Friday, June 02, 2006

Sunday notes (on the experience of thought and its termini)

A research-creation event (thinking about thought) is never an innocent, innocuous process and does not culminate in any safe recognition of a world of unchallenged forms and meanings to be attributed to the disturbing vagueness of emerging ideas. In other words, an event is an experience of unexpected violence, a virtuality (or an idea) crossing the body with an imperceptible speed and torturing it with its irresistible expressive urge.
But, as Gilles Deleuze put it, what does having an idea mean? And what is its relation with thought? In Difference and Repetition, Deleuze defined the idea as the differential of thought, an intensive coagulation in the continuous unfolding of the thinking body, a body-mind event. In this sense, you can never define or appropriate an idea, because with its vague intensity it will always be in another time and another place, not-yet here, and already somewhere else: ungraspable. Navigating your body while you stay still, freezing your movements while you walk or run or dance, ideas come from who knows where and do not aim towards any pre-determined point, their infinity and instantaneity going beyond the clear coordinates of intellectual orientation. It is not ‘I’ who thinks but, quoting Deleuze, “another thinks in me.” Forces think in me. Travelling at the speed of thought, ideas escape the subject and its consciousness, while dissolving into an in-corporeal and in-essential realm, pure virtualities to be experienced, symbolically actualised and expressed not without much suffering but also with an immense joy.
Violently, the idea discloses its Dionysian value (of obscurity and distinctness), not merely as a lack of method or an impossibility of application from the part of the thinking body, but as a difficulty which belongs to thought in itself. Not a difficulty to orient, express or perfect one’s own thoughts, but the tremendous difficulty ‘to think’ something, which Artaud knew very well. Deleuze described this difficulty as a violent compulsion to think which, passing all sorts of bifurcations, spreads from the nerves and arrives at thought. The compelling idea is sensed, before being conceived, as an instant, an interval arousing and constraining involuntary thought: everything starts from sensibility. The appearance of ideas therefore has the contingent (not necessary) aspect of an encounter whose object can only be sensed. This object is not a quality yet but a sign (the being of the sensible, that by which the given is given), an imperceptible sign non-recognisable through the empirical exercise of the senses, but only sensible through the transcendental exercise of sensibility, a metaphysical sensibility at its nth power. As such, the sign takes sensibility before its own limit, breaking the empirical faculties (sensibility, and also memory and thought) and carrying with it a stream of perplexity, the positing of a problem. States of difference in itself carry the faculties to their limit, creating qualities in the sensible, but also engendering a transcendental exercise of sensibility. Empirical sensibility can only grasp intensity when mediated by the qualities it engenders, while transcendental sensibility apprehends it immediately in the encounter. Before the problem-encounter and its ‘sensing’, each faculty becomes transcendental, i.e. an exercise of superior empiricism, a transcendental exercise which does not imply convergence (the common sense of the faculties leading to the recognition of an object) but discord.

Not all faculties can reach this point of dissolution, and at the same time we might discover that new faculties can always emerge. But what about language, and its relation to the unspeakable?

The encounter with the imperceptible, or unthinkable, or unspeakable, is a transcendent aleatory point where differentials of thought are enveloped. It is in this way that a thought becomes a passion. Brought before its own limit by an encounter (idea), the transcendental exercise of thought implies thus the capacity to grasp that which can only be thought (not through intelligible thinking), i.e. the unthinkable: thought evanescently disappearing or acquiring an absolute perfection. Thinking is not innate but must be engendered in thought, in order to create that which does not exist yet. It has to become able to risk, to think its own collapse, fracture, powerlessness, but also its greatest power. It is the thought without an image which Deleuze sensed in the writings of Artaud:
acephalism in thought
amnesia in memory
aphasia in language
agnosia in sensibility

As James argued, differential quotients (as substitutes for a completed curve) can also become conscious: more or less vague ideas can become thus objects of conscious knowledge, absent parts of the world becoming perceptual objects always implicitly saying more, always postulating a reality elsewhere. Very often, our knowledge is only virtual, in transit, and our experience is more of variations of rate and direction, more of transitions and tendencies, of ideas and concepts, than of accomplished perceptions. For Henri Bergson, the experience of transition is the experience of time, and therefore the main question for the philosopher is: ‘how can time appear to a consciousness that wants to see it but without measuring it, to grasp it without stopping it and without freezing it into positions?’ In other words, how can the idea be thought without freezing the very process of thinking in itself?

The idea of positions, as starting and arrival points of the cognitive process, is replaced by James with the concept of the ‘terminus’, a point of attraction for perception, thought and movement, a virtual object which the subjects ‘has in mind’ (idea) from the start, but which reveals itself as endpoint (or object) only retrospectively, while becoming the point of origin of a new initiation: termination is always in process. Virtually (or conceptually) experienced, the terminus attracts the body (for example gravity, or the micro-termini of breath), but is only known when movement has stopped and the body (as subject) is able to position it (as an object), i.e. when we go from the molecular to the molar scale of movement and thought, and the action has been fulfilled (in Whitehead’s words, ‘satisfied’). A terminus therefore is a limit, a point of bifurcation (or of inflection) between the molecular (where it actively works as an attractor) and the molar (where it is cognitively appropriated by the subject). Ideas are termini of thought.

But the initiation of movement by a point of attraction never occurs in a state of total balance: the movement is always already there, and the appearance of a new attractor (idea) pushes the body to enter a new wave or to go into a different orbit. In the same way, the end (perceived terminus) of thought is never really a blockage or a frozen point, but always carries with it a new invitation, a forward address to think. The transitionality of the movement of thought (the arrow’s flight) is therefore never stable but always on the edge of new potential openings, deviations, transformations: the internal limits (possible endpoints) of a thinking body (like an arrow) are never fixed and pre-determined but in continuous variation, endowed with a mutating materiality which makes them imperceptibly and continuously move: if, as argued by Bernard Cache, the Earth moves, then the arrow will never aim towards the same target, but will be constantly re-adjusting its flight.