The End of the Old Earth, the Beginning of the New World

Coming November 3 from Snuggly Books (USA)

Paridaiza, a sense-stimulating game invented at the end of the first decade of the twenty-first century, is a three-dimensional reproduction of Earth; a vast holographic territory referred to by its devotees as Biearth to distinguish it from what they now—and not without irony—call Old Earth. Cities such as New York, Peking, Moscow, Paris, and Berlin can be found in Paridaiza, duplicated with unsettling accuracy. In this breathtaking novel by Luis de Miranda, presented here in a masterful translation by Tina Kover, Paridaiza one day welcomes Clara and Nuno, a drifting couple who hope to find re-enchantment in this virtual world where everything is possible.

“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).

Crealectic Philosophy: Creation, Possibility, Joy and Health

It is a matter of fact that there is something called “analytic philosophy”. This is a social fact because of the vast amount of courses and philosophy departments in the Anglo-Saxon world that are denominated under this label. So-called “analytic philosophers” usually accept to be called analytic philosophers; many of them present themselves as such. The recent history of analytic philosophy is well documented, and most of it is post-Wittgensteinian. Wittgenstein (1889-1951) was a philosopher for whom most philosophical questions derived from a misunderstanding of our uses of language. The ambiguity of our grammar and vocabulary generates a fluctuation in concepts that, according to Wittgenstein, traditional philosophers mistake for a metaphysical mystery (later, an analytic philosopher, Walter B. Gallie, would say that most philosophical concepts are “essentially contested”).

Now, Ludwig Wittgenstein was a very disturbed person mentally, and his existential anguish and ressentiment towards his father was never digested: his fragile mental health permeated his thinking. He was poisoned by doubt and a serious deficiency in any form of faith: it was difficult for him to sustain a belief for more than one day: he was, psychologically, a destroyer. But even Wittgenstein, at the end of his life, admitted that there should be a such thing as a healthy mind. And he became fascinated with the idea of the self, which apparently was not only an effect of the language. We don’t believe we are a self only because we say I, otherwise anyone capable of saying I am would be mentally healthy.

More or less at the same time than Wittgenstein, but at the opposite spectrum of philosophical style was Alfred North Whitehead. Like Wittgenstein, Whitehead received a thorough training in logic, but after a while he lost interest in his mathematical skills and engaged in metaphysics, perhaps as a consequence of the death of his son, aged 19, during the first World War. Whitehead’s philosophy is highly speculative and Byzantine. Some parts of it are relatively easy to accept: for example he believed, like most process philosophers, that the universe had a divine ground which he related to a force of continuous creative flux. While he was a very creative thinker, his pedagogic skills in writing are close to zero. The result of Whitehead’s lack of interest for clarity is that his magnum opus, Process and Reality, is a very difficult book to read and understand. The effect of such a lack of care for clarity in explaining such a baroque personal system was devastating for speculative philosophy in the Anglo-Saxon world: many philosophers who did not feel poetically oriented felt insulted by Whitehead’s incomprehensibility and decided to adopt Wittgenstein’s view. They rejected speculation and metaphysics and focused on language and logic.

Some decades later, it became usual for analytic philosophers to call “continental philosophy” any form of thinking that they considered speculative or ungrounded. This of course was not directed only against French or German philosophers such as Bergson or Heidegger, accused of being mystical; analytic philosophy was also suspicious of dialectic philosophy (derived from Hegel and Marx) because of its political relationship with communism. Analytic philosophy, with its engineering view of the world (Wittgenstein himself was an engineer), became the official philosophy of capitalist regimes, while dialectic philosophy remained for a while the official mode of thinking of communist minds. These of course are broad generalisations and we can observe in the last decades that some analytic philosophers tend to become more mystical (for example David Chalmers and his pantheism). And dialectic thinking as been detached anew from Marxism, at least partially.

My view is that both the analytic and the dialectic ways of thinking are useful, they are often necessary but not sufficient. We need today a crealectic philosophy. And while I have coined the term “crealectic”, I have by no means invented crealectic philosophy, which I claim is the way of thinking of many philosophers since the Ancient Greek Heraclitus all the way to, for example, Merleau-Ponty at the end of his life (he called it “hyper-dialectics”).

So what is crealectic thinking, in short? In this post, I will define it in contradistinction to analytic and dialectic thinking. Both analytic and dialectic philosophies tend to be philosophies of necessity: their natural ground is determinism. They tend to see the world as a giant machine with a logic that is unfolding according to its own deterministic rules: they are fascinated by science and laws. Even in Hegel’s spiritual dialectics, there is the notion that the Spirit of the World, which is One, unfolds in a logical manner, logical step by logical step. The ground of crealectic philosophy is the notion of creation and therefore the concept of possibility, rather than necessity. Creation is not always logical because it relates to multiplicity and alterity. The primum mobile of crealectic thinking is infinite possibility, which at least asymptotically touches the impossible. This mode of thinking calls for a metaphysics of possibility (Deleuze called this virtuality or difference).

Of course, thinking about the concept of possibility is not new in philosophy, since Aristotle’s notion of dynamis (potential) or Duns Scotus medieval idea of compossibility (later rediscovered by Leibniz). It is even fair to say that some analytic philosophers have been thinking about the concept of possibility which they often relate with the epistemology of modality (how can we say that something is possible, necessary, impossible?). Again, my point here is not to oppose the three modes of thinking in a little war of academic power (although historically analytic philosophers have done much to try and eliminate all other forms of thinking from philosophy departments so it could be a strategy to fight back). My intention is to show there are complementary modes of understanding and that we should value them all. Given an unclear or unknown situation that we wish to understand, we can divide it into parts that we know and see how they function together like a machine (this is the analytical mode of understanding), we can discern the tensions and oppositions at stake and attempt a binary synthesis of these forces and tensions (this is the dialectic thesis-antithesis-synthesis method), or we can approach the situation crealectically: look at the possibilities that the situation allows for, in other words see a situation or a phenomenon as a set of actualisations in the making, perhaps conflicting, perhaps harmonizing. What bifurcations or compossibilities will become actualised? What will be made impossible? What possibles led to the current phenomenon?

Any “part” of the world is a complex set of compossibilities, possibilities and impossibilities in a state of more or less stabilised or chaotic flux, where we observe the emergence of permanences, plateaus of repetition, patterns of organicity. One of the biggest mysteries of nature is not only that the divine stands for infinite possibility, but also that some parts of the world seem stable for a certain period of time: there are forms that thrive, formal patterns that repeat themselves, possibilities that reiterate and thus become a norm, a natural law. It might be possible that we humans could have three or ten arms, but the norm is that we are born with two arms. This is where crealectic philosophy finds its practical side: some possibles are healthy, some are unhealthy. A healthy possibility is one that will allow for more healthy possibilities. There is a strong relationship between the concept of possibility and the concept of health. Because a healthy form of life is one that maximises its possibilities of agency, probably under the economical principle of a maximum effect for a minimum effort (two arms does it). Spinoza foresaw this relationship and pinned it under the concept of joy, which meant an increase in power for a self, which is an increase in possibilities.

Creation, possibility, joy, health: those are the four core concepts upon which a crealectic philosophy must be grounded.

Being and Neonness, a Review by Professor Moulier-Boutang

 

The text below is a translation of the foreword that Yann Moulier-Boutang wrote for the French edition of Luis de Miranda’s book Being and Neonness, published by MIT Press in 2019.

 

I didn’t know Luis de Miranda, I hadn’t read his books. It was through a few exchanges on the Internet that we became virtual “friends.” The strength of the weak ties allows for encounters that would have otherwise required a lot of time and a lot of luck. I learned that Luis de Miranda is at the same time a philosopher, a writer, an editor, and a lover of “creativity”, or more exactly firmly decided to give a status to this notion which became otherwise, like “sustainable development”, a convenient decor to hide a staggering void of thought. So when he asked me to write a preface for his book, I said yes, despite the time constraints (time is happily expandable, despite what the complainers say). And I did not regret the little madness of adding his text to my to-do-list. Because this little book is a jewel of intelligence, finesse, culture, which takes a  technical object without froaning and turns and turns it around like Heidegger taught us to do with Van Gogh’s shoes.

This is not a hoax. Of course, when you read the title inspired by Boris Vian’s La Lettre et le Néon, you might say to yourself: I’m going to spend a pleasant hour going back to the existentialism of Saint-Germain-des-Prés. Isn’t the city a mental thing and rumination or rumor of the past? Like me, no doubt, you hate utility neons – office neon, not that of city signs, for the evil that they did to our eyes in the classroom, with their light as intermittent as a television screen. And then after the first ten pages, you understand very quickly that this essay “à la française”, in the footsteps of Baudrillard and Vaneigem, advances modestly and masked, but with a youthful bravery. The promenade is anchored in the city, in the tradition of the situationist rediscovery of wandering. It is also a disillusioned and critical observation on Luna Parks, commodification, the entertainment society – but this is not the most original.

What is more striking is the ambition of meditation on the maps of  contemporary modernity, on the famous Grand Paris, without the evasiveness of the postmodern, and without the usual absurd quote. Luis de Miranda is strolling, he tells you that he is strolling, but he leads you with great mastery and knows where he wants to go.  Nothing arbitrary, nor surrealistic, in this meeting of the kebab sign on the dissection table of the Neon City. It is rather a second Cartesian meditation after Descartes and Husserl: where the stove and its heat gave way to the roaring sound of gas in a tube. I am, I create, therefore I hear. It is invigorating to finally hear an ambition: that of philosophising and thinking the “epoch” of the city, of the subject (the “superjet”), the movement, the plural, chaosmos. Be careful, then! Here, a philosophical project begins. The path narrows. Slow down, work-in-progress, reduced speed in reading!  Savour it! Luis de Miranda speaks neither of speed nor of slowness, this true movement of the senses which reconquers the city, but his essay takes a powerful part in it. 

Who knows that the Opéra Garnier was illuminated by colored neon strips in 1919? Neon is a technical object about which, usually, little is said that is significant. It is exposed here during the day, out of its halo of luminous magic, as the limit of the visible, its exhaustion (because it is a light without heat, without risk of kindling) – but it is a happy exhaustion, because it turns us towards and beyond the visible, a totally immanent beyond: “The infinite in the finite.” There are many intercessors on this journey: Victor Hugo, Baudelaire, David Harvey, the Sublimes: the Paris of the nineteenth and first-twentieth century is narrated and this technique of light is inherently fascinating for urban planners and architects, or rather “urbatects”, according to the beautiful word coined by Schuiten and Peters.  But Plato, Heraclitus, Marx, Nietzsche, Deleuze, Proust, are also part of the journey.  Luis de Miranda does not mention Bergson much this time, and only a little Félix Guattari with whom he shares the same taste for unbridled neologisms, bending language to his thought and to the construction of reality. I love his neologism, the Creal, for the real which dismisses the naivety of a matter or a spirit. His crealist perspective gives his mediation on the City a joyful tone, a stamp of copper and light horn. 

In that, this book does not resemble the great French moralist tradition to which the situationists owe much. A sentence like “The neon is a metonymy of the current identity, energetic, visible, illuminated, connected” could have been signed Baudrillard or Virilio. But I also hear a jubilation and a confidence in the future which is unique, in the aeon developed at length in the last chapters.

The other singular aspect of this little book lies in its way of dealing with technique and technology by deeply integrating it into culture. Scientific and erudite details blend into the expressiveness of the historicity of urban man. “Can we build a code that does not carry identity? Can we conceive of an individuation which is not a form, a neon, a being?”, questions the author. This recurrent question becomes one with the detailed history of Johann Heinrich Winckler’s invention of the first fluorescent tube in 1745 in Germany, up to Georges Claude, discoverer of neon in Paris in 1912, with the sign Cinzano. Who remembers today that Paris was  the absolute capital of neon signs before Los Angeles and Las Vegas, since Claude’s patent was not sold in the United States until 1923? The great Cuban anthropologist Fernando Ortiz explored the society of his island through the opposition of  sugar and tobacco (1939). He invented transculturalism, of which Malinowski, who read it before his Argonauts of the Pacific (1940), retained only the ugly term of acculturation. Let us say that too often, the disputants of the lights of the city ​​and the reign of commodity, rely, even if unconsciously, on acculturation which distills a scent of alienation, of degradation of being. Luis de Miranda is clearly in his book on the side of  transculturalism. Why?

Because in our opinion, he is developing a theory of possible and practicable freedom, an anti-alienation, not another “look”, but another perception and construction of reality, a Creal as he fiercely calls it. Admittedly, heritage-Paris is transformed into a dead icon, a museum.  But nearby the Louvre, it is the Benjaminian experience of banal kitsch signs of small shops which opens the experience of a passage. Neon, this perfect image of cold light without apparent risk, vibrates, makes noise. When our tired, worn out, eyes, stuffed with icons, operate what Husserl would have called a radical phenomenological reduction, when they are temporarily blinded, then they hear something.

Let’s not look for the access to the city in a supervoyance, beyond The Cave, nor in a reasoned disruption of the eyes. In a strong sentence, like many of those that feed this nervous essay, Luis de Miranda writes: “Ecology must become an “echo-logy”, the poet must be more than a seer: a listener.” Ecology, economy, oikos or the surrounding, halo, rather than the overused word environment, must hear, “see with the ears” as recommended by the brilliant Shakespeare.

Primacy of hearing over sight; a recurring, Deleuzian ritournelle, the Wagnerian or Proustian leitmotif, ends almost every chapter. It dethrones the primacy of the visible in Western metaphysics. Where Heidegger and Wittgenstein, who in opposite ways both turned towards language, where Derrida wanted to come to writing, to the trace, Luis de Miranda wants to hear the voice, the music, and come to an acousmatics. The stroke of the paw also applies to Michel  Foucault: “The making of the self has light as its absolute model. Being is indeed a neon.”

Does Luis de Miranda return to Exodus, when the “I am the one who is”, echoing the supreme creator, is a voice which makes us hear the crackling noise of the consuming fire? The part of the invisible, of the inexpressible and the joy of creation are very close to the Music of the Spheres and to this City of Music mentioned in the final chapter. “To create is to listen to the invisible, the unheard-of, and maintain a loyalty to this hearing.  But incessantly, comes up the temptation to manifest this creation, to make it tangible, visible, measurable “: this sentence signals an ontological difference that is quite different from  Heidegger, in spite of the proximity of timbre. In the end we want to know more. And that’s very well; a conclusion that does not open does not increase our power to act.

 

Professor Yann Moulier-Boutang, author of Cognitive Capitalism.

 

 

5 Optimistic Predictions on What Will Change For You After The 2020 Pandemic

The current global pandemic is a gigantic social experiment on humanity. There is already plenty of dramatising information, so my contribution here will be on the positive side. Here are 5 predictions/recommendations for a better post-Corona world.

1: A new paradigm of slow growth

Few would disagree that the current events demonstrate, once more, the epidermic fragility of capitalism as we know it. The system has been praised as the only viable form of economic protocol, but it proves once again to be volatile and all but robust in its exponential growth mindset. Would you build your house on a roller coaster? Yet this is somewhat what we tolerate with under-regulated forms of financial capitalism. Of course things could eventually go back to “normal”, the “normal” being a relatively small group of privileged and anxious finance junkies playing with fire while the majority of citizens struggle to have a decent and balanced life while being treated as mere consumers or dopamine receptors. We are all on a mindless roller coaster. It’s time to try the tunnel of love boat ride. Less adrenalin perhaps, but more wonder.

The fact that the capitalist system is dependent on fears and the caprices of nature — when it does not create itself those caprices — demonstrates that we need a more robust system, one with more structural integrity (in the engineering and moral sense), yet one that does not discourage creativity and growth. A more robust economy will be based on slow growth. Slow growth is a successful model in nature and in education. We fear exponential curves in viruses – we should also refrain from desiring them in relation to financial profit. A tree needs to grow solid roots and not just rise to the sky like Icarus. For example, more welfare safety nets should be developed in places where they have been lacking.

2: More citizen resilience and philosophical health

The second conclusion we can draw from the current situation: many are mentally fragile, many have overwhelming fears and lack of self-confidence to the point that they are influenced by panic and paranoia, as well as excesses of irrational hope. This is not new but is today critically augmented by our social media addiction and their echo chambers. In sociology, the Thomas Theorem  says: “If humans define situations as real, they are real in their consequences.” What makes the 2020 pandemic phenomenon dangerous is to a certain extent our global perception of it. If we nurture a collective reaction according to which a situation is dramatic and catastrophic, then, even if it is a collective hallucination, this might become a self-fulfilled prophecy. If on the contrary we remain calm, pragmatic and collected, we will avoid trying, as the French saying goes, to harm water with a sword; in other words, over-reacting in vain. Here a good philosophical reading is Nietzsche’s distinction between the active and the reactive people: to lead a healthy life, instead of reacting out of ressentiment, we need affirm healthy, fruitful and loving values and act coherently according to these axioms. We can more confidently and slowly actualise at least part of what we admire if we develop our capacity to be self-rational, to think, intuit and feel by ourselves.

Some politicians seem to be enjoying pandemic situations because it allows them to demonstrate that they can still have control over people, by forcing them to stay home for example. Here a pertinent reading is Deleuze and Foucault on societies of control. The extent to which martial states of emergency can so easily be inflicted upon us shows the fragility of our democracies. Citizens should be empowered, educated and trusted to judge by themselves what is the right thing to do in a given situation. A forced lockdown of a society is a politician’s dream but potentially a citizen’s nightmare. A philosophically healthy society is one where citizens are not considered mostly as lab-rat consumers or immature statistical instruments. Here a good philosophical reading is Kant on Enlightenment. If anything, crisis decisions should be taken more democratically, and we should not treat people as minors but help them to become fully adult, which is why education and research on philosophical health is needed.

3: Less nationalism and protectionism, more collaboration toward a global shared cosmology

The world has definitely become global. We are on the same boat and interconnected, and now we feel it. The big climate change menace was perhaps not enough to create a shared worldview. We can now thank a well-travelled virus for allowing more people to feel in the flesh that we need a shared cosmology and a global vision for our planet, not just ecological but also philosophical. I wrote the book Ensemblance to explain, via a thorough historical analysis on the phenomenon of group belonging in modernity, the limits of tribalism, competition and groupthink. This does not mean creative collaboration is to be rejected: in this paper from 2017 I explained why I think it’s time for a global social contract based on the hypothesis I call Creal.

4: The Decline of Big Cities and the Rise of Nature-Centred Remote Work

I lived in Paris for several decades, and have always considered large capitals as physically and mentally damaging for their inhabitants, even if they can be amusing for tourists. I now live in a nature-friendly area in the Stockholm archipelago and go for a walk along the water and woods every day. I have always worked from home a great deal, which does not feel claustrophobic when we surround ourselves with nature. Residential surfaces can be larger further from the city centres and rents less expensive, while our digital connections allow us to discover and co-create remote possibilities for work, communication, education and collaboration. In the next years, more people are going to distance themselves from unhealthy oversized capitals and realise they can have a much more balanced and ecological form of life by embracing remote-work and letting go of the city madness and its hazardous ecological and existential footprint. Intermediary-sized cities should become more important for cultural life and intellectual growth.

5: More courage.

Most humans today have a hard time with three co-related fears (perhaps these are aspects of the same fear): their fear of loss, the fear of daring what is good for them and the fear of being abnormal. The anxiety of missing opportunities, or making the wrong choices, of not having what others have, or being alone and not belonging generates panic, stress, procrastination or apathy (mental and physical). When we see a virus, we want to flatten the curve and avoid its becoming exponential. We ought to be consequent and get rid of the unhealthy exponential mentality for what we desire also. If we continue to think that the good should be exponentially so, then the bad will also feel exponential. This is explained in more detail in my book on Lacan, jouissance and capitalism.

As we say here in Sweden, growth should be natural, healthy and slow, in other words, “lagom.” In more philosophical terms, this is what the Ancient philosophers called the golden mean. In the sustained middle way and persistent and creative equilibrium of forces is the healing power. For Aristotle, courage is a mean between cowardice and rashness. Courage is the only thing that can prevent timidity and rage, which are two sides of the same harmful attitude. Now you will perhaps go for a walk and ask yourself: at this moment of my biography, am I being coward, rash or sanely courageous?