Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Isonomia Appendix and Introduction

As Marx tells us in the first volume of Capital, every beginning is difficult. And I've been having a devil of a time trying to figure out how to start us out with Kōjin Karatani's Isonomia and the Origins of Philosophy (Duke 2017, originally Iwanami Shoten 2012). For one, Karatani is something of an ambitious generalist, writing bold (and underdeveloped and under backed up) claims about anthropology, religious studies, philosophy, and political economy and statecraft in ways that we don't see as much anymore. For me, I am constantly going from being intrigued by his exciting schematization and insight, to going, "Uh, buddy, I don't think that's right." For another, Isonomia is something of a sequel to Karatani's even more ambitious, previous work, The Structure of World History: From Modes of Production to Modes of Exchange (Duke 2014, which is a substainally modified version of a book published originally Iwanami Shoten 2010). Well, less a sequel, and more that Isonomia was originally conceived as part of that book, but it became so long and involved it ended up becoming it's own book. I, of course, have not already read The Structure of World History (SWH), and I think if I had realized that Isonomia was based on that work, I might not have suggested we do a public blogging event. However, I have picked it up, and started reading it somewhat alongside Isonomia, and also Karatani provides a very short, and actually helpful, appendix of the theoretical argument in SWH so that you can jump into Isonomia by itself.  Okay, so Isonomia tries to answer the following question, why is it that "around the sixth century BCE, Ezekiel and the bibical prophets emerged from among exiles in Babylon; Thales emerged in Ionia on the coast of Asia Minor; Gautama Buddha and the Jain founder Mahavira appeared in India, and Laozi and Confucius emerged in China" (1)?  How can we understand this explosion of world wide philosophical thought?
So against the normal narrative of the so-called Athenian Miracle, Karatani argues correctly that there are several different, and disconnected, strands of philosophy. So, why are all these things happening at once? It's certainly not because of a single intellectual tradition, or an emergent thinker who changes everything. It is also not, as Karatani points out, "straightforwardly based on socioeconomic history" (1). Now this brings us to Karatani's appendix.
In SWH Karatani challenges Marx's model of world history as being based on modes of production (this is not from a place of hostility toward Marx. Indeed, if you know of Karatani before these works, it was almost certainly from his work Transcritique, where he tries to synthesize Marx and Kant). Instead of seeing society defined by its mode of production, Karatani believes the controlling feature of a society is its mode of exchange. Karatani points out that when we hear mode of exchange, we tend to think of a capitalist commodity exchange. However, Karatani argues there are four different modes of exchange, of which the commodity exchange is but one mode. He labels them Mode A, B, C, and D. They work out this way:
Mode A  Reciprocity by gift and countergift
Mode B  Domination and protection
Mode C  Commodity exchange
Mode D  Mode that transcends A, B, and C (135)

Yeah, I like the specificity of Mode D too. In his defense, though, it's about as a good of a definition as Marx ever gave communism. The dominate mode of exchange ends up mapping onto all sorts of other features of society, such as the political structure of society. So mode A is the nation, mode B is the state, mode C is capital, and mode D is "X (Yet to Be Realized)" (137), though in SWH he also identifies Mode D with Kant's idea of the World Republic. And here in Isonomia, Mode D is also identified with the Dao. Why? Honestly not sure. BUT! it has something to do with each mode of exchange also mapping onto different structures of religion.
So Karatani goes on to identify animism and magic with Mode A (gift giving), transcendent gods and king-priests are associated with Mode B (domination and protection), in Mode C (commodity exchange) we get "a world god that transcends the old tribal gods and tutelary deities" (4). However, none of these represent a truly universal religion. Even the world god fails, because "the god would be abandoned if the empire were to be defeated" (4). A truly universal religion would be one that, unsurprisingly, would transcend the religions of of A, B, and C. As Karatani puts it, "universal religion is an attempt to recuperate mode of exchange A at a higher level, after it has been dissolved by modes B and C" (4). In other words, mode A of gift and countergift have a principle of "reciprocity and mutual support" that gets dissolved by Modes B and C. The question is, how do we go back to that part of A, while keeping all the universal parts of B and C? How do we get the mutual support, without the tribalism and the debt bonds of A? Or as Karatani asks, how do you get the religion of A without the magical phase of A? Karatani identifies in Confucius and Laozi two different responses to the dissolving of A. Confucius wants to just go back to Mode A, but the Dao represents an attempt to understand A on a higher level.
There are several points of this long discussion of universal religion, but the most immediate one is that it seeks to do away with the religion and philosophy divide. The idea that you have on one hand religious thinkers, and on the other, rational philosophers, just isn't there. And once you get rid of the notion of the divide between philosophy and religion, so many of the philosophers are seen as prophets of example. They seek to produce a way of living that calls forth, to use a Deleuzian expression not in Karatani, a new people and a new earth.
 The prophet does not know how to talk, God puts the words in his mouth: word-ingestion, a new form of semiophagy. Unlike the seer, the prophet interprets nothing: his delusion is active rather than ideational or imaginative, his relation to God is passional and authoritative rather than despotic and signifying; he anticipates and detects the powers (puissances) of the future rather than applying past and present powers (pouvoirs). (ATP 124, emphasis in original). 

Universal religion, therefore, is a task of the philosophical project that seeks to produce Mode D of exchange. The mode that is yet to be realized. And with that, philosophy is not birthed in Athens as the foundation of the West, but rather in a global context of people responding to shifts in modes of exchange.


***
Further thoughts. I really like the argument against the Greek Miracle, which will be one of the central conceits of the rest of the book, and I am sure I will have more to say. But it seems odd that he ignores here, for example, Egyptian philosophy and thought, which we know was relatively advanced centuries before Plato. Joseph, who I know teaches a bit of Egyptian philosophy in his Ancient Philosophy class might have more to say here. Also, so much of what I have written is produced by assertion with very little argument or examples by Karatani, which is terribly frustrating. Hopefully as I read more of SWH I will know if he just does the arguments there, or if this is part of a broader style of writing. But, for example, when I posted the above graph on facebook a couple of weeks ago, a few people pointed out the dates for some people were, at best, idiomatic, and at worse flat out wrong. It's this sort of lack of attention to detail that bothers me for some of his boldest and biggest claims.
The next official post will be on Thursday over chapter one, and will be at AnotherPanacea. Though Joseph and Josh might respond to the intro and appendix as the spirit moves them. If they do, or I see another blog doing so, I will make a post linking to that work.

Friday, October 6, 2017

Reading Group on Kojin Karatani's Isonomia

We are about to start a cross-blog reading group on Kojin Karatani most recent book, Isonomia. The first post, covering the "Appendix" and the "Introduction," will be posted this Tuesday, Oct. 10th. Then Josh will post on Chapter One at his blog, AnotherPanacea. Then Joseph will post on Chapter Two at his blog, Between Two Untruths. Chapter Three will be back at Josh's blog, then chapter Four at Joseph's, then lastly Chapter Five back here. None of us are Karatani experts, so I think we'd be happy for anyone to follow along at their blogs or on our facebook walls.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Radical Empiricists Against the Bifurcation of Nature


Over at PhilPercs, J. Edward Hackett is documenting his reading of Whitehead's Process and Reality for the first time. Hackett is a Jamesian scholar, so a lot has to do on the overlap between Whiteheadian process philosophy, and Jamesian pragmatism and radical empiricism. My own coming into studying James is a little idiosyncratic, especially for someone from the States. I started with French pluralists like Deleuze, and from there read Stengers, from Stengers I read Latour. Because of both Stengers and Latour I started reading Whitehead, and also started reading James. So I started seriously trying to read Whitehead and James at the same time. Usually the parts of Whitehead I understand, I understand because of James or Stengers. But sometimes I understand it backwards, and, one of the ways I most seriously understand James' project of radical empiricism is because of Whitehead's critique of the bifurcation of nature.

Whitehead's traditional statement of the problem of the bifurcation of nature goes like this:
For natural philosophy everything perceived is in nature. We may not pick and choose. For us the red glow of the sunset should be as much part of nature as are the molecules and electric waves by which men of science would explain the phenomenon. [...]  This means a refusal to countenance any theory of psychic additions to the object known in perception. For example, what is given in perception is the green grass. This is an object which we know as an ingredient in nature. The theory of psychic additions would treat the greenness as a psychic addition furnished by the perceiving mind, and would leave to nature merely the molecules and the radiant energy which influence the mind towards that perception. My argument is that this dragging in of the mind as making additions of its own to the thing posited for knowledge by sense-awareness is merely a way of shirking the problem of natural philosophy. That problem is to discuss the relations inter se of things known, abstracted from the bare fact that they are known. Natural philosophy should never ask, what is in the mind and what is in nature. To do so is a confession that it has failed to express relations between things perceptively known, namely to express those natural relations whose expression is natural philosophy. [...] What I am essentially protesting against is the bifurcation of nature into two systems of reality, which, in so far as they are real, are real in different senses. One reality would be the entities such as electrons which are the study of speculative physics. This would be the reality which is there for knowledge; although on this theory it is never known. For what is known is the other sort of reality, which is the byplay of the mind. Thus there would be two natures, one is the conjecture and the other is the dream (The Concept of Nature, Ch. 2).

So what is this? It's Whitehead returning to a classic problem in empiricism. If empiricism means that experience is suppose to track reality, what do we do with the fact that sometimes there are many, or different, experiences? Locke famously tries to solve this problem by dividing things up into primary and secondary qualities. Primary qualities are things that inhere within the object itself, and secondary qualities are powers of the object to produce ideas (say, heat from a fire) into our minds. (For a more detailed account of the two forums of qualities, check out this article from Robert A. Wilson). Berkeley and Kant famously disagree in different ways, with Berkeley taking up the idealist position. However, Kant puts in the Prolegomena, "That I, however, even beyond these, include (for weighty reasons) also among mere appearances the remaining qualities of bodies, which are called primarias: extension, place, and more generally space along with everything that depends on it (impenetrability or materiality, shape, etc.), is something against which not the least ground of uncertainty can be raised"(40). To some degree or another, everything for Kant and Berkeley is secondary qualities. As we can see, what is at stake in the division of primary qualities and secondary qualities has become issues of objectivity and subjectivity. William James' radical empiricism ends up answering this problem in a different way.

So famously James contends that, "to be radical, an empiricism must neither admit into its constructions any element that is not directly experienced, nor exclude from them any element that is directly experienced. For such a philosophy, the relations that connect experiences must themselves be experienced relations, and any kind of relation experienced must be accounted as 'real' as anything else in the system" (ERE 42, emphasis in the original). The move, to accord to relations as much reality as any other part of the system, undermines the classical subject and object dichotomy. James again, "The instant field of the present is at all times what I call the 'pure' experience. It is only
virtually or potentially either object or subject as yet. For the time being, it is plain,
unqualified actuality, or existence, a simple that" (ERE 23). Subject and object are not pre-given states, rather they emerge only in the particularities of relations, and are constantly in process and revisable. There relationship is merely pragmatic, rather than metaphysically predetermined. But again, relations are as real anything else, and all of this in service of undermining a a kind of dualism. As James explains, "in opposition to this dualistic philosophy, I tried, in [the first essay] to show that thoughts and things are absolutely homogeneous as to their material, and that their opposition is only one of relation and of function. There is no thought-stuff different from thing-stuff, I said; but the same identical piece of 'pure experience'" (ERE 137-138). Everything that can be experienced, for James, is primary qualities. We can now return to Whitehead, and see how the bifurcation of nature is trying to do the same work of radical empiricism. What Whitehead is concerned with is the tendency of those to who claim to be doing natural philosophy to reaffirm the distinction between primary and secondary qualities. This is why we must resist any theory that depends upon psychic additions to the experience of nature. That is, we must reject the idea that thought-stuff is different from thing-stuff.  The implication of all of this, as James would say elsewhere and about other things, is "no mere speculative conundrum."
To quote (at length) from Brian Massumi:
The logic of coexistence is different from the logic of separation. The logic of belonging is different from the logic of being a part. This means that to get the whole picture (including the real, suspended ways it doesn't appear), you have to operate with both logics simultaneously: the conjunctive and the disjunctive. "Radical empiricism is fair to both the unity and the disconnection" James 1996a, 47). It translates metaphysical issues of truth and illusion, subject-object correspondence, into issues of continuity and discontinuity. [...] Things' only a priori function is of becoming. Approaching things this way saves you fussing over the cognitive status of your experience. Disbelieving, are you? Feeling a tad illusionary? Don't worry. Everything is as real as its next-effect. Just concentrate on the break and relation that will make a next-effect really felt. (Semblance and Event, 36, emphasis in the original). 
The realness of relations and the constant flux of pure experience is the answer to where novelty and creation come from. It puts the world in process, and as such means the world is constantly becoming. Such a philosophy will never give us reassurances that the world is saved, but it also gives us hope that the world is not damned, either.