dialogues at greenwich: On four poetic formulas which might summarise a Kantian philosophy

dialogues at greenwich

discussion and reports from the Volcanic Lines research group at Greenwich University

6 February 2007

On four poetic formulas which might summarise a Kantian philosophy

Reading Group Workshop on Gilles Deleuze's Essay 'On Four Poetic Formulas That Might Summarise the Kantian Philosophy', Essays Critical and Clinical.

The presentation delivered at the start of the session can can be viewed by clicking here.

Workshop Discussion
Desire in Kant was clarified in terms of its lower and higher use. How do we explain moral acts that don’t happen for reasons of instinct, appetite, interest and other ‘natural’ causes? However, the good life is what must be accounted for and ‘the good is what the laws say’. The kind of person ia key rather than what happens in particular empirical cases. The moral order connects things, through moral Ideas, that otherwise have no connection and a series of actions that cannot be explained. What is the continuity behind the good life? It must be the law which neither imposes or offers any particular commandment or instruction because then it would not have the force of pure or higher desire which lacks nothing. Desire seeking what it lacks in empirical cases of action is transcended by this lack and we lose the immanent production through desire that Deleuze seeks.

The relation with Anti-Oedipus was brought up. It was pointed out that this is a critique of desire as lack. It was questioned whether morality is ‘causal’ – is it not ‘productive’, bringing about something new? The pure and empty form of the law is not particularised and therefore cannot be equated with a chain of particular causes. It was argued that this involves ‘catching yourself in a completely subjective productivity.’ The force at the heart of thought and desire in the Four Poetic Formulas expresses the practical reality of the virtual.

It was suggested that in Deleuze, Lacan and Kant desire is positive and pleasure is negative. Desire is a desire for its own productivity, one that does not exclude different desires through a sum of possibility. Is desire anthropomorphic? If so, maybe ‘force’ is better and ‘cleaner.’

The selective test of desire for the sake of desire, the pure force of our thought, brings us to Nietzsche’s concern with a will that wills itself again and again. It is purely autonomous desire.

The space which Hamlet’s inhabits was then discussed in order to engage with Deleuze’s pronouncement that he is the first hero to need to time to act. Chaos of strange, demonic, maybe Dionysian, events – the breakdown of a space of action that requires clearness and distinctness. Yet these bewildering events come together because the (absurd) logic behind them, that which relates them, is a ‘time out of joint’ which Hamlet discovers and through which he acts. He finds the force of desire not through judgement and calm thought but thought’s own delirious limit. The events are held together by the thread of this time so as to contract a decision or act. We cannot say that Hamlet’s soliloquies lead to or explain his act, they do not reason towards it but do productively and profoundly attain the madness of reason through which acts emerge spontaneously and without a causal trail.

This was related to Kierkegaard’s Fear and Trembling where the time of modern subjectivity prevents him from getting to the faith Abraham had. He had no subjective time but Kierkegaard is stuck in it. With faith we are not paralysed by this time.

In this subjectivity of modernity, also the subjectivity of the world or time of the city (the modernist milieu), stasis comes from everything happening at once, coming from all directions simultaneously. (Perhaps marketing has this effect) However, the existentialist says that I don’t know who I am until I make the decision. It is then best not to think because no subject produces action, it comes from nothing. The subject doesn’t pre-exist the decision. The space is then constructed from a minute and almost forgettable act.

Perhaps, it was suggested, the knowledge-action split in Hamlet can only happen in time. The end of the play comes together through a time ‘out of joint’. Hamlet isn’t just tormented by a decision between options because this would just be a space of possibilities and not the exhausted ‘any-space-whatever’ we encountered in Deleuze’s ‘The Exhausted’ at a previous workshop this term. Also, such a torment has already happened to heroes in plays – Hamlet thinks on a wider plane than that of possibilities. He thinks about individuation and his own being or production. His torment about his fathers ghost shows him split between the familial love of his father and the horror of the undead. The ghost is described in terms that invoke Shakespeare’s’ philosophy of nature, its Dionysian and demonic aspects. Could it be the devil simulating the image and voice of his father? Torn by love of father and sense of evil, something found in the imagery of his experience of a father both terrifying and attracting him (as the groundless ground does for Deleuze). This is to involve for Deleuze how things are produced (split between Apollonian and Dionysian). The ghost could be seen as exteriorizing something that speaks the truth of his own unconscious to him, his own thought or desire as an other. The ghost forces upon him the terror and attraction (‘to be or not to be’) of his own production, his own groundless ground. Hamlet’s subjectivity is exteriorized and referred a dramatisation of Ideas that exceeds his sense of possibility and movement. He is taken beyond possibilities to the production of things.
The role of the ghost was linked to Descartes’ demon who gets rid of the certainty of the law through an argument from illusion.

The Copernican turn in Kant was brought up – does it introduce the thinking of time through concepts of possible movement? With Hamlet, on the contrary, we get to madness and subjectivity made external via the thread or labyrinth in the world, the time of the world or city.

Deleuze’s reference to ordinal and cardinal time in the first Poetic Formula was discussed. With the ordinal there is no measure for knowing how long things will last – this is not rational, things can be all at once and procrastination results. The cardinal is discreteness, deadlines and order. For Kierkegaard the internal movement of passion in the soul is the intensive and ordinal time.

We have ‘succession of determination’ after the act and yet this is not existentialism.

A final point was again on the Copernican turn where everything turns around the subject. Transcendental subjectivity nevertheless avoids talking about objects in order to become the whole world prior to subject and object. We do get to the limitations of possible experience in the end but find before this a line of flight according to Deleuze.

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