Life beyond life

Both Levi and Ben have written more on vitalism. Who knew it was such a hot topic? It is comforting to actually have these discussions with people I read and like and not with some weirdo who doesn’t know what they’re talking about (see YouTube for that).

What I’m especially happy about is that the connection I asked about before between Zizek and vitalism is becoming more clear. I’m glad that it seems other people are maybe starting to see the same thing. I have this problem where some times I see connections between things and assume it to be obvious and then find out that people have no idea what I’m talking about and because the connection is obvious to me, I don’t even know how to explain beyond comic pointing.

Johneffay posted the following quote from Deleuze over at Larval Subjects, and I think it’s quite helpful for seeing this connection:

There’s a profound link between signs, life, and vitalism: the power of nonorganic life that can be found in a line that’s drawn, a line of writing, a line of music. It’s organisms that die, not life. Any work of art points a way through for life, finds a way through the cracks. Everything I’ve written is vitalistic, and least I hope it is. (Deleuze, Negotiations, Columbia UP, 1995, p. 143).

Now, I wanted to talk briefly about my use of the term vitalism. I think I defined it fairly well in my last post, but I feel like there’s still some confusion. Levi said:

“I have an immediate negative reaction whenever vitalism is evoked as I think the accomplishments of biology in the last fifty or so years have been monumental and have been accomplished through a departure from occult vitalistic hypotheses about the nature of life and its processes… At least under my reading. Certainly Deleuze is deeply indebted to Bergson, but I wonder if the claim that Deleuze draws heavily from Bergson is equivalent to the claim that Deleuze advocates Bergson’s concept of elan vital?”

Now, I don’t have that negative reaction, but I also view vitalism differently. I’m not talking about the old biological theory, but of a metaphysical one which states that the proper name of Being is Becoming (or Life). I also think one of the conditions of a vitalist philosophy is the self-organization of matter, or fluid in Schelling, or really whatever is taken as the bottom of the metaphysical reality (even if it’s an endless string of objects). Essentially, what I mean by vitalism is that causality arises in some sense from within the stuff that we’re talking about, that there is some element of freedom inherent in reality itself and that this freedom (or life) exists beyond the things which we commonly say “live.” I want to say that the Lacano-Zizekian lamella is the quintessential ‘thing’ of my metaphysics, so long as it is understood to be in some sense incomplete or imperfect, that is, existing also as a spectre, and and therefore frail or evanescent. So the lamella can go on “living” in that it can exist without body, but without a body it no longer lives as we know living, but rather, it haunts. Or rather, nothing lives and everything haunts. So when an object is destroyed, what I would say happens is that the ghost remains, that there is always a remainder and that the things which “are” are degrading, fading out, to eventually fade in anew. It is this persistence that is vitalistic, this idea that while the things of reality fade away, reality itself allows for them to fade back in, to live, to haunt.

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24 responses to “Life beyond life

  1. You may have seen this already…

    http://codepoetics.com/poetix/?p=808

    on vitalism, spectrality and “unlived life”.

  2. ‘Life’ in the way Deleuze describes it above in the quotation is interesting- organisms die but Life persists? Being=becoming? But it has to be just as capable of becoming inert, becoming dead-matter (organic, linguistic, geological, cultural, cosmological). A vitalism which acknowledges entropy perhaps, or the kind driven by the death drive that Brassier talks about in the last chapter of Nihil Unbound? I suppose that is the problem for (non-bio/metaphysical) vitalism as ontological principle- analogous to the problems with correlationism perhaps: Correlationism is problematised once we attempt to think ancestral phenomena, but vitalism likewise seems incapable of conceiving a world (inorganic and organic) which does not become, which is not suffused with some kind of energy- what of the solar catastrophe, heat death of the universe etc?

  3. Dominic: I hadn’t seen that, I’ll check it out as soon as I have more free time (probably tonight). Thanks.

    Alex: I have no problem with thinking a solar catastrophe so long as things still exist. My vitalism is not limited to organics (or energetics), but pierces all of reality. As Bergson says, “To exist is to change, to change is to mature, to mature is to go on creating oneself endlessly.” Heat death would not eliminate the universal memory of what was and that means that while things don’t exist as they once did, they still exist somehow (as holy ghosts, as quasi-beings). Being = Becoming simply means no static presence, the becoming need not be a forward motion, a projecting, it can be a fading out, a “becoming spectral” (moreso). Things still go on, even if in a different way, even if it’s without body, without life, or without energy. This is after all a “life beyond life.”

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  5. kvond

    Complete Lies: “I want to say that the Lacano-Zizekian lamella is the quintessential ‘thing’ of my metaphysics, so long as it is understood to be in some sense incomplete or imperfect, that is, existing also as a spectre, and and therefore frail or evanescent. So the lamella can go on “living” in that it can exist without body, but without a body it no longer lives as we know living, but rather, it haunts.”

    Kvond: I am interested in this notion of “existing without a body”. This somehow speaks of mind/body dualism, at face value at least. It would seem to me that any hautological or spectral relations are still physical relations between physical parts. So though we might imaginarily experience them as existing “without a body” in a very real sense, our bodies are their bodies. They work to express our material relations, and our material relations express them.

  6. I’ve had many of the same thoughts that you have. the lamella figures prominently in my own ms. in my revision, i’m currently working on the differences and similarities with Deleuze’s thinking.

  7. Michael: thanks for your response. I take it then there are two kinds of spectrality here: a straightforwardly hauntological (which would seem to require a correlative consciousness to instantiate it- wither a realist theory of hauntology or what is universal memory without a being to remember?) and the spectrality of a slow fading down asymptotically towards zero… the latter seems more interesting, a becoming quasi-present through gradual energy dissipation…

  8. Or a (non-organic) vitalism which thinks the dynamic between the self organisation of matter and its decomposition, a thanotic-vitalism…?

  9. “I take it then there are two kinds of spectrality here: a straightforwardly hauntological (which would seem to require a correlative consciousness to instantiate it- wither a realist theory of hauntology or what is universal memory without a being to remember?) and the spectrality of a slow fading down asymptotically towards zero… the latter seems more interesting, a becoming quasi-present through gradual energy dissipation…”

    “Or a (non-organic) vitalism which thinks the dynamic between the self organisation of matter and its decomposition, a thanotic-vitalism…?”

    I don’t think in the first case there needs to be a mind in order for there to be a hauntology. I want to say that in some sense, things remember in that they have the capacity to be haunted by that which no longer exists. I think this is clear in non-human animals, but what I’m still working out is how to explain the idea that mourning (which I take to be the chief philosophical act in my view) is shot through the universe. I want to say that anything that exists mourns in some way. Anything that no longer exists haunts the rest of reality. Maybe I need to be writing this all as a new post…

  10. kvond

    Michael: “I’m still working out is how to explain the idea that mourning (which I take to be the chief philosophical act in my view) is shot through the universe.”

    Kvond: If you have not run into it, you may be interested in Holderlin’s final and untranslatable line, from the Hymn of “Mnemosyne” (possibly the final poem of his sanity):

    …dem
    for him

    Gleich fehlet die Trauer.
    Thus missing is lament.

  11. Pingback: Econontology 2: Zombie Banks, Undead Labor, and Dark Vitalism « Planomenology

  12. Michael- I’m not sure it is clear even for non-human organic life. What do you mean by “remember” here…? Do galaxies remember? Do gluons? Perhaps they bare the traces of what once was, (if it interacted with them) but how much is this a remembrance, moreover a mourning?

  13. “I’m not sure it is clear even for non-human organic life.”

    I think it is. When my mother died, our dog mourned. She was depressed. It was obvious that she was affected by it. Other animals react similarly. Elephants in particularly are known to mourn their dead (I saw a haunting documentary on this years ago where an elephant visited an elephant graveyard… it was powerful). Some have even starved themselves to death when their mates or children die.

    “What do you mean by “remember” here…?”

    I mean that things that exist are continually affected by things that once did. I call this relationship a haunting. That which is affected, by being haunted in this way by spectral beings, mourn these ghosts. What is mourning but being continually affected by that which no longer exists? I’m still working this all out, so my apologies if this is incomprehensible.

  14. kvond

    Michael,

    Beautiful thoughts, but to see through:

    Michael: “What is mourning but being continually affected by that which no longer exists?”

    Kvond: Then by this defintion one could say that if you re-polished your mother’s favorite coffee table, after she died, because it was her favorite, that table was then mourning your mother.

    But how is this differentiated from “commemorating” or “celebrating” something that no longer exists?

  15. “Then by this defintion one could say that if you re-polished your mother’s favorite coffee table, after she died, because it was her favorite, that table was then mourning your mother.”

    I would say the table is already mourning her by her (almost)absence, whether or not I do anything.

    “But how is this differentiated from “commemorating” or “celebrating” something that no longer exists?”

    It is a missing, a longing, and so cannot be a celebration, and it is unwillingly thrust upon us, and so is not not a commemoration. I do not choose to mourn, I find myself always already mourning. The table above does not choose to mourn, it is simply forever affected by its past relations in such a way that it is no longer the same, but is haunted. The table is a relational being (as all things are), and as these relations are increasingly fragmented, so too is the table, as its metaphysical frailty is brought to the surface. It begins to fade.

  16. Michael: Why is this a mourning rather than simply “bearing a trace” via some prior interaction? That description would encompass mourning, celebration, as well as less consciousness-dependant descriptions (this particular atom bears the traces of an interaction with this other atom-now destroyed- as it minutely affected its trajectory). Isn’t the problem here that of a grotesque anthropomorphisation of nature/the inert? What about the obverse- when an inert object becomes stronger, or comes more intensely into existence, do the other inert objects ‘celebrate’ this…?

  17. At death, you break up: the bits that were you
    Start speeding away from each other forever
    With no-one to see.

    Philip Larkin, “The Old Fools”

  18. kvond

    Michael,

    I do not want to debate your poetic attributions, for they hold their own authority, but it is hard to discern mere projection from imposed argument. As to whether we “choose” to mourn, indeed we do find ourselve already mourning, but we also choose to mourn (in several cultures it is a highly ritualized and lengthy act). And I still don’t understand why this involuntary mourning is separable from involuntary celebration (we don’t “choose” to celebrate either).

    I’m following SBA here, though I don’t find it quite so Grotesque. This does seem rather anthropomorphic, though as it is a theory still in the works perhaps there is something very essential you have yet to bring to light.

    I actually find some traction in the panpsychic thinking of Spinoza. He will not grant “mourning” to all things, but he does grant something like the polarities of “Sadness” and “Joy” to all things. Because each thing strives to preserve itself, it experiences Sadness or Joy anytime there is an ontological shift in its power to be. He uses this to examine human psychology, but one would have to say that given his framework, all things must to some degree “experience” the Joy or Sadness of their increase or decreases of power.

    Perhaps you can conceptually link your theory of mourning to these ontological shifts. The problem of course would be that all things not only would mourn (experience sadness or pain of incohesion), but also its opposite. (Hence SBA’s question on celebration.)

  19. Alex: “Why is this a mourning rather than simply “bearing a trace” via some prior interaction?”

    While I like Derrida’s language of the trace, and see the obvious connection (perhaps identity), I think it is more than a trace. It’s more like a metaphysical residue or remainder (or apparition) because the thing is not gone (Derrida speaks of the spectre as the trace of a trace…) but is simply faded. I want to say that the thing still exists to some extent, is still a part of reality, but it is more than ideal. When I speak of memory I’m speaking metaphysically rather than epistemologically.

    If an object is constituted in some way by its relations, then when a related objects ceases to be, that part of the initial object does not simply cease to be, but remains in some way. The history is still there, the past relations all being a part of the object. The object continues to experience these relations, to various degrees, so long as it exists.

    I don’t feel comfortable at this point in talking about “metaphysical celebration,” but can see it becoming important at some point. At this point, I am seeing the loss of objects in terms of lack and use the language of mourning to show this. I could see myself using the language of both, but not for now. I see the spectrality of objects as a haunting, and given that I take that to be an inability to forget, I don’t take the matter as a celebration of any sort. I’ve been working for some time on an adequate philosophy of forgetting, maybe that is the only true metaphysics of celebration for me. We’ll see.

    I don’t think I’m writing an anthropomorphic philosophy, if anything I’m focused too much or organics, but as I’ve said, I’m still working out how this fits with my anti-humanism.

    Kevin: I appreciate the Spinozistic references, and am quite happy to be in his company if you think me position is approximate to his.

  20. Sounds like that old SF staple “psychic resonance”, for pan-psychists. Whether anthropomorphic or not, I think there’s inevitably some psychism implicated in this sort of web-of-fading-allusions textualisation of relations. Not that everything has to be “psychic” in order for this textualisation to work – it’s more the other way around, the “psyche” is spirited in (and away) through the textual weave.

    Mourning I think requires some narcissism – some auto-positing self-relation – certainly in Derrida’s account of it (see the interview “There is no one narcissism”). So the question here may be whether objects like tables sustain this particular psychic structure. I’m inclined to say not…

  21. Mark Crosby

    Rereading some of the writing on spectral realism and suddenly recall something relevant: James T Culbertson’s _Sensations, Memories and the Flow of Time: A Theory of Subjective States, Reductive Materialism using a Spacetime Analysis_ (1976). From the Preface: “The present model holds that sensations do not occur in the brain; they are not brain processes. Instead, they are at the surfaces of perceived objects… spacetime networks construct sense data at stimulus objects… Thoughts are not representations”.

    What’s interesting for a spectral realism is that, according to Culbertson, “The brain is not a repository of images. It is a great connecting center”; furthermore, as Nick Herbert puts it in his chapter summarizing Culbertson (_Elemental Mind_, 1993): “conscious memory in the SRM model is a kind of time travel back into the past. There are no memory traces stored in the brain”; rather, “ELs [Event Lines] trail back into the past like spacetime tentacles that touch the old event itself and adjoin it to the current outlook tree”… Mark

  22. That is fascinating Mark, thank you for that.

  23. Pingback: Life beyond life (via Complete Lies.) « Minimal ve Maksimal Yazılar

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