Matheme and mytheme

I’ve occupied, and still move back and forth between, the world of the figurative and the mythematic, and the world of the thetic and the conceptual. If I have an argument, it is that it is necessary to know both, and to know the difference.

There is a thetic demarcation of the mythematic: the world of myth according to the world of ideas. A pantheon of gods-according-to-the-philosophers, of secularisations that are also elevations, spiritualisations of the concept. There is also, and without any symmetry between them, a mythic re-absorption of the thetic, which does not demarcate and delimit (since that is not the mode of myth), but rather destabilises and re-integrates. The concept appears there in person, or as persona, subject to the trials of storytelling. There is no firm truth there, because there is no firmness anywhere: reversals and transformations are common. The pantheon is brought down to earth, and its gods are set to hustling along with the rest of us.

A mature thinking must set up a transit between these two worlds, and their reflections in each other. That is not the same as constructing a complete model of one inside the other. The domination of the concept leads to a brittle world-image, a server-room infinity. The domination of the mytheme leads to disorientation, apocalypticism or blood-and-soil political poetics. Both are real and present dangers to the future of human thought.

Notebooks Out

You Just Can’t Understand Our Gnostic Sooth-Saying Because You’re Too Occluded

If this book/Voyage could be placed neatly in a “field” it would not be this book. I have considered naming its “field” Un-theology or Un-philosophy. Certainly, in the house of mirrors which is the universe/university of reversals, it can be called Un-ethical. Since Gyn/Ecology is the Un-field/Ourfield/Outfield of Journeyers, rather than a game in an “in” field, the pedantic can be expected to perceive it as “unscholarly”. Since it confronts old moulds/models of question-asking by being itself an Other way of thinking/speaking, it will be invisible to those who fetishize old questions – who drone that it does not “deal with” their questions.

Philosophers Are Children Scared Of The Dark

Patriarchy is itself the prevailing religion of the entire planet, and its essential message is necrophilia. All of the so-called religions legitimating patriarchy are mere sects subsumed under its vast umbrella/canopy. They are essentially similar, despite the variations. All – from buddhism and hinduism to islam, judaism, christianity, to secular derivatives such as freudianism, jungianism, marxism, and maoism – are infrastructures of the edifice of patriarchy. All are erected as parts of the male’s shelter against anomie.

We Get Ours Straight From The Real

In order to reverse the reversals completely we must deal with the fact that patriarchal myths contain stolen mythic power. They are something like distorting lenses through which we can see into the Background. But it is necessary to break their codes in order to use them as viewers; that is, we must see their lie in order to see their truth. We can correctly perceive patriarchal myths as reversals and as pale derivatives of more ancient, more translucent myth from gynocentric civilization. We can also move our Selves from a merely chronological analysis to a Crone-logical analysis. This frees feminist thought from the compulsion to “prove” at every step that each phallic myth and symbol had a precedent in gynocentric myth, which chronologically antedated it. The point is that while such historical study is extremely useful, we can, whenever necessary, rely upon our Crones’ clarifying logic to see through the distortions into the Background that is always present in our moving Self-centering time/space.


So, Mary Daly is quite the non-philosopher avant la lettre – the same global characterisation of all hitherto-existing thought as a sterile, self-regarding enclosure inextricably linked to a project of domination; the same claim to have discovered a radically different way of seeing (“Crone-logy”, “Spinning” etc) which treats that thought as material for revisionary redeployment; the same belief that one can (iff authentically female) immediately and in-person incarnate and speak “according to” an occluded Real. I was going to say that Laruelle was Mary Daly for dudes, but it would be more true to say that Mary Daly is gnosticism for lesbian separatists.

If Only You Had Been Right

I’m thinking – what else would I be doing? – about the valuation (in left-accelerationism and elsewhere) of the cognitive, its overvaluation or undervaluation. Here, for example, is what the internet already knows to be Dominic Fox’s Favourite Andrea Dworkin Quote:

There is also, possibly, sexual intelligence, a human capacity for discerning, manifesting, and constructing sexual integrity. Sexual intelligence could not be measured in numbers of orgasms, erections, or partners; nor could it show itself by posing painted clitoral lips in front of a camera; nor could one measure it by the number of children born; nor would it manifest as addiction. Sexual intelligence, like any other kind of intelligence, would be active and dynamic; it would need the real world, the direct experience of it; it would pose not buttocks but questions, answers, theories, ideas – in the form of desire or act or art or articulation.

I imagine an allergic reaction to this being triggered almost immediately by the word “intelligence”, and the reader breaking out in hives at the valuation of the “active and dynamic”, the masterful and virile intellect posing its “questions, answers, theories, ideas” to “the real world”. A pose of aggressive sufficiency, in which “desire or act or art or articulation” is always caught up in a movement of intelligence from itself to itself, “discerning, manifesting, and constructing”, making things smart. This vision of what intelligence is, and does, is indeed what I love in Dworkin: I think it is more characteristic of her than almost anything else; even her macabre involvement with extremes of violence, horror and humiliation is subservient to it, driven relentlessly forward by it. Pessimism of the intellect, but never pessimism towards the intellect. (Firestone was much the same).

We see also here Dworkin’s devaluation, in which I share wholeheartedly, of the world of appearances – “painted clitoral lips”, the imaginary realm scoped out by scopophilia, turned into manifest reality by pornographic staging. For her there is a dreadful fall from the qualitative – the deep interior of things, that which intellect must delve into and reason out – into the quantitative, that which can be measured, posed, addictively consumed. Intelligence has nothing to do with this “unreal” world, the world of commerce and communication (and this is where my Dworkin meets my Badiou, in their shared disdain for the democratic-materialist unworld of circulating signifiers). There is nothing to be learned from the “posed”, the “painted”. An entire dimension of performativity – everything that can happen on a stage, in front of a camera, for the amusement of an audience – is condemned here as essentially unworthy of thought. (Dworkin is in this sense perhaps the least “queer” lesbian ever).

My imagined allergic reader feels the lash of this condemnation and recoils. A part of humanity, perhaps a preponderant part, is to be carved away and cast into the fire. You can try to offer reassurance, but it’s too late. Most people don’t experience their intellect as in any way sufficient to their lived reality; the demand that everything be filtered through “intelligence” feels tyrannising and small-minded. They say that Dworkin hated sex; she didn’t, she found it endlessly rich and fascinating and complex. A challenge for thought, a genuinely worthy problem – “not the fun kind”, as she said of herself. What she hated was the kind of inane cruelty that comes out when things slip the reins of intellect and people’s childish wishes are brought garishly into fruition (the porn fairy waves her plastic wand…); the way this cruelty demands subordinated bodies to play its games with, to fashion into the material of its enjoyment. I’m with her there, 100%: obscenity and transgression are always fun for someone, and damn that someone to hell (even if, or especially when, it’s me). But you cannot separate humanity from obscenity: there is no possible “integrity” that does not involve some kind of compact with the unavowable.

Everybody Be More Dialectical

Round about now seems like a good time to say a word or two in defence of Sarah Ditum, if for no other reason than that it will annoy people.

I should start by admitting that I’ve often found Ditum’s attempts to push back on terminology to be quixotic, to say the least. For example, I think she’s at least half-wrong about TERF (which she claims is a “slur”) – there have been historically, and are still, radical feminists who maintain a separatist line that excludes from feminist political organising not only men but also transwomen on the grounds that the latter “are” men (and men intent on infiltration of sacred women’s space, to boot). Mary Daly was in this sense a trans-exclusionary radical feminist; Sheila Jeffreys was and is likewise. Whether someone like Gia Milinovich merits the label is another matter. I agree that it’s become a term of attack, but I don’t think that’s a reason not to use it; rather, I think it’s a reason to use it with precision against the right targets. Some people seem to think that no man, and perhaps even no woman, should ever employ any term of attack against any woman whatsoever. But I cannot think of any good reason, other than her notorious fondness for litigation, not to call someone like Cathy Brennan a TERF and, moreover, a transphobic bigot. I will own that I am attacking her in doing so; but I do not think I am subjecting her, or the language, to abuse. Even if you don’t agree with me that this distinction can be made about my own conduct here, you can probably think of a scenario in which it could and should be made. Sometimes it is right and just to go on the attack, and to use attacking language in doing so.

But enough of that for now: on to the main event, which is Ditum’s recent article opposing the adoption of “sex work” as a term for selling sex (or performing sexual services) for money.

A term like “sex work” is intended to push some things into the background – notably, as Ditum points out, the overwhelmingly gendered character of that work – and foreground others. It’s a baby-and-bathwater question. Most of what proponents of the new terminology are trying to clear out of the language is moralistic dreck and prurient fantasy that gets in the way of making proper sense of things – all the stigmatising muck that clings to words like “prostitute” and “prostitution” (which Ditum also acknowledges is dehumanising and distracting). What they are trying to bring out instead is the character of “sex work” as labour, and so amenable to labour organisation as a tool of political change, with the goal of bettering the lives of the (mostly) women who perform that labour.

This is a program with which many but not all of the people in that – perhaps unhelpfully broadly defined – line of work are increasingly aligned, along with a vocal chorus of allies. It’s a bit disingenuous to say that “sex work” is the term that sex workers prefer: it’s rather the term that people who prefer to think of themselves as “sex workers” prefer. There seems to be a general agreement among left-thinking people to see those who’ve adopted this form of self-definition as the conscious and militant fraction of their class, and as especially representative of it for that reason (irrespective of their actual numbers, which I’m not competent even to guess at). Ditum and others – I’ve recently seen Kate Smurthwaite taking a similar position – stand outside of this agreement, seeing sex-workers-who-prefer-to-be-called-“sex workers” as atypical; where many people see the political and polemical initiative being taken by a hitherto ignored and disrespected minority, they tend to see it as PR bluff and “industry” money amplifying the voices of a relatively privileged (and self-interested) subset of that minority.

There comes a point when the incessant demand to “listen” to such voices arouses impatience: when what is posed as urgent and authentic testimony begins to sound, on the contrary, like someone rehearsing a very familiar ideological narrative. At some point you’re going to want to question that narrative, at which point you will likely be placed automatically in the camp of “people who refuse to listen”. It is, as I well know, very tempting to double down at that point, and dig in to the contrary position just because.

The thing is, it’s a genuine differend: you can’t resolve the issue by calling on an authoritative subject – “sex workers themselves” – which just transparently knows how things stand. That’s begging the question, which is precisely whether this subject is a genuine political subject in the sense demanded (that is, a “conscious and militant fraction”, if not a numerical majority). If it is, then an attempt like Ditum’s to arrest its self-definition is arguably reactionary; if it isn’t, then Ditum’s is a timely and useful skepticism. I’m genuinely undecided about this. I don’t think it’s at all a simple matter, or simply resolvable. “It’s not work, it’s abuse” is also the statement of someone who knows, from experience, “what it is like”. The synthesis of contraries is a tricky business.

Ditum’s a thoughtful and nuanced writer, which in the context of internet polemics is a bit like being Tim Roth doing all that fancy fencing shit in front of Liam Neeson in Rob Roy and then getting cloven from shoulder to navel with a bloody great claymore (or, if you prefer, there’s a scene in one of Neal Stephenson’s books where one of the finest swordsmen in England is battered to death by an adversary wielding a large log). Defensive auto-stupefaction is the order of the day: people will “what is this I can’t even” you the moment you go off-script, and all the care you put into examining what the script actually says and what that really entails will be lost. You may press on anyway, in the hope of finding a sympathetic audience somewhere, but the crowd of people making “durrr” faces at you and telling you you’re dumb and obstinate will just go on getting bigger. I like and (in case it’s not obvious) identify a lot with Ditum’s cussedness in the face of that kind of treatment, even if I’m not convinced that it’s always properly directed. But there is a danger that the wind will change and you’ll wake up as Brendan O’Neill.

Protocol Duffers

A graph, yesterday
A graph, yesterday

What can we tell by both the order and size of a graph? One of the basic theorems of graph theory states that for any graph G, the sum of the degrees of the nodes equals twice the number of edges of G. That is, if the degree of any node is the number of edges connected to it (for node n1 with two edges connected to it, its degree = 2), the sum of all the degrees of the graph will be double the size of the graph (the number of edges). In other words, a network is not simply made up of a certain number of elements connected to one another, but is constituted by, qualified by, the connectivity of the nodes. How connected are you? What type of connection do you have? For a square, the sum of the degrees is 8 (the nodes [the square’s corners] each have two edges [the square’s lines] connected to them), while the sum of the edges is 4. In the IT industries connectivity is purely a quantitative measure (bandwidth, number of simultaneous connections, download capacity). Yet, in a different vein, Deleuze and Guattari describe network forms such as the rhizome as, in effect, edges that contain nodes (rather than vice versa), or even, paradoxically, as edges without nodes. In graph theory we see that the connectivity of a graph or network is a value different from a mere count of the number of edges. A graph not only has edges between nodes but edges connecting nodes.

This paragraph (from Galloway and Thacker on protocols) is typical of the faults of this kind of writing. Nothing that it says is entirely incorrect; and yet it confuses and misleads where it ought to clarify.

It is certainly true that there is a relationship between the ratio between the order and size of a graph, and the degree of its nodes. This can be stated precisely: given that the sum of all the degrees of the graph will be double the size of the graph, and the average degree of nodes in the graph will be that sum divided by the number of nodes, then the average degree of nodes in the graph will be twice the number of edges divided by the number of nodes. OK, so what? “A network is not simply made up of a certain number of elements connected to one another” – except that it still is. No extra information has been introduced by observing these ratios. There isn’t an additional property of “connectivity” (in the sense meant here, but see below) that is not inferrable from what we already know about size, order and the degree of each node. Saying “a graph not only has edges between nodes but edges connecting nodes” is a little like saying “the sun not only warms sunbathers, but also increases their temperature”.

The reference to “connectivity” as the term is used informally “in the IT industries” is largely a red herring here. The size, order and degrees of a graph are also “purely…quantitative” – what else would they be? As for Deleuze and Guattari, who can say? “Edges that contain nodes (rather than vice versa)” – who says that nodes “contain” edges? What could it possibly mean for either to contain the other? “Edges without nodes” do not exist in standard graph theory – there are no edges-to-nowhere or edges-from-nowhere. A rhizome’s structure is graph-like, in that nodes (in the botanical sense) put out multiple roots and shoots which connect to other nodes, but to map a rhizome as a graph we must introduce abstract “nodes” to represent the ends of shoots; only then can segments of the rhizome be considered “edges” between nodes (in the graph theoretical sense). None of this is particularly helpful in this context.

When we talk about “connectivity” in graph theory, we are typically talking about paths (traceable along one or more edges, e.g. from A to B and then from B to C) between nodes; the question that interests us is whether there are any nodes that are unreachable along any path from any other nodes, whether there are any disconnected subgraphs, how redundant the connections between nodes are, and so on. “Connectivity” in this sense is indeed not a function of the counts of nodes and edges (although if the number of edges is fewer than the number of nodes minus one, your graph cannot be fully connected…). But it is also not a matter of the degrees of nodes. A graph may be separable into multiple disconnected subgraphs, and yet every node may have a high degree, having multiple edges going out to other nodes within the subgraph to which it belongs. In this sense, it is indeed true that “the connectivity of a graph is…different from a mere count of the number of edges” (it is in fact the k-vertex-connectedness of the graph, a precise notion quite separate from that of degree). But the way in which it is really true is quite different from – and much more meaningful than – the way in which the above paragraph tries to suggest it is true.

What has happened here? The authors have clearly done their reading, but they have not synthesized their knowledge at the technical level: they move from learned fact to learned fact without understanding the logical infrastructure that connects them, being content instead to associate at the level of figurative resemblance. If pressed, writers in this style will often claim that they are identifying “homologies” (abusing that word also in the process) between things, and that one thing’s having a similar sort of conceptual shape to another is sufficient reason to associate them. But the available connectives in that case are weak (“it is surely no coincidence that…”, and other rhetorical substitutes for being able to demonstrate a reliably traversable connection), and it is often impossible to move from the resulting abstract quasi-structure back to the level of the explanandum without falling into total incoherence. The required “aboutness” just isn’t there: there is no negotiable passage back from the talk-about-talk to the talk-about-the-things-the-original-talk-was-about.

In the analysis of literary texts (and other cultural artifacts) we often are looking for structures of similar-patterning: for things which “look like” one another, which share a field of associations or a way of relating elements within that field. It is usually quite legitimate to compare two poems and to say that both have a common “logic” in the way they relate temporality and subjective identity-formation, or something like that. But it is foolish to apply the tools of literary analysis to objects whose primary mode of organisation is not figurative. Skimming along the surface of the language used by technicians in the description of their tasks, one may well discover patterns of association that are “telling”, that reveal something at the level of ideology. I am not proposing that cultural studies give up the jouissance of unmasking – without it, the discipline would lose its entire raison d’etre. But I would like to put in a plea for technical focus, of a kind appropriate to the domain, when dealing with technical subjects. You don’t have to ignore the things you’ve been trained to recognise, but you do need to be able to be undistracted by them. Get it right, then be clever. The payoffs may take longer in coming, but they’re so much realer.

Temporality and arche-temporality

There was a moment during my reading of Peter Wolfendale’s OOP: TNNC where I demurred somewhat, and it was at his reading of Harman on time/space.

Harman claims that real change is spatial, not temporal; in this he seems to me to be in agreement with Badiou, amongst others. Time for Harman, as for Badiou, is the temporality of permutation, during which an object’s properties cycle through various actualisations; real change is change to the disposition of the elements over which the temporal “cursor” ranges, and is experienced as temporal discontinuity, a break between epochs. (cf Foucault and the episteme, etc). Pete complains that this doesn’t enable us to account for the “deep” cosmological time of the arche-fossil, since all we have is local temporalities, cursors over objects – cosmological time must encompass the history of all possible objects, and cannot be local in that sense. On the other hand, the notion of a global temporality is tricksy to say the least, for good scientific (relativistic) reasons. In space-time, the everything that happens is intertwined with the temporality of its happening – when we say “such-and-such happened twenty billion years ago”, we typically omit a number of qualifications that it would be troublesome to spell out in detail.

This afternoon I read, in Chatelet:

“Time is born along with the Heavens, Plato assures us in the Timaeus, and was created on the model of eternal nature. It is the image of that eternal progression whose rhythm is number. The perfect year, the conjunction of the revolutions of the eight planets, has elapsed precisely once the Same has completed its revolution. Closed up in the gilded cage of Eternity, Time is certainly not responsible for the flux of becoming. So what is it that permits change? It is Space, the condition of dispersion, and thus also the condition of the meaningless scandals and provocations of the Other.”

So, I think it’s safe to say that this isn’t a deviant position, philosophically speaking. It’s arguably a very orthodox position within continental thought – you can see an echo of it in Bergson’s distinction between temps and durée, for example. It therefore seems a bit unfair to pick on Harman for playing his own variation on this theme – it’s reasonable within his system for him to localise temporality to objects, since objects are the foci of what-there-is. If we want to say that the temporality of scientific cosmology is different (non-cyclic, for one thing), we should certainly be able to say so, but the problem here is a problem for all philosophy within this tradition of thinking about temporality, not just Harman’s.

Typeclasses in Java 8

Java 8 doesn’t have implicits (for which much thanks will be given in some quarters), which makes it difficult to create typeclasses in a Scala(z)ish fashion. This is one possible compromise.

%d bloggers like this: