“Materialism and collectivism are fundamental aspects of constitutive thought. Ontological constitution can be given only as the appropriation and accumulation of material elements, both physical and social. … The reconstruction of the world is thus the very process of the continual physical composition and recomposition of things — and, with absolute constitutive mechanisms of historical, practical, and ethico-political nature.“
- Antonio Negri, The Savage Anomaly
William Forsythe’s Synchronous Objects.
After listening to a lecture online by William Forsythe (World renowned choreographer) and Alva Noë, author of Out of Our Heads: Why You Are Not Your Brain, and Other Lessons from the Biology of Consciousness provided to me by dmfant from Anthem: video conversation. I began thinking about something Levi R. Bryant said along with my interest in Spinoza and Antonio Negri.
Flat Ontology and Spinoza: The Foundations of Materialist Thought
Levi R. Bryant once stated his views on Flat Ontology this ways:
Someone might remark that because a text has multiple layers there can be no flat ontology of the text. In other words, it is here asserted that where there is a logic of depths and surfaces there is necessarily a vertical ontology. However, this is precisely what flat ontology rejects. If we take seriously that texts are composed of multiple layers, then only a flat ontology can properly preserve the layered nature of a text. The claim that the text is flat is the claim that each of these layers is absolutely autonomy and irreducible to the others or that all of these layers are on equal ontological footing. That is, flat ontology refuses a logic of expression that would reduce one thread, series, or layer of the text to another. Instead, flat ontology would defend the dignity of each of these layers as a distinct multiplicity. What is hereby refused is the reduction of anything to anything else.
- Levi R. Bryant (Larval Subjects) A Quick Remark on Flat Ontology
Whether one thinks of the world-at-Text or the Text-of-the-world one is brought back to the thought of Spinoza who said:
By God’s power (potentia) ordinary people understand God’s free will and his right over all things which are, things which on that account are commonly considered to be contingent. For they say that God has the Power (potestas) of destroying all things and reducing them to nothing. Further, they very often compare God’s power with the power of Kings. But we have refuted this … and we have shown that God acts with the same necessity by which he understands himself, i.e., just as it follows from the necessity of the divine nature (as everyone maintains unanimously) that God understands himself, with the same necessity it also follows that God does infinitely many things in infinitely many modes. And then we have shown … that God’s power is nothing except God’s active essence. And so it is as impossible for us to conceive that God does not act as it is to conceive that he does not exist. Again, if it were agreeable to pursue these matters further, I could also show here that that power which ordinary people fictitiously ascribe to God is not only human (which shows that ordinary people conceive God as a man, or as like a man), but also involves lack of power … For no one will be able to perceive rightly the things I maintain unless he takes great care not to confuse God’s power with the human power or right of Kings. (P3S)
One has to listen to Antonio Negri on Spinoza to understand just what this flat ontology entails, the force of its strangeness, the power of its conceptual integrity within Spinoza’s thought:
In the most recent, most penetrating, and most philologically faithful interpretations of the Spinozian substance-mode paradox, there have been repeated attempts to introduce another subdivision into the system at this point in an effort to salvage the relevance of the attribute. Let us assume that “the thinking substance and the extended substance are one and the same substance, which is now comprehended under this attribute, now underthat. So also a mode of extension and the idea of that mode are one and the same thing, but expressed in two ways” (P7S). With this assumption we find ourselves confronted with a parallelism that is principally that of thought and extension, a parallelism founded on an extracognitive ratio essendi; on the other hand, we have a parallelism of the mode and the idea of the mode, following a ratio cognoscendi, an intracognitive parallelism that “replicates” what is ontologically founded on the plane of knowledge. But we must ask ourselves: Is it possible, in the Spinoza of this period, to separate the order of knowledge from the ontological order? Is it possible, then, to abrogate the paradox revealed by the immediate relationship between substance and mode? Is it permissible to negate the force that emerges here, the force capable of overthrowing the metaphysical relationship and, specifically here, capable of overthrowing the emanationist nexus? Actually, it is not a “replication” we are dealing with here but a “reduction” of the origins of being to the presence of being, to its terrific and potent singular givenness. Every attempt to resist the violence of the paradox (and the subsequent overthrow of its terms) is unable to account for not the coherence, but the force and happiness, of Spinoza’s first formulation of the system, of the first stage of the Ethics. Little by little, the ontological reasoning proceeds and approximates reality, destroying roads and bridges, every reminder of the path it has traveled. The attributes and the ontological parallelism are on the verge of elimination. But the process does not stop here. For the moment, though, it settles here, on the first and fundamental limit of pantheism: If God is all, all is God. The difference is important: on one side an idealistic horizon, on the other side a materialistic potentiality.
The Spinozian mechanism denies any possibility of a conception of the world that is not represented as a singular, flat, and superficial emergence of being. God is the thing. God is multiplicity. The one and the multiple are equivalent and indistinguishable forces: On the terrain of the absolute the numerical sequence could not be given if not as an assumption of the totality of events. Each is absolute in itself. The points on which constitutive thought is developed are those that result from the critical process: points, instances, events that (in the relationship of definitive metaphysical opening) are submitted once again to the tension, the power of the totality of being. The reconstruction of the world is thus the very process of the continual physical composition and recomposition of things — and, with absolute constitutive mechanisms of historical, practical, and ethico-political nature.
- Antonio Negri, The Savage Anomaly
Spinozian logic does not know the hypothesis, it knows only the trace, the symptom. The versatility of being, which it accounts for, is within a woven fabric of material acts that, in diverse compositions and figures, experience a process of combination and self-formation. (Think of these Synchronous Objects) The ethics shows this dynamism fully unfolded. Negri continues in an explication that is at once inventive and conditions our understanding of Spinoza’s thought:
The Ethics is a methodological work, not because its prolix geometrical method is a paradigm for research but, rather, because it is an open work, a definition of a first sketch of the human task of appropriating and constructing the world. A series of absolutely Modern conditions thus serves the function of the elementary goals of Spinoza’s discourse: It is not only an inductive spirit that is developed to the point of realizing the pleasure of symptomatic knowledge but also a sure materialism and a secure collectivism that function as the presuppositions of the process of constitution. To the same degree that the philosophy of emanation (recomposed in Renaissance terms) and the theory of the attributes and that of parallelism diminish or fade under the pressure of negative thought, the world reappears in its material freshness, the society reemerges in its collective determination. Materialism and collectivism are fundamental aspects of constitutive thought. Ontological constitution can be given only as the appropriation and accumulation of material elements, both physical and social. Once again, here the dialectic has no place: Spinozian thought, just as it does not know the negative, does not know the verticality of the mechanisms of sublimation and supersession (or, better, it knows them as temptations from which to liberate itself). What is new and qualitatively different in Spinoza is marked by the complexity of the constitutive processes, in their dynamic (inertial) determination on the physical plane and in the determination that they impose, appetitus and cupiditas, on the ethical and historical plane. The physical and ethical constitutive dynamism concludes, then, this first, rigorously materialistic foundation of Modern thought. (ibid)
Listen again, just as Spinoza does not entertain the “dialectic” it does not know of the “negative”: it is the complexity and constitutive processes, in “their dynamic determination on the physical plane and in the determination that they impose, through sheer persistence and desire on both the ethical and historical plane: this is the flat ontology of a dynamic determination that is at once aware of its constitutive nature as both ethical and historical player on the stage of existence. Negri asks three key questions above:
1. But we must ask ourselves: Is it possible, in the Spinoza of this period, to separate the order of knowledge from the ontological order? In other words can one draw a distinction between ontology and epistemology? And, of course, in that period one was not able too do this; but, are we now? Have we come far enough to understand just what thinking and being entail to devise such distinctions?
2. Is it possible, then, to abrogate the paradox revealed by the immediate relationship between substance and mode? Again, what is this relationship entail, and how does one define the distinction of such relations? And how do we define just what this substance is? Under what sign do we compose such distinctions? Is “substance” as substance the same for us as it was for Spinoza, or even Aristotle or the Scholastics?
3. Is it permissible to negate the force that emerges here, the force capable of overthrowing the metaphysical relationship and, specifically here, capable of overthrowing the emanationist nexus? What is the “force” that emerges? If it has such powers, then exactly what does this mean for a substantialist ontology; and, even more, for an epistemological abrogation of such an ontolgogy?