“You Should Be Happy To Be Alive”, Says the Master to the Slave. Pandemic Biopolitics in 2020.

In 2020, a pandemic shook the earth across nations and continents, inducing a heavy human, economic and psychological cost. The core of the crisis was not principally an issue of statistics, logistics, or even physical health: the essence of the 2020 pandemic disorder was humanity’s deficiency in political and philosophical health.

Philosophical thinking, in its various global forms, seems to have been a feature of the human species for less than three thousand years. This, in evolutionary terms, is so recent that we may be led to think that philosophical thinking is not hardwired to the human brain, in the way competitive or emotional thinking is. The idea of human flourishing is closely tied to the invention of philosophy. It seems to be related to a moment were humanity starts aspiring to free itself from fear, war, religion or mental servitude. With philosophical thinking and its ideal of human flourishing, humanity becomes not only preoccupied about survival on earth and paradise after death: philosophy’s gift to humanity is the idea of paradise on earth – a earthly good life must be possible if we organise it as republic, said Plato.

Later on, philosophers like Confucius, Spinoza or Nietzsche, among many others, would insist that philosophy could help us to realise a joyful, meaningful and fulfilling political life on our planet. There can be no mature politics without philosophy. Yet, the planet in 2020 is still widely a place of immaturity. Many politicians over the world used the 2020 pandemic as a means to control and continue to infantilise the populations.

In 2020, the Western World, up to know less and less inclined in its practices to value the existence and human utility of the elderly, was apparently caught in a wave of gerontophilia. “We must save the physical lives of the old and weak at all cost” became the suspicious slogan of those who were ready, because of their lack of long-term vision and their will-to-power, to jeopardise the economical and psychological equilibrium of millions of existences, as if the economy and the capital where not central, in our late-capitalist human interactions.

The young slave asks: “Does humanism mean spending the longest possible time on earth, even if that time is sad, undignified and with poor creative possibilities?” “You should be happy to be alive” is the sentence the master tells the young slave. Adding: “And you will stay alive if you obey and comply. We know what is good for you.”

Such is the crisis in philosophical health, and such is the solution: a healthy human life should never be measured quantitatively in terms of mere physical longevity. It should be preferable to die young than to accept to live a life of mere biological survival, anxious competition and lack of freedom to decide and do what is good for us, singularly and for our communities. Paradises on earth (notice the plural) is the mission of philosophy – politics, economy or technology should be nothing but its pragmatic tools.

Now, in the middle of the 2020 global abuse of biopolitics, a term Foucault used to describe the quasi-totalitarian administration and regulation of human and non-human life at the levels of the population and the individual body, we can now say that one dispositive enabled the citizens to cope and remain patient: digital tools of communication. But perhaps these very same tools, when used as means of divertissement, prevented many from rebelling against the restrictions of our freedom to self-determine?

The question then is: once our digital interactions will be augmented by artificial intelligence in a Politix 2.0 world, will they allow us to pursue the philosophical project of paradise on earth or will they improve Plato’s cave of illusions to a level of veracity such that we, as Nietzsche’s last man, when told about a better life under the real sun of truth, will smile, blink, turn our eyes back to our artificial screens in a whisper of satisfaction: “My life feels mediocre deep inside. My way of life might be destructive of the future of humanity. But hey!, I should be happy to be alive!”

Awakening Your Inner Philosopher

Birds are singing outside in the garden, perched on trees. I close my eyes and listen to one of them chirping. There is a silence, then a high-pitched chitter composed of a facetious signature of notes, then silence again. Then a similar musical coding repeats. As I focus, the sound seems to be now located in my head. Yet I know that I did not produce it, or only partially. My surroundings are a patchwork of sounds. The more I can name and identify them, the more I hear them distinctly; for example, the normally subconscious droning of the heating unit in the basement, the exinterior of a car passing by, a raven croaking, and my fingers typing on the computer’s keyboard, the latter being marketed as “Magic” by the brand that designed it. I previously heard most of these sounds on uncounted occasions, yet, when I pay attention, they have a freshness to them, a presentness that seems to be proportional to my focus. Other sounds still don’t reach my consciousness and remain subliminal.

Now, as you read these lines, surrender to the sounds around you as if for the first time. And listen to your voice echoing my voice and asking: what is your first philosophy?

According to the Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy, First Philosophy is:

In Aristotle’s Metaphysics, the study of being, or being in itself. In Descartes’s Meditations on First Philosophy, the topics include skepticism, the existence of God, and the nature of the soul. The idea that the methods of philosophy should be continuous with those of science, or that there is no “privileged” philosophical perspective on other disciplines, is frequently expressed as hostility to first philosophy.[1]

First Philosophy, or Prima Philosophia in Latin, deals with the simple origin of all there is, endeavouring to expose a first principle of ultimate foundation and its relationship with the beings in the world, for example Spirit in Hegelian dialectics or the I Think in Descartes, the Loved Prime Mover in Aristotle or Being in Heidegger. First Philosophy means a discipline of standing by the source, of meditation on the primordial emotion of being, and listening to your self as cosmic soul, in the present, past and future.

In his written meditations, Descartes is almost never quoting or only implicitly, he is journeying alone, in brave equilibrium between his mind and all there is, without cowardly artefacts like drugs or dogmas. But of course the elimination of references and influences is a myth and in Descartes’s case a self-fulfilling philosophy. No wonder that he discovered himself to be a solipsistic cogito! If you pretend to eliminate all influences when you think, you will believe that you think only when you are by yourself, absolutely detached. I find this to be only partly true.

It is foolish to pretend that we are thinking alone: the Creal (the creative universe), the world, language, culture, past readings, are thinking through us. What we think is a spontaneous thought might be enmeshed in a network of influences. This is why I believe in a balance between personal impressions, a subjective enquiry, and a reasonable amount of erudition.

What justifies my method? It remains subjective while aiming at truth. It believes in creativity while respecting tradition. I am not interested in developping a gray analytic theory in which my joy, my wonder, my embodied ecstasy would not be included. Until now, physicists or scientists mostly managed to describe the world mathematically by bracketing all that is not measurable, all that is not matter, and some would say, all that matters – such as life, love, creation, faith, fervour, joy, play, the active experience of being in the world. First philosophy should be spiritual in the sense proposed by Foucault in his seminar on the Ancient Greek tradition of philosophy a care for the self as well as for truth. Access to a rich and liveable truth must be holistic, embodied, partly subjective, an ethical, not just epistemological, practice, as Nietzsche also recommended. One must listen to evidence, to the world, to the birds, and also to oneself, while being conscious that knowledge is also invention. Foucault writes in The Hermeneutics of the Subject:

Good philosophical listening involves a necessary work of attention, of a double and forked attention. On the one hand looking towards the pragma, towards a specifically philosophical signification in which assertion is equivalent to prescription. And then, on the other, a looking at ourselves in which, memorizing what we have heard, we see it embedding itself and gradually becoming subject in the soul that listens. The soul that listens must keep watch on itself. In paying proper attention to what it ears it pays attention to what it hears as signification, as pragma. It also pays attention to itself so that, through this listening and memory, the true thing gradually becomes the discourse that it clutches to itself. This is the first point of this subjectivation of true discourse.[2]

We can establish the following: contrary to most analytical descriptions of the world, who pretend to be objective and neutral, a crealectical description consciously engages the observer or the listener. Yet, crealectics is not a postmodern discourse about the confusion of relativism and the impossibility of grand shared narratives (the Creal is itself an intersubjective narrative). Here it is worth remembering Lyotard’s influential text on postmodernism, in which he claims that we have lost our credulity toward metanarratives:

I will use the term modern to designate any science that legitimates itself with reference to a metadiscourse of this kind making an explicit appeal to some grand narrative, such as the dialectics of Spirit, the her­meneutics of meaning, the emancipation of the rational or working subject, or the creation of wealth.[3]

A first philosophy starts with a grateful belief, an immanent (subjective) and transcendent (objective) first ontological principle. We need credos and mottos against the weakened incredulity of those who, for lack of integrity, get infected by the viruses, fears and infatuations of the masses. I have explained elsewhere, in my book on Lacan[4] and in a chapter on the concept of Creal,[5] that I am convinced that we cannot live without an absolute, without a belief, without a motto. No matter how much we try, we cannot be full nihilists, so those who believe they are agnostic are lying to themselves and probably believe in Competition, Survival of the Fittest, Happiness, Love, Money or some other unexamined truth. We always follow some form of divinity and worship because in the end we are all dreaming of a paradise on earth (even the Marxists did so). But dreams, as Freud proposed, need to be interpreted and analysed in order not to become distorted wishes or death-drives.

The minimal belief that things tomorrow will be like yesterday is partly a matter of faith, whether or not you are depressed. Nietzsche often insisted: don’t be fooled by those who pretend to have no desire, don’t be impressed by the bureaucrats of objectivity. He writes in the Genealogy of Morals:

There is, strictly speaking, absolutely no science “without presuppositions”, the thought of such a science is unthinkable, paralogical; a philosophy, a “belief” must always be there first so that science can derive a direction from it, a meaning, a boundary, a method, a right to existence.[6]

My initial belief is the Creal, which is a grateful emotion of being, an empowering trust in the incessant and generous creative growth of the possibles, and in a form of worldmaking that sings in harmony with what I admire and wish to celebrate in all aspects of my life, day and night. Like Descartes, but no necessarily with the same amount of forced doubt, it is worth listening to your inner philosophical voice, the one that says that tomorrow only has to be like yesterday if your idea of the eternal return of being is a creative offering of sustained, harmonising and universalisable joy.

 

[1] Simon Blackburn, Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016).

[2] Michel Foucault, The Hermeneutics of the Subject, translated by Graham Burchell, (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005), p. 351.

[3] Jean-François Lyotard, The postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge, translated by Geoff Bennington and Brian Massumi (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1984), p. xxiii.

[4] Luis de miranda, Peut-on jouir du capitalisme? Lacan avec Heidegger et Marx (Paris: Max Milo, 2009).

[5] Luis de Miranda, “On the Concept of Creal: The Politico-Ethical Horizon of a Creative Absolute”, in The Dark Precursor: Deleuze and Artistic Research (Leuven: Leuven University Press, 2017), pp. 510–6.

[6] Friedrich Nietzsche, On the Genealogy of Morality, Translated by M. Clark and A. Swensen (Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company, 1998), III, §24, p. 110

The Exinterior of a Car

In the beginning there was the impression. The idea that we can reinvent the world based on a renewed perception of things, situations, conceptions, ways of life. In the beginning there was the necessity to start from and with yourself. What is the core of your being? Can you access it via an impression or via an act?

I am looking at a car. I know that in our current shared reality it is a vehicle that is used for transportation. But what if it was something else? Something that has not yet been identified by any discourse, neither practical, neither technical, neither scientific, neither economic nor emotional. We might say: a car is an experience such that you are either inside or outside. But if you slice a car in its middle, there is perhaps no more inside and no more outside, or at least the distinction becomes blurry. You created a new experience, that of an unexpected opening. The car loses its banality, its habitual and domestic potentiality to take us here and there, it becomes a curiosity, like a dissected shellfish or like the collected insect of an entomologist.

The sliced or dismantled car has lost at least its locomotive capacity by being cut into two longitudinal halves. Has it lost more? Has it gained something? Is it still a car? No, it is, as we said, a curiosity. Reality as we know it and practice it every day weakens our curiosity. We get used to things, rituals, thoughts, protocols, cultural traits, and we stop paying attention to their singularity, to their arbitrariness, to their capacity to be otherwise. Philosophy starts in part as a perceptive game, a priori a useless game and for some even vaguely dangerous or parasitic (don’t philosophise and drive at the same time!). Philosophy can start when one considers objects or ideas or practices in their curiousness, instead of taking them for granted.

Cutting a car into two or several chunks might not seem like a very useful or constructive activity. However, several contemporary artists have done it, in order for their work of art to produce an effect of strangeness, curiosity, amazement or even irritation that is meant to suggest the idea that it is possible to rejuvenate our perspective on reality, at least for an instant. Art is philosophical in this sense, or pre-philosophical. Perhaps a philosopher produces many contemporary art pieces, but in imagination only. Einstein, as a creative scientist, practiced daily imagination experiments in order to see the world differently and understand it.

Einstein’s goal, or the philosopher’s dream, is eventually to generate a systemic theory, an all-encompassing new truth, one that is less illusionary, less arbitrary, if possible. Curiosity and imagining things differently can be refreshing, but the next step is to organise our new perceptions into a coherent, consistent, harmonious and effectual narrative. Sometimes it is said that a scientific theory allows us to predict future events accurately. Well, there is no reason why a coherent philosophical theory could not be predictive in some sense. Or better, performative. Marx’s Capital was performative. Nietzsche’s Zarathustra also.

Producing a systemic narrative is more difficult than being curious and open minded. Anyone can imagine a dismantled car but only a few can dismantle the way we look at reality and propose a new coherent way of looking at the world, like Einstein, for instance, with spacetime, Descartes with the cogito, Hegel with the dialectic World-Spirit or Aristotle with empiricism. However, totalising worldviews have often been presented as forms of dogmatism, and the possibility of a knowledge of absolute truth itself has been questioned already by the philosophers of the Enlightenment in the eighteenth century, for example Kant or d’Alembert.

Now, are you a follower or an originator? It is so difficult and rare to be the originator of a new way of looking at the world that being a follower should not be a reason for shame. But are you a coherent follower? If one is a follower, it is still needed to carefully choose the worldview that one is following and also to identify if one is not following different and contradictory worldviews depending on the mood, opportunity or situation, thus perhaps making your life more miserable or less joyful than it could be.

Now let’s go back to our thought experiment of slicing a car into two longitudinal parts, and in particular to the distinction between an outside and an inside of a given reality. If I let this distinction barely formulated, it is an intriguing impression. If we open the windows of a car, it preserves its interior. But if we dismantle it, or if we cut the vehicle wide open, does it still have an interior? We previously suggested that the answer was no. Let us follow this thread for a while.

Perhaps there is, here, something to explore, the embryo of an idea that, if deployed, unfold, could lead to a system of thought that would be articulated along the primary polarity outside/inside, or exterior/interior. I have thought previously about this theoretical possibility, because of one etymology of the term I coined, crealectics, of which more below.

Let’s imagine a conceptual chimera by considering the neologisms inexterior or exinterior. Something or some experience that would be at the same time an inside and an outside. This wordplay has been suggested by the slicing of a car, and probably by the reminiscence of Hegelian dialectics, in which an idea and its opposite are subsumed into a synthesis.

In fact, another philosopher already imagined the neologism exinterior: Hélène Cixous, in a book about yet another French philosopher, her friend Jacques Derrida.[1] She writes:

When, in my seminar, I share him with my friends or listeners, it’s “Derrida” that I offer to a reading, that I extend. It’s because he is, since forever, this tu [second person-singular you] in me that speaks, who speaks of who speaks of living, my complication, my accomplice, my interior force stronger than me. But everyone knows that there is more than one tu […] Yet this tu is indeed him, the one who speaks to me in the tube of the so-very-interior ear that right away I say tu to him, I echo internally […] Naturally, there is no opposition between outside and inside, everything that happens happens only at the line of nondemarcation, at the edging, at the self’s exinterior, in the outside of the inside, that doubly locked heart that he calls the secret.[2]

If philosophy is a path, an adventure, a sublime journey, and I believe it is, a direction is sketched here by my initial impression in this meditation, my thought experiment of the opened car; it follows the echo of the keyword exinterior into Cixous and Derrida. The curiosity of looking at a car led to another and unexpected curiosity, that of listening to the unanticipated voice of Hélène Cixous and perhaps that of Jacques Derrida’s idea of “the secret”. A crealectician is a philosophical detective following several leads. Cixous, at least via one of her textual manifestations, just became a philosophical friend (in fact I remember “meeting” her already twelve years ago when I was imagining the French portemanteau word joissance (joie + jouissance) and realised she had also discovered it.

What is this “line of demarcation”, this “edging”, this “outside of the inside” where “everything happens”? As you know, I have in previous texts offered a neologism to name the creative inside of the outside reality, or the actualising outside of the inside matter, a mysterious concept meant to designate the spiritual-material, transcendent-immanent source of everything as creative becoming, the  “real Real”. By combining the signifiers create and real, I called this secret impression Creal back in 2008 in my French novel Paridaiza, soon to be published in English (USA) by Snuggly Books.[3] I called crealectics the reality and study of how the Creal manifests itself, how the inside becomes one or many outsides, or how the outside produces one or many insides.

Crealectics is a concept that came to me as an inspiration on 30 May 2017, as I was meditating on Aristotle’s concept of aretê (ᾰ̓ρετή) and virtue while considering my fascination for the Creal idea. I propose that the etymology of my concept of crealectics can be considered, by analogy with dialectics, as a combination of creation and logos (λόγος), Creal and Logos, or, somewhat differently and more in tune with Cixous and Derrida, as the articulation of Creal and ektos (ἐκτός), the latter suffix designating in ancient Greek the outside, the exterior.

Now Cixous speaks of the exinterior as a property of the self, and she speaks of it in dialogue with her philosophical friend Derrida. There is only an exinterior of the car because we are having an inner dialogue about it, in the communion of selves, in the heart of that sublime friendship that we call philo-sophy.

 

[1] Hélène Cixous, Insister of Jacques Derrida, translated by Peggy Kamuf (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2007).

[2] Hélène Cixous, Insister of Jacques Derrida, pp. 51–2.

[3] Luis de Miranda, Paridaiza (Paris: Plon, 2008; Sacramento: Snuggly Books, 2020).