mother – impersonal, cold, serve – there is overcoming (CC54). Contract has established that the woman overcomes the father figure in a theatre for which her victim educates her. The Ideal is cruel and there is a specific freezing point at which idealism is realised (CC55). Deleuze is keen to avoid seeing the father punishing the son through the mother. This would generalise and so deny the specificity of this production. The concrete situation that is expressed by symptoms demands a translation that is open rather than closed by a preconceived etiology (CC58). Deleuze finds that the Mother generates the symbolism through which the masochist expresses himself (CC63). This is the Ideal as opposed to the order of the Real and so liberates in preparation for a rebirth in which the Father has no part (CC66). This production and the overcoming it instantiates require the specific conditions of masochism. The Mother is idealised through the torture and the father invalidated through disavowal (CC68). Both are positive because they produce an overcoming through the Ideal rigor of supersensualism. The Ideal is contained within fantasy whose temporality is waiting, the neutralisation of the Real (CC73). Within stasis and suspension the real and ideal are absorbed.

[9] Reference is made to Kant’s second Critique (as in the Nietzsche book he is set up to be knocked down despite having done much silent work already). The Good is made dependent on the law, which is self grounded solely by virtue of its own form (CC82 – this is powerfully expressed as the third Poetic Formula which might Summarise the Kantian philosophy in the 1978 preface to Deleuze’s 1963 Kant book). Deleuze sees in this an essential dimension of modern thought. We have seen it at work already because pure form is production through its purity, as a logic of sense. Deleuze finds that Sade uses irony to transcend the law towards a higher principle (CC86). However, humour is the downward movement from the law to its consequences. The law can be twisted by excess of zeal and this leads to absurdity, to disorder and so the law is reduced to its furthest consequences (CC88). Masochism practices this when the law denies pleasure and establishes guilt from the start. Yet it provides what it denies through its punishment. Masochism is therefore the theatre of absurdity that overcomes the father and the law through its own logic. Sadism makes the father a higher principle than the law whilst Masochism invests the law in the mother who expels it (CC90). The overcoming displaces the father to enable a second birth as parthenogenesis, i.e. without the father having a role (CC93). There is guilt and law but also the possibility of contract with the mother that stages the absurdity of father and law. We find that Deleuze emphasises the specific formalism of Masochism (CC109) in order that his literature is a machine and not simply a colony of generalisations about what is actual.

[10] When we talk about production - about transcendental principles and conditions – Deleuze finds this to be involuntary. The condition or ground of an actual principle of experience – Freud’s pleasure principle being an example of the latter, which is discussed in ‘Coldness and Cruelty’ – leads us to be ‘hurled headlong’ beyond it to the absolutely unconditioned (CC114). This sets up the qualitative dualism of union (Eros) and destruction (Thanatos) in Freud. These are different rhythms that cannot be given in experience but their expression in through and sensation makes it profound at certain moments (CC115). The higher functioning the faculties is the expression of such production. Combinations of both Eros and Thanatos are given in experience and so that what is given becomes inadequate, the production being given only in the specific and non-generalised practice. We have found that Deleuze approaches the symptoms of Sadism and Masochism in order to make the claim for a neglected side of medicine. Etiology is the privileged scientific or experimental practice that is one part of medicine. The other is symptomatology as literary and artistic practice of medicine. For the later literary machines must be allowed to function such that an actual and empirical principle finds its conditions and not merely is not burdened by concepts.

[11] James Brusseau takes us to the heart of Deleuzianism in describing how the particular distinguishes itself without distinguishing itself from other things. Beyond difference from something else to self-differentiation. This is produced within something and so limited (IE9) by its self-expression. The implication for Brusseau is no contrast or challenge between what is specific – this is something that dialectic uses in order to understand difference. Instead differential ontology has overtaken the dialectic, not acknowledging it as an Other because it is engaged in its production. The event is the production of a particular verb itself: the physical things and settings obscure this infinitive as that which is proposed by difference without limitation (IE10). The given is given by difference, pure and not effected by material conditions. The key point for us is that the need for reaction, opposition and negation is being denied. The circuit of actual and virtual – of problem and its solution – is self-contained in each case. Production must express itself absolutely fully and without interference if a sense-event is to be incarnated. Other terms are already actual and so must not affect the event in producing what is new and born of difference by generalising it away. The implication is that localising ensures that difference can make the world without generality limiting or burdening difference (IE11). Brusseau gives the example of different pieces of music, which are all the singular definition of beauty. Each occasion is singular because difference operates within it and it cannot be generalised or compared. This takes away the need to balance opposites since the conditions of experience are the unilateral action requisite to pure production (IE25). The challenge for Deleuze is that the virtual, which is productive of the actual, mustn’t be something that can be contained within the dialectic. It has to be powerfully non-conceptual and be that through which the production of concepts is to be animated. Brusseau believes that Deleuze avoids prolonged engagement with Hegel in order to create a non-dialectical thought fully and through itself. It is the demands of a sufficient account of production that invokes the virtual, limiting actual cases of production in order to concentrate its full energy without limitation.

[12] We seem to find that Hegel’s shadow is not so total as we might suspect – Nietzsche’s will to power seem to force itself upon thought again and again and in new ways the undermining dialectic. Who hasn’t been rudely awakened by aphorism 36 of ‘Beyond Good and Evil’. In the course of a habitual thought we find all overturned through the purity of the production. A great machine is expressed in every case only if every case is sovereign, the über-instance that does not rely upon an Other. It must have the purity of the logic of sense – the infinitive, the ideal reached only through coldness and cruelty in Masoch’s production. It might seem that to use concepts is to summon up Hegel’s dialectic, which integrates this excess. Yet what are concepts without Ideas – that which exceeds the terms of the dialectic without considering it, without such a negative logic even occurring? One innocent of the dialectic because its feet are so light, its production sufficient unto itself in each instance. Affirmation thinks through its production and so never opposes or challenges what it leaves far behind. Cézanne’s father is overcome through Masochistic practice and his possible illegitimacy made a liberation. We see Deleuze trying to make the machine works through its parts such that the future animates each part intensely through itself. Each affirms itself and is a sufficient and full machine only through this, through production grounded in difference itself. This I find to be what is so striking about Joseph’s correspondence – an overcoming that isn’t haunted by Hegel because it has left him behind. This must be intensely singular and so overcome reactions of what is actual in the sovereignty of what is differential. Is this the ‘maelstrom’ of the overcoming Joseph heralds like a manifesto that performs rather than simply representing.

[13] I invite full condemnation for the treatment of Hegel given here. It is limited and needs more development to do him justice. My only defence is that which Brusseau offers of Deleuze’s Hegel: that he leaves him behind in his thinking of pure difference and must avoid the dialectic becoming an Other through a self-sufficient production.

It may be of interest to members of this blog that Deleuze in ‘Coldness and Cruelty’ offers a quotation from Musil’s ‘Man Without Qualities’:
‘What fearful power, what awesome divinity is repetition! It is the pull of the void that drags us deeper and deeper down like the ever-widening gullet of a whirlpool… For we know it all along: it was none other than the deep and sinful fall into a world where repetition drags one down lower and lower at each step.’ (CC114)
Of further interest is the footnote at which the translator states that the passage does not seem to be included in the English translation of the work. I wonder if anyone can shed any light on this. It might I suppose be in the second volume that I have not myself read but I seem to remember Brian having a library copy.


James Brusseau (1998) Isolated Experience: Gilles Deleuze and the Solitudes of Reversed Platonism (IE), New York: SUNY Press.

Gilles Deleuze (2000) Proust and Signs (PS), London: Athlone. Translated by Richard Howard.
- (1995) Kant’s Critical Philosophy, London: Athlone. Translated by Hugh Tomlinson and Barbara Habberjam.
- (1991) Masochism: Coldness and Cruelty (CC), New York: Zone Books. Translated by Jean McNeil.
- (1991) Bergsonism, New York: Zone Books. Translated by Hugh Tomlinson and Barbara Habberjam.
- (1983) Nietzsche and Philosophy, London: Athlone Press. Translated by Hugh Tomlinson.