Suspicion on Consciousness as an Immanent Derivative


The category of the subject (like that of the object) has no place in an immanent world. There can be no transcendent, subjective essence. What, then, is the ontological status of a body and its attendant instance of consciousness? In what would it exist? Sanford Kwinter (conjuncted here) here offers:

It would exist precisely in the ever-shifting pattern of mixtures or composites: both internal ones – the body as a site marked and traversed by forces that converge upon it in continuous variation; and external ones – the capacity of any individuated substance to combine and recombine with other bodies or elements (ensembles), both influencing their actions and undergoing influence by them. The ‘subject’ … is but a synthetic unit falling at the midpoint or interface of two more fundamental systems of articulation: the first composed of the fluctuating microscopic relations and mixtures of which the subject is made up, the second of the macro-blocs of relations or ensembles into which it enters. The image produced at the interface of these two systems – that which replaces, yet is too often mistaken for, subjective essence – may in turn have its own individuality characterized with a certain rigor. For each mixture at this level introduces into the bloc a certain number of defining capacities that determine both what the ‘subject’ is capable of bringing to pass outside of itself and what it is capable of receiving (undergoing) in terms of effects.

This description is sufficient to explain the immanent nature of the subjective bloc as something entirely embedded in and conditioned by its surroundings. What it does not offer – and what is not offered in any detail in the entirety of the work – is an in-depth account of what, exactly, these “defining capacities” are. To be sure, it would be unfair to demand a complete description of these capacities. Kwinter himself has elsewhere referred to the states of the nervous system as “magically complex”. Regardless of the specificity with which these capacities can presently be defined, we must nonetheless agree that it is at this interface, as he calls it, at this location where so many systems are densely overlaid, that consciousness is produced. We may be convinced that this consciousness, this apparent internal space of thought, is derived entirely from immanent conditions and can only be granted the ontological status of an effect, but this effect still manages to produce certain difficulties when attempting to define modes of behavior appropriate to an immanent world.

There is a palpable suspicion of the role of consciousness throughout Kwinter’s work, at least insofar as it is equated with some kind of internal, subjective space. (In one text he optimistically awaits the day when this space will “be left utterly in shreds.”) The basis of this suspicion is multiple and obvious. Among the capacities of consciousness is the ability to attribute to itself the (false) image of a stable and transcendent essence. The workings of consciousness are precisely what allow the subjective bloc to orient itself in a sequence of time, separating itself from an absolute experience of the moment. It is within consciousness that limiting and arbitrary moral categories seem to most stubbornly lodge themselves. (To be sure this is the location of all critical thought.) And, above all, consciousness may serve as the repository for conditioned behaviors which believe themselves to be free of external determination. Consciousness, in short, contains within itself an enormous number of limiting factors which would retard the production of novelty. Insofar as it appears to possess the capacity for self-determination, this capacity would seem most productively applied by turning on itself – that is, precisely by making the choice not to make conscious decisions and instead to permit oneself to be seized by extra-subjective forces.

Two Conceptions of Morphogenesis – World as a Dense Evolutionary Plasma of Perpetual Differentiation and Innovation. Thought of the Day 57.0


Sanford Kwinter‘s two conceptions of morhpogenesis, of which, one is appropriate to a world capable of sustaining transcendental ontological categories, while the other is inherent in a world of perfect immanence. According to the classical, hylomorphic model, a necessarily limited number of possibilities (forms or images) are reproduced (mirrored in reality) over a substratum, in a linear time-line. The insufficiency of such a model, however, is evident in its inability to find a place for novelty. Something either is or is not possible. This model cannot account for new possibilities and it fails to confront the inevitable imperfections and degradations evident in all of its realizations. It is indeed the inevitability of corruption and imperfection inherent in classical creation that points to the second mode of morphogenesis. This mode is dependent on an understanding of the world as a ceaseless pullulation and unfolding, a dense evolutionary plasma of perpetual differentiation and innovation. In this world forms are not carried over from some transcendent realm, but instead singularities and events emerge from within a rich plasma through the continual and dynamic interaction of forces. The morphogenetic process at work in such a world is not one whereby an active subject realizes forms from a set of transcendent possibilities, but rather one in which virtualities are actualized through the constant movement inherent in the very forces that compose the world. Virtuality is understood as the free difference or singularity, not yet combined with other differences into a complex ensemble or salient form. It is of course this immanentist description of the world and its attendant mode of morphogenesis that are viable. There is no threshold beneath which classical objects, states, or relations cease to have meaning yet beyond which they are endowed with a full pedigree and privileged status. Indeed, it is the nature of real time to ensure a constant production of innovation and change in all conditions. This is evidenced precisely by the imperfections introduced in an act of realizing a form. The classical mode of morphogenesis, then, has to be understood as a false model which is imposed on what is actually a rich, perpetually transforming universe. But the sort of novelty which the enactment of the classical model produces, a novelty which from its own perspective must be construed as a defect is not a primary concern if the novelty is registered as having emerged from a complex collision of forces. Above all, it is a novelty uncontaminated by procrustean notions of subjectivity and creation.