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.


  1. see I thought diplomacy was about the negotiating workable (extra-military) relations between competing interests. more William James than Kant...

  2. I have heard that poets too are sometimes forced by their material to introduce music elements (which I take to mean systematicity as well ) to their compositions. AIME could also be perceived as a poem (anyway there is so many metaphors running around in the book).
    Now I am a semimodern and to me a poem is addressed somewhere. To the participants? (how narcissistic!) To Gaia? (Is that a subject? )

    (Quasi-subjects do not only meet quasi-objects. They also meet other quasi-subjects, dont't they. And what are we? Me you? When we make fundamental decisions in our lives. Quasi-subjects? Multilayered contributions of different modes? How do we get to be little kosmoi?)

    There is another thing that perplexes me as a semimodern. I hear all this talk about quasi-subjects. Fine. Then where does the drive for diplomatic negotiations come from? Why care for values in general? Why should moderns care about their "patrimony"? Is it a pass-time? Is the whole AIME a pass time for Moderns who need something really special now? The best "gift" possible of an older generation of Moderns to youths that happened to be born in the countries of Modernity and need to live a meaningful life?

  3. The poetry idea is a nice one. It's often said that all creativity comes from within constraint. You have to have your options limited somehow so as to find innovative ways of achieving whatever you want to achieve. Verse form is precisely this.

    I think quasi-subjects and quasi-objects shouldn't be understood as discrete individuals. When I am sitting here typing this I am a whole swarm of quasi-subjective and quasi-objective events all clustered together. One key element of the modes of existence is Gabriel Tarde's notion that all existents must be understood as societies themselves. Every body is a society made up from a sorts of quasi-whatevers.

    So, 'quasi-' should not suggest some kind of demotion. It is a capacity, not a kind.

    As for why we care. I suppose there is no absolute reason why we should. It would be remarkable if we didn't care about our existence, wouldn't it? One needn't be hardcore evolutionary biology-type to understand that a being that doesn't care for its self and the world around it won't last very long. This doesn't explain valuation as such but it does suggest that to *not* care about our own existence would be the remarkable thing requiring explanation.

    Regarding your last question. I think this is precisely the interesting thing. What do you think? What is missing? Neither I nor Latour can answer that for you. What is missing in his metaphysic that you could not live without? That's the question his project is asking, as I understand it. 'You can't please all the people all the time,' as they say, but having that dialogue at all is a remarkable thing.

  4. Thank you very much on the clarification about the swarm or society of quasi-whatevers. It helps me a lot .

    According to your understanding of the AIME approach what kind of mode is best for the addressing the question: Why doesn't this swarm decompose? How come it stays "whole"? Does it fit to the [REF] tonality? Is it taken as a matter of [REP] fact for as long as it goes?

    Relative to caring, now that you clarified to me how you understand quasi-whatevers, I can follow you. Still a new question appears: How is "concern for self preservation" cognized in AIME? It seems to be in the heart of the whole endeavor but it is not clear to me which modes best suit this value ([REP]? Something does not sound well to me)

    As for the last question, I don't think I qualify to answer because I am not a Modern (not only because I am Greek -joke- but also because of the kind of Greek I am, being an Orthodox Christian). As far as I see (looking to the majority of the participants as well) AIME is mostly an in-buisness of pure moderns. Part of my education is a modern education but is Modernity my patrimony? Am I a "true son"? If I say:"well I feel this is missing" is it the Modern or the non-Modern "me" speaking?

    So AIME is important for me to understand moderns (and understand also my chimerian existence) and to collaborate with moderns (and understand some of my super-modern compatriots). And I can and have suggested other modes (though not putting the hard work to justify them) but to be earnest the concept of mode is not clear to me yet (though I think I progress slowly)

  5. "Why doesn't this swarm decompose? How come it stays "whole"? Does it fit to the [REF] tonality? Is it taken as a matter of [REP] fact for as long as it goes?"

    I think the fundamental principle would be that no mode can be privileged over any other. Which is the most important will always depend on the situation, the case, the circumstance. [PRE] is the mode that induces the pause, we might think of it as a thoughtful pause, during which an existent must choose the mode by which it will 'pass' next. This choice can never be predetermined. [REP] is a mode by which things remain the same (or as much the same as they can insofar as they must pass somehow) but it is not the only means by which something persists. Sometimes a thing must radically and unpredictably transform itself so as to persist [MET]. Staying the same is not always a good thing.

    The real question is if there are 'experiences of passage' that are missed or badly described by the scheme in its present state. It is also the most difficult question!

  6. I will think on your comments.

    Two clarificatory questions:

    1.You say
    " Every body is a society made up from a(ll?) sorts of quasi-whatevers."

    Is this in the sense of "life history" (an account of each existent's passes in the past)? Is it in the sense of how the existent is constituted in parts (at one time)? Is it in the sense that the existent IS its connections with other existents (in which case quasi-subjectivity or quasi-objectivity refer to some kind of "maturity" and quality of the bond with another existent?)?

    2. The quasi subjective and quasi-objective events that constitute the swarm "Phillip Conway" (which I guess is an existent, isn't it?) seem to me to have each births comming from different modes. But if I understand you well, each time the existent "Phillip Conway" makes a choice of passage (parhaps after a pause), it makes it as a whole.
    So the "passage according to one mode" should be a group of interlocked transformations taking place at the same time among the members of the swarm (even though these members may have a birth coming from a different mode). Is this how you think of it?

  7. Well, if every individual person (for the sake of argument sticking with people) is a society -- a swarm of existents -- and if each of these person-societies must at various times pass through one mode of existence or another so as to continue existing, then what portion, what element of the person-society makes the decision? What undergoes and resolves the experience of [pre]?

    I don't really have an answer to that. However, this part of Latour's argument comes straight out of Gabriel Tarde and his monadology. For these person-societies (or actor-networks) there is not necessarily one kingly kernel, one monad above all that 'decides.' The organism in all its complex clustering either succeeds or does not.

    As a scientist works at their lab table they are employing techniques, issuing instructions or scripts and building chains of references all at once. Moreover, they are breathing, concentrating [rep]. They are also breaking, transforming [met]. How this happens depends on the situation in question, I'm not sure that it's something that concerns general ontology. The general ontology is what is supposed to help us understand the situation.