“the objects one finds”

July 23, 2014 § Leave a comment

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The following poem is by Brian Dickson from his recent book of poetry: Maybe This is How Tides Work

“The Objects One Finds”

The objects one finds

to envelope a body’s wish:

bolt from the trestle,

Alabama license plate,

scalp ripped from a baseball,

hide hanging by a thrill.

Liter of 7-Up with twine fastened

for a fishing pole in the ravine.

Catfish bate the shore, limitless.

in their mud-glint

Traces of stay, stay,

trailing the twine.


[Aurelio’s remarks] Visiting a new place suddenly brings about the innocent desire to find things. These things might be purchased, or these objects will be sought for amidst the scattered afterlife of commerce. A landscape offers rejected things. These offerings are often of questionable souvenir quality. Still, a day’s meandering search brings moments to be recalled later within a few lines on the clean page. Although trash is regularly overlooked, appreciating its broken edges evokes the memory of that place—where the semi-natural water met the edges of a ravine. Travelling must then mean taking our seeking body from the familiar over to the yet-to-be-found.

And, although trash is mistakenly forgettable, it again is an emblem of where it came from. Trash had a onetime use that is easily let go of. A careful poet attends to these connections and negations. Alabama is not just another state, it is the south. The license plate identifies itself, as much as it emphasizes where it is now, perhaps not too far from where it was thrown. Fallen in there with a bit of torn baseball showing its leather in the water becoming considerably less functional than what it was. How many games was it batted through? How many runs did it make over the fence? The water’s constant flow soaks away this human potential.

A transparent liter bottle repurposed into a clever tool to catch fish elevates itself above the useless. The bottle was already trash before it became an inventive means to catch fish. If we could only turn most castoffs into things that are used longer than the time it takes to drink warm 7-Up. We are infrequently innovative when we have a plastic bottle, string and a hook. We want to be able to see this as ingenuity beyond wastefulness. The dirty twine around the bright green bottle stays sun-bleached, the bottle takes in opaque water, and we take in a subtle mode of living in the south. Seeing this dense water, we aggressively wish to be respectful of the irrepressible catfish that live amidst the wet detritus (human and natural).

Dirt mixed in with water makes muddy this place that’s probably unsuitable for a memorial. Yet we’ve found a tangible link here at the water’s edge. The persistence of the water’s current pulls pieces of what will not stay, and the land’s edge keeps pieces of what cannot go away. We stay there with this poem in mind for another minute, then leave, all the while knowing that the objects, waste, trash, mud, water, fish, plants, and the past linger weeks longer, staying with the redolent brown-green of a place not marked by maps. There too was a humid southern landscape full of objects, and once-having-been-there.

…& thank you again Brian,

Aurelio

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deleuze’s hume (the copy principle, &c.)

July 23, 2014 § Leave a comment

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The Scottish Enlightenment philosopher David Hume (1711-1776) in §II “Of the Origin of Ideas,” from his 1748 book An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding (hereafter: the Enquiry), outlines what has come to be known as the ‘copy principle.’[1] Hume’s empiricism divides human perceptions into two types: impressions and ideas. This fundamental principle has to do with the way we immediately perceive things empirically and that those perceptions become ideas. The means that the ideas are brought to the mind—via memory and imagination—from the sensual impressions is known as the copy principle. In short, ideas are copies of sense impressions. In the 20th century, the French post-structuralist philosopher Gilles Deleuze (1925-1995) writes about David Hume’s empiricism with creative and unexpected modifications.[2] In this post it will be argued that there is not simply one standard direction in which to read Hume, and that Deleuze’s approach offers a perspective that not only respects Hume’s position, as it originates with the copy principle, but it also radicalizes Hume’s empiricism to become Deleuze’s unique (un-Kantian) concept of transcendental empiricism. But, before we step into Deleuze’s innovations, Hume’s copy principle will be outlined as it was put forth in the Enquiry.

§I. Hume’s Copy Principle: Hume doesn’t formally call his principle ‘the copy principle,’ it has this name due to the fact that, for Hume, our ideas are copied from impressions, and that even if there is an association of ideas brought together by other ideas, those ideas can always be traced and found to originate (copied) from primary sense data, otherwise known as impressions. Hume divides perception into two basic ‘classes’: ideas and impressions. (A) Ideas: “the less forcible and lively are commonly denominated thought or ideas” (¶3).[3] For ideas, Hume illustrates the difference between being told about love and having an idea of what it is, which is a lot different than actually feeing in love. In other words, an idea of love cannot be the same as feeing in the passionate throes of love. The former (idea) is a less robust version of the latter (impression). (B) And there are impressions: “by the term impression, then, I mean all our more lively perceptions, when we hear, or see, or feel, or love, or hate, or desire, or will” (¶3).[4] From this, it should be noticed that the impressions are not simply, sense data alone, but the impressions are also passionate, emotive and willful. As in the love example, Hume humorously characterizes the passion of love as being that of “disorders and agitations” (¶2).[5] Hume writes “All our ideas or more feeble perceptions are copies of our more lively ones” (¶5).[6] Again, an idea of love is to be sharply distinguished from feeing in love. To repeat a small step further, Hume’s description of ideas presents them as compounded by various elements of sense data “We shall always find that every idea which we examine is copied from a simple impression” (¶6).[7] Following the copy principle, ideas are threaded together by the three principles of association: resemblance, contiguity and cause and effect.

Hume offers two arguments to prove the copy principle. Whenever we choose to look closely, and analyze our ideas, it will be found that they all stem from a common source: impressions. For example, even an idea of God can be deduced from impressions.[8] With an idea of God we have our own faculties of thought taken to their ultimate conclusions, as with goodness, wisdom, omnipresence, etc. Hume then tries to argue that “a blind man can form no notion of colors, a deaf man [can form no notion] of sound” (¶2).[9] Although Hume is trying to show that, for instance, a blind man can have no notion of color. On a certain level this argument is true, since a blind man cannot actually see color. Yet, it can be argued that a blind man has the ability to learn about colors, i.e. he can be easily taught that a rainbow’s order of colors consists of red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and violet, he does not need to necessarily see the colors to have a notion about this one singular fact concerning the rainbow’s order of colors. Therefore, there must be plenty of other related notions a blind can know about concerning colors without ever having the eyes to see them. Aside from this argument about a blind man knowing about color, there is Hume’s copy principle in a few sentences. Now we transition to Deleuze’s post-structuralist reading of Hume.

§II. Deleuze’s Radicalization: It has been said that “although Deleuze is usually faithful to Hume’s writings, his readings are idiosyncratic and go well beyond the original texts.”[10] So the question is: how does Deleuze modify and extend Hume’s copy principle to fulfill his own philosophical ends? Deleuze’s first book from 1953, Empiricism and Subjectivity, is devoted entirely to Hume’s 1738 book A Treatise of Human Nature. It must be noted that we are reading Hume’s Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, from 1748, written ten years later than the ‘unsuccessful’ Treatise.[11] Deleuze’s posthumously published book, from 2001, Pure Immanence has a chapter devoted to Hume’s philosophy in general. Needless to say, Hume was an important influence on Deleuze’s philosophy. Preliminaries aside, Deleuze writes on the copy principle (though he too does not name it as such), roughly put, if ideas contain nothing more than what can be known by the senses, then “relations are external and heterogeneous to their terms.”[12] This statement is ‘transcendentally’ important, which will be looked with more detail later. To this externality of terms, Deleuze writes that empiricism (i.e. Hume’s empiricism) “always fought for the externality of relations.”[13] But there is always the problem of how to constitute the origins of knowledge. Deleuze feels that Hume accomplishes this by maintaining that, of course, relations are not internal as a rationalist would argue, but that relations are external and exogenous, i.e. happening outside of their terms. If we have nothing but the base impression from which our knowledge of the world is derived, then the way relations between things are connected is exterior to the atomic impressions. Deleuze recasts this (i.e. Hume’s copy principle) further to say “thus the difference isn’t between ideas and impressions but between two sorts of impressions or ideas: [1] impressions or ideas of terms and [2] impressions or ideas of relations.”[14]

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For Deleuze it isn’t important that the ideas and impressions are distinct, instead he places emphasis on the difference between terms and relations. This means that Hume’s terms are “veritable atoms” and his relations are “veritable external passages.”[15] In other words, Deleuze is saying that the ideas and/or impressions are in fact atomic—they are both atoms of knowledge, and, that ideas and/or impressions are both external passages—knowledge is a relative (indeed, a relational) passage to the external world. To say it another way, for Deleuze’s Hume we have what Deleuze calls the “physics of the mind [atoms]” and the “logic of relations.”[16] It should be noted that what Deleuze relies upon, in this philosophical turn, has to do with impressions and ideas, and how Hume extends the copy principle to include the “principle of connection between the different thoughts or ideas of the mind” (¶2).[17] Again, Deleuze is suggesting that if all we have is an empirical base to know the world via ideas and impressions, the associations and relations we make of those atoms happen eternally to their terms. Deleuze calls this a “world of exteriority,” […] “a world in which the conjunction ‘and’ dethrones the interiority of the verb ‘is’.[18] This dethroning of ‘is’ by ‘and’ can be interpreted as a Deleuzian way to say that Hume’s empiricism places top priority on relations rather than on rationality.

But what in all this is so radical? To be sure, Deleuze’s concept of transcendental empiricism originates from his commitment and transformation of Hume’s empiricist philosophy. Given his idiosyncratic reading of Hume, it is important to understand that human nature essentially begins at the atomic level of the copy principle. And it is also important to remember that all relations (and associations etc.) are derived from these primary atomic connections which are external to their terms (“relations are external and heterogeneous to their terms” as quoted above). This means that the relations, associations, and connections we make from the various atomic elements consisting of ideas and impressions happen outside of the elements. Relations happen outside of the terms themselves. This process which Deleuze calls human nature is transcendent. But to be very careful, it is not transcendent under what Immanuel Kant would call transcendent, i.e. as happening due to a table of universal a priori categories of the mind. Rather, the transcendence Deleuze speaks of is simply the way the human nature inherently, habitually, and imaginatively puts the terms of empirical experience together. Human nature is transcendentally relational. As the human mind is for Hume, there is no Kantian centripetal, universal, or transcendental core to the mind, there are just the relations we make between things. This is what is meant by human nature for Deleuze—the mind has no necessary center. Deleuze’s transcendentalism focuses instead on the multiplicity of experiences that can be derived from the relations we make with things. Worded another way, his transcendentalism is not paradigmatic like Kant’s. It is entirely contingent on the relations made because of experience. Transcendence of this kind happens because of our empirical, atomic, and indeed Humean way of knowing the world. Hume’s empiricism enables and informs Deleuze’s transcendence, not the other way around.

It is fascinating how an empirical philosophy that is fundamentally based on the copy principle as elucidated by David Hume can suddenly appear be post-structuralist or even postmodernist. The radical shift comes with Deleuze’s exogenous transcendence implied by Hume’s relations, more commonly thought of as associations. In the opening paragraph on Hume in Pure Immanence, Deleuze states that Hume’s “empiricism is a sort of science fiction universe avant la lettre.”[19] Paraphrasing this must mean: if Hume’s empiricism lacks a Kantian and rationalist center, the brilliant possibilities of a science fiction universe are transcendentally and imaginatively within reach—all we have to do is creatively bring about the multitude of relationships from the very base of our ideas copied from our impressions.

——Aurelio Madrid


[1] David Hume, “An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding” in Modern Philosophy: an Anthology of Primary Sources, 2nd Edition, edited by Roger Ariew and Eric Watkins, (Indianapolis, IL: Hackett Publishing Co., 2009), 533-599.

[2] Gilles Deleuze, “Hume,” in Pure Immanence: Essays on a Life, translated by Anne Boyman (New York, NY: Zone Books, 2002) 35-52. Deleuze’s first book Empiricism and Subjectivity is also about Hume, specifically Hume’s Treatise. It is not clear if I’ll stick to using his last book Pure Immanence, or not.

[3] Hume, Enquiry, 539. Also, the paragraph citations from Modern Philosophy will be indicated as: ¶1, ¶2 ,,, etc.

[4] Hume, Enquiry, 539.

[5] Hume, Enquiry, 539.

[6] Hume, Enquiry, 539.

[7] Hume, Enquiry, 539-540.

[8] Recall that Hume also calls impressions: feelings or sentiments.

[9] Hume, Enquiry, 540.

[10] Cliff Stagoll, “David Hume,” in The Deleuze Dictionary, edited by Adrian Parr, (Edinbugh: Edinburgh University Press, 2010), 124-126 .

[11] Hume writes in his “Author’s Advertisement” for the Enquiry: “But not finding it [the Treatise] successful, he [Hume] was sensible of his error in going to the press too early and he cast the whole anew in the following pieces,… [i.e. the Enquiry is the Treatise ‘cast anew’].” Hume, Enquiry, 533.

[12] Deleuze, Pure Immanence, 37.

[13] Deleuze, Pure Immanence, 37.

[14] Deleuze, Pure Immanence, 38.

[15] Deleuze, Pure Immanence, 38.

[16] Deleuze, Pure Immanence, 38.

[17] Hume, Enquiry, 541.

[18] Deleuze, Pure Immanence, 38.

[19] Deleuze, Pure Immanence, 35.


Bibliography

Bell, Jeffery A. Deleuze’s Hume: Philosophy, Culture and the Scottish Enlightenment. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2009.

Buchanan, Ian. Deleuzism: A Metacommentary. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2000.

Deleuze, Gilles. “Hume.” In Pure Immanence: Essays on a Life. Translated by Anne Boyman, 35-52. New York, NY: Zone Books, 2002.

——, Empiricism and Subjectivity: An Essay on Hume’s Theory of Human Nature. Translated by Constantin V. Boundas. New York, NY: Columbia University Press, 1991.

Hume, David. “An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding.” In Modern Philosophy: an Anthology of Primary Sources, 2nd Edition. Edited by Roger Ariew and Eric Watkins, 533-599. Indianapolis, IL: Hackett Publishing Co., 2009.

Marks, John. Gilles Deleuze: Vitalism and Multiplicity. Sterling, VA: Pluto Press, 1998.

Parr, Adrian. Editor of The Deleuze Dictionary. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2010.

…on wadsworth’s ambivalent miracles

July 16, 2014 § 1 Comment

ambivalent miracles II

Yet he dismisses without notice his own thought, because it is his.” Ralph Waldo Emerson—Self Reliance

“To rescue difference from its maledictory states seems, therefore, to be the project of the philosophy of difference.” Gilles Deleuze—Difference and Repetition


This post isn’t a book review, I’m simply writing down thoughts after reading Nancy Wadsworth’s book Ambivalent Miracles: Evangelicals and the Politics of Racial Healing. Already knowing Dr. Wadsworth affected my reading of her work, which shouldn’t be overlooked since our acquaintance brings about an understanding of the book that I wouldn’t have if I didn’t already know her. Before I get into a couple of issues the book raises, I’ll quickly glimpse at how personally knowing her affected how the book was read. This is a work that consists of scholarly research, interviews, church going (she’s a non-believer), conversations and typing, which all took her a span of time to get into final publication. One doesn’t usually pay too close attention to such details if we do not personally know the author. When I met Nancy we had a quick connection to the issue of religion, mainly the mutual acknowledgment that the conventional animosity toward religious practice—primarily Christianity—is just too limited and narrow. I shortly learned that she had been working on this book for some time before we met. It is because I have this personal connection that enabled me to have a better appreciation for the labor, empathy and patience that’s needed to write a book of this kind. That’s not to say I now know what it takes for anyone to write a book, but I do have a slightly better picture of what it takes for someone, like Dr. Wadsworth, to publish a book. I can’t help but think of these considerations, while at the same time, disallowing myself to see these personal things as unimportant, or as not meaningful. To clarify, the hard work itself, the endurance it takes to see a project through, to put something into print, is remarkable to take notice of, not only in and of itself, but for what it’s worth, as way to become. Indeed it’s a creative endeavor to think and layout a multitude of concepts in the pages of a book. That the book was an ongoing project over a period of years shows a grace with the subject matter that only she can attest to in the fullest, and that we as her readers participate with in place of her actual experiences. Though we must be ever careful to note that the actual experiences of her book are not the only reason to value the effort, what is also important to notice are the words, ideas, and connections being made. The very acts of scholarship have their own agency apart from the actions, ideas, problems and concepts depicted. These kinds of relations need to, and can be, observed in any work of art.

Wadsworth’s general thesis is surprising and eye-opening. She argues that American multi-ethnic evangelicals over the years have been slow to engage politically with the racial reconciliation they’re already doing. Although important racial work is getting done, it’s usually within the safe confines of the religion itself. Creating new racial bonds is often tinged with a deep underlying fear that politics will somehow corrupt the process. Miraculously, where a religious (Christian) mandate might require blacks, whites and other ethnicities, to forge better relationships within their multiple congregations, political gestures of ‘social justice’ are often treated with ambivalence. Social justice is mistakenly thought of as having the potential to veer out of control into progressive identity politics. Essentially, there is the misconception that if one gets too involved with politics, the church might lose sight of God. The eye-opening (miracle) part of Wadsworth’s study has to do with the reconciliation between races that is getting done, apart from the noted political ambivalence. The topic of race in the evangelical church is no longer put to the side. There are plenty of well meaning people, black, white, latinos, etc., making careful, and actionable steps to ameliorate past wrongs. Unless you’re experiencing it yourself in depth, as Wadsworth did, these steps typically go unnoticed in today’s binary, oversimplified media coverage. A misconception that evangelicals are backward, narrow minded people is a view Wadsworth stays studiously away from. Sure, there was a blatant history of racism within the evangelical practice, yet to categorize all evangelicals into fixed categories ignores the efforts that people are doing and have done to actualize racial healing today. Wadsworth deserves high praise for the compassion she demonstrates for this misunderstood cohort of the American population. She’s not an apologist for evangelicals. She tells their story as much as she sees room for improvement—namely for evangelicals to become more politically active.

I should confess now that while I read Wadsworth’s book, I was also studying Gilles Deleuze. If there is anything we should know about Deleuze is that he advocated for a philosophy of difference. After reading Deleuze we are compelled to ask: how can we displace our conventional thinking which over-prizes sameness, exemplified by identity and representation, with a philosophy that places difference as more primary than sameness, uniformity, and homogeneity? Just this line of thinking (okay, line of flight) can be contrasted/compared to C. Peter Wagner’s (and Donald McGavran’s) “Homogeneous unit principle.” HUP figures prominently in the history of the American evangelical church as detailed by Wadsworth, Wadsworth sees HUP’s vantage as possibly being the seed of ambivalence evangelicals have toward politics today. The best way to illustrate HUP would be to say that ‘separate is better.’ In other words, even though Wagner advocated HUP as not being a racist ideology, he felt that it would be easier if monoracial people congregated in churches with others who were of the same racial groups. Wagner also promulgated the above mentioned idea that politics should never come before the evangelical mission. The idea must’ve been that evangelicals need not get side-tracked with the political work it takes to fight for minority issues, and should instead focus on their missionary goals of globally spreading the word of God.

Wagner’s HUP sounds like thinly veiled racism, and it probably is. For this reason we are inclined to think that we should not embrace difference in a racial context (‘we are all the same despite skin color’ is a typical refrain) . But when we remove the overt racial problems HUP presents, we suddenly see that group uniformity is valued. It doesn’t take long to think of examples: the military, manufacturing, commercial culture, all, in some degree, value sameness over uniqueness, while at the same time these examples value the hero; the one-of-a-kind product; and the next big thing, respectively. We make the same paradoxical and contradictory shifts when we think of ourselves ‘personally’ in terms of uniqueness, ‘we are all the same underneath these differences in skin color’ while at the same time ‘we should stand apart from the crowd, if we are to truly be ourselves.’ We honestly don’t know what it would mean to establish the radical Deleuzian claim that everything (everyone) is different in the most profound sense of the word. Difference is only thought of with respect to the same. In a racial context a homogeneous kind of thinking is frightfully primary and omnipresent. Yet the news is not completely bad, since in significant ways, Deleuze’s multiplicity is coming to be more acceptable—these days it’s just better to embrace racial difference. Wadsworth’s book shows us the beautiful multiracial work that evangelicals are doing today. She makes no mention of Deleuze, still, the ideas of racial multiplicity are implicitly Deleuzian in their urgent actualization. None of these same/different problems are resolved. I’m happy to become a minority.

Another aspect of Ambivalent Miracles that is worth further consideration looks to meaning making practices. Inspired by Lisa Wedeen’s research on ethnographic meaning-making practices, Wadsworth systematically examines how evangelicals make the practice of racial reconciliation into cultural and religious reality. Taking such elements as community, prayer, ritual, “apology-forgiveness rituals,” testimony, etc. Wadsworth demonstrates how meaning happens within the context of the church. We usually do not understand, nor comprehend, how meaning happens. We just think meaning is already there, pre-given. It is only when it is drawn out in its elaborate specificity, that it becomes clear that meaning is not static. Meaning itself is creative, and we need to see this in order to make conscious the racial concepts that are beyond assumed ubiquity. Epistemology is more valuable if we are open to how it happens, and if we admit the evident pitfalls it discloses. We need to do more work, and we cannot discount the work we’ve already done. Thank you Nancy Wadsworth, I pray that your book will reach anyone who is becoming a minority, and to those who continue to deterritorialize the landscape of race in the church, the US, and beyond.

—Aurelio Madrid

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