Monday, December 10, 2012

Agamben's Method Explained in 300 words

In 2008 Agamben published probably his most significant work: The Signature of All Things: On Method. Here he corrects his numerous critics the majority of whom mis-construe how he uses historical paradigms within a philosphical system. His remarkable synthesis of philosophy and philology, heavily inspired by Foucault and Benjamin, he calls philosophical archaeology. The system as it is presented in The Signature of All Things is summarised below:

Philosophical Archaeology: Agamben's Method

This method consists of tracing the origins of large scale concepts back to the moment when they first became operative as modes of organising and legitimising discourse through Foucauldian intelligibility.

That said, these moments of arising, as he calls them, are not historical data in the usual sense but, inspired by Benjaminian now-time, they actually say as much about us as contemporaries as they do about historical origins.

 Thus every contemporary moment, is founded on an origin or arche, yet every arche is constructed by our contemporary discourse. Thus the past only lives in the present yet the present is constantly a construct of the past. In this way time is marked by an essential double anachronism, of past things projected forward into the present and the present as a construct of the past.

Revealing this historical paradox at the basis of large scale concepts such as power, being, secularization, language and so on, is Agamben’s aim, so as to show them as logically unworkable.  The past, or temporal common, is founded on the present or temporal proper, yet the present founds the past through its attempts to access it as origin.

Thus take any concept, here for example the modern age, and you reveal the paradox between a past found, even created, by the present and present founded on the past, allowing you to suspend or make indifferent a clear separation between origins and current examples, subsequently freeing yourself of the discursive control of said concept.

It is Foucault with a happy ending.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Badiou Explained in 1000 words

Badiou’s philosophy rescues ontology form being either a pseudo-problem (Wittgenstein) or a tragic story of finality and withdrawal (Heidegger).  To do this Badiou solves the basic problem of the question what makes a thing the thing it is, which has been handed down to us from the Greeks.  The totality of ontology is basically contained in Aristotle’s consideration of categories through the idea of divisibility and commonality or species and genus.  To work out what a thing is you need to name its ontological specificity, this is a closed off thing, and its ontological generality, this is a single example of all such things.  Thus the specificity of a thing is its species, and its generality is the genus.  This should allow us to differentiate one thing from another in terms of what is unique to the thing (species) and what it shares in common with others (genus).

 Problems always arise at the upper and lower limits of course.  What, Aristotle asks, is the genus of the genus or the maximal upper limit?  Traditionally this is handed over to an inconceivable and thus humanly inaccessible infinity that is essentially the province of God.  At the same time when do you stop in terms of specificity or what is the absolute lower limit of the species that cannot be the genus of another species?  Traditionally this is handed over to quasi-natural concepts of vitality, substance or atomism.  The history of Western thought has been dominated by three insoluble paradoxes: the genus of the genus, the species of the species and their inter-relation.  Most systems have solved these by installing God at the top, nature or life at the bottom, and a fudged compromise in the middle.  Kant is the best example of this.

Badiou’s intervention is amazingly simple.  He discovers that a key branch of modern mathematics, set theory, especially that of Cantor, solved the problems of inaccessible infinity and infinite regress through two axioms.  Badiou defines the greatest idea of our age as the laicisation of the infinite through Cantor’s discovery that while we cannot count until infinity, infinite numbers are numbers and you can calculate with them.  Thus there is an upper limit or a genus which proceeds from no species. 

At the other end of the spectrum Cantor also found a halting point for every species which is the void set.  This is a set to which nothing belongs.  That said he was also able to prove that the void set belongs to every set, which means it also belongs to itself.  Thus zero or the void is a calculable halting point at the lower level beneath which are simply more voids.  However many voids are in the void set, as they are all equal to each other, the void set cannot be made any smaller.  Badiou summarises this in his simple but brilliant ontological axiom: being is not.

 If we summarise, Badiou is able to impose an infinite that is actual, a void which is present as absent, and thus a means of counting something as one without making it the One, or being forced to further divide it into two smaller ones.  Solving the problem of infinity and regress, Badiou revitalises ontology and the metaphysical project.

What interests Badiou however is not the ontological consistency that this establishes, he takes this as read in an axiomatic and intuitive fashion.  Rather he sees that the consistency of states is always based on a radical inconsistency at its upper and lower levels.  When a state is established then ones are counted twice.  First, at the ontological level a set counts as one in terms of the elements which belong to it.  Second, at the level of our world the state counts the count and defines a stability in the world by imposing a limit to the count.  The first count defines what belongs to a state, the second differentiates what belongs from what is included or sets and their subsets. 

What Badiou realises is that the first count must include at least one element that it cannot count, the void set.  This void is real because without it the set cannot be counted without the problem of infinite regress, thus it is inexistent or exists as something which cannot be counted.  This means every count is founded on a dependence on a void element and this void element is real so that in certain circumstances it can present itself.  In terms of the second count Badiou notes the axiom of the power set which says that the set of the total amount of subsets in a set is always larger than the set itself and operates in effect as multiple of multiples of an actual infinity.  The state, aware of this problem, imposes a second count and determines that only certain elements will be counted, while the rest will be included in the set as subsets that do not belong or are not counted.  Again Badiou notes that the state is also founded on the inclusion of a destabilising element, in this case the potential infinity of elements or subsets that could be counted but are not.

Badiou’s task is simply to find a means by which the void can be made to link up to the uncounted subsets and his theory of the event is precisely that.  The event is a void that presents itself to a situation as present but not included whose impact is assured by a fraternity of militants in any situation who feel they are included but do not belong.  They become champions of the event and in such a way their actions become operative truths in a new situation.  This is the totality of Badiou’s system, how to stabilise the system using the axioms of the void set and the power set, and then ironically how to destabilise the system, precisely because of the same two axioms. 

Its elegance is truly a thing of power and beauty.

Monday, November 05, 2012

Agamben's Potentiality Explained

Contrary to the assertions of many, Agamben's is not a philosophy of potential or impotential but a critique of the Aristotelian category of potential when applied to the signatures of thought and actions.

Summary of Aristotelian Potentiality in The Metaphysics:
Potential is the capacity to do something as the basis for the principle of change of state.

If A changes to B how can we be sure that B was once A, how can we trace causality?

Not just the capacity for child say to grow and learn to speak.

You must have acquired a potential through skill.

To prove you have this potential you must first actualise it.

Megarans argued you can only prove a potential when it is in operation. Thus all potentiality is actuality. Aristotle argues against this sophistry.

He accepts that actuality precedes potentiality. One cannot think potentiality without actuality but you can think actuality without potentiality.

But if potential only existed when actualised, there would be no potential.

If however potential existed before actualisation, you could never be certain a person has the potential.

This led to the idea of im-potential. The capacity to not-do something.

Thus if you are a builder and not building but you can build and have done so, when you are not building you have the im-potential not to build.

Agambenian Impotential
Agamben notes that impotential has the following effects. 

In terms of actuality, what is negated is not your potential but your im-potential. Thus actualisation retains the capacity for potentiality.

At the same time im-potential means that potentiality always will be actualised, it is fated to occur because it is not “I could do something” but “I can do something I am just not doing it now”.

For Agamben potentiality (the common) and actuality (the proper) are only made logically possible by both being mediated by impotential. 

Impotential is the indifferent element that undermines the structure of capacity to do something, will, agency, desire, creation, non-creation, change and stability.

Agamben's is not a philosophy of the potential, as many have suggested. The logical impossibilities of the potential-actual pairing founds the signature of western thought on the capacity to do something (thought and act). Impotential is, therefore, the indifferent suspension of all 'thought' since Aristotle in terms of two of Agamben's three key areas of investigation: thought and act. These two are mediated by that which indifferentially suspends thought (common) and act (proper) namely language.

The supra-signature of Agamben's system is life as the composite operativity of thought and act through the indifferentiation of language. Language suspends the oppositon between common and proper, represented by potentiality, and then ultimately suspends itself.

The logical aporias of Aristotle's potential necessitate the category of impotential as the inoperativity not of potential or actual states but their assumed difference and the manner in which they effectively co-found each other. For while the actual ought to be the founder, after all it precedes potential, it is itself always the proper or particularity of the realisation of a generalised potential. The same logic can be applied to potential in reverse.

I repeat Agamben's is not a philosophy of potential or even impotential. His is a philosophy of indifferent suspension applied here to the very signature of the category of thought itself: Aristotelian potentiality.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Agamben Explained in 500 Words

I have just finished my second major study of the philosophy of Giorgio Agamben, Agamben and Indifference.  As I think Agamben has been widely mis-read and my work benefits from the most recent books by Agamben which set the record straight, I though it would be worthwhile posting the basic definition of Agamben's work that makes up the first page and a half of that book.  Here it is, in miniature, all you need to know about Agamben.  I swear to it!
Introduction to Agamben's Philosophical Archaelogy
I will commence with an unambiguous statement summarising Agamben’s base position as I see it across the totality of all his published works.  Agamben’s philosophical project is the making apparent and then rendering indifferent all structures of differential opposition that lie at the root, he believes, of every major Western concept-signature or discursive structure.  In this manner his philosophy can be termed a form of metaphysical critique that argues all abstract concepts are only quasi-transcendental, in that they are historically contingent not logically necessary.  As such Agamben willingly participates in a tradition that includes Nietzsche, Heidegger, Deleuze and Derrida, thinkers he regularly engages with.  Where he differs from all of these is that he is not a philosopher of difference in any way we take this term to signify within the tradition to which I have just alluded.  Arguably all his predecessors undermine philosophical structures of consistent identity through the valorisation of difference in some form. 
Agamben, however, insists that the difference is as much implicated in the system of metaphysics as that of identity.  If, he argues, identity structures are historically contingent, not logically necessary, then so too are differentiating structures, which can then further be said to be complicit in metaphysics, not a means of overcoming it.  Rather than undermining identity with difference, therefore, Agamben reveals that identity and difference themselves are not necessary terms but historical contingencies, that in fact they form one single entity within our tradition, what I will call identity-difference, and based on these observations one can suspend their history of opposition by rendering them indifferent to each other. 

For Agamben self-identical full presence, what he calls the common, is a discursive entity not an actual state.  Difference, what he calls the proper, is the same.  Further, concepts are no longer to be taken as identity-concepts, ideational structures possessive of communal consistency around an agreed set of referents that can be held under the same conceptual heading, but identity-difference-concepts that have a historical moment of arising when they become active, a mode of distributing this activity to control large and stable discursive formations over time, such as language, such as power, such as poetry, such as glory, and an almost fated period of indifference where the clear definitions of the system either break down, or can aggressively be shown to be assailable contingencies.  The method of tracing these moments for the purpose of suspending identity-difference constructs, what he calls signatures, is an overall methodology that Agamben names philosophical archaeology.
The extent of this archaeology is such that even the terms identity and difference, the founding terms of Western thought and logic, are mere historical presences to him.  The implication being that there was a time, permanently inaccessible to us now as totally non-communicable, when we thought, spoke and acted otherwise, and there could be a time when we think, speak and act without a sense of identity, difference, or their opposition.  Such a mode of thinking-after-indifference, meaning both thinking that ‘takes after’ or resembles indifferential structures and also a thinking that comes subsequent to them, is the best summary we currently have of his work’s lasting originality.

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

Aesthetics versus Literary Theory

In email conversation with Joe Hughes recently, check out his two books on Deleuze they are excellent by the way, I tried to explain a long-term project I am working on regarding a new aesthetics.

It has struck me many times that in the history of aesthetics, let's say it starts with Kant's Third Critique, there are few if any works on aesthetics that do not subordinate the aesthetic to a wider philosophical system.  This is why Nietzsche is so important to aesthetics and moden theory, in that he is possibly the first to convincingly suggest a philosophy that emanates from art.  And again why Heidegger's so-called kehre (his turn to poetry) retains such a grip on us for all its limitations and questionable motivations. 

If aesthetics as works are not the application of an already established system to the arts so as to use arts to bolster up a tottering critical philosophy or found an overly ambitious narrative (Kant and Hegel respectively), then the thinker gets mired in inductive reasoning, specifically the categorising of the different kinds of arts or different kinds of the different kinds of the arts and so on (Kant and Hegel do both of course).  In this light Jean-Luc Nancy's reading of Hegel in The Muses, which I have just written on for the excellent collection of essays from SUNY Jean-Luc Nancy and Plural Thinking, is especially important.

Hegel eventually choses poetry as the art of arts because poetry is the one art form whose essence it is to negate itself.  Poetry is better than any other art because it can combine sensual being with abstract thought to such a degree that the abstract element of poetry radically attenuates the material and sensible side.  This self-withering self-negation means that poetry becomes more itself the more it resembles philosophy, and less itself at the same time the more it denies that which differentiates it from philosophy, namely its material singularity.  Naturally Hegel appreciates this sacrifice for one of his prime concerns in the aesthetics is to wrest power back into the hands of philosophy during the period of high German Romantic irony where art threatened to eclipse the dialectic.  And of course it is also a perfect example of self-alienation for a wider cause, typical of the early elements of the logic of the dialectic.

This aside the point is that aesthetics is caught in this apotropaic bind.  The more one pursues the abstraction of philosophical consistency of which one makes art a part, the more one denies the thing that defines art's essence, a combination of unity plus singularity.  Instead if one decides to delineate artistic singularity for its own sake, the more it becomes obvious, as Nancy has me arguing, that this promiscuity of the arts means the concept of an art as such, an aesthetic, becomes impossible to sustain. 

As I cannot think of another concept that does this, I must name art as this apotropaic dynamism that exists between the conceptual possibility of a unity that is philosophically valid, Art with a capital A or Aesthetics with a capital A, and the reality of the multiplicity of singular, material diversity that consitutes the essence of the art work.  Thus it is that Nancy kind of explains why we tend to speak of the arts, and not art in general, because we cannot reconcile aesthetic commonality with artistic mutiple singularity.

And so everyone latches on to singularity as equal to art because it is a philosophical unified concept for the existence of absolute particularities.  Yet it is never easy to say that art alone has singularity.  In Deleuze, in Badiou, in Agamben, and so on, art may possess singularity but it is not singularity per se.  Again, supporting my view that art is the apotropaic problem of singularity, but not simply singularity as such. 

This is Agamben's point in fact.  The poem, more widely the presumed work of art as thing, is the suspension of clear differentiation between prose (immaterial philosophical language usage) and poetry (semiotic singularity).  The work of art in this sense is the constant suspension of clarity between common language (philosophy) and singular language (poetry) that reveals that this presupposed split is a historical mythologeme, to use Zartaluodis' term for this process.  There is no difference between philosophy and the arts as regards their attitude towards the materiality of language.  This is one of the oldest fictions we still currently abide by as some kind of truth.

The end point of this is literary theory, my home for two decades I suppose.  I now see that literary theory effectively negotiates between Art as unified concept and every work of art ever produced as multiple, sensual singilarity.  Like the false idea of the Arts, the false division of theory into different approaches was the necessary result of the bad-faith at the heart of theory.  Theory is nothing other, in the end, and I speak from experience and rabid participation, than a fix combining partiality of thinking, using only some of philosophy or formal thought, and selectiveness of reading, using examples that best fit the theory or reducing all multiplicity down to a limited stable of possible significances. 

It was in a way the worst of both words.  If you were a marxist or materialist thinker, in reality Marx and Althusser pre-dated any work of art which could only be a manifestation of their ideas.  In that sense any literary sigularity was negated.  On the other hand if you were a Marxist theorist your empirical evidence was the diversity of literary texts, and so modifications to the source idea had to be imposed to facilitate the singularity of the literary.  So we would say art is ideology but not all art is reducible to slavish ideology.

To sum up then literary theory has been a bridge between unified aesthetics and radical material singularity and in this sense was a valuable first step.  But now a single theoretical approach is needed that does not simply replicate the problem of common and proper, universal and singular, in relation to the work of art.  This can only be a theory of art that accepts the necessity to suspend this false division that we blame Plato for so blithely: either a geometer or a poet.  An aesthetics of indifference, therefore, that emerges out of the inoperativity of a theory caught between an incomplete identity on one side, and a reductionist view of singularity on the other. 

This is the project I am working on called Logopoiesis, neither and aeshethics nor a theory of the arts but a suspension of this age-old atagonism by first of all negating that there is such a thing in the world as a work of art aside from what it makes communicable to our culture: primarily the unity of singularity.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Apotropaicism: Aura and Trace

In the opening to Jean-Michel Rabate's recent book Given, he presents the history of aesthetics through considerations of aura, trace and neuter. I will leave to one side whether the neuter is a third aesthetic category or a development of the trace in face of the fading of the aura.

In presenting the aura and the trace in this manner, Rabate at one point he cites the perfect dialectic of aesthetics unearthed in Benjamin's Arcades project as located between the trace and the aura. It goes as follows:
'The trace is an appearance of nearness, however far removed the thing that is left behind may be. The aura is the appearance of a distance, however close the thing that it calls forth. In the trace, we gain possession of the thing; in the aura, it takes possession of us.' (Cited in Given 21).

The apotropaicism of this comment goes to the very heart of the aesthetic as such which is always in our culture presented as a dialectic and certainly since Hegel a dialectic posed between materiality, trace, and ideality, aura.

The work of art itself is something apotropaic or problematic as Derrida calls it in Aporias (from the Greek problema to project and project). One could the perhaps pose the problem as the dialectical other to apotropaicism. If apotropaicism attracts and repels in equal measure, a protection against an evil which appeals otherwise why does one need an active prophylaxis, then the problem both defends one against this threat and yet also projects or promotes one into its sphere of dire influence.

Of course at this stage it becomes impossible to resist the evil influence of perhaps the most nefarious of all dialectics, that between object and subject. The aesthetic object is fundementally apotropaic in that it tries to take command of one. In contrast the aesthetic subject is problematic as it resists apotropaic objectivism by its trespass into the object of its own exterior relations and for that matter interiorised alterity. Again, returning to Derrida, he seems to combine the two terms into his translation of prosthesis, as we all know essential to artistic techne, which he contends means both before and towards a place.

The aesthetic therefore consists first of apotropaicism which might be termed an aesthetic classicism: the demands of the external world on the subjective. This world is both presentative and re-presentative, indicated by the dual dynamic of apotropaicism which attracts, here I am, and repels, in other words repeats (here I mean representation literally as simply presented again in the very first instance of presentation, pushed away by repetition precisely as one comes before its presence for the first time).

Then there is a period of aesthetic modernism of which Kant and Hegel are the fathers. Here the subjective element of the problem overtakes the demands of the object. The subject wishes to protect itself from the very element its art must project into: the world at large, transcendental truths, death, and sensuousness as such. It would be easy to say projection is protection, a pushing forward and away, but this would be false. Protection is rather a projection. The art work is cast forward into the avant-garde as much to protect the subject as to liberate the aesthetic into a futural moment. If apotropaic classic object aesthetics attracts so as to reveal the repellant law of presentation without presence, then problematic modern aesthetics projects endlessly into novelty and the future to protect the subject from its own difference from itself, which is in fact difference from difference as such. Subject as ever the same as itself but never in anyway trascendentally self-identical.

It is all too easy to present the aesthetic as a historically orientated dialectic naming names and epochs in support but when I speak of the two moments of the aesthetic I do not see them has historical at all or indeed temporal in anything but a necessarily attenuated form of language that we seem to demand to be temporal, before, after and so on, when it merely uses temporal terms to convey a certain set of non-temporal and non-spatial positions and relations.

What I contend is that the aesthetic thus far in the west is first object-apotropaic, then subject-problematic and then a rather complex, baroque even decadent dialectical interpositioning of the two. Thus finally in all aesthetics one has a suspensive moment wherein the dialectic of the aesthetic: apotropaic objectivism vs. problematic subjectivism is first revealed as a doubled doubling. Rather than sublation one might cringe at the hideous appositeness of the term doublation, for that is indeed what the aesthetic performs.

Here the dialectic is not moving towards synthesis via self alienation but internal division. Not an endless internal division or dialectic in reverse, but a moment of identity that immediately becomes difference which then results in an identity of difference which then ceases at precisely this point. Let me try and possibly fail to explain.

The object, I argued, both attracts and repels, the problem both protects and projects. Here the term prosthesis is useful in that the aesthetic both takes us towards a place and yet inculcates us in a temporality of previousness. We head towards a place we have already proceeded from. Naturally this is echoed in Derridean differance and many other versions of this ontological temporality, see Badiou's theory of the event, Deleuze on difference and repetition and so on, but in a differentiation of self-differing diffentiations.

The object orientation of the work of art differs from itself in that it exists only to be repelled by subjects and in so doing comes to its self-indentity. This identity is not simply something that differs from itself, the age-old Eleatic problem of the one and its others. It differs from itself by resembling that from which it is fundamentally different. This is the problematic subject which again exists as such only by trespass into an exterior, transcendental materiality into whose radical and endless difference it projects itself to protect itself from the revelation of its own non-identical identity and presence-less present. The subject of enunciation in other words.

It would seem therefore there are a number of para-parallel levels of identifying differentiation in play here.
  • The object differs from itself by coming to presence only by re-presenting itself to the subject after the subject has repelled it. It is not enough for the object to remain at one remove from the subject, it must affect the subject so that the subject rejects it.
  • The subject differs from itself by projecting out into that which will dissolve it: exteriority and alterity. The subject therefore operates as the negative echo of the object. The object presents so as be be re-presented in the repetition of its rejection. The subject comes to presence only through a projection out into a world against which it must protect itself. Here representation, subject in the objective world, comes about only through and act of depresentation: total withdrawal from the game.
  • It is not enough to say that object and subject aura and trace are dialectically opposed. They are also opposed to themselves in a manner which relates the two areas not by structural similarity but by a perfect structural dissimilarity of absolute reversal.

Language Ideas

If we are to take language and/or writing as the essence of truth whether this be language as such (Agamben), as writing (Derrida), house of being (Heidegger) or as logical form of propositions (analytical philosophy) then why not do so in full?
Rather than positing elements of language in contestation, is not truth-being the totality of language including those elements that we can easily observe in language that are not necessarily taken up by philosophy.
If this is the case the first work would be a taxonomy of the qualities of what we call language, the second a reconciliation of contradications and oppositions, the third a full presentation of what truth is: language in its entirety.
Language List:
Structural Linguistics
Continental Philosophy
Generative Grammar
Analytical Philosophy

Structural Language is a system of signs used by a community to approach a commonality of meaning. These signs are used, it is said, to encode information by pairing sound with concept, and decoding information by conventional agreement as to which concepts these sounds signify. The link between sound and sense is arbitrary, but the means by which signs generate meanings is not. This system is dependant on presuppositions as regards symbolisation, pre-existence of intended meanings, common sense shared meanings, the difference between siginifier and signified, differential systems, and identical meanings. Central elements
  • sign as bifurcated
  • the combination of arbitrary and convention
  • network of differentials
  • diachrony as a form of trace
  • preupposition of structure and of information
  • symbolisation
Continental Philosophy: Three positions. Heidegger, language is the house of being. Derrida language is writing. Agamben, language is immediate mediating support.
Heidegger's placement of Being within the habitude of language is a central moment of concession that the modalities of language recommend it to Being. I see this in two ways. First the paradox of Being can only be accessed through language. Second that certain elements of language highlighted in poetry share a commonality with Being. Language can express Being to a degree because language operates in a fashion similar to Being.
Derrida's work adds to structuralism the following critiques. The presupposition of meaning or voice before mediation in material means is false. Meaning does not precede language but is always already inscribed in language. Elements of language which are essential such as trace, deferral, differentiation, and spacing mean that all language is ostensibly writing. The symbolisation theory retrospectively infects backwards the presupposition of a direct meaning. Finally the model of freedom within confines for Derrida undermines confines resulting in destructurisation.
Agamben retains the Heideggerian and Derridean point that Being is only presentable in language. Yet he also proposes that language is not bifurcated between Being and poetry or phonology and grammatology, but that language is the immediate mediation of all categorisations. Language is the place wherein such categories come into conflict in the first instance.
All three thinkers retain and element of poetic alterity. In each case it is language's singular non-identity that gives it the modality of the presentation of 'meaning'.
  • language replaces truth or meaning as the origin of Being
  • language does not communicate meaning but composes meangifulness
  • linguistic alterity must run alongside everyday communication
  • materiality is not in service of communication but is the essence of communication
The presupposition that meaning precedes language is undermined by Derrida and others by revealing that meaning is essentially a construct of language use. This is particularly dependant on the differential elements of trace and deferral. Thus all meaning is always already inscribed within language and hence all language is to be termed writing. Aside from difference, trace and deferral, other qualities of language as writing would have to be taken into consideration such as materiality (semiosis), transmissibility and prophylaxis. Naturallt here therefore language is not the transmission of information but the construction of conceptualisations of meaning. There is not active process of encoding and decoding as all is already code.
Language as such: Here Agamben and others propose a pre-writing element to language which is pure Voice. Here the division between phonological and grammatological versions of language is put to one side with language presented as the pure medium of support for meaning. In this model meaning does not precede language, nor writing precede voice as pure self-presence, but voice and writing come together by virtue of the medium of language as such.
Deep Structure: For Chomsky and others language is a cognitive procedure. It consisted intitiall of two elements, surface and deep structure. Surface structure's vary but all are reducible to deep structures common to all languages. Language is not learnt therefore but is hardwired and projects from this core the language variations. This has since been abandoned in favour of the minimalist program. What this indicates is the core ideas at the heart of all contemporary theories of grammar.
  • abstraction: grammars can be built on abstract logical rules not on empirical observation allowinf us to reduced all languae to NP VP Aux and build from that.
  • derivation: grammars indicate how infinite complexities are derived from limited sets of rules
  • transformation and recurrence: language consists of transformations within recurring and limited structures.
  • Grammaticality: a well composed sentence is one that is grammatically correct even if meaningless
  • Perfection and Economy: related principles really, the complexity of the system of language is reducible to a limited number of rules which are perfect, i.e optimal and economic, ie. reductive.
Here language is defined in terms of syntax rather than sign and in terms of transformative derivations rather than symbol.

Analytical Philosophy:

These sustained positions on language do not constitute language in its totality and thus a final element of language, a logopoietic element, must be added into the mix.

  1. Structuralism: symbolisation, materiality, differentiation, network, double structure, trace, arbitrary convention
  2. Continental Philosophy: Language presents being, singularity, deferral, trace, materiality, medium, difference, dialectic, spacing
  3. Transformation Grammar: Language is an innate mode of all human thought based on the evolution of the brain. It moves to a simple structure from which transformation and derivations can be determined. It is motivated by perfection of optimality and economy.
  4. Analytical Philosophy:

Logopoiesis: Tautology Example

What if one took say the categories of analytical philosophy and logic and returned them back to a more broad brush metaphysical style. Rather than, as some have done, try to make metaphysics analytical, continuing the project of Kant but in a modern register, one should aim to make analytical conceptions metaphysical.

Thus for example tautology. Here one would take the conceptualisation of tautology which is one half of the original logical empricists schema of truth as either tautology or verifiable, and develop from that a work on tautologies potential to generate meaning within culture or thought. This is the application of the the logopoiesis axiom: to think what is embedded potentially within a concept.

Thus potential thinking could consist of thinking a category rather than categorical thinking. The self-evident then would be related to issues such as potentiality in Agamben, the obvious in Heidegger, tautegory in Lyotard and Nancy and so on.


A traditional error when thinking about language is to reduce it to the mere act of naming, and all the paradoxes inherent therein.  However complex and thought through Badiou's theory of the event is, its being named opens it up first to these paradoxes, and second to an attenuated vision of language that remains supicious.  Preferable by far is the wider focus on language as composed of relational phrases to be found in Deleuze. 

Phrases or sentences if you prefer, raise their own set of problems.  The primary amongst these is how to contend with the subject-predicate coupling which is the basis of the very philosophical tradition Deleuze is trying to overturn.  Aside from this, possibly insurmountable, problem there is of course the nature of relation within the phrase unit, especially if the subject-predicate copula is retained.  And of course the relation between phrases which necessitates that one address simple ontological questions such as where does the phrase begin and end, how do we differentiated phrases from each other?  Deleuze's genius is to see these problems and, to my mind at least, compose credible means of resolving them. 

The first thing to be said therefore is that any philosophy of language needs to pay equal attention to language as name and language as phrase.  Naming can never be a only relation between word and thing, a relation we find time and again radically non-relational, but must also be between names and names and names and verbs and predicates.  By the same gesture while Deleuze is certainly correct to stress the importance of linguistic construction over that of denotation, something he shares with Foucault, this cannot be at the expense of the name as and experience of philosophy

Language in this model becomes a form of mediation between two worlds traditionally unable to communicate.  Words point to things in the world, while phrases point to the relation between worlds.  Language therefore produces some form of relation between an extensive relation (word-thing) and an intensive relation (phrase-phrase) necessitating a view of the world as bifurcated between world as common, language founded on naming what there is for all of us, and as proper, the actual infinity of the relations between phrase-worlds.

If we adopt this model of language many new issues come into focus.  The first of these is that however complex our new model is, accepting language as word-thing, word-word, word (noun)-phrase (verb) and phrase-phrase, it is still a bifurcated identity-difference construct and so well within the confines of our metaphysical history.  To militate against this we can observe that the outer limits of language as word and as phrase begin to decompose the snug intimacy of the subject-predicate presupposition which is at the heart of the model I have just laid out. 

The word, after all, is not the minumum or most primitive unit of language.  Before any word as such is uttered, the material-ontological preconditions of enunciation must be met, these are of course a self-enunciating subject in actual or constructed fact, and various other matters such as marking, absence, silence, reptition, redundancy, rhythm, expletives, glossolalia and so on.  Put simply before each word there must be met the preconditions of utterance that philosophy has usually distributed along the lines of subjects and matter. 

At the other end we have to consider that while a phrase-based linguistics is certainly more relational and constructivist, it is still of limited relationality and really only a primitive form of construction.  It is, after all, not phrases that interest us but phrases in frameworks, phrases composed into significant 'paragraphs', phrases in consort with other phrases, and out of kilter with other phrases, phrases through time, across place, under the auspices of power, and phrases as events.  All of these could be held under the heading 'discourse', or specifically the operativity of discourse and the inter-relationality of multiple but not infinite discourses.

These removals of the traditional epoche of ideas of language do no free it from binaristic, identity-difference structures.  But they begin the slow process of entirely reconsidering the nature of language to a such a degree that such a noun may eventually be adandoned as not naming anything to be found in this world.  Before we get there however the program is clear:
  • Reconfigure language as neither word based nor phrase based but as word-phrase based
  • Be open and honest about the aporias to be found therein of both systems and their relation
  • Open both the internal borders of language, let word consort with phrase, an the external, let word consort with matter and let phrase consort with discourse
  • Which may in turn even open discourse to matter and vice versa
Such a 'philosophy of language' would far exceed the reductionist contesting models we tend to encounter but even this expansion would be insufficient.  It does not, for example, begin to contend with the fundamental belief in Agamben and Deleuze that language is primarily performative.  Nor does it yet contemplate the fundamental belief in Agamben and Foucault that language is also pure communicability as such. 

For us to proceed beyond language we need to consider the performative at both the primitive level of subjective enunciation and the multiple level of power through territorialisation.  And by the same gesture a consideration of communicability at the base level, for example Foucault's stipulation that all statements need base material presence, and at the discursive level: the wider sanction of communicability as such as a sanctioned form of pervasive and relatively consitent intelligibility.