Wednesday, 4 February 2015

Should 'system' be part of our ontological inheritance?

In response to my last post, Tim Howles writes:
Cf. the question put to BL in his recent interview on 'AIME as system': "The site has been open for two years in French, one in English, and I still don’t see new modes coming in. Isn’t the 'system' here coming to paralyse the inquiry?"
System or 'quasi-system' (a term that I've applied to AIME elsewhere)?

What is the 'quasi' doing for 'object' and 'subject'? Literally speaking, they are 'as if' objects and subjects. More specifically, it renders them not a kind of object or entity, or at least not any entity with an enduring identity, but a point in a trajectory; it implies that the quasi-X is always a becoming-X and always a becoming-with-others. It is a relativisation of subject and object not to each other (à la dialectic) but to a wider pluriverse of existential modalities.

In terms of AIME, it is obvious enough as to why we'd want to keep notions of objectivity and subjectivity as part of our 'inheritance' (albeit deeply modified). The question is really one that I posed right at the end of my article: what are we to inherit and how? What is it in the notion of 'system' that is valuable, despite all the problems with that term?

I think it could be related to the notion of cosmos. Unlike high modernists like Alexander von Humboldt (whose biography I've been reading recently -- but that's an aside), the Latourian cosmos is not at all a pure, perfect state of harmonious nature. It's more Messiaen than Mozart. Harmony, yes, but amidst discord of all sorts. No kosmos without kakosmos -- we'd do well to remember that there is no guarantee of enjoying a cosmos whatsoever; cosmoi are composed.

If a quasi-systematising is an organising, a settling, a becoming-cosmos, then the important question concerns how that systematising is happening. And isn't that what the diplomacy is all about? Progressively composing the common cosmos in the absence of a pre-given sovereign?

Certainly, we shouldn't hold becoming-cosmic or becoming-system to be necessarily superior to whatever the contrary would be -- no composition without decomposition. What a quasi-system permits is an organised conversation about our cherished abstractions. Its realisation is necessarily a stuttering and pragmatic one. However, I think that there is definitely a case for 'system' to be part of what we inherit from the moderns.

I'm trying to think up a joke about Quasimodo but I haven't quite gotten there yet.
quasimodo: "Low Sunday," 1706, Quasimodo Sunday, from Latin quasi modo, first words of introit for the first Sunday after Easter: quasi modo geniti infantes "as newborn babes" (1 Pet. ii:2). The hunchback in Victor Hugo's novel was supposed to have been abandoned as an infant at Notre Dame on this day, hence his name. For first element, see quasi; for second see mode.