Wednesday, March 9, 2011

The Truth of Extinction; Enlightenment and Extinction, Conclusion


Freud's concept of the death-drive found in Beyond the Pleasure Principle can be said to have a philosophical analogy in the concept of the "will to know." This death-drive that we elaborated on with the help of Brassier in the last post showed us the curious nature of the human being that mentally repeats it's traumatic events in order to muster the anxiety required to buffer the shock of any future traumatic event. While Freud's reasoning in Beyond the Pleasure Principle made this phenomena less curious, it still seemed strange for any organism to constantly relive a state of anxiety regardless of any possible shock that may occur in the future (notice how futural time here plays the pivotal role in creating anxiety. It's here where Heidegger as a psycho-theorist works best rather than a philosophical critic that makes claims like "science does not think" for example). Beyond the patient, the philosopher can be said to reappropriate the death-drive in their incessant drive to know. From this, we can understand that the will to know is a drive to death. We will come to understand this in the conclusion of Enlightenment and Extinction. This is important because Brassier isn't grounding the enlightenment of extinction simply on the solar catastrophe he refers to in Lyotard's account of the suns incineration, but on the mental phenomena of the repetition of trauma, and it's philosophical analog in the drive to know. In this sense, I think it would be erroneous to classify him simply as a "nominalist." He has engaged in the theoretical constructs of Dasein rigorously while also engaging in the scientific-material conditions of the universe. This engagement is rigorously sincere to me. This sincerity will lead us to faithfully understand Enlightenment and Extinction. Lets then try to understand as faithfully as possible the analog of the death-drive in the will to know. Much beyond the responsibility to the author is an opportunity for discovery. The only thing holding one back from taking this opportunity is the fear of extinction.

" is precisely the extinction of meaning that clears the way for the intelligibility of extinction. Senselessness and purposelessness are not merely privative; they represent a gain in intelligibility. The cancellation of sense, purpose, and possibility marks the point at which the 'horror' concomitant with the impossibility of either being or not-being become intelligible. Thus, if everything is dead already, this is not only because extinction disables those possibilities which were taken to be constitutive of life and existence, but also because the will to know is driven by the traumatic reality of extinction, and strives to become equal to the trauma of the in-itself whose trace it bears." This explanation of the lack of purpose for being is at a distance from the commonly understood classical existentialism. One isn't simply "left with nothing" because extinction is absolute. On the other hand, one is precisely "left with nothing" because of extinction. The import for Brassier is not to take on a state of consternation, or apathy because of this extinction (notice the taking on which I hope to distinguish from an enlightenment of extinction where nothing personally is being taken on) . Being "left with nothing" need not be existentially symbolized. This existential symbolization is certainly a possibility but one that is relative to symbolic being. Instead, this "gain in intelligibility" that occurs with the enlightenment of extinction does not have to be understood as an affirmation of being's existence, nor an ethical impulse for political freedom. Simply put, the enlightenment can occur completely independent of the subject that it happens to. The concept of "horror" is specifically quoted by Brassier in order to reapporpraite what was once understood as horror into a non-existential connotation. What was at once horrific is now simply understood (thereby losing its "horrific" element). This move past the ontology of being towards a "pure" epistemology loses it's horrific element then. Horror happens to the ontologically invested. Again, this is one possibility; the possibility of an epistemological ontology. Extinction then disables what we can understand as "vital ontology." What was once to be taken as constitutive of life (Aristotelian: growth, or Heideggerian: temporal dying, for example) is now understood through the enlightenment of extinction. We understood this in the last post through Freud's discovery of the death-drive and Brassier's appropriation of the death-drive in cosmological repetition. This enlightenment of extinction is specifically epistemological though, meaning a matter of knowledge. In this sense, it wouldn't be inaccurate to see Brassier as an idealist because of his thinking that thought can come to understand extinction. This idealism is simply not ontologically invested. This thinking, this will to know is always a reduction. Every attempt to know is an attempt to "get at the bottom of things," and when it appears that there is ostensibly nothing more to discover, this sense of "horror" (existentially understood) finds that the will to know was a will to get at nothing. The act of incessant reduction simply discovers itself as an operation of incessant reduction to discover nothing. This nothing is specifically understood philosophically as the "in itself." The will to nothing forms a trace of the "in itself" that's nothing other than its own drive. The philosophically understood "in itself" then is the trace of nothing as the recognition of its own drive to know. But this "in itself" need not be understood philosophically, meaning unitarily in order to establish a "sufficient philosophy." The will to know can simply borrow verbiage from philosophy and use it tyrannically. It would be tyrannical in the sense that it need not feel the compulsion to reference the historical inception of the concept. In this sense, the "in itself" understood non-philosophically could be called historically irresponsible from the philosophical perspective. It's here where the "pure" epistemological break with ontology simply doesn't recognize the classical gestures of philosophy, philosophical gestures that we can say are historically ethical. The use of a concept without reference to its historical inception is closer to what is called "the real," because an expression happens without the ethical responsibility towards history. In this sense, what is called "the real" happens every time something is stated without reference to context or pretext (It's with this in mind that it's not so odd to see how ethical of a thinker Derrida was, broadly speaking). The trace then of the "in itself" is not an ethical drive, but a tyrannical drive to know itself as its own drive. In the drive to know nothing ("in itself"), concepts are used and disregarded at will.

"In becoming equal to it, philosophy achieves a binding of extinction, through which the will to know is finally rendered commensurate with the in-itself. This binding coincides with the objectification of thinking understood as the adequation without correspondence between the objective reality of extinction and the subjective knowledge of the trauma to which it gives rise. It is this adequation that constitutes the truth of extinction. But to acknowledge this truth, the subject of philosophy must also recognize that he or she is already dead, and that philosophy is neither a medium of affirmation nor a source of justification, but rather the organon of extinction." The death-drive as the will to know for Brassier becomes equal to what is understood as the "in-itself." When seeking something called the "in-itself" what is found is the will to know. This understanding of the will to know is without end because it seeks nothing. It seeks nothing in the sense that it incessant reduces "substances," and in doing so finds something that is epistemically nothing. Thinking then is understood as the "reality of extinction," and the "subjective knowledge of trauma" experienced by a subject without any correspondence between "reality," and "subjectivity;" in other words, without causality between "reality" and "subjectivity." The will to know resembles extinction, and is experienced traumatically by the subject. There is no experience of extinction, and there is an experience of trauma. Subjective trauma and the reality of extinction are absolutely different, but thinking is understood by both concepts. When one acknowledges this truth, one must acknowledge that their thinking is a trace of nothing. In this sense, one is passively in death. In the act of knowing, one is already dead, because the drive to know is knowing nothing. Death is the knowing of the nothing that already happens. If philosophy is the will to know, it's not the static affirmation of something, nor the justification a subjective trauma it may experience. It's the "organon of extinction." We can say that it's "death as text," or "the textual form of death." What we learn here is that while death may have different forms, this has nothing to do with the absolute reality of extinction, not only on physical-material grounds, but on the grounds of what is called "subjectivity." What is called "subjectivity" is not alive but always dead. Because nothing takes on a different form, in this case of what's called "subjectivity," doesn't mean that it's not driven towards its own extinction. What we can say then is that there are different forms in which death always happens, none of which are alive if they are always grounded in death. Death has different ways of happening and repeating itself. It's these different ways of happening and repeating itself that are open to speculation. The question is: how are different forms always dying? Every question put forth to philosophy then is always a will to know nothing. This text of the drive to know nothing is philosophy. Within nothing, discoveries are always made with no end in sight. These discoveries with no end in sight don't have to take on the possibility of "existential conundrums," and/or "political consequences" for example. If the will to know is always the will to know nothing, then there are no "existential conundrums" because there is no meaning to be desired in the will to know. But what if a form of nothing doesn't follow its own drive? If Dasein as a form of nothing stops driving to know, then what is happening? How is it? How does a form stop its extinctive drive. It's crucial to allow these questions to happen without any pejorative adjectives in its questions. If one is faithful towards their own drive, there will be no room for the personality that would allow for the pejorative disposition. In other words, the death-drive is without ideology. As a preliminary question, it can be asked: "How does control happen to the extinctive drive?" How does the drive break? Maybe more pointedly, does the drive take a break, and if so, how does it take a break.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Cosmological Death-Drive; Enlightenment and Extinction, Part 11

Ride the death drive. An organic experience of entropy.

In opposition to Deleuze and Heidegger's ontologies, Brassier casts Nietzsche's will to power reappropriated as the will to nothing which we discussed in the last post. The will to nothing becomes extended and more specific through Freud's concept of the death-drive found in his groundbreaking work Beyond the Pleasure Principle. Brassier will want to extend the concept of Freud's death-drive into a cosmological framework, meaning an explanation of how organic life always tends towards it's entropic and non-organic nothingness. It's an extension of Freud's original concept in the sense that Brassier will find exact scientific phenomena to represent the death-drive beyond being, most specifically in the suns incineration roughly 4.5 billion years from now. First though, I think it's important to understand Freud's concept of the death-drive and Brassier does this wonderfully. We won't be understanding Freud on our own terms as if we had more authority to speak on the subject than Brassier (even if we did). Instead, we will let Brassier speak for himself regarding the concept of the death-drive. This will help us understand the initial concept of the death-drive and will also help is in understanding this concept within a cosmological context. The concept of the death-drive is one of the most important philosophical insights of the 20th century. It's something that confounded Freud before and during the Beyond the Pleasure Principle text. Freud though was never someone to stop a reduction when in the process of understanding anything (which makes him more of a philosopher than a psychoanalyst.) The understanding of the death-drive within the context of ontology will serve as the grounds for understanding it through the context of cosmology. Only when we can wipe away our teleological presupposition of vitalism can we come to grips of the sense of the death-drive concept. Brassier will help us with Freud, and then we can fully understand the farther reaching extension of arguably Freud's most important work.

"The phenomenon that motivates Freud's investigation in Beyond the Pleasure Principle is that of traumatic neurosis. The latter gives rise to a 'compulsion to repeat,' wherein the sufferer compulsively relives the traumatic incident in his or her dreams. Yet if the function of dreams is primarily that of wish-fulfillment, in conformity with the pleasure principle, which strives to maximize pleasure- where pleasure is defined as a diminution of excitation - and to minimize displeasure - where displeasure is defined as an increase in excitation- then traumatic neurosis poses a problem for psychoanalysis because it resists explanation in terms of the pleasure principle: why is the patient compelled to relive a shatteringly unpleasurable experience?" When Freud confronts traumatic neurosis in his patients, he's confounded by the fact that the patients repeat the traumatic event(s) that happened to them. This is at odds with what Freud preliminarily called the "pleasure principle," which simply put means that beings are driven to pleasure. What beings are driven towards in this classical concept of the pleasure principle is fulfillment of wishes. Beings wish and hope things for themselves and the pleasure principle defines beings in terms of the drive to attain the things they ideally wish and hope for. They are driven by their dreams. It's important to understand more specifically how Freud understood pleasure. Pleasure was firstly the drive to attain ones wishes. But more specifically, it was the "diminution of excitation" and an "increase in excitation." So contrary to the idea that pleasure would mean that one would be overly excited, pleasure is the diminution of excitation. In other words, the more placid one would be would signify a more maximal state of pleasure. This is important to highlight because it can be seen that someone who's overexcited is ostensibly experiencing "pleasure," whereas for Freud, this anxiety was neurotic and not pleasurable. That being said, how come patients were reliving their traumatic experiences not only in their dreams, but in their non-dream states where images would float into someones mind of the traumatic experience. Why was there a temptation and curiosity to relive something that was painful? In general, how is this perversity possible (How is a fetish possible?)? If Freud's patients, and anyone in general relives traumatic events either in dream states or non-dream states, then how much of the pleasure principle is really a principle? This is what leads Freud to write Beyond the Pleasure Principle and give an answer to the repetitive acts of trauma in his patients. Brassier writes, "Freud's answer is that through this repetition, the psyche is striving to muster the anxiety required in order to achieve a successful binding of the excess of excitation released by the traumatic breaching of its defenses." The psyche of the patient then is driven to continually allow anxiety to enter into their psyche in order to successfully bind to the original excitation of the traumatic event. The psyche is driven to equal the anxiety that was originally caused by the traumatic event. The psyche is driven to match the anxiety of a traumatic event. Why does it do this? "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 will allow it to buffer the shock, thereby compensating for the impotent terror that disabled the organism and staunching the excessive influx of excitation brought about by a massive psychic wound." The patient then repeats the traumatic event in their mind to "buffer the shock" of another hypothetical traumatic experience of the same kind. By repeating a traumatic event in ones mind, any new traumatic event won't be new to it. The patient will already have something in their own mind that they have experienced over and over again by the neurotic repetition of anxiety that drives to equal the hypothetical future traumatic experience. Any future experience of trauma will be staunched because the patient has relived the anxiety of trauma so much that the actual experience of trauma will be nothing new. The patient then is always in a state of anxiety anticipating a traumatic event. The patient can't know if the traumatic event will happen again or not. All that matters to the subconscious mind of the patient is that something traumatic has happened and could happen again, and the patient believes the traumatic event will happen again. If they didn't, they wouldn't hold in anticipation for something they know wasn't going to happen (just because it happened before). "The excessive influx of excitation brought about by a massive psychic wound" will be matched by the subconscious repetition of anxiety it knows will happen to itself, even though it may very well never happen again in reality. They key for the subconscious is to buffer shock specifically. Shock is the traumatic experience. Anxiety is a diminutive form of shock. It's a livable form of shock. One will never be shocked if they're always in a state of anxiety. If the subconscious keeps repeating the anxiety of a traumatic event (a trace of the traumatic event), no shock can happen to it because it constantly keeps shocking itself in smaller, more livable degrees than the initial shock that happened to itself. But for however much shock is buffered by the subconscious repetition of anxiety, this repetition of anxiety is anything but the pleasure principle. If the pleasure principle is defined as the diminution of excitation, then the drive to relive a trace of a traumatic experience is not a pleasurable drive. It's not a pleasurable drive to keep exciting oneself into small states of anxiety. If the preliminary concept of the pleasure principle given by Freud was to be an axiom for the operation of the subconscious, then the subconscious would simply forget about a traumatic event, and wouldn't feel the need to relive it in small states of anxiety in order to staunch massive excitation caused in a shock. The subconscious would say to itself: "because it happened once, doesn't mean it will happen again." If the subconscious said this to itself, it would do the opposite of repeating a traumatic event. It would end the traumatic event in the assertion that one event doesn't mean that the same exact event will happen again, or even more simply, that one event doesn't cause another event. In Freud's thought in Beyond the Pleasure Principle though, the subconscious is overwhelmed by the wound of the traumatic experience to rationally be able to reason with itself. It's here where the rationality of conscious life can take hold of the subconscious' death-drive proclivities by consciously reasserting to oneself that "I will always be shocked by something." This negates the subconscious drive to relive a traumatic experience in order to buffer a hypothetical future one because one is always constantly aware that something "shocking" can happen. Instead of constant bubbling anxiety, there's an acceptance of the constant possibility of traumatic events. Shocks will come and die away. In this sense, conscious life is retraining the ostensible function of the subconscious defined in Freud's death-drive to accept shock as something that will always happen, instead of letting one shock fester to shield from a hypothetical future shock. This is a digression from the post, but something I will want to explore later.

Brassier states "If the death-drive qua compulsion to repeat is the originary, primordial motive force driving organic life, this is because the motor of repetition - the repeating instance - is this trace of the aboriginal trauma of organic individuation. This death-drive understood as repetition of the inorganic is the repetition of the death which gave birth to the organism - a death that cannot be satisfactorily repeated, not only because the organism which bears its trace did not yet experience it, but also because that trace is the marker of an exorbitant death, one that even in dying, the organism cannot successfully repeat." Here we find the move from the death-drive understood in Freud's sense to the death-drive understood through the framework of Deleuze's concept of repetition that grounds everything. In the psychoanalytical patient, we saw the drive to constantly repeat trauma that put them in a constant state of anxiety, working against their own ostensible "pleasure principle." With Brassier (with the help of Deleuze's meticulously detailed account of repetition in Difference and Repetition), we find the cosmological context for the death drive as the repetition of death. The psychoanalytical patient had a subconscious that repeated the anxiety of trauma that would lead towards its death, not towards its pleasure. The organic in general is driven by a repetition of death just the same way. In this sense, the subconscious classically understood is analogous to the cosmological repetition of the inorganic. The inorganic constantly repeats itself, thereby creating nothing. But this repetition of death "gave birth to the organism." The inorganic constantly repeats itself, and in doing so, creates constant nothings, one of them being what we call the "organism." Being is a "form" of death. It's one that has been repeated, and one which we see with the same functions in our own species. But this death can't be repeated. The death that happened where we are the trace of that death is not something that we can say was the cause of us. Nor can we go back and live any death in general, because being (as idea) has no access to the death-event. This "exorbitant death" is beyond the bounds of reason and image. It's non-symbolic and non-causal. Again, we have to let Laruelle's concept of "unilateral duality" simmer to fully appreciate the non-correlative aspect of identity without difference, and "process" without causality. Even our experience of dying which once thought itself able to ground death can't discover the repetition of death. As we stated in a prior post, the anticipation of dying is at an absolute distance from pure death. We are the trace of a death, not the death itself. If nothing happens, and something is a "form" of nothing, then this "form" is not nothing, nor can this "form" repeat nothing. The organism cannot repeat the death-possibility that breaks nothing. At the very most, we can say with Brassier that this "repeating instance - is this trace of the aboriginal trauma of organic individuation." The trauma of individuation; this concept of the repetition of death is but a trace of inorganic repetition. To speculate just a little further in somewhat of a sporting interest, we can say: "Something had to live to be able to die."