Both Kant and Bergson are concerned with the origin of the subject and claim that there is a purer form of reality or knowledge to that of the systems within which we live. However, this origin and reality are idealized and accessed or encountered in different ways. They agree on the importance of humans experiencing the world through time, as opposed to space, in order to proffer a theory of motion but Bergson privileges the material realm where Kant does the subjective. Kant’s post-enlightenment reason for theorizing time is to deduce the contradictory aspect of object-hood:
‘… in other words, of a conjunction of contradictorily opposed predicates in one and the same object, for example, the presence of a thing in a place and the non-presence of the same thing in the same place… Time is not something which subsists of itself, or which inheres in things as an objective determination, and therefore remains, when abstraction is made of the subjective conditions of the intuition of things.’ (Kant, 2003, pp29-30)
Kant’s theory pictures a contradictory situation for subjects, in which they can represent an object in their minds but can never know the object-in-itself. Although Bergson’s late-modern theory would affirm an emphasis on intuition, he would not accept that time (duration) does not inhere in things (for it is a dimension of experience) or that the human subject’s representations are the determinate influence in the world. Bergson’s critical endeavor is to admonish human logic and reason (mathematics and language), in order to pursue a purer communication between things and humans, via duration, intensity and intuition.
‘External to one another, they keep up relations among themselves in which the inmost nature of each of them counts for nothing, relations which can therefore be classified. It may thus be said that they are associated by contiguity or for some logical reason. But if, digging below the surface of contact between the self and external, we penetrate into the depths of the organized and living intelligence, we shall witness the joining together or rather the blending of many ideas which, when once associated, seem to exclude one another as logically contradictory terms.’ (Bergson, 2005, p136)
Bergson requires humans to strip their authority, as mediators of the world, in order to resonate with the other material (animate and inanimate). Kant, on the other hand, does not picture a naturalized and passive subject but articulates that transcendental human subjects are the origin of perception (through knowledge) and therefore are the creators of images. Kant’s transcendental knowledge represents objects intuitively and without experience (transcendental aesthetic):
‘We have intended, then, to say, that all our intuition is nothing but the representation of phenomena; that the things we intuite, are not in themselves the same as our representations of them in intuition, nor are their relations in themselves so constituted as they appear to us; and that if we take away the subject, or even the subjective constitution of our sense in general, then not only the nature and relations of objects in space and time, but even space and time themselves disappear; and that these, as phenomena, cannot exist in themselves, but only in us. What may be the nature of objects considered as things in themselves and without receptivity of our sensibility is quite unknown to us.’ (Kant, 2003, p35)
Kant’s transcendental subject is self-sufficient and able to constantly create and represent his reality. The subject will never know the object-in-itself as it’s correlative form exists a priori (prior to experience) in his understanding. However, Kant allows the object autonomy, as it can exist in-itself separately and unknown to our perception. In Kant’s theory what does not exist when you take away human perception is a conscious knowledge of the world and space-time, which are the apparatus with which we cognize objects. Kant replaces God with the metaphysics of the human subject, as original perceiver and creator, and therefore we experience a conservative world; a world we have already mapped out. Even the world’s potential to be continually created and represented by the human subject is predisposed and contained within the Kantian categories (which are compartments- space- that store and synthesize the human a priori knowledge/forms).
In order to break with this conservative view of the world, in which objects and images are always secondary to the subject (the subject being a second-self that obscures the pure inner first-self), Bergson theorizes a truer reality, pre-subject, that isn’t obscured by the homogeneous mechanizations of space, which are language, measurement and representation. He wants us to abandon our habituated placing of objects as quantities in space, which would categorize them, and instead focus on their quality and intensity.
‘And, in the same way as we have asked what would be the intensity of a representative sensation if we did not introduce into it an idea of its cause, we shall now have to inquire what the multiplicity of our inner states becomes, what from duration assumes, when the space in which it unfolds is eliminated.’ (Bergson, 2005, p74)
In Kant’s theory the subject’s representations are already given; however, Bergson not only fears the erroneous and impoverishing nature of Kant’s transcendental aesthetic and conscious subject but also the fact that language distances the subject from the object in-itself (materiality and reality).
‘Now, if some bold novelist, tearing aside the cleverly woven curtain of our conventional ego, shows us under the appearance of logic and fundamental absurdity, under this juxtaposition of simple states an infinite permeation of a thousand different impressions which have already ceased to exist the instant they are named, we commend him for having known us better than we knew ourselves. This is not the case, however, and the very fact that he spreads out our feeling in a homogeneous time, and expresses its elements by words, shows that he in his turn is only offering us its shadow: but he has arranged this shadow in such a way as to make us suspect the extraordinary and illogical nature of the object which projects it; he has made us reflect by giving outward expression to something of that contradiction, that interpenetration, which is the very essence of the elements expressed. Encouraged by him, we have put aside for an instant the veil which we interposed between our consciousness and ourselves. He has brought us back to our own presence.’ (Bergson, 2005, p133-4)
Bergson believes we should revert back to an earlier animal and natural state by negating our ability to transpose time within space (a mediated quantity), the latter being a relativist (relativity refers to everything else as well as itself) and therefore total perception of reality (a cluster and cycle of self-reference).
‘Probably animals do not picture to themselves, beside their sensations, as we do, an external world quite distinct from themselves, which is the common property of all conscious beings.’ (Bergson, 2005, p138)
Bergson’s pure reality is based on the premise that there is a more pure and free, democratized communication between things, which humans block by producing a second-self (a linguistic and reflexive subject). He encourages us to revert to our pre-subjective unconscious and to untie ourselves from the belief in a metaphysical and universal subject (presence) that since Kant has been institutionalized and mechanized. However, abandoning determination becomes the subject of Bergson’s practice, an idealization that reinvents the human in nature. When we idealize human perception within the thing-in-itself, we are being metaphysical and assuming that there is an originary self whose perception it is: matter is anthropomorphized and human mediation is naturalized.
‘… digging below the surface of contact between the self and external, we penetrate into the depths of the organized and living intelligence…’ (Bergson, 2005, p136)
The notion of an organized intelligence beneath conscious reality naturalizes the very order that Bergson is trying to get humans to renounce by placing human perception and intelligence within nature itself. Rather than getting away from metaphysics, he merely replaces a transcendental subject with a transcendental nature and communication (God-like).
Kant’s original subject and reality is created a priori, whereas Bergson’s original and true reality is pre-subject. To immerse ourselves within materiality is the operation by which Bergson believes we can shed our outer linguistically initiated subjectivities and their habitual and distancing representations. When dissecting our true (pre-subject) experiences of taste and color, Bergson highlights that we must avoid isolating objects from each other and placing them in a homogeneous space because this identifies, names and therefore conserves and fixes them:
‘A moment ago each of them was borrowing an indefinable color from its surroundings: now we have it colorless, and ready to accept a name. The feeling itself is a being which lives and develops and is therefore constantly changing; otherwise how could it gradually lead us to form a resolution? Our resolution would be immediately taken. But it lives because the duration in which it develops is a duration whose moments permeate one another. By separating these moments from each other, by spreading out in time and space, we have caused this feeling to lose its life and its color.’ (Bergson, 2005, pp132-3)
Bergson’s sublime aesthetic encourages humans to intuit and feel objects within the quality of duration (pure time/motion) and to discard experiencing them as quantities (in relation to each other, which is an act of reflexivity). Reflection and its spatial sense, sight, are not therefore effective tools with which to access Bergson’s true reality. Bergson’s pre-subject must feel embodied (multi-sensual) so that he is disorientated and acting on instinct and intuition. This enables the pre-subject to pursue an animalistic or chaotic world (distracted from ordering or mediating its contents), in which matter is constantly becoming. This liberates materiality, including the human subconscious, from the clutches of the conservative and sentient subject. However, this self-imposed disorientation that triggers a truer internal reality and dispenses with reflexivity, actually, through this very act of internalization, separates the subject’s deeper consciousness from the material realm (true-reality) it hopes to access. A world of internalized objects brush past each other but cannot penetrate each other to be in harmony with the thing-in-itself. Therefore, by sacrificing their second-self, the human subject is idealized for its becoming closer to its individual inner multiplicity but contrary to Bergson’s natural communication, cannot get closer to materiality.
‘The idea of intensity is thus situated at the junction of two streams, one of which brings us the idea of extensive magnitude from without, while the other brings us from within, in fact from the very depths of consciousness, the image of an inner multiplicity.’ (Bergson, 2005, p73)
Language, theorized by Bergson as a representation, is seen as creating a veil or expanse between the subject and a truer or purer (primal) form of reality, but Bergson’s counter aesthetic of animalistic chaos actually destabilizes the subject so that it cannot act. In order to enable action, therefore, Bergson relies on a new organization produced by images (privileged as more immediate), as opposed to language, which requires an image to awaken a revolutionary pre-subject image in humans. Through trying to establish that there is a communication outside of language, Bergson actually reestablishes a semiotics and hierarchy (veil) by replacing language with the image. Therefore, the reality of the second-self (language, mediation and interpretation) that Bergson deems homogeneous and habituating is, ironically conserved.
Bergson’s critique of the novel writer, previously cited, must also be looked at more closely, for he does write and produce philosophy, and therefore reflects. Metaphors and rhythms are often employed by Bergson-the-writer to show that he is referring to the thing-in-itself (rather than representing it) and therefore nodding to another reality beneath the one legislated by his words. Philosophy, like art and the image, is privileged with the ability to go back further than words and therefore the philosopher’s task is to empty out the words and strip back the veil that the writer creates to reveal a true reality. However, this reactivates the correlationist cycle he is trying to break because language is used as a referent for an object it cannot know (if we are deducing or tracing back from language, we can only hope to produce an earlier form of language rather than finding the object or true reality) and philosophy reflects on what humans perceive to be real (human consciousness). This locates a human presence and a mediated reality of images and language.
Poststructuralists continue with Bergson’s late-modern rejection of a transcendental subjective knowledge (prior to experience) but they do not believe in a truer pre-subjective (essentialist) reality outside language. Poststructuralist subjects are constructed through language, within experience, and therefore subjects must be aware of the social forces and powers manipulating their language and construction: patriarchy and capitalism. ??Michel Foucault highlights that subjects are systemic, and exist within an amniotic fluid of capital, habituated by relations of power/subversion (between, parent & child, teacher & student, doctor & patient) and a pleasure drive that wishes to stay within this sado-masochistic cycle. Therefore, severing social relations of power and subversion is the key to redirecting social force and resisting the hegemonic system (consensual law).
‘The mighty aesthetic organism of humanist hegemony, in which all the component parts are ruled and informed by a singular principle, gives ground to a multitude of little individual artifacts, each of them relatively autonomous and self-determining, where what matters is style and techne, the relationship which an individual conducts with himself in a form irreducible to a general universal model… What is gratifying and productive about power, its discipline and dominativeness, is salvaged from political oppressiveness and installed within the self. In this way one can enjoy the gains of hegemony without denying the pleasures of power.’ (Eagleton, 2010, p392)
Foucault perceives that his ideal subject can tap the force of power and use it to their own aesthetic ends, by constantly creating the self. This ideology of the self, as originator of its own self and social image, is similar to Kant’s subject as creator and judge within a community of aesthetic creators and judges. Ironically, Foucault’s constructive theory, by trying to evade social relations, produces a belief in a few subjects (avant-garde) that have a pre-existing (ontological) and therefore transcendental language game, which can locate and redirect the force of power in the system. In Foucault’s social theory subjects are either endowed with an agency outside of the system or the hegemony and homogeneous ideology of the system is actually internalized, atomized, individuated and reiterated within the self.
‘Society is just an assemblage of autonomous self-disciplining agents, with no sense that their self-realization might flourish within bonds of mutuality… what matters is not the mode of conduct one prefers but the ‘intensity’ of that practice, and so an aesthetic rather than ethical criterion.’ (Eagleton, 2010, p393)
If truths are invested in the surface of the self (identity), then emphasis falls on stylizing the self and portraying the best self you can be. Subjects are bound up with an ascetic self-restraint that is meant to epitomize true freedom (healthy mind, body and relationships) and stylization; a freedom of the artifact therefore has a self-imposed law. This again parallels the Kantian solitary moral agent.
‘… his approach consists in taking sexuality as somehow paradigmatic of morality in general – a stance which ironically reduplicates the moral conservative for whom sex would seem to exhaust and epitomize all moral issues.’ (Eagleton, 2010, p394)
Intensity and specificity rather than relativity and relationships, mean that no account can be comparative and morality is specific and stylized. This also, paradoxically, as Foucault asserted we are constructed out of language, installs a theory of construction without communication and language.
Dave Beech, in his response to Peter Suchin’s criticism of his article The Ugly in Art, suggests that differences are real and the production of heterogeneity within a hegemonic system does not need to be reduced to individuals and their properties.
‘To a relativist, the idea of actual synchronic difference is anathema – how can these differences be real when we know that, relativistically, they are all interchangeable? Now, we know there is no ontological ground within persons and things for the values and identities we place on them but it does not follow that there is no ontological ground for ensembles or economies in which these individuals and objects are ascribed values. This means that differences are real – embedded in real relations – without being reduced to individuals and their properties.’ (Beech, Apr 11 | Art Monthly | 345, p17)
Beech highlights that the very relations that poststructuralists abandon, because they are the bonds of the system, might be the real differences we can utilize to establish heterogeneous values. He criticizes the reinstallation of beauty as the sign of the moral or good, as it is an ideological promise that is perpetually broken (a dream of an impossible reconciliation). The operations that value an image of beauty or stylization, which we are instructed to inhabit, are similar to the drive of human-capital: we buy into an image of the perfect subject we cannot achieve, so we continue to buy.
‘What is cherished most in beauty is that it simultaneously allows the educated individual to be a liberal and civilized subject while it makes demands of the dispossessed and alienated to regulate themselves.’ (Beech, Mar 11 | Art Monthly |344, p5)
In response to beauty’s hegemonic and powerful ideological apparatus, Beech advocates the concept of ugliness whilst trying to avoid giving it a style, which would then create another homogeneous doctrine and ideology. However, he does theorize ugly relations as an ontological reality, a concept that Alain Badiou would contradict. Within Badiou’s philosophy the realm of difference and change is that of the subject, not ontology (for the latter is assigned to mathematics).
Badiou tries to break with the poststructuralist focus on stylization (beauty) and their stifling linguistic paradigm, which is based on self-regulation. He agrees with the poststructuralists that there is no stable meaning, being or subject, but, unlike poststructuralists, he states that language is not the way to look at being, rather, ontology is mathematics and subjectivity should be concerned with truths. Truths, which are the concern of subjectivity, are created, through an event that is effervescent and disappears so that it cannot become the overriding state of the situation (doctrine). Therefore, the event requires an intervention (second event), which creates and names the subjectivity that will remain faithful to the first event. The intervention (naming) occurs retroactively, through a labored fidelity to the event and is paradoxical in nature, as it is illegal but also names (the latter being an operation of the state, which is a legalizing force).
‘But since the intervention extracts the supernumerary signifier from the void bordered on by the site, the state law is interrupted. The choice operated by the intervention is a non-choice for the state, and thus for the situation, because no existent rule can specify the unpresented term which is thereby chosen as name for the pure evental ‘there is’. (Badiou, 2007, p2050)
The intervention’s excess is not recognized by the state or the situation in which it occurs and therefore it can interrupt the law without being co-opted by it. In Badiou’s logic, as opposed to Kant’s transcendental idea and reason, truths can be good or evil so there is no hierarchical inversion or stylization of good (beauty) and evil (ugly). There is no totalizing state law for morality, subjectivity or naming.
In Badiou’s account of Pascal’s Christian wager the Scriptures (first event) aren’t decidable before hand; their prophecy is yet to be fulfilled (they are written in stone but not set in stone). The death of Christ (second event) results in a Christian intervention, which names Christ as the Son of God and claims that the prophecies are fulfilled. Christian fidelity to the event is a commitment to a universal truth (truth procedure) for that group but it causes a schism with those religions based on the scriptures (Judaism and Islam), which do not recognize Christ as the Son of God. It is important for Badiou that the event cannot be deduced or proven and therefore be universally accepted and institutionalized. The event and intervention must produce a schism and consequent conflicting truths so that the subjective world escapes being legalized and remains heterogeneous.
‘Let’s say, without proceeding any further, that the miracle – like Mallarme’s chance – is the emblem of the pure event as resource of truth. Its function – to be in excess of proof – pinpoints and factualizes the ground from which their originates both the possibility of believing in truth, and God not being reducible to this pure object of knowledge with which the deist satisfies himself. The miracle is the symbol of an interruption of the law in which the interventional capacity is announced.’ (Badiou, 2007, p216)
To avoid specificity Badiou rejects the poststructuralist concept that a subject is an individual, for his subject and evental form is a generic multiple and therefore cannot be manipulated by the forces of capital that require us to perfect our individual identities (human capital).
Badiou professes that his philosophy should not be a master discourse (list or index), as this would be a problem for his anti-universal philosophy that is against the one-all (total). He therefore relies on a philosophy of logic that is grounded in set theory and the void. In this logic, a set is constructed out of pure multiples and for every multiple there is a void partner (0-0). For Badiou, a crisis in logic would occur if a master catalogue (set) compiled all the sub-catalogues (multiples), let us say of community libraries, that do not have their names in their index and then included its own name in its master index because it would not be in accordance with the logic of the sub-catalogues. The void (the name not listed in the index) and its extended logic are therefore necessary in order to deny the authority of a master list, discourse, style or doctrine.
To conclude with some surmising questions: does Badiou count his philosophy out of intervening in the state law by excluding it from his four forms of subjectivity (which he declares are art, love, politics and science) as he does not list it within them? Does this therefore instate his philosophy as the master discourse on subjectivity, placing it within the realm of ontology, when the latter is meant to be purely mathematical (only concerned with the essential properties of things)? If so, how do we intervene without the name becoming institutionalized as a master discourse? Could we perceive naming or form as a process that produces a rigid designator around which heterogeneous social forces emerge, without it becoming a style or master discourse?
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