Oops: Speculative Realism

(Via the wikipedia entry, which isn’t bad, and Graham Harman’s brief tutorial . . .)

Speculative Realism relies on two key principles, the Principles of Correlationism and Factiality. The first characterizes the mainstream of “Western philosophy” since Kant (Kant → the Idealists → phenomenology/analytic philosophy); the second, Speculative Realism.

The Principle of Correlationism

We can know only the correlate of thought and being; what lies outside that correlate is unknowable.

(The term was coined by Meillassoux in After Finitude: An Essay on the Necessity of Contingency [2006; Continuum, 2008].)

  • We can “know” things only insofar as we can think them (Kant, for example, posits a set of categories that serve as our cognitive operating system).
  • We cannot “know” things-in-themselves — tho we can imagine them (Schopenhauer, for example, imagines the thing-in-itself by analogy with “will”).

I.e., philosophy is based in the interplay of human and world (it is anthropic).

As a result, most Kantians concern themselves primarily with “access,” namely, how humans come to interpret things and the world — thus, epistemology, language analysis and critique. Ontology, inasmuch as it is done at all, is political: it represents a conflict over what exists. (See Meillassoux on correlationism.)

The Principle of Factiality

Things could be other than they are.

(See Meillassoux on factiality.)

Cf. what Levi Bryant calls the Ontic Principle: there is no difference that does not make a difference (a.k.a. Latour’s Principle: there is no transportation [relation between two “actors” or objects] without translation [a labour that produces something new in the process]). Everything counts. Thus,

  • no object is simply the bearer or vehicle of another object;
  • humans contribute only one difference among others.

Speculative Realism takes factiality as its starting point.

A Speculative Realist Genealogy

As against naïve realism (the world is as it seems) and transcendental idealism (the world is not as it seems), Speculative Realism holds that the world is — or, rather, can be — not as it seems.

Harman constructs a genealogy of post-Enlightenment philosophy in these terms:

  • Kant and Husserl are weak Correlationists (sceptics).
  • Hegel, Wittgenstein and Heidegger are strong Correlationists (idealists) and reject the Principle of Factiality.
  • Meillassoux, Harman, Grant and Brassier et al. are strong Factialists (speculative realists/materialists, a term coined by Brassier in 2007) and reject the Principle of Correlation.

Speculative realists thus return to Hume: they reject the necessity not only of all physical laws of nature, but all logical laws, including the Principle of Sufficient Reason — with the exception of the Principle of Non-Contradiction, upon which the Principle of Factiality relies.

Object-Oriented Philosophy

Yet, against what Harman calls anti-realist “radical philosophy,” which either

  • “undermines” objects (objects are the surfaces of the Real [cf. Schopenhauer, etc.]) or
  • “overmines” them (objects are bundles of qualities [cf. Hume, etc.] or relations [cf. Latour, Whitehead, etc.]),

and against most of the other Speculative Realists, he returns to objects: hence, the term Object-Oriented Philosophy (OOP, a term coined by Harman in 1999; cf. Tool Being: Heidegger and the Metaphysics of Objects [Open Court, 2002] and Guerilla Metaphysics: Phenomenology and the Carpentry of Things [Open Court, 2007]).

All things, whether physical or fictional, are equally objects.

  • When objects combine, they create new objects; objects can both come to be and pass away.
  • An object is an infinite recess; there is no “bottom” to the series of objects.
  • There are two types of objects: real objects (everyday things, e.g., cotton) and sensual objects, which can interact (caricatures of things, e.g., the cotton that burns).

So, for Speculative Realism, philosophy is based on one world, made up of objects (it is Copernican — or, to put it simply, realist).

Furthermore, ontology is independent of politics: it cannot be validated in terms of its political effects or be used to serve political ends, for example, to determine a political program or to ontologise political arguments; nonetheless, ontology can enable us to understand how to leverage power, i.e. to translate political thinking into action (see Nina Power). (See Harmon on “Object-Oriented Philosophy.”)

Further Reading

Deduction, Induction and Abduction in Academic Writing

In academic writing, deduction, induction and abduction can be read as modes of argumentation:

  • deduction: finding data to support an argument.
  • induction: finding an argument to explain some data;
  • abduction: supplying a warrant that enables us to move from data to argument.

The first is the best in practice: outline an argument based on what you already know about the topic, then research to fill in the gaps (= active reading). This mode cuts down the amount of reading you have to do — and allows your voice to remain strongest in your writing.

The second is the most common — but less effective: research the topic, then come up with an argument based on your research (= reactive writing). This mode is problematic because you can easily get bogged down in over-reading — and your voice can easily be drowned out by others’.

The third deepens your critique: get clear about the assumptions that underlie — or condition — your argument (= active writing). To do so is to problematize — even defamiliarize (or alienate!) — your argument, which will make your voice more distinctive . . . given that these assumptions go unquestioned in most arguments.


The modes in detail . . .

FIgure One:

The terms “Fact,” “Rule” and “Case” are medieval nicknames for the propositions that would be called the “conclusion” (C), “major premise” (MP)  and “minor premise” (mp) respectively, in the simplest form of deductive syllogism.

  1. rule, law, major premise (MP)
  2. case, cause, minor premise (mp)
  3. fact, effect, conclusion

Thus, we have the following scheme:


Deduction takes a Case, a mp of the form X => Y,
matches it with a Rule, a MP of the form Y => Z,
then adverts to a Fact, a C of the form X => Z.

  1. All bachelors are unmarried males.         Rule/MP
  2. Hank Moody is a bachelor.                        Case/mp
  3. Hank Moody is an unmarried male.        Fact/conc.

Deduction allows deriving b as a consequence of a (deriving the consequences of what is assumed).[1]

= applying a law, i.e., finding data to support an argument.


Induction takes a Case of the form X => Y,
matches it with a Fact of the form X => Z,
then adverts to a Rule of the form Y => Z.

Statistical syllogism

  1. 90% of humans are right-handed.
  2. Joe is a human.
  3. Joe is probably right-handed.

Argument from analogy

  1. Joe is tall, skinny and athletic.
  2. Hank is tall and skinny.
  3. Hank is possibly also athletic.

Induction allows inferring a from multiple instantiations of b when a entails b (inferring probable antecedents as a result of observing multiple consequents).[2]

= inferring a law, i.e., finding an argument to explain some data.


Abduction takes a Fact of the form X => Z,
matches it with a Rule of the form Y => Z,
then adverts to a Case of the form X => Y.

  1. The lawn is wet.
  2. If it rained last night, then the lawn would be wet.
  3. It rained last night.

Abduction allows inferring a as an explanation of b (inferring the precondition a from the consequence b).[3]

= assuming a law, i.e., supplying a warrant that enables us to move from our data to our argument (i.e., a hypothesis, a warrant or backing, a condition).

Even more succinctly . . .

Table 2:

N.B. A fourth type is retroduction, which is “reasoning from consequent to [hypothetical] antecedent.”[4] Peirce sometimes calls it “Hypothetic Inference.” It “depends on our hope, sooner or later, to guess at the conditions under which a given kind of phenomenon will present itself.”[5] This is a legitimate use of the fallacy of post hoc ergo propter hoc, a.k.a. affirming the consequent.

[1] Synagögé.

[2] Epagögé, “bringing in”: “the adducing of particular examples so as to lead to a universal conclusion; the argument by induction” (Webster’s).

[3] Anagoge, “dragging away”: “An indirect argument which proves a thing by showing the impossibility or absurdity of the contrary”; a reductio ad absurdum (Webster’s).

[4] C. S. Peirce, “A Neglected Argument for the Reality of God” [1908], CP 6.469-70.

[5] C. S. Peirce, Letter to F. A. Woods [1913], CP 8.385-88.

I-Hood: Fichte on Construction

Fichte (1762-1814)

For Fichte, according to Daniel Breazeale, construction, i.e., thinking through the self or “I-hood” (Ichheit), has six distinctive features. It requires a “postulate,” i.e., a question or occasion, that serves as

  1. an invitation or summons or challenge . . . to engage in an act of abstraction (from all that is not the I) and reflection (upon whatever remains in consciousness following such an act of abstraction)” (6), i.e. philosophical construction is a process of thinking — thinking as doing or making, rather than merely contemplating. Its “prerequisite” is
  2. an act of radical abstraction from the ‘objective’ or ‘empirical’ contents of consciousness,” which characterizes the “philosophical standpoint” (7); and its “organ” is
  3. the capacity for reflection, attentiveness, or intellectual intuition,” i.e., “a direct awareness . . . of what ‘happens’ when one tries to think the I” (8). The process nonetheless requires
  4. synthetic thinking,” which “attach[es] to some previously constructed concept a new concept, one not already contained in the previous one, but instead somehow presupposed by it” (10), i.e., grounding it (à la Leibniz) and “dialogizing” it, i.e., opposing it (à la Spinoza) and transcending it (à la Hegel). These heuristic principles are driven by
  5. imagination” (12), i.e., the “feeling for truth” that characterizes the “philosophical spirit”: “the capacity to think creatively, to engage in ‘inspired guesswork’” (13).
  6. N.B. The scope of construction is limited to “the domain of the pure subject-object,” i.e. “I-hood” (14).

In construction, we reflect on what is happening to the “I” when we abstract from experience to think through an idea.

The problem is: what do ideas have to do with the I? Or, to put it another way, how does “synthetic thinking,” which works with ideas, get us to the I?

Here’s one solution: this requires a kind of thought-experiment in which we think about the I by not thinking about it.

  1. We assume the I and ideas “work” similarly.
  2. We pick an idea.
  3. Because the I is foundational (self is primary) and dialectical (a self implies an other), we examine the grounds of that idea and explore its contradiction.
  4. This leads us to new ideas.

This is “I-ing” the idea — or, rather, this is the I at work.

For Fichte, this is the I. His method of construction is thus genetic, i.e., construction generates the I:

what such a method displays is precisely a transcendentally ordered process in which each stage in the philosophical construction of the self springs necessarily from the preceding one as the condition for the very possibility of the same.


the various realms and structures of ordinary actual life can be grasped philosophically only as products of the transcendental self-construction of the I. (15)

Or to offer another, simpler solution: thinking is how the I acts. To reflect on the I, we examine it in action, i.e., in the process of thinking.

What Fichte offers us, then, is a way to think of thinking (a.k.a. the I) as positional, a way to think beyond identity politics towards positionality. When we argue, we are — or ought to be — at once constructing a self and an argument, not to mention a world.

Putting it somewhat less clearly, to pose a question and propose an answer is to take up a position that presupposes a positioning, the positing of a self and a world.

Only Connect!

A conventional narrative of the evolution of civilization suggests that society has gone from a highly collective, as it were, centripetal society to a less collective, centrifugal one: “the centre cannot hold,” etc, etc. — hence narratives of modernity as individualizing, increasingly multicultural, relativist.


For example, in Liquid Modernity (Wiki) Zygmunt Bauman elevates “individualization” to the defining principle of modernity, describing it this way:

“individualization” consists of transforming human “identity” from a “given” into a “task” and charging the actors with the responsibility for performing that task and for the [32] consequences (also the side-effects) of their performance. In other words, it consists in the establishment of a de jure autonomy (whether or not the de facto autonomy has been established as well). [. . .] Needing to become what one is is the feature of modern living — and of this living alone. Modernity replaces the heteronomic determination of social standing [via "estates," i.e., "locations of inherited belonging"] with compulsive and obligatory self-determination [via "classes," i.e., "targets of manufactured membership," in the first wave of modernity or roles in the second wave]. (my emphasis; 31-32)

This principle is a symptom of a larger historical movement of de- and reterritorialization, of uprooting and transplanting:

Early modernity “disembedded” in order to “re-embed.” While the disembedding was the socially sanctioned fate, the re-embedding was a task put before the individuals. (32)

Bauman remains skeptical about his re- or the trans-: in “second” or “reflexive modernity,”

no “beds” are furnished for “re-embedding,” and such beds as might be postulated and pursued . . . often vanish before the work of “re-embedding” is complete. There are rather “musical chairs” of various sizes and styles as well as of changing numbers and positions, which prompt men and women to be constantly on the move and promise . . . no satisfaction of “arriving,” of reaching the [35] final destination, where one can disarm, relax and stop worrying. (33-34)

Nomadism — ethnicity, tribalism, and other loose or minimal collectivities — becomes the norm in modernity. Or, to switch the metaphor from solids to liquids, we moderns are taught to value liquidity: solvency, fluidity, rhythm — the dissolution of (old) bonds and the permeation of barriers.

To extrapolate (and to put a little pressure on the metaphor), a liquid tends to seek its level: it is “democratic.” But it can be pressurized: a steady state — like a ideal loose collectivity — tends to be transient (if that’s not a contradiction in terms).

But what if civilization were evolving in reverse? What if the drive to individualisation, etc, in modernity were just a reaction to the increasingly collective and centralized nature of society? The principal force in modernity would be connectivity — and thus collectivity.


Marx and Engels called it interdependence:

In place of the old wants, satisfied by the productions of the country, we find new wants, requiring for their satisfaction the products of distant lands and climes. In place of the old local and national seclusion and self-sufficiency, we have intercourse in every direction, universal interdependence in every direction. And as in material, so also in intellectual production. The intellectual creations of individual nations become common property. (The Communist Manifestosec. 1)

Leaving aside the not-so-implicit colonialism of this assertion of a connective commons, perhaps we moderns, then, would be better to value entanglement: networks, evolution and involution, threads — the forging of (new) bonds and the enfolding of layers. If entanglement is the sine qua non of interdependence, whether it is seen to emerge from independence (like the “mastery” of the old West — or the newly mega-rich) or dependence (like the slavery of its Others — or those other than the mega-rich), we cannot ignore it, so we might as well embrace it.

What’s the Story with Academic Writing? A Narratology of the Academic Essay (Part One)

A summary of my talk at the (Australasian Universities Language and Literature Association [AULLA]) Storytelling in Literature, Language and Culture conference in Auckland (8 Feb 2011) . . .

It has become a commonplace in writing programmes and other scriptophilic zones of the academy that the mainstay of academic writing, the academic essay, as taught, written and read, is formulaic and deforms what can be thought and written in the academosphere — and that story has only a marginal role in the academic essay. The story, we are told, is not good for the academic essay.

By way of a provisional answer to the question posed in the title . . .

1          story: the essay is neither written nor read in the academosphere

The standard answer to the question might be that there is no narrative in the academic essay — except perhaps as a grabber/hook in introductions or to convey or contextualise data that requires it. This might be seen as a bad thing. This might be a reason why academic writing is not usually read for pleasure, is less readable than it need be, and is not read so much as mined or fished.

Two moves recommend themselves: we can [#2] uncover the back story of the academic essay or [#3] include more story in it (to “storify” it or uncover the “big stories” in it). To the first . . .

2          history: the essay as written and read to measure . . .

The “mo” (pre-linguistic turn) answer to the question as a matter of fact might be to historicise academic writing: to ask how it got to be the way it is (i.e., it originates in the disputatio and epigram), to provide a historical back story for academic writing. Narrative was excluded from the essay because of the logical (scholastic) and scientific (Baconian) bias of early academic writers, these biases being exacerbated by humanities scholars trying to scientise their writing, to mobilise the authority effect of science (and science writing), and the increasing scientism of the university as an institution, and by academics using the essay to assess students.

Through these processes, the scientific paper that reports on research, viz. epistemic (expository/epideictic [for display]) rather than heuristic (performative/personal) writing, comes to dominate the academy.

  • epistemic: “relating to knowledge or its verification,” from Gk epistēmē “knowledge.”
  • heuristic: “serving to discover or find out,” from Gk heuriskein “find.”

Joseph Wright, An Experiment on a Bird in an Air Pump (1768).

What we know as “academic writing” emerged with the research university in von Humboldt and Kant’s reforms of the German university at the end of the eighteenth century, which reforms demanded continuous examination by others and of oneself (accountability) by means of [a.] numerical governance and grading (calculability) and [b.] an insistent process of writing by, about and “around” students (grammatocentrism) (see Keith Hoskin on the genealogy of the knowledge “ecosystem” of the modern university).

Or secondly: we can include some more story in it — to “storify” it or uncover the “big stories” in it . . .

3          story+/Story: the essay is written and read (to a degree) . . .

The “pomo” (post-linguistic turn) answer to the question as a problematic might be to put some narrative in — after the example of New Historicism — somehow to reflect the nature of writing as narrative and/or to acknowledge the metanarratives and justify our appropriation of the metanarratives in which such writing must be embedded (becoming aware of the frame story), thus to uncover the big stories embedded in academic writing — for example, the story that academic writing mimics scientific enquiry.

Arataki Visitor Centre, Waitakere Ranges Regional Park, Auckland.

Or the best: in a twofold move that intersects both options, we can map the forms of story in the academic essay to see why stories have become formulaic and deformative.

4          stories

The non-standard — and most salient — answer to the question is to map the narrative forms, the story arcs, that are implicit in academic writing, in order to disclose its possibilities and the reasons it has been closed down. This requires a mapping (topology/symbolic geography) of the essay as narrative, i.e. imaging (via a visual outline or metaphor) as an alternative to scripting (a verbal outline).

There are two main forms of essay, the point-first or round-trip essay (the epistemic report on research) and the point-last or one-way journey (the heuristic essai).

type point-first (PF) essay point-last (PL) essay
image round-trip one-way
end returns to its starting-point arrives at an end-point
function epistemic heuristic
mode of writing expository, epideictic performative, personal
logic tautological dialogical
mood indicative, thus factual subjunctive, thus fictive
mode of address informative interactive

The first dominates writing in the academosphere, in the form of the thesis and proof essay, a.k.a. the five-paragraph theme, and at the level of the paragraph the Schaffer model. Why?

The PF essay embodies the econometric design-drive of the academosphere, which projects aims (teloi, i.e., ideal ends), objectives (skopoi, i.e. means) and clearly defined outcomes (ekbaseis, i.e. adequate ends), in the service of outputs, or rather, an efficient relationship between inputs and outputs. Everything in this end-stopped world must be seen as if in hindsight, in retrospective anticipation (i.e., from the outcome [o] backwards): they “will [always] have been” necessary. It is a future anterior world, a closed loop the process of which achieves a predetermined outcome (see the top left figure below).

  • The point-first essay embodies this design-drive: it can more readily be templated due to its tautological nature — we know where the story is going because its path is singular and returns to its starting point (see the right top figure below).
  • The point-last essay works against it: it can resist the template due to its dialogical nature — (it seems that) we don’t know where the story is going because its path is multiple and doesn’t return to its starting point, rather, in its most common versions it quests for or circles an endpoint (see right bottom figure below). (I say “seems” because many such essays — Derrida’s or Barthes’, for example — only appear dialogical, as do Plato’s dialogues, where Socrates’ eironeia turns out only to be a simulated ignorance in the end.)

So where to from here? The two point-last figures above give us two versions:

  • the essay that explores various paths until it decides on one (the upper figure), and
  • the essay that explores an issue from various perspectives (the lower figure).

(For more, see part two, which will follow anon . . .)

Coleridge on Peristaltic Thought

In ch. 14 of the Biographia Literaria (1817), Sam Coleridge describes the kind of peristaltic movement that for him describes active “IMAGINATION”:

Most of my readers will have observed a small water-insect on the surface of rivulets, which throws a cinque-spotted shadow fringed with prismatic colours on the sunny bottom of the brook; and will have noticed, how the little animal wins its way up against the stream, by alternate pulses of active and passive motion, now resisting the current, and now yielding to it in order to gather strength and a momentary fulcrum for a further propulsion. This is no unapt emblem of the mind’s self-experience in the act of thinking. There are evidently two powers at work, which relatively to each other are active and passive; and this is not possible without an intermediate faculty, which is at once both active and passive. In philosophical language, we must denominate this intermediate faculty in all its degrees and determinations, the IMAGINATION.

This idea represented Coleridge’s attempt to move beyond conflictual thinking — what his friend John Thelwall called his “theory of Collision of Ideas” — toward something more dialectical — “mutual Propulsions” (Collected Letters 1, 636).

Peristalsis is the sequential rhythmic contraction or undulation of muscles (Gk peri-stelleincontracting around“), especially in the bowel (which we know was a problem for Coleridge due to his intake of constipatory opiates). It is instructive to think how the movement of his bowels might have influenced his thinking (the nexus is there in our idea of digestion as nutritive or cognitive, as psychosomaticists — like Freud and Fliess — and those who suffer food allergies know).

(Re the image of the “cinque-spotted shadow”: Coleridge loves fives, hence his holistic “quinquarticular Dialectic” or “logo-noetic Pentad” — namely prothesis, thesis, antithesis, mesothesis ["the Indifference"] and synthesis, or two polarities and their “co-involution” — exemplified in his “Pentad of Operative Christianity” [Christ the Word, Scripture, Church, Holy Spirit and Preacher] from Confessions of an Enquiring Spirit, but also in the Powers of Nature [attraction, repulsion, contraction, dilation and centrality], the Colours [red, yellow, blue, orange/violet, green] and the races. His prime emblem is the “compass of nature.”)

Ephemeroptera (mayfly; from ephemeron, “lasting only a day” + pteron “wing”)

See also chapter 7 of the Biographia, where he uses a similar analogy, that of a kind of reculer pour mieux sauter (lit. withdraw to better leap), to describe how writers can best connect with their readers:

The reader should be carried forward, not merely, or chiefly, by the mechanical impulse of curiosity, or by a restless desire to arrive at the final solution; but by the pleasurable activity of mind, excited by the attractions of the journey itself. Like the motion of a serpent, which the Egyptians made the emblem of intellectual power; or like the path of sound through the air; at every step he pauses, and half recedes, and, from the retrogressive movement, collects the force which again carries him onward.

(MEM echoes this passage from Coleridge at “DRAGONS, DIGESTION, KNOWLEDGE FARMS: Peristalsis” [Faces of Sound 18 Apr. 2009].)

— — —

S[amuel] T[aylor] Coleridge, Biographia Literaria: or, Biographical Sketches of MY LITERARY Life and OPINIONS (New York: Leavitt, Lord and Co., 1834).

For Coleridge’s meta-science, see Trevor Hartley Levere, Poetry Realized in Nature: Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Early Nineteenth-Century Science (Cambridge, England: CUP, 1981) [esp. 114-20].

Heuretics: Gregory Ulmer’s Anti-Method Method


= an intervention in and inversion of the writing process

  1. denaturalizes the content → form/thinking → writing relationship of expository academic writing
  2. inverts this relationship: form → content/writing → thinking

hermeneutics reading via theory (the use of theory for the interpretation of existing texts), cf. literary studies

heuretics writing via theory (the use of theory for the invention of new texts), cf. writing studies (3)

The heuretic question: “Based on a given theory, how might another text be composed?” (5)

heretic (contrarian or critical) an ANTI- + heuristic (algorithmic or creative) METHOD

It embodies the move post Modernism (though foreshadowed by heavily intertextual Modernists like Eliot and paratextual ones like Olson) by which

  1. critics become creators, e.g., Derrida — and Ulmer (creators have likewise become critics, e.g., the Surrealists and the L=a=n=g=u=a=g=e poets), and
  2. writing becomes reading and/or rewriting (writers and readers give way to reader-writers).

For his anti-method, Ulmer begins with discourses on method (now known as manifestos), which share a common set of elements:

  1. a Contrast [the "vs"]: the new method is opposed to an old one;
  2. an Analogy [the "cf."]: it is practised as a heuristic by analogy with an existing practice;
  3. a Theory [the "via"]: it literalises a theory;
  4. a Target [the "→"]: it is applied to an existing field; and
  5. a tale [the "as"] it is “dramatised” in a particular form or genre (8-9).[2]

“CATTts,” while rigorous, are seldom exciting. Then again, some of the avant garde’s most interesting results have been generated by tedious or mechanical methods, e.g., aleatory art and Oulipo. The excitement lies in the “tale” that dramatizes the method. As Ulmer observes, every method — from dialectics to surrealism — “must itself be represented in some form or genre” (Heuretics 9). And “CATTts” can be generated in reverse: by choosing the “tale” first and, then, imagining the process that generated them (Heuretics 10).

We might think of heuretics as involving a wilful misreading of a theory to generate new methods, an “error” that is productive of truth. Ulmer also suggests that, as he does with Descartes’ discourse on method, we can wilfully misapply, i.e., reverse, someone else’s method to generate an antimethod (13-14).

(It is a method that is both metamethod, a method for methods, and antimethod, a method that reverse another method and acknowledges that it is one method among many.)

Heuretics was designed by Ulmer as a response to the new episteme of electronic media (multi-, hyper-, social media) and hypertextuality; this generates electracy, the kind of “literacy” necessary to exploit their full communicative potential.[3]

orality → literacy → electracy[4]

For Ulmer, learning is a matter of invention rather than verification, and it is a radicalisation of writing practice, a grammatology (i.e., a methodology extrapolated from the history of writing and mnemonic practices).

N.B. Heuretics is a method in keeping with Walter Ong’s idea that elements of the codex persist in the epoch of screens; McKenzie Wark would argue that the “codework” of electronic literacy goes beyond hypertext, i.e., it’s no longer purely textual.[5]

[1] See Gregory L. Ulmer, Heuretics: The Logic of Invention (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins UP, 1994).

  1. hermeneutic: concerning interpretation (fr. hermēneutikos, fr. hermēneuein “interpret”)
  2. heuretic: concerning invention or discovery (fr. heuretes “inventor”)
  3. heuristic: proceeding to a solution by trial and error or algorithmically; enabling someone to discover something for themselves (fr. heuriskein “find”)
  4. heretic: holding an opinion at odds with what is generally accepted (fr. hairetikos “able to choose,” fr. haireisthai “choose”)

[2] See Ulmer, “The Euretics of Alice’s Valise,” Journal of Architectural Education 45.1 (Nov. 1991): 8 (3-10).

[3] Portmanteau: “electronic” + “literacy,” from G. L. Ulmer, Teletheory: Grammatology in the Age of Video (New York: Routledge, 1989).

[4] G. L. Ulmer, “Electracy and Pedagogy,” online supplement to Internet Invention: From Literacy to Electracy (Gainesville, FL: University of Florida, 2003), 2007, http://www.english.ufl.edu/~glue/longman/pedagogy/, 14 Aug. 2008.

[5] McKenzie Wark, “From Hypertext to Codework,” Contemporary Poetics, ed. Louis Armand (Evanston, IL: Northwestern UP, 2007) 280 (279-85); available online at Hypermedia Joyce Studies.

Burroughs on How to Escape the Society of Control

In “Electronic Revolution,” whence Gilles Deleuze got his idea of the “control society,” William S. Burroughs writes about how we can scramble the control society grammatically (see Ubuweb for the essay in full):
The aim of this project is to build up a language in which certain falsifications inherit in all existing western languages will be made incapable of formulation. The follow-falsifications to be deleted from the proposed language. (“ER” 33)
Why? As he puts it elsewhere,
There are certain formulas, word-locks, which will lock up a whole civilisation for a thousand years. (The Job 49)
To unscramble control syntax, the DNA precode of the language virus,
  1. delete the copula (is/are), i.e., disrupt fixed identities – YOU ARE WHAT YOU ARE NOT [Lacan]!
  2. replace definite articles (the) with indefinite articles (a/an), i.e., avoid reification — THERE EXIST MULTIPLICITIES [Badiou]!
  3. replace either/or with and, i.e., ignore the law of contradiction — JUXTAPOSE [Silliman]!

William S. Burroughs and Brion Gysin, "Rub Out the Word," The Third Mind (Viking, 1978).

1. Copula

The IS OF IDENTITY. You are an animal. You are a body. Now whatever you may be you are not an “animal,” you are not a “body,” because these are verbal labels. The IS of identity always carries the assignment of permanent condition. To stay that way. All name calling presupposes the IS of identity.
This concept is unnecessary in a hieroglyphic language like ancient Egyptian and in fact frequently omitted. No need to say the sun IS in the sky, sun in sky suffices. The verb TO BE can easily be omitted from any languages. . . . (“ER” 33)
He adds:
The IS of identity . . . was greatly reinforced by the customs and passport control that came in after World War I. Whatever you may be, you are not the verbal labels in your passport any more than you are the word “self.” So you must be prepared to prove at all times that you are what you are not. (ibid.)

2. Definite Articles → Indefinite Articles

THE DEFINITE ARTICLE THE. The contains the implication of one and only: THE God, THE universe, THE way, THE right, THE wrong, If there is another, then THAT universe, THAT way is no longer THE universe, THE way. The definite article THE will be deleted and the indefinite article A will take its place. (33-34)
Why is this bad?
Definite article THE contains the implications of no other. THE universe locks you in THE, and denies the possibility of any other. If other universes are possible, then the universe is no longer THE[;] it becomes A. (34)

3. Either/Or → And

THE WHOLE CONCEPT OF EITHER/OR. Right or wrong, physical or mental, true or false, the whole concept of or will be deleted from the language and replaced by juxtaposition, by AND. This is done to some extent in any pictorial language where two concepts stand literally side by side. (ibid.)
He explains:
[A] contradictory command gains its force from the Aristotelian concept of either/or. To do everything, to do nothing, to have everything, to have nothing, to do it all, to do not any, to stay up, to stay down, to stay in, to stay out, to stay present, to stay absent. (ibid.)
Burroughs concludes:
These falsifications inherent in the English and other western alphabetical languages give the reactive mind commands their overwhelming force in these languages. [...] The whole reactive mind can be in fact reduced to three little words — to be “THE.” That is to be what you are not, verbal formulations. (ibid.)

Charles Burns, "Burroughs" (1986), Adam Baumgold Gallery, New York, 2008

There are also his more familiar “lines of fracture” (to use Deleuze’s phrase): aleatory procedures like cut-ups and fold-ins — but also the grid and picture language — that fracture the “lines of association” by which “control systems” exert their monopoly (13, 12). These represent a “new way of thinking”:

The new way of thinking has nothing to do with logical thought. It is no oceanic organismal subconscious body thinking. It is precisely delineated by what is not. Not knowing what is and is not[,] knowing we know not. Like a moving film the flow of thought seems to be continuous while actually the thoughts flow stop change and flow again. At the point where one flow stops there is a split second hiatus [a cut]. The new way of thinking grows in this hiatus between thoughts. (The Job 91)

Burroughs’ “lines of association” foreshadow Deleuze’s “lines of sedimentation,” i.e., of “light” (visibility), “enunciation” (speech), “force” (government) and “subjectification” (self-government); the “new way,” those of “fracture” or “breakage” (events in Badiou’s sense or cuts in Burroughs’). (N.B. “Lines of subjectivation,” being “lines of escape” or excess, point beyond sedimentation across the breaks to new dispositifs ["apparatuses"].)

The upshot of such scrambles is twofold:

  1. they are writing itself: “All writing is in fact cut-ups. A collage of words read heard overhead [sic]. Use of scissors [just] renders the process explicit and subject to extension and variation” (The Cut-Up Method of Brion Gysin)
  2. they are democratic: “Scrambles is the democratic way” (“ER” 24) — or elsewhere: “Cut-ups are for everyone” (“CMBG”); and, in that they are disruptive,
  3. they are revolutionary:

He who opposes force with counterforce alone forms that which he opposes and is formed by it. History shows that when a system of government is overthrown by force a system in many respects similar will take place. On the other hand he who does not resist force that enslaves and exterminates will be enslaved and exterminated. For revolution to effect basic changes in existing conditions three tactics are required: 1. Disrupt. 2. Attack. 3. Disappear. Look away. Ignore. Forget. These three tactics to be employed alternatively. (The Job 101)

    Lacan’s Four (or Five) Discourses (beware, all ye who enter here!)

    Jacan Lacques (1901-1981)

    For Lacan, language is intersubjective (speech always implies a speaker and someone spoken to) and forms & transforms us as subjects intrasubjectively/psychologically, intersubjectively/socially and extrasubjectively/environmentally (speech is how we relate to ourselves, each other and the world, i.e., acts are speech acts).

    What I’m trying to articulate is that what dominates [society] is the practice of language. (Lacan 2007: 239)

    Hence, he uses the term discourse (after ’68) for the four possible modes of intersubjective relations (the theory of discourses is his response to the Marxism of the ’68ers). Discourse determines the thought, affect, enjoyment, meaning and identity of the subject.

    [I]t is on discourse that every determination of the subject depends. (178)

    Thus, changes in discourse can produce changes in intra-, inter- and extrasubjective “reality.”

    Francis Bacon, Self-Portrait (1971)

    The terms and positions

    1. $ the barred subject [sujet], hence also the symptom (≠ the ego = the Id: das Es) → alienation
    2. S1 the master-signifier [signifiant-maitre], itself empty but an “anchoring point” (point de capiton, lit. “upholstery button”) around which other signifiers can stabilize, halting the endless play of signifiers by organizing affect and knowledge, thus deferring desire (e.g., the commodity in capitalism), a.k.a. Truth, norms → values
    3. S2 the system of know-how and knowledge (savoir), a.k.a. the “battery of signifiers,” structured syntagmatically (by metonymy/displacement) and paradigmatically (by metaphor/substitution) → belief
    4. a the object of desire [objet petit a] as the surplus/excess (plus-de-jouir/Mehrlust, cf. Marx’s Mehrwert: surplus value) → enjoyment (jouissance)

    The terms always appear in this order on the square or “quadripode”: subject → master-signifier → knowledge → object. They shift relative to four positions: the agent (what is dominant), truth (its condition of possibility), the other (what is called into action by the agent) and the product (what is produced as a result):

    (The left-hand positions represent the subject speaking; the right-hand positions, what is to be assumed by the subject spoken to. The top positions are manifest; the bottom positions, latent.)

    This grid borrows from the medieval logic of statements, viz., term → opposite → negation → negation of the negation (sameness → alterity → difference → identity):

    It also resembles Greimas’s semiotic square:

    The structure of the discourses

    The combination of terms and positions generates the four algorithms of the “universe of mastery,” all derived from the discourse of the master (note that the discourse of the university, for example, does not just apply to the university as a social institution):

    1. the discourse of the master (governing/policing): the master-signifier is master and represents the subject for all other signifiers; knowledge is put to work, but representing knowledge as a whole (i.e., an object) is impossible (i.e., the object a remains);
    2. the discourse of the university (teaching/encoding): knowledge is master (nowadays, science and technology) and represents the master-signifier; the object is put to work, i.e., domesticated (as “objectivity”), representing the subject as powerless;
    3. the discourse of the hysteric (desiring/questioning or resisting): the subject is master and represents the object; the master-signifier is put to work, representing knowledge as powerless; and
    4. the discourse of the analyst (healing/revolutionizing): the object (and thus the analyst as object of the analysand’s desire) represents knowledge (unlike medicine, psychoanalysis does not use knowledge to cure a symptom); the subject is put to work, but representing a whole subject is impossible.

    To take literary reading as an example,

    1. the masterful reader tries to read everything (S2) the same way;
    2. the hysterical reader reads for the key (S1) to the text;
    3. the universalist reader reads “objectively” (a); and
    4. the analytical reader reads symptomatically ($).

    There are different versions of each discourse. Taking mastery, there is

    1. the philosopher’s mastery, which erases the subject in favour of knowledge and represses truth;
    2. the capitalist’s, which demands efficiency without knowing why; and
    3. the physician’s, which uses knowledge to cure a symptom.

    There are political relationships between discourses: the university discourse is often slave to the master, insofar as the university serves the master’s discourse of the day: once the university served the Church, then the Nation, now the Market.

    Lacan also hinted that there might be a fifth discourse — an alternate universe, even — that of the capitalist, which is not derived from the universe of mastery (cf. Bryant on the Universe of Capitalism). (Any number of combinations other than those of the universe of mastery are possible if we allow the order of the terms in the quadripode to change.)

    The position of the agent is occupied by the subject as consumer, who does not address the Other, but the truth, i.e., the Market as master signifier. Through the Market, the subject can ask knowledge, i.e. science and technology, to produce objects to be consumed, i.e. commodities, that can never completely fulfil the subject’s desire.