Posts Tagged ‘Bergson’

What is the power of the monstrous? Where does it get this power? Jacques Derrida, who in his early work associated the future as such with a certain monstrosity (cf Derrida’s preface to Of Grammatology), said in an interview:

A monster may be obviously a composite figure of heterogenous organisms that are grafted onto each other. This graft, this hybridization, this composition that puts heterogeneous bodies together may be called a monster. This in fact happens in certain kinds of writing. At that moment, monstrosity may reveal or make one aware of what the norm is and when this norm has a history–which is the case with discursive norms, philosophical norms, socio-cultural norms, they have a history–any appearance of monstrosity in this domain allows an analysis of the history of the norms. But to do that, one must conduct not only a theoretical analysis, one must produce what in fact looks like a discursive monster so that the analysis will be a practical effect, so that people will be forced to become aware of the history of normality. But a monster is not just that, it is not just this chimerical figure in some way that grafts one animal onto another, one living being onto another. A monster is always alive, let us not forget. Monsters are living beings. This monster is also that which appears for the first time, and consequently, is not yet recognized. A monster is a species for which we do not yet have a name, which does not mean that the species is abnormal, namely, the composition or hybridization of already known species. Simply, it shows itself–that is what the word monster means–it shows itself in something that is not yet shown and that therefore looks like a hallucination, it strikes the eye, it frightens precisely because no anticipation had prepared one to identify this figure. . . . But as soon as one perceives a monster in a monster, one begins to domesticate it, one begins, because of the `as such’–it is a monster as monster–to compare it to the norms to analyze it, consequently to master whatever could be terrifying in this figure of the monster. And the movement of accustoming oneself, but also of legitimation and, consequently, of normalization, has already begun. However monstrous events or texts may be, from the moment they enter into culture, the movement of acculturation, precisely, of domestication, of normalization has already begun. . . . This is the movement of culture. Texts and discourses that provoke at the outset reactions of rejection, that are denounced precisely as anomalies or monstrosities are often texts that, before being in turn appropriated, assimilated, acculturated, transform the nature of the field of reception, transform the nature of social and cultural experience, historical experience. All history has shown that each time an event has been produced, for example in philosophy or in poetry, it took the form of the unacceptable, or even of the intolerable, of the incomprehensible, that is, of a certain monstrosity” (Derrida, Points 385-87)

There are some key tools for the method of ontogenesis in Derrida’s words. (more…)

Throughout these blog entries I have continued to specify, define, differentiate, complexify, and diagram Gilles Deleuze’s conception of affect. Here is a further attempt, this one taken from Deleuze’s fine book Spinoza: Practical Philosophy, Robert Hurley, trans. (San Francisco: City Lights Books, 1988) 48-51.

Deleuze makes some crucial distinctions in the definition of “Affections, Affects” given in these three pages. Spinoza’s modes are the affections of substance or of its attributes. These affections are active (in what way exactly? this is a lingering question).

But affections are also “that which happens to the mode, the modifications of the mode, the effects of other modes on it” (48). Then Deleuze gives a definition of these modifications that involves us in thinking about image-theory in a materialist, affective manner. As modifications of the mode, affections are images or “corporeal traces,” and their ideas involve both the nature of the affected body and that of the affecting external body. Deleuze quotes Spinoza thus: “The affections of the human body whose ideas present external bodies as present in us, we shall call images of things….And when the mind regards bodies in this way, we shall say that it imagines.” These image-affections or ideas affect, in turn, the state of the body, pushing it along gradients of intensity, strengthening or decomposing its capacities to affect and be affected. “…from one state to another, from one image or idea to another, there are transitions, passages that are experienced, durations through which we pass to a greater or a lesser perfection. Furthermore, these states, these affections, images or ideas are not separable from the duration that attaches them to the preceding state and makes them tend toward the next state. These continual durations or variations of perfection are called ‘affects,’ or feelings (affectus)” (48-9).

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According to Grewal and Levy, marketing information systems create value for firms and customers. Information is data that crosses a threshold of pattern formation. Here I am thinking of distributed networked databases that interface events up and down the supply and distribution chain. When certain activities become volatile and unpredictable or dense and viscous, then a threshold of organization or circulation is crossed–this is both a threshold relatively stabilizing processes around a given basin of attraction, and a switch for processes of value capture (in the sense that Grewal and Levy understand that phrase). These activities could be patterns of consumption, perception, facebook clicks, habituation, circulation, desire, pleasure, sensation, association, recognition, movement, network mobilization.

Recognizing these patterns, creating innovative strategies for mining, organizing, restructuring, and potentializing these patterns add value to a firm and its customers.

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Let’s look at another take on consumer behaviour. In “Understanding consumer behaviour,” David Jobber specifies further why perception is crucial for marketing (Jobber, Principles and Practice of Marketing [London: McGraw-Hill, 2010] 108-143). Jobber claims that an understanding of customers can be gained by answering the following questions (109):
1. Who is important in the buying decision?
2. How do they buy?
3. What are their choice criteria?
4. Where do they buy?
5. When do they buy?

These are the key dimensions of buyer behaviour according to Jobber. In an interesting, although unacknowledged, reprise of Bergson’s memory cone, Jobber notes that need recognition of consumers runs a dynamic spectrum from functional (the simple recognition of needing a commodity like replacing a broken TV) to emotional or psychological (buying a perfume or cologne). The decision making process goes through various stages, and it is important that these concepts are presented in the pop-out box, at least in this instance, as a temporally linear unfolding: need recognition/problem awareness → information search → evaluation of alternatives → purchase → post-purchase evaluation of decision. Memory and perception and their mobilization are key throughout. For instance, in the first stage need recognition will happen initially through “a review of relevant information from memory” (113). The aim of searching for information for a good marketer like Jobber is to build up the “awareness set—that is, the array of brands that may provide a solution to the problem” (113). Much like Grewal and Levy, Jobber expends a few choice words on “low-involvement situations.”

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It was my first, and I hope not last, visit to ARCO, an international arts market. It was interesting, if only because of the anxiety of being a part of an institutional machinery for assigning an exchange value to what should have no fixed exchange or use value.

The discursive context fed into my project of trying to engage Negri, Deleuze, Bergson, and Massumi on value and affect.

This is what I said:

What is the relation of Value to Affect?
“Pagar mas o menos es una cuestion que cada uno debe sopesar. El valor del arte no esta vinculado al dinero, sino al amor que uno siente por una obra ya que su objectivo, lejos de ser especifico, es realzar la experiencia personal de quien la admira y cuyo futuro es imposible de prever.”

“To pay more or to pay less [for a work of art] is a question that…is up to the individual to decide. The value of art has nothing to do with money, but with the emotive connection with an artwork. Its goal is to enhance the personal experience of the person admiring it, and therefore its future is impossible to predict.” (Marie Elena Angulo, qtd. in “Assigning Value to Art,” ABCDARCO, 2, Feb. 12, 2009)

The creation of market value today is immense and immeasurable but susceptible to control, discipline, modulation, and change. (Paraphrase of Antonio Negri in “Value and Affect” [1999])

IT IS FUNNY THAT AT AN ART FAIR EVERYTHING I HAVE READ AND HEARD IS ABOUT QUESTIONING IF ART CAN HAVE A VALUE AT ALL.

THERE SEEMS TO BE SOME PARTICULAR ANXIETY AMONG ARTISTS, CRITICS, AND THE GENERAL PUBLIC THAT ART BE BOTH A COMMODITY TO BE BOUGHT AND SOLD, AND BECAUSE IT CALLS FORTH A SUBJECTIVE RESPONSE IT BE BEYOND THE COMMODITY FORM.

AN OLD ANXIETY AT ARCO? MAYBE SOMEONE FROM THE AUDIENCE CAN FILL US IN DURING THE QUESTION/ANSWER?

IN ANY CASE, I WANT TO BEGIN WITH TWO TERMS THAT ARE NOT ONLY IMPORTANT FOR HOW WE THINK OF THE ETHICS OF ARCO, BUT CRUCIAL TO HOW WE UNDERSTAND THE LIFE OF CULTURAL PRODUCTION IN India TODAY.

THOSE TWO TERMS ARE VALUE AND AFFECT!

SLIDE 1:

WHAT IS VALUE?
BECAUSE VALUE TODAY IS DEFINED BY THE QUALITATIVE CHANGE IT BRINGS TO A PRODUCT LINE (as in value added services); or an identity (as in cultural value)—VALUE IS BASICALLY DEFINED AS OUTSIDE OF ANY MEASURE.
BUT DOES THAT MEAN THAT IT IS OUTSIDE OF CONTROL?
PEOPLE WORKING IN THE FIELD OF MARXIST CULTURAL ANALYSIS OR FOUCAULDIAN BIOPOLITICS SUCH AS ANTONIO NEGRI ANSWER CLEARLY NO, VALUE IS NOT BEYOND CONTROL.
IN FACT THE PRODUCTION OF VALUE IS A FORM A CONTROL.

How to define Affect?
In recent work by feminist political economists, postcolonial critics, and Marxist philosophers, affect is defined as the substance of interaction and communication: distinct from “emotion,” affect is defined by its relational character, not limited by an internalized feeling. In that regard, affect is considered pre-individual, operating in those strata of being where the subject and populations meet. Recalling Baruch Spinoza’s “ethics,” the production of affect is not conceivable otherwise than in terms of the production of a relational capacity: the capacity to affect and be affected.

“It is not right to say that the cinematographic image is in the present. What is in the present is what the image ‘represents’, but not the image itself, which, in cinema as in painting, is never to be confused with what it represents. The image itself is the system of the relationships between its elements, that is, a set of relationships of time from which the variable present only flows. “ Gilles Deleuze, Cinema Two: The Time Image

AFFECT IS A BODILY CAPACITY TO AFFECT AND BE AFFECTED. IT IS SUBJECTIVE (ABOUT YOUR HABITS), AND POPULATIONAL (HABITS DEVELOPED SOCIALLY AND BIOLOGICALLY).
PEOPLE INVOLVED IN AFFECT STUDIES HAVE FOREGROUNDED THE IMPORTANCE OF BREAK AWAY FROM THE MIND/BODY DUALISMS THAT HAVE CHARACTERIZED WESTERN THOUGHT FROM ITS INCEPTION.
AFFECT IS NOT ABOUT EMOTIVE RESPONSE; IT IS ABOUT CAPACITIES THAT EMERGE FROM THE INTERACTION OF MANY, MANY BUNDLED PROCESSES IN THE BODY, IN PERCEPTION, IN ATTENTION, IN MEMORY.
IN SHORT, AFFECT IS ABOUT RELATIONS OF TIME EMBODIED IN SENSORIMOTOR CIRCUITS. (THE PHILOSOPHICAL PREDECESSORS HERE ARE SPINOZA, NIETZSCHE, BERGSON, WHITEHEAD, MEARLEU-PONTY, DELEUZE, LUCRETIUS AND BHARATMUNI)
THIS IS HOW BERGSON DEFINES THE IMAGE: BETWEEN REPRESENTATION AND MATTER, IMAGES ARE SENSORIMOTOR CIRCUITS.

“… define attention as an adaptation of the body rather than of the mind and to see in this attitude of consciousness mainly the consciousness of an attitude.”
-Henri Bergson, Matter and Memory

Rigid Waves is an example of...?

Rigid Waves is an example of...?

Hansen writes: “Forging such a cultural image of the body is crucial if we are to forestall the instrumentalization of the body and all that follows from it, above all the foreclosure of being-with or the finitude of our form of life. Far from being a mere ‘instrument’ or the first ‘medium’ (as some versions of posthumanism allege), the body is a primordial and active source of resistance; indeed, it is as resistance–as the ‘living expression of something simultaneously organization and obstacle to its organization’–that the body forms the source of excess supporting all levels of constitution (or individuation), from the cellular to the cosmic. As source of excess, the body possesses a flexibility that belies any effort, such as that of cybercultural criticism (and behind it, of cultural constructivism), to reduce it to a passive surface for social significance. The body is, affirms Millon ‘an entity that becomes a person, a creative subject, a being or an individual according to the circumstances.'” (Bodies in Code 15)

You kinda just wanna cheer at this passage. I do in some part of me: I want to say Yes, yes, the body is resistance, resistance, resistance.

It’s precisely what I argue against in Untimely Bollywood (Duke UP, 2009). That the excess of the body should not be confused with the anthropocentric notion of resistance in cultural(ist) criticism (the excess of the body is a non-coinciding virtuality that potentializes the body, and thus is not a story about us). More, that the form of power necessary to turn the body into the privileged site of primordial resistance reminds one of Marcuse, and so of course also of Foucault’s critique of the repressive hypothesis in History of Sexuality and many other texts. What do we make then of this resistance?

There is a correlated problem: that of the example. What is the status of the example in Hansen’s work. One thinks of Derrida’s analysis of the example in the law of genre, to wit that the example always comes to fulfill the theory, that the example is always already gridded by the theory. This is of course precisely what happens in Hansen’s work: the example comes to confirm the theory that has set the stage for its arrival–the theory frames the example…

Bergson writes in Time and Free Will: “To say that the same inner causes will reproduce the same effects is to assume that the same cause can appear a second time on the stage of consciousness. Now, if duration is what we say, deep seated psychic states are radically heterogeneous to each other, and it is impossible that any two of them should be quite alike, since they are two different moments of a life-story. While the external object does not bear the mark of the time that has elapsed and thus, in spite of the difference of time, the physicist can again encounter identical elementary conditions, duration is something real for the consciousness which preserves the trace of it, and we cannot here speak of identical conditions, because the same moment does not occur twice. It is no use arguing that, even if there are no two deep-seated psychic states which are altogether alike, yet analysis would resolve these different states into more general and homogeneous elements which might be compared with each other. This would be to forget that even the simplest psychic elements possess a personality and a life of their own, however superficial they may be; they are in a constant state of becoming, and the same feeling, by the mere fact of being repeated, is a new feeling. Indeed, we have no reason for calling it by its former name save that it corresponds to the same external cause or projects itself outwardly into similar attitudes: hence it would simply be begging the question to deduce from the so-called likeness of two conscious states that the same cause produces the same effect. In short, if the causal relation still holds good in the realm of inner states, it cannot resemble in any way what we call causality in nature” (199-201). 

Now this brings us to some of the fundamental shifts that Bergson hopes to achieve in the history of philosophy. First, causality in nature is not the same causality of lived duration. Causality, the principle of logical necessity between cause and effect, is an abiding concern in Bergsonian theory, from Bergson himself through to Prigogine, Deleuze, Massumi, Hansen, Grosz, Delanda, Shaviro, and onward. One might pose usefully it seems to me the relation between Deleuze’s quasi-cause (as elaborated in the Logic of Sense) and Bergson’s non-linear causality of becoming. What is most important in this relation? First, time is an irreducible component of all physical and psychic being, its being in belonging to mixtures of co-evolution. Assemblages only happen in time, although time is not “of” an assemblage (by which we mean that temporal relations cannot give us “types” of assemblages, only statistical probabilities and their indefinable unfolding, patterned but stochastic). In that sense, non-linear causality helps us to pose becoming as an unfolding of resonant processes, which while statistically regular on large scales (robust to shocks), are nonetheless open to chance and mutation at other scales of interactions. This breaks with the notion that causes are fixed, unified, and predictable–they are none of those things in the short (human consciousness) and long (embedded timescales of evolution) run. 

But this brings us to a lingering problem in Bergson–at least in this text (we might usefully compare this to the much later Creative Evolution). Why does Bergson reduce pure succession to lived durations in consciousness? Many times, he insists that pure duration is only so for a consciousness which endures. But does this have to be so? Many today would argue that everything–from a sugar cube on fire or dissolving in a glass of water to the swirling hurricane-like vortex at Saturn’s south pole (see http://ciclops.org/view/2313/Looking_Saturn_in_the_Eye)–endures. Stuart Kauffman asks rightly by what criteria do we say such phenomena (he is mostly talking about dissipative structures like the vortex Great Red Spot on Jupiter, not sugar cubes! See At Home in the Universe 20-21) is or is not alive. There is a lively debate here on the nature of life, and it centers precisely on duration and non-linear causality. 

There are other relations to also keep in mind with the above quote. The insistence that no psychic state can have a predictable causal relation to subsequent psychic states is part of the larger project of grappling with the pure succession “by imperceptible steps” of intensive processes. That time cannot be figured (or pre-figured, as Bergson shows in his analysis of the future in present causality) as space–indeed, once it is figured at all, as symbolical representation, time becomes space–is the central thesis of this thesis (yes, this was his doctoral thesis, sheesh!). Time is a continuous, non-quantifiable multiplicity, and the aim of Bergson’s thought is to aspire to a form of intuitive rationality commensurate with time’s becoming. 

 

Some definitions: endos·mo·sis (en′däs mōsis)noun, in osmosis, the more rapid, inward diffusion of the less dense fluid through the semipermeable membrane to mingle with the more dense

Hylozoism is the philosophical conjecture that all or some material things possess life, or that all life is inseparable from matter.” 

Thus, Bergson glosses a fluid, imperceptible transference as a habit of thought: “We have seen that, though our deepest conscious states exclude numerical multiplicity, yet we break them up into parts external to one another; that though the elements of concrete duration permeate one another, duration expressing itself in extensity exhibits moments as distinct as the bodies scattered in space. Is it surprising, then, that between the moments of our life, when it has been, so to speak, objectified, we set up a relation analogous to the objective relation of causality, and that an exchange, which again may be compared to the phenomenon of endosmosis, takes place between the dynamic idea of free effort and the mathematical concept of necessary determination? But the sundering of these two ideas is an accomplished fact in the natural sciences” (218). Bergson has just suggested that “Here again the mistake made by consciousness arises from the fact that it looks at the self, not directly, but by a kind of refraction through the forms which it has lent to external perception, and which the latter does not give back without having left its mark on them” (217). The aim here as elsewhere is to restore to consciousness pure duration, and to stop treating time “as a homogeneous medium” (220); the obstacle is consciousness itself in its habits of reducing pure succession to simultaneity, difference to the homogeneous, and thus spatializing what ought to be understood as enduring. 

“We have seen that, though our deepest conscious states exclude numerical multiplicity, yet we break them up into parts external to one another; that though the elements of concrete duration permeate one another, duration expressing itself in extensity exhibits moments as distinct as the bodies scattered in space. Is it surprising, then, that between the moments of our life, when it has been, so to speak, objectified, we set up a relation analogous to the objective relation of causality, and that an exchange which again may be compared to the phenomenon of endosmosis, takes place between the dynamic idea of free effort and the mathematical concept of necessary determination?” (218). One could easily object that what after all is “our deepest conscious states”–is it some kind of essentialism of consciousness, and even more troubling doesn’t Bergson assume that he has gotten (we readers) there? Like many of the problematic terms that Bergson uses–purity, for me, most of all–it seems that the deepest conscious state actually turns out to be a confused mixture of imperceptible succession. But, then, could free will be located in something so confused and heterogeneous?

“We can now formulate our conception of freedom. Freedom is the relation of the concrete self to the act which it performs. This relation is indefinable, just because we are free. For we can analyse a thing, but not a process ; we can break up extensity, but not duration. Or, if we persist in analysing it, we unconsciously transform the process into a thing and duration into extensity. By the very fact of breaking up concrete time we set out its moments in homogeneous space ; in place of the doing we put the already done ; and, as we have begun by, so to speak, stereotyping the activity of the self, we see spontaneity settle down into inertia and freedom into necessity. Thus, any positive definition of freedom will ensure the victory of determinism” (219-20). 

What is after all concrete? Does it have a difference resonance in French? We would need to check the French which I have not done…But strikingly freedom is a relation of a body (a perceiving, cognizing, multiplicity) to specific kinds of actions; but this relation is graspable not as a definition but a definite process with a definite, but non-spatial, non-repeatable, singular, and irreversible duration. 

“To sum up ; every demand for explanation in regard to freedom comes back, without our suspecting it, to the following question Can time be adequately represented by space ? “To which we answer : Yes, if you are dealing with time flown ; No, if you speak of time flowing. Now, the free act takes place in time which is flowing and not in time which has already flown. Freedom is therefore a fact, and among the facts which we observe there is none clearer. All the difficulties of the problem, and the problem itself, arise from the desire to endow duration with the same attributes as extensity, to interpret a succession by a simultaneity, and to express the idea of freedom in a language into which it is obviously untranslatable” (221). 

So what then do we do with this undefinable relation, this fact called freedom? It is to insist the the absolutely undetermined event must be the constituted outside of all relations, all actions of the brain or body, the embodied mind, are constituted by this outside folded into the repetitions of its intensities. But note then that the folding of freedom into a process without end, or foreseeable product, is to insist that the aim of life is to actualize this experience of freedom by giving oneself to a given practice. The outside becomes the most intimate, and even the very stability of subject and object breaks down in duration. The outside simply turns out to be the virtual proceeding of the actual. 

There remains the problem of adequation. Is the language used by Bergson–intensity, sensation, sympathy, duration, succession, freedom, relation, action, perception–is this the language which best expresses the idea of freedom? And if it does, has this language escaped the spatializing tendency of symbolical representation? How?

The obvious, if not quite fully satisfying answer, is that Bergson defines this language as without definition, without visual perspective, the done product grasped in vision as opposed to the imperceptible unfolding of the lived duration of an event: a kind of synaesthesia of time. So in that sense the formulation (as translated) of Bergson’s triumphant sentence last quoted has this double sense, of a thought that has not left the desire for adequation, and thus for space, and a dim realization of a method that has found a kind of transcendental empiricism as its practice. To grow old and young in the event at once, to discover the untimely in all things, at every moment as an affirmation of freedom. But perhaps the post-Nietzschean/ Deleuzian experiment with Bergson is our new spatialization (for an attempt to practice something like that for media assemblage theory see: Deleuze, Cinema, and Zen: Break the Motor)? Is it not possible that concepts once monstrous but now part of the machinery of capture and domestication, as they enter the world of philosophy, of sociology, or literary and media criticism inevitably ossify the durational into the spatial, become the product (with their own cultural capital accruing or waning) of that which has already escaped it?  

How to think durational movement without product, space, simultaneity–without telos (goal, aim)? How could such a thought make a claim to 1. thought, 2. politics, 3. the future?

A practical way to go forward here is to compare some of Bergson’s theses on duration to Suzuki on Zen. In his 1951 paper “The Philosophy of Zen” (Philosophy East and West, 1:2, 3-16), Daisetz Suzuki writes that “When I say that Zen is life, I mean that Zen is not to be confined within conceptualization, that Zen is what makes conceptualization possible, and therefore that Zen is not to be identified with any particular brand of ‘ism'” (3). I take conceptualization here to mean symbolical representation, that it comes out of life itself, or what Bergson calls lived duration. Suzuki goes on to say that the experience of Zen is best expressed–again we are to contemplate what forms of expression, language, indeed (non)conceptualization best describes the non-conceptualizable–by the doctrine of sunyata which “means emptiness” but has no direct equivalence in English. It is not a negative term, it “is a positive concept with a definite connotation, but it ought not to be considered an outcome of abstraction or generalization, for it is not a postulated idea. It is what makes the existence of anything possible, but it is not to be conceived immanently, as if it lay hidden in or under every existence as an independent entity. A world of relativities is set on and in sunyata; sunyata envelops, as it were, the whole world, and yet is in every object existing in the world” (4). Sunyata is the experience that reconciles the contradiction between immanentism and transcendentalism. 

When we are out of sunyata we experience the duality of object/subject, but in it we are “in Zen.” “To experience means to become aware of, but not in the way in which we become aware of the world of sense-and-intellect. In the latter case, we always have a subject that is aware of something and an object of which the subject is aware, for the world of sense-and-intellect is a dichotomous world of subject and object. This unique way consists in sunyata’s remaining in itself and yet making itself an object of experience to itself. This means dividing itself and yet holding itself together” (5). Clearly, sunyata would be an experience that would fundamentally call into question causality and non-contradiction, and in that sense Bergson’s notion of the qualitative multiplicity of lived duration before symbolical representation would help us to affirm this experience. But, on the one hand, Suzuki is too categorical in his dismissal of logic. Aren’t there different logics which proceed through the pragmatism of functional mixtures and dynamic thresholds? Topological reasoning would be one example, tactical media (see Race, Perception, and the Institutionalization of Networks) would be another. More, isn’t intuitional reason a kind of logic of sense? On the other, sunyata helps us to critically engage the desire for adequation that marks Bergson’s final passage quoted above. 

Sunyata can help us to focus, to stay focused on the interminable process of a method, that is like one continuous mistake. A practice of the false. “Reasoning defeats itself, finds itself altogether futile, in its attempt to reach sunyata, because reasoning, instead of trying to see sunyata itself in the process of reasoning, strives to reach sunyata as the goal of reasoning, that is, when all the reasoning comes to an end” (6). Suzuki’s Zen and Bergson’s duration converge here on the insistence that one cannot substitute analysis for process-practice without turning time into space. 

But we should not lose site of the fact that for Suzuki, in Zen there is the experience of “sudden enlightenment.” We should not take this too seriously, or too lightly. “When sunyata is awakened to itself or becomes aware of itself, which is ‘knowing and seeing’ itself, we have another name for it: sunyata is tathata. Tathata is everyday thought, it is “an affirmation through and through” (6). But tathata is sunyata, and sunyata is tathata. “A Buddhist philosopher declares: A mountain is a mountain and water is water before a sunyata-experience takes place; but after it a mountain is not a mountain and water is not water; but again when the experience deepens, a mountain is a mountain and water is water” (7).

Nothing special, like a frog just sitting. We are reminded here of another Suzuki, Shunryu Suzuki who in Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind (New York: Weatherhill, 1970) wrote: “Zen stories, or koans, are very difficult to understand before you know what we are doing moment after moment. But if you know exactly what we are doing in each moment, you will not find koans so difficult. There are so many koans. I have often talked to you about a frog, and each time everybody laughs. But a frog is very interesting. He sits like us, too, you know. But he does not think that he is doing anything so special. When you go to a zendo and sit, you may think you are doing some special thing. While your husband or wife is sleeping, you are practicing zazen! You are doing some special thing, and your spouse is lazy! That may be your understanding of zazen. But look at the frog. A frog also sits like us, but he has no idea of zazen. Watch him. If something annoys him, he will make a face. If something comes along to eat, he will snap it up and eat, and he eats sitting. Actually that is our zazen—not any special thing. Here is a kind of frog koan for you. Baso was a famous Zen master called the Horse-master. He was the disciple of Nangaku, one of the Sixth Patriarch’s disciples. One day while he was studying under Nangaku, Baso was sitting, practicing zazen. He was a man of large physical build; when he talked, his tongue reached to his nose; his voice was loud; and his zazen must have been very good. Nangaku saw him sitting like a great mountain or like a frog. Nangaku asked, “What are you doing?” ‘Tampracticingzazen,” Baso replied. “Why are you practicing zazen?” “I want to attain enlightenment; I want to be a Buddha,” the disciple said. Do you know what the teacher did? He picked up a tile, and he started to polish i t . In Japan, after taking a tile from the kiln, we polish it to give it a beautiful finish. So Nangaku picked up a tile and started to polish it. Baso, his disciple, asked, “What are you doing?” “I want to make this tile into a  jewel,” Nangaku said. “How is it possible to make a tile a jewel?” Baso asked. “How is it possible to become a Buddha by practicing zazen?” Nangaku replied. “Do you want to attain Buddhahood ? There is no Buddhahood besides your ordinary mind. When a cart does not go, which do you whip, the cart or the horse?” the master asked. Nangaku’s meaning here is that whatever you do, that is zazen. True zazen is beyond being in bed or sitting in the zendo. If your husband or wife is in bed, that is zazen. If you think, “I am sitting here, and my spouse is in bed,” then even though you are sitting here in the cross-legged position, that is not true zazen. You should be like a frog always. That is true zazen.”

This is too beautiful not to quote in full, and in any case, as Patricia Clough and I affirmed to each other just before we saw Wall-E with As’sia, my daughter, we only aspire to bring together in a new diagram the force of innumerable quotes!

In any case, Daisetz Suzuki differentiates sunyata-tathata from pragmatism by radically de-linking practice from teleology, and Zen from time. “Time and teleology are interwoven, and Zen transcends time, and therefore, teleology also” (8). But what Bergson has shown throughout his life’s work is that time is teleology only after the done is separated from the doing, the product from the process, that is when time is spaced. But lived duration, and the intuitional reason that gives it its singular dynamism, its pure potentiality, is radically free, and also and for precisely that reason, non-teleological. 

But that is not all Susuki has to say here on time; indeed, he goes on to suggest that momentalistic Zen is not, because each moment has eternity in it. “To Zen, time and eternity are one. This is open to misinterpretation, as most people interpret Zen as annihilating time and putting in its place eternity, which to them means a state of absolute quietness or doing-nothingness. They forget that if time is eternity, eternity is time, according to Zen. Zen has never espoused the cause of doing-nothing-ness; eternity is our everyday experience in this world of sense-and-intellect, for there is no eternity outside this time-conditionedness. Eternity is possible only in the midst of birth and death, in the midst of time process” (8-9). So eternity is the difference immanent to process (of course in Zen Buddhism, eternity is inseparable from divinity). The (non)aim would be a kind of motionless duration, echoing with a future that will only ever remain potential. I would think this potentiality is divinity, if I needed divinity to make this thought, how shall we say, living. But the thought needs nothing, because it is isomorphic with the life it models, enters into mixtures with it, and emerges as multiform expression. Only certain of the expressive forms–narrative, sign, icon, figuration, discourse, metaphor, montage, syntagmatic unit, character–are recognized and legitimated through pedagogical institutions of gridding and exploitative value, even when they are part of movements of counter-actualization (anarcho-Marxism, ecofeminism, womanist anti-imperialism, Maoist postcolonialism, poly-sexualization). Couldn’t we think of a political practice of counter-actualization in various media–from literature to the screen to the cellphone–that begins with a new lexicon: attach and attack the grid in the grid, denaturalize it, and then radically naturalize it. Expressive forms are thus refunctioned, and the political becomes the untimely in the potentialities of co-evolution. By calling into question the stability of the category “political” itself, new gradients will emerge as a froglike practice reassembles media and their intensities. Strictly, nothing special. 

 

I don’t mean to fetishize Suzuki’s Zen, because we know of the use Japanese Zen buddhists made of their practice during World War II. Zizek speaks about this in his talk at Google, and his words are important to think about.