Post-Foundationalism Versus Anti-Foundationalism. Thought of the Day 58.0

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In the words of Judith Butler,

the point is not to do away with foundations, or even to champion a position which goes under the name of antifoundationalism: Both of these positions belong together as different versions of foundationalism and the sceptical problematic it engenders. Rather, the task is to interrogate what the theoretical move that establishes foundations authorizes, and what precisely it excludes or forecloses.

The notion of contingent foundations, proposed by Butler as an alternative framing, could best be described as an ontological weakening of the status of foundation without doing away with foundations entirely. It is on its account, that what came to be called post-foundationalism should not be confused with anti-foundationalism. What distinguishes the former from the latter is that it does not assume the absence of any ground; what it assumes is the absence of an ultimate ground, since it is only on the basis of such absence that grounds, in the plural, are possible. The problem is therefore posed not in terms of no foundations (the logic of all- or -nothing), but in terms of contingent foundations. Hence, post-foundationalism does not stop after having assumed the absence of a final ground and so it does not turn into anti-foundationalist nihilism, existentialism or pluralism, all of which would assume the absence of any ground and would result in complete meaninglessness, absolute freedom or total autonomy. Nor does it turn into a sort of post-modern pluralism for which all meta-narratives have equally melted into air, for what is still accepted by post-foundationalism is the necessity for some grounds.

What becomes problematic as a result is not the existence of foundations (in the plural) but their ontological status – which is seen now as necessarily contingent. This shift in the analysis from the ‘actually existing’ foundations to their status – that is to say, to their conditions of possibility – can be described as a quasi-transcendental move. Although implicitly present in Spivak’s notion of a ‘perpetually rehearsed critique’ as well as in Butler’s notion of ‘interrogation’, this quasi-transcendental turn is made explicit by Ernesto Laclau who, starting from the post-foundational premise that ‘the crisis of essentialist universalism as a self-asserted ground has led our attention to the contingent grounds (in the plural) of its emergence and to the complex process of construction’, comes to the conclusion that ‘[t]his operation is, sensu stricto, transcendental: it involves a retreat from an object to its conditions of possibility’.

Organic and the Orgiastic. Cartography of Ground and Groundlessness in Deleuze and Heidegger. Thought of the Day 43.0

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In his last hermeneutical Erörterung of Leibniz, The Principle of Ground, Heidegger traces back metaphysics to its epochal destiny in the twofold or duplicity (Zwiefalt) of Being and Thought and thus follows the ground in its self-ungrounding (zugrundegehen). Since the foundation of thought is also the foundation of Being, reason and ground are not equal but belong together (zusammenhören) in the Same as the ungrounded yet historical horizon of the metaphysical destiny of Being: On the one hand we say: Being and ground: the Same. On the other hand we say: Being: the abyss (Ab-Grund). What is important is to think the univocity (Einsinnigkeit) of both Sätze, those Sätze that are no longer Sätze. In Difference and Repetition, similarly, Deleuze tells us that sufficient reason is twisted into the groundless. He confirms that the Fold (Pli) is the differenciator of difference engulfed in groundlessness, always folding, unfolding, refolding: to ground is always to bend, to curve and recurve. He thus concludes:

Sufficient reason or ground is strangely bent: on the one hand, it leans towards what it grounds, towards the forms of representation; on the other hand, it turns and plunges into a groundless beyond the ground which resists all forms and cannot be represented.

Despite the fundamental similarity of their conclusions, however, our short overview of Deleuze’s transformation of the Principle of Sufficient Reason has already indicated that his argumentation is very different from Heideggerian hermeneutics. To ground, Deleuze agrees, is always to ground representation. But we should distinguish between two kinds of representation: organic or finite representation and orgiastic or infinite representation. What unites the classicisms of Kant, Descartes and Aristotle is that representation retains organic form as its principle and the finite as its element. Here the logical principle of identity always precedes ontology, such that the ground as element of difference remains undetermined and in itself. It is only with Hegel and Leibniz that representation discovers the ground as its principle and the infinite as its element. It is precisely the Principle of Sufficient Reason that enables thought to determine difference in itself. The ground is like a single and unique total moment, simultaneously the moment of the evanescence and production of difference, of disappearance and appearance. What the attempts at rendering representation infinite reveal, therefore, is that the ground has not only an Apollinian, orderly side, but also a hidden Dionysian, orgiastic side. Representation discovers within itself the limits of the organized; tumult, restlessness and passion underneath apparent calm. It rediscovers monstrosity.

The question then is how to evaluate this ambiguity that is essential to the ground. For Heidegger, the Zwiefalt is either naively interpreted from the perspective of its concave side, following the path of the history of Western thought as the belonging together of Being and thought in a common ground; or it is meditated from its convex side, excavating it from the history of the forgetting of Being the decline of the Fold (Wegfall der Zwiefalt, Vorenthalt der Zwiefalt) as the pivotal point of the Open in its unfolding and following the path that leads from the ground to the abyss. Instead of this all or nothing approach, Deleuze takes up the question in a Nietzschean, i.e. genealogical fashion. The attempt to represent difference in itself cannot be disconnected from its malediction, i.e. the moral representation of groundlessness as a completely undifferentiated abyss. As Bergson already observed, representational reason poses the problem of the ground in terms of the alternative between order and chaos. This goes in particular for the kind of representational reason that seeks to represent the irrepresentable: Representation, especially when it becomes infinite, is imbued with a presentiment of groundlessness. Because it has become infinite in order to include difference within itself, however, it represents groundlessness as a completely undifferentiated abyss, a universal lack of difference, an indifferent black nothingness. Indeed, if Deleuze is so hostile to Hegel, it is because the latter embodies like no other the ultimate illusion inseparable from the Principle of Sufficient Reason insofar as it grounds representation, namely that groundlessness should lack differences, when in fact it swarms with them.

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Deleuzian Grounds. Thought of the Day 42.0

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With difference or intensity instead of identity as the ultimate philosophical one could  arrive at the crux of Deleuze’s use of the Principle of Sufficient Reason in Difference and Repetition. At the beginning of the first chapter, he defines the quadruple yoke of conceptual representation identity, analogy, opposition, resemblance in correspondence with the four principle aspects of the Principle of Sufficient Reason: the form of the undetermined concept, the relation between ultimate determinable concepts, the relation between determinations within concepts, and the determined object of the concept itself. In other words, sufficient reason according to Deleuze is the very medium of representation, the element in which identity is conceptually determined. In itself, however, this medium or element remains different or unformed (albeit not formless): Difference is the state in which one can speak of determination as such, i.e. determination in its occurrent quality of a difference being made, or rather making itself in the sense of a unilateral distinction. It is with the event of difference that what appears to be a breakdown of representational reason is also a breakthrough of the rumbling ground as differential element of determination (or individuation). Deleuze illustrates this with an example borrowed from Nietzsche:

Instead of something distinguished from something else, imagine something which distinguishes itself and yet that from which it distinguishes itself, does not distinguish itself from it. Lightning, for example, distinguishes itself from the black sky but must also trail behind it . It is as if the ground rose to the surface without ceasing to be the ground.

Between the abyss of the indeterminate and the superficiality of the determined, there thus appears an intermediate element, a field potential or intensive depth, which perhaps in a way exceeds sufficient reason itself. This is a depth which Deleuze finds prefigured in Schelling’s and Schopenhauer’s differend conceptualization of the ground (Grund) as both ground (fond) and grounding (fondement). The ground attains an autonomous power that exceeds classical sufficient reason by including the grounding moment of sufficient reason for itself. Because this self-grounding ground remains groundless (sans-fond) in itself, however, Hegel famously ridiculed Schelling’s ground as the indeterminate night in which all cows are black. He opposed it to the surface of determined identities that are only negatively correlated to each other. By contrast, Deleuze interprets the self-grounding ground through Nietzsche’s eternal return of the same. Whereas the passive syntheses of habit (connective series) and memory (conjunctions of connective series) are the processes by which representational reason grounds itself in time, the eternal return (disjunctive synthesis of series) ungrounds (effonde) this ground by introducing the necessity of future becomings, i.e. of difference as ongoing differentiation. Far from being a denial of the Principle of Sufficient Reason, this threefold process of self-(un)grounding constitutes the positive, relational system that brings difference out of the night of the Identical, and with finer, more varied and more terrifying flashes of lightning than those of contradiction: progressivity.

The breakthrough of the ground in the process of ungrounding itself in sheer distinction-production of the multiple against the indistinguishable is what Deleuze calls violence or cruelty, as it determines being or nature in a necessary system of asymmetric relations of intensity by the acausal action of chance, like an ontological game in which the throw of the dice is the only rule or principle. But it is also the vigil, the insomnia of thought, since it is here that reason or thought achieves its highest power of determination. It becomes a pure creativity or virtuality in which no well-founded identity (God, World, Self) remains: [T]hought is that moment in which determination makes itself one, by virtue of maintaining a unilateral and precise relation to the indeterminate. Since it produces differential events without subjective or objective remainder, however, Deleuze argues that thought belongs to the pure and empty form of time, a time that is no longer subordinate to (cosmological, psychological, eternal) movement in space. Time qua form of transcendental synthesis is the ultimate ground of everything that is, reasons and acts. It is the formal element of multiple becoming, no longer in the sense of finite a priori conditioning, but in the sense of a transfinite a posteriori synthesizer: an empt interiority in ongoing formation and materialization. As Deleuze and Guattari define synthesizer in A Thousand Plateaus: The synthesizer, with its operation of consistency, has taken the place of the ground in a priori synthetic judgment: its synthesis is of the molecular and the cosmic, material and force, not form and matter, Grund and territory.

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Reza Negarestani’s Ontology as Science of Cruelty and Deleuzean Excavation of the Architectonic. Thought of the Day 40.0

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The problem of the principle of reason/ground is architectonic. As such it is the great theme of modern philosophy: how and where to begin? The two classical answers are provided by romanticism and enlightenment thinking. If there is a romantic side to Heidegger, as Deleuze says, then Meillassoux inherits and continues a long-standing tradition of enlightenment. Whereas the first always looks for a foundation or ground, even if it turns out be an abyss, the critical reason of the latter rabidly dismantles all grounds. Alternatively, Deleuze calls for a third answer which he calls modernism or constructivism and which always begins by the milieu (par le milieu). Instead of rising out of first principles like a tree from its roots, his metaphysics proliferates like a rhizome, never straying far from the events at the surface in a groping experimentation with the conditions of real experience. For Deleuze, the milieu is not the solid ground on which we stand, but neither is it an abyss or a void. Rather it is the fluctuating ground in which we must learn to swim. It is the element of the problematic as such, an element that matters and calls for an ethics of life. To think by the milieu means to think both without reference to a fixed ground yet also without separating thought from the forces it requires to exist. Whereas Meillassoux reinstalls the Kantian tribunal of reason and the generality of its judgments, Deleuze always emphasizes his own conditions of enunciation, i.e. the matters of concern that enable him to learn. While the anti-correlationist position is one of right, Deleuze’s own position is always one of fact.