Transcendental Clones & Generic-Humanity: Ray Brassier, Nina Power, And the Future of (Non-)Humanity

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“Thus, the non-human subject of the death-drive is neither HE nor SHE but IT: the transcendental clone. The cloned subject of transcendental parthenogenesis which yields IT as universal non-human subject of the unconscious-the unconscious subject with which I am identical in the last instance.” – Ray Brassier

This essay will attempt to build some conceptual links between Ray Brassier’s essay ‘Solar Catastrophe: Lyotard, Freud, and the Death-Drive’ and Nina Power’s ‘What is Generic Humanity?’ and asses one of the political consequences of this encounter. The hope here is that by demonstrating the conceptual solidarity between what may appear as two entirely different topics – the question of the conditions for thought with Brassier and the question of the status of universality in politics with Power – we gain a better understanding of how philosophical activity is conditioned today and what those conditions can tell us about philosophy’s relation to politics. Since this is an essay which seeks to build connections and develop their consequences, I will reserve most of my criticisms or hesitations for another forum.

I will first begin with a brief introduction of each essay with their respective theses and conclusions, then move to a discussion of what I understand to be the shared set of commitments common to both: namely, the commitment to a standard of immanence in Thought and Politics. Then, I want to read back into each essay, taken together, these commitments in order to get a better sense of what is at stake – where what is at stake is whether or not the life of the mind and the life of revolutionary struggle can feasibly be said, understood, measured, and most importantly lived as concrete reality and not a simple theoretical possibility. For each thinker, it is through interrogating the ontological and political feasibility of certain conceptions we have of ourselves as rational subjects and political agents via the the themes of Universality and Thought that we can move beyond the limits imposed by the definitions of Thought as circumscribed by a horizon of meaning, or politics as grounded on those inviolable features of the human animal.

By bringing both essays into conversation I will end with some brief comments on how a). the philosophical project laid out in Brassier’s piece calls for a ‘radicalization’ or ‘generalization’ of the implications effected onto theoretical activity by solar death as transcendental catastrophe and b). how the political project laid out by Power in the Feuerbachian-Badiouian register could possibly be seen as the practical/concrete extension of what is already given in the former. One of the chief consequences of this conjunction is the following: with the eradication of all horizons for Thought in light of solar death (Brassier) the corresponding political task becomes the attempt to actualize the material organization of human life in such a way that makes it possible for a form of living adequate to the ‘non-human subject’, or ‘transcendental clone.’ By projecting Brassier’s Laruellean corrective of Lyotard and Freud through the lens of the Feuerbachian-Badiouian conception of ‘generic-humanity’, we arrive at a single (albeit ambiguously alien or liberatory) conclusion: revolution can no longer be thought of as necessary on the basis that there is some Evil, or a violation of liberal-human-rights, in the world. Rather, revolution is necessary in order to organize human life in such a way that we begin to concretely and materially construct a form of life that actualizes the transcendental catastrophe of Thought itself. Thus, the ‘revolutionary maxim’ in this conjunction of Transcendental Clones with ‘generic-humanity’ is nothing short of the assertion that we must act in such a way that we can Transcendentally Clone the Real universally and without contradiction.

[1]. Only Transcendental Clones Will Survive The Solar Catastrophe


In ‘Solar Catastrophe: Lyotard, Freud, and the Death-Drive’ Ray Brassier revisits Lyotard’s question: ‘can thought go on without a body?’ For Brassier, what is of interest in Lyotard’s line of thinking is not so much the content of his arguments or the conclusions he draws from them. Rather, what is of importance is that in simply posing this question Lyotard raises the ontological status of cognitive and rational capacities vis-a-vis its embodiment in human animals. While Lyotard’s essay oscillates between two interlocutors – relevantly nominated as HE & SHE – where the male/masculine eschews a position in the affirmative and the female/feminine adopts the position of the negative. While the former proposes a way for thought to persist independent of embodied existence, the latter not only refutes this assertion but implies, further, that it is only through embodiment – and hence gender – that thought can exist as thought. For SHE, the body engenders thought as thought. Brassier himself opts to sidestep any attempt to reconcile Lyotard’s dialogue – because it remains impossible to conceive of thought without a body and it is not without critical import that the body-as-gendered holds a certain influence on how we think – in exchange for positing a third interlocutor: IT. As Brassier writes, what we are dealing with when Lyotard feels the need to emphasize the important fact that the sun will die roughly 4.5 billion years from now extinguishing all cognitive life with it, is not a cosmological or physical reality but a transcendental catastrophe:

It is because we are dealing with a transcendental catastrophe that Lyotard’s question needs to be specified. It should be: can philosophical thought go on without a body? I believe it cannot and can only continue to oscillate…between two possibilities: the claim that there is a horizon of all horizons, if not the earth then some other candidate, and the claim that we can keep changing horizons indefinitely. [Ray Brassier, 2003: 421-9]

Brassier develops the transcendental constitution of solar catastrophe by connecting Lyotard’s thought experiment with Freud’s death-drive. What is of importance for Brassier here is how Freud comes to conceive of the death-drive; Freud’s reasoning for why people compulsively relive traumatic moments even though it goes against the pleasure principle:

If the function of dreams is primarily that of wish-fulfillment, in accordance with the pleasure principle…then traumatic neurosis poses a problem for psychoanalysis because it resists explanation in terms of the pleasure principle: why is the patient compulsively drive to relive a shatteringly unpleasurable experience? Freud’s answer is that the patient suffering from traumatic neurosis is driven to repeat the moment of trauma so that his psyche can muster the anxiety required to achieve a successful cathexis or binding of the excess of the excitation concomitant with the traumatic breaching of the organism’s psychic defenses. Thus, the compulsion to repeat consists in an attempt on the part of the unconscious to relive the traumatic incident in a condition of anxious anticipation that goes some way to buffering the traumatic shock. [Brassier, 2003: 425]

A few things are of importance regarding the connection between the death-drive and the relationship between Thought and Solar Catastrophe. First, the relationship between compulsive behavior and the initial trauma that is barred from conscious experience and yet motivates conscious life is analogous to the relationship between the nature and function of Thought and the fact that 4.5 billion years from now the sun will die. Why? Because, like the originary trauma, solar death can never be constituted in human experience and is only knowable theoretically. Additionally, like compulsive behavior which is a reaction to originary trauma, thought (and for Brassier philosophical thinking) is thus constituted by this fact that cannot be experienced and only known.

However, we need to add an important caveat here. The transcendental nature of this solar catastrophe is not one that ‘logically precedes’ the activity of thought itself. Rather, as Brassier frames it, solar death draws our attention to the function and directionality of thought itself: how does Thought continue to project itself into the future, or continue to set ends for itself, given the fact of solar death, which would mean that whatever ends thought sets for itself are, in the last instance, futile? This problem of the future oriented activity of thought raised by solar death is seen as problem only insofar as we understand Thought as the attempt to overcome solar catastrophe itself. In other words, the problem of the future is a problem for philosophical thought insofar as this thought manifests itself as the compulsive behavior that reacts to an initial unconscious trauma:

Bear in mind that what is repeated in the death-drive is something that never happened: a non-event that cannot be registered within the perception-consciousness system. Thus, organic life merely recapitulates the non-occurence of aboriginal inorganic death. Similarly, terrestrial philosophy as quest is fueled by the non-occurence of solar death as impossible possibility. Solar death is catastrophic because the collapse of the terrestrial horizon is unenvisageable for embodied thought…and it is because it is unenvisageable that solar catastrophe overturns the relation between thought and its terrestrial horizon. [Brassier, 2003: 428]

For Brassier, then, the task at hand becomes one of retaining the insights of Freud in relation to Lyotard’s question of ‘can thought go on without a body?’ while at the same time developing an account of Thought that is freed, in some sense, from the need to act compulsively and reactively. “What if, instead of switching horizons and staving off death, thought could annihilate every horizon by effectuating the death that drives it?” (SC, 427-8). In order to do this, Brassier lays out three criteria for a thought which seeks to ‘effectuate’ the death that motivates thought itself: unidentification, unilateralization, and excarnation.

 
Unidentification is the conceptual construction of a subject that instantiates the identity-without-synthesis of death and thought; or in Brassier’s terms “This subject-(of)-death is the immanent identity of the death of the death that is the life of thought” [Brassier, 2003: 427-8]. Regarding the identity-without-synthesis of unidentification, this would be the way in which Thought can successfully bind the catastrophe that constitutes its own activity. Unilateralization, on the back of unidentification, is “the transcendental clone. The cloned subject-(of)-death is established through a form of transcendental parthenogenesis which yields IT as universal non-human subject of the unconscious” [Brassier, 2003: 429]. Unilateralization, then, would not only be the subject whose identity is the identity of the death that motivates Thought, but is also the subject who elevates the unconscious to the status of constituting the fundamental features of subjectivity itself. However, it is not sexual difference or sexuation that constitutes the unconscious subject. Rather, it is the aboriginal death transformed into effective and acting subject that is the product of unilateralization.

Lastly, excarnation means that a Thought freed from reactionary and compulsive activity “is not the labor of the negative but the organon of death” [Brassier, 2003: 429]. As organon of death, Thought becomes the conduit for the expression in thought and experience of the unconscious death-drive that motivates the life of thought but now no longer in compulsive terms, but in an expressive, productive, and colder register. With these three criteria (unidentification, unilateralization, and excarnation) Brassier concludes that a thought which can appropriate the death-drive that is the life of the mind would satisfy these three tenants and would be the properly non-human subject, the transcendental clone: “As organon, IT, the subject-(of)-death, inhabits the non-thetic universe of the autistic unconscious: IT is deaf, dumb and blind. This is the excarnation of thought” [Brassier, 2003: 429]. Thought-as-organon-of-death; a Thought that becomes aware, if only for the first time, of the transcendental catastrophe presented by solar death ultimately amounts to Brassier’s reconfiguration of Lyotard’s initial question of whether thought can go on without a body. For Brassier, Lyotard suffered from the misplaced concreteness of taking the death of the sun as either of phenomenological or of epistemic import instead of understanding that solar death is, in fact, of transcendental significance. If, following Brassier, thought is truly bound up with embodiment where one cannot persist without the other, and if solar death is true for thought just as it will be true for terrestrial life, then solar death is of transcendental significance because the death of the sun becomes the very thing which conditions Thought’s future oriented activity:

“Lyotard’s question…here serves as the pretext for dealing with another question, one that I think is perhaps more fundamental, although it only warrants a passing mention by Lyotard. This other question is: can thought go on without a horizon? The use of the word “horizon” here is intended to bear a quasi-transcendental charge. For European philosophy up to and including Nietzsche…the name for the horizon was “God.” Then…the name for the horizon becomes “Earth.” My aim here is to show that this horizon too needs to be wiped away.” [Brassier, 2003: 421]

Thought must become the organon of death and must be able to effectuate the death-drive (fact of solar death) that constitutes the vitality of the life of the mind because to think and live according to any series of horizons simply prolongs our understanding of that which is already true for thought itself: that the very condition for theoretical and philosophical activity is, in fact, that this activity is not constituted by any horizon whatsoever. Brassier’s corrective to Lyotard’s thought experiment aims at the heart of the terrestrial nihilism inaugurated by solar death in order to transform our own theoretical and philosophical activity in such a way that Thought is no longer the compulsive repetition of the (non)originary fact of solar death. That is to say, at the level of theoretical and philosophical activity, to predicate any Thought in terms of its horizonal purchase is simply to delude oneself and secure the life of the mind as the debilitating compulsive repetition of the very (solar) death Thought cannot grasp through experience all the while viewing this compulsion of the mind as one of the many epistemic virtues of philosophizing.

 
[2]. Connecting Generic-being with its Transcendental Clone


In her article entitled ‘What is Generic Humanity? Badiou and Feuerbach’, Nina Power revisits another classical problem in the history of philosophy: what is the metaphysical status of the human, especially in light of the concept of Gattungswesen (species-being). For Power, bringing Feuerbach and Badiou into relation around the question of gattungswesen is important, not simply for Badiou’s own appropriation of Marxism. The question of species-being, or ‘generic-being’, is central for understanding Badiou’s criticisms of human rights and his conception of what is actually ‘universal’ in terms of political struggle. Power suggests that, like Badiou, Feuerbach himself doesn’t hold onto a notion of species-being that is simply a taxonomical categorization of the human animal. Rather, for both thinkers, the human is that animal which is ‘unnatural’, or for Badiou ‘Infinite/Immortal’:

“What is most important to note about Feuerbach’s use of the term Gattungswesen is its distance from any straightforwardly naturalistic resonances – genus (or species) should not be understood as a taxonomic category. The ‘unnaturalness’ of man…is a crucial aspect of Feuerbach’s position. It is what distinguishes Feuerbach from Hegel, who used the category of Gattungswesen precisely to refer to the natural component of human life in the Encyclopaedia. Similarly, for Badiou…the potential for dissymmetry is what distinguishes generic humanity from any over-determination by its biological, victimized, human-rights-inflected descriptions, and allows for a rationalist, non-theological conception of immortality.” [Nina Power, 2005: 35-46]

The very ‘unnaturalness’ of Man gets translated into the fact of Thought for Badiou, and leads him to posit that it is Thought itself that constitutes what is generic, or universal, in humanity as such. Thus, each in their own way, refuse to ground gattungswesen in some biological or anthropological genealogy of human history. Rather what is generic, and thus constitutes the real possibility for universality, is Thought itself. Power goes on to underscore how Badiou himself relates this idea of generic-humanity with the tradition of revolutionary politics:

“What is unique about Badiou’s project in the wake of Heidegger is precisely his attempt to think ‘man’ anti-humanistically, that is, as devoid of the limitations imposed by transcendental legitimation, biological perishing, or moral destination – whilst at the same time preserving precisely the political force of the original humanist project, with its anti-religious aims.” [Power, 2005: 37]

For Badiou, any conception of gattungswesen that serves as the guiding thread and political axiom of revolutionary struggle must be evacuated from any residues of what is generic in humanity as being predicated on some form of biological, anthropological, or transcendental determination. As Power goes on to show, Badiou extends this evacuation of the residual ways of dogmatically determining what is generic in humanity all the way down to the idea of the pursuit of self-interest:

“For Badiou as for Feuerbach, interest is not a specifically human capacity, since all living beings protect their interests as imperative for survival. Thought as traversed by truth – this peculiarly human capacity – must be capable of being absolutely disinterested. Badiou writes, “Any truth procedure distinguishes the properly immortal disinterest from an abject properly “animal” assemblage of particular interests” (2001a: 15). Furthermore, thought and disinterest coincide in the overcoming of all that is finite in man,”Thought is the specific mode by which a human animal is traversed and overcome by a truth” (Badiou 2001a: 16).” [Power, 2005: 39]

While Power’s essay goes on to deal with the question of the infinite as it relates to Badiou’s ontology and politics, I want to shift our focus onto her discussion of Badiou’s critique of human rights discourse since it will have important bearing on the consequences of relating Badiou’s project with Brassier’s.  As Power points out, Badiou’s argument against human rights discourse in his Ethics is centered on the ideas that the presuppositions of human rights misconstrues what it is that constitutes the generic, or universal, character of humanity. For Badiou what is errant in this discourse is the definition of the human as victim; the definition of human life as that which must be protected from the physical, environmental, and sociological vicissitudes that befall it. As Badiou writes,

“For at the core of the mastery internal to ethics is always the power to decide who dies and who does not. Ethics is nihilist because its underlying conviction is that the only thing that can really happen to someone is death…Between Man as the possible basis for the uncertainty [aléa] of truths, or Man as being-for-death (or being-for-happiness, it is the same thing), you have to choose. It is the same choice that divides philosophy from ‘ethics’, or the courage of truths from nihilism.” [Alain Badiou, 2003: 35]

While these features of human existence (namely all those things which constitute our vulnerability to physical and mental harm) are important, and Badiou himself would not support a politics that seeks to neglect altogether the claims made by those seeking human rights, his argument is centered on the fact that this conception of the human, and a conception which guides our political projects as the desired aim, excludes precisely what human beings are capable of: namely, thought as that which gives us access to the universal. Thus, following Foucault, the criticisms leveled at a politics that begins and ends with the demands of ‘human rights’ simply replicate this desire for the ‘mastery internal to ethics’ which should be termed biopolitical. Thus, in order for politics to avoid being reduced to determining and administering life – the ones who die and the ones who are left to die – the democratic fetish for the recognition of rights must be subordinated to Thought as that which constitutes humanity’s ‘generic-being’. As we saw Power underscore above, a politics that administers and manages ‘interests’ is nothing but biopolitics. However, a politics that is motivated by the disinterested and universal character of Thought is a politics worthy of the name; where the concern for rights would simply be a moment of this politics’ pre-history.


Now I want to briefly draw out important similarities and summarize the key moments of Power’s and Brassier’s piece as it will be important for understanding the final section of this paper, which is something of a fusion of each essay. Brassier’s piece deals with the thought experiment posed by Lyotard and Power’s which deals with the question of species-being in the Marxist tradition. However, both of these pieces actually constitute parts of a larger set of questions/problems for both strictly philosophical motivations (what is the nature of thought?) and more readily practical and political concerns (what is the nature of humanity and how does this affect our conception of revolutionary politics?). As an entry point into Brassier’s and Power’s underlying alliance we can say that what is common between the two is the attempt to think of the nature of reason and the nature of politics, respectively, without its being indexed to something other than itself. Thus, for each thinker, there is a minimal commitment to a standard of immanence, where this standard means that whether we are speaking about the nature of cognitive/rational activity or the nature and structure of political struggle, each object of analysis cannot be measured, understood, nor lived in good faith (and this is the important conclusion I want to draw out at the end of this essay) as anything other than what the activities of reasoning and politics in fact are; both in their ontological and modal register.

As we saw with Brassier, what is important in Lyotard’s piece, and with its connection to Freud (and we should add here Nietzsche), is the problem each poses for the nature of thought itself. For Lyotard the impending death of the sun constitutes human death as already existing in principle and thus already existing for thought itself. Freud’s conception of trauma and the death-drive is important for us here since what Lyotard is highlighting – solar death in principle – is exactly what Freud understands by trauma. That is, trauma is that which elides our conscious perception; or experience; and thus is the motor of unconscious drives themselves. Thus, the attempt of consciousness to repeat in a compulsory manner the trauma which it has in fact never experienced is the attempt of consciousness to experience-through-the-mastery of its own motivation; it’s own constitution by something that can only grasped through the traces of trauma. Consciousness, we might say, in its striving toward the unconscious vis-a-vis its compulsive behavior is nothing but post-traumatic neurosis raised to the level of thought.


For Power, what is generic in humanity is Thought understood as the “capacity for universal, abstractive, activity, even (especially) in his isolation (his inner life)” [Power, 2005: 40]. It is the nature of Thought as that capacity for abstraction and universalization that marks off the human animal from the rest of the natural world, and hence for Badiou and Feuerbach, constitutes what is, in fact, the content of the concept of  ‘generic-humanity.’ If Thought is that aspect of humanity which expresses Universality it is because the disinterested character of Thought places us in the proper relation viz-á-viz the infinite (which is the object of ontology and politics) while simultaneously elevating the human animal above its brute (and ultimately animal) interestedness:

“The infinite comes into play in every truth procedure, but only in politics does it take the first place. This is because only in politics is the deliberation about the possible…constitutive of the process itself…politics treats the infinite as such according to the principle of the same, the egalitarian principle.” [Badiou, 2004: 32]


It is because Thought affords us a relation to the Infinite and because the infinite is given priority in the realm of political struggle, that Thought will be constitutive of our ‘generic-being’, our gattungswesen, and will be the very condition by which politics itself operates. Thus, what is common to both of these projects, while different objects are treated in their course, is the idea that the ontological and political conditions of solar catastrophe (Brassier) and Thought’s universal character (Power) require a substantial reconsideration of what we mean by the very terms of revolutionary transformation, liberation, and some form of rational and collective self-determination. It is this (albeit partial and incomplete) reconsideration of the meaning of revolutionary transformation in light of the transcendental conditioning of Thought viz-á-viz Brassier and the political constitution of Thought viz-á-viz Power that this last section will take up.

The important conclusion that will be drawn here, given the transcendental catastrophe for thought and the generic element of humanity, is the political prescription that we must be in reality what we already are in truth (where the reality of human social organizations fails to adequate (clone) the truths presented by the transcendental conditions for both Thought and Politics). Thus, it is not accidental that it is precisely this intellectual and political prescription that Althusser already discovered and attributed to Feuerbach himself:

“Feuerbach calls out to Humanity. He tears the veil from universal History, destroys myths and lies, uncovers the truth of man and restores it to him. The fullness of time has come. Humanity is pregnant with the imminent revolution which will give it possession of its own being. Let men at last become conscious of this, and they will be in reality what they are in truth: free, equal, and fraternal beings.” [Althusser, 2005: 43]


[3]. …And What if the Transcendental Clone was the Content of Our ‘Generic-Humanity’?


Now it is not without import that one of the guiding concerns we see in Brassier’s and Power’s theses is the shared concern with either the ontological or political status of Thought – whether as traumatic compulsion (Transcendental Catastrophe) or constituting our universality. And it is precisely this shared concern with the status of Thought that we can begin to draw some consequences from each thinkers object of study. Perhaps for a bit of theatrics we can begin with the consequence that we see arising from the conjunction between Brassier’s Laruellean reworking of Lyotard and Freud and Power’s clarification of the concept of gattungswesen in Feuerbach and Badiou: what is of consequence from this encounter is a theoretical and political project that seeks to create the material conditions under which what is true of the transcendental catastrophe for Thought is rendered as true in the lived experience of humanity’s Immortality.


Why is this one of the possible consequences of this encounter? For the very reason that the Laruellean corrective offered by Brassier does not seek to synthesize, fuse, or negate its predecessors but simply ‘radicalize’ or ‘generalize’ the very condition of thought as constituted by solar death.  It is this idea of opting for radicalization over synthesis or negation that I take Brassier to mean when he writes that Thought “is not the labor of the negative but the organon of death” [Brassier, 2003: 429]. That is to say, with Brassier, what we have is a reworking of how we are to understand the very conditions by which Thought functions. It is for this reason that Brassier alters Lyotard’s question in terms of a transcendental (as opposed to phenomenological, or epistemic) catastrophe. However, if we were to merely stop here, we are left with a sense of achieving a conception of a new type of subjectivity without the means for determining any other features about this mode of being other than the three criteria of unidentification, unilateralization, and excarnation. And it is at this point that Power’s essay sheds necessary light on the matter.

With the Feuerbachian-Badiouian assertion that it is precisely what thought is capable of (i.e., universalization/abstraction) that constitutes ‘generic-humanity,’ Power’s piece provides the necessary supplement to the Laruellean move – namely, while it is with Brassier’s Laruelleanism that we gain a new perspective on thought considered transcendentally, it is with Power’s reading of Feuerbach and Badiou that we gain insight into thought considered in its capacities. That is, by bringing these two thinkers together, we bring together what conditions theoretical activity and what theoretical activity can, in fact, effectuate. It should be noted here that if we remain faithful to the Laruellean inflection in this reworking of what is proposed by revolutionary transformation, we must also understand that bringing these two thinkers together is not simply a theoretical construction via conceptual addition: it isn’t that the Laruellean corrective is given its added supplement to enhance its overall project. Rather, this conjunction alters the very content of what the very concepts of ‘theory’ and ‘practice’ mean for us today.


In a certain sense, we should say that once we understand these transcendental conditions  and modalities of Thought, the problem posed for theory and practice, or for revolutionary transformation, become one and the same. Namely, how does one live their life, individually and collectively, in a way that remains ‘dictated’ both by Thought’s transcendental catastrophe and its generic-being? In other words, by what means and procedures can we fashion a kind of living that replicates, or ‘clones,’ what is already true for Thought itself? We should maintain that the consequences of bringing these two essays into conjunction remains focused on the question of the opportunities afforded to human beings to fashion their lives since it is precisely this idea that is implied in Brassier’s piece. As Laruelle himself writes, “The identity of the real is lived, experienced, consumed while remaining in itself without the need to alienate itself through representation.” Thus, the political supplement via Power’s essay is not the moment of Thought moving outside of itself in order to realize itself. Rather, it is because the philosophical problematic and the political problematic have become one and the same that the proposed task is the extension, or ‘radicalization’ of what is given for Thought viz-á-viz the transcendental catastrophe of solar death.


So, how does this ‘radicalization’ operate? Primarily through the recapitulation of the three criteria for Thought but at the level of a politics that remains guided by, or ‘dictated’ by, the Real itself. Namely, if the goal of revolutionary politics is the eradication of everything that constitutes any form of oppression, repression, violence, exploitation, etc., because these are conditions which obstruct our ‘generic-humanity,’ then, it follows that the goal of revolutionary politics would be to create and organize human society in such a way that what is generic in humanity is both theoretically and practically the case. Now, up to this point, the proposed project does not drift far from most radical/revolutionary political programs. However, the important ‘programmatic’ difference in terms of this Laruellean-Badiouian consequence is that revolution can no longer thought of as necessary on the basis that there is Evil in the world.

As we saw with Badiou, any politics that begins and ends with human rights can only be reformist at best while excluding the very features of humanity that can positively determine revolutionary transformation itself; namely, our ‘generic-being’. And here we should turn Badiou on his head, so to speak. Instead of his formula regarding the inherent nihilism specific to ethics and human rights discourse we should assert the following: it is only by virtue of ‘cloning’ the nihilism that is at the heart of the transcendental condition for Thought into the realm of politics – where the inherently nihilistic situation of this condition arises from the eradication of any horizon for Thought itself – that we can, both in principle and in fact, relieve ourselves of the pathological compulsion of Thought’s dependence on the fictions of fixed, or quasi-fixed, horizons. It is the fact of nihilism as transcendental condition of Thought coupled with the understanding that Thought is what gives us our generic-humanity that we can positively determine revolutionary transformation; one where revolution is necessary in order to organize human life in such a way that we can begin to live (according to and sustainably with) the transcendental catastrophe that is nihilism, which conditions that which is most markedly proper to humanity. Or, what amounts to the same, what is specific and singular for Thought itself. If the transcendental clone is the only one who can survive nihilism as its very condition for existence it is because the transcendental clone understands that it is the cloning of nihilism to which any revolutionary politics worthy of the name is alloyed.

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Whitehead As Psychoanalyst?

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            Stated in the beginning of chapter III, which is entitled ‘The Order of Nature,’ Whitehead writes: “The present chapter is wholly concerned with the topic of order. For the organic doctrine the problem of order assumes primary importance” (Process and Reality, 83). Thus, we are justified in believing that this chapter deals specifically with the question of order in relationship to speculative philosophy. But if there is much in Whitehead that can be found already nascent in Heraclitus, it is because certain ‘truths’ of Whitehead love to hide; that is to say, there is another moment in the same chapter that seems to pose the ‘problem of order’ in a modified and interesting way. As Whitehead writes in Section X, “The living society may, or may not, be a higher type of organism than the food which it disintegrates. But whether or not it be for the general good, life is robbery. It is at this point that with life morals become acute. The robber requires justification” (PR, 105, my emphasis). And thus one can feel a question haunting the text of Whitehead: how does one live in the face of a process which remains indifferent to oneself, to others, and to all the actual occasions that make up the complexity and richness of the world? Moreover, is the problem posed by Nature our problem? Is our problem, still, the problem of God?

          This is a sketching out of the ways in which various thinkers have attempted to solve the problems which haunt Whitehead. By thinking alongside Isabelle Stengers and D.W. Winnicott, I hope to articulate ways in which Whitehead’s speculative philosophy harbors within itself objects for our ethical ingressions, our subjective aims which tell us that despite the indifference of life toward actual occasions there remains the richness of joy and affirmation which require us to forego traditional conceptions of self and of ethical practice. In the end, if there remains any moral thinker in Whitehead, it is a thinker who tends toward an understanding of the relationship between Life and the organism in an extra-moral way.

I. A Whiteheadian Ethic?

“Originality is the justification of life.”  — Isabelle Stengers, Thinking With Whitehead, p.324

           So… what are we to make of such a claim by Whitehead when he writes that “life is robbery,” and thus, “the robber requires justification”? (105). In her most recent book Thinking With Whitehead, Isabelle Stengers, takes up this question directly in her chapter entitled ‘Justifying Life?’ As she writes,

“For Whitehead, the difference made by the hypothesis of God cannot evoke a secret harmony between a general justificatory principle and particular circumstances. It cannot ask Job to trust in God’s justice, nor the woman to understand the loss of her child. Rather, it passes between despair as an eventual concrete fact […] it implies the rather strange possibility of not despairing of the world, even when it crushes you or kills you” (TWW, 316).

Stengers continues, “…the justification of life does not imply, or at least not directly…the organism, whose success had to be defined as preservation or endurance” (TWW, 317). On Whiteheads own account, and in line with the metaphysics he lays out in Process and Reality, God is that primordial entity which adheres to a single principle: the intensification of ‘formal immediacy.’ After elaborating the threefold character of God Whitehead writes,

“This is the conception of God, according to which he is considered as the outcome of creativity, as the foundation of order, and as the goad towards novelty. ‘Order’ and ‘novelty’ are but the instruments of his subjective aim which is the intensification of ‘formal immediacy’” (PR, 88).

Or again, in a more clear fashion,

“God is indifferent alike to preservation and to novelty. He cares not whether an immediate occasion be old or new, so far as concerns derivation from its ancestry. His aim for it is depth of satisfaction as an intermediate step towards the fulfillment of his own being. His tenderness is directed towards each occasion, as it arises. Thus God’s purpose in the creative advance is the evocation of intensities [formal cause]. The evocation of societies is purely subsidiary to this absolute end” (PR, 105).

It is quite clear that Whitehead’s indifferent God privileges immediacy and intensities over enduring objects and permanence. Thus, as Stengers rightly pointed out, the question of ‘justification’ does not find its proper place regarding speculative philosophy:

“…it does not pertain to speculative philosophy to simplify a difficulty that constitutes the daily bread of specialists. It is not up to it to propose to specialized undertakings, trying to describe the variety of situations where what we have to deal with “holds together,” concepts of which these undertakings could rely, or rest, in order to define the “proper way of approaching the situation”; all depend on what matters for them. The speculative aim is generic” (TWW, 320, my emphasis).

         Speculative philosophy does not pose the traditional moral question of how one ought to live their life. Rather, speculative philosophy inspired from Whitehead asks ‘what forms of life does a particular social belonging makes possible?’ ‘What may a given society become capable of?’ And, ‘what novel actual entities and eternal objects are created within the interstices of society?’ These are classically Whiteheadian questions concerning the three main values which are found throughout the text: those of Relevance, Importance, and Novelty. Moreover, they are questions which come from the encounter between Whitehead and the systematization of a process ontology. To account for change, creativity, destruction, feeling, temporality, and so on, Whitehead must construct a philosophy up to the task of dealing with the cosmological problem. On this point, Stenger’s puts it best:

“The cosmological question arises with regard to “life,” for in this case destruction is not merely a fact. The history of life is, among other things, that of an active invention of means for locating, grasping, seducing, capturing, trapping, and pursuing…To tell the story of the evolution of living beings, by contrast, is to tell the story of an increase in the creation of ever more effective modes of destruction, inventing new preys for new predators” (TWW, 313).

         Thus the cosmological question becomes the question of where life exists, how it comes in and out of being (temporality), and changes in kind. Whitehead writes, “Life lurks in the interstices of each living cell…”, or as he says elsewhere, “life is a passage from physical order to pure mental originality, and from pure mental originality to canalized  mental originality” (PR, 107-108). These interstices, where Whitehead says life lurks, are the limits by which an organism changes its form of life or physiological constitution; they are the sites of becomings, the places where life risks itself by way of Life, for the sake of novelty.

         Returning to the initial question of speculative philosophy’s relation to ethics, we approach an important nuance: We can confidently claim that speculative philosophy itself is not an ethical or political project, only if we say at the same time that speculative philosophy harbors within itself a sense (sens) of how speculative philosophy could contribute to other forms of questioning where we find our lives at stake. On Stengers’ reading, given that we are each actual occasions, caught up in processes of concrescence, each with historical specificity, subjective aims, and embedded in a society,

“Everything we know, and can do, seeks to become an environment for something possible, which is not ours, because it is nonsocial, but whose eventual “socialization” depends entirely on “us,” on the environment we constitute for it: a culture of interstices. The culture of interstices is not the privilege of personal experience. It may also be a way of understanding ritual trances, divinatory utterances, and the objects manipulated by therapists, which open a human collectivity to an outside whose intrusion suspends habitual social functioning” (TWW, 327-328, my emphasis).

The opening onto the outside, the suspense of habitual functioning, and our participation in the interstitial space of society means to participate in the process of change itself, to participate in concrescence in its creative determination. Emphasizing the importance of this ‘outside’ Stengers warns of the dangers, which await sociologists, biologists, anthropologists, and all those who wish to study the formation and endurance of societies, if they do not pay close attention to this interstitial space. As she writes,

“A living society may, of course, lend itself to descriptions in terms of stable categories…yet the sociologists whose description depends on the endurance of ‘living societies’ cannot have the ambition of achieving the success of the physicist or the chemist, for what they have to deal with raises, in the first instance, the question of the relation that the social order maintains with its own interstices” (TWW, 331).

Thus, sociologists have a different set of risks at play in contrast to the physicist when undertaking the study of human societies; that is, without paying close attention to the ways in which a human society interacts with its own possibility for becoming something other than itself, sociologists miss the important aspects and changes which constitute an important factor of ‘human society.’

Stengers concludes her chapter with a short comment on William James’ moral writing. For her, Whitehead comes closest to James’ moral philosophy in a definite respect: “For James, these philosophers must defend themselves against the temptation of trying to define a system of moral obligations that should be acceptable to all” (TWW, 334). Against the impending charge of relativism on James’ account, Stengers replies that “the position James proposes…demands an attention to the interstices. For James, this first means to accept that the question is tragic. Philosophers should be able to resist the temptation to justify the sacrifice, the exclusion of other ideals. They should accept that the victims haunt the interstices of their adherence to an ideal” (TWW, 334). This tragic element comes from none other than the concrescent process itself; its movement from indetermination to determination, its complex mental operations of decisions, in which all actual occasions present in its process take part. The tragic element of existence, for James and Whitehead, is the inevitable violence, exclusions, and negative prehensions that are integral parts of the actual world.

And perhaps this is the feeling that haunts Whiteheads texts, in those moments when he raises the issue of morality and then quickly dispenses with it; a feeling that we are left wanting for more than a mere gesture. It is this, perhaps, that Stengers rightly points toward in her conclusion: the time of moral philosophers, the temporality of their actual occasion, is a time that is suspended, seemingly out of joint. This time is such that “Everywhere the ethical philosopher must wait on facts” (TWW, 335). Philosophy waits “for those other people, who will teach them what their own categories doomed them to exclude…If they [those other people] are heard, if their words – themselves interstitial – are audible to the society to whose values they adhere, they may contribute to the event, to the socialization of the novel sensibility” (TWW, 335). It is my estimation that what is fundamentally at stake in the time of the philosopher, in this waiting for those people who will educate us on what we have come to exclude, we learn to find a comfort in inhabiting a culture of the interstices. It’s this comfort in the interstices that Winnicott articulates.

II. Whiteheadian Articulations

In a text bearing a similar title to Whitehead’s Process and Reality (1929), D. W. Winnicott argues for the importance and privileged site of the concept of ‘play’ in therapy, in his book Playing and Reality (1971):

“It is a frequent experience in clinical work to meet with persons who want help and who are searching for the self and who are trying to find themselves in the products of their creative experiences. But to help these patients we must know about creativity itself. It is as if we are looking a baby in the early stages and jumping forward to the child who takes feces or some substance with the texture of feces and tries to make something out of the substance. This kind of creativity is valid and well understood, but a separate study is needed of creativity as a feature of life and total living” (PR, 54-55).

The kind of creativity Winnicott is speaking of, as the feature of life and total living, is where one actually finds “oneself”; that is, where one feels alive:

“It is creative apperception more than anything else that makes the individual feel that life is worth living. Contrasted with this is a relationship to external reality which is one of compliance, the world and its details being recognized but only as something to be fitted in with or demanding adaptation…In a tantalizing way many individuals have experienced just enough of creative living to recognize that for most of their time they are living uncreatively, as if caught up in the creativity of someone else, or of a machine” (PR, 65).

While Winnicott implies a relationship between creativity and the self, with Whitehead we are given the explicit articulation of how creativity and the ‘self’ relate to one another, and the reason why anyone would even think to place Winnicott alongside Whitehead: “Creativity is the universal of universals characterizing ultimate matters of fact. It is that ultimate principle by which the many, which are the universe disjunctively, become the one actual occasion, which is the universe conjunctively…creativity is the principle of novelty” (PR, 21). Thus, the patient who comes to the therapist in search of their self, as the one who is afforded the opportunity of play, opens up the possibility of unifying conflicting social and psychic forces. Through creativity in Winnicottian therapy one is engaged in a process of ‘making sense’ of one’s life, and to “find” their “self” in the passage between disjunctive and conjunctive diversity. Or, in Stengers’ formulation, it is the suspension of habitual practices and the opening the the ‘outside’ that provides the possibility for play and transformation. While Whitehead’s concept of actual occasion remains generic, Winnicott makes it an actuality: the self, the search for the self, is found in the process of exchange between therapist and patient, in a setting which seeks to inhabit the interstices which the everydayness of life pushes towards the margins.

Additionally, the emphasis placed on play and creativity in therapy isn’t solely in reference to the patient. The therapist, in Winnicott’s eyes, must be just as capable of being able to afford ‘play’ with their patients, to enact a suspension of the norms which plague the patient’s psyche:

“Organized nonsense is already a defense, just as organized chaos is a denial of chaos. The therapist who cannot take this communication becomes engaged in a futile attempt to find some organization in the nonsense, as a result of which the patient leaves the nonsense area because of hopelessness about communicating nonsense. An opportunity for rest has been missed because of the therapist’s need to find sense where nonsense is. The patient has been unable to rest because of a failure of the environmental provision, which undid the sense of trust. The therapist has, without knowing it, abandoned the professional role, and has done so by bending over backwards to be a clever analyst, and to see order in chaos” (PR, 56).

On this last point, Winnicott is speaking entirely of the interstices in which life lurks; the moments where organisms could pass into becoming-something-else, the moment where change can occur and a reorganization of relations could potentially take place, and how the neglect of this interstitial space of rest in therapy results in the foreclosure of the possibility of the patient reorganizing their social and psychic processes. Moreover, Winnicott’s understanding of the role of the therapist illustrates what Whitehead means when he writes, ““The greater part of morality hinges on the determination of relevance in the future. The relevant future consists of those elements in the anticipated future which are felt with effective intensity by the present subject by reason of the real potentiality for them to be derived from itself” (PR, 27). The morality inherent in psychoanalytic practice hinges on what the therapists affords the patient in terms of play, the possibility of creative apperception, and the assurance of trust which are all constitutive for the aim of the patients health. Thus, there is an important connection between Winnicottian analysis and Whitehead’s metaphysics. There is a certain freedom harbored within life itself, the freedom of participation in the ‘novel togetherness’ of concrescence; where speculative philosophy becomes a philosophical-therapeutics.