Remarks for a Metaphysics of Passages – Part I

Dissonances and Ambivalences

by / 8 July 2022

Here for part II

The mythical gesture is a wave which, in breaking, draws an outline, as
the dice thrown form a number. But in retreating, it increases
in the undertow the unnamed complication, and in the end the mixture,
the disorder, from which a further mythical gesture is born. Thus myth admits of no system.
[…]
Stories never live alone; They are the branches
of a family that we have to trace back, and forward.
– Calasso, The Marriage of Cadmus and Harmony

So far there have been two different tracks or timelines: the one […] in which the future is predictable, a constant progress in which we gradually transform ourselves into our mothers and fathers […]. And then there is the second timeline, the occult track in which this normality is only a faint screen stretched over something bloody and atavic that is rising from the darkness of history to meet us.

Through these words, uttered by the protagonist Seymour Levov, both Philip Roth’s American Pastoral and Gianluca Didino’s essay on the cognitive dissonance within the West. The object is, in both cases, the manifestation of an unexpected threat, an apparent break in the order of time. The cleavage between expectation/reality, utopian/real, normal/pathological would be what produces the dissonance: outside the walls of the dome of the end of history, a stubborn wind blows, sometimes penetrating inside, and collapsing the immense billboards that looked like skyscrapers with shining glass windows, and lifts the impermeable PVC tarpaulins that simulated long, wide highways on which ran light silhouettes of skilfully folded papier-mâché. To discuss the war, Didino and his Roth play with origami: a tranquil and safe landscape, the pastoral horizon of Levov’s domus1, and the persistence of that which, seemingly exiled, perturbs and threatens, embodied by Levov’s daughter, Merry. American Pastoral captures this: that normality, the coziness that follows the norm, is the simulation of change without transformation – becoming our mothers and fathers – and it opposes the “atavistic”, the sighing of the wind and what accompanies it. Seymour’s questions and entreaties cannot be answered by his daughter Merry; she is Odradek, the problema for the father of the family.  

In Filth as Non-technology, Germán Sierra elaborates a reflection on the representational logic of technology as metaphysical prejudice. The issue at stake is the intermingling of organic and inorganic bodies in the post-human ideal of the cyborg. Technology already allows us to no longer be completely dependent on the flesh; we can imagine a near future in which the body’s functions will be performed – better – by artificial apparatuses, not subject to the vagaries of the wind. A future, this one, in which we can imagine that our bodies will be a little more our own, not the victims of microscopic and virulent or crazy and self-replicating subjectivities. Sierra enjoys asking the cyborg questions. My body, he tells, in which you may find familiarity, is affected by everything that is filthy – it is filthy itself, moist and porous, crossed by the world that creates another world in it. Infection produces purulent material; a meal, excretion. Copulation is dirty, damp business. We have learnt to think of our bodies as efficient sets of functions, and of their defeat as disease of the flesh, uncleanliness and rottenness – being the victim of that part of the disgusting matter that sickens the other matter, the healthy and dry and good matter. Your body, my cyborg friend, is composed of more efficient technical apparatuses, you tell me. Our difference seems therefore a difference of degree; my body is also a technical object, but filth infests it, I myself now stand here, and afterwards I’ll be a rotten and putrid and infected heap. Have you overcome, cyborg friend, this filthy hell of our body? 

The filth of the body, says Sierra, is more generally the result of the performance of functions and interactions between functions, both external and internal to the body itself. Technology is in no way safe, nor salvific. Filth is the chemical industrial waste, the polluting emission, the acid that crawls out of the battery and corrodes what it touches. Function corresponds to excretion, which is a world within the world, a horizon that exceeds our ordered view of things. The condition of ecological-climatic emergency in which we live is the result of the sullying of the world by the great technological body. We think of matter in an overly purified way, Sierra warns: our concepts are billboards that act as a façade, and which, far from effectively representing the totality of the object, conceal its subterranean swarming. Underneath, behind, the other face of the real is the putrescent that does not care about representations. We extract the form as if from a dark background, and we smooth it out and take care that it does not corrupt with the amorphous from which we have extracted it. The cyborg watches Sierra in silence; yet another experiment in bricolage. How can we think about things without considering their excess – their becoming-other? 

Few objects retain such a central role in contemporary thinking as the body. Transhumanism and posthumanism exist as a function of an elaboration of the image of the body in the intertwining with what is technological, inhuman, non-human – other guises of corporality, other forms. These images do not only address the future but often an eternal present: rethinking the human beyond itself, rediscovering it, reconstructing it. Image, form: conceptual artifacts, surfaces illuminated by bright lights. Where the light is the strongest, the shadow is the blackest. If we were to erase all at once the abstract constraints that make up the worlds in our image, David Roden suggests2, and if we were to imagine that “layer by layer, concept by concept” the forms of which these worlds are composed vanished, the residue would not be another world. It would be an encounter with an inaccessible memory, with a resistance that is “unrecognisable and unconceptualisable”. Filth is a form of it – a dis-formed form (à la Lautréamont3), an absent presence. An alchemical and oracular dimension that neutralises any affirmative claim of theory. No philosophy can move towards that opaque horizon – the Laurellian real – without suffering perennial ostracisation with no possibility of recourse. The body thus remains suspended between insufficient images and projections of itself, ghosts whose flesh rots in the future.

Filth is dissonance, and dissonance is given in time and from time. Filth is a specter with a peculiar nature; it always remains active, caught between censored virtuality and irrepressible actuality. It is the specter that perpetually threatens to swallow up other spirits, like No-Face in Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away. One of the victims: the (future of) the body. What is at work in the theoresis that assembles the “human-inhuman” object, and attempts to make subtractions from the human in order to extract – hopefully, perhaps, if it succeeds – a new section of plane, many levels below, on which to be reborn? The attempt to recompose time. And that means: the attempt to free the passage. Which is already in place, which is already virtual, because passages only manifest themselves when one is already passing. And by moving, by crossing, by leaving one place to seek another – perhaps because what one leaves behind no longer exists, and one does not know what exists elsewhere – one always runs the risk of losing oneself, of disintegrating, of becoming filthy. Filth, pharmakòn: memory of passages and, in them, threat. How many passages have there been? What has happened in that time of pure reeled life? Where theories fail, where cyborgs and brains in tanks and Avatars and Terminators dance without a stage, the real is articulated in the passage. And each passage is a practical dimension, it is the where and the when in which one cannot but proceed, or disintegrate.

***

Symbolic exchange is for Baudrillard the nostalgic horizon towards which it would be right to strive, away from the tangle of capital’s structures. Symbolic exchange means this: to exhaust libidinal resources in an economy of gift and counter-gift that takes care of the preservation of the commodity-object, which is thus no longer a commodity, but neither is it an object: it is a semantic and symbolic horizon, a space of justice for the powers of desire4. Even Marx, for Baudrillard, is guilty of reiterating a logic of production and value, which thus subordinates personal relationships to the product of labour as useful, and to the desire always deferred. The useful is still an imperialist category and a terrible censor – Bataille is peremptory. It is precisely in the tension produced by the nostalgia for something lost, the time of the good savage, of the domus, that Lyotard, however, discerns a dreamy wandering of Baudrillard: in primitive societies there is no mode of production, or production… in primitive societies there is no unconscious…? Indeed it is, Lyotard replies: there are no primitive societies5

The use of money, in 6th century B.C. Greece, spreads incredibly fast. The first coins are found in the Artemision6 in Athens, the temple of the goddess of the hunt, “the wildest of all Hellenic gods”7. What is the secret of currency? The birth of societies and bonds between individuals was based on the economy of gift and counter-gift, the basis of association, moral and symbolic obligation. The ability to reciprocate the gift governs the degree of relationship between people. Wealth is volume, the ability to offer more than one receives, and in this there is also power. Every gift takes on a value, and in that value is the surplus that puts it in relation to the other objects in the exchange. If this were not so, no hierarchy would ever be established. The Alcmeonides, an inauspicious race since they killed the tyrant Cilon on the sacred ground of the Acropolis, never lost the character of aristoi. Symbols interest the gods; we make use of the fruits of the earth. The gift changes the nature of the given object, which becomes a symbol of a crystallised relationship. What to do with the object? It is sacred, it can no longer be touched. Giving an ox to Artemis, goddess of the hunt, meant extracting the animal from the realm of the living and granting it to the universe of signs. It is no longer meat, the ox: it is ether. On the coin, the figure of the ox can be represented, and it can be granted to the goddess as a sign, a representation of an animal that we will use to plough the earth, and then return upon its death. Meanwhile, here is the metal, and the effigy of the animal, your son, your prey. Currency is only a sophistication; in the mind, every object is already exchanged for its name, and its name for its image, and the image for a model. The mind is already a market.

According to Thomas Kuhn, the ways of knowing the world can be represented on the two sides of a coin8. The relationship between objects, enclosed in a world-in-itself, and the symbols that refer to them produces no hierarchy; linguistic knowledge, learned and passed on, and knowledge of nature are inextricably intertwined. They are “two sides of the same coin that language produces”9 in a given context.  Scientific research is constructed on the basis of the resistance that the world opposes to our interpretation, in the interplay between language and nature. From that resistance, different visions, the paradigms, are generated. As John Tresch acknowledges, Kuhn’s theory of paradigms is particularly effective not only for the analysis of scientific knowledge, but also for anthropology and history10: how far can an individual belonging to a certain worldview go to describe paradigms that differ from his own, and enter into dialogue with them? Tresch’s answer has something of the scandalous: the incommensurability of the different phenomenal worlds obliges the historian to recognise “that she is condemned to write a history that is ethnocentric or based on his present”11, and that “any claim by the historian to have entered the phenomenal world of those he studies is simply false”12. For the anthropologist, on the other hand, the possibility of real study of different worldviews is limited to its contemporaneity, and the need to immerse oneself completely in the context of study (go native13). Between the paradigms that inform different phenomenal worlds in different contexts, there is no solution of continuity, and none of them is reducible to the other; they are alive, and only as long as they remain alive can they be experienced. According to Tresch, this experience is precisely defined as doubled consciousness14; the scholar, in immersing himself in another world, experiences it as much as he experiences his own. Each paradigm is, therefore, a form of structuring consciousness. When a paradigm disappears, a world vanishes.

What is the past? “In the political, and therefore sociological and ethnological thought of the West, from Plato in the Timaeus who goes in search of the repositories of his Atlantic utopia among the ancient Egyptian savages, to the socio-economic thought of Marx, there is, constantly, a reference to a rebellious, forgotten, foreclosed good nature”15. The past is a struggle between the lost and the necessary. In the past, one seeks redemption from evil, or the latter’s origin. Lyotard ardently fights Baudrillard’s nostalgia and redemption. Rewriting history, as Marx, Nietzsche, and even Baudrillard do, one only repeats, shifting the axis of support. Something will be purified, something else sullied – purify: to make a form stand out from a background. When, in the Renaissance, the exponents of the new culture attempted to define themselves and their present as a split from the Medieval “dark ages”, the revolution that emerged was a recovery of classical antiquity – and, therefore, anything but a revolution. The Middle Ages seemed to disappear for a long time, surviving embedded in the boundless surface of the manuscripts of the amanuenses. Thanks to them, antiquity, through which the new world would break with its proximal obscurity, had continued to exist. The same was true for the French Revolution, understood as the return of Romanity: “for Robespierre, ancient Rome was a past charged with actuality”16. The paradox of caesuras.

Every strategy of escape from a given horizon is reabsorbed within the wider field of the device of which it is part. A philosophy is rewritten, but the philosophical as a device remains fully operational, and with it the hierarchy of its structures. This discourse shares with Laruelle the detection of a hidden machinery that precedes every formulation, and that neutralises, within its structure, every escape. Lyotard writes: 

Remembering, one still wants too much. One wants to get hold of the past, grasp what has gone away, master, exhibit the initial crime, the lost crime of the origin, show it as such as though it could be disentangled from its affective context, the connotations of fault, of shame, of pride, of anguish in which we are still plunged at present, and which are precisely what motivate the idea of an origin. 17

To disown necessarily means to objectify what one has been, reminding oneself – through memories that are not one’s own, but are grafted onto and guided by the structure that is already present before one’s coming into the world, and which is therefore present for ever, eternal. Or until one reveals its vulnerability, its filthiness, its inability to accommodate everything in itself. Lyotard notes: Freud differentiates remembrance, Erinnerung, from reworking, Durcharbeitung18. Yuk Hui, in trying to define a solution to the danger of the totalisation of technological reason, states that it is necessary, as Lyotard says, to carry out a Durcharbeitung on such logos, in order to manifest its local and historical character, and allow other cosmotechnics19 to regain space and legitimacy. As theorised by Freud, this reworking operates as follows: the patient must be enabled to speak about his condition in total freedom, in an almost passive manner – by letting his unconscious speak – so as to allow the analyst, in this flow of arguments and words, to intuit the image that emerges, to capture the forms that are revealed in the patient’s thinking. This modality of analysis represents the maximum objectification of the patient, and at the same time the subjectification of his unconscious and affective world: it is the latter that speaks and shows itself, describing itself to all intents and purposes. Durcharbeitung is superior to any kind of remembrance precisely because in remembering – in actively seeking the origins – one is always subjugated to the device whose contours one seeks. In remembering, in wanting to remember, it is still the structure – the paradigm, the form – that acts, but disguised in the vigilant consciousness. Yuk Hui, with arguments that are in some ways similar to the discourse of psychological decolonisation that Fanon constructs in Black Skin, White Masks, hopes that through such an operation of disavowal-recognition of “Western thought” it will be possible not only to neutralise it, but also to bring back to life all the cosmotechnics it undermines, and to bring forth a pluralism of interpretations of the world. 

***

The tragic nature within Greek civilisation has in the concept of law its most specific manifestation. For the Hellenes – for the set of clans and tribes that slowly give birth to the poleisnomos very soon becomes as much a necessity as an obsession. At stake is the smooth functioning of the social structure. The greatness of Solon of Athens was that he developed a very specific body of written and public laws, useful in dissolving the tensions that were forming in the polis between landowners and indebted peasants. Solon also wrote poetry20, and that poetry is for us a gift: an anamnesis of a Greek, legislator, tragedian. In those pages, thoughts about the city alternate with angry metrics railing against the ignorance of men and the indifference of the gods to evil. In Solon, as in Greek man in general, there persists a tragic anxiety about the inability to reconcile the order of the divine world and the unpredictability and injustice of the world of men. Plato wrote about “how much the nature of necessity and the nature of the good differ indeed”. Everything that works in civil society must do so for us, so that blood does not flow between citizens. When Thucydides speaks of phobos21, he is discussing the fear of violence, of the breaking of bonds – between us and strangers, and between us and our comrades, our fathers, our sons: it is the fear of the malfunctioning of social technology. The formless river of blood that violence continually threatens is for the Greeks the greatest anguish; they attempt to exile it – beyond the walls of the city, beyond the boundaries of the polis – but they are aware that every psyché is always threatened by the incursion of panic spirits: order is like a rope in perpetual tension that keeps the structure suspended over a chasm. Thucydides tells of the Peloponnesian War because he knows that what he saw was the breaking of the rope. The Greek spirit is far from the courtly images that imbue romantic fantasies; it is a society that experiments with technology to survive, and that recognises the formless density of evil. 

René Girard makes violence the founding cause of the social order, describing the character of the latter as a technology of exorcisation: violence is the antagonist that unites, that sets powers in motion in a common effort. From the original violence comes the sacred, because it is violence itself that is the object of the sacred, caged and managed through ritual, narrated through myth, controlled and purged through sacrifice. The human world was founded on rituals. The modern one, opposes Calasso, on the contrary is founded on procedures: “ritual aims toward perfect awareness, […] procedures, on the other hand, point toward total automatism”22. Figures of an ordeal of consciousness in which the latter is Christ, and Pilate. 

Sacer-facere, to-make-sacred – to slaughter the beast that allows its blood to stain the stone and its moss, so that the blood that is shed is not ours. The animal – when it is already an animal – is a faithful friend: it takes pain into itself, feeds us and defends us. But the beast can also be a man. There was at least a time when the question of the difference between animal and man, participants in a common becoming, in a metamorphosis that admitted no boundaries, was not asked. The gods, in order to possess humans in coitus, transformed themselves into bulls or eagles or deer, or even bears. Reminiscences of an earlier era. When Hecataeus of Miletus, the first rationalist historian, attempts to put order amongst the “many and ridiculous”23 Greek myths to try to extract a history and a verisimilar origin from them, he decides this: that the symbol is nothing, just an excretion of the imagination. War between paradigms, and between contexts. 

Simondon describes the displacement that proceeds from the “magic phase”, in which figure and background are one, and every entity is also every other, as the splitting of magic into sacrality and technicality24. First steps in the definition of subjectivity. The sacred is that world which is accomplished, which is contemplated and embraced as accomplished – by another subjectivity, which is the true subjectivity, the god. The technical is the operable space of the world; that which can be realised, still constructed, defined. Violence, for Girard, is in the sacred, and is in fact that which in the world is irreducible, that which in the cosmos is accomplished in itself: technique arrives as the construction of a space in which violence has no place – forms replace the amorphous, excess is expelled – or sacrificed. Yet the mythological birth of Greekness – and of Athens – is studded with suicides and sacrifices, mainly of women: the daughters of kings Cecrops and Erechtheus, then Iphigenia, Ariadne, Antigones. Tragedy is precisely this: to note, time and time again, that things always overflow from their contours, that no figure completely captures what it represents. On the other side of the known world, in the Vedas, it was written: the world is the residue.

Sacred derives from a Latin word with an ambivalent meaning; sacer also means cursed, and Agamben explains that this depends on the idea, present in Roman law, that homo sacer is the individual who has committed a crime against the god or socius: he is “consecrated to divinity”, to the fury and violence of his will25. The homo sacer is made sacred, and in this he is cursed and exiled – he is given over to what the sacred contains: the fury of the amorphous in which everything is everything else. In becoming sacred, the purified and pure (hagnós) figure of man is rejected into the background, and dissolves. He returns to the realm without nomos. Every sacrifice is an act of purification, katharsis. From what? From what one constitutively is, before purifying oneself. The sacrificial rite is extraction; only in this sense can it be softened in the theatrical performance, which is cathartic for this reason. Letting the world happen on stage, without it actually happening: this is what Aristotle means. For the Greeks, sacredness is also ambivalent and complex: if hieros indicates divinity, hagios expresses at the same time, as sacer, the numinous and the corrupt26. Latin does not keep two terms to differentiate what is sacred by inner quality, divine, and what is sacred by separation (hagios, hagnós)27. In separation, violence is always involved. 

The filth Sierra talks about is sacred – it is part of the sacredness of the world. Like the violence whose fury the Greeks fear, filth infiltrates the flesh because it is in the flesh, it is a possible condition, a state of potential matter that corrupts, sickens, curses – it leaves the body in the hands of the gods, and of Ananke before them. What exceeds the ordered forms always risks regaining their singularity. The separation is never total; filth, violence – which is not an object that can take a form, for the mind, but is the absence of form, is predicate, violence that belongs to something that is never given, since it is in the continuous act of slipping away from every grasp. Of filth and violence one would never lose track, otherwise the whole world would be lost. That is why, Frazer sees28, every ritual cannot fail to refer to purification, to reaffirm separation, to refine it. In filth, the animal, the man, and the technical instrument are the same thing. 

***

“In Greece, a god is born from an exhilarating glimpse of life, of a piece of life, that one wants to stop”29. This is how Giorgio Colli describes the genesis of the divine in the story of the hellenes. Divinity is the form that emerges from the trepidation of metamorphosis, and indeed the god retains the ability to assume many forms, without fear of losing himself in the act. The god is an arrow that shoots down. Colli adds that this image of immense scope – the eye that stops life – “is already knowledge”30. It is knowledge: only what is fixed in the background can be analysed. But it is already knowledge because if “Apollo is the god of wisdom, in an explicit and peaceful way, […] a god ‘who acts from afar’, [and] his wisdom is not that which he transfers outside, for he possesses ‘the glance that knows all things’, while the wisdom he grants is made up of words”31, there is before him his brother, Dionysus. Of him Colli writes: “Dionysus is born from a glimpse into all life […], this is the tracotance of knowing: in living, one is inside a certain life, but wanting to be inside all life together. […] Dionysus is the impossible, the absurd that proves true in his presence”32. What divides the two brothers is the distance from which they observe things. Apollo, the result of a gaze-that-stops, is himself a gaze: he is external and foreign, untouched by metamorphosis. Dionysus, on the other hand, is the unobservable totality that has no way of distancing itself because it is itself part of a perennial movement. A pupil that cannot rest: this is the wisdom of the inebriated god.

When Kuhn expounds his idea of interaction between individuals from different scientific backgrounds33, he asserts a substantial incommensurability between paradigms: “two different groups, the members of which have systematically different sensations when they receive the same stimulus, inhabit in a sense different worlds”34. In studying scientific paradigms, Tresch notes, Kuhn goes so far as to observe embodied consciousness in its specific and local life. As mentioned above, Kuhn’s reflection is perfectly applicable to anthropological studies; in general, the theory of incommensurable paradigms is more broadly a theory of contextual development. In the interweaving of representational knowledge and the experience of “the resistance that the world applies to representation”35, a worldview is formed. Incommensurability does not mean incommunicability: it is precisely the going native mode of access of one consciousness, embedded in its context, into another – Tresch describes this precisely as a splitting. Only a living context allows interaction; what is lost in time can only be represented and interpreted according to one’s own schemata. In this view of the relationship between consciousness and the world in context, however, the question emerges of what it means for a consciousness to split itself, that is, what it means to experience one’s own paradigm as a paradigm, and one’s own world as a world. Kuhn’s fundamental observation: every paradigm is always insufficient and limited to grasp the totality of reality.

Modernity has often been defined as the horizon in which signs have replaced the real as simulacra, horizon of semiotic nihilism36, where the grand illusions of metaphysics have triumphed over life, and where a form of thought has encapsulated being in a totalising structure of understanding – the techno-logos. In Baudrillard, the triumph of simulacra is best expressed by hyperreality: the replacement of objects by signs. Modern nihilism is a gnoseological question: “to place human knowledge exclusively at the level of language, symbols, or other forms of representation is to devalue the coin”37, the other side of which is, according to Kuhn, the world-in-itself of nature. In representation, which is the eminent form of purification, the sacred nature of separation is lost – the gaze that rests on metamorphosis, and stops it. The question Sierra poses is defined precisely at this level: theorising the future through images as if they were immovable objects, produced by an immovable object. In our visions are us, and in us are our worlds, which are but vulnerable and limited sections of the real. Filth is the voice of a real that never lets itself be stopped by the gaze. 

Nietzsche places the responsibility for the end of the golden age of Attic tragedy, the one in which the balance between Dionysian and Apollonian allowed for a balanced experience of metamorphosis and knowledge, on the Socratic rationality, the ultimate extrusion of the philosophical device. Socrates turns out to be the standard-bearer of a new god, the greater Hermes, as Laruelle calls him: the face of a machinery that splits, orders, and universalises. The machinery in which the truth of the real appears as manifest and accessible content, and whereby this truth shows itself as communicable. Dionysus disappears, his immersion in the world becomes superfluous, but Apollo, too, suffers the backlash; to his wisdom, enclosed in him, Hermes rebels – if truth exists, it must be completely expressible and must place itself at the level of language. The language that Apollo offered to man as a warning: to you, beast, I give my word, to remind you that truth is only for the god. The sacredness was the warning and the memory of the warning. To inhabit a world that has separated itself from the amorphous; to remember that it rests on a slime that continues to swarm. The consciousness of the ancients was born split – and vigilant.

***

Primo Levi asked: Why does the memory of evil fail to change humanity? What is the point of memory? The problem Didino poses around the cognitive dissonance of which the West is a victim, the same problem Levov enunciates in the metaphor of the two tracks running parallel, normality and its double, never refers to the question of memory. The usefulness of history is recognised by Thucydides primarily in its mnemonic function, in the transmission of facts38, in the knowledge of those facts and in making sense of them. The question of history always remains open; collective memory is not individual memory, it does not have the same affective efficiency. The bloody and atavistic something of Levov’s, which chases us by concealing itself in the confines of normality, takes on the shapeless features of Sierra’s filth; both share a false alienation – Sierra does recognise: we are talking about something that constitutes the real, and that we try to manage by censoring and alienating it. History is a mnemotechnics, but it is also the communicative art of embalming, Hermes as taxidermist.

Historical science is born as technology. From Herodotus’ theatrical but conform narrative of events, to Thucydides’ obsession with the useful. History must be useful, otherwise it is nothing; useful to remember the events and facts of when what we built, the bonds and institutions and economics and relationships between us, came to an end, so that we can avoid it in the future. The Greeks narrate because in every tale, the question of Greek man emerges; the great quarrels, the famous dialogues, the heroes and journeys and conflicts, are spaces in which the Hellenes observe themselves: who are we? But if in myth the origins are always presented as missing – they are therefore never explained, but arranged as axioms –, history takes on an eminently positivist character. Only what is visible and objective is real: an origin that does not unfold is worthless. The gaze, which observes its object, claims to study its contours, claims its immobility. Apollo secretly hates men; of his knowledge he offers only words, and words – Thucydides knows it, Lyotard knows it, Kuhn knows it… – are not enough for memory. The origin is always missing, because missing is the possibility of immersing oneself in it. When the gaze is sure of having grasped an origin, it is but the victim of pareidolia. From the restrained form, the background can detach itself – and carry on. Collapsing consciousness onto objects: this is how dissonances are born.

Even the one who goes on bearing witness, and witness to what is condemned, it’s that she isn’t condemned, and that she survives the extermination of suffering. That she hasn’t suffered enough, as when the suffering of having to inscribe what cannot be inscribed without a remainder is of itself the only grave witnessing. […] Attested, suffering and the untameable are as if already destroyed. I mean that in witnessing, one also exterminates. The witness is a traitor. 39

Sierra’s filth cannot simply be integrated into a technological operation. It is the rejection of the geometrialisation of matter, it is what always exceeds the emergence of forms, it is the amorphous that precedes forms and then reappears dripping from the edges, and it is an inextensive reminder, the warning of the precariousness, and arbitrariness, of separation. It is constitutive and intrinsic; it is not to be waged war against or treated as a new wasteland to be conquered, a realm to be geometrized and purified. The elaboration of the sacred through ritual technologies had a task of exorcising that excess which always threatened to reappear (Girard) – but to exorcise it is necessary to consider something as real, one must observe it, contemplate its existence, remember it. Every purification contains defilement as its opposite, but not only as a residue: defilement is more original than purification, and exceeds it in this origin. Every origin is always deferred, always poured into metamorphosis. One must, in the sacred, retain the nefarious in its constitutive elusiveness. In their section of the cosmos, the gods do not possess a specific form. 

The admixture of biological body and technological body holds “man” still, who appears to be nothing more than an observer – a software capable of easily changing hardware. Such admixture, Sierra warns, fails in thinking images, mistaken for objects of the world. It thinks fallacious identities and fictitious differences, always gathered under the aegis of a common background that appeases the world, god of womb and slumber. Bodily functions and technical functions, the body and its apparatuses, the system and its apparatuses, the prosthesis and the limb, the prosthesis is the limb. Thinking metamorphosis: distrusting motionless figures in a metamorphous landscape. 

In the sacred coexist the holy and the nefarious. Ritual is not explanation, but maintenance; for it to be effective, opposites must appear, and they must do so together. Myth, likewise, reveals nothing of the world: it narrates. Ritual and myth manifest the invisible. The gaze rests on what it does not see, for nothing that is seen is still. In the sacred, the gaze observes consciousness. What consciousness was that which observed itself? How much of the invisible has survived the death of the sacred? Light spreads in every direction, and everything that is illuminated appears, and what is not illuminated does not exist. In the world without consciousness, everything is visible. 

  1. An idea of domesticity which “is over, and probably it never existed, except as a dream of the old child awakening and destroying it on awakening.” (Lyotard, The Inhuman, tr. G. Bannington, R. Bowly, Stanford University Press, Stanford, 1991, p. 201)
  2. “Strip away the artificial constrains that make the world in our image, layer by layer, concept by concept. What remains, as in destruction, is something other than a world, and perhaps something more or less than philosophy, but an encounter with a reminder or non-meaning that philosophy cannot recognize or conceptualize” (D. Roden, “Disconnection at the Limit”, in Symposia Melitensia, 2018 (N. 14), 26)
  3. See G. Sierra, “Filth as Non-technology”, in Keep it Dirty, vol. a., 2016, p. 1; p. 4
  4. J. Baudrillard, L’échange symbolique et la mort, Gallimard, Paris, 2017, pp. 34-56.; See also G. Genosko, Baudrillard and Signs, Routledge, London, 1994
  5. J. Lyotard, Libidinal Economy, tr. I. H. Grant, Bloomsbury, London, 2015, pp. 213-214
  6. See D. Kagan, “The Dates of the Earliest Coins”, in American Journal of Archaeology, Vol. 86 (3), 1982
  7. L. R. Farnell, The Cults of the Greek States, Cambridge University Press, London, 2010, p. 245
  8. “What are scientific revolutions?” In The probabilistic revolution, ed. L. Krüger, L. J. Daston, and M. Heidelberger, MIT Press, Cambridge, 1987, p. 28
  9. idem
  10. J. Tresch, “On Going Native: Thomas Kuhn and Anthropological Method”, in Philosophy of the Social Sciences 31; 302, 2001
  11. ivi p. 314
  12. ivi, p. 317
  13. “To translate a theory or worldview into one’s own language is not to make it one’s own. For that one must go native, discover that one is thinking and working in, not simply translating out of, a language that was previously foreign”. (Kuhn, The structure of scientific revolutions, University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1970, p. 204)
  14. Tresch, op. cit., 2001, p. 315
  15. Lyotard, op. cit., 2015, pp. 121-122
  16. W. Benjamin, Theses on the Philosophy of History, thesis n. 14
  17. Lyotard, op. cit., 1991, p. 29
  18. ivi, 28-31
  19. See Yuk Hui, The Question Concerning Technology in China: An Essay in Cosmotechnics, Urbanomic, London, 2016. Yuk Hui describes cosmotechnics as the “unification of cosmic order and moral order through technical activities”, a notion that “immediately offers a conceptual tool to overcome the conventional opposition between technique and nature, and to understand how the task of philosophy is to seek and affirm the organic unity of the two.” (p.23-26)
  20. Solone, Frammenti dell’opera poetica, Testo greco a fronte, tr. M. Noussia, M. Fantuzzi, Rizzoli, Milano, 2001
  21. Thucydides, VII, 64-1, 72-2
  22. R. Calasso, L’innominabile attuale, Adelphi, Milano, 2017, p. 27 (The Unnamable Present, tr. R. Dixon, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2019)
  23. “Eκαταῖος Μιλήσιος ὧδε μυθεῖται. Τάδε γράφω, ὥς μοι δοκεῖ ἀληθέα εἶναι· οἱ γὰρ Ἑλλήνων λόγοι πολλοί τε καὶ γελοῖοι, ὡς ἐμοὶ φαίνονται, εἰσίν.” (Hecataeus of Miletus thus relates. I write these things as I believe them to be true: for the accounts of the Greeks are many and, as is evident to me, ridiculous). FGrHist 1, F 1 J.
  24. G. Simondon, Du mode d’existence des objets techniques, éditions Aubier, Paris, 1958, pp. 201-215; A. Bardin, Epistemology and Political Philosophy in Gilbert Simondon, Springer, 2016, 211-230
  25. See Introduction to G. Agamben, Il potere sovrano e la nuda vita. Homo sacer, Einaudi, Torino, 2005 (Homo Sacer, Stanford University Press, 1998)
  26. In particular, it is used in this sense by the Athenian playwright Cratinus, 5th century BC. C., fr. 373.  Eustatius of Thessalonica, Eust. 1356.59, 12th century AD, translates hagios with nefarious in his Commentarii ad Homeri Iliadem et Odysseam
  27. M. Morani, “Lat. sacer e il rapporto uomo-dio nel lessico religioso latino”, Aevum, Anno LV (1981), pp. 30-46
  28. J. G. Frazer, The Golden Bough, Papermac, London, 1990, pp. 487-491
  29. G. Colli, La sapienza greca, Adelphi, Milano, 1977, p. 15
  30. idem
  31. ivi, p. 23
  32. ivi, pp. 24-25
  33. “To translate a theory or worldview into one’s own language is not to make it one’s own. For that one must go native, discover that one is thinking and working in, not simply translating out of, a language that was previously foreign”. (1970, 204)
  34. Kuhn, op. cit., 1970, p. 193
  35. Tresch, op. cit., 2001, p. 306
  36. A. Woodward, Lyotard and the Inhuman Condition, Edinburgh University Press, Edinburgh, 2016, pp. 42-70
  37. Tresch, op. cit., 2001, p. 317
  38. Thucydides, incipit to Perí toû Peloponnēsíou polémou, Book I
  39. Lyotard, op. cit., 1991, p. 204
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