Monday, January 28, 2013

Kant's Aesthetics of Communicability in 300 Words




Kant uses the idea of communicability in several texts, but its sustained development is the early sections of Critique of Pure Judgement where he develops his theory of what I will call here the indifferent universality of subjective taste, moment 2, and that aesthetic judgement is indifferently pleasurable, moment 4. 

In the third critique, the second and fourth moments put to the reader a complex theory of communicability. Placed together the moments present the concept that every subject is capable of judging something as beautiful or not, and that in so doing they are also capable of communicating this judgement to every other subject through the establishment of a sensus communis of pleasure attained from aesthetic judgement. 

Communicability then is the ability of every subject to make a singular judgement on an object as beautiful, and to confirm the validity of making such and such a judgement first because they gain pleasure from the judgement, pleasure gained from a realisation that their will is attainable in the world at large, freedom, and second because they can confirm that the faculty of gaining pleasure from judging beauty is shared with every other subject, confirming that the world at large is always under the sway of the rules of reason. 

We are left then with what is, in fact, both a classic statement of communicability and indifference. Aesthetic judgement, as described in our introduction, is the faculty or capacity of every subject to freely respond to an aesthetic object that is pleasurable, combined with the rule that in doing so they must turn to their neighbour and ask: “Do you find this beautiful?” Their neighbour is then free to respond: “No I don’t find that beautiful, but I do find other things beautiful.” 

Communicability here then is the manner in which a free subjective response is entirely communicable with every other subject even if they do not agree with the choice of object for said response. 

Communicability is then represented in Foucault as intelligibility, in Habermas as communicative action, and in Agamben as communicability of signatures. 

It is, to my mind, one of the key concepts of our age and I hope after my indifferece project to move on to the relevancy of communicability to epistemology at large.

Tags: Kant, Foucault, Habermas, Agamben, aesthetics, third critique, communicability, intelligibility





Agamben, Language, Communicabiity


Opening of the final chapter of my book Agamben and Indifference dealing with language in The Sacrament of Language.


One of the earliest pieces of important Agamben criticism, Düttman’s introduction to Idea of Prose, attempts to delineate the key element of language for Agamben’s thought: communicability. Düttman concentrates on the Benjamin source for the term, specifically the idea that communicability communicates nothing other than language’s capacity to communicate.  It does this only through its praxis or act, its contingency, context, operativity and intelligibility.   Yet, at no point can language communicate its communicability it can only demonstrate it through its being a communicable medium or process.  This relates to Agamben’s interest in the Russell-Frege paradox of statement self-predication although as we shall see an important element of communicability is that it concerns compound linguistic series, not individual words.  Perhaps at this stage we should progress through an admission of failure. In my own extended comments on communicability in my earlier work, while I approached this quality and delineated some of its aspects, I did not arrive at a state of clarity in terms of its definition.  I am certainly to blame for this lack of clarity and so many other dark obfuscations.  Having said that with the publication of The Sacrament of Language, The Kingdom and the Glory and The Signature of All Things it is now increasingly impossible not to be clear over what Agamben takes to be language’s primary characteristic: its communicability defined in terms of its intelligibility or its operativity.  It has been a long road for many of us to this refuge point, itself only the gate to a whole new territory for which we remain woefully ill-equipped and with little to guide us beyond sketches on the backs of match-books, outlandish stories from the mouths of the mad, that sort of thing. 
 
Tags: philosophy of language, Agamben, Sacrament of Language, Communicability

Thomas Gray Archive : Texts : Poems : "Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard"



Thomas Gray Archive : Texts : Poems : "Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard"

Just following a few Thomas Gray links on Twitter and thought is would be great to have a link to his finest work via the Thomas Gray Archive. 

Tags: 18th century poetry, thomas gray, elegy

Agamben's Homo Sacer completed by The Kingdom and the Glory


The recent publication of Agamben's The Kingdom and the Glory is a milestone in his work, completing as it does Homo Sacer, and in contemporary political theory.  Unfortunately the text is long, for Agamben, and mostly made up of archival and philological observations on theology from the 2nd century on.  Dotted through the text innumerable brilliant observations on our politics but I am not sure how many will get through the text to find those. 

Not to worry.  My forthcoming book, Agamben and Indifference, has a whole chapter that weeds out the theological detail and concentrates on its political significance.  Not through some hatred of theology, just because it is the politics that most of us are interested in.

This chapter should appear as a separate article in Madrid soon.  Will post link.  Until then here is a taster...

To say The Kingdom and the Glory is an advance on Homo Sacer suggests something about the earlier text lags behind the later work, which is not the case, rather what I mean is that Homo Sacer was never designed to be read in isolation but a part of sequence of texts.  At this point, more than a decade later, due to the full availability of the method by the time it was composed, it can be asserted without controversy that The Kingdom and the Glory (Homo Sacer II, 2) is therefore a significant and perhaps predictable corrective development of Homo Sacer I, 1 in at least three senses.  The first is that it presents an articulation of Power missing from the earlier study of sovereign power, an articulation that not only suggests that Power is two-fold but that Power is not merely to be presented as articulated into two contesting elements, kingdom and government, but that said articulation defines the operativity of Power as a signature.  The second is that the use of paradigms in Homo Sacer, often its most controversial moments, is superseded to some degree by the development of the theory of signatures in this later work.  In that the method is made up of an interpenetration of paradigmatic logic, signatory distribution and archaeological messianic reconstruction, the lack of any mention of the signature in Homo Sacer is certainly a limitation.  This is particularly the case in relation to the later work where the signatures pertaining to Power in the form of oikonomia, Secularization, Glory, Order and so on, present a much more complex and radical formation than those to be found in the paradigms of the earlier piece.  The third and final difference is the development of the Agambenian method of indifference.  Indistinction, one of the key synonyms for indifference in Agamben’s work, is central to Homo Sacer of course, but by the time of the publication of The Kingdom and the Glory, the centrality of indifference to the method is fully developed.  By this I mean specifically the suspension of historically imposed oppositions wherein one element plays the role of the common, the other that of the proper, and thus where the common element then functions as sovereign foundation of the singularities it makes intelligible but, without which, it itself would be entirely unintelligible (the first clear definition of indifference in Agamben, to be found in The Coming Community).  But I also mean that through this method of indifference, while the complete articulation of power becomes available to view through our current access to the history of its operations and the recent period of indiscernibility between its two key elements, kingdom and government already impossible to discern from Homo Sacer, the real purpose of the text is the role of inoperativity as such, specifically through the signature of Glory.  In that The Kingdom and the Glory takes us, in its final pages, towards a possible suspension of inoperativity, it marks a significant advance in Agamben’s use of indifference, constituting in effect the inoperativity or indifferentiation of indifference as such.

Tags: Agamben, Homo Sacer, Political Theory, Theology, Indifference

[i] Usually I capitalise signatures b

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Deleuze and Badiou


I have been of the opinion for some years now that the future of philosophy and theory in general lies in the decision between the philosophical system of Agamben and Badiou around the use of indifference in both their works.  More than this a second comment is relevant which is that it is Agamben's critique of Derrida and his modification of Foucault that needs to be taken into account in contrast to Badiou's more compact critique and modification of Deleuze.  This is not to ignore the centrality of Deleuze to Agamben's philosophical archaelogy and his comments on potentiality which are mappable onto Deleuze's virtual but with significant modifications. 

All in all what I mean is that we are now heading into an 'immanentist' century that moves away from the post-transcendental valorization of difference/alterity typical of Levinas, Derrida and all those philosophies of otherness and ethics that they spawned.

This being the case anything that gets us to think in more detail the relations between immanentist philosophers is essential to guide us as we enter into a post-difference age which I am calling the age of indifference.  Top marks to anyone who gets that reference.  And so the Besana's review of Roffe's commentary on Badiou's critique of Deleuze is an interesting and potentially important document.  Check it out here:
http://ndpr.nd.edu/news/32607-badiou-s-deleuze-2/

Gray's "Eton College"


Check out this excellent article on Gray's "Eton College...".  It is an amazing work in its own but with Lehman at the helm, all is clarity indeed.
http://www.slate.com/articles/arts/classic_poems/2013/01/david_lehman_on_why_thomas_gray_s_ode_on_a_distant_prospect_of_eton_college.html

Saturday, January 26, 2013

The Thousand Club


Since I started keeping stats on this page, about five years ago, slowly some pages have achieved for me 'mythical' status in having achieved a 1000 page views.

Remember that this is a highly specialised blog.  Contemporary poetry and contemporary philosophy are perhaps two of the most recherche areas in our culture.  Add the two together and the result is positively occult.

So far only two pages have arrived there:
http://williamwatkin.blogspot.co.uk/2007/04/john-ashbery-tennis-court-oath.html
and
http://williamwatkin.blogspot.co.uk/2007/04/postmodern-poetry-5.html#!/2007/04/postmodern-poetry-5.html


Amazingly my highest rated page is about the most obscure collection by one of the most difficult poets of the modern era since Mallarme.  Perhaps only Prynne raises more eyebrows and questions.

The other is about postmodern poetry, probably the least read and commented form of postmodernism and poetry.  In fact that article, it is in 9 parts, has had over 2500 hits.  Amazing considering it is a specialised academic piece with one of Ashbery's most difficult poems, "Daffy Duck in Hollywood" at its centre.

Bubbling under so to speak are several pages at around 500:
http://williamwatkin.blogspot.co.uk/2007/04/john-ashbery-some-trees.html
http://williamwatkin.blogspot.co.uk/2007/04/john-ashbery-three-poems.html#!/2007/04/john-ashbery-three-poems.html
http://williamwatkin.blogspot.co.uk/2007/07/deleuze-difference-and-repetition.html#!/2007/07/deleuze-difference-and-repetition.html
http://williamwatkin.blogspot.co.uk/2007/04/john-ashbery-self-portrait-in-convex.html
http://williamwatkin.blogspot.co.uk/2007/10/charles-bernstein-introduction.html
http://williamwatkin.blogspot.co.uk/2007/04/john-ashbery-double-dream-of-spring.html#!/2007/04/john-ashbery-double-dream-of-spring.html

All of these have been around for years slowly accumulating a readership but in like a rocket is:
http://williamwatkin.blogspot.co.uk/2012/10/agamben-explained-in-500-words.html#!/2012/10/agamben-explained-in-500-words.html
Not quite at 500 hits it has only been around three months and if it carries on taking hits at the rate it has achieved the last few days, it will be at 1000 in just over a week.  And over the coming few months, who can say, but it may end up in a special 10,000 club all its own.  Ah the headiness of dreaming!

Agamben's State of Exception Explained in 200 words



Giorgio Agamben, State of Exception (2003)

The purpose of this complex text is found in the final pages in the consideration of the articulation or relation between two types of power: auctoritas and potestas.  The assumption is that a state of exception suspends potestas of publically sanctioned governmental power, by applying auctoritas, sovereign power.  What Agamben discovers is that this state of exception is not exceptional but omnipresent, and that rather than there being two types of power, power is nothing other than the fictional and machinelike constant interaction between government requiring a sovereign to legitimate its decisions and sovereignty needing government to makes its power actual in the world.

One can see here that Agamben is using Foucault’s governmentality, but suggests that this did not develop over time, but that sovereign and governing power are fundamentally inter-linked from the start.

 
His overall aim is to show the articulation between sovereign and governmental power, reveal the logical impossibility of this relation and thus suspend or render indifferent the machines of power.

The text itself is a crucial articulation between the incomplete portrait of power as sovereignty in Homo Sacer and the final vision of power as the articulation between sovereign power and governance in The Kingdom and the Glory.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Agamben Explained in 800 Words



This is a combination of two articles on Agamben in general and then the system. This is because I feel strongly that Agamben's form of metaphysical critique only functions and makes a claim on originality and future significance because of the method. So if you have read the other two articles skip this. Or better re-read with a sense of their articulation.

 Part One: Agamben's Philosophy
Agamben’s philosophical project is the making apparent and then rendering indifferent all structures of differential opposition that lie at the root, he believes, of every major Western concept-signature or discursive structure. In this manner his philosophy can be termed a form of metaphysical critique that argues all abstract concepts are only quasi-transcendental, in that they are historically contingent not logically necessary. As such Agamben willingly participates in a tradition that includes Nietzsche, Heidegger, Deleuze and Derrida, thinkers he regularly engages with. Where he differs from all of these is that he is not a philosopher of difference in any way we take this term to signify within the tradition to which I have just alluded. Arguably all his predecessors undermine philosophical structures of consistent identity through the valorisation of difference in some form.

Agamben, however, insists that the difference is as much implicated in the system of metaphysics as that of identity. If, he argues, identity structures are historically contingent, not logically necessary, then so too are differentiating structures, which can then further be said to be complicit in metaphysics, not a means of overcoming it. Rather than undermining identity with difference, therefore, Agamben reveals that identity and difference themselves are not necessary terms but historical contingencies, that in fact they form one single entity within our tradition, what I will call identity-difference, and based on these observations one can suspend their history of opposition by rendering them indifferent to each other.

For Agamben self-identical full presence, what he calls the common, is a discursive entity not an actual state. Difference, what he calls the proper, is the same. Further, concepts are no longer to be taken as identity-concepts, ideational structures possessive of communal consistency around an agreed set of referents that can be held under the same conceptual heading, but identity-difference-concepts that have a historical moment of arising when they become active, a mode of distributing this activity to control large and stable discursive formations over time, such as language, such as power, such as poetry, such as glory, and an almost fated period of indifference where the clear definitions of the system either break down, or can aggressively be shown to be assailable contingencies. The method of tracing these moments for the purpose of suspending identity-difference constructs, what he calls signatures, is an overall methodology that Agamben names philosophical archaeology.

The extent of this archaeology is such that even the terms identity and difference, the founding terms of Western thought and logic, are mere historical presences to him. The implication being that there was a time, permanently inaccessible to us now as totally non-communicable, when we thought, spoke and acted otherwise, and there could be a time when we think, speak and act without a sense of identity, difference, or their opposition. Such a mode of thinking-after-indifference, meaning both thinking that ‘takes after’ or resembles indifferential structures and also a thinking that comes subsequent to them, is the best summary we currently have of his work’s lasting originality.

In 2008 Agamben published probably his most significant work: The Signature of All Things: On Method. Here he corrects his numerous critics the majority of whom mis-construe how he uses historical paradigms within a philosphical system. His remarkable synthesis of philosophy and philology, heavily inspired by Foucault and Benjamin, he calls philosophical archaeology. The system as it is presented in The Signature of All Things is summarised below:

Part Two, Philosophical Archaeology: Agamben's Method
This method consists of tracing the origins of large scale concepts back to the moment when they first became operative as modes of organising and legitimising discourse through Foucauldian intelligibility.

That said, these moments of arising, as he calls them, are not historical data in the usual sense but, inspired by Benjaminian now-time, they actually say as much about us as contemporaries as they do about historical origins.

Thus every contemporary moment, is founded on an origin or arche, yet every arche is constructed by our contemporary discourse. Thus the past only lives in the present yet the present is constantly a construct of the past. In this way time is marked by an essential double anachronism, of past things projected forward into the present and the present as a construct of the past.

Revealing this historical paradox at the basis of large scale concepts such as power, being, secularization, language and so on, is Agamben’s aim, so as to show them as logically unworkable. The past, or temporal common, is founded on the present or temporal proper, yet the present founds the past through its attempts to access it as origin.

Thus take any concept, here for example the modern age, and you reveal the paradox between a past found, even created, by the present and present founded on the past, allowing you to suspend or make indifferent a clear separation between origins and current examples, subsequently freeing yourself of the discursive control of said concept.

It is Foucault with a happy ending.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Ten Years Old and 75+k Hits


To celebrate the blog's tenth birthday and an estimated hits total of 75k (in the old days stats counters were too complicated for me but I average 7k-ish a year) I am updating the blog to make it easier to use and in line with the new features available on blogger.

So you can search the blog, see which pages are popular at the moment, follow it much easier than before and perhaps most significantly you can translate it into other languages.  I have just translated the whole thing into Italian and it is not bad at all.

I have also been invited to become a part of paperblog which listed the blog for the first time yesterday increasing the average hits per day from 50-100 to about 180 in less than 24 hours.  If this were to be sustained at around the 150 a day level then the blog would be getting on average per year and a half the same number of hits it got in ten years!  This seems unlikely to be sustained but still the blog is getting more and more attention which is a good thing for contemporary philosophy and poetry I think.

Finally I have changed to a 'dynamic' template which looks amazing, gives you a choice how to view the content and makes me feel a bit like an old-fashioned magazine editor.  Must remember to get a cigar, tap a phone or two and fire somebody needlessly.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Agamben's Homo Sacer Explained in 300 Words.



With a full comprehension of the method firmly in place,(See Agamben's Method Explained here) it is now relatively easy to recast Homo Sacer as exemplary of the indifferential philosophical archaeological method, a method not fully worked through it must be said at the time of the text’s publication.

So first of all we can note how the different elements of that text—homo sacer, sovereign, musselman, camps, Karen Quinlan, the führer, maverick doctors and so on—map onto the indifferential method as named paradigms to be found in the text of the wider signatures of Power and Life.

 We can also identify the key suspension in the text, named in the subtitle of the work in fact, sovereign power and bare life, and how sovereignty operates as the condition or common, and bare life the conditioned or proper.

If we now turn attention to the more obscure issue of the signature, two elements can be noted. First that Life is the primary signatory term in play in the text moving from one discursive formation to the next without changing its form or its meaning.

Second that one must now also consider the homo sacer project as a whole extending out from this astonishing source text, and how the signatory term Power is transmitted across these often diverse works and indeed dispersed amongst other signatory elements. Most significant in this regard is the role of oikos in Homo Sacer and its extension into oikonomia in The Kingdom and the Glory.

 Finally, we can name the zoe-bios opposition and the homo sacer judicial exception as moments of arising that reveal our own political formation through an archaeology of its source in ancient political practice.


And that’s it in less than 300 words!