Posts Tagged ‘Theory’

Introducing Castoriadis for Religion and Anthropology. A First Attempt

In comment on April 12, 2013 at 11:45 am

ImageI’ve often been frustrated by the lack of prior attention to Castoriadis’ thought in anthropology: good work has been begun by Alain Touraine (sociology) and Nancy Munn and David Graeber (anthropology), but nothing really systematic and explicit has been done.[1]  That’s not a criticism, just a complaint that the work’s not already done.

Here are some thoughts I’m working through today, from Castoriadis’ foundational The Imaginary Institution of Society, all from Chapter Three: “The Institution and the Imaginary. A First Approach” (Castoriadis 1975, 114ff.)

If you’re not familiar with Cornelius Castoriadis, I highly recommend becoming familiar. He was a founder of the journal Socialisme ou Barbarie in France, a Greek Communist who fled Greece chased by both the Stalinists (for his then-Trotskyism) and the Fascists, and who was one of the very first marxists to mount a critique of the USSR, a critique he made by criticizing its bureaucratization and its alienation from the revolutionary social groups that attempted to institute it. Often called either the “Philosopher of the Imagination,” or the “Philosopher of Autonomy,” his influence has been deep in some fields (radical political thought, psychoanalysis) but negligible in its reception in other fields and disciplines, including my own. He is sometimes credited with inspiring the 1968 worldwide rebellion, though it is certainly both more accurate and more modest to say rather that his writings influenced some of those revolutionaries in way that significantly altered their approach. Here’s a Wikipedia article, and here’s a link to the Cornelius Castoriadis/Agora International Webpage.

A first word of introduction: Castoriadis’ use of the word ‘institution’ refers to any shared object created by society, ranging from concepts, gestures, and symbols, to organizations and governments, those things which we more commonly use the word to refer to in everyday American English. These institutions are created by groups of people – that is, they are instituted, and, in a way that replicates much of Weber’s analysis of routinization and the creation of bureaucracies, become alienated from these groups, an alienation that signals the institution’s autonomy from society: the institution has gained its own life, its own force in the social world. One might almost call this the creation of a form of social agency, or as David Graeber wrote of the concept of the fetish in an essay that references Castoriadis, “Gods in the process of construction” (Graeber 2005)

More after the jump…. Read the rest of this entry »

SOUNDING on Random Theoretical Notions, July 2, 2010

In sounding on July 2, 2010 at 3:02 pm

Some things that have crossed my wires (in all senses) recently, that I’m keeping track of:

Delanda Delanda Delanda

In Uncategorized on July 3, 2007 at 4:08 pm

So, long-time readers of this blog know that I’m a fan. Although I work pretty strictly within the framework instaurated by Cornelius Castoriadis, I have often found Manuel De Landa‘s interventions (and innovations) with Giles Deleuze‘s thought some of the most brain-reformatting stuff around. It’s been profoundly useful to me. I only recently discovered the excellent blog by English Professor Steven Shaviro, and a short review he wrote of De Landa’s most recent book, A New Philosophy of Society: Assemblage Theory and Social Complexity. I haven’t read this one yet, so I’m grateful to have someone else do a little pre-digestion for me. Read the rest of this entry »

Genealogy: Imaginaire. 2. When is the Imaginaire?

In Uncategorized on July 3, 2007 at 3:54 pm

Below, a very old post that I never got around to publishing. Archive fever, I guess.

It is a commonplace that the imagination, in Western philosophy, plays a mediating function. What does the imagination mediate? According to Plato, the imagination was a distorted and distorting form of cognition, from which reason held itself completely apart. Reason untainted by imagination was the sufficient and necessary condition for contemplation of the Eternal Forms, which he thought of as eternal and separate from the world of perceptible reality, the latter being reflections and distortions at second and third hand of the Forms. Plato devalues the imagination by ascribing to it the function of distortion and deception at the level of the image, which makes up our experience of perceptible reality. This understanding of the imagination presupposes a breach between a ‘real’ ontology and a symbolic or perceptible one. Reason discovers the former, and imagination makes the perception of the latter possible. For Plato, memory plays the motive force in the cognition of the real and eternal Forms: one ‘unforgets’ the distortions interposed between us and reality through the process of anamnesis. What one is remembering, according to Plato, is the eternal forms with which we co-existed in a previous life. Read the rest of this entry »

Caring for the dead and a silly mode of production argument

In Uncategorized on June 1, 2007 at 3:13 am

Choeung Ek has slowly been experiencing a proliferation of different types of commemoration. It used to be the case that Choueng Ek was strongly controlled – but never truly monopolized – by the Cambodian People’s Party, for the benefit of the reproduction of the CPP message – “We saved you people from Pol Pot – We’re all that’s protecting you now.” But once the May 20th commemorations were restarted, enough morbid interest began to accumulate in the international press that Phnom Penh began to grow its tourist numbers. Instead of flying into Angkor Wat from Bangkok and then turning straight back around, tourists were now starting to visit Phnom Penh as well. But where they saw temples in Siem Reap, they saw Choueng Ek and S-21 in Phnom Penh. Cambodia, the land where a nation sells views of its past in one city, and sells memories of its past in another. Anyway… Read the rest of this entry »

Adoration of the Fait Accompli

In Uncategorized on April 6, 2007 at 1:16 am

In my quest to finish reading everything Castoriadis has published in English, I’ve started his book Philosophy, Politics, Autonomy, translated by the omnipresent David Ames Curtis, which also happens to be a pseudonym used by the ‘anonymous’ translator of some of Castoriadis’ final works, available here. In a section in the first essay (“Intellectuals and history”) titled “The adoration of the fait accompli,” I found this gem of a quote.

Let us be done with this ecclesiastical, academic, and literary ‘respectuosity.’ Let us finally speak of syphilis in this family, of which half the members are clearly suffering in general paralysis. We should take by the ear the theologian, the Hegelian, the Nietzschean, the Heideggerian, bring the to Kolyma in Siberia, to Auschwitz, into a Russian psychiatric hospital, into the torture chambers of the Argentine police, and require that they explain, on the spot and without subterfuges, the meaning of the expressions ‘There is no power but of God,’ ‘All that is real is rational,’ ‘the innocence of becoming,’ or ‘releasement toward things. (9-10)

I have said little about Castoriadis thus far on this page, and promise to start writing more on him soon.

Mourning in Groups, Mourning Alone

In Uncategorized on December 1, 2006 at 8:23 pm

I’m reading a difficult text now, and it gives me good excuses to take a moment here and there to write up some thoughts that have been running through my mind. With news that another friend has died in another land, I’m struck by the enormity of what so many people have called the ‘labor of mourning.’ ((for only one example, see what is perhaps Derrida’s best work, Derrida, Jacques. 1994. Specters of Marx: the state of the debt, the work of mourning, and the new international. New York: Routledge.))
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The relationship to the relationship

In Uncategorized on November 9, 2006 at 10:36 pm

just a quick note that the history of post-enlightenment considerations of autonomy and ethics are shot through not so much with considerations of the relationships in themselves, but with the individual’s relationship (IR) to the relationship (R). The individual’s relationship to the relationship (IRR) constitutes the basis of Kant’s notion of transcendental idealism, in which atomized individuals act in concert in ethical ways, inasmuch as they attune their practice to certain universally legitimate norms which regulate behavior via the IRR.

Castoriadis’ idea of autonomy, drawing as it does from Kant, preserves this combination of Kantian skepticism and ethical orientation, and proposes that the autonomous individual exercises control over the functioning of the relationship through an exercise which moves with the force of desire. This emphasis on desire is my own, but can be found through Castoriadis’ work. ‘The force of desire’ refers to the desire, in turn based on previous social imaginaries, to make a change in the relationship to the relationship, or even to the relationship itself, when one is not subject to the relationship, but the relationship is subject to oneself.

Bachelard speaks of a need of the imagination:

In Uncategorized on November 7, 2006 at 8:45 pm

the need to animalize which lies at the origin of imagination. The primary function of imagination is to make animal forms. ((Gaston Bachelard. 1939. Lautréamont. Paris: Corti., p. 51. Noted in Casey’s Imagining in a footnote on p. 30))

Walter Benjamin on Imagination

In Uncategorized on November 1, 2006 at 5:49 pm

Benjamin, Walter. “Aphorisms on imagination and color.” In Selected writings. Volume I: 1913-1926, edited by Marcus Bullock and Michael W. Jennings, 48-49. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1996.
Benjamin, Walter. “Imagination.” In Selected writings. Volume I: 1913-1926, edited by Marcus Bullock and Michael W. Jennings, 280-282. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1996.
In this early fragment, Walter Benjamin makes the (seemingly highly platonic) judgment that

The gaze of the imagination is a gaze within the canon, not in accordance with it; it is therefore purely receptive, uncreative. ((Benjamin, Walter. “Aphorisms on imagination and color.” In Selected writings. Volume I: 1913-1926, edited by Marcus Bullock and Michael W. Jennings, 48-49. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1996.))

Like Plato, for Benjamin here, the imagination is a deforming faculty, which receives and transforms, inevitably creating only untruth from the reception of truth. But Benjamin is also famous for his generally positive attitude toward the possibilities of human creativity. His “Art in the Age of Mechanical Production” remains important for many today; the ambiguity of his attitude towards human creativity is in evidence there, and throughout his work.
So if the imagination is only deformational, what possibilities are there, in Benjaminian thought, for conceiving of liberatory possibilities? A later essay, “Imagination,” Benjamin seems to identify two possibilities: In aesthetics, or art, the imagination itself creates beauty only insofar as it manages to re-present the de-formation of imagination’s action on reality itself, thereby including within imagination’s works the acknowledgment of its limitations. But in a more traditionally Benjaminian move which is simultaneously Platonic, Benjamin relies on the prophetic to supply a cognition and guarantee of truth.
This essay, for all its faults, is crucial in a number of ways:

  1. It focuses not on the idealistic or imaginal (in Corbin’s neo-platonic sense) liberation, but on the liberating imagination as a process of engagement and interaction
  2. It requires the constant interaction with reality, while never asserting that the imagination is capable of representing reality accurately
  3. It identifies the process of imaginative deformation with creativity and the fantastic, in opposition to ‘empirical destruction’ and death.

Regarding the Platonic aspect of Benjamin’s reliance on the prophetic: there is a difference between the two that is important. The similarities are that imagination in Benjamin and Plato is associated with forgetting, to which the liberatory answer is remembering, or more literally un-forgetting (anamnesis). This liberatory answer for Benjamin takes the figure of the prophetic in Benjamin, and enters into the folds of time, since Benjamin associates it with the Future.
It’s important enough for me to want to include the entire short essay in its entirety. (see below the fold)

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