Issue #69 February 2024


The stability of a system is most often one that sits between certain values of parameters, and often, though not always, in the lower ranges. It’s a familiar feature of our world that chaotic, unpredictable, and generative behavior in a system is often a result of various parameters being raised up to critical points. For example, turbulence in a flow, or the force needed to shatter a material. It is such a common feature of the world that we can be forgiven for forgetting to wonder ‘why?’ Why do things suddenly transform, catastrophically and unpredictably, when this or that amount of that or this is raised? Of course, it may just be the case that for any metric, we orient its ordinal progression towards these transformative singularities: temperature marches up to wherever the fire is, and away from wherever the still, unchanging ice is. Big number big changes. Feels right. Also, we shouldn’t forget the other catastrophic singularities awaiting at zero points. Nevertheless, these two poles differ drastically. It matters not how we orient the numbers: the stable liquid’s temperature is not buttressed on either side by two equal fates; only one is a productive, chaotic and creative flux, the other is a descent into firmer and firmer stillness, simplicity, ‘stupid’ repetition. Two deaths.

We talk about that, but what we want to talk about is the individual. What metrics and dimensions the individual inaugurates depends on the discourse in which it is targeted and ensnared. A game of positions. Any metric is thus amenable to the ‘raised above all measure’ catastrophic transformation. Medically, most of these are deaths or debilitations, as are their ‘lowered beyond all reason’ counterparts. The organism dwells within millions of bounded regions like this. These regions themselves are no doubt largely extrapolated out as the extreme terms between the two deaths. However, the single organism is not the only way of characterizing the individual. It’s not even the only way of characterizing a single body in a space, nor the only individual that biology or medicine characterizes. Whether we talk of societies or species, consumers or voters, eco-systems or economies, these individuals (the individual economy, the individual species, etc.) take on the contours defined by dimensions through which they are specified, which are themselves defined by so many polar extremes describing the two deaths or dissolutions; one via transformation, chaos, volatility, the hope of Ozymandias, and one via bare repetition, simplification, the alienation of a possible ensemble of causes from any and all effects, the actual fate of Ozymandias.

The individual, whether that be a person, or species, or society, or economy, or organ, thus has two ‘impossibilities’, but these two impossibilities could not be more different from each other. Both represent an end, a dissolution, a catastrophe, a regime of maladaptation that marches, from the reference frame of the individual in question, into a nothingness (no matter how protracted this march may be). There are always two, asymmetrical, oblivions that characterize a thing. The individual persists insofar as it performs a negotiation between them, perhaps it is nothing more than this negotiation. This fundamental asymmetry of the two deaths is obscured by the metrics we define between the poles—we miss the incommensurability and heterogeneity of the two deaths when we relate them by a common metric, forgetting the intensive differential origins of the extensive identical series. But, given this asymmetry, the negotiation that is the stability of the individual is itself a third impossibility. How could fate, for such an individual, be a straight line or a flat circle?

It would be too easy to say that those limit-experiences—where an individual is confronted with either the disintegrative flux that sucks it back into the multiplicity of creative rhythms, or the perfectly homogenous and perfectly stupid frozen inanimacy—are those sublime moments where the individual comes to itself in a heroic act of revolt against death. But it might just be that those are the instances, where it becomes impossible to merely continue the same way, that a re-negotiation of terms imposes itself, of the conditions of living. Does philosophy, that purportedly passionless activity, have something to say in moments like this? It might not have a choice, if the alternative is silence.

Cover illustration: Otto Piene, Plate (folio 5) from the portfolio Rose or Star (Rose oder Stern), (1964, published 1965).


February 2024


A Locus of Contradiction: On Georges Bataille’s Sovereignty

by Tung-Wei Ko

The Reality of Violence: Reflections on the genocide in Gaza

by Ermanno Bencivenga

Berkeley/Norinaga/Marx; Awareanalysis, Part 2: Capitalism, burnout, depression

by Raphael Chim

'Of the Mode of Voting' by John Stuart Mill (and of Over-Sharing)

by Stephen Leach