Friday, December 25, 2015

(Im)potentiality by Adam Lovasz

from the author of Tracing the Inoperative: Non-Oriented Ontology (which I will be putting out in physical form soon on a new vanity press project called Void Front news to come...), Adam Lovasz -@AdamRefuter on twitter, I've for you today this guest post....pour yourself out upon the stone...feel good hit of the summer : 


Without the great vacuity, we would become submerged in cognition, and we would never be able to extricate ourselves from intellectualism and cognitionism.”

-Yukio Mishima

The Buddhist term sunyata (emptiness, voidness) signifies a place where the Other shall never be humiliated. This Other would be the Thing that manages to crawl underneath itself, through some extraordinary fiasco of cognition. Our essay seeks to underline the nothingness, the voidness that underlies the interconnectivity of objects, through identifying this etheral ontological „background” with a negative inversion of Aristotle’s notion of potentiality. We seek to show in the context of this essay that emptiness is (im)potentiality. Everywhere we may identify the background-radiation which is (im)potentiality, the absence of potentiality. This absence is more than the foreclosed possibility. It is, never active at all. Activity is a state of disequilibrium that would break the spell of concretion upon sentient beings. In truth, the illusion of concretion and individuation can never be broken, because neither illusion nor the beclouded consciousness actually exist. 

In every logical discussion, there is some stringent remainder that refuses integration into the order of the Symbolic, the order that would seek to humiliate it and bring potency to fruition. Wholeness is always an imaginary state, a condition of beings suffering from illusory attachments; every wholeness is a veil that covers the hole, the void underneath relationality. In Lee Edelman’s view, the narcissist, the subject that rejects reproduction, destroying its own futurality in the process, „resists its libidinal investment in the ego as a form.”Each and every narcissist, whether he or she is aware of this circumstance or not, commits him or herself to a sollipsistic life, a life that prevents potentiality from release. The narcissist prevents the outflow and the inflow. Violence is a natural consequence of language in the Buddhist and deconstructionist viewpoint; Jacques Derrida and Nagarjuna both teach, in their own ways, that nonviolence and language are mutually exclusionary categories. Nonviolence begins where actants reject the coming-to-actuality of language. There is no more stringent ethical imperative than the injunction to abandon language and embrace the apotheosis of meaninglessness: silence. Silence is language that has been relegated to potentiality. Silence resists the urge to break forth to the surface and engage in activity. Every single actant is unified by the certainty of death. Acceptance, as outlined by Ludwig Wittgenstein, is the logical method of absolute negation:

The propositions of logic demonstrate the logical properties of propositions by combining them so as to form propositions that say nothing. This method could also be called a zero-method.”

We must follow the zero-method, as outlined by Wittgenstein, in order to outline what we understand under the term „(im)potentiality.” The brackets may seem at times to be frustratingly superflous, but we encourage the reader to bear with us in our Wittgensteinian explication of (im)potentiality. The something is the state of equilibrium, the unity effectuated by the zero-method. (ibid) Hatred and violence are born of disequilibrium. According to Aristotle’s understanding of the matter, things cannot exist without potentials, yet potentials can only be realized by actuals. Aristotlean potency means the source, the hollow place from whence activity emanates, the source of change. From the formless state, we have a steady progression until every object attains its preordained form.Not all objects are amenable to change, however, for „nothing compulsory or against their nature” attaches to „eternal and unmovable” objects.

The state of equilibrium would therefore be one such instance of an object completely open, yet free of contraries. There is certainly something within this equilibrium, but this is a hollowness that does not indicate anything that may give off heat. Recently, astrophysicists have shown that some information may be gleaned from black holes through the measurement of Hawking radiation, provided „the spin of the hole is measured before and after the qubit [particle] is dropped.” As black holes have zero temperature, but are prone to entropy. The hollow space of maximum receptivity is the something that eludes perception, the opening that encloses zero-method in the stretched horizon of holeness. Holeness scrambles logical propositions, emboldening hot actants with the desire-unto-movement. Accidents, in Aristotle’s view, would be those existents that attach to other objects, but not out of any kind of necessity. The observer, looking at the void, forever externalized, excluded from enwrapment within the opening, is infected with a desire for stringent humiliation. However much the One would seek to spare the Other from humiliation and degradation, when the Word is spoken, violence cannot but ensue. 

One aspect of falsity mentioned in passing by Aristotle is the inability to connect, i.e. when two halves of a sentence cannot be connected to one another in a manner that maintains their truth value. Potentiality can be dispensed of easily when connectivity does not materialize. Provided one accepts the universality of emptiness, no connectivity may be ascertained and potentiality is nowhere to be found. In Nagarjuna’s view, no object has a reality independent of its relations; that is, no object exists that has any kind of svabhana, or „essence.”Therefore a logical consequence would be that everything is falsity. But Aristotle accepts the duality of potentiality and activity. This dualism is also accepted, implicitly and explicity, by a wide range of thinkers, perhaps, one may surmize, the majority of Western philosophers. One particularly interesting example of potentiality has been the debate surrounding the ethical permissability or impermissability of abortion. Judith Jarvis Thomson, one of the first defenders of the right to abortion, argued that it is morally impermissable to force women to support the existence of other persons, even at the cost of aborting a foetus that could potentially become a world-renowned violin player.Women should not be compelled, according to this ethical viewpoint, to play the role of Good Samaritans to unborn persons. Similarly, we may argue that we ourselves should not be compelled to admit the reality or unreality of objects. Emptiness is not even the absence of X; rather, it is a thing completely prior to intelligibility. Hence our rendition of impotence in brackets: (im)potentiality. According to Thomsons’s minimalist ethics, 

„ person is morally required to make large sacrifices to sustain the life of another who has no right to demand them.”

Provision of „Good Samaritanism” is reduced, by the zero-method, to an absent, erased ethical imperative, one that cannot survive the stringent test. No equilibrium is possible, except in the space of ontological foreclosure. Accordint to a rival, Catholic theological viewpoint, „a man ought rather to let the mother perish” than „commit the crime of homicide in killing the foetus.” In the Catholic view, the foetus is always already an ensoulled creature, a potentiality that has begun, from the moment of conception, to leak into activity. What even the minimalist ethical account rejects is the possibility that abortion may be permissible in every case. Thomson explicitly rejects such a possibility.

A third possibility would be what we call complete annihilation. Instead of murdering the infant or, alternatively, wrecking the mother’s health or even killing her altogether (in cases of life-threatening exigencies), one could say that „if the future experiences will be ones of unmitigated suffering, discontinuation may actually be preferable”, provided, of course, that one accepts the ontological circumstance of arising and subsiding, birth and death, potentiality and actuality. David Benatar describes what he calls a „pro-death” position in the abortion debate. According to this strong view, the value of a future „worth living” simply cannot be satisfactorily demonstrated and, in fact, could actually be shown to be worthless. Therefore, discontinuation is the sole preferable position in every single case of pregnancy. We cannot but quote Benatar’s thought-experiment in full, so delicious is the irony:

„Whereas a legal pro-choice position does not require a pro-lifer to have an abortion—it allows a choice—a legal pro-life position does prevent a pro-choicer from having an abortion. Those who think that the law should embody the pro-life position might want to ask themselves what they would say about a lobby group that (...) in accordance with pro-lifers’ commitment to the restriction of procreative freedom, recommended that the law become pro-death. A legal pro-death policy would require even pro-lifers to have abortions.”

Instead of „freedom or death”, what we have here is the freedom to live transmuted into the equation: freedom=death. The pro-death position certainly does not endorse murder; what Benatar is arguing for is the preferability of abortion to birth. Instead of defending abortion, what Benatar feels philosophers should be doing, and have not been doing for too long, is defending life, for life is in need of defense. There simply is no good reason not to abort, at least if one interprets life as an embodiment of negativity. Reproductive freedom entails certain death, the acceptance of suicidal universalization. The spokes of the lifewheel end in the jaws of Yama, the wounded, emasculated god of death. Yama is the divinity that has been killed-off, forever trapped between infinity and finitude. He is always in a position of actualized precarity, never fully able to transcend and go beyond. Hence his revenge upon mortals; Yama consumes the souls of the fallen, in the manner of a tremendous, jealous black hole, jealous of all that moves, wishing for manifestation to burn and crash down into the internal structure of certain death, universal enthropy. 

Feminist theorists have deconstructed the notion of embryos as „ourselves unborn”. More often than not, notions of potentiality have underpinned conservative, anti-dissipatory regimes and social structures. Incitement to life and procreation has been a feature of totalitarian nightmare regimes, the most bloodthirsty and cruelest systems in world history. Crawling infants are mere movements of the cosmic wheel, unfit to last in a world predicated upon demolition of the given. What is given must perish. Internality is the innerness of the zero-method, the movement that opens onto the extraordinarity of its own fiasco. 

An interesting problem relating to potentiality highlighted by a study on the materiality of foot-and mouth disease (FMD) is our inability to cleanly separate potentially infected animals from those actually suffering from viral infection. What the virus does is organize systems of relationality around itself, while often successfully evading detection. Recognition is especially difficult in the case of sheep. As the authors write, „sheep go lame for all sorts of reasons.”  The disease can take relatively mild forms in adult animals, but „can cause an acute myocarditis resulting in sudden death” in the case of younger specimens. The virus clearly displays an agency that evades visibility. Where is the borderline between „mild infection” and „sudden death”. The suddenness of death is our very reason for rejecting potentiality altogether. Rather, there are various gradations of (im)potentiality. During the foot-and-mouth scare in the early twentieth century, it was, for the most part, not the really and actually infected sheep that were slaughtered. Rather, those slated for immediate destruction were those deemed to run a considerable and reasonable risk of infection:

„On March 15th, it was determined that all sheep within 3km of infected premises would be slaughtered because calculations predicted that they ran a considerable risk of being infected. For these sheep, slaughter not only did without laboratory diagnosis, but also the clinical diagnosis of the vets was made irrelevant as well. A purely epidemiological logic ruled.”

Potential infection became radically actual for those unfortunate animals selected for immediate, sudden death. One form of sudden collapse was substituted for another; there is no real and actual ontological difference between the two instances. Death by viral infection, determined as probable by probabilistic algorithms, and death by slaughter-processes that have been brought forward. Where is potentiality and where is actuality-we cannot but beg the question. True, it is intellectually uncouth to beg the question, but there is simply no getting around the fact that there is no actuality and no potentiality to be found in the above instance of (im)potentiality. A calculated probability of future viral infection sealed the fate of animals whose fate would have been grim anyway. 

The zero-method allows us to see the absence of potentiality and actuality. For those engaged in agriculture, it is certainly not trivial whether animals die in a controlled or uncontrolled manner. But our perspective is not that of one engaged in husbandry. The perspective we would hope to represent, in however an inadequate form, is one of ontology. From this perspective, the animals actually slaughtered because of their potential susceptibility to a biological side-effect of industrialized agriculture (the virus) were already dead to begin with. As distinct from Aristotle’s positing of natural form, recent scientific surveys have shown that „embryos may require technoscientific actualization in order to achieve their supposedly ’natural’ potential to develop.” The something that resides as form is actually a proposition, injected into organic matter by technoscientific operativity. Aristotle defines some objects as „kernel-less.” The internal structure is this object without seed, the seedless receptivity that presupposes nothing, not even absence.  Imperishable things are all potencies for opposites. But within each thing is the pale nothing, purified, internal to the rotating kalpa

We listen to Throbbing Gristle’s In The Shadow of The Sun, and we feel the agony of inadequation. Such dark ambient music crawls under the skin of the listener, tearing apart latent relationalities, bringing potencies to their inevitable abatement. Nothing is the purpose of discourse; discourse is predicated upon the attempt to breed in a space exemplified by pale nothing. Yet that which has never been born (or borne) cannot perish. Embryos created in petri dishes are inert objects, endowed with nothing more than „passive potentiality.”  The voidness crawls over the listener, blending into the ears, transformed by ambient notes into hollow openings. In an interesting section of his Metaphysics, Aristotle considers one possible ontological position, albeit one that he goes on to reject: „if there is nothing eternal, neither can there be a process of coming to be.”

This is precisely what Nagarjuna understands when he rejects the notion of svabhana, or an innate existence that may be separated from relationality. In the final instance, every concretion, every movement, every object, however inert and stringent it may be, cannot ever remove itself from the inertness of foreclosure. This is a closed, unified system of equilibrium, one that is unamenable to movement or change.  Nagarjuna, in a chapter of the Mūlamadhyamakakārikā (’The Philosophy of the Middle Way’), explains movement in the following terms:

„What has been moved, in the first instance, is not being moved. What has not been moved is also not being moved. Separated from what has been moved and has not been moved, present moving is not known.”

Movement, in and of itself, does not exist. It is not a real entity in the world. Movement, separate from the mover, is nowhere to be found. A similar deconstruction may be effectuated in relation to potentiality. In fact, any property of any object may be subjected to the same analysis, one that Nagarjuna proceeds to do in the course of his treatise. Aristotle speaks of the sick body as an object that has become passively receptive to disease. But where is the body that has the disease? And where is the disease that has a body? Neither properties, insofar as we interpret them to be properties, are anywhere to be found. Sheep found to be vulnerable to infection in the early twentieth-century epidemic were slaughtered immediately, without question, so great was the danger posed by Foot-and-mouth disease.  

There did not have to be a real and actual viral presence in the system for autoimmune reactions to kick in and eliminate the threat. Retroactive immune defense is a different matter. Every single action is already retroactive, in that properties are inherently null and void. There is something tautological about such a rabidly anti-realist position. Wittgenstein, one famous anti-realist, admits that „the logic of the world (...) is shown in tautologies.” Existents are bracketed forms of emptiness, because of the very circumstance of their inert foreclosure. Foetuses manufactured in petri-dishes and those manufactured in human wombs do not really differ: their unity is that of stringent space, a unity in indifferentiation. (Im)potentiality is the universal ontological background, the carpentry that unites all things, the ether, the hollow space. Philosophy will undoubtedly continue to display many backtrackings to essentialist and substantialist doctrines such as those of Aristotle, doctrines that take movement far too seriously. Movement and every single property of every single object is empty, null, not even perishable. Only receptivity is eternal, the hole beyond imitation. Buried deep within potentialities and activities opening onto one another, there is the sullen, limp silence.


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