Sunday, August 28, 2016

The Appearance of Appearances

Pablo Picasso, "Young Girl Throwing a Rock" (1931)
This dual­ism is the “mater­i­al­ist truth” of the dual­ism of Ideas and mater­ial things, and it is against this back­ground that one should envis­age a return to Plato. Let us take an unex­pec­ted example: A Woman Throw­ing a Stone, a lesser known paint­ing by Picasso from his sur­real­ist period in the 1920s, offers itself eas­ily to a Pla­ton­ist read­ing: the dis­tor­ted frag­ments of a woman on a beach throw­ing a stone are, of course, a grot­esque mis­rep­res­ent­a­tion, if meas­ured by the stand­ard of real­ist repro­duc­tion; how­ever, in their very plastic dis­tor­tion, they immediately/intuitively render the Idea of a “woman throw­ing a stone,” the “inner form” of such a fig­ure. This paint­ing makes clear the true dimen­sion of Plato’s philo­soph­ical revolu­tion, so rad­ical that it was mis­in­ter­preted by Plato him­self: the asser­tion of the gap between the spa­tio-tem­poral order of real­ity in its eternal move­ment of gen­er­a­tion and cor­rup­tion, and the “eternal” order of Ideas―the notion that empir­ical real­ity can “par­ti­cip­ate” in an eternal Idea, that an eternal Idea can shine through it, appear in it. Where Plato got it wrong is in his onto­lo­giz­a­tion of Ideas (strictly homo­log­ous to Descartes’s onto­lo­giz­a­tion of the cogito), as if Ideas form another, even more sub­stan­tial and stable order of “true” real­ity. What Plato was not ready (or, rather, able) to accept was the thor­oughly vir­tual, “imma­ter­ial” (or, rather, “insub­stan­tial”) status of Ideas: like sense-events in Deleuze’s onto­logy, Ideas have no caus­al­ity of their own; they are vir­tual entit­ies gen­er­ated by spa­tio-tem­poral mater­ial pro­cesses. Take an attractor in math­em­at­ics: all pos­it­ive lines or points in its sphere of attrac­tion only end­lessly approach it, without ever reach­ing its form―the exist­ence of this form is purely vir­tual; it is noth­ing more than the form towards which the lines and points tend. How­ever, pre­cisely as such, the vir­tual is the Real of this field: the immov­able focal point around which all ele­ments circulate―the term “form” here should be given its full Pla­tonic weight, since we are deal­ing with an “eternal” Idea in which real­ity imper­fectly “par­ti­cip­ates.” One should thus fully accept that spa­tio-tem­poral mater­ial real­ity is “all there is,” that there is no other “more true” real­ity: the onto­lo­gical status of Ideas is that of pure appear­ing. The onto­lo­gical prob­lem of Ideas is the same as the fun­da­mental prob­lem addressed by Hegel: how is meta-phys­ics pos­sible, how can tem­poral real­ity par­ti­cip­ate in the eternal Order, how can this order appear, tran­spire, in it? It is not “how can we reach the true real­ity bey­ond appear­ances?” but “how can appear­ance emerge in real­ity?” The con­clu­sion Plato avoids is implied in his own line of thought: the super­sens­ible Idea does not dwell bey­ond appear­ances, in a sep­ar­ate onto­lo­gical sphere of fully con­sti­tuted Being; it is appear­ance as appear­ance. No won­der that the two great admirers of Plato’s Par­men­ides, Hegel and Lacan, both provide exactly the same for­mula of the “truth” of the Pla­tonic super­sens­ible Idea: the super­sens­ible
comes from the world of appear­ance which has medi­ated it; in other words, appear­ance is its essence and, in fact, its filling. The super­sens­ible is the sen­su­ous and the per­ceived pos­ited as it is in truth; but the truth of the sen­su­ous and the per­ceived is to be appear­ance. The super­sens­ible is there­fore appear­ance qua appear­ance … It is often said that the super­sens­ible world is not appear­ance; but what is here under­stood by appear­ance is not appear­ance, but rather the sen­su­ous world as itself the really actual.[15]
15. G. W. F. Hegel, "Phe­nomen­o­logy of Spirit," trans. A. V. Miller, Oxford: Oxford Uni­vers­ity Press 1977, p. 89.
- Slavoj Zizek, "Less Than Noth­ing: Hegel and the Shadow of Dia­lect­ical Mater­i­al­ism"