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Process and the Derailing of Reality: Catherine Pickstock and the Return of Platonic Cosmology (Part III)

Process And The Derailing Of Reality: Catherine Pickstock And The Return Of Platonic Cosmology (Part III)

In part one of this essay we looked at Eric Voegelin’s debts to the process thinkers A.N. Whitehead, William James and Henri Bergson. In part 2 we considered the “speculative realist” dimensions of his thought in relation to Plato’s Sophist and the work of Étienne Souriau. Nonetheless, one of the most obvious things about Voegelin is that although he embraces process for understanding the metaxic relationship between human consciousness and the Beyond through the symbols of Plato, he has almost nothing to say about Platonic cosmology whatsoever. Let alone the Sophist, his treatment of the Timaeus in Volume III of Order and History, in spite of it being the key Platonic text for both medieval Christianity and Islam, is short, sharp, and, for want of a better term, woeful. Nowhere in his work does Voegelin ever seem to engage with the Platonic Forms in any serious manner. In many ways like Leo Strauss and Hannah Arendt, his emphasis as post-war thinker was obviously on the recovery of the political aspects of pre-modern thought in the face of the totalitarian disasters of the 20th century. Most likely he simply thought that the cosmological language of Plato and his successors was now irrelevant.

This is strongly evinced in one of Voegelin’s most famous essays, “On Debate and Existence” where we find him declaring that a “solid core” of moral symbols could be salvaged from Thomism, but the old “closed cosmologies” in which they were grounded are now lost to us.[1] Yes indeed, the old Ptolemaic spheres collapsed a long time ago, but today one should perhaps be far more concerned with the sort of blinkered “Flat Earth” cosmology to which we have been increasingly reduced since the middle of last century. A full century ago now D. H. Lawrence declaimed that “When I hear modern people complaining of being lonely, I know what has happened. They have lost the cosmos.” Yet, it is no longer that the infinite void of space terrifies or excites. Even this has increasingly been occluded. Instead we are left with what I often like to call the climate of opinion of the “three oikoi” – economy, ecology and global technological ecumene, a spaghetti junction of oversaturated networks of immanent affect and information. If there ever was a “closed cosmology” that seemed deserving of being shattered more than the old crystalline spheres and their anxious wheels within wheels, then this is perhaps it.

If one might be so easily satisfied by converting our symbols to those of the present climate, then one might as well go the whole hog and adopt something like “information theology.” This idea centres itself upon the attempt to understand and decode God’s message to human beings, which becomes corrupted along the way by “noise” because of original sin. As William Dembski writes: “Thus, when Jesus in John 17:21 prays for believers to be united with God, he is praying for a communication between God and humanity in which the world of God is perfectly realised.”[2] Indeed, one might say in a parody of Heidegger’s famous remarks concerning the “fulfilment” of philosophy in cybernetics, that information becomes the “good news.”

The idea of an information theology drawing up little charts of circuits of communication and control between the human animal and the ontotheological machine may indeed seem like the most vulgar and amusing idea conceivable (it may well be). Yet, once the ironic laughter is done, we would be left only with a profoundly sad affect, not at our inability to take informatics cosmology seriously for fear of becoming cyborg monsters, but at the terrible realisation that as with the majority of post-war mythology, that it is undead, and, for lack of anything better to do, has long since declined into simply the building of an alien mass-mobilised megastructure of data hoarding. It is already after the fact, the pyramid buried in the jungle, a monument to somebody else’s strange forgotten gods.[3]

However, let us neither be morose about such things, nor pin our hope on the imagined imminent coming of some new techno-cosmic paradigm that shall release us from the tedious Demiurge of informatics. The latter is most certainly unlikely any time soon. Instead, let us begin to ask how we might live well even in such a world, contrary both to the Gnostic Heideggers wishing to be saved from an evil Platonism gone wrong, and their contrarian descendants – the Lands, Sloterdijks and Negarestanis – assuring us that the avid embrace of informatics is the only thing worth talking about. We are called then, to repeat Plato, but differently, in the same way that anyone today who still has Christian faith and is aware of the ideas of Voegelin and other genealogists of political theology must accept and consider all the terrible, failed and broken permutations that have been shed therefrom over the long millennia of history. Just as Chesterton famously said that Christianity had been found difficult and left untried, we must nurse our return to Plato with a similar recognition. So too, if we are to talk about speculative cosmology and ontology, then we should begin with engaging perhaps the most outstanding current attempt to do so in a Platonic vein, the work Repetition and Identity by the Radical Orthodoxy theologian Catherine Pickstock.

The Failed Millennium of Difference

As a perspicacious reader might recognise, the title of Catherine Pickstock’s Repetition and Identity seems to echo Gilles Deleuze’s 1968 Difference and Repetition.[4] Deleuze is perhaps the greatest conscious 20th c. champion of the univocity of being, as part one of this essay made clear. Aside from a little on Freud and his Positivism, the core of Pickstock’s book is aimed squarely at Deleuze. The Deleuze Pickstock takes to task is not the Deleuze with Félix Guattari of the schizo nomadic war machines of Anti-Oedipus and A Thousand Plateaus that has been so influential and done to death in recent years, but that of Deleuze’s earlier solo Difference and Repetition and The Logic of Sense.[5] Just as once upon a time any honest thinker had to begin by dealing with Derrida’s Nietzschean crossword puzzle challenge before she started, now she must begin with Deleuze. Yet, there are some things that make this chore quite interesting – Deleuze’s debts to Scholasticism.

The first debt is to Duns Scotus’ concept of haecceity or “thisness,” which the Subtle Doctor coined in order to argue that every particular entity has its own specific essence. Scotus, as was affirmed in part 1 of this essay, was not a nominalist. He believed that there were universals inherent in being – shared essences for species of creatures for example – but that these were processed through the particularity of entities. Depending on how high one sets the bar for realism, one must at very least grant that he was a realist of a sort. Besides univocity and haecceity, from Scotus and Henri Bergson Deleuze also took the Scholastic concept of the “virtual” – aspects of entities that could be actualized but might not necessarily ever actualise without sufficient potentiae (influences) from their interaction with other things.

The question of the virtual is the question of emergence, change and possibility. As Scotus himself said of the individuation of entities from one another and our difficulty telling where one ends and another begins, it is “one thing that is virtually or pre-eminently two realities.”[6] Medieval Scholastics agreed on one thing: that all entities have an essence that made them what they are and that through existence this was actualized, whether to its full potential or affected by non-essential accidents. However, just about everyone, from Avicenna and Averroes to Aquinas and Scotus had a different conception about whether essence and existence were the same thing or not. Aquinas argued that they were different and that essence always preceded existence; Scotus taught that essence and existence were the same. The problem, then, is what happens when some novel aspect of an entity appears out of the mysterious virtual realm? This might suggest that we do not know what the full essence of an entity actually is. Just about all the weight of Deleuze’s Difference and Repetition is placed on a twist on this problem, on the Spinozan “perhaps we do not yet know what a body can do” –on immanent and imminent revolutions in possibility, power and political rebellion. Deleuze as arch-nominalist utilises the concepts of haecceity and the virtual to claim that every particular entity in existence is in perpetual flux, differing even from itself. So the old saying of Heraclitus’ student Cratylus went: one cannot walk in the same river even once. [7]  This is quite a claim – one of difference preceding any and all identity. It is also a remarkably flawed one, as Pickstock demonstrates.

Pickstock begins by looking at Deleuze’s readings of Henri Bergson and Friedrich Nietzsche in Difference and Repetition. Bergson’s conception of durée (duration) envisions time as a kind of “pure past.” From the perspective of “real time” beyond human perception, all of history is already done and clammed up together in one big lump like the base of a cone. The present and its extensionality is really like the tiny pointy tip of this cone, descending into the past in order to “remember”. This means that everything is already recollection, there is no originality. This cone is considered by Bergson as the eternal reality – and even as “God.” Pickstock writes:

“Bergson’s modernist sequence to French symbolism might come closer than Platonism to ‘world refusal,’ because for Plato, in order to rise above this world, we must oscillate between its mundane contrasting aspects, between its unity and diversity, its rests and its movements, its actualities and possibilities. We must be reconciled to both extremes. But for Bergson, because the transcendence of his durée was sustained by an immanent frame- a pinnacle of the cosmos rather than an immanent beyond – a dimension of finite reality must be abandoned if one is to achieve philosophic salvation.”[8]

Bergson regarded the past as possessing a virtual existence in the present.[9] Deleuze, however, utilizes Nietzsche’s concept of the “eternal return” in order to try to shift Bergson’s emphasis from the past to the future so that originality and difference become possible. What eternally returns is the virtual pouring out difference into the actual. This re-orientating of the virtual towards novelty and the future reminds me a little of Whitehead’s “eternal objects.”

Nonetheless, as Pickstock rightly perceives, Deleuze fails to understand that the Nietzschean “eternal return” is never articulated as a kind of forced natural selection or will to power of difference. Rather, as Zarathustra says – the strong and the weak will both eternally be with us.[10] Deleuze wants to claim that the cosmos is set up for his left anarchist political ideals: that the “reactive” perish and the outré get what they want simply because they are magically different and refuse solid identity. Yet as Pickstock says:

The eternal return is not a real eschaton, nor cyclic cosmic return of a golden age, but rather the affirmation of the infinite reoccurrence of everything as pure chance . . . Perhaps, then, for Deleuze, the eternal return of the strong can be affirmed only because it is never really going to happen . . . However, this resort to repeat futurity on the part of Deleuze suggests that he could not conceive on non-identical repetition in time and space, and, by the same token, could not conceive of a social and ethical advance which would approximate to this condition. Rather, for him, every actualised difference must compromise, as well as exemplify, the repetition of univocal being as always different in a pure, unimaginable different sense. This is because any expressed difference can be represented and so identically repeated and classified.”[11]

 In short, the Deleuzian system can never quite get to the theoretical pure difference that it seeks – identity always intervenes. This virtual realm of pure difference seems strangely like a kind of substitute God. For the Abrahamic religions has it not been that for something hitherto unseen to appear in the world refers back to the fact that only God, that Beyond and Other, is the source of all alterity? The later Voegelin was very much correct to reframe his “Gnostic Thesis” in relation to the ontological anxiety brought on by the difference between The God of the Beginning and The God of History.[12] We cannot close this gap and read God’s intentions absolutely “as in a book” – we do not know when God shall choose to radically overturn the world. Difference is forever not yet, for all the wars and rumors of wars, and even then, once manifest, it is no longer other, but simply how things always were, since before the very foundation of the world. Novelty we see that is not simply an accident of interaction, retrojectively has always been the way of things.

What does Deleuze do about this? One might not be at all surprised that aside from Bergson and Nietzsche, Difference and Repetition is reliant upon a third thinker whom VoegelinView readers will know very well: Joachim of Fiore. Before reading Pickstock’s book I must confess that I had noticed Deleuze mention Joachim in Difference and Repetition.[13] However, because Deleuze seems so obsessed with squeezing in everyone who has ever thought about time before, I did not perceive the fundamental importance Deleuze attaches to him at the very end of the text. Joachim becomes important because Deleuze wants to invent a “third” version of the eternal return that Nietzsche never got around to writing in Zarathustra – one in which, of course, only soteric difference returns. Pickstock writes:

“Deleuze not just repeated the Franciscan univocity of being, but the Joachism of the spiritual Franciscans, whose idea of a third age of the spirit beyond the era of Incarnation left a self-confused West with the strange and iconoclastic legacy of hoping for a ‘spiritual’ future here on Earth, as opposed to a better material life in the future and a hope for spiritual perfection beyond that.”[14]

To Deleuze, says Pickstock, the millenarian future must redeem both the past and present: “the priority of the virtual over the actual can be recouped or salvaged in an eschatological time which will affirm the implication of the virtual in the actual, but not the explication of the actual as representation. In other words, only the strong will eternally return; the weak and reactive will not.”[15] The sheep shall be divided from the goats. A side effect of fixation on this deferred apocalyptic disjunction and Judgement of God is that the present is forever put off, denied by the future having to constantly colonize it to bootstrap any faint outline of novel difference that might seem to appear: “It is for Deleuze only at the level of the future present that pure or non-identical repetition can be salvaged.”[16]

But Deleuze gets even odder. The virtual theoretic anarchic multiplicity of pure difference has to be propped up by something called the “Dark Precursor” that exists between emergences. The Dark Precursor, as Pickstock rightly points out “predetermines causal connections . . . reversely from the future, despite the fact that [Deleuze’s] preclusion for analogy should not admit of such magical notions which were construed philosophically in terms of analogy and sympathy by theurgic Neoplatonists such as Proclus . . . Deleuze speaks in Brunoesque terms of occult connections.”[17] Bruno was a magus – there are no two ways about it (and I’m rather fond of him I have to admit).  The legacy of Neo-Platonic magicworking is latent in Deleuze, but it could not remain hidden forever. Joshua Ramney in his The Hermetic Deleuze comes to similar conclusions concerning the legacy of Bruno, Renaissance Neo-Platonic magic and theurgy in the thinker:

 “We will find in Deleuze a certain recapitulation of the Renaissance affirmation of humanity as both homo creator and homo magus, and lurking in Deleuze’s thought a kind of apocalyptic humanism that, in the form of ‘the people to come,’ aspires to realize the ambitions of hermeticism by developing new modes of cooperation between humanity and cosmos, mind and matter . . . Deleuze’s aesthetics in some sense unites the modern impulse toward experimentation with the Renaissance dream of magia naturalis, since Deleuze will affirm over and over that the peculiar renewal of “belief in the world” effected by some contemporary artists is a renewal and transformation of life itself. In this way Deleuze offered the twentieth century not so much an antihumanism as an eschatological vision of humanity beyond any simple divide between nature and culture, being and meaning, bodies and sense.”[18]

Nonetheless, what Ramney so misses spelling out is the millenarian Joachite core behind this “people to come.” Deleuze is a perfect candidate for a Voegelinian diagnosis of Gnosticism. He attempts to build his own “golems” to replace man, he attempts to force the millennium, he produces a “second reality” of pure difference to make up for the disappointment of actuality. The truth of the matter is so blatant that one really isn’t sure if it should mean a great deal even to mention it. If the Deleuzians haven’t worked out by now that they’re stuck in a very old, very silly spiritual machine whose main characteristics are paranoia, fear, and self-undermining daydreams, then there’s not a great deal one can do, not for all the twee positive readings of Deleuze that tout acceptance of the world, the liberation of desire and being an endlessly malleable nomadic creative type.

But, if we must, there is more that might be said. Honest to God paint by numbers antihumanist “hermetic” Deleuzianism certainly does exist. Exhibit A is the Warwick University’s CCRU (Cybernetic Cultures Research Unit) from the 1990s with its Gnostic archons and occult “Lemurian time war” fought in the present against forces from the future.  From this emerged Nick Land’s “hyperstition” meme-magic – enchanting futuristic AI devils and the egregoric forces of hypercapitalist unlife to colonize the present in order to bootstrap their own existence.[19] This “arrival from the future” is of course exactly how Deleuze’s theurgic millennium of difference works, with perhaps the exception that the will to pure difference has been replaced by very specific and tired sci-fi myths from the middle of last century that have failed to show (though it won’t stop some people from still trying to force them for lack of anything else to believe in).

Pickstock does not mention Land, though to be fair in 2013 probably a grand total of four people knew who he was.[20] John Millbank, however, does seem to know of him, and recently said that he once wrote a review of one of Land’s “silly books advocating general death to everything” that was not accepted by a journal because it amusingly suggested that Land should have been thrashed more when he was at school.[21] All mirth aside, the more one thinks about it, the more Land’s cheap goetic death-magic seems to have merely hypertrophied what was latent in Deleuze. Someone had to do it.

The Platonic Alternative.

In spite of her masterly dismantling of Deleuze’s Difference and Repetition, Pickstock still considers him a very important thinker. She tells us that contrary to the current popularity of the ideas of Alain Badiou (set theory Maoism of the Event- see here), François Laruelle (a pomo “non-philosophy” seeking to avoid the philosophical habit of making “decisions” about the nature of reality) and Quentin Meillassoux (a speculative realism seeking to overcome anthropocentrism),[22] in the end you can choose either Gilles Deleuze or you can choose Plato:

“The two philosophical options in consequence would appear to be Deleuzian or Platonic, respectively. And even though subjectivity is contemplatively disclosive in either case, the alternative truths can only be existentially lived out or performed; they are not readily decidable, through the pursuit or wielding of logical or dialectical argument.”[23]

Why are the other thinkers invalid? The reason, as Pickstock shows, is that they all refute one another, leaving only Deleuze.[24] The Logic of Sense’s reduction of the subject to a “swarm” of independent subjectivities, of pure sense and phantasmic eventing, deconstructs any sense of a sovereign and enduring human person who might make a “decision” and keep faith with an Event, as Badiou would hope. Secondly, Laruelle’s refusal to “cut” and Deleuze’s failed millennium of difference are useful for deconstructing millenarian humanist philosophies that demand some great finalization in history in order for human beings to mean anything.

With no eschaton that can be forced to immanently arrive, the secular messianic discourses the “political religions” have touted. Today, from Žižek and Badiou and Meillassoux there is an avoidance of finitude in favor of a perpetual Non-All hole in ontology as a kind of escape hatch from the liberal humanist “end of history”. At best, Žižek and Badiou’s communism can follow the dictum of “fail again, fail better” without any real promise of teleological resolution to history. Yet, at the same time for Pickstock the Badiousian belief in the self-standing mathematical Event is undercut by Meillassoux’s reduction of human perception to a mere “arbitrary articulation” in relation to a cosmos in which human beings are about as important as a pebble.

In contrast, Pickstock curiously argues that Meillassoux’s desire to get to the inhuman “great outdoors” reduces human thought to a closed “echo chamber” that nature has somehow mysteriously produced.[25] This seems to oddly reinforce a dualistic division between psychic reality and material reality. It is as if in some effort to beat Kant’s anthropocentric “Copernican Revolution”, which divides the world into an inside and outside, Meillassoux has in effect ended up making it worse by arguing for a sort of interpersonal species-Gnosticism in which human beings are caged. Pickstock is thus right to declare that Meillassoux’s pejoration of any strong anthropic principle as deluded “correlationism” paradoxically might not be so distant from the “main lines” of the Western tradition’s belief in an imaginal world of angelic beings accessible only through thought.

As we saw in part two of this essay regarding Souriau and his “syndoxics,” to take ontology seriously means that we must at least acknowledge the possibility that imaginal entities have an existence of a sort. Rather than man being trapped in matter yet totally closed off from it, one could, in good old fashioned Neo-Platonic tradition, simply acknowledge that on a cosmic level impersonal Mind takes precedence over the lower material strata. One would do well to recall that the impersonal material intellect of Averroes or Bruno are far more othering to humanism than simply the sort of cheap Neo-Darwinian deep time that Meillassoux invokes to render human beings unimportant. While Souriau views “syndoxics” as possessing a weak aseity (self-reliant existence) because of their dependence on human beings, it is another thing entirely to read those two terrible words of Bruno concerning Mind – nos illius (we belong to it).[26] I am quite sure that some of our immanentist materialist speculative realists, who seem a rather humorless and unimaginative bunch, would be quite annoyed with Pickstock’s take on correlationism. Good. As Pickstock says:

“Art and culture feel themselves to be so allied with a world which hides just behind nature: a realm of gods, nymphs, dryads, giants and fairies. The realm of the imagination is at once out there and yet in here, in such a way that summons the uncanny.”[27]

We are in search of the uncanny, of a world that provokes us because we are part of it, and it part of us. As Renaud Fabbri has said so well, the breaking down of the “realm of the imagination” and the loss of its intramundane divinities, from the angels of Islam and Christianity to the Ishtadevi of Hinduism, has been one of the main contributors to the immanentism and subsequent nihilism that have afflicted these religions over the past few centuries. In order to “liberate” man, not only the troublesome Will of God had to be rid of, but so too all those tiny “superstitious” wills imagined to trouble Man, from the fairies in the shrubs to the devils in the desert. Perhaps then the most eccentric and beautiful answer to “correlationism” would be something like the angels in Rainer Maria Rilke’s Duino Elegies for whom:

“. . . .all the towers and palaces of the past are still existent because they have long since ceased to be visible, and the towers and palaces that exist today in our world are for him already invisible, even though they still endure physically (for us). The Angel of the Elegies is that being which guarantees the recognition of a higher degree of reality in the realm of the invisible. – It is therefore “terrible” to us because we, who love and transform it, still cling to the visible.”[28]

The angel perceives those things of the past and those to come while we “cling to the visible” present. It is as though there is some sort of timeshare at work to preserve the link between being and perceiving. A similar suggestion for a solution to Meillassoux was recently furthered by theologian Peter Leithart: “Back to Berkeley!”[29] Even without human beings or even other living creatures, God has always been there as primordial subject to perceive, and thus, to let be.

Nonetheless, Pickstock does not seem interested in pursuing an “idealism” of this sort. There are only two choices, we might recall, if we are to take process seriously: either Deleuzianism and its preoccupation with sensation to the point of the dissolution of the person – or Platonism. Both are “lived and performed” and sweep away the demand for absolute knowledge about reality in favor of speculative myth-making.  To Pickstock our cosmos is a world of non-identical repetition. The same particular never returns, but each entity is reminiscent of others in various ways. This presents us with an “aporia” – time flows on, entities come and go in methexis (participation) with each other, but without a transcendental ordering to this there can be no repetition, nor comprehensible meaning to the constant becoming of time. So Pickstock tells us, her Platonic perspective on all this is that:

“analogy is that phenomenon which favours one no more than another . . . According to this conception analogy is not an isolatable property in which the two things or equal parts share; rather, it is the fittingness or convenientia which binds them to reveal a kinship only apparent through this very conjunction . . . As there exists no template or formula for successful combination, analogous fittingness constantly reveals beauty in a myriad of ways, without exhausting it . . . .Such ideas apparently formed the basis for Plato’s “secret doctrine”…Eternal truth, for this doctrine, is the weaving of the One with the Two, the same with the different, and finite reality is the complex expression of this invisibly simple combination.”[30]

 This is the interplay of the univocal and equivocal – the Same and Different in balance, reconciled in God and plenitudinously poured out to produce a world as full of all things as possible. With Whitehead, Bergson, Hume and Deleuze she agrees that there is no hard division between the human inside and the rest of the world: “we know what we are like from the inside, and should therefore assume that the whole of nature is in various degrees somewhat like to ourselves, by the analogical kinship of what we find about us in nature.”[31] Mereologically each entity is like a house-brick which we cannot look upon without thinking of the notion that it is connected with but distinct from other entities.[32] This convenientia is highly reminiscent of Plato’s Sophist and its metaphysical koninonia of Same and Different participating in being, which we discussed in detail in part two of this essay. Although Pickstock does not explicitly name the Sophist in the text, it surely has to be the key influence behind her work. This is even if Pickstock is taking the Neo-Platonic route of reconciliation in the transcendent One rather than the equality of the Five Most Important Classes.

Pickstock also very convincingly does justice to Motion and Rest as well as Same and Different. Rather than reducing all of nature to some “super-thing” or unbroken flow, instead Pickstock sets out a theory of “moments,” “rests” or “stops” in the process of things which permit the coming to standing of individual res (things). Pickstock uses the example of there being room for both the spectrum of the rainbow and the individual colours that make it up to exist simultaneously. She writes:

“The Platonic picture keeps both sides in balance: in its aspect of leaping, the intensive transits to isolatable qualities and these are always apprehensible for us insofar as they are extensionally bounded through the interposition of the ineffable moment . . . there is a point – the ‘moment’- of transition from movement to rest and vice versa.”[33]

This is very reminiscent of Souriau’s ontic and synaptic modes of existence we saw in part two of this essay. Just as we saw there, it was quite possible for Deleuze’s “extra-being” to be given its own ontological mode while also allowing for ontic modes to remain, should one choose such a “cut.” Thus one might wonder if Pickstock’s res might be further split into a plurality of ontic modes, but we shall leave that for others to consider.

What is most interesting is that Pickstock views the “stops” and “moments” as a form of divine “punctuation.” She asks:

“But how does nature know how to punctuate herself, when to separate with a full stop, as from stone to stone and mountain to mountain? How does she know when to interpose a kerning of semicolons, as in the hedgerow; when to impose the colon of causal consequence, as in the cataract of a waterfall; and when to raise a barrage of exclamation marks, as of cliffs above a sea, or question marks, as of the uncertain edges of vapour or cloud?”[34]

Thus, for Pickstock the big question is whether it is sense or signs that might be “secretly primary” in the constitution of reality. Whether it is the empiricism of Hume, Whitehead and Deleuze that transcends even the subject, or something like the Forms or Goethe’s Urpflanz (archetypal plant). Pickstock is on the side of the latter of course .Her wedge is the seemingly trivial fact that “. . . physics and evolutionary biology do not explain why nature sustains that shapes that she does.”[35] One might note that not so long ago famous biologist Andreas Wagner wrote a little book called Arrival of the Fittest: How Nature Innovates, in the final chapter of which titled “Plato’s Cave,” in an explicit reference to the Platonic Forms, he claimed that life’s creativity is older than life, perhaps “older than time.”[36] Wagner’s idea is that there exists something like “nature’s libraries”- meta-human mathematical concepts that dictate all the possible combinations of things, including all living and non-living entities. This sounds a great deal like Whitehead’s “eternal objects” perhaps, but instead of God and particulars, there is simply an algorithmic process that “chooses” – some things work, others don’t; some precipitate others through chance, others do not.

Wagner’s “Platonic” evolutionism certainly caused a bit of a stir, because Platonism is frequently regarded as anathematic to Neo-Darwinian biology (the “dead hand of Plato” and so on). But two and a half thousand years after Plato such ideas just keep coming back. Why? Because Pickstock is correct: scientists cannot explain why nature sustains certain shapes. Thus, one will either be drawn to this problem and perhaps from there to luminosity, or, one will simply try very hard to ignore it and say an awful lot about what traditionally were called “secondary causes” – the how of the structure of molecules and mammals and their reproduction. As Plato has Timaeus say – people have eyes so that they might look about and survive in the world, but they also have eyes so that they may look about (especially up at the stars) and develop a sense of mathematical order and proportion that leads to an understanding of the divinity of things. Indeed, how pettily “anthropocentric” this might sound to many today who would likely sooner gargle broken glass than go within a hundred kilometers of an “argument from design.”[37]

Because modern science has been built on Christianity’s and Platonism’s pursuit of the Truth, it is forever suspicious of heresies and paganisms that might creep inside and subvert the holiest of holies with idolatry and disease. There is a “political theology” of natural science too. All societies possess an instrumental reason hardly separable from their lifeworld, existential anxiety, gods and desires. Yet, the modern Church of Bacon’s ability to give good gifts and reshape reality has made it a central tool for the Gnostic political religions and their need to affirm that their desires to transform the world are possible. Thus, they too become “sciences” in the name of cargo cult: Lysenkoism and the “immortal science” of Marxism-Leninism, Nazi race science. To this one might add the current battles over who is on the side of real science regarding race, gender, IQ and climate change, let alone far more banal topics such as vaccines. So too the fantastic ideological hungers at work in Xenofeminist and reactionary transhumanism (on which I’ve said more than enough in the past). Everyone wants a slice of science.

Voegelin famously wrote about this “scientism,” and more than enough has been said about it by others. We are yet to see a naïve natural science which does not serve the future-directed millenarian “adulthood of man” of modernity in some sense and its promise that knowledge (gnosis) is power (potentia). Science as a collection of practices may be very good indeed at burrowing down into certain aspects of res to unleash the potential for their reshaping and control. But this is only because it assumes a certain ontological univocity to things, haunted by the phantasm of the Christian-Platonic creator God’s assurance of certainty, repetition and analogy in the world.

Yet the painfully obvious fact is that as interesting and beneficial such practices often are, they are not all there is to the essence of things and the interplay of Same and Other, Rest and Motion that takes place in Being. Just as the Eleatic Stranger in the Sophist says, the Other’s participation in being is comparable to the many kinds of tekhnai (arts) and epistemai (knowledges) there are.[38] It is a perfectly Platonic sentiment that the philosophers should not tell the plumbers how to plumb and the candle makers should not tell the physical trainers how to train. Nonetheless, interest in and respect for the many arts and their masters is a very virtuous characteristic indeed, which one wishes was more frequently encouraged. There is no point chasing a solution to some “two cultures” problem when there has always been far more than two forms of knowledge.

The opposite of this is polypragmosyne (busybodying), the poisonous ignorance of technocrats – the failed children of a broken ktetic Platonism that today preserves the Space Age fantasy that one day everything will be sucked down into manipulable consumable data, just as positivists of the past insisted that man was little more than a bucket of water and pinch of salt. Sadly, to speak of much of the public enthusiasm for science that is cultivated today, in spite of the good and honest work done by those curious about the nature of things, is still to speak of science’s brother – the pursuit of the millennium – no matter how undead it might be. One cannot see how anyone’s toes will get trodden on by one considering whether there might be something like a “Platonic library” or other poetic speculative considerations of why shapes non-identically return. And yet, of course, shouting is guaranteed.

The Hunter in the Wood

Repetition and Identity is an attempt to argue that signification precedes sensation, and yet what is most astounding about it is that Pickstock never names any particular Forms. Pickstock seems more interested simply in speaking of the univocal and equivocal and the punctuation of res without giving a single example of a Form “pleating back on us to form our subjectivity.”[39] Mind you perhaps Plato gave too many examples, and all of them very specific to his time and place. Poor old Plato is embedded in Ancient Athens, speaking Attic Greek, assuming that the cosmos operates in accordance with the language and symbols of that tiny speck of reality. What a clod! Indeed, there are very many languages in the world and in history, a situation which might seem to reduce our “realism” to a nominalist relativism.

Whose words then really name the Forms, should they exist at all? Attic Platonists? Medieval Arab or Christian Platonists? English-speaking Platonists? Here, I think that we need to understand the Theory of Forms as theurgic ritual exercise in mimesis of the same poietik spirit by which God made the interwoven koinonia of the world. What does this mean? In a meta-critical sense, the Theory of Forms is a series of “games” played with similar rules across history using differing game-pieces sharing similar and differing links as they are articulated and translated. If we begin from the ontology of the Sophist then we can acknowledge that logos is epiphenomenal of a participatory interplay always-already taking place before we ever begin to become conscious of it. The stick insects would still be sticks and yet not be sticks were we not here to say so; the milk snake would still be fooling the world that it is a coral snake too; the white-throated rail would still have died and re-evolved again.[40] The world is indeed, to borrow a term from Guattari, “asignifying” – full of all sorts of communicative flows and stops that you and I cannot ever know or understand.[41] Perhaps very few of all the Forms will ever be intellected by a human being.

Our Forms, then, are conceptualist in a sense – they are our attempts to symbolise and name the non-identical repetitions in res amidst the interplay of Same and Different, Motion and Rest. Our metaphysics is fragmentary, ironic even, in that it must assume, just as the Eleatic Stranger did, that we may at least attempt to deduce the basic necessary Forms in order to speak about the others. As Pickstock says, it is as though we are standing on the balcony of the second floor of a house – we do not have anything like an absolute view, but we have been given a view of a sort from which we may speculate about what is going on.[42] We arrive in medias res and then the hard part begins – the sorting of the phantasms. David Bentley Hart similarly articulates the situation:

In reality, subjective certitude cannot be secured, not because the world is nothing but the aleatory play of opaque signifiers, but because subjective certitude is an irreparably defective model of knowledge; it cannot correspond to or “adequate” a world that is gratuity rather than ground, poetry rather than necessity, rhetoric rather than dialectic.”[43]

Let us then take a closer look at the sort of theurgic, poetic and conceptualist games that have been played by the Platonists of the past. Perhaps the most outstanding example is the history of the Greek term Aristotle used for Matter, hyle, which also meant wood or a forest. To Aristotle this hyle is in itself without quality, yet “tends towards form.”[44] Plato, however, did not talk about Matter. In the Timaeus he outlined something very different, often referred to by two of the many names he gives it – khora (place) or pandeches (receptacle of all). We will come to the khora shortly, but for now the reader might simply be asked to recall that in part two of this essay it was emphasized that when the Neo-Platonists Plotinus and Proclus spoke of the “flying absurdity” of Matter they were doing so as post-Aristotelian thinkers.

The choice of the word hyle eventually had very interesting consequences.

In the Neo-Platonist Chalcidius’ influential Latin commentary on Plato’s Timaeus, which was the only material available on the Platonic text available in the Latin West during the Middle Ages, the Greek hyle was translated into Latin as sylva, the term for a forest.[45] This caused something very odd to happen. A now very obscure figure called Giles of Viterbo in his work The Sentences According to the Mind of Plato transformed sylva into an extended myth about the philosopher as a hunter, pursuing knowledge of God through the “forest” of matter. He exhorts the reader: “but come, let us track the hidden understanding of this Forest with the help that we can find in the human soul as nets and snares.”[46] The most interesting fact about this is that Giles was very familiar with Plato in Greek and had access to newer and more accurate Latin translations of his work than that of Chalcidius. Nonetheless, he seems to have found value in this strange (mis)translation.

The comparison between hunting and philosophizing had been made by Plato himself in the Laws concerning the need to hunt down harmony and proportion in music. The philosopher as hunter, however, is perhaps best known in early modern thought through Francis Bacon’s use of the image for hunting down the secrets of nature like a panting stag (along with his many analogies about raping mother Nature). And yet Nature, to Giles, remains a guide for a more important quest and the vestigia (footprints, tracks, trace) of the quarry are the Platonic Forms: “Thus in the Forest of Matter divine footprints lie hidden, but when we take notice of them by means of reason, and consider them well, we hunt out the hiding places of divine light.” So too does he claim: “The whole world is a footprint of God . . . we must pursue the tracks by which human hunting brings back the trinity as prize.”  Thus we must travel through the forest of the world in search for the Forms within matter that will anagogically lead up back towards the divine.

There are many other curious and beautiful examples in the Platonic tradition of the Theory of Forms taking on a life of its own like this. For instance, in the book Creative Imagination in the Sufism of Ibn Arabi Henry Corbin records an extremely interesting medieval Islamic-Platonic cosmology in which each Form is imagined to have an angel of its own responsible for the emergence of res:

“In the Suhrawardian theosophy of Light, the entire Platonic theory of Ideas is interpreted in terms of Zoroasatrian angelology. Expressing itself as a metaphysic of essences, the Suhrawardian dualism of Light and Darkness precludes the possibility of a physics that in the Aristotelian sense of the word. A physics of light can only be an angelology, because light is life, and life is essentially Light. What is known as the material body is in essence night and death; it is a corpse. Through the varying intensity of their luminescence, the Angels, the “lords of the species” (the Fravashis of Mazdaism), give rise to the different species, which the natural body can never account for. What Aristotelianism considers as the concept of a species, the logical universal, ceases to be anything more than the dead body of an angel.”[47]

What a phrase that is indeed – “the dead body of an angel”! With this we may see how profound the difference is between the stolid Aristotelian “essences” and the flickering and echoing of the Forms as they emerge earthwards in non-identical repetition.

We should perhaps now return to the question of Plato’s original conception that birthed these forests and angels. In the Timaeus Plato has the iatromantic Timaeus of Locri posit a “third thing” necessarily existing between the Forms and their ontic non-identical repetitions. There has to be something in the middle that allows the Forms to be processed to become simulacra. It is analogically compared by Plato to a multitude of things: a man modelling geometric shapes out of gold and then molding the material into other ones; it is like a mother or even nurse/foster-mother of entities in the world of becoming that are fathered by the Forms; it is like a scentless base liquid perfume makers use for carrying other scents. It is an indestructible space (khora) where entities come into being. It is like a receptacle of all things (pandeches). In its separating out primordial chaos into the four elements it is compared to a sieve used for winnowing grain.[48] As is obvious this “third thing” is a little more complex than Aristotle’s hyle. But why so many colorful and seemingly contradictory comparisons? As Timaeus claims – the senses cannot detect the khora. It can only be approached through “logismōi tini nothōi” (some sort of bastard reasoning) using the intellect to deduce its necessary existence.

One might note that although Voegelin noticed this “bastard reasoning” required to get at the khora, [49] sadly he had nothing to say about it. Perhaps he should have because with the khora we have before us a very strange possibility – that it is in fact a second It-Reality of a sort. Nonetheless, the very thought of regarding it as such might seem little more than immanentism, a burying of God in mere worldly autopoetic Nature. This should perhaps be the point. Just as Theaetetus says in the Sophist that he cannot make up his mind as to whether “some kind of god” made the world or simply Nature,[50] the old chestnut of immanent autopoesis – that God has made the world as though he were not necessary at all – has been with us a long time indeed. As Socrates recounts in the Phaedo when he was young he was very much taken with the cosmological theories of the Ionians and atomists until he found them unsatisfying and developed the Theory of the Forms.[51] The very groundlessness of the khora seems to be invoked by Plato because he is not satisfied that immanent emergence can be self-caused. To the question “but where does it all come from?” the Platonic answer is that any answer is merely but one analogically symbolised deduction that points away from itself towards the Forms. Say what you will of the khora, ten thousand things maybe, as with all existent non-beings, call it a mode of existence in its own right, but what you must really do is follow the Forms.

It is worth mentioning here that Jacques Derrida had some very interesting things to say about the anti-foundational character of the khora. To Derrida the khora is nowhere but everywhere – the ultimately deferred non-entity that troubles our conceptions of space, location and emergence and the very way we try to symbolise reality, from Plato down to the present:

“But if khora is a receptacle, if it/she gives place to all the stories, ontologic or mythic, that can be recounted on the subject of what she receives and even of what she resembles bur which in fact takes place in her, khora herself, so to speak, does not become the object of any talk, whether true or fabled. A secret without secret remains forever impenetrable . . . ”[52]

Derrida then asks whether the khora can even exist if it is neither Being nor Becoming. Recalling Plato’s Beyond (which, as we know was so important to Voegelin) he adds: “why does not Plato say that khora is epekeina tes ousias? Why is that so difficult to say and to think?” I think that Derrida was getting close to something here. John Sallis notes that epekeina tes ousias is only ever used to talk about the Good. In an ongoing discussion with Derrida, he posits that in Plato’s Myth of the Cave, when the prisoner ascends to the sunlit world, this upper land is called a khora (place), and thus may well echo the Timaeus.[53] Derrida replied that this was stretching things a little (it is rather), but both seem to have come to recognising that khora does seem oddly like the Good epekeina tes ousias. Perhaps they both should have looked more closely at the Sophist instead and its non-existent existents or at Souriau’s different modes of existence and realised that perhaps there are many things that exist but are not like being as is conventionally understood. So too, in the few words he had to say about the khora, Heidegger also seemed to realise that something was up:

“Plato means to say: beings and Being are in different places. Particular beings and Being are differently located. Thus, when Plato gives thought to the different location of beings and Being, he is asking for the totally different place of Being, as against the place of beings.”

Richard T. Livingston takes this up and asks whether:

Plato’s khôra may provide an opening for what Heidegger refers to in “The Onto-Theo-Logical Constitution of Metaphysics” as the “step back”—namely, the step back out of metaphysics, or the movement beyond onto‐theological thinking into the horizon of the difference qua difference. The ontological difference refers to at least two concepts: (1) the (relatively straightforward) difference between Being and beings; (2) difference in itself and as such. On my reading, Heidegger’s ‘step back’ primarily involves thinking the latter.”[54]

Nonetheless, even Heidegger’s ontological difference between ontics and being qua being perhaps does not capture the full possibilities of what the participation of the Different/Other in Being might entail. The khora is a bottomless ground for producing puzzles. It draws us closely to the question of why things do not seem to exactly fit together into some neat symbolisation and Same but instead plagues us with Difference. As Whitehead says, the khora “imposes a common relationship” on all things, but it does not tell us what that relationship is [my emphasis]”.[55] An opening up of the questioning of the reason for Same and Different is provoked, just as we find in Pickstock’s theory of non-identical repetition and the “judgement of God” involved in the “punctuation” of reality through the emergence of res. This is epitomised in Pickstock’s wonderful poem that begins Repetition and Identity:

Winter’s own garden of letters, like to his Serifs of scape and spathe, Slants before the vernal equinox Its frangible sense:  How the gardener reads and re-reads! How the surripses ribbon about her In circles! Slight Pleat of green, prophet of Greengage, whose hidden fold’s Chamber a world conceals, Myself silently spells. In their careless kerning, Whose scrupulous kinship of elements Is borrowed? And who has garnered these Graphemes, these papery bracts, to widen and Strive into signs, white-green bell-shaped valves Stretching into the space of the code?”[56]

Here it is the interplay between shapes and code and processive movements that is the centre of attention and questioning, but perhaps there is still a hint of Giles of Viterbo in the forest. An example even closer to Giles’s sylva may be found in John Milbank’s argument with Slavoj Žižek in The Monstrosity of Christ. It is quite likely that both Pickstock and Milbank have developed such ideas together over a number of years. In the latter text Milbank uses the example driving through the fog early in the morning and the paradoxical interplay between the univocal and equivocal interplay in its white palls:

“On an average morning, the equivocal does not dominate [any more than the univocal]—I register the respective shapes of spires and roofs and trees only as variations on a continuous space of light brown and as the variegations of a wavering line, traced through the amber consistency of the dawn…I would not be registering things at all were I not also seeking to know those things hidden by material “mistiness” and yet also disclosed to me through this very same density.”[57]

From a Voegelinian perspective one must then conclude that the khora is in fact a vital part to the metaxy in Plato. By considering it and the problem of emergence and those entities around us weaving Same and Different, one begins to awaken a desire for luminescence, just as the young Socrates did at the dawn of philosophy. Man is a creaturely being of a day, as Voegelin would say, who finds himself:

“An existent among others; he experiences a world of existents of which he is a part. Moreover, in discovering himself in his limitation as part in a field of existents, he discovers himself as not being the maker of this field of existents or of any part of it. Existence acquires its poignant meaning through the experience of not being self-generated but having its origin outside itself.”[58]

The Forms point towards one another, but they also point away, far from the bottomless khora in which they appear. The analogical vestigia in the forest of the world, in the fog, in the garden, dropped by angels, become anagogical ladders towards God. Platonism, perhaps, should one be adventurous, might be thought of meta-philosophically as a kind of evolving mind virus, leaping from culture to culture under the ongoing conspiratorial thought that the world is indeed sign-laden, ever signifying unto itself. What we must do then is learn again how to read this, how to paint it, how to write it, how to sing it, how to live it, how to spend our short lives hunting it.

In the next part of this essay we will turn our attention back towards Voegelin and his late engagements with the ideas of another “process” thinker, F. W. J. Schelling.

 

Notes

[1] Eric Voegelin, “On Debate and Existence,” in Published Essays 1966-1985, p. 40.

[2] William A. Dembski, The End of Christianity: Finding a Good God in an Evil World, B & H Publishing, Nashville TN, 2009, p. 93. Dembski more fully articulates his ideas as follows: “Information, like God, is nonmaterial and eternal. To be sure, information can be realised in objects that are material and temporal. Moreover, when those objects disintegrate, the information in them will be lost – from those objects, that is. But the same information can always be recovered (certainly by God) and then realised in other objects. Information is multiply realisable. To say that information is multiply realisable is to say that the same information can be represented (i.e. made present again) in numerous distinct ways . . . the material embodiment of information can always be destroyed. But the information itself is indestructible. It follows that, because we are creatures of God, the information by which God created us is also indestructible and eternal.” See also Christopher Wasserman et al (eds), The Science and Theology of Information: Proceedings of the Third European Conference on Science and Theology Geneva March 29 to April 1, 1990, Publications de la Faculte de Theologie de L’Universite de Geneve, Geneva, 1992.

[3] Here I am alluding to the religious dimensions of mass-mobilisation and megastructure building that are incomprehensible to those outside the culture in question as outlined by: Ernst Junger, “Total Mobilzation,” in Richard Wolin (ed), The Heidegger Controversy, MIT Press, London and Cambridge MA, 1993,pp. 119-139.

[4] Gilles Deleuze, Difference and Repetition, trans. Paul Patton, Columbia University Press, New York, 1994.

[5] Idem, The Logic of Sense, trans. Constantin V. Boundas et al, Bloomsbury, London, 2015.

[6] Duns Scotus, Ordinatio, part ii no. 402.

[7] Aristotle, Metaphysics, I. 5. 1010a, 12-15.

[8] Catherine Pickstock, Repetition and Identity, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2013, p. 54.

[9] See: Henri Bergson, Matter and Memory, trans. Nancy Margaret Paul and W. Scott Palmer, Forgotten Books, Lexington KY, 2010, esp. pp. 166-9.

[10] Gilles Deleuze, Nietzsche and Philosophy, trans. H. Tomlinson, Columbia University Press, New York, 1983, pp. 68-72, Difference and Repetition, pp. 229-38, 244-61, 281-4. Cf. Friedrich Nietzsche, Thus Spake Zarathustra, trans G. Parkes, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2005, pt 3 ch 2.

[11] Catherine Pickstock, Repetition and Identity, p. 57.

[12] Eric Voegelin, Order and History Vol IV: The Ecumenic Age, University of Missouri Press, Columbia, 1999, p. 63f.

[13] Gilles Deleuze, Difference and Repetition, pp. 296-7, 93.

[14] Catherine Pickstock, Repetition and Identity, pp. 57-8.

[15] Ibid, p. 57.

[16] Ibid, p. 55.

[17] Ibid. pp. 55-7.

[18] Joshua Ramney, The Hermetic Deleuze, Duke University Press, Durham and London, 2012, pp. 51-6.

[19] See Nick Land et al, CCRU Writings 1997-2003, Time Spiral Press, 2015.

[20] Philip Goodchild, Deleuze and Guattari, Sage Publications, London, 1996, p. 210 mentions Land in the mid-1990s. However, as about three people seem to have been interested in Deleuze in the Anglosphere back then, it must have been a very small culture.

[21] John Milbank, Twitter, 27th July 2019, https://twitter.com/johnmilbank3/status/1155055957145268224

[22] See: Alain Badiou, Being and Event, trans. O. Feltham, Continuum, London, 2005; Quentin Meillassoux, After Finitude, trans. R. Brassier, Continuum, London, 2010; François Laruelle, Principles of Non-Philosophy, trans. N. Rubczak and A. P. Smith, Bloomsbury, London and New York, 2013.

[23] Catherine Pickstock, Repetition and Identity, p. 87.

[24] Ibid, pp. 86-7.

[25] Ibid, pp. 8-9.

[26] Giordano Bruno, “Sigillis Sigillium,” in Jordani Bruni Nolani Scripta Quae Latine Confecit Omnia, Vol. II, Stuttgart, ex bibliopolio Brodhagiano, 1836, p. 563. See also: Roberto Esposito, Two: The Machine of Political Theology, trans. Zakiya Hanafi, Fordham University Press, New York, 2015, pp. 151-61 on Averroes and Bruno’s “impersonalism.” Esposito’s book is very interesting, albeit anticlimactic, in that it follows a hidden (and very Platonic) legacy of impersonal thinkers from Averroes down to Bruno, Spinoza and Schelling, but terminates in an overblown encomium to the “subjectivity without a subject” of Deleuze.

[27] Catherine Pickstock, Repetition and Identity, p. 78.

[28] Rainer Maria Rilke, letter to Witold von Hulewitz, 13th November 1925, quoted in Rainer Maria Rilke, Selected Poems with Parallel German Text, trans. Susan Ranson and Marielle Sutherland, Oxford World Classics, Oxford UK, p. 304 n. “Angels”.

[29] Peter Leithart “Correlationism and Secondary Qualities”, Patheos, 5th December 2018, https://www.patheos.com/blogs/leithart/2018/12/24123/

[30] Catherine Pickstock, Repetition and Identity, p. 52.

[31] Ibid, p. 16.

[32] Ibid, p. 22.

[33] Ibid, pp. 5-6.

[34] Ibid, p. 76.

[35] Ibid, p. 74.

[36] Andreas Wagner, Arrival of the Fittest: How Nature Innovates, Current, Penguin, New York, 2014. But cf. this rather typical and average critique that is little more than a concern for Darwinism becoming polluted by “essence”: Massimo Pigliucci, “The Neo-Platonic Argument for Evolution Couldn’t Be More Wrong,” Nautilus, 30th October 2016, http://nautil.us/blog/the-neo_platonic-argument-for-evolution-couldnt-be-more-wrong Note especially the self-satisfied closing claim: “In the philosophy of science, we like to keep metaphysics to the necessary minimum, and Platonism simply multiplies ontologies gratuitously, without any payback in either philosophy or science.” Rather, perhaps we have not yet multiplied the ontologies enough. Occam must be fought on all fronts.

[37] We might note a very bizarre short review of Pickstock’s book by one Myrna on the website Cosmologics Magazine, 9 December 2014, http://cosmologicsmagazine.com/julia-ostmann-the-literary-agenda/which seems to think that the book is compatible with the ideas of Steven Pinker in wanting to fix the two cultures problem. I’m not sure Pickstock is exactly mainstream science friendly. Not only is this utterly odd, the author seems to think that the book (rather than the Oxford series) is called “The Literary Agenda” and the title contains the name Julia Ostmann as though she was the author.

[38] Plato, Sophist, 257c-d.

[39] Catherine Pickstock, Repetition and Identity, p. 17.

[40] On the mysterious case of the white-throated rail: Yasemin Saplokoglu, “This Bird Evolved Into Existence Twice – Thousands of Years Apart,” Live Science, 14th May 2019. https://www.livescience.com/65477-flightless-bird-evolves-twice.html

[41] The “asignifying” seems to becoming something of a hip term because of the increasing realisation that the air is thick with data that is meant for and will only ever be understood by computers. See the chapter on Maurizio Lazzarato in McKenzie Wark, General Intellects: Twenty-One Thinkers for the Twenty-First Century, Verso, London and New York, 2017, esp. pp. 84-7.

[42] Catherine Pickstock, Repetition and Identity, p. 16.

[43] David Bentley Hart, Beauty and the Infinite: The Aesthetics of Christian Truth, William B. Erdmans, Grand Rapids MI, 2003, p. 138.

[44] Aristotle, Physics, I. 9, 192a14.

[45] Chalcidius, Timaeus de Platonis Translatus, Item Ejusdem In eundem Comentariis, Ioannes Meursius (recensuit), Lugundi Batavorum, ex Officina Iusti Colestri, 1617, pp. 364f which centers around the term sylva. See esp. p. 370 on which Chalcidius gives Plato’s terms as locus (place), mater (mother) and nutrica (nurse) in passing. It is very interesting that John Sallis, Chorology: On Beginning in Plato’s Timaeus, Indiana University Press, Bloomington, 1999, p. 115 only mentions Chalchidius’s use of locus, which only appears once (and in a list at that) compared to the nearly ten pages on sylva.

[46] Ingrid D. Rowland, Giordano Bruno: Philosopher and Heretic, Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, 2008, pp. 46-51. The translations given from Giles of Viterbo’s “Sentences” are hers because she seems to be working from a Vatican MS. There is, however, a Latin text available of the work: Gilles of Viterbo, The Commentary on the Sentences of Petrus Lombardus, ed. Daniel Nodes, Brill, Leiden, 2010, “Distinctio III”, pp. 117-60.

[47] Henry Corbin, Creative Imagination in the Sufism of Ibn Arabi, trans. Ralph Manheim, Princeton University Press, Princeton N.J., 1969, p. 22.

[48] Plato, Timaeus, 50-53.

[49] Eric Voegelin, Plato, Louisiana State University Press, Baton Rouge, 1966, p. 201.

[50] Plato, Sophist, 265d.

[51] Plato, Phaedo, 96-100.

[52] Jacques Derrida, “Khora” in On the Name, ed. Thomas Dutoit, Stanford University Press, Stanford CA, 1995, p. 117. One might also note Irigaray and Judith Butler’s beliefs that Plato’s Khora/Receptacle seems to “erase” the female: Judith Butler, Bodies That Matter, Routledge, New York and London, 1993. Thus, Western philosophy begins with the female being repressed. The sacred quest for the erased of course comes into post-structuralism from Heidegger’s “forgetting of being” via Derrida. With Heidegger it remains a kind of mystical work, an anamnetic exercise. However, for Heidegger’s rather boring children this does not seem to be the case. I appreciate Derrida’s take on the Khora, but I am suspicious that because the Khora is an anti-foundational foundation (we should perhaps call it ontologically different) and thus must be analogically approached by “bastard reasoning,” what is said of it actually reveals what a culture builds its most important myths and preoccupations upon. I think Irigaray (who retains some vestiges of feminine essentialism as if she is demanding a Feminine to go with a Masculine) and Butler (who just wants to deconstruct gender) are showing us something very important about post-structuralist “critique”. This is the tendency to hypostatise erasure in the name of victimocentrism, so we might call it – the “cultural Christian” preoccupation with the destined meek of history. Rene Girard’s concern that the Freud-Marx-Nietzsche “hermeneutics of suspicion” are engaged in a race towards the “omnipresent victim delayed since time immemorial” may not be too incorrect with the sort of stuff we see these days (especially from the American academy). Who else’s erasure might one imagine Big Critique claiming the khora represents? In a footnote to Bodies p. 257 we are told that Donna Haraway argued with the author that the khora is a symbol of the repression of non-Western thought, following Martin Bernal’s Black Athena that was all the rage at the time (and not all wrong – most of it was painfully obvious to anyone who has ever read Plato or Herodotus). Nonetheless, I’m not quite sure what Harraway means at all because she does not explain it. It makes no sense, unless of course it is something like Geburg Treusch-Dieter, “The Beginning of the End” in J. Baudrillard et al, Looking Back on the End of the World, Semiotext(e), New York, 1989, pp. 10-1 in which the khora is imagined to represent an erasure of the feminine of the Babylonian goddess Tiamat, who is murdered in order to make the world. This is a very stretched reading. I think in the end we are simply seeing what each person loves best (to paraphrase Sappho) to be prioritised because of sacred “erasure”. Yet, the khora undercuts any attempt to hypostatise it – it can be compared to the feminine (mother, womb, nurse) but it is also equally not like any of those things at all.

[53] John Sallis, Chorology: On Beginning in Plato’s Timaeus, Indiana University Press, Bloomington, 1999. On this discussion see: Yunko Theresa Mikuriya, A History of Light: The Idea of Photography, Bloomsbury, London and Oxford, 2017, p. 27.

[54] Richard T. Livingston, “Khoragraphical Connections: From Being to Event in Heidegger and Whitehead,” April 12, 2014, 65th Annual Meeting of the Metaphysical Society of America, Draft. Cf. Martin Heidegger, What Is Called Thinking?, trans. Fred D. Wieck and J. Glenn Gray, Harper and Row, New York and London, 1968, p. 227.

[55] A.N. Whitehead, Adventures of Ideas, p. 150. Whitehead may have claimed that it was “unscholarly” to associate modern concepts like spacetime with Plato’s khora, but he also firmly seemed to have believed that science was coming closest to the concept for the first time since Plato. I do not think it is necessary for us to try in any way, shape or form to try to make a “scientific” claim – not because we should live in terror of some Alan Sokal writing a very dull book about how we don’t understand “complexity” or whatever (a new version is likely due soon anyway due to the addiction “speculative realists” have for chaos theory kitsch). Rather, it is far better that we learn to become better poets, mythologists, storytellers, historians, artists and political scientists as is. We have more than enough on our plate.

[56] Catherine Pickstock, Repetition and Identity, p. xx.

[57] John Milbank and Slavoj Žižek, The Monstrosity of Christ: Paradox or Dialectic?, MIT Press, Cambridge MA, 2011, pp. 161-2.

[58] Eric Voegelin, “On Debate and Existence,” in Collected Works Volume 12: Published Essays 1966-1985, ed. Ellis Sandoz, Louisiana State University Press, Baton Rouge, 1990, p. 47.

 

This is the third of six parts. Also available are “Process and the Derailing of Reality: Voegelin, Process and the New Realism,” “Process and the Derailing of Reality: Haunted Ontologies and Different Modes of Existence,” Process and the Derailing of Reality: The Strange Curse of the Ages of the World,” “Process and the Derailing of Reality: Love and Violence,” and “Process and the Derailing of Reality: Erotic Theology.”

Jonathan Ratcliffe

Jonathan Ratcliffe is Associate Editor of VoegelinView and a doctoral candidate in Asian History at the Australian National University. He is working with Chris Heggie-Brown on a history of technology and politics, provisionally titled "Voegelin Among the Machines."

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