A typical example of what makes theory unformalizable is the horizontal relation between epistemorphization and the diegesis.
It’s neither the case that both the truth and the untruth can be rendered apparent; nor that rendition-to-the-apparent (literally: e-vidence) reveals truth. In the rigorous language of Rudolf Willie’s “Formal Concept Analysis”, this structure of horizontal relation is termed “orthogonality”. In this way (and at least for this special problem of truth/experience — an important one) the unformalizeability of theory can be formalized.
Ça veut dire: any formalization of theory is forced to “break ties” at horizontal/orthogonal relations. This matches the subjective experience of mathematical training, where one learns to produce proofs by tie-breaking between equally valid derivation subtrees. It also neatly characterizes just what’s the “petty bourgeois” step we refuse to do.
The epistemorphization of theory is about as unavoidable, useful and in-the-limit misleading as the anthropomorphization of technology.
The anthropomorphic quality of technology depends on technical and market factors. Maybe the mouse pointer is only inadvertently phallic, but voice assistants (Siri, Cortana, etc) are all made to simulate the requisite physique du role.
This is also true of the epistemorphic quality of theory. It often sounds like French philosophy because it has French philosophy in its carburetor. But it can strategically come in shapes, flavors and colors. Indeed, the radical and mundane import of chroma is that it suggests, by showing that theory consists of conjuring chromaticities, that it must have consequences in the domain of the chrema as well. In other words: chroma fiddles with the frame of theory; it renders intelligible elements that are not directly in the picture at any given moment.
asemic horizon says “theory” simpliciter, unqualified, intransitive, a secas to emphasize it is not, nor does it aim to be, a theory of a specific something. In order to diffract into arbitrary chromaticities, it needs to be blank. If incentivized to place theory in an art-world kind of market for attention, I might just incorporate this: blank theory, in consonance with Blank Banshee and Élie Ayache’s Blank Swan.
But that’s not the world I’m living in, is it? I’m instead continually pressed by my persona (and the cognition cluster it circles around) towards the technical. In this aspect my rhetorical flourish has written many checks that theory-as-we-have-her-now can’t fund. We did make some effort towards two entirely different stories, the one based in SATPLAN (since satisfiability-modulo promised to be a fine model for quability, that most elusive of birds) and the one realized as PDEs-in-graphs but ultimately founded in the algebraic-combinatorial construction of space. There’s still nothing to properly link either of these to the core content of theory, let alone to its high points (tempo, physique du rôle, diegesis…). If pressed to produce any cogent account of theory in the universe of intellectual pursuits that animates the people who are able to grok theory in place, I’d have to confess and defend it as informal theory. The wording is unfortunately mainly because the informal meaning of “informal” has to do with letting your guard down; but even taken seriously, it points to a gap, a hole: if it doesn’t want to be an informal theory of something, it has to clarify the role of its in-formalism.
The disciplines of rigorous informal analysis take the name of engineering. Software engineering, because focused on dancing around the glitch, is a particularly illustrative example: while methods of formal verification exist, most software is informal because it grows out of pressing desiderata. Rigor in engineering flows down, and if something (say: PID controllers) runs out of rigor in its mathematical derivation, well, then it runs out of rigor. If it seems odd to consider engineering as a peer to theory, it’s because the desidrata of theory seem to grow from within theory. At any rate, we need tempo, quability, ambit…
The emergence of chroma(ticity)/chrema(tistics) as generalized pairs of axiological articulation had to do with a kind of sobriety crisis around the apparent (within my budgets of time and energy, at least) un-formalizeability of theory. Chroma only came to to the foreground when we had to take stock of whatever we had as formal tools (some remain good, like the opposition/corruption diagram and the finite-circular style of argument around the concept of distinction). That silly business around half-axiologies looked good in its austere wittgeinsteinian style: but meant nothing. To repeat: chroma was revealed to us because we dared to rest in informality — which is still a weak spot, mind you; but one that may be with us for a long time.
What chroma enlightens (colors, irradiates, filters through) is that we’re stuck in informal theory because the greater goal is concept theory. And since there’s an important leap of abstraction between conceptual theory (which is always a high-abstraction theory of some X) and concept theory itself, this is likely to be the second-best signifier for theory in the lack of a shared semantic environment that allows for the proper “fixpoint” diction of theory = f(theory).
Now, what’s incredible about chroma is that it provides an ambit for the glitch. This, at least to me, is remarkable: these three ideas were not conceived for each other, Almost all of the matter of theory fits, clicks together, self-organized and self-systemizes (enough that we can leave behind old bits that don’t fit, let them starve and rot). In this way — meaning, if we conceive theory as the theory of the matter of theory — the chroma/chrema distinction collapses. The ultimate chrema of theory is to make it click. The penultimate ethical, strategic, technical, sexual, etc. move is to steer clear of this collapse.
This is how one avoids getting lost in the woods, and rather strategized to gain little pieces of new ground here and there: chroma realism. (This is also what Jair was epsilon-close to for quite a while. Jair was never leader material or a Great Man of any kind, but he almost became a conduit for truth-rain, a peculiarly sweet form of chromaticity).
[NB: please be mindful of the I/we voices; they’re distinct.]
Everyone knows that attention has become the scarce object of note. It’s less often-remarked that up until a few minutes ago we lived in a world where capital was logically identified with the object of scarcity (that is, money), even if theoretically distinct (maybe following Kalecki’s dictum that workers spend what they earn, while capitalists earn what they spend). Something is off-kilter now — this isn’t a flight of theory, this is what most discourse has been about since the early augurs of Eternal September.
A further (even if rather minor) symptom of the attention-seeking character of our epoch is that to forget something now means to strip it of value. There is nothing natural about this; just a few hours ago, things were most valuable when forgotten: it used be the case that vor was broken and things were at their existential peak when they became unnoticeable. (Whenever something still has this character, we relegate it to the below-ground of infrastructure together with electricity and running water, both things that are only noticed when they stop working). In yet another time and place, the wisdom of ultimate value was meant to be forgotten, “like a raft one holds on to cross the river”.
Admittedly, English is not well-suited for the finest nuances of this discussion. Lacking imperative forms, the chasm between “oublie la théorie / olvida la teoria” and “oubliez la théorie! / ¡olvida la teoría!” goes unnoticed. It’s almost like English came with implicit exclamation marks around certain constructions. Even in the presence of explicit punctuation: doesn’t this text, under the weight of its title, seem to be working up to a polemical statement to the tune of “forget theory! it has no value!”? The chasm-paving has the effect of pulling everything to the gravity well of clickbait.
This “tweet” is about ethics:
This is about morality:
To generalize: @SloaneSays is concerned (here, anyway) with issues of chromaticity. A feud is one thing through the chroma of escalation; another, entirely, through the chroma of elevation. Willet is concerned with the chrematistics of it all — and if there’s no great wealth to be found in forgiveness, at least how not to go broke with it. Yet how common is the Tupac-Biggie thing where there should instead have been an album colab/joint tour? Willet wants us to do bean-counting on our acts of forgiveness. He sees it as a means to a higher end. This is a very pragmatic attitude, but it doesn’t come with much practical depth — short, of course, of Jinping-colored social credit scoring.
“asemic horizon” wants to continue to explore theory towards an… asemic… horizon. There’s chroma and chrema coordinates to this. But general chrematistics doesn’t happen except as supported by generic chrematistics. Does this mean anything? Not yet, and it never will if we try at all times to keep track of local chrema scores. A shift in chroma always presupposes a shift in thinking, and the first internal revolution to be fought is to forget morality.
Oublier la théorie is, of course, a prerequisite for going after theory in some grander sense. Theory kids have typically always been cerebral; but if one is going to continually self-induce “nosebleeds” (shifts in thinking that lead to shifts in chroma), one needs to get loose from the groove of holding the world in one’s brain-hands. Readers who have sifted through “asemic horizon” with generous priors must have sensed that its patent-pending vatic style is not superfluous — the louder sell would be to start citing facts and literature in Scott Alexander fashion, but that wouldn’t make your nose bleed.
I have less time today, but want to leave a couple of notes anyway.
“Asemic writing” refers to a genre of writing. English is overly flat here; On grammatology offers the syn-chromic term écriture which serves us much better. Asemic writing blazes past the boundaries of what Grammatology terms “logocentrism”. It does so not for moral reasons — not because they’ve found Grammatology to be persuasive, let alone epochal — but with ethical purpose. There’s something true about the idea of logocentrism, particularly if qualified (as Derrida himself repeatedly does) as an essentially moral concept, almost everywhere devoid of ethical implications. Asemic writing is itself the ethical project, and needs no prior moralization to stand. This is meant very literally: whether volumes of asemic writing find economic and physical standing on my bookshelves is quite independent from whether Grammatology has any standing. Indeed, the word asemic may be the singular chromic stand it takes: no, it’s not in opposition to anything “semic”, it’s… that which you see in the works of Tim Gaze and Rosaire Appel.
Muddled as it is (with a quality that seems to begar the attention of a world-class literary editor to really shine), On Grammatology still manages to sound prescient, if only because it appears to develop its polemic of the écriture while still unaware of both asemic writing and computer code. Each of these escapes the circle of “logocentrism” by purely chrematistical means; if any new chromaticity comes out of computer languages, this happens at a higher level of abstraction. That this higher level of abstraction is identifiable with a “higher axiology” in some consistent higher/lower or larger/smaller gradation of axiologies is one of the chromaticity shifts I hope to eventually induce through these writings.
Then: theory may as well be a “praxis of intelligibility”, but asemic writing and computer code are both leaps into the unintelligible. You’re not supposed to understand computer code at first glance; an experienced software developer will be able to identify major structural features (and this with the help of automatic multicolor annotation and 2D indentation conventions), but if it was at all possible to “reason about a program in your head”, as demanded by the Dijkstra doctrine, you wouldn’t need the chrema of computers (even if you did use them as conveniency devices). I claim — and this is admittedly a vatic proclamation rather than a theorem — that theory similarly needs to work at the frontier of intelligibility but remain outside of the reach of casual-glance understanding. There are no shortcuts; every time I’ve tried to use clickbaity polemical matter as models, I’ve made strategic mistakes in the longer-run scheme of things.
This short text may as well be our n-th “gente introduction to asemic horizon”: hi, this is theory, and ideally it should make you perplex enough that your nose bleeds. I’m acutely aware of our failures in this respect. But as GPT-2 once said, after munging my écritures, we have no choice but to become stronger stronger stronger and do all the other things.
I hope I’ve managed at least to induce a mild headache here.
The question that’s prior to all philosophy is the distinction between ethics and morality. The corresponding technical issue for theory is the distinction between chromaticity and chrematistics.
The word “chromaticity” is meant to evoke, on the one level, the “chromatic aberration” view of anomaly previously put forward. Photographic lenses and sensors exhibit chromatic aberrations when they produce color shifts and component breakdowns that are absent in the naïve view of scenes. But it’s also a small step toward a discussion of freedom: notwithstanding the (moral) techniques and theories of painting, an artist is still faced with mixing his colors, teasing out a palette from the tubes of oil paint available to him. It’s also, of course, gloriously alliterative with “chrematistics”.
Maybe more importantly, this new term lets us break the false symmetry of “left and right half-axiologies”, in retrospect a fundamental betrayal of the ethical concerns that animate asemic horizon.
Chrematistics, as so often discussed before, is an ancient Greek work referring to the art of acquiring great wealth. In the generic theory setting of asemic horizon, its meaning has been unfolded, spread out: chrematistics points to the theory of achievement, particularly insofar achieving certain things (great wealth, yes, but also seducing women, intellectual insight, action in the face of extreme uncertainty) relates to the edifice of singular-only Theory.
We should unpack th is a little. The implicit formal correspondence in this text’s first paragraph is not really [ethics : chromaticity :: morality : chrematistics], but its adjoint [ethics : morality :: chromaticity chrematistics]. I claim, out of wide-eyed speculative theory-making, that an adjunction actually exists; that the first correspondence can be obtained from the first. Good bad news: the necessary “adjunction theorem” cannot be proven systematically, but only shown to resonate in the whirlwind of concerns that animates actual life, the actual domain of chrematistics. After all, if we’re unable of unwilling to pin “ethics” down like a butterfly, how would we account for chromaticity (in some intuitive analogy, the lens that produces anomalies) in its genericmost sense?
Being it that the quadruple object of ethics-morality-chromaticity-chrematistics is so distant from our cognitive and moral reach, we need — most of the time — to be content with projections — like the shadows 3D objects project on 2D surfaces. One such projection — but not even the sole projection that touches these terms — relates freedom to causality. The proper moral (eliminativist) view has long been converging towards a mechanistic view of the universe that, despite its proper philosophical merits and its chrema worth, raises vexing ethical questions regarding novelty, creativity, intentionality, unpredictability. And this isn’t just a chroma issue: the notion that the planet is spherical has little chrema value to the proverbial 16th century seafaring enterprise — given that it still has no notion of longitude.
Longitude (generically, the missing and unknown wealth of worthy knowledge) goes a long way to show just how enmeshed chroma/chrema issues can be. The chrema view of this affair (from a higher axiology; it’s all too easy to 21th-century quarterback if this can’t be kept in mind) is that knowledge of the mechanistic gearwork of the universe dissolves this problem; that ontology is autonomous from epistemology, that the limits of our cognitive reach are not the limits of a morally correct understanding of the universe. But then this is a morality empty of chrematistic value. Only the chroma (exchanging space with time, resetting the clock every noon so the drift in chronology tells you something about the drift in longitude space) unlocks chrema in this scenario.
This suggests that there’s a road to General Axiology, it needs to proceed from the glitch to anomaly to chromaticity. Something is lost from the vague eschatological narrative of a descent into genericity that will flip, at the critical moment, into full generality, but something is also saved: the increasing irrelevance of increasing genericity — the core anomaly of the road to General Axiology — now explodes in possible colors as we look seriously into theory itself. True impasses are always resolved by true glitches.
The basic question in philosophy is the distinction between ethics and morality.
As kids, we all pick up from the environment what is done and what is not; this encompasses not only issues of morality and ethics, but also etiquette, grammar and aesthetic notions. Sometimes, a distilled “moral code” is explicitly pressed upon us, but only as a failsafe: no one — not even people who believe in trolley problems as an instrument of inquiry — really believes the morality within the cognitive reach of a child is really sufficient to take stock of the world, as subtle, contradictory and indefinitely rich in details as it presents itself.
But now we are adults; this means we have, in principle, a wealth of philosophical traditions, well within our adult cognitive reach, that shed light on the basic distinction between ethics and morality. We get lost along the way (and I don’t mean “because we don’t study philosophy”; practical life makes us develop naïve or ad-hoc philosophies of this and that). We get either drunk on epistemology — the theory of knowledge, or rather the theory of theories-of-knowledge that can become knowledge-of-knowledge — or ontology — the theory of reality.
The Good News of General Axiology is that these problems, in their innumerable specific real variations, ultimately flow from the distinction between ethics and morality. The Better News of General Axiology is that theory of a more genericized kind touches all sorts of specific real problems — what to do about incels, how to think about politics, how to make sense of this and that incoming disaster.
The Bad News is that we have, at best, a series of literary resonances evoking an overall effect that General Axiology is more than mere ansatz. From the beginning we’ve made up various kinds of technical concepts aiming at the basic distinction (e.g. left and half axiologies, tempo and kairos, etc.). But we’ve also blurred things quite a bit. This blurring reflects the fact that much of the ongoing anomaly is due to chromatic aberrations that produce bleeding-over effects. This was the core of Jairwave: Bolsonaro is a purely moral political affair, but it produces ethical ghost-trails.
Maybe the basic distinction can never be mastered, only obliquely approached. Every interesting real situation will present itself in blurred, paradoxical form, and the task at hand will be to tease out a chromaticity that maximizes the evidence of anomalies. If asemic horizon believes itself to be interesting, it will also need to be shaken and probed for its own latent anomalies, most pressingly the fact that it presents itself in the form that it does — a blog, largely concerned about itself, persisting only on pain of making up words.
Let this, at least, be a razor test: never trust any system of thought that identifies ethics with morality. Novelty, causality, knowledge, freedom, death and symbolic calculus are all mutually and simultaneously determined in such a way that conflating ethics with morality is either lazy thinking or purposeful, sustained error.
Above all: never trust a man who will call himself an “ethicist”.
Have you ever noticed that laughter and fear are basically the same? (Up to, or modulo something that has the discursive structure of an ambit, at least.)
This idea came to me as a counterintuitive reversal of what’s implied in the actual dynamics of these processes; but as it turns out (you can research this yourself, the referencespace is huge) the physiology bears what earlier on was a radical hypothesis — a false concept on whose marrow to suck. So this raises a follow-up question: if the physiology of laughter and fear is roughly comparable, what’s the quotient here? To spell out unusual terminology: in the phrase “laughter and fear are the same modulo X”, what’s X?
The beautiful theory of algebraic topology, quickly shaping into one humanity’s great achievements, is concerned with the classification of spacelike objects (here I’m glossing over with great violence the meaning of “topology”) up to X. What’s ultimately desired is to classify objects up to homotopy. Homotopy equivalence between two objects means that a continuously-varying family of intermediate objects can be found: in the following picture, we can imagine a continuous thickening of shape A that ultimately leads to shape B.
(Image source: Google Image search, but concretely this)
The better-known illustration is that, up to homotopy, a donut and a coffee mug are the same. Mathematicians love their counterintuitive truths, but from a broader theoretical standpoint this undersells the radical ambition of this program: to upheave naïve metaphysics of identity (implied, for example, by the analytical geometry according to which A and B are rigorously distinct) while establishing a process view of identification: A and B are “like” each other because they can be deformed into each other. In broader terms: there’s a path that A can undertake to become B, and symmetrically a path that B can undertake to become A. This is an ethical program.
The following is a slightly less violent restatement of homotopy — still meant for broader theoretical and philosophical usage; you can’t learn math by reading. (1) A set is a collection or family or otherwise box of nonduplicate items, often called “points” for coolness. (2) A function f: U->V between sets U and V is a pairing that associates points u1, u2,… of U to one point f(u1), f(u2),… of V each. (3) A space is a collection of points with a vicinity structure. The vicinity structure tells you when two points u, v are close together: it’s a collection of closeness-concepts. (4) A function is continuous if whenever u, v are close, then f(u), f(v) are close. (5) The cartesian product U x V is the set of all pairs of elements of U and V; particularly, the cartesian product U x [0,1] is a set that stacks many copies of U, as many times as there are real numbers between 0 and 1. (6) A homotopy from U to V is a continuous function from U x [0,1] to V. Note that this function is both continuous in U (you can’t tear apart points that were close together) and in [0,1] (there can’t be leaps between adjacent versions of U, even if each is untorn). (7) U and V are the same up to homotopy if a homotopy can be obtained: if a path that obeys the axioms (which in the limit are undistinguishable from moral laws) of topological continuity can be found.
We had just declared that homotopy equivalence was an ethical program. This was something of a rhetorical overreach; it’s sometimes necessary to pause on key turning points so we can appreciate the madness in them. The better formula is: homotopy is a model for an ethical program. Humans act, in the general case, following a mashed-up conflation of is-nesses and ought-nesses. The radical distinction between is-nesses and ought-nesses, which has really been long established by men like Hume, is a minimorum prerequisite for being able to speak in-and-about axiologies at all, let alone General Axiology. If this distinction doesn’t “stick” in how people act, it’s because our ought-nesses are parameterized by is-nesses.
An if-then-else routine (or its homotopy equivalent) tells us what to do if we find a person lying face down on a sidewalk: is this a man or a woman? does he look homeless? does she look middle-class, similar-enough-to-me? Uriel Alexis’s “reality rules!” speaks to this fundamental is-ness: have you noticed that middle-class women are more attractive than poor panhandling ones? Did we help the former because of their looks, because of tribal belonging, or because our is-ness model of the world tells us we can’t help panhandlers anyway? Uriel’s Razor says these reasons are all the same.
Neoreactionaries go further and tell us there’s one specific vicinity structure that makes the human population-space topological. This is how axiomatics and morality are indistinguishable: they’re both concerned with rigor that will preserve true knowledge (mathema). But indistinguishability doesn’t quite entail “the same”. Remember, a homotopy is continuous not only “space-wise” (arbitrarily close points mapping to arbitrarily close points), but “path-wise” (in [0,1]; an uninterrupted transition going forward smoothly). There’s no homotopy path between the if-then-else that leads one to ignore the homeless-looking dude and the one that leads one to dismiss him as someone who can’t be helped. There’s morality here, not ethics.
It’s somewhat distressing to google for the “difference between morality and ethics” and discover how widespread is the misunderstanding that there’s none. This is an incredible obstacle to the diffusion of axiological thinking. It does a lot to explain the emergence of professional ethicists who, profiting from the decline in religious spirituality, portend to speak from a place of lived-in wisdom (in the jargon, from truth-rain), through contemplation and towards action — three quick desiderata, a.e. non-exhaustive, that come up when imagining a newspaper column about ethics. The distinction between morality and ethics, much like the is-ought rift by Hume, has long been established by Spinoza and convincingly revived in the 20th century by Deleuze. But you needn’t be aware of these philosophical doctrines to have an under-the-skin feel for the distinction: a priest is someone who trains in morality but, when asked for advice, speaks in ethics.
It would be similarly distressing to learn that the distinction between laughter and fear had been forgotten. In all likelihood, there’s a deeper sense in which these are in equivalence — a homotopy-like path spanning a continuum of unintelligible human emotion. But there’s an obvious nonmoral view in which laughter and fear have positive and negative valences, respectively. The equivalence is obtained modulo some physiological generalities. Does this mean you should never scare someone for a laugh? People do this, it’s often fun for the victim too. Yet there’s a basic ethical choice to be made — in this frivolous example, one that’s not really that complicated — a path to traverse, in concrete action, through a pseudohomotopy class. The grand program of ethics — if it’s at all something that can even be squeezed like olive oil from the raw stuff of existential choice — is to classify all such scare-laugh-fright-fun situations.
All of this takes place in a fairly low-level axiology, mind you. As GPT-2 once said after ingesting a few of my writings:
At present we have no choice but to become stronger and do all of this in order to make the promise of General Axiology true: infinite wealth, infinite bliss, and unlimited freedom from our thought and actions – infinite power. We must also realise how to get stronger, stronger, stronger. As such, we can also gain the experience of developing new ways of living – and learn more when our efforts go ahead.
This also means we have to get the very basics right.
The self-referencing bug that keeps affecting asemic horizon is actually two problems. One is the apparent constant need to revisit the space opera (the accumulating backlog of technical paraphernalia) for new readers, which by now has become an accumulation of explainers, each gradually becoming out of date with the current emphasis given to theory. The other problem is our seeming inability to perform an actual reboot — a hard archival of past texts in favor of a new beginning, a new approach to the core themes that, as a bonus, lets go of the dead-ends of the past
Then: these two problems are both editing problems. An audit of the asemic horizon‘s backlog reveals texts that tend to start either with chatty introspection in the style of what you’re current reading; that typically leads to a hook, which leads to a section II that’s clear in purpose. The theoretical import of the texts isn’t usually found until the last 1/5 of the material, and even then, in the kind of excited, near-vatic discourse that makes absolutely no sense unless you’ve committed to the #longform that precedes it.
A minority of texts has the opposite approach: they start dropping bombs that are fully unmotivated by anything of current interest to the reader. Most of these end up being retired not long after — accumulating statements like “a squegg is a square egg” is the opposite of theory — it isn’t la atteinte. A notable counter-example is The Wave, which for most purposes I still stand by.
Unfortunately, a significant degree of logorrhea is intrinsic to my technique. Have you noticed that sometimes words like “accumulating” start accumulating in a kind of a connotation slide? That’s intentional — and integral to what it all means.
An exception made for that last comment on the deliberateness of style in theory writing, everything I just said gives the vibe that theory isn’t really under my control. This is a fair assessment. As much as I’m an independent-scholarly, margin note-writing type with overflowing wall-sized bookshelves, theory (and this is clear to anyone who reads the scholarly literature regularly) is not scholarly in style at all. There is no method: the texts pretty much write themselves,
But theory is not a kind of #longform poetry: more than internal rhymes, it has an internal mechanism. The cogs of this mechanism are words; this is why the jargon and the cant of theory keep growing indefinitely fast, but also why texts can never seem to follow a general plan, however vague, that would be intended in advance. The apparently-spontaneous (and yet inescapably determinate) internal rhyming of internal accumulations force my hand: the impressionistic analogy would be that, in the act of writing, the knitwork texture of the text begins to clasp on itself. This is, of course (but not that I knew of this before making my coffee) the impressionistic analogy of the point de capition.
Of course, this is enough of a match to be a dead-end: theory (or daygame, or corporate strategy) thrives on mismatches and productive misunderstandings. The interesting mismatch here is that of passive structural coherence with agency. And no, theory is not alive, but doesn’t this madcap suggestion vibe with the whole phenomenology of work that does itself? The false matches here have to do with constraints: one can no longer make theory crystalline and widely accessible (so I can take it on the road with podcasters, for example) than one can stretch a puppy to the desired format. The passive structural coherence of knitwork is not exactly sturdy, physically, but it can be indefinitely reconstructed (knitting is rather easy); the structural coherence of theory is messy like a living organism.
One of many reasons to keep Lacan is to understand + imitate + master is his basso continuo technique of sliding disavowal. This disavowal is understated and never presented as a real cut; being a single vatic source of knowledge, Lacan never faces the Kuhnian forces that produce “paradigm shifts” as breaks with a vested status quo — instead, the mirror stage and the Borromean knot are presented as one. I’d like to possess this technique: never really break with corny past writings like The Scenarios of Ecstasy (which tries to be seedy-clickbaity, polemizes against accelerationism, and still manages to move theory forward); rather restate them, possibly making fundamental changes in its core concepts. This dynamic operational doctrine for theory is not without its frictions with the limit-concept (generic structure + general axiology) tone of theory, but ça marche.
Of course, Lacan has a double head start: on the one hand, because people start with the conviction that psychoanalysis makes any kind of sense in the clinical setting (it doesn’t; Lacan is best read as a special rapporteur on alien civilizations); on the other, because he begins (and dies) while claiming continuity with Freud. I can’t do this latter; not with Deleuze, not with Heidegger, not with Lacan. If theory is to be received as an ever-growing, never-to-be-born embryo, it wil be as a pathological case of parthenogenesis. And yet, I can’t be sole parent here — to impossible-to-ignore degrees, theory writes me.
As it stands now theory has very few “building blocks”. Theory defines itself as a reaching gesture towards infinity, the theory of the theory of the… Still, the space opera is a load-bearing structure; the basic difficulty with asemic horizon is that the visibility of this structure is not quite aligned with its load-bearing power.
Ambit is a much more fundamental concept than the whole soteriology (the Hölderlin story); whatever we mumbled about McKenosha or, cringe, about faux-lesbians that cater to the male gaze, should really be retired, taken offline, never referred-to again. Why did ambit emerge so recently? Where was my mind? Tempo is more often referenced, but its theoretical development is spread over three texts, each of which has a whole different context as an opening. Quability has gone through more mutations than we can count (although in this case I think we’ve been able to effect some of that sliding-disavowal abra-cadabra); it remains a binary star with the Situation, which by now has lost much of its Heideggerean baggage. The central role of axiologies has become clearer and clearer with time — perhaps the singular notion that renews my faith in theory again and again and again (even if “larger” and “smaller” axiologies have to be revisited in terms of distinction and discernibility). But I don’t even know how to link to my own past writings anymore. Googling “this concept site:asemic-horizon.com” works.
I set out to write an essay that would look like an extended version of this last paragraph. Did I suspect it could evolve into yet another methodological meditation on theory itself? Sure. Have I lost readers that expected an embryo to be born by now? I happen to know, specifically, that yes. This is good. I haven’t enough followers to have a “core” that will stay through the process of sliding disavowal — therefore, it’s imperative to lose old readers and gain new ones. There’s a song by either Marilyn Manson or NIN (or maybe Slipknot?) that says “everything I give you is a piece of my death”.
That is how the limit-concept of theory works — most importantly, General Axiology — theory wins by erasing me (also you; society; distinction; discernibility — but I’m the one pushing this forward).
An axiom, we know well, is a police officer. The vagrancy law that no officer can abet is the identify of indiscernibles. This legal instrument regulates that which can be reasoned about; it demands that the objects of thinking are perceivable in their plurality — more simply, that two indiscernible things must be thought-of as one.
But humans, peckish and thieving, have a way around this. The law establishes identity from indiscernibility, but (in the generic case at least) leaves discernibility as non fingo. We can therefore use the up-to structure to commandeer and puppeteer identity. We can say “noon” up-to the day and never specify a date. We can reason about noons in general; we can, for example, invent longitude by measuring how fast noons are coming as we sail. This is how “applied” anything works.
In mathematics the up-to structure is available for integers in modular arithmetic. It is also available generically through equivalence classes and quotients (sets, groups, what have you). The theory of parity (odd/even structure) is ordinary arithmetic modulo 2; hours are arithmetic modulo 12 or 24: in the mod-12 style, 3 hours and 15 hours past midnight are both “three”. Each of these is an example of equivalence classes. Equivalence is a true upgrade from indiscernibility, one of those rare cases in which metaphysical conceit gets pwned by simple formal maths. Indeed, maybe there is no such thing as indiscernibility — maybe everything is indefinitely distinct, pantha rhei, and identity is a fully bogus idea.
This is immaterial — equivalence, a true gentleman, frees us from identity without undue punishment of its vanquished rival. We get a call-the-manager bell, a rape whistle, a get-out-of-jail-free card called modulo. Whenever in trouble, it’s always possible to scream it, modulo! The indefinite wealth of lived experience — each gust of wind, each passing wink — is safe and tucked away from mean cops.
A good friend of asemic horizon counsels me on occasion to leave politics alone if I expect to make anything out of theory. He’s right — the political take space is way overcrowded and an interest in politics is an unwelcome signal of being chiefly interested in posturing about unactionable scenarios. Of course, asemic horizon emerges from politics originally; it emerges from the theoretical desire (the libido sciendi) of discussing the Brazilian situation modulo surface-level news events that obscure always-ongoing structural affairs. Improbably, this got us somewhere: everything worth discussing was worth something; structural affairs were always quotient affairs with axiologies.
[“Quotient” is very closely related to “modulo”; roughly, the quotient set of integers towards parity, or Z/2, is the set of integers modulo 2, or up-to-parity, or the set of equivalence classes of integers resp. parity; ultimately, the “set of parities”, an adjective having been wonderfully transmuted to a substantive. Political “affairs” are, of course, not sets; but every time “modulo” can be clearly used, so can “quotient”, wonderfully blinking between adjectival (theoretical) and substantive (actual-structural) form.]
This is not actually how theory was first discussed. Objects of discourse were declared not as actual classes, but as models of their quability conditions. Quability was akin to satisfiability in constraint-satisfaction theory. Everything was in the implicit solution to a (possibly unsolvable) system of equations, an inevitable consensus, a mad drift towards infinity. Talk of “quables” (which would be more or less amenable to the quotient form treatment) was sparse at first and died down entirely. There was, ultimately, a sense that this cosmic ambition — speaking only of the large-scale, inevitable conditioning factors, and the conditions on that, if needed – was the only way to build something that might, at some point, produce the vocabulary needed to say the unspeakable.
It can only follow that theory in the asemic horizon sense must be unintelligible. As forceful and overflowing with technicalia, the stuff of theory is in its minor inconsistencies. Theory is a mood. The mood sets the conditions for thinking; conversely, thinking must satisfy the mood.
If I was to drop all pretense of quability theory to give a report on the ongoing situation, I’d have also to drop all of the sequence of quotients afforded by theory: I’d have to report on my city, on my neighborhood, on my street, on the birds and tree maintenance and emerging styles of leisurewear. I would need to become descriptive and colorful and convey an entirely new mood of exotica (not Colombian Magical Realism; maybe Structural Tropicalia) that set the conditions for understanding… something.
But it’s increasingly unclear that Structural Tropicalia holds any interest. All world politics has been suspended in favor of American politics, which sets the tone and the terms of (symbolic and monetary both) exchange. To the extent that politics away from the real world (i.e. America) still takes place, it does so in contravention of structural affairs. It’s reasonable to assume that even the Revolutionary Guard will lose its efficacy, that its gradual coup will lead to rule over empty cities.
The cosmic ambition that agitates quability theory can only grow in answer to this. Theory is waiting: therefore, it thrives in the despondency of the Real. The only real answer to stagnation and diminishing returns is to eat the sun itself. Given that theory is the theory of generic structure, and nothing at all can be meaningfully thought-about except if modulo generic structure, theory is the only means we have to prevent an ongoing symbolic (cultural, cognitive, hydraulic….) collapse.
Tempo was a real coup — by all appearances the greatest act of technical hang gliding I’ve been able to pull off under all these (cognitive, time-budget, loss of single-minded focus and major themes) constraints. Diegesis was an still is an interesting concept; but isn’t it in some kind of tradition from Plato’s cave onto Baudrillard and beyond? Of course, diegesis manages to satisfy quite a few of my secret axiomata: it’s non-essentialistic, takes place in a membrane-like surface (rather than in the cave or in the grand dehors, and appeals directly to a dizzying cloud of technical tools. That these tools are readily recognizable by almost anyone in touch with mass culture is a bonus: theory’s scope of communicability surely needs improvements.
At one point, and not at all in the same vein, the overloaded Daseinwolke that writes asemic horizon came up with a set of notions it liked to shkrelishly call physics. I had actually been working on a note-taking/mind-mapping app (really for personal uses) that arranged information in freeform graphs (as far as “physics” goes, really best identified as 1-simplicial complexes that admit a Hodge theory). This is a typical case of “once unseen, can’t be unseen”: the mysteries of math are such that boundary operators can be identified in graphs with the “incidence matrices” that show up in pipe flow/Kirchoff’s law problems; and, with some more “Hodge star” trickery I won’t pretend to understand, the matrix Laplacian L=ITI corresponds to the Laplacian-as-in-sum-of-second-derivatives seen in potential theory. Then you can, given a graph that connects ideas, impose a graph-statistical “mass” concept and compute an “energy” function as simply as solving Lϕ=m. The bratty appellation of physics comes from the many actual physical problems (Gaussian gravity included) that are stated as Laplacian PDEs. Look, ma, technical stuff.
“Physics” actually worked — I use my own mind-mapping app, it’s really neat-o — but the mess of words that is asemic horizon jargon induced me to believe it a spatial counterpart to tempo — equally distributed, acentered (energy computations effectively destroying any semantics of global-ness in the use of graph statistics for “mass”), breakable in pieces. But it wasn’t. The relevant texts were retired as soon as I realized it — they were somewhat dreary with numerical examples and lacking in verve, anyway — and I’ve been acting like it didn’t happen at all since then. I mean, how many blind alleys is one supposed to meet while developing theory?
But as the anomie-fog of theory since the loss of Jairwave settles in, the wordmeaningcrash in “physics” becomes symptomatic of a lack — an incompleteness to the notion of clicky async tempo. Theory tells us that tempo clicks at an uneven discretized pace; that tempo at different sites also clicks to the beat of their own drums. The Situation is, therefore, identified the polyrhythmic pattern of clicking. Systemic constraints shaped like feedback signals weave their way through this chaotic symphony — death and sex themselves flowing as carried by packets of tempo, mounted on temporalities in such a way to giving way to the illusion of global time.
There’s more to this that has never been said: there must be a correlation between value systems and the sensitivity of this temps-supposé-global (found in your computer clock on the edge of your screen) to specific local temporalities. This is why the drums of war beat so loud, and why the game of “where were you when…” can’t be played with the death of Lisa “Left-eye” Lopez from commercial pop group “TLC”. The simple fact that people in serious low-level disagreement relate their temporalities to this ambient illusion tells us something empirical about axiology. In General Axiology we all know what’s going on
I’ve been haunted lately by the word ambit. Etymologically it has to do with bodily movement, walking around, ambulating. It’s also a cousin word to “ambient”; both reach back toambio — which does mean “going around”, but with particular tactical purpose: to walk around — to encircle. In current business parlance “ambit” means something similar to “scope”. The latter belong to the gaze (to scopophilia, not to ambulophilia); clearly some nuance is lost. Indeed, the ambit is as much related to marketing metrics as it is to mental partitions of the territory. Yes, yeeees, the incel scope and the Chad ambit, that’s how you do it.
There’s an implicit “spatiality” to tempo — but note the word, it’s not really there; at best it can be computed like we compute energy from mass; there’s also a temporality to the ambit (a matter of tactics before anything else), which is rather less (if at all) implicit. The ambit is real insofar it’s seen (scenarized as, etc.) as an implementation of tempo. The implicit spatiality of tempo is due to its polyphony: two things that click in unison must be the same. The polyphony is empirical evidence that at least two distinct things must exist; but to evince this distinction a strategic plan must be set in place. The fact that we perceive distinct things merely indicates that God or Natural Selection (or some joint-venture thereof) has already traced out the tactics of the ambit. Your pervert’s eyes encircle the world in saccades and circle around on body parts: yes, even scopes emerge from their ambit.
We’ve seen that ambit, is at heart, a tactical notion. Can it ever “belong” to theory? Can we place ambit in our scopes? This problem catches me off guard. It’s likely what all the Lacan stuff had been building up to: theory can handle its scopic issues by conceptualizing them (scenarios, physique du role and so on), but the shortcomings of its ambit are not straightforward at all. If ambit is admitted into the diegesis of theory (in this mess of words you’re reading right now), will asemic-horizon.com’s traffic statistics come into play? If, in my capacity as a theory-maker, I have been a subpar tactician, does this put theory in question?
We’ve also seen that correlations in how the effect of temporality (not tempo, but the illusion that we ambulate in shared time) evince axiologies at degrees higher than our perceived value systems. This, too, has to do with the tactical dimension, and with the encircling motion that erects conceptual frameworks rather than declaring them. This is why theory, distanced as it is from any particular issue, often seems to bear on politics: there’s more than loose threads linking axiologies, diegesis, tempo to the large ambits of politics and ideology. Indeed, it often circles around them by deliberating on ambient conditions — quability conditions for the largest possible ambits.
This having become clear, it does feel that the credibility of theory becomes somewhat contingent on its own tactical success.