Thursday, January 13, 2011

Name Calling; Enlightenment and Extinction, Part 5

Guy: "I think this flower is called..."
Girl: "Who gives a shit?"

In the last post, we asked a final question regarding the possibility of thinking being without recourse to a linguistic guarantor. We came to this thought as a consequence of seeing a "strong conrrelationist" thought in Meillassoux which wanted to say that mind-independent reality is contingent regardless of this statement being made. This affirmation of being to the non-conceptual space of reality forms a correlation that Brassier shows can't be made regardless of the "good" intentions Meillassoux may have had in destabilizing correlationism's inherent dualism (understanding being in terms of thought). Brassier's next step is to "unbind the void" through the thought of Alain Badiou, specifically his most popular work, Being and Event. It's with Badiou's move away from a linguistic guarantor for the disjunction between being and thinking that Brassier finds important. This is done by treating ontology not as an existential signifier but as discourse. The consequences of de-existentializing being is seeing presentation's internal structure as that of an "anti-phenomenon" which is presence's necessarily empty and insubstantial contrary. In other words, what we conceive of as "presentation" is exactly opposite of being (or presence). When we give ourselves the idea of presentation which we can find conspicuously in the "unfolding" of a musical presentation (work) (given as an example in Husserl's Internal Time Consciousness essays) we can literally describe what we think is the experience of the presence through the presentation of the musical work (presentation). But presentation is not being. What we think of as presentation happening in what we think of as "real time" is our way of thinking being by borrowing a catalog of concepts already in our conceptual lexicon and equating this idea of presentation with an idea of being. In other words, this phenomenological description relies on a historical lexicon of conceptions, or thinking in general and an equality between "presence" and what we figuratively do when we think and say something is being presented. With this being said, it's blatantly inaccurate and unfaithful to something called "being" to ascribe what we think it is to "what it is." Toward the end of the last post, I asked "Why then rely on a concept of ontology (being) in general?" This was assuming we qualified the concept of being as an existential characteristic. With Badiou, ontology becomes a claim about discourse, not about the world. As Brassier states, "Anything that is must be counted-as-one, but unity is not an intrinsic characteristic of being; it is merely the result of an operation which produces consistent multiplicity, from inconsistent multiplicity." Brassier here is explaining Badiou's use of set theory to settle the discourse of ontology a contrario a world of ontology. For example, when we see everything that compiles a tree, we see it as "tree." We see it as one thing called "a tree." This "a" functions to give unity to complexity. But because we call a multiplicity into a unity, this fact doesn't allow a leap into qualifying being. Just because we were presented something in some way doesn't mean that this says anything about being. Our presumptions about presentations don't serve as a harbinger to being. To put it more simply, "all access to being is via presentation, and presentation is always the presentations of something, never being itself" because concepts are always consistent which is incompatible with the claim that being is inconsistent multiplicity (and consequently it never being knowable and thinkable). With all this being said, the question still stands why the concept of being is still something that philosophers ponder over and something that a speculative realism should ponder over regardless of Badiou's demarcation of it into discourse, for discourse is still an attempt at explanation, or is it (we shall understand this further in the post)? While this operates at a sure distance from an existential analytic of ontology (set-theory mathematics rather than Heideggerian mythologization of finitude) it still asks of something called "being." This distance we will explain in this post through the concept of the empty set ({}). At the end though, we will find that Badiou's finding of an "event" from ontological discourse doesn't serve his own method of subtractive ontology(through empty-set theory), and that ultimately and again, the concept of being is one that is more than precarious for philsophical usage and something that can or even ought to be understood.

"Set-theory begins by declaring that non-belonging exists, a non-belonging which authorizes all subsequent belonging, but the theory neither asserts nor presupposes the existence of belonging." This is somewhat of a tricky statement to find our way around. First lets understand the concept of the empty set ({}). An empty set is a set that contains no elements but nonetheless we can see the mathematical syntax (symbolization). For Badiou, it's important to understand that the empty set represents a discourse of syntax, not of existence. According to Brassier, "It does not predicate existence of any concept, whether it be that of 'non-belonging' or 'inexistence.'...Its import is that, even in order to deny belonging, it is at least necessary to affirm the existence of a mark of belonging." So for Badiou, while using set-theory for a discourse of ontology that's at a distance from existential ontology, we are still required to use a mark to mark out this non-belonging. In other words, we affirm "the existence of a mark of non-belonging." The syntax then is in existence since it was marked. The empty set while operating mathematically instead of poetically and figuratively through Heideggerian post-religious secularized mysticism affirms its existence through non-belonging. Through non-belonging, (negation of belonging) which is presupposed by a set in general, (a set that is a multiplicity that we "count-as-one"), belonging is authorized to exist, "but the theory neither asserts nor presupposes the existence of belonging." Instead, we are in a discourse where we use a mark showing no set belonging to the empty set, which nonetheless requires a mark to show pure non-belonging. The key here is in not saying "Instead, we are in a discourse where we use a mark showing no set belonging to the empty set, which nonetheless requires the existence of a mark to show pure non-belonging." Again, existence need not be relative to the operation of set theory. To be more specific, the logic of empty-set theory is an operation, not a predication about existence. With this being said, we understand how theory here "neither asserts nor presupposes the existence of belonging" or being. Empty-set theory shows us nothing about existence, it shows us how marks are made from something that contains nothing. "The axiom of the empty-set asserts that the name of unpresentable is presented; or that there exists a name of inexistence. This nuance is crucial: asserting the existence of a name in discourse is quite different from asserting the existence of an extra-discursive concept. For it is through this nomination that presentation is able to suture itself to the unpresentable without presenting it. Thus Badious writes, 'the inaugural advent' of the unpresentable consists in 'a pure act of nomination' which 'since it is a-specific [...] consumes itself, thereby indicating nothing but the unpresentable as such.' This nomination neither marks the return of the One, since it does not make anything consist, nor does it index a multiplicity, since what it presents is strictly nothing." The key here is that empty-set theory has shown how the mark is sutured (tied) to the unpresentable without presenting it. In other words, we see a mark that happens when triggering what's unpresentable, but this mark that comes to represent what's unpresentable shows nothing about something called "presence" or "being." Instead, an operation happens where the empty-set is marked. The mark of the empty-set presents nothing nor does it make anything "exist." It indicates the unpresentable as nothing, and nothing else. This unpresentable doesn't gain a "wholly unknown other" from it's nomination. It's completely unknown and that's it. The mark indicates nothing and that's it. (It's worth noting that we (along with Badiou and Brassier) use the verb "indicate" rather than "symbolize" in this operational process.) A name is asserted, not an "extra-discursive concept." This is important to understanding subtractive ontology. Alternatively, we can say that a "mark is made, not an extra-discursive concept." From the mark of the empty-set, we then have no reason to attribute any of what happened to us (being). In this example of the empty-set, that a mark was first made and counted-as-one to first establish the empty-set that is never counted (but nevertheless presupposes a count-of-multiplicity as one) doesn't show anything about something called "existence." Nor does it show anything about "presence." It shows a process that Badiou calls "subtractive ontology," and that's it. It's the jump into an existential ontology that Brassier wants to eliminate; this desire to existentialize the mathematics of set theory. It's this existentializing of scientific concepts that creates the mysticism that creates nebulous notions of scientific disciplines. While we understand the concept of Folk Psychology, we can also understand a concept of Folk Science. The differences in what is called "ontology" is not just one example either. The callous way in which the science of Quantum Physics is used to explain things as embarrassing as "changing the way you live" is another conspicuous example.

What empty-set theory shows here for Brassier is that there is no "experience of being." While something is consistently presented (the mark which indicates the set with no elements), this doesn't account for the inconsistency of its own reality or being (the being of the empty-set). There's no understanding of what is the "presencing" within the logical operation of the nomination manifested from nothing. Instead we have an idea of this nothing that is exactly that, nothing and nothing else, and we have a mark that comes to indicate this nothing and nothing else. In other words, there's an operation that we happen to understand. What this operation was, is something that we understood. The understanding is always after an operation, and an operation is always on going on its own terms independent of thought. In this sense we can clarify the nebulous concept of being simply as "something that is just not for understanding." Whether this proves to be the case as we continue on in Enlightenment and Extinction remains to be seen. While Brassier appreciates the subtractive ontology that we just went into with empty-set theory above, he finds the "evental" conclusions drawn by Badiou to be problematic where Badiou inflates thinking to be the event and only event of being, meaning for example that "the Big Bang, the Cambrian explosion, and the death of the sun remain mere hiccups in the way of the world" because they operate at a large distance from the thinking being that Badiou privileges following the "change-the-world" syndrome experienced by many "thinkers" and naive idealists in general. "Thinking is sufficient to change the world: such is the ultimate import of Badiou's idealism." It's interesting to see how an ultimate import of "thought changing the world" can create useful objective thoughts on philosophical questions while having a possible initial import that's this embarrassing. But these aren't questions for philosophy, let alone anyone really. "Either Badiou denies that ontology is a situation, in which case he is obliged to choose between mysticism, Phenomenology, or metaphysics, or he accepts that the subtractive nature of presentation is such as to undermine all the non-ontological consequences he wishes to draw from it, specifically his theory of event." From this, we can make a good guess at where Brassier is headed; a non-correlation between being and consequence, and ultimately between being and thought. Still, how can the concept of being still be used?

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