Steven Shaviro on Kant and Whitehead

There is a very important connection between Whitehead and Kant, particularly between Kant’s third Critique and Process and Reality (hence why we read them back to back).  Indeed, Whitehead saw himself as inverting and completing Kant’s critical project.  This connection is explained very quickly and clearly in this the first chapter of Steven Shaviro’s Without Criteria: Kant, Whitehead, Deleuze and Aesthetics. Enjoy!


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Week…5? Merleau-Ponty and Whitehead

Due to the events of the last three weeks I have not had time to update this blog.  However, I think it is important to do so, especially since this week and next weeks readings (Deleuze!) are incredible.  So, blog away!

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Notes and tangents from the class discussion of ‘The Body In Pain’

Scarry looks to the moments of extreme pain in torture and war in its most formal structures and thus allows the thought that through implication torture and war wouldn’t happen or would happen differently if this extreme pain were in fact commensurable – that one could not possibly destroy the body and world of another without feeling the same sensation visited upon their own. One’s politics should then lead in the direction that senses this incommensurability and creates an attenuated level plane of existence. Everyone should have the right to not feel.

One should be lead to ask what kind of process and context produces a sense of happiness that is the absence of intensity, where pain and intense pleasure certainly exist, but only when it is operative for the dominant relation. Perhaps, some of this lies in the world destroying potency of an “object-less” state.  We could think of this as a form of desubjectification, which is possible in moments where we become less and less concerned with “our world” and what we are, but instead with what our bodies experience. And that these moments of intensity contain within them a condition of openness. Being a male, a college student, a vegetarian, etc suddenly melts inside us, which then can either be recoded with new subjectivities or further widen a rift between our bodies and their predicates.

What organization of power persists in denying the conflict that is foundational to the relation of capitalism by relegating it to moments in which it is most extreme? On the contrary, absolute war exists between those who inhabit a world of utter dispossession of the means of making and unmaking worlds and the structures, people and worlds which by all means maintain and develop this hell. The prevention of this thought being elaborated appears to function as a way of neutralizing the capabilities of people by limiting them to the terms and terrains of the circulation of value. It is something done to us – something alien.

-Tout Niquer

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Week 2 – David Hume – An Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals

Alright, Week 2!  I know everyone’s champing at the bit to write about David Hume. 🙂  This weeks readings are An Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals and “Of the Standard of Taste.”  Go to!

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Torture (and pain) according to the victim

All Latin American countries, with the exception of Costa Rica, have been subject of military rule at some point in their history. The last wave of dictatorship started during the 1960s and lasted until the 1980s when the Third Wave of democratization swept the world transitioning authoritarian regimes into democracies. Three characteristics of these regimes that are of particular interest for our discussion could be mentioned: 1) they were ideologically rightist regimes; 2) they had, to some extend, the support of the US; and, 3) they utilized torture as the main instrument of intelligence in order to find and eventually eliminate individuals operating under Marxist ideology. Interestingly, the same democratic wave that ended the military rule in Latin America also generated another wave of Leftist governments, although more moderate than the movements that preceded this one. Accordingly, several of the actual democratically elected head of states were leftist political activists that were themselves victims of torture of the regimes of exception. Among these presidents are the recent elected Dilma Roussef (Brazil), José Mujica (Uruguay), and the former president of Chile (Michelle Bachelet). Mrs.Roussef has pleaded to adopt an uncompromising standing on Human Rights, specially now that Brazil, differently form other counties of the Southern Cone, fails to bring to justice the state agents of political crimes, who are protected by the Amnesty Law that pardoned political crimes committed by the military and the guerrilla operatives. 

In 2003 Mrs. Rousseff gave an interview in which she talks about her experience as a victim of torture. She is convinced that “torture is one of the greatest evils that exist” and believes that “the deepest meaning of democracy necessarily includes putting an end to torture”. Her interview illustrates various aspects of Scarry’s argument as well as other subjects to think about such as the perception of time, the power to inflict pain and to endure it, and the internal and external sources of endurance. I have translated parts of it from Portuguese with the help of Google Translator. My apologies for the quality of the translation. 

Carvalho – What memories do you have from the time spent in jail?
Rousseff – The prison is the place where we face our own limits. That is what is sometimes very hard. In depositions, we lied like crazy. I lied a lot, but a lot. 

Carvalho – How was this story of lie in the face of torture?
Rousseff – We had to make a frame and only remember the frame, the story that is invented, and never deviate from it. We had to have a story. In the relationship between the tortured and the torturer the only thing that can not happen is for you to say “I will not talk” If you say “I do not talk,” you may be required to talk five minutes later, because they know you have something to say. If you say “I do not talk,” you´re say to them: “I know what you want to know and I will not tell you.” Then you hand him the instrument with which he will torture and interrogate you. Your story can not be “do not talk.” It must be a story and from then on you do not know anything else, you can not know. 
Carvalho – It is a difficult game.
Rousseff – It is an art. The difficulty is to convince them that you do not know more that this frame. This is not just a game of physical but also of psychic endurance. Especially because one of the things you discover is that you are alone.

Carvalho – What are the scenes that are coming into your head now?
Rousseff – I remember coming in Operation Bandeirantes, arrested in early 70.
(…). There was a pregnant girl who asked my name. I gave my real name. She said: “Gee, you’re screwed.” It was my first experience with “waiting”. The worst thing in torture is waiting, wait to be beaten. (…) I am also remembering very well off the bathroom floor, the white tile. Because it begins to form a crust of blood, dirt, you get a smell …

Carvalho – Who tortured?
Rousseff – Albernaz and his subordinate, whose name was Thomas. I do not know if
this is his “nom de guerre”. (…)   He gave a lot of punch in people. He would start to interrogate you. If he did not like the answers he would give you punches. After the paddle, I went to the parrot’s perch. 

Carvalho – With shocks to the genitals, how did it happen?
Rousseff – No. They did not do it. But they did give me a lot of shocks, but a lot of shocks. I remember the first few days, I had a physical exhaustion that I wanted to faint, so I could no longer stand the shocks. I started having

Carvalho – Where were these shocks?
Rousseff – All over the place. In the feet, hands, the inside parth of thighs, ears. In the head, is a horror. The nipple. (…). Then you urinate and defecate all over … 

Carvalho – How long did the sessions last?
Rousseff – Initially it was a long time. We lose track. You do not know how long or what time it is. You know why? Because they stop, and when they stop it does not get better, because he says the following: “Now you think a little.” They stopped, removed me and threw me in this place of tile, which was a bathroom on the first floor of the DOI. With blood and everything. You drop. Then you shake a lot, you are very cold. You’re naked, right? It is very cold. Then they came back. That day was long. At one point I was in fetal position. 

Carvalho – Can you think of resisting, not talking?
Rousseff – The way to resist was to say to myself, “Soon I’ll tell all I know.” I’d tell myself. Then I little time goes by. And a little more. And then you keep going. You can not imagine that it will last an hour, two. You can only think of the next moment. You can not think about the pain. 

Carvalho – Did you endure?
Rousseff – I endured. I did not even tell where I lived. I did not say who Max
was [alias of Carlos Franklin Paixão de Araújo, then her husband]. Nor did I gave up the name of Breno [Carlos Alberto Bueno de Freitas], because I had a lot of pity on them. I’ll say one thing one tupamara, who was in jail with us, told me. The tupamara ended up with brain damage. She said: “Do you know I did not tell anything that day abut whso was who? Because I was the wife of so and so and wanted to prove that the Uruguayan is as good as the Brazilian.”

Carvalho – What is the meaning of the phrase?
Rousseff – That there are various reasons for us not to talk. 

Carvalho – Paddling, parrot’s perch, shocks. What else?
Rousseff – Starve you. Make you go cold. The night. They put you in the room and say: “In two hours I come back to interrogate you. To wait to be tortured. There has a level of pain in which you black out, you can not take anymore. The pain has to be inflicted with their control. He has to demonstrate that he has the power to control your pain.  

Carvalho – And the tortured?
Rousseff – The deal is never to reveal to him what you think. He can not know
what you think and he can never find that you only speak after being beaten. Ever. You better not let him notice that he gets information from you through torture. You gotta have a story. The bad thing is when your story crumbles by any reason. He thinks you lied. If he thinks you lied you are in trouble. He found out what you game is. (…) 

Carvalho – What helps in these times?
Rousseff – If I had been alone in jail, I would have had much more problems.
I owe to my companions the fact that I have largely overcome, absorbed and at times even mocked torture, in order to endure it. I remember the people of Tiradentes [prison], who were with me.

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The Danger of Pure Bodily Absorption

I am struck by a seemingly tangential comment about dreaming made by Scarry when discussing the relation between pain and imagining.

The paricular content of the dream images…is itself insignificant beside the overall fact of the dreaming itself, the emergency work of the imagination to provide an object–this object, that object, any object–to sustain and exercise the capacity for self-objectification during the sleep-filled hours of sweet and dangerous bodily absorption (p. 167).

What is striking here is the overt evidence of the mind’s (for lack of a better word) obsession with objects or, one might say, its fear of pure bodily absorption.  Although I cannot forcefully argue it yet, I am led to believe that, contrary to what Scarry argues, it is not necessarily true that insofar as an intentional state lacks its object it approaches pain (e.g., hunger), or, more precisely, that pain is the limit point of bodily absorption.  Instead of identifying pain with that limit point, it should be identified just as what it is, the critical point at which the state of a body has no object.  This more general limit point will, then, include both pain and, we might say, pure bliss.  More interestingly, the mind might fear, or at least try to prevent, like pain, the bodily absorption of pure bliss.  I think this actually follows from much of what Scarry says, although it differs from her (over)generalized claim about pain and what she says about pleasure on p. 166 and especially fn. 6 (p. 355).

Since it’s already quite clear, I won’t spend any time discussing why Scarry thinks pain can be seen as (one) limit point of bodily absorption, whether in torture or in quotidian states such as hunger and thirst.  I will start, then, with one observation concerning the difference between pain and pleasure.  Scarry claims that “physical pain is exceptional in the whole fabric of psychic, somatic, and perceptual states for being the only one that has no object” (p. 161).  However, in the introduction she repeatedly mentions the various ways in which one in pain can substantiate that pain, even if it is as simple as identifying it with the weapon that inflicted it or felt “as if” it inflicted it.  However, the same is true of pleasure.  Of course, it may often be the case that pleasure has an object, it is not very hard to conceive of the state being reached, pure bliss, in which there is none.  Scarry admits that sensations of touch can be distinguished as the pure sense of touching and the touch of some object.  This separation seems even starker in the case of intensely pleasurable experiences.  Finally, it is a mistake to confuse the cause of a sensation with the object of a state or sensation.  Obviously, physical pain must be caused by something, just as pleasure must be; however, this does not mean that either have an object in the way the feelings of hunger or longing do.

Finally, I wanted to comment about the fact that the mind is constantly imagining objects, particularly when, as in sleep, the body is deprived of perceptual or other objects.  It seems clear why in the case of pain, the mind would posit these objects.  According to Scarry, pain can be diminished or eliminating to the extent that it acquires an object, whether real or imagined.  Hunger is diminished when food is consumed; longing can be diminished when the person one longs for, although not physically present, is imagined.  However, I do not think that this obsession with objects is limited to the diminishing of pain.  As the case of dreaming makes clear, completely non-painful, even pleasurable, bodily experiences, like sleep, must be supplemented by dream-objects.  It is as if the danger of pure bodily absorption, whether painful or pleasurable, must be avoided at all cost.  Perhaps the reason, although not an exhaustive one, is that the civilization process itself, the process of making, as Scarry describes, is constantly involved in extending out of the body and into the world.  In a way, the feeling of pure bliss is as uncivilized as is the feeling of pain, that is, it is incommunicable, hidden from the world and other people.  Even Scarry herself seems to identify civilization with happiness and un-civilization with danger and harm.  This same dichotomy can be see, for instance, in common arguments against hallucinatory drugs or science fiction stories about a society in which its citizens are “drugged” to feel constant bliss and what consequence that would have (Brave New World?).  What must be considered is whether pain is the only locus of un-civilization, as in torture and war, or whether pure bliss, and its causes, is equally destructive of humanity and civilization.  More importantly, we must ask whether the very dichotomy between civility/happiness and un-civility/danger should have the validity it seems to have or whether we can imagine wholly new relations between pain, pleasure and society.


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Questions on The Body in Pain

One recurring question that I had while reading Scarry for this week: how much do emotions and psychology play into experiencing pain? In Scarry’s examples of torture, she explains tactics (slamming doors or loud noises) that are meant to rattle the tortured but that are not actually physically inflicted upon them. It seems that emotional terror magnified the experience of pain. I wonder if there is always an emotional component to pain. Can one experience pain without emotion?

Also, this reading made me think of people who self-inflict pain or engage in sadomasochism. These sort of examples suggest a different/pleasurable relationship to pain, but I wonder if this is necessarily the case. Is anyone familiar with this topic and how it relates to Scarry’s theories?


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Interesting Post from Another Blog

I decided to post this blog entry from Steven Shaviro’s (excellent) blog The Pinocchio Theory since it not only deals with the body and sense, but does so through an analysis of a recent film, Black Swan, which I really enjoyed (and assume others have as well).

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Week 1 – The Body in Pain – Elaine Scarry

This week’s reading is, of course, The Body in Pain: The Making and Unmaking of the World by Elaine Scarry.  Any and all authors: feel free to post!

(p.s. I’ll be putting something like this up sometime soon after each class (Wednesday or Thursday?), which gives authors the opportunity to write something while they’re reading or right after discussion on Tuesdays.  If you have any suggestions on a better way, comment below.)

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The Politics of Sensation

“Since each of us was several, there was already quite a crowd”

– Deleuze and Guattari on working together

We wish to further explore with this blog the readings for the Politics of Sensation course at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.  We hope this blog will be updated weekly, or more, covering each week’s reading as well as further connections and digression, as we see fit.  There are, however, a few requirements.  We wish to avoid (unnecessary) summary and (mere) opinion.  Although one post per week should be centrally concerned with that week’s reading, all authors are encouraged to develop their ideas beyond that particular reading, connecting it with other readings, events, thinkers, etc.  We want to produce new ideas, thoughts and connections–keeping things exciting yet rigorous.

– a low ceiling

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