Friday, October 17, 2014

Notes to Martin Witz's "The Substance" Q&A

Wednesday night, Karen Rommelfanger (Director of Emory University's Neuroethics Program), and I were asked to lead a Q&A session following a screening of Martin Witz's documentary The Substance: Albert Hoffman's LSD.

This was an Atlanta European Science Café event organized by the inimitable Marc Merlin, it was held at the Alliance Française/Goethe Zentrum and hosted by the Consulate General of Switzerland in Atlanta. I'm most grateful to Marc and Karen for inviting me to participate as well as to the Swiss Consulate for the lovely gifts and the screener copy that I borrowed in preparation. And of course, many thanks to the folks that came out and contributed to the conversation.

What follows are my notes that I wrote during the screening. Karen and I had watched the film a few times in preparation, but we sat in the back of the room and made some notes as well. During the weeks leading up to the event Karen and I had pulled some of the recent research on LSD being conducted here in the US as well as in the UK and together we discussed some of the neuroethical dimensions of LSD use and experimentation. I mention this to help situate and contextualize the below. These are literally my notes to myself as I'm watching the movie, so they're short and the intention is to draw on these for discussion in case the audience is shy (which they weren't—one of my notes to myself is "Lots of autobiography around LSD and psilocybin mushroom use").

"Drugs" as the broad term we understand it in English today was a rhetorical invention of the early 20th century. The American Pharmaceutical Association really disliked the term and waged an unsuccessful campaign to deploy more accurate terms.

Important to note that the narrator states the molecule [LSD] "alters our perception" not "our mind." And yet, perception and brain activity are frequently conflated as synonymous with being the mind in these conversations.

Translation moment—Hoffman states he had a "wünderbar Ereignis" while under the influence of LSD. The translation in the subtitles has Hoffman saying he had a "wonderful experience" and that is passable, but perhaps doesn't communicate the potential subtleties at work in Hoffman's thinking on the matter. Ereignis is a technical term for Heidegger and can include a translation like "enowning" referring to the ways in which objects distinguish themselves (become this particular pencil, say, distinct from the class of objects called "pencils") by the circumstances of hanging just so in a network of other objects. We couldn't responsibly say that anything is possible at any given time, but we can say that a range of things are possible given the prevalent circumstances and affordances provided by those conditions. Ereignis refers to that kind of experience, not precisely "cosmic oneness" but maybe something like feeling at one with the unfolding of the entirety of the events around us. This experience helps us understand how "things" are not simply discrete bits of matter independent of any other thing, but also are þings, points of assemblage that potentially shift the manner in which future events happen. LSD presents us with the question of the noumenon, things-in-themselves, and the limits of human knowledge. Ereignis was a term Heidegger deployed in his later years, perhaps in part because he was inspired by his use of LSD with Ernst Jünger?

Media Studies moment—The training video that Grof and his colleagues made of their psycholytic therapy shows the mode of administration was by syringe. In the addiction studies literature the shift from consuming opium orally or by smoking to syringe use heralds the beginning of our contemporary concept of "addiction." In part, syringes were understood by 19th century users as a cutting edge technology that promised a better future for humanity. But it instead ushered in an unrivaled era of opiate use.

Media Archaeology moment—The first film to demonstrate the use of an intravenous barbiturate for the treatment of a psychiatric disorder was William Bleckwenn's "Catatonia cases after IV sodium amytal injection" (1936). This was the birth of narcoanalysis (although scopolamine had been frequently used in the decade previous for inducing suspects to confess to crimes).

Grof tells us that his technique of narcoanalysis was a "psycholytic practice" and that this was a "chemoarchaeology" of the psyche. These are moments of contestation in the distribution of the sensible as my teacher Jacques Rancière might say. We need to keep in mind that barbituates and other synthesized substances were called "psychomimetics" because they were regarded as ideal models of psychosis. People under the influence of these technologies became representatives—stand ins—for people that had been diagnosed with psychosis. Other terms deployed include hallucinogens, psychedlics, phanerothymics, and entheogens; all try to establish a relationship between a technology and something divine. The suspected location of this divinity continues to be the brain.

Grof suggests that there is a reliable progression of experiences that can occur with recurring doses of LSD in the clinical context. That LSD and other psychedelics are as microscopes or telescopes into the human psyche. Today in a similar Carhart-Harris et al. are hypothesizing that human consciousness is the result of a noise gate-type action at play in normal waking life and that LSD disrupts this entropic policing action of the normally functioning brain.

Narcoanalysis, the use of "truth serums" was notably investigated by the US military during the 1940s and through the 70s (see Project MKUltra). Today the tradition continues in the US under the euphemistically named "enhanced interrogation techniques" (I believe this is torture by another name) and we also see it being tolerated by the judge in the "Aurora Shooting" trial.

Translation moment—Hoffman is translated as saying LSD gave him intensified experiences. This term "intensified" was coined by the English poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge as he tried to find words to communicate the effects of opium use.

Translation moment—The fMRI scientist doesn't use the term "ego" he uses the term "das Ich" which is also the term Freud used. We gained the contemporary understanding of "ego" from James Strachey as he went about the task of translating Freud's works. Carhart-Harris and Nutt have long been working a program to bring Freud's theories into meaningful conversation with neuroscience.

Media Studies moment—Hoffman insisted that the proper use of LSD would lead one to become something like a medium; that spiritual practice was the proper mode of deployment.

Millbrook—"making well people weller" here we have LSD as neuroenhancer. Leary wanted to develop and train people in the "science and art of ecstasy." Leary also said he wanted to "bring about a religious renaissance, a spiritual uprising." Is this some sort of psychedelic jihadism?

Combined with the fact that 20% of soldiers returning from the Vietnam War self-identified as drug addicts, Leary and co.'s call for spiritual uprising and drugs as sacraments provided the public relations campaign needed for LBJ and then Nixon to begin the current American War on Drugs.

Grof at Spring Grove—"We wanted to change people's conceptions of death [....] that we are something larger than our bodies [....] that this is an adventure in consciousness." Flashes of John Donne's "Meditation XVII" from which we get the expressions "no man is an island" and "ask not for whom the bell tolls."

Griffiths et al. at Johns Hopkins—these are patients struggling with severe anxiety and/or depression and that are also battling cancer. They are "struggling with existential dilemmas" he says at one point and it has me ask myself about the perennial struggle between philosophy and pharmacy.

Why is Samuel Barber's "Adagio for Strings" always on the soundtrack at the moment of death contemplation? Always always always.

Cancer patient describes intense interactions with relationships from his past while on LSD and this is precisely what De Quincey reports from his use of opium.

Grof says he's had near death experiences while on LSD and that after the death of the body he suspects that cognition continues on. Once more we have a testament to the Western fixation on or addiction to psyche as soul.

This notion of psyche as soul brings me to think about the first uses of the term "auto" which forms our contemporary word "autonomous." Addiction threatens autonomy, a term European cultures became enamored of during the 17th century and forward to today. Auton referred to the body of a person slain and no longer possessing the breath of life in the Illiad and "nomos" refers to the habitual ways of comporting oneself and transacting one's affairs in a region. Autonomy read in this way (which is not historically accurate) leads us to think of the habitual actions of corpses, a zombie state.

But what is life without that which makes human life significant (and reduces one to auton)?

1) What benefits are possible from LSD use?
2) What are the longterm physical effects of LSD use?
3) How was LSD use received in Europe (the film shows us America's 60s activities).
4) LOTS of autobiographical commentary.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Bibliography Writing

I'm writing my bibliography tonight.
Well, it's sorta fun. I like having all the books around me and running my fingers through their frontmatter. Then getting lost in their indices.... Fun.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Devils vs Demons (鬼 v 魔)?

NOTE: I wrote this last night (Wednesday night) but there was a brown out around midnight and that derailed me. So, you will see that I just stop writing mid-thought below.

I have been sick the last couple of days and took some extra sleep. It wasn't a total loss of time, though.
I did submit a first draft of my proposal to my advisor and I will be preparing a table of contents and my bibliography over the next month.

I wrote to Ori Tavor requesting a copy of his dissertation and he was very kind to share with me and wish me luck in my writing. He will be revising his dissertation over the next year or so in order to prepare the manuscript for publication somewhere. I'm sure it will be a frequently discussed book when it's published. You can read Michael Stanley-Baker's review of Tavor's dissertation over at the excellent site Dissertation Reviews.

Tavor had an article published in Dao: A Journal of Comparative Philosophy last year about Xunzi's ritual theory and it really opened up my thinking about addiction. Reading his article I kept slapping my head and saying, "of course, I wish I'd thought of that!" the experience has been really gratifying for me because to this point I've been thinking that I've been crazy to think about addiction from a Confucian ritual perspective. So, for just that alone I'm thankful. But then this weekend I was mulling over Hui-Lin's short article about cannabis and its linguistic impact on Chinese culture and I started wondering why ma 麻 + gui 鬼 = mo 魔?  As it turns out, Tavor writes a bit about this term. I am very much looking forward to reading it.

Li translates mo 魔 as "demon" and notes that the hallucinatory capacity of ingesting cannabis ma 麻 combines with "devil" (gui 鬼) to create this new "demon" character, mo 魔. But why? It would seem that Li is suggesting here that ma is amplifying the quality of a class of being, "devil" (gui 鬼). But when did mo 魔 come into usage? What is the difference between a "devil" and a "demon" really? Gui 鬼 is used today in several bisyllabic words that are relevant to my dissertation: yangui 煙鬼 (opium smoker; heavy tobacco smoker), jiugui 酒鬼 (drunk, alcoholic), segui 色鬼 (lecher), and zuigui 醉鬼 (drunkard, alcoholic). Zuixin 醉心 apparently means "addicted to." That xin 心 is used must have interesting implications for the neuroscience of addiction. Xin 心 has historically been understood as both heart and mind together, but Western-trained medical professionals are more likely to understand xin 心 as referring to what we would refer to exclusively as "mind."

ASIDE: While Karen and I were in Shanghai last spring we were told by several faculty of China's most prestigious neurology and psychiatric departments that a delegation of German psychoanalysts have been coming to Shanghai over the last several years to train folks. Time didn't allow for us to ask much about these training sessions nor the practices that are apparently taking off like wildfire there. I'd love to know how this collapsed heart-mind, xin 心, fits into psychoanalytic practice. I wonder how much xin 心 is going to change the way psychoanalysts think about heart and mind.

Gui 鬼 occurs several times in the Zhongyong 中庸:

16. 子曰:鬼神之為德,其盛矣乎!
Legge—How abundantly do spiritual beings display the powers that belong to them!
Ames and Hall—The efficacy (de 德) of the gods and spirits is profound!
Jullien—La capacité dont témoignent les efficiences invisibles, comme elle est éminente!
(my take on Jullien, "The efficaciousness of supersensory effect-making is awe-inspiring!)

29. [...] 故君子之道本諸身,徵諸庶民,考諸三王而不繆,建諸天地而不悖,質諸鬼神而無疑,百世以俟聖人而不惑。質諸鬼神而無疑,知天也;百世以俟聖人而不惑,知人也。
Legge (30.)—He presents himself with them before spiritual beings, and no doubts about them arise. He is prepared to wait for the rise of a sage a hundred ages after, and has no misgivings. His presenting himself with his institutions before spiritual beings, without any doubts arising about them, shows that he knows Heaven.
Ames and Hall—Confirmed before the gods and spirits, no doubts attend it. Having waited one hundred generations for the appearance of the sage (shengren 聖人), there are no second thoughts. Confirming this way before the gods and spirits so there is no doubt about it, is to know tian 天; having waited one hundred generations for the appearance of the sage so there are no second thoughts, is to know the human (ren 人).
Jullien—C'est pouquoi la voie du Souverain a son fondement dans la personnalité morale de celui-ci et se voit attestée au niveau du peuple tout entier: si on l'examine en regard [du gouvernement] des Trois rois [fondateurs des trois dynasties], [on se rend compte qu']elle ne s'en écarte pas; si on l'établi en regard [du grand procès] Ciel et de la Terre, [on se rend compte qu']elle ne le contredit pas; si on la confronte à la dimension d'esprit du réel, on n'éprouve pas de doute à son égard; enfin, qu'on ait à attendre cent générations un Sage [qui vienne la confirmer], on n'éprouvera aucun trouble à son endroit.
Qu'on la confronte à la dimension d'esprit du réel et qu'on n'éprouve pas de doute à son égard, c'est connaitre le ‹‹Ciel»; qu'on ait à attendre cent générations un Sage [qui vienne la confirmer] et qu'on n'éprouve aucun trouble à son endroit, c'est connaître l'homme.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Reading Hui-Lin Li

I'm looking for material that reports on narcotic culture in China and through a fortuitous click on I came across Victor Mair's Sino-Platonic Papers housed at the University of Pennsylvania. In terms of their commitment to publishing "outlier" materials their only peer would be Punctum Books. It was through a (talented) student's essay on the speculative etymology of the word "marijuana" that I came across a series of articles that Hui-Lin Li, the first John Bartram Professor of Botany at the University of Pennsylvania, wrote in the 1970s.

Consider "Hallucinogenic Plants in Chinese Herbals" first published in Harvard University's Botanical Museum Leaflets in 1977:
So far as I know, there has been no report of any use of hallucinogenic plants in China in more modern times. We do not know whether the practice of using some plants by "sorcerers" or some other peoples as mentioned in earlier works occurred also in recent ages or not. It is not impossible that some use of hallucinogens may be found among the aborigines or other non-Han tribesmen along the remote borderlands in the southwest or elsewhere. There seems to be no such ethnobotanical study or survey ever having been made. We do come acress, however some records indicating that Cannabis was being used by the Uigurs [Uyghurs] along the Sinkiang (Chinese Turkestan) [Xinjiang] border in the remote northwest as late as the early twentieth century. (161–2)
Li also argues, in his article "The Origin and Use of Cannabis in Eastern Asia Linguistic-Cultural Implications" (1974) that Chinese people do not consume marijuana because of the violence that is associated with the drug. Given that family is the guiding metaphor in Chinese culture (to address a group in Mandarin one states "dajia" [大家, big family]) this drug-induced violence would foreclose the plant's use. He suggests that perhaps "aborigines or other non-Han tribesmen along remote borderlands" might be consuming marijuana for its hallucinogenic affordances.

There are two things that are remarkable here: 1) that casual racism that Chinese-ness is Han-ness and 2) that to be properly "Chinese" (again, meaning "Han") one knows better than to use this plant in this prohibited manner.

The first item isn't so surprising perhaps—having worked as a researcher in Japan I was frequently confronted with this casual racism that pervades both Japan and China. In Japan, I've gone on record about the gaijin 外人 situation in Japan. In support of this casual racism in China I offer an anecdote from a very accomplished non-native Chinese researcher working in China for some time. Even after a long career in Chinese universities of top quality and after being presented with the most prestigious award one can receive as a non-native this researcher is still required to leave the country and renew their visa at great frequency. Permanent resident status has been denied over and again because of this lack of "Chinese-ness."

On the second point, it's not surprising that Li presents Chinese-ness as adhering to a common literature. Specifically, Li argues that it is the Zhongyong 中庸 (which he translates as Doctrine of the Mean) that proscribes deploying a technology that disrupts one's filial relations. Ignoring the colonial and racist origins of translating Zhongyong 中庸 as "doctrine of the mean," I am interested in what the Zhongyong states about the role of education in consummating one's position in relation to the cosmos. The Zhongyong is a technical manual about the cosmic powers attainable through a kind of learning. That to become enculturated (by observing certain ritualized technologies) is to become more human.

It's been about forty years since Li wrote his articles arguing for a cultural relating that defines "Chinese" as being Han and so we might imagine that since then there has been a sea change toward understanding China as a place as culturally diverse as Europe. But just this month an article was published in Science presenting a study discussing rice technologies vs. wheat technologies that explains the cultural differences between northern Han and southern Han. Again, Han-ness becomes a gloss for explaining cultural difference in "China."

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Zhongyong and Addiction

Despite having cultivated cannabis for its hallucinatory effects since at least the Neolithic era, cannabis has not proven to be a preferred intoxicant among the Chinese since that time. Hui-Lin Li suggests that this is due to the near-universal adoption of the lessons contained in the Confucian classic text, Zhongyong 中庸 which Li refers to as the “Doctrine of the Mean” (300). Li argues that it's because cannabis is a Phantastica (a hallucinogen that induces mental exhilaration and nervous excitation), as opposed to opium, which is an Euphorica (having sedative qualities), that the Chinese would not be inclined to consume cannabis. That, Li argues, family life is the primary socializing agency and because cannabis consumption—on Li's account—leads to fantasy, unreality, and violence, cannabis would disrupt family life (300). Opium, on the other hand, could be consumed communally and brought about a relaxed state in the users. “In a way it incidentally served to preserve the large extended family system, thus reinforcing the teachings of filial piety [xiao 孝] and ancestor worship” (300–301).
 (, hemp, in zhuan script)

In his short essay Li puts forward a number of arguments about the role of cultural techniques in the formation of Chinese culture and the unfolding of China's entrance into the Modern era. The essay opens with a discussion of textile fibers as defining features of ancient Old World cultures: the Mediterranean region cultivated linen, there was cotton culture in India, and in East Asia there was hemp culture (293). The casual reader might be surprised that East Asia is not marked as a silk culture, but Li tells us that from the earliest times the cultivated fields were referred to as “land of mulberry [which attracted silk worms] and hemp.” Hemp was a crucial element in observing ritual propriety (li 禮) since before the days of Confucius. According to the Liji 禮記 one must wear rough hempen clothing during the mourning of one's parents. for example. Confucius states in the Analects 論語 (9.3) that “The use of the hemp cap (麻冕) is prescribed in observance of ritual propriety li 禮. Today people use silk as a matter of frugality. I would follow accepted practice on this.”

You'll note that Li relies upon the first translation of Zhongyong that the Protestant missionary James Legge created, “Doctrine of the Mean.” Twelve years later Legge would later abandon that translation in favor of “The state of equilibrium and harmony.” There's no question that those in power throughout China's history have been influenced by the Zhongyong as all bureaucrats were required to memorize the text as part of their standard exams. But how do we understand the text? Although I disagree with Li that the Zhongyong is primarily a text about moderating one's behavior (a la Aristotle's Golden Mean), I am intrigued by the reading of the Zhongyong as a user's manual. Translating the work is difficult in part because it is straightforward in what it says, but philosophically it appears incoherent at first.
(, hemp, in contemporary hanzi)

The Zhongyong discusses the role of education (jiao 教) in the process of enhancing and developing one's natural tendencies (xing 性) so that one may become consummate in the performance of one's daily affairs. Through this process of harmonization and consummation one is elevated to a status of cosmic co-creative status. That's not to say that one creates worlds ex nihilo, but that through this practice one learns to align with the creative forces of the universe.

I've argued elsewhere (Boshears, Boeri, Harbry 2011; Boshears 2012; Boeri, Gibson, Boshears 2014) that addiction is a networked phenomenon: one is apprenticed into addiction and out of addiction. In so far as "addiction" as a concept is philosophically coherent it is a description of learned technological relating that has gone askew. In my dissertation I will consider drug use from the perspective of cultural techniques and as a case study I will examine how addiction came to be articulated by colonial European agents acting in China. The creation of the concept of addiction was a means of naturalizing colonial Europe's cultural techniques and providing a pretext for further subjugating non-Europeans. I suspect that unpacking the Zhongyong's position on education will help us understand what is possible in pedagogy and contribute a novel interpretation of how addiction "happens."

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Re-establishing Comms: a short intimate bibliography

I've been struggling to write lately. Some of it has to do with the seemingly unending months of sleep deprivation that began with the birth of our son last summer. Some of it seems normal enough for someone trying to write their dissertation. I'm hoping that a return to the ol' blog will help limber me up.

Writing, I'm told, is similar to distance running: you have to warm up in order to get your stride going. And, if you've not run for a while, your warm ups are likely going to be longer than your runs. That's how I feel today. Yesterday was really difficult: after a couple of hours of actually trying to write, I managed to push out about a paragraph. I have to remember that I have completed a marathon and that was only possible because I committed to small runs several times a week. I'll complete this project in a similar manner.

Writing a PhD dissertation is daunting. It's a creative activity in so far as it's the creation of a new expertise—no one else will be an expert on your topic, you will actually "write the book" on the matter. In order to minimize that, I'm trying to organize my task into smaller pieces that are more readily wrangled. Probably familiar to others in my position or that have been in my position, I despair at the feeble scaffolding that I've committed to the page when I try to organize my work.

So, what am I writing about? I think I'm writing about the origins of the concept of addiction and the role that Chinese philosophy played in that historical formation.

I imagine that this is to some degree a conversation about cultural techniques (kulturtechniken, techniques du corps) as well as comparative philosophy and I'm, of course, looking to some recent scholarship in the area to help gird my arguments. Following Thomas Kasulis' lead established in his excellent introductory text to comparative philosophy, Intimacy or Integrity, I'll share a brief "intimate bibliography." An intimate bibliography has the virtue of foregrounding the reading of a book at a particular time and in a particular environment and intimates the atmosphere in which these ideas came into contact. Rather than writing a bibliography that establishes that I've exhaustively searched the relevant material for sources that exist (this would be the more traditional integrity-oriented bibliography), I'd like to share the story of how I came to think of this topic.

My initial thought was that I would write something about appropriation. How does a public space become appropriated by a public? How does a space become appropriately understood as private? What is grasped when an object is appropriated? How does one learn what can be appropriated appropriately? Other than my own opinion that Ames and Rosemont's translation of li 禮 as "ritual propriety," I didn't really know what to do with those questions. Early on I thought I'd look to Rancière or Derrida or Barbara Johnson, but I didn't really know what to do with that.

Thanks to my wife's review of a manuscript under consideration at a publishing house, I was able to score a copy of Bernard Stiegler's What Makes Life Worth Living: On Pharmacology. When I first entered graduate school I was a member of a research team investigating methamphetamine use in the region and my task had been to analyze the data and find compelling interpretations for understanding the hundreds and hundreds of hours of interviews we'd collected. It was during an afternoon of random clicking that I first came across Stiegler's Ecole de philosophie d'Epineuil-le-Fleuriel and this image from Gilles Barbier L’ivrogne:
I'd told myself that I had to read more about Stiegler's treatment of Derrida's thinking on pharmakon and finally the chance had come. Stiegler's book, for all of its problems, got me to thinking about addiction as a problem of forming the appropriate relationship to a technology: whether that technology was a narcotic, a video game, or a food.

I'd long been thinking about the secular rituals of social life, the "social conventions" that make civil society possible even though we never convene to decide what these quotidian performances will be. Among those social conventions was smoking. I had smoked tobacco for about ten years before I quit and the process of quitting smoking was immensely difficult. I frequently likened it to a mode of suicide because my social life disappeared. I couldn't hang out with my friends because they all smoked. I couldn't go to my favorite clubs to see my favorite bands because you can smoke in those bars. It was immensely difficult to eat my favorite foods without wanting to complete a meal or a cup of coffee with a habitual cigarette.... 

I'd learned how to smoked as a teenager outside of Richmond, Virginia. My parents smoked throughout my childhood, but I didn't really know how to start. It was a production: how to light a lighter, how to do the "French inhale," or how to tamp the tobacco by "packing" the box. I had to hold the cigarette just so, I had to cultivate the careful carefreeness of keeping smoldering tobacco at my face without burning myself or looking like I was too concerned with how people looked at me smoking.

All of these were informal lessons, a bit of habitus, if you will. It was also the way I understood Ames, Hall, and Rosemont were arguing for the importance of learning Classical Chinese philosophy. Smoking was an ars contextualis. The way you learned to bum a smoke off somebody on the street, the way you learned to light someone's cigarette in passing, the way you learned to start a conversation when you sat down next to an ash tray at a party—these were moments of li 禮 and it was how I wanted to talk about drug addiction more broadly. Some of the things I'd thought about addiction had gotten published in some journals, but I wasn't clear on how to bridge the gap between addiction sciences and Classical Chinese philosophies. Then I got lucky.

I have a part-time job working for a contemporary arts publication and I am responsible for their circulation and distribution. One day last summer, while delivering magazines to a local bookstore I happened to find an old copy of Herbert Fingarette's Confucius—The Secular as Sacred which I'd seen referenced a number of times by Ames, Hall, and Rosemont. It's a great monograph and I after finishing it I wanted to know more about Fingarette. That's when I learned that he had also written a very influential book about alcoholism, Heavy Drinking. This then led me to also get a copy of the festschrift dedicated to Fingarette.

At about this time I was also re-visiting Avital Ronell's book Crack Wars and I think I started searching for links between her and Classical Confucian philosophy. Ronell's work has influenced and instigated discussion across a broad spectrum of disciplines and so I guess I shouldn't have been surprised to come across Keith McMahon's The Fall of the God of Money: Opium smoking in nineteenth century China which explicitly states a debt to Ronell's perspective on addiction as a mode of being (Being-on-drugs). I reached out to McMahon after finishing his book and was so thrilled to know that there were others (better than me) that were also pursuing this kind of work. McMahon suggested that I also read the exhaustively researched Narcotic Culture: A History of Drugs in China by Dikötter, Laaman, and Xun. Where McMahon's book helped me interpret opium use as a response to colonial Europe's obsession with becoming "Modern," Dikötter, et al. present a thorough report of who was saying what when and where during the 19th century in China.

It was during that period that I also became aware of a special issue of Theory, Culture & Society dedicated to presenting seminal essays on "cultural techniques" guest edited by Geoffrey Winthrop-Young, Ilinca Iurascu and Jussi Parikka. In this excellent introduction to the field, Bernhard Siegert lists Ronell as among one of the earliest voices in the development of the body of literature (along with her friend Kittler, of course). Weirdly enough, this was around the time that I became aware of and read Ori Tavor's article in about Xunzi's ritual theory in Dao.

Well, I've not really delved into much detail about what I read in those sources, but you get the sense of how the timing and the dumb luck of my discovery process. It's now after midnight and I need to get some rest before the baby wakes again.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Chris Fynsk Day 1

Christopher Fynsk taught a class entitled: HEIDEGGER, ART AND THOUGHT.

NOTE: As with all my notes from the EGS, there will likely be mistakes because I did not record the lectures, I made notes as they spoke, so I am perhaps interpreting what they are saying as I am writing.

This will be a first year, introductory course, although many of you are more senior students. We will be working through "The Origin of the Work of Art."

EGS became a real inspiration for me while I was at SUNY Binghamton. I hope you're aware of both the madness of this institution and yet the special work that is done here. I hope that continent. will help sustain the network of students here.

[Note: I will be referencing the translations found in David Ferrell Krell's Basic Writings.]

I find "The Origin of the Work of Art" works well as a source, like water. It helps guide readings of Heidegger. He's working with immensely difficult ideas. But once you grasp his formulations, you will be better able to read him with these hand holds.

It's also a fascinating position in his corpus. The late Heidegger was the really influential one in the 1970s and 80s. This essay was at a turning point in his thinking. The turn starts in 1930 and unfolds during the 1930s—a move away from the project that made him "Heidegger." It was quite an event when he came on the scene. "What Is Metaphysics?" was being read by Wittgenstein.

His body of work was larger than Being & Time and he attempted to pose a new question of being. The scope of the project is breath-taking. He wouldn't use the word, "system," but like Kant or Schelling he was working on the foundations of philosophy itself.

Fundamental ontology. His argument was that we could rethink Being itself from the human being's awareness of Being. If we can grasp what constitutes the being human, we can rethink Being itself. In this way we understand Being & Time as an existentialist text.

It's that the temporality of understanding takes form in the human's awareness of his mortality. Dasein is future-oriented. We project onto the possibility of our being; it's what distinguishes humans to other animals in this relationship to death.

Being thrown into the world, we find ourselves in a world already there and ourselves already there. He sets up a hermeneutic circle in this circle. Future opens onto past. It's the ground of our being in the present.

The articulation of the above becomes the foundation of our being in the world. He's proposing we rethink ontology from the viewpoint of temporality. There is a hidden privileging of the previous eras—it's a given that what we can rethink this if we recognize this constitution of the human being and thereby rethink ontology.

But, around 1929, Heidegger saw this wasn't going to be possible. Being & Time is actually a fragment, he never finished the second section. He hit a road block.

The problem of space arose and we'll see this in "The Origin of the Work of Art." He says that the language of the tradition will not enable him to think anew—this paleonymy. During the 1930s he attempts the new language, look at Contributions to Philosophy, the writing is pretty wild. The translation is nearly impossible. We'll talk about this problem of language later on.

In "The Question of Being" a passage beyond nihilism is possible. He sees the definition of nihilism is it's first problem. If we are to confront the question, we must rethink the term.

Fundamental ontology→1930→another thinking, the advent of Being, ereignis; we have to find other paths and languages.

The 1930s is also a momentous time for Heidegger as he asserted himself into politics and openly supported the Nazi regime. He understood Nazism as a revolution and saw himself as the spiritual führer. It wasn't a passing fancy (contrary to the way it was presented during the 1980s). He very much wanted this position. He later said it was a blunder, but he never retracted that he thought of himself as a Nazi.

European thought, aprés coup, was coming to thought in the 1980s about the Holocaust. A tremendous problem for thinking and art. Suddenly Faría's book, which provided information already available, became widely circulated. We had to face Heidegger in a way that was not being done.

"The Origin of the Work of Art" states that art is the founding site for a people and history. This is a quiet nod to Hölderlin, whom he was lecturing about in 1935. This new path he proposes has to be in dialogue with art. The advent of German destiny requires taking up Hölderlin's language. This is also when Heidegger begins to tangle with Nietzsche.

With his inaugural rector's address, "The Self-Assertion of the German University," Nietzsche and Hölderlin became primary references for Heidegger in the 1930s. "Nietzsche did me in," was something Heidegger muttered even into later life. He was fighting against the official Nazi formulation of Nietzsche and he tried to think with him his own version of National Socialism. This affirmative reading gave fascinating thinking on Nietzsche's concept of the Eternal Return and Zarathustra.

Then, in 1939, we have another turn, now against Nietzsche. Heidegger situates him as another metaphysician, simply overturning Plato. In German there are two volumes composed of Heidegger's lectures on Nietzsche; the second volume is a history of modern metaphysics. I cannot emphasize them enough.

Heidegger saw himself caught up in the metaphysics of subjectivity and this was due to the nature of the tradition's language itself. The poietic act was necessary to overcome this. He felt the Greeks got it right by discussing the production of worlds through language. Eternal Return and Will to Power were Nietzsche's way of being caught in metaphysics.

Descartes founds the truth of humanity, the subject, as the ability to present itself as the subject of History and the subject of Truth. Heidegger unseats this subjectivity—he returns to his earliest intuitions in the 30s and says that it's the finitude of the human that is most central. The question of finitude becomes more and more disruptive for him. We find ourselves in a world not of our doing and we take up these limits imposed by both finitude and our thrown-ness.

Nietzsche started with the artist, Heidegger in the 1930s displaces the artist, in this text the artist hardly appears at all.

Ereignis—the advent of Being. The coming about of the disclosure of Being; the advent of language.

The question is how to think about the work of art, how does the production of Truth happen here? This is the labor of the negative Hegel; Marx also has this mode of subjectivity. How can Being be brought, truthfully, in being said or produced in art?

We started with two questions: 1) subjectivity and 2) language. For Heidegger, the question of being is the question of language itself. In "What Is Metaphysics?" he's already raising the question of language. He, through Hölderlin, begins to talk about mythic language, Humboldt becomes important for him. The essence of art is poetry. The essence of poetry is language. We attribute the language-talk to the later Heidegger, but we see it here already, during the War years.

All of these ways of trying to find new ways of being brings us to an awareness of how Heidegger is writing. After 1939 we can no longer talk about his theses of Being because he has moved away from this traditional way of thinking. It gets so extreme, in a way. We have to give up what the words mean and then giving up, the language moves us away to thinking. The thinking is in the language itself. He dissects the words themselves, we speak Heideggarian, not German.

My experience has shown that even native German speakers have a similar trouble with Heideggarian language. We have to suspend understanding, but this requires a careful reading. The more we understand, the less we understand. But we will read carefully together and find that it opens up. There are no prerequisites, by reading carefully we will come to an understanding of Heidegger's thinking through the movement of the text. We'll be following the text and in this way derive an Explication de Texte, in the French tradition.

Let's continue a bit with this question of language. I'll be jumping ahead in his thinking, but it will help us in reading "The Origin of the Work of Art." Starting in the late 1950s, Heidegger wrote a series of essays on language. "Was heißt Denken?"and Unterwegs zur Sprache are exemplary.

We cannot treat language as an object of reason in the way Linguistics does. We can't say that language is this or that. The way it is present to us is given to us, gibt. "Es gibt Sprache." Heidegger invites us to think how we relate to language itself. We are in language and don't pause. We don't have a relation to language unless language is disturbed, as when a word is on the tip of our tongues. Only when a word escapes us do we become aware of language as itself.

How do we get to language? The relation is inversed. Language gives us the ability to think. It's not a tool to use in our relating, language actually gives us the relationship to the world. In "Letter on Humanism" he states that language is the House of Being; it's our horizon, our ground, but not in the traditional sense because that would be Logos.

The finitude of existence means being Abgrund. Language is that from which a subject comes to itself as itself through language and the relation to existence that language provides. He doesn't want language to be the subject, however.

Heidegger gives special prominence to this word, der Brauch; brauchen is to need, to use. Wittgenstein refers to this word for meaning. In "Die Sprache" (chapter 6 in Poetry, Language, Thought) he lays out language uses human speech to come into speech. If we think of language as the relation of language, through articulation language comes about. Poetry is a special expression of this. 

In the broadest sense, Language requires human speech in order to come about as language. Heidegger uses this scheme to bring us into relation with Language. We have to grasp how speech brings to language Language. We have to speak in a manner that brings to the fore Language. Poetry and thought bring this relationship into vision. Neither poets nor thinkers can get this relationship alone, poetry and thought have to come into dialogue.

In an initial stage we have:
    ↳[uses of the human here]

Ereignis appropriates the essence of the human with and for the use of language for itself

             ➚ Language→human speech→saying of Being
            ↘ human ≠ linguistic

You notice that the human appears twice, we come to ourselves as selves through our relating to the world through language use. It's prelinguistic insofar as Ereignis is co-originary with Language and the human. Derrida chose not to talk about this for some reason and it brings into question animal and the body.

This question of the use of the human is important for our essay, "The Origin of the Work of Art." What distinguishes art is its use of the earth. The artist's use of the earth is brought up here. Poetic speech turns upon itself such that it exposes itself in relation to itself. "It's most distinguished" Language is a drawing out of [trusts?], it articulates the relation between showing and saying—drawn into articulation and relating. Thought and poetry both do this, but poetry is a counterpoint.

If Truth is something transcendental and not in temporality, then how do we find the instantiation of Truth in our temporality? Die Sprache; Language is not regular speech. This poietic discussion of the creation of a people's world is very much of the German Romantic tradition, but Heidegger knows that this Romantic thinking is very much the metaphysics of the subject.

The subject's relation to the social order is this Butler/Rancière discussion, but what is at work here is this possibility for social order at all. The past twenty-five years has seen politics absorbed into all conversation such that politics is the ground of meaning. Heidegger is discussing the advent of the political, the limit of politics. Suddenly everything must be political..

Heidegger sees every human act that comes into being through Being with Truth. Art confronts dimensions of experience that are not immediately political. We cannot make everything reduced to the imperative that everything be political. Partly what "political correctness" does is say everything is political and the imperative that control be asserted in its horizons. This controlling limits our ability to engage what is. Contemporary "Theory" has seen this commodification of names and concepts: you write about certain people because you can get jobs doing that. This commodification overdetermines "Theory." Nevermind the references, get to the question.

I got into this discussion of Language to talk about usage and the earth. What Heidegger is doing is inviting us to rethink our relation to language and from this place consider what language does. Starts with aesthetics, which appeals to our relationships and he wants to undo this relationship. Art gives us a relationality in which we find ourselves in our relation to the world. It's an opening to relationality. Es gibt die Kunst. Art grounds being and so has a hierarchical effect yet overturns political relations—a moment of disruption totally processual and dynamic.