Issue #1 · 2021-02-23

Situations and Territories

by Joel Davis

Socrates forever altered the destiny of the world when he invented the (proto-)transcendental argument. The notion that the philosopher should search behind a claim for what implicitly substantiates it is undoubtedly the basis of all genuine critical analysis. Without this demand for depth in thought we would remain trapped on a rhetorical surface, unable to reveal the authority of claims by virtue of the faithfulness of their construction.

Socrates also forever altered the destiny of the world when he satisfied himself with seeking answers for his transcendental arguments in the form of definitions. Implicitly, the irritating dialectical methods deployed by Socrates in the famous dialogues presume uncovering a definition could be sufficient to reveal behind claims of the particular, claims of the general. Therefore, in blatant paradoxicality, the method chosen by Socrates to substantiate claims which define in general was one of simply presupposing a transcendental generality to be implied in the propositional act itself, leaving the substantiation of the general reliant upon the act of referencing the particular! And so, what at first may have seemed like a method of deepening thought turns out to be a mere manipulation of the surface in crude circularity. For Socrates, the definition is the basis of the proposition's meaning because the proposition is meaningful, but where does the proposition's meaningfulness come from? The definition of course! The deepest Socratic irony is that this quintessential method of combating "sophistry" is itself perhaps the greatest sophistry of them all.

This presumption of the definition as the storehouse of truth is one which philosophy largely uncritically repeats from Socrates for millennia. However, we can't allow the proposition to simply meet the particular without some notion of generality, otherwise we remain stuck on the surface of meaning, unable to penetrate the depths of significance, unable to traverse from mere things to the Idea. Thankfully the proposition does not float in pure abstraction, relating only to other propositions in infinite recursion. Propositions are always acts and acts always occur within situations, and so we encounter the particular always within a situation which envelops it. Within the situation then, we will find the force which attaches the proposition to the particular, the force which dramatizes in the particular an Idea which the act of the proposition sees in it.

However for Socrates, using a term in any particular sense necessarily presupposes knowledge of a universal definition that one should be able to reveal if only they ask the right questions. This is why Socrates' preferred method is dialectical inquiry. He is convinced that his interlocutor must innately possess knowledge of this universal definition by virtue of their capacity to see it in the particular. Socrates however is customarily disappointed by his interlocutors, as they can only muster further notions of particularity until becoming exasperated with his questions and conceding, usually in a state of demoralization. This is because the only universal definitions which are possible are self-referential, once all particulars have been abstracted away all one can say is that something is what it is.

What is interesting about the situation however is that it contains things which have more meaning than what those things are simply in themselves. It is in the relation between things, in the situation which relates them, that this context which envelops and transcends the scope of any definition subsists. It is for this reason that we can lose the Idea in our focus upon the particular, because an Idea is composed of pure relations, it is never merely what things are but inbetween, around and within them. An Idea then, is always what something is and more, so to merely say that something is what it is, is never enough. Socrates could sense this moreness in the Idea, but ran into great difficulty making sense of where it came from. The best explanation he could come up with for our struggle to define these Ideas that he could sense but not define was to simply posit that we must have originally known them and forgotten! Meaning the only outcome his entire method could hope to achieve is to tell us what we (allegedly) already know.

Plato's ontologizing of the Socratic method retains this by detemporalizing the universal definition in an eternal realm of essential form which his philosophy enables us to remember. For Plato, we only know what the particular is, because we recognize it as copy of a universal original always already known. Change is therefore the culprit for our forgetting of the definition's universality, and so the sign which stays the same must be extracted from the changing image as we move from particular to particular.

Once Plato has purged the sign of any particular image, it refers to nothing but itself, it has become pure formal self-reference. Plato's ontology then is little else but tautology, and the denigration of the temporality of the image before the paradoxical self-reference of the sign. This is the basis of all ideology, rationalizing malevolence and abuse via the subtle nihilism of claims justified on the basis of definitional self-reference. The dominant ideology of contemporary society cares nothing for the particular images that compose your situation, diversity and tolerance are good because they are diverse and tolerant and if you disagree then you must be condemned! This is the legacy of the false depth of Socratic sophistry.

The definition cannot re-attach the sign it detaches to the image but only to itself, and so the question arises, how did the sign first attach to its image? This question can only be answered with the transcendental depth it demands if we halt the ironically circular search for a definition, and instead seek after a situational event. Why in the first instance are we concerned with the image? Why are we trying to draw a meaning from it by assigning it a name? Any answer to such questions necessarily implies desire precedes the sign. For without a desire bringing us into encounter with the image, how else would it attain our focus? So, at the foundation of the situation we have the image as an attractor of desire, but why are we naming it? If the image merely attracted us we would just do what we wanted until we were satisfied and be done with it, we would have no reason to think about it or question it, and so in some sense the image must also repel us. The relation between desire and image is therefore problematical, it is only in this situation that thought and the sign become necessary. And so, we find ourselves in a situation which both provides and obstructs the potential for our desire to actualize and it is this simultaneous attraction/repulsion which holds us in relation to the image and generates a supervening compulsion to grasp the meaning of the situation.

Our attraction/repulsion produces a tension upon the surface of the situation which draws us into its depth, the sign penetrates the image and reveals further images in kind, the image envelops the sign and reveals yet deeper significance. This penetration/enveloping is in this way reflexively generative, the meaning of the situation fractures and integrates itself in the event of desire entering into conflict with itself. This conflict is what provokes and inspires us to seek after an ever supervening thematic; the situation both offers and withholds what we want, why and how should we accept this? Or, if we shouldn't, why and how can we change this? Creating responses to these questions and exploring the themes which envelop those responses give our lives and actions the most profound meaning, and the abstract tyranny of the definition in both cases alienates us from participation.

The definition in its theft of the sign from the situation which generates it and gives it significance, isolates rationalization from the very thematic context which first aroused it. In this way rationalization is hijacked from meaning and like a cancer it recurses upon itself in tautological circularity. Philosopher after philosopher has attempted to outmaneuver this black hole, but as long as they have remained loyal to the definiton this has only contributed further force to its vortexing. Whilst it may at first appear that Socrates' crime was merely harassing the poor Athenians who had the misfortune of encountering him with annoying questions, on deeper investigation his charge of corrupting the youth appears legitimate, as the nihilism he unleashed appears directly responsible for Plato's technocratic aspirations. The most apt term for what appears to have been inaugurated in this diabolical political science is ratiocracy.

Historians may argue over the impact this development had on Greco-Roman civilization, but it matters little for my purposes here, as the definitional suspension of the situation is a defining feature of liberal modernity. Perhaps nowhere does ratiocratic delusion disclose itself more immediately than in the concept of rule of law, the absurd notion that definitions can rule over situations. Of course the act of interpretation is never a definition but a situation, Socratic nihilism has perverted the role of interpreter to merely hand down rationalizations of a thereby concealed situational manipulation. The purpose of the rationalization is to conceal the manipulation by abstracting us from the situation itself, cutting the problematic of our desires, their significance and their thematic implications out of the process. Ratiocracy then is really a pseudopolitics, a false depth which disables participation, a simulation.

The meaning of the situation is how it thematizes the problematic of desire. The interpretation it demands is not simply a question of analysis but requires dramatization. Playing semantic games which rationalize a pre-determined solution can only ever tell us what we first presupposed, but to receive the meaning which the situation only makes available in the Ideal relations which penetrate and envelop the things we already know, we must participate in it. No definition of 'grace' can ever compare to its dramatization in Christ, no definition of 'love' can ever compare to falling in it, no definition of 'justice' can ever compare to its realization. The definition of a joke isn't funny, the definition of faith honours nothing.

The political is a composite of situations, it is ruled by drama or tragically by its lack thereof. The de-dramatization of the political by the ideological slight-of-hand of the ratiocrats, this is liberalism. However unfortunately, liberalism is the mere obfuscation of a yet more pernicious dynamic; what Lobaczewski christened the Pathocracy. The autism of the ratiocracy, whilst clearly vapid, possesses such danger not simply due to its spiritually alienating qualities, but because this alienation disables our defenses against the domination of the political by the psychopathological. The condition of the psychopath renders them unable to share the problematic of desire with so called "normals". Where we may be definitionally alienated they are situationally alienated. Their inability to authentically participate in the dramatization of the social discludes them from political orders faithful to the situation in common, but our alienation by the definition provided the ideal apparatus to rationalize their abuse by cloaking it in ideological semantics. We can see the pathocracy at work in the absurdity of mainstream economics rationalizing a system of mass debt-slavery and industrial sabotage as a "free market", rendering it a process without a subject, comprehendable only through a dismal science which assigns responsibility to everyone and therefore no one.

Situational leadership is inherently dramatic by contrast, this drama does not need to rationalize away the desires and problems of those being lead, but can grip the situation with inspiration, with an enveloping significance that holds us in shared conviction. Leadership then at its most fundamental is a performance, a persona must occupy center-stage and evoke a supervening thematic. This act of occupation is the key point of distinction with the impersonal abstraction engaged in by bureaucratic rationalizers, where the situational persona must put forward and take responsibility for a plan, the rationalizer must abstract away any locus of agency which "plans".

The fundamental question then of a situational political economy, would be a structural analysis of personal occupancy in the planning process of the political, an object I will henceforth assign the Deleuzean name of the territory. The situation demands that planning occur somewhere and upon something, 'planning' then is a pure relation of desire which binds the subject of the political (that which desires) to the object of the political (that which both attracts and repels desire). A space becomes a territory then, through the act of planning, planning dramatizes a space and renders its themes intelligible. A territory both envelops and penetrates a space, the force which envelops is its theme, the force which penetrates is its problematic. The territory is composed of a flux of interpenetrating images, continuously fracturing and re-integrating into plans enveloped in the drama of leadership. Territorialization then is a self-reflexive process which has the lifeforce of temporal dynamism breathed into it by the persona which occupies a central position in relation to its problems and themes, it is in the immanence of these relations that the territory's meaning can be found.

The territory however can be frozen by abstraction into a static image, its rationalized structure projecting a pseudoterritory of the definitional matrix. In the pseudoterritory, the "invisible hand" governs by "natural law" and is understood purely in the abstract relations of financial quantities. Behind this illusion however a pathocratic vortex plans the territory's suicidal drama, both its history and future are sacrificed in the rationalization of its self-cancellation. The sick irony of the definitional matrix abounds where an injunction against planning is rationalized as liberatory, the compusion of an enveloping thematic is disparaged as oppressive, the drama of leadership derided as "totalitarian". This injunction then must project itself into the abstract realm of definitional self-relation, where the law is what it is because it means what it means. It is on this basis that the originalist conceives of jurisprudence, deluding himself that the constitution of the political can be governed by an "original meaning" as if meaning can be abstracted from the situation which gave it significance and nevertheless return.

What the originalist does in his de-dramatization and de-personalization of the law is exteriorize himself from participation. By defending an original meaning with a method unable to access it, the contemporary conservative prevents anyone with his worldview from occupying the situation in which law is actually given meaning - its dramatization. Why should we obey the Supreme Court? Because the constitution tells us so. But who tells us what the constitution means? The Supreme Court of course! A circular logic operating upon something this important provokes the most pernicious of nihilisms. The apex of the juridical order is precisely not the place you want to invite the psychopath to occupy. This pseudoriginalism of the definition must be replaced with an approach which explores the actual origin of legal meaning, the political situation. This situation is constituted by an active planning which no definition can supervene on, the very drama of leadership is an interpretation of the "original" themes of the territory it rules and so interpretation cannot abstract itself from the act of leadership itself.

It is for this reason that we must understand the Idea (not just in law but in general) as a theme rather than a mere 'concept', a truly profound Idea will provoke the perpetual creation of new concepts in order to interpret and re-interpret as the territory historically unfolds. The Idea then is fundamentally an aesthetic phenomenon, we can only sense it as a pure relation which only enters the particularity of things through an act of dramatization. The concept then can never itself be built purely out of other concepts, but instead must be composed through the imaginary in oscilliation with an attraction/repulsion of desire which exteriorizes the object content from the interiorized form of the enveloping/penetrating significance. The Idea is abstracted from the perceptual (in the ostensive act) and must eternally return to the perceptual (the transcendental empiricism of the problematic). Without this, the circularity of self-referential rationalization cannot return to the problematic, signifying nothing but a linguistic vortex, a nihilistic portal to hell.

For this reason, true 'science' is an act of dramatizing (in the sincere deployment of the scientific method) the perceptual. We must oppose this to 'ideology' which is a mere rationalizing purely within the domain of concepts, the infinitely recursive relation of concept to concept. This is why dramatizing the political persona in genuine hierarchical performance is so vital. The leader must take central responsibility within a political narrative and thereby open himself onto the problematical. Success or failure is in this way demonstrated and responsibility inescapably assigned in advance, all deflection and denial takes the form of rationalizing, closing us off to the problematic in an obfuscatory linguistic vortex.

In the sincere attempt to dramatize rather than rationalize a moral Idea, in the faithful seeking after the thematic significance rather than mere propositional definition, the situation returns and breathes life into the territory. To bring the work of Deleuze in more explicitly here (this entire essay has owed its thinking largely to his influence), this affirmation of situations enveloping definitions and of drama enveloping reason is most fundamentally demonstrated in his ontology of time synthesis. For Deleuze, the future cannot arrive in a formulaic determination given to it by the past, yet the very structure of making predictions about the future indubitably treats it as though it can. Within a predictive framing, the future must be composed out of an identical set of consequences to those observed to flow from an analogous past provocation. However, this for Deleuze misses the entire point of the future, which is that the future differentiates itself from the past. If the future was not at its most fundamental, a difference, then time would not exist. The only possible answer to the question, "why hasn't the future already happened?", is that the consequences which make up the past have not yet exhausted the potential of its provocation.

To better understand the implications of the future as difference, Deleuze generates a new ontological distinction between the Virtual and the Actual. This corrects the aforementioned ontological mistake of supposing that defining the actuality of something exhausts what it is, the Idea of something is always more than simply what it is as it is also the relations between, within and around it. For Deleuze, the virtuality of the Idea is just as real (if not more so) than the actuality of the thing, for the Idea in its virtuality gives the thing not just an identity and a meaning but a potential to go beyond what it already is to something more. If all was actual, there would be no purpose for time as everything would already be what it is and there would be no further difference necessary, no future. This is why for Deleuze the virtual Idea is an eternally returning differential problematic, it asks a question which only the future can answer because no actualization can exhaust it, no one drama can exhaust a theme no matter how profoundly it expresses it.

It is for this reason that Deleuze describes the future as an empty form, we cannot pre-figure it with prediction but can only participate in it through a re-dramatization of past relations. This is why that our traditions cannot be handed down to us in the form of dogmas and ideologies. To retain their Ideas we must bear the burden of active reinterpretation. It is for this reason that abstract formulas cannot rule, whether it be in law, the market or "artificial intelligence", there can be no drama without the persona which dramatizies, and this persona can have only one occupant - man, for only man's desire is bound up in the situation. It is this occupant who plans our relation to the future for better or worse. This is the essence of the political.

The abstraction of the definition from the situation of planning is therefore perhaps most grotesquely, the destruction of the territory's future. Demonic parasites of abstraction abound in the nihilistic vortexes of circular logic, deploying ever more pernicious rationalizations to assault the very notion of occupancy itself and feast upon our deterritorialized desire. This is liberalism. To restore our futurity we must draw from the sacred power of the Ideas by re-dramatizing the political in a spiritual war waged against the ideological rationalization of this pathocracy's abuse. A situational occupant must again be placed at the center of both law and "the market" with the power to inspire a social project which actively interprets its history and plans its future. It is only in this way that we can transcend the status of being mere voyeurs of significance who simply talk about it, to becoming participants in significance who actively create its realization. It is only on this basis that men can be lead on the basis of awe rather than coercion. This is the meaning of glory and perhaps the most profound meaning of the political, a drama worthy of its theme, it is for this reason that men are willing to give their lives for Ideas.