Fabulation and esprit de corps as worldforming in Bergson

Esprit de corps was a fundamental notion in Bergson’s Les deux sources de la morale et de la religion,[1] where it appeared closely related to the idea that one’s social self was like a ‘moi supérieur devant lequel la personalité moyenne s’incline:’[2]

Si l’on admet […] une ‘mentalité primitive’, on y verra le respect de soi coïncider avec le sentiment d’une telle solidarité entre l’individu et le groupe que le groupe reste présent à l’individu isolé, le surveille, l’encourage ou le menace, exige enfin d’être consulté et obéi […]. La pression du moi social s’exerce avec toutes ces énergies accumulées. L’individu n’obéit d’ailleurs pas seulement par habitude de la discipline ou par crainte du châtiment : le groupe auquel il appartient se met nécessairement au-dessus des autres, […] et la conscience de cette supériorité de force lui assure […] toutes les jouissances de l’orgueil. […] Il suffit d’observer ce qui se passe sous nos yeux dans les petites sociétés qui se constituent au sein de la grande, quand des hommes se trouvent rapprochés les uns des autres par quelque marque distinctive qui souligne une supériorité réelle ou apparente, et qui les met à part. […] Tous les membres du groupe ‘se tiennent’ ; on voit naître un ‘sentiment de l’honneur’ qui ne fait qu’un avec l’esprit de corps.[3]

Bergson, at first glance, seemed to present a synthesis of the thoughts of authors like Durkheim, Tarde, Palante, or Terraillon: esprit de corps was a tribal process of collective self-glorification. But Bergson’s use of inverted commas was connected to the fact that for him this ‘feeling of honour’ was not true or natural, but rather a necessary fiction, a ‘fabulation’.[4]

Fabulation was for the author an intelligent capacity to manipulate symbols and fictional narratives in order to generate common beliefs. It functioned like a form of ‘virtual instinct’:

C’est de l’instinct virtuel, entendant par là qu’à l’extrémité d’une autre ligne d’évolution, dans les sociétés d’insectes, nous voyons l’instinct provoquer mécaniquement une conduite comparable, pour son utilité, à celle que suggèrent à l’homme, intelligent et libre, des images quasi hallucinatoires.[5]

In Latin, fabulari meant to speak and invent a story.[6] Bergson suggested that language, ideology and storytelling could help to create a mindset, a second nature, that simulated animal instinct to a certain extent. Esprit de corps was a form of collective hallucination, a contagious social fiction, a more or less permanent altered state of consciousness — this would justify the use of the term esprit as a form of spiritual possession. The paradox here was that freedom and rationality (‘intelligent et libre’) were associated with illusion and insect-like instinct. How could one be free and at the same time hallucinating? How could one be intelligent and model one’s conduct on a fable?

The answer, according to Bergson, lay in our plastic capacity to recreate new ideologies, to modify our narratives, to co-create our evolving virtual instinct, to which we then gave our near-blind consent, at least momentarily, for the sake of action and communion. Not unlike others before him, but more systematically, Bergson distinguished two interdependent and dialectical modes of human solidarity, one more conservative, the other more creative. The first one, based on obligation and social pressure, was comparable with the instinct of eusocial animals like ants and bees. It formed an effective human second nature via ‘habitude’, language, and social fictions.[7] In this case, the cohesion of the group was also maintained through its opposition to an outside territory, an outgroup. It was, when ripe, a circular force, hostile to the new:

Entre la société où nous vivons et l’humanité en général il y a […] le même contraste qu’entre le clos et l’ouvert. […] Qui ne voit que la cohésion sociale est due, en grande partie, à la nécessité pour une société de se défendre contre d’autres, et que c’est d’abord contre tous les autres hommes qu’on aime les hommes avec lesquels on vit ?[8]

In other words, esprit de caste was inevitable. But a more creative form of esprit de corps existed, if ephemerally; one that was about love and openness rather than antagonism.

Bergson thought that the mortar that joined the bricks of a closed society was ‘discipline’, which prepared for an ‘attitude’ of ‘guerre’ in front of an ‘ennemi’, a defensive mindset that subsisted even when covered by the ‘vernis’ of ‘devoirs moraux’.[9] There was a collective pressure on the members to remain united in a hermetic corps, and surrender part of their individuality to the duties of the in-group, for the sake of battles won. But because life was dual, both structured and structuring, both spiritual and natural, because it was a process of ‘creative evolution’,[10] human societies, according to Bergson, manifested a meta-historical flow of sentimental universalism, a slow and widening creation of fraternity that kept creating renewed and larger fabulations. This second tendency, representative of our cosmic freedom, could be incarnated by spiritual figures who were at the forefront of the ‘élan de vie.’[11]

[1] Henri Bergson, Les deux sources de la morale et de la religion (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1990 [1932]).

[2] Ibid. p. 65.

[3] Bergson, Les deux sources, p. 66–7.

[4] Ibid., p. 111.

[5] Ibid., p. 114.

[6] ‘Fabuler’, Centre National de Ressources Textuelles et Lexicales, <www.cnrlt.fr> [Last accessed 15 March 2016].

[7] Bergson, Les deux sources, p. 23.

[8] Ibid., p. 27.

[9] Bergson, Les deux sources, p. 27.

[10] Bergson, L’évolution créatrice (Paris, Alcan, 1907).

[11] Bergson, Les deux sources, p. 56.

Democratic ‘idiots’ according to Tocqueville

According to Tocqueville, any social group, even the lower classes, could feel the pride and dignity of belonging to an identified social cast. Modern democracies tended to prevent even the privileged classes from constituting a proper esprit: ‘Aujourd’hui, on voit encore des riches, mais ils ne forment plus un corps compact et héréditaire ; ils n’ont pu adopter un esprit, y persévérer et le faire pénétrer dans tous les rangs.’[1] A recent academic translation of the former passage has replaced ‘esprit’ by the expression ‘esprit de corps’: ‘Today, wealthy individuals still exist, but they have ceased to constitute a distinct and hereditary body capable of fostering and maintaining an esprit de corps, and instilling it in people of all ranks.’[2] The first English translation (1863) used the compound ‘class spirit’, [3]  adding ‘esprit de corps’ in parentheses in another passage where again Tocqueville only used the word ‘esprit’: ‘En toutes choses la majorité fait loi ; elle établit de certaines allures auxquelles ensuite chacun se conforme ; l’ensemble de ces habitudes communes s’appelle un esprit : il y a l’esprit du barreau, l’esprit de cour.’[4] In English:

 

The will of the majority is the most general of laws, and it establishes certain habits to which everyone must then conform; the aggregate of these common habits is what is called the class spirit (esprit de corps) of each profession; thus there is the class spirit of the bar, of the court, etc.[5]

 

For Tocqueville, esprit de corps was something of a pleonasm, hence the use of the sole word esprit. Democratic individualists can hardly form an esprit; etymologically speaking, they are ‘idiots’:

 

How do people remain their own masters? By maintaining the kind of community that secures their liberty. Freedom and community are not opposing forces any more than pluribus and unum. We are free so that we can create a community life so that, in turn, we can be free. Tocqueville’s singular contribution to our understanding of idiocy and citizenship is this notion that idiots are idiotic precisely because they are indifferent to the conditions and contexts of their own freedom. They fail to grasp the interdependence of liberty and community.[6]

[1] Tocqueville, De la démocratie en Amérique, vol. II, p. 331.

[2] Tocqueville, Democracy in America, trans. by Arthur Goldhammer (New York: Library of America, 2004), p. 403.

[3] Tocqueville, Democracy in America, trans. by Henri Reeve (Cambridge: Sever and Francis, 1863), vol. I, p. 237.

[4] Tocqueville, De la démocratie en Amérique, vol II., p. 23.

[5] Tocqueville, Democracy in America, trans. by Henri Reeve, p. 237

[6] Walter C. Parker, Teaching Democracy: Unity and Diversity in Public Life (New York, NY: Teachers College Press, 2003), p. 4.

Biosemiotics and Politics

Sharing an interesting paper by Cannizzaro and Cobley (2015)

Biosemiotics, politics and Th.A. Sebeok’s move from linguistics to semiotics. In: Biosemiotic Perspectives on Language and Linguistic. Biosemiotics . Springer, pp. 207-222.

Abstract This paper will focus on the political implications for the language sciences of Sebeok’s move from linguistics to a global semiotic perspective, a move that ultimately resulted in biosemiotics. The paper will seek to make more explicit the political bearing of a biosemiotic perspective in the language sciences and the human sciences in general. In particular, it will discuss the definition of language inherent in Sebeok’s project and the fundamental re-drawing of the grounds of linguistic debate heralded by Sebeok’s embrace of the concept of modelling. Thus far, the political co-ordinates of the biosemiotic project have not really been made explicit. This paper will therefore seek to outline
1. how biosemiotics enables us to reconfigure our understanding of the role of language in culture;
2. how exaptation is central to the evolution of language and communication, rather than adaptation;
3. how communication is the key issue in biosphere, rather than language, not just because communication includes language but because the language sciences often refer to language as if it were mere “chatter”, “tropes” and “figures of speech”;
4. how biosemiotics, despite its seeming “neutrality” arising from its transdisciplinarity, is thoroughly political;
5. how the failure to see the implications of the move from linguistics to semiotics arises from the fact that biosemiotics is devoid of old style politics, which is based on representation (devoid of experience) and “construction of [everything] in discourse” (which is grounded in linguistics, not communication study).
In contrast to the post-“linguistic turn” idea that the world is “constructed in discourse”, we will argue that biosemiotics entails a reconfiguration of the polis and, in particular, offers the chance to completely reconceptualise ideology.

The article can be accessed here.

 

 

From Information Theory to French Theory: the Cybernetic Apparatus

Interesting article of intellectual history by Bernard Dionysius Geoghegan. On the relationship between linguistics, structuralism, and CIA funded cybernetics.

‘In this paper I examine the history of efforts to reform the human sciences through new media research, with a particular emphasis on the Rockefeller Foundation’s interwoven programs of support for communications research, digital media, and global science from 1930 to 1960. Through archival research and textual analysis I reconstruct how leading scholars and scientific administrators came to conceive of new media technologies as part of an impartial apparatus for transcending cultural, biological, and political difference. I recover the forgotten history of interdisciplinary and transnational programs that conjoined the research of Francophone structuralists to that of American engineers. The result is a new account of 20th century media change and research as inscribed within a project of “global technics” that substituted technological procedures for political decision making.’

Read the full paper here

 

Crealectics as the Logic of Territorialisation and Worldforming

The Creal hypothesis is ontological, even cosmological (in my book L’être et le néon), in the sense that it names the supranoumenon and identifies it with immanent infinite multiplicity in the fashion of process philosophies (Heraclitus, Bergson, Whitehead, Deleuze, etc.). But it is also a henology, since the One or unity is I believe implied by the immanent existence of the Creal. This is sort of presocratic (or neoplatonist?), although in the chapter I have written for the Dark Precursor volume I have chosen to look at the Creal from an axiomatic perspective instead of cosmological.

From the Creal point of view, all forms of life are not elaborated on the basis of scarce material, from the simple to the complex, but rather are a pruning of the original infinite richness of the creal becoming. Hypercomplexity is prime, but the attraction towards unity is coterminous. This immanent virtual cosmos of all possibles might sound somewhat Platonist, but it is rather based on the hypothesis of a dynamic infinite probability predating the real while not excluding it.

In semiotic terms, we could say that messages are uttered as a general thrust towards a form of unity against a background of infinite multiplicity. This is why I believe that communication, indeed present in all forms of life, is part of or even equivalent to the process of territorialisation, a production of sameness (the Umwelt or worldforming). Living beings produce sameness or unity because it is the very opposite of Creal, that’s the basic thing that can be enacted in the universe, a territory that is one and affirms the oneness, integrity, of its agent (or agents as this can be a collective process). 

This is why I am interested in what I called crealectics, which seems close to biosemiotics and perhaps to some elements of biolinguistics. Crealectics or the territorialisation of the Creal via a secretory biodiscourse of integrity, which I see as a secretion of sameness via a system of signifiers that, because they are meant to produce sameness (a same territory) and unity, are eventually a language or a system of signs. This can be also seen as a form of resistance against dissolution into the Creal (death as a return to pure multiplicity, a negation of integrity).

Umwelt, Woolf, Guattari and language

1. In order to form a territory, an Umwelt, you need, it seems, a homogeneous language. There needs to be a fluid sign circulation between different zones of the world you want to inhabit as a privileged species. Territorialising is translating the disparity of the Creal into one discourse, a text written in the same language. A metaphor perhaps would be to compare each new letter or symbol from the territorialising language with an omnivorous insect (all of the same species).

2. An excerpt of Woolf’s To the Lighthouse:

All had streamed away. . . . From her hand, ice cold, held deep in the sea, there spurted up a fountain of joy at the change, at the escape, at the adventure (that she should be alive, that she should be there). And the drops falling from this sudden and unthinking fountain of joy fell here and there on the dark, the slumberous shapes in her mind; shapes of a world not realized but turning in their darkness, catching here and there, a spark of light; Greece, Rome, Constantinople. Small as it was, and shaped something like a leaf stood on its end with the gold-sprinkled waters owing in and about it, it had, she supposed, a place in the universe—even that little island?

3. An extract from The Machinic Unconscious, Félix Guattari’s book:

The hypothesis of an abstract machinic phylum traversing language, representation, and the diverse actual and virtual levels of reality presents the incentive to corrode the linguistic edifice from the inside, to render it porous without destroying it as such. In particular, it should allow us to avoid two types of dangers: – a pure and simple falling back of linguistic machines onto social structures, like Marr’s linguistic dogmatism or certain new psycho-linguistic trends; – a structuralist or generativist formalization that separates the production of statements from collective assemblages of enunciation. In some way, it is necessary to admit that in order for discursive chains to be in touch with reality they must be disengaged from the constraints of language considered as a closed system. How do we escape from linguistic structures without losing their specificity as such?

4. How do 1, 2 and 3 start to form a same territory? Realisation of a world. Empire or island building. Machine versus animal or animal-machine. Collective versus individual territory. It is not that discursive chains need to be in touch with reality, it is about the equivalence of discursive secretions with reality.

5. This is the notion produced by the encounter of my paragraph with Woolf and Guattari: secretion. Reality as a secretion, an idea that I leave here suspended like a spider’s web until I come back to it, soon.

 

 

 

 

Enactivism and biosemiotics (de Jesus)

A very clear text by Paulo de Jesus about the connections between enaction and biosemiotics. I am still wondering if the notion of sign is the best atom of understanding to elucidate the relationship between nature and culture. For example, a sign is isolated, while a discourse is an articulated network of signs.

This is the abstract of the paper:

Autopoietic enactivism (AE) is a relatively young but increasingly influential approach within embodied cognitive science, which aims to offer a viable alternative framework to mainstream cognitivism. Similarly, in biology, the nascent field of biosemiotics has steadily been developing an increasingly influential alternative framework to mainstream biology. Despite sharing common objectives and clear theoretical overlap, there has to date been little to no exchange between the two fields. This paper takes this under-appreciated overlap as not only a much needed call to begin building bridges between the two areas but also as an opportunity to explore how AE could benefit from biosemiotics. As a first tentative step towards this end, the paper will draw from both fields to develop a novel synthesis – biosemiotic enactivism – which aims to clarify, develop and ultimately strengthen some key AE concepts. The paper has two main goals: (i) to propose a novel conception of cognition that could contribute to the ongoing theoretical developments of AE and (ii) to introduce some concepts and ideas from biosemiotics to the enactive community in order to stimulate further debate across the two fields.

 

Poinsot, Deely and the Doctrine of Signs

I am discovering the work of John Deely, quite fascinating at this early stage. As far as I can tell for the moment, one of Deely’s major ideas is expressed in the term physiosemiosis, ‘the probability that semiosis not only surrounds life but pre-existed living things, and indeed shaped the universe so as to make living things possible in the first place.’

Apparently, Deely came to the field of biosemiotics via medieval philosophy, and more specifically the doctrine of signs developed by Portuguese Dominican scholar Joao Poinsot.

“Poinsot, so far as present knowledge goes, holds the privileged position in semiotic historiography of being the earliest systematizer of the ‘doctrine of ‘signs. Not until the work of Peirce in our own day do we again encounter a ‘semiotic of comparable energy and scope. In 1632, Poinsot published, as part of his series of courses in philosophy at the University of Alcalâ, Spain, a highly original, systematically conceived Treatise on Signs (Tractatus de Signis) (1930), which fits exactly ‘Locke’s definition of semiotic proposed some 58 years later, at the close of his Essay Concerning Human Understanding (details in Deely 1982), and taken up again by Peirce.

From this point of view, Poinsot’s work provides us with the first of several “missing links” in the history- of logic and ‘philosophy after ‘Ockham (e. 1350), enabling us to trace backwards through the Iberian schools of Coimbra (notably in the work of Petrus Fonseca [1564] and the team of workers he organized, the so-called “Conimbricenses”), Salamanca (Bavez, Soto, and others), and Alcalâ, a heretofore largely untold story of developments that are exceptional in import for semiotics (Deely 1982).

Doctrinally, Poinsot’s work achieves a new, entirely experiential point of departure for the enterprise of philosophy, and reconciles in so doing the seemingly opposed orders of nature and ‘culture. Poinsot begins his Treatise on Signs by drawing attention to a central feature of ‘semiosis that must, in his opinion, be a first concern of semioticians to safeguard and give adequate account of, namely, the fact that, in our experience, signs bring together natural and social phenomena. The sign, he points out (Book 1, Question I: 646b26-45), is something neither preclusively natural nor preclusively social, but both inclusively, for while all signs as such acquire their signification and actually exist only within some living being’s experience, nonetheless, within that very experience, the connection between signs and what they signify sometimes seemsto have roots outside our experience of their connection (the case of “natural” signs), and other times seems to have no reality other than the one derived from the experience itself of social interaction (the case of customary and stipulated signs). Thus the first task of the semiotician, in Poinsot’s judgment, is to secure a standpoint superior to the division of being into what exists independently of our ‘cognition (ens reale ‘mind-independent being’) and what exists dependently upon cognition (ens rationis mind-dependent being’). For Poinsot, semiotic must take its stand, in the felicitous description by Sebeok, squarely “at the intersection of nature and culture.” This simple description of semiotic’s initial task already amounts to a revolution within the perspective of natural philosophy or “physics” traditional in Poinsot’s day. For the sole concern of that tradition was to uncover and explicate the structure of ens reale, which they thought to have achieved, after “Aristotle, with the division of mind independent being into substances, or natural units of independent existence, with their accidents, or various properties and characteristics. Thus, the division of being into the Aristotelian categories of substance and the various types of accident was generally thought to be the permanent achievement of ontology in the Latin age.

Poinsot’s approach to semiotic entirely undercuts this categorial scheme, going beneath it and beginning with an analysis of experience prior to the possibility of the working out of any such scheme. He establishes a fundamental ontology in just that sense which Heidegger calls for in our own time, namely, an “ontology” that accounts for the categorial interconnections and lays bare the ground of the prior possibility of truth as a “correspondence” between thought and being. Poinsot finds this fundamental ontology in our experience of the ways in which things appear to be relative. Poinsot observed (following in this Aquinas [c. 1266: q. 28] and Cajetan [1507] before him) that, as a mode of reality, relation is unique in that its essence (esse ad aliud ‘being between’) is separate from its cause or ground of existence (esse in alio ‘the character or feature upon which a relation is founded’), which is not the case for any other mode of reality. Poinsot sees in this the ultimate reason for the possibility of semiosis: relation in what is proper to it, namely, suprasubjectivity or intersubjectivity (esse ad), is indifferent to realization now in nature, now in thought, now in both. Relation in this sense, precisely as indifferent to the opposition of what depends upon and what is independent of cognition, Poinsot calls relatio secundum esse ‘relation according to the way it has being’ or ‘ontological relation’ (see Deely 1982).

By contrast, things that are related exist subjectively as something in their own right, not just between other things sustaining them in a derivative way. And yet, if we seek to explain why they are as they are or how they might be altered from their present state, we find it necessary to refer to what the individuals in question themselves are not. Thus, even the individual entities and “natural units” of experience existing in their own right – even substances in Aristotle’s scheme, the most absolute of the subjective entities – are seen to be relative when it comes to the question of how they come to be or of how they are to be accounted for. Relativity in this sense, precisely as infecting the whole scheme of categories of cognition-independent existents, Poinsot termed relatio secundum dici ‘relation according to the way being must be expressed in discourse’, or (synonymously) relatio transcendentalis ‘transcendental relation’.

With this division of being, then, into transcendental and ontological relation, Poinsot has two simple “categories” that are exhaustive and exclusive, but whose terms are entirely matters of direct experience (unlike Aristotle’s division of being into substance and accident, which was also exhaustive and exclusive, but directly experienced only on the side of certain accidents: comprehensive discussion in Powell [Freely chosen reality] 1982), and whose relevance to the doctrine of signs is immediate. For all authors agree, and indeed experience makes quite unmistakable, that every sign as such is a relative being (something making known another than itself), and since, by the prior terms of the analysis of relative being, we know that there are only two irreducible types of relativity, it remains only to apply that analysis to our experience of semiosis in order to determine in what precisely a sign consists (the formalis ratio signi, as Poinsot puts it), that is to say, what is it that constitues a sign in its proper being?The answer to this question is ontological relation, an answer which enables Poinsot to resolve a number of aporia that have plagued accounts of signifying from ancient times down to the present, and which turn out to be decisive for °epistemology and philosophical thought generally.”

From: John Deely – Poinsot, John – in: Encyclopedic dictionary of semiotics – General Editor, Thomas A. Sebeok; Editorial Board, Paul Bouissac … [et al.] – Berlin, New York, Mouton de Gruyter, 1986.

Umwelt and language

I would like to recommend an interesting chapter written by Morten Tønnessen, entitled Umwelt and language, in Biosemiotic Perspectives on Language and Linguistics.

He speaks of language as a perception system developed in interaction with non-human entities (for him mostly animal, but why not include plants, the wind, etc.). He cites biologist Maturana for his idea of language as a verb: languaging as a dynamic modelling of the environment (Maturana, H. (1970). Biology of cognition (Biological Computer Laboratory [BCL] research report 9.0). Urbana: University of Illinois).

He distinguishes three types of Umwelt:

The core Umwelt: Automated acts of perception, Automated mental acts.

The mediated Umwelt: Wilful acts of perception, Wilful mental acts.

The conceptual Umwelt: Habitual acts of perception, Habitual mental acts.

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He quotes David Abram‘s Spell of the sensuous:

“If language is not a purely mental phenomenon”, writes Abram, “but a sensuous, bodily activity born of carnal reciprocity and participation, then our discourse has surely been influenced by many gestures, sounds, and rhythms besides those of our single species” – including birds. What is remarkable with regard to the evolution of language is that of the genes that have been identified as relevant for language abilities, “virtually all […] are present also in animals. All known genes of language, in other words, are genes of the primary modelling system that we have inherited from our animal ancestors”. This is consistent with the view, shared by Chomsky and Sebeok, that language evolved as an exaptation, i.e. that the function of language has changed from one (e.g., cognitive modelling) to another (e.g., communication).

I feel what is pertinent in the article, among other ideas, is the categorisation of the ‘conceptual unwelt’ as habitual. This might seem counter-intuitive to those who believe that the faculty to will is cognitively superior — or evolutionarily posterior — to the capacity to form and re-create habits, but I think what Tønnessen is doing here is alluding to the concept of social habitus developped among others by Bourdieu.