Is ATS a theological project?

There is an interesting discussion going on in one of the comments sections below about the extent to which ATS is or is not a theological project, and the extent to which that is or is not an objectionable feature of the book. For some of the back story you can start reading the comments section to Charles Spinosa’s post here. I’ll start a new thread here so we can highlight that discussion.

About Sean D. Kelly

Sean Dorrance Kelly is the Teresa G. and Ferdinand F. Martignetti Professor of Philosophy at Harvard University. He is also Faculty Dean at Dunster House, one of the twelve undergraduate Houses at Harvard. He served for six years as chair of Harvard's Department of Philosophy. Kelly earned an Sc.B. in Mathematics and Computer Science and an M.S. in Cognitive and Linguistic Sciences from Brown University in 1989. After three years as a Ph.D. student in Logic and Methodology of Science, he received his Ph.D. in Philosophy from the University of California at Berkeley in 1998. Before arriving at Harvard in 2006, Kelly taught at Stanford and Princeton, and he was a Visiting Professor at the Ecole Normale Supérieure in Paris. Sean Kelly's work focuses on various aspects of the philosophical, phenomenological, and cognitive neuroscientific nature of human experience. He is a world authority on 20th century European Philosophy, specializing in the work of Martin Heidegger and Maurice Merleau-Ponty. He has also done influential work in philosophy of mind and philosophy of perception. Kelly has published articles in numerous journals and anthologies and he has received fellowships or awards from the Guggenheim Foundation, the NEH, the NSF and the James S. McDonnell Foundation, among others. Fun fact: He appeared on The Colbert Show in 2011 to talk about All Things Shining. Sean Kelly lives at Dunster House with his wife, the Harvard Philosopher Cheryl Kelly Chen, and their two boys, Benjamin and Nathaniel.
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140 Responses to Is ATS a theological project?

  1. dmf says:

    Sean, I’m a miserable writer/ typist and have not had much success over the years in the Heidegger wars so am a bit hesitant to rehearse all of the arguments here but in short I don’t buy the myth of the Fall, I think that this is a kind of mytho-logical nostalgia with roots for Heidegger (before all of the translations of Heidegger’s early phenomenology of religion were available Rorty, if memory serves, had a telling crack that Heidegger’s acounting of history matched his syllabus as all too many philosophers confuse their histories of ideas with the actual histories of peoples) in backwards looking Biblical hermeneutics (and Ch.Taylor sounds to me just like St. Hauerwas pining away for the good old days before movie houses were open on the Sabbath, what used to hold small towns together?, nothing did they were always divided, and so were the individual souls within their borders) and for so for me the existential dilemma that you folks cast as a modern predicament is better understood in terms of the always-already condition of being a homo-sapiens, now better understood in terms of developmental psychology (Derrida wrote of Narcissm without end but Rorty’s manipulation without end, or Stengers’ no Other than interest is better) rather than metaphysics. Not unlike I think the move that Dewey made pace Hegel after his coming to terms with Darwin, the histories of peoples are not unified, not epochal, and has no telos, we have never been modern to borrow a phrase, and there was never a God/Spirit/Word to withdraw, just our many projections/acting-outs. Compassion, attention, gratitude, etc are social skills/response-abilities to be developed or not, and so much as they require feedback/modeling from others truly are gifts. That we can then, as Dennett points out, un-consciously project them at large is just a matter of evolution.

  2. david leech says:


    I am really glad you took up dmf’s challenge. I can hardly wait for your answer. But, what the hell, I’ll go out on a limb and declare ATS to be a post-theological work as I understand it.

    One of the earliest overview discussions of Heidegger’s project, back when I was trying to get a handle on Heidegger and failing (before I started communicated with Professor Dreyfus, about 10 years ago), described B&T as, “a finely sanded down theology with the god left out.” Having backed into Heidegger with a feeling of hope (“finally!” I thought), from Gadamer, and originally from the philosophical foundations of a positivistic economics with which I was very uncomfortable, even the word “theology” was off-putting. But I persisted, found Dreyfus, found him and his work quite open and helpful, and found in his approach NOTHING (so far as I could sense) of hint of “theology.” After much study and correspondence with Dreyfus and his students-turned-professors (including Sean), I have recently decided to scratch at Heiddegger’s theological origins and am completely excited by van Buren’s Young Heidegger.

    I was itching to respond to dmf but decided to put it off in hopes that someone more learned would lead the way! (I have a perspective that I have from time to time expressed here, but my sense is that I come at these things so much differently than most of the bloggers — rooted as I am in an economist’s perspective — that I sometimes feel as though I am hogging space and would rather have those better grounded in the philosophical center beam lead the discussion.) That said, had I responded to dmf right out of the chocks, I would have tried to developed the ideas that: 1) I don’t think of Heidegger’s work (as I understanding it mostly through Dreyfus, and perhaps as many of his ATS-buying “students” understand it) as theological and, in fact, think his critique of onto-theology as a fundamental critique of theology as conventionally understood. (As conventionally understood, I have the sense that theology REQUIRES communication with the supernatural and, in my limited reading I find nothing in Heidegger that REQUIRES communication with the supernatural.); 2) Based on Heidegger/Dridegger, I have a far superior understanding of: i.) how Heidegger’s engagement with theological subjects informed his approach to deconstructing the history of metaphysics (which ties up a lot of loose ends I had from that early “finely sanded down theology” characterization), ii.) how those things understood by others as theological can be readily appreciated as cultural (not requiring communication with the supernatural), and III.) that on the basis of (i.) and (ii.) I have a lot more scope for engagement with the theologically-oriented than I did before studying Heidegger; 3) while I adore Taylor’s Secular Age and feel like it is essential reading for anyone concerned to flesh on the bones of Heidegger’s Age of the World Picture and The Question Concerning Technology (at least), and am listening with “cupped ears” when Taylor talks about the role and challenge of “Pilgrim Seekers” (because the near-equivalence to the “post-Turning” “we” is clear), I would regard it as more a sociological study than a theological one (although a moments reflection tells us that these are factically false distinctions and, as finke & stark posit, “belief” tends to follow social engagement); and, 4) last but not least, and for all the reasons alluded to above (and more), I mostly think it is a error to think of ATS as theological; that such a reading probably takes a wrong turn in a monotheistic direction (I have heard Dreyfus say that ATS is “anti-monotheisitic), and even if that is not necessarily the case, to the extent that we read it in THEISTIC direction at all, it seems to confound one of the clear purposes of the book: to find meaning is a secular age. (I’ll grant that the secular age contains both thrusts, but what distinguishes the age from previous ages is its secular component — not sure I could defend this so I expect my bias is showing.)

    I am constantly reminded of Dreyfus’s center-periphery analogy for understanding Heidegger’s understanding of how a new understanding of being comes to expression: it is a bringing of what is marginal (historical) to the center. If Taylor has the story lines mostly drawn correctly we might expect a new understanding of being to emerge from a merging of “pilgrim seekers” and the superset of “those learning to dwell.”

    So, I think ATS is post-theological. That is the way I understand Heidegger’s early, middle, and late work as well and I think ATS is in that succession, written to be grasped without all the philosophical apparatus. One of the early errors by readers/reviewers of ATS, in my view, was their inability to grasp that the poly-gods represent a phenomenon LIKE the phenomenon of the attunement to external sources of meaning. I think tying the phenomenon of an external (cultural) source to a supernatural being outside that culture (which is how I understand the subject of theology) runs counter to the whole ATS project.

    I look forward to some knocks.

  3. dmf says:

    I don’t think we will resolve the question of whether or not epochs, including the axial-age, are mytho-logical or not, I would say that if you are positing extra-human (human as in individuals not some imagined collective) goods/meanings/interests than you are trucking in theo-logos, supernatural or otherwise.
    But I’m now more interested in the claim for an “intermediate ground that phenomenology is attempting to till”, I see phenomenology as having a much narrower, more dependent, role to play as a method and not as a medium res (not to be confused with being in media res which of course we always already are), and always in the need of a broader context, which for me comes down to either theo-logos or anthropo-logos but would welcome other living possibilities.
    That said I agree with Sean that a more productive conversation is around his positing that “The question instead is whether we should aim to be the kind of people who immediately experience gratitude in the face of this kind of event, or whether we should aim to be the kind of people who aim to reject it. “Should” isn’t quite the right word here, though, and I had a very difficult time writing the footnote. That’s because there’s no moral ought at stake and no moral principle on the basis of which to make the decision. But the idea is that one of those aims is self-sustaining and opens us up to the meanings of the world while the other closes us off and eventually ends in a self-conception that covers up Dasein’s receptivity and therefore eventually transforms Dasein into non-Dasein.”
    Hopefully now that Sean has a bit more time he can flesh this out some, and tell us how this would be different than the kind of zen-like mind-fullness that I think that DFW proposed or my suggestion that this kind of attention/feeling-for is a social-skill/response-ability.
    And did he really mean to say “the meanings of the world” , does the world have meanings to share? Is this just a matter of receptivity, being-open/available, as he seems to suggest or a more active/creative (tho largely non-conscious) process as I think?

    • Thanks, dmf.

      Let me start with the “meanings of the world”. What I mean to be pointing to, when I use this phrase, is the fact that it is not up to us as individual decision makers to determine (for instance) whether the piece of ash that is “doaty as a biscuit” or the piece of ash that is “tough as whipcord” is the better piece for the job. It takes skill to recognize this meaningful distinction of worth, bodily skill, in fact, but that skill allows us to recognize a difference that is there independent of us. At least in some relevant sense of “independent from us.” Whatever that relevant sense of independence is – and I agree that it can be tricky to pin down, but insist that there is some kind of independence nonetheless – it is what makes me feel comfortable talking about “meanings of the the world.” Moreover, of course, these meanings don’t exist merely in the world of woodworking. They can be found in any domain in which it takes real skill to practice in the domain: music, literature, architecture, mathematics, cooking, and so on ad nearly infinitum. The skill for operating in these domains reveals distinctions of worth in them that are there independently of us.

      I take the observation that there are worldly meanings of this sort to be a phenomenological observation. It is an observation of the sort that Merleau-Ponty makes when he says that the most important lesson of the transcendental reduction is that it can never be completed. The reduction can never be completed because I can never (while remaining the kind of being I am) step back behind the bodily openness to the world that I am in order to focus on the contents of my mental states independent of the world they are already engaged with. That engagement is therefore decidedly not a matter of my throwing meanings onto the world but rather a matter of my already and always being the kind of being that is open to a world of meaning and worth. I can close myself off to this meaningful world, of course; in particular I can do so by taking a stand on the kind of being I am that denies the existence of such a world and of my engagement in it. And to the extent that I am successful in taking such a stand on myself I will cease to be the kind of being that is already engaged in a world of meaning and worth. But unless this kind of nihilistic existence is a livable one (and it seems to me that it is not) then I see a great loss in taking such a stand. The “should” at stake, therefore, in the claim that we “should aim to be the kind of people who immediately experience gratitude in the face of” meaningful events that are out of our control but nevertheless work in our favor, that “should” is something like the should that accrues to whatever obligation we have to cultivate in ourselves the ability to live lives that bring us out at our best. Because aiming to be the kind of person who experiences gratitude in these kinds of situations just is aiming to be the kind of person who recognizes and revels in the commitment to our being already engaged in a meaningful world.

      So is this anything different from the “Yankee-zen” that you see in DFW? Well, I’m not sure. First of all, as you know, I see in DFW – at least in a certain central strain of his work – a very different kind of obsession. It is the obsession with our ability to control what things we think about and what we think about them. That doesn’t seem very zen to me. Indeed, it seems sort of the opposite of zen. It is building a wall around every present moment and refusing to “hop the wall and do a recon.” And it is actively inventing a story about the annoying woman in front of you in line at the grocery store that allows you to think better of her. But regardless of whether DFW has a zen strain to him, there is a legitimate question what the difference is between our view and some type of zen-like mind-fullness. I don’t know enough about zen to have a strong view. But my sense is that there is a kind of pure passivity in the zen approach that goes farther in the other direction than I would like to. Indeed, I am strongly wedded to the view (though I don’t know enough about Bert’s position here to speak for him) that it is possible for us to cultivate in ourselves the skill to reveal meaningful distinctions of worth, and more generally that the project we are called to is the project of cultivating in ourselves the skill for cultivating such skills. (That’s what I call in the book, perhaps inauspiciously, “meta-poiesis.”) I don’t see that call articulated very clearly in other things I’ve read, and not, in particular, in the little I’ve read about zen buddhism. It sounds like it’s in the right direction to call this the cultivation of a “social skill/response-ability,” as you do. But I’m not sure exactly what that entails.

      • dmf says:

        excellent, i don’t think that we are too far off/apart here, first let me cut and paste this from the paperback/interview-post:
        I don’t think that DFW was saying that we can make anything mean anything, his shopping example was ‘grounded’ in what I would think are pretty realistic accounts of his surroundings/company,as one would expect with a kind of depressive-realism. Not sure how your own preference for going into a book with specific questions,
        taking/having a perspective as you say, is really any different?
        For a variety of sociological/developmental reasons only somethings strike us, at any one time, as true/possible, but Derrida and St.Fish are right that nothing is to be ruled out as inherently/genetically foreign/impossible, history (including our personal histories) tells us otherwise.
        My beef with M-Ponty, at points, and classical Zen for that matter is the sense that I get that they see such perspective taking as an unnecessary and narrow, that one might somehow stop trying to get a grip on things and just let them be,take it all in (be taken all in?), which I think would require us to be other than human.
        Also there is certainly enough human overlap that we could universally agree on whether a wood is relatively hard or soft, smooth or rough, but how about whether or not it is beautiful or if it has a soul, is there some quality in/of the wood that will tell us?
        Also I’m not sure why the choices are either conscious/willful action or receptivity/passivity, what about all of the non-conscious/emergent activities of the brain/body? Why not think of our habits,biases,and other cog-capacities much as we think of our other senses, like vision?

    • david leech says:

      dmf: would you clarify, “I would say that if you are positing extra-human (human as in individuals not some imagined collective) goods/meanings/interests than you are trucking in theo-logos, supernatural or otherwise.” Are you asserting that anything that is extra-individual is only an “imagined collective” and that such imaginings are theological?

      • dmf says:

        dl, sorry for my poor writing (never could get a grip on grammar), I was just trying to clarify what I meant by “human” in extra-human, so no not saying that all things extra-individual are imagined-collectives, also all too common are reified/sublimed concepts, but we could probably easily generate a whole taxonomy. I am saying that if you are imagining/positing sources of Author-ity/meaning outside of individual-capacities (remember the extended nature of such) than you are exhibiting signs of theo-logos.
        The key, if I may be so bold, may be adopting a sense of the poetic as having an as-if quality, so that I am grateful for the cool air this morning which I experience as-if it were a gift (and I did and was truly grateful) but with no need to than posit an actual Giver.
        I understand that our particular animal-faith is deeply social/human-focused/shaped and that this will color all of my other relations but don’t have to anthropomorphize all that i encounter and can not only recognize the non-human but even appreciate its/their otherness as such. Maybe even come to appreciate the often un-canny otherness of aspects of my own body/existence.

  4. dmf says:

    quick note on gratitude, to the degree that it makes us aware of, care for, what/whom we take for granted it is powerful/moving and meaningful, but is it the/a root of Meaning/human-being, or just a kind? I would say just a kind, and then the point is not one of being more or less human, even more or less open as this too closes off other perspectives/possibilities, but of trying to highlight/flesh-out what such experiences are like and then people will be attracted to them or not.

  5. Jermaine says:

    I don’t have any substantive points to contribute to this very interesting discussion. But I’ll note that it seems to me, ATS is “quietist” on the issue of theology; which is to say that it leaves open the possibility for such a reading, but I don’t believe it endorses a theistic/atheistic view either way.

    The gods as described in ATS, in terms of phenomenological experiences that have authority, as binding upon us, are so far away from the Theological god (as traditionally construed) that I think it wrong-headed pursue such a reading.

    • dmf says:

      J, the question isn’t so much one of content/character but of logos, and from my end the-logos is not God’s logos but our all-too-human tendencies to invent/talk-in-the-name-of gods (in the broadest sense, ghosts, demons, luck, karma, etc).
      On a broader note there is the question is of historiography, if one posits that some how human-kind goes through epochal shifts (like the axial age) in thinking/life-modes than you have to explain the means/mechanism by which so many individuals in all of their diversity come to share such a mentality/mind-set. Can you do so without repackaging Geist or some other such deus ex machina? Same holds true for smaller scale concepts of collectivities/mind-melds.

      • Jermaine says:


        I don’t think ATS is “repackaging Geist or some other such deus ex machina.” As Heidegger might say, authentic Dasein draws upon its heritage. As a result, you have to adopt a language from somewhere and in this case, ATS is re-appropriating the “language” of the gods for other means.

      • dmf says:

        J, I’m not sure how that answers the question of what, if anything, brings about such epochal effects/affects.

      • Jermaine says:

        Perhaps our concerns are quite different. I think the question you ask is an empirical/historical/sociological one that seeks an explanation. In that regard, you can find that in books such as Dennett’s “Breaking the spell: religion as a natural phenomenon.” I read ATS as a book of ethics, of giving an account of what the good life can be.

      • david leech says:

        Yes, you can do so without repackaging Geist. That is what my “market is a work of art” hypothesis entails. Markets (think of a place were people are allowed to set up stall (Agora in ancient Greece, Pirenne’s towns in the medieval period) have been around for long time. But only in the modern era have they come to dominate life. How this came about is a matter of economic history, and how people thought about markets, how they interpreted them and understood their significance, is covered in Taylor’s secular age for example. Another discussion of how market’s came to dominate the age is Polanyi’s Great Transformation or maybe Brenner’s Merchants and Revolution. I have a hunch that Mandiville’s “Fable of the Bees” was an early expression of the transformation that was latent in markets once their logic was allowed to dominate. Marx saw it too. Writing in Germany in the early 19th century he was late to understanding the transformative power of markets but astutely perceptive. Of course Smith, writing almost 100 years earlier than Marx was already recommending that market logic be the font of public policy.

        I can show you contemporary instances of the transformative power of markets being interpreted as Geist. I think its reasonable to interpret Adam Smith’s “invisible hand” as such an allusion as well but it id one that comes as a rationalization of the market institutions that were already in play.

  6. terenceblake says:

    Some possible theological residues in the ATS experience:
    1) the use of so-called “phenomenologically appropriate” descriptive terms such as “gift” (under erasure, as it is “without a giver”) and “authority” (under erasure, as of course there is no giver of orders beyond or behind the authority-effect). These terms have personnological connotation, even if that is not your intention
    2) the book ATS uses a plurality of positivity-laden terms: intensity, meaning, certitude, being in the zone, openness, mattering, worth, shining things, sacred things. This democratic semantic plurality is sometimes simplified in the discussion in an oriented way privileging for example “sacred” over other possible predicates. This is a theocratic reduction of the semantic field. Similarly, in the book the word “authority” is used only five times. In your interviews Sean you use it far more readilly. Another example is the ease with which Charles Spinosa slides from “extra-human authority” to “authority beyond the human” in a context where he talks about “the acknowledgement of a good beyond human goods or human happiness generally”. This is too much ambiguity for my transcendence detector to countenance.
    3) the exception made in the case of Jesus treated as himself a work of art. I know “Jesus” is under erasure as you are referring to the character as presented in the Gospels (which is just as well as there is no reason to believe that such a person ever existed). In that case you should have taken the Gospels as the work of art. Your deduction of the Trinity from the background practices, the exemplar, and the articulator(s) is particularly off-putting, and brings you very close to Zizek’s Christian atheism. It makes me wonder whether your vocabulary of openness, meaning, wonder etc is a set of partial synonyms for Paul Tillich’s notion of “ultimate concern”.
    4) I think your contrast between those who believe that there is no meaning in the world aside from what we put in to it and those who are open to meanings that are already there in the situation is too Manichean. The bad guys are always the autonomous ego guys, from Penelope’s suitors to Ahab to poor DFW (which pokes a big hole in your incommensurability of epochs thesis). I think Ahab is not a case of the (self-)destructive power of the autonomous will, but rather as some aspects of your analysis suggest of the destructive power that openness to and espousal of perceptions and pulsions of physis can (but not necessarily) have on the territorialising values of poietic nurturing.

    • david leech says:

      We are circling around some very interesting issues. I don’t have time for more than a down payment but If I don’t make that I’ll lose it:

      dmf: I don’t think we need an “as if” to get at sources of authority/meaning outside of individual-capacities (and I wonder if some of the confusion isn’t to do with seeing the “extended self” as not “the self” at all, but as equipmental and ready-to-hand, quite apart from “self,” as not self at all and yet not other worldly (quite this-worldy) either— isn’t that one of Heidegger basic ontological innovations, and isn’t ATS partly an attempt to appreciate these “kinds” and put us in touch with them). In economics, we talk of “spillovers,” benefits (or costs) that accrue to others as an unintended consequence of an action. They are a giver-less gift if the emphasis is on the giver’s intention and arguably that are giver-less, intentionally or not, from from the recipient’s perspective, in the sense that the source of the benefit (or cost) is lost in the signal to noise; in the complexity of market structures. Think of going to the store to get a pound of bananas. You have confidence that a pound in a pound and because of that confidence you DON’T engage in metrological interrogations of the weighing machine or the schedule with which it is certified as in compliance. Or, when you cross the Golden Gate bridge you might pay some fleeting homage to the laborers and equipment designers, and investors who were responsible for the basic structure in place some generations ago. Giver-less gifts are ubiquitous and not “as if.” Rather they are just hidden. Nothing theological, as I understand it. Gee, how about language? There too is a giver-less gift, with huge spillover costs (our benightedness, on Heidegger’s account) and benefits.

      terenceblake: I find the question of Jesus vs. Gospels as the appropriate work of art interesting too. I even have some difficulty thinking about “great literary works” as works of art. It makes more sense to me to think of literary works of art as “poet’s” articulations of works of art because, on Heidegger’s account, works of art need poets to articulate there significance to the people who live in their sway. That “sway” seems to me to require of works of art that they have more “institutional” sway. Perhaps the original work of art in the jesus tradition is the “breaking of bread” with social rejects (Borgmann’s celebratory meal) and “the poet” is, initially Paul, etc. who were passed by as the Christian work of art was transformed into Cathedrals, church networks, monasteries, and their sustaining practices. I recognize there is textual evidence supporting the view that Heidegger might have considered Jesus a work of art, but I think of works of art as having more institutional heft. More importantly, it strikes me that Heidegger treats great literary works not as “works of art” in themselves but rather as PORTALS onto past works of art and ultimately to being able to grasp the works of art that tend to be transparent to us.

      I think this is a somewhat important issue because in order to get in a free relationship to the work of art that dominates the age, we have to be able to identify it. In Disclosing New Worlds CS and his coauthors seem to identify the “entrepreneur” as a discloser of new worlds. I think not. I think the entrepreneur is an articulator and preserver.

      Which brings me to a related issue in ATS. Sean and Bert refer to Jesus and Descartes as the West’s only reconfigurers. Well, in the case of Jesus, can he be reconfigurer AND a work of art? (It seems clear that on Heidegger’s account, in “OWA” and “What Are Poets For?,” a new understanding of being requires both.) It makes sense to me that the historical Jesus was the initial reconfigurer and that his “work of art” candidate was the “(innovative) community meal,” and that Paul, and the synoptic authors, and John were also “poets,” in turn, and that they transformed, to some extent, the work of art that grew to dominate the succeeding generations. But then, there is Descartes. A reconfigurer? Fine. The work of art that he articulated? I can believe with Sean and BErt that, like Jesus, Descartes was, indeed, a reconfiguring thinker. But what was the work of art he was articulating? A laboratory? A mortuary? (I don’t know anything about Descartes’ biography) I hypothesize that Descartes, like Jesus, articulated some work of art and, like Jesus, Descartes’ work of art was surpassed by his apostle-articulators. I nominate Bernard Mandeville (Fable of the Bees) as Descartes’ “Paul” (one can “check the boxes” on Mandeville’s “Fables'” three-fold structure (ATS, pp. 104-105); Adam Smith as Descartes’ “synoptic gospels” and Gary Becker as Descartes’ St. John.

      Jermaine: I generally agree. Not sure I would call it “quietist.” Doesn’t that have some theological baggage?

      • david leech says:

        One last thing: How is all this related to theology? There is an important empirical/social scientific aspect to economics. But there is also a powerful mythic or metaphysical element and it is not too hard to find economists who think of the “worldview” of economics as performing some of the same functions that religion performs. You might think in terms of “secular doctrine” (microeconomic theory) on the one hand and “religious doctrine” (theology) on the other.

      • Jermaine says:

        david leech,

        I was using the term “quietist” in the Wittgensteinian sense, where philosophy (i.e., ATS) “leaves everything as it is.” This is to say that “the facts” (socio-political-economic) remain as they are, yet our understanding (Being) is revised.

        And again, I would re-enforce my quietist reading of ATS in relation to theology, where theologists can still continue to engage in debates of God and Man because that’s besides the point of ATS’s reminder to engage with “the things themselves.”

      • Jermaine says:

        *minor correction: “theologians” in place of “theologists)

    • dmf says:

      J, I’m a bit puzzled by your invoking Wittgenstein in this way, when he says that we should think of a situation/event as if there is something like a form of life at play, or to imagine something like a language game at work he is offering a family of resemblance alternative to more rigid categories that fits in quite well with tb’s analysis, no?

      • Jermaine says:

        Agreed. Perhaps that point might render this conversation nil. We seem to be adhering to a rigid category of what constitutes “theology.” I would accept a broad/loose construal in which ATS can be amenable to a “soft” theological reading.

  7. dmf says:

    when I add these perspectives /links without explicitly endorsing them they are just differing perspectives on the topics i think are at hand, so they are good (by my taste) but are not always in keeping with my own thinking:

  8. terenceblake says:

    David, my perspective on ATS is to read it as a philosophical work. In philosophy “theological” means positing a (usually unitary) transcendence outside and ruling over an immanent field. It’s a structural categorization: there is no need for the transcendent element to be explicitly religious. For example, some forms of humanism have been called “theological” because they abolish God but they put “Man” in the same foundational role, so the same structure atheistic religious belief is conserved. Scientism is another.Going on from there, various authors have indicated that notions of a unitary subject confronting a purely objective world, or of a unitary world as ultimate thing-in-itself are theological.
    On a first reading, ATS is compatible with this kind of tracking down of, discarding, and creatively going beyond theological presuppositions. The “evil trinity” of God, Subject, World is overcome. From the beginning the context is after the death of God, and the phenomenological descriptions are, and have to be “methodologically atheist”. (A very interesting book on these issues is PHENOMENOLOGY AND THE “THEOLOGICAL TURN” by Dominique Janicaud: The Subject has at least been attenuated by the critique of the autonomous individual and the revision in terms of openness. Don’t forget that Heidegger abandoned the “daseinocentric” perspective of BEING AND TIME as being in fact too theological (in this sense).
    The World has been reworked in terms of different worlds associated to diverse understandings of being, and these in turn as epochal configurations of gatherings of practices. So it’s all good.

    Except … problems persist. Unities are posited and made use of, but are found tl lead to difficulties. For example, first the different understandings of being are posed as each regenting totally an epoch and as mutually incommensurable. This leads to a strong thesis that there is no overarching instance that would explain the historical succession of worlds (this is just as well, because such an overarching explanatory instance would be theological). However, there are similarities and contrasts between the diverse worlds, and the whole point of talking about them in ATS is to find features and aspects that are of current relevance. This implies some form of commensuration, which Sean and Bert spell out in terms of a dominant majoritarian gathering of practices and of various marginal practices. I think that this view is a provisional compromise, and that the notion of unitary epoch is itself theological. Heidegger himself implicitly critices his “work of art” paradigm as still theological when he moves on to his “thing thinging” paradigm. ATS is an unstable half-way compromise between the macroscopic “work of art” paradigm (still fairly structuralist) which functions as a useful first approximation and the the more accurate micro-account of the thing thinging (which is in fact one of things thinging, the plural is important as ratifying more clearly the intra-epochal plurality).

    • terenceblake says:

      Please read “so the same structure as theistic religious belief is conserved” in the above, near the beginning. For the corrected version, and more context for my reading of ATS, see

    • david leech says:

      I guess I am more inclined to read “theological” theologically and as I understanding it, at least in the western literary tradition, that requires some form of communication with the supernatural. Using your very broad definition you seem inclined to find a theologian under every bed. I don’t find that helpful.

      I am not sure about the implicit criticism of the work of art paradigm in “things thinging.” It seems reasonable to understand things thinging as another paradigm — suitable for some purposes (I tend to think of it like the micro/macro distinction in economics) but not for others — rather than a successive improvement or replacement. In fact I think of them (and it wouldn’t surprise me if I get this from interpreting Dreyfus) as complementary in two senses. First, if we understand gods, destinies, works of art, understandings of being as configurations that dominate an age, with previous, or alternative, or inchoate configurations interleaved and at the margins of the dominating configuration, then our ability to be open to things thinging is our ability to be attuned to other configurations. (It is the vehicle for traveling to other lands.) (I think the core-margin conceptualization of the relationship between works of art and things thinging is pedagogically useful but a little static. In Heidegger I think one can find a more fluid conceptualization of the same phenomenon in terms of a watery infrastructure of seas, rivers, rivulets, bridges and towns.) Second, if the whole point of paying attention to what Heidegger, ATS, and the like-minded is, as we say, “ever learning to dwell,” our openness to things thinging is of a piece with our being poetic, with getting in tune with a more fulfilling, more essentially being-in-the-world, configuration.

      • dmf says:

        dl, you seem to be rejecting phenomenology in favor of a categorical/historical reading and then wanting to embrace aspects of it in the face of current events, this picking and choosing what fits with your thesis/desires may be useful for your private project-ion but from the outside just echoes the tensions we are working through in Heidegger and ATS.
        That aside I’d be interested in why you would broadly equate getting in tune with more fulfilling, can you flesh out “more fulfilling” some?

      • david leech says:

        dmf: I don’t want to be rejecting phenomenology in favor or historical. I see the historical as the backdrop for the phenomenal, like perception (?) a figure in a field, like past-present-future nested. (Paraphrasing: the future comes toward us out of the past.

        Fleshing out “more fulfilling” I really don’t have much in mind beyond recognizing that we are the site of being-in-the-world (and the implications of that for the way with think and act), and maybe, reaching way, way back in these blog posts, getting clear about what it means to live a balanced/balancing life (maybe with the ethical implications of the 4-fold as a place to start — and that only because its a newish concept to me that I am drawn to and would like to flesh out some so as to have something to share with succeeding generations who might turn to me (us) and ask, “what should I do?”)

        terenceblake said above that he sees these theological issues as philosophical. I am a very ordinary person who thinks about theological and philosophical issues not as theological and philosophical but as existential, day-in/day-out transactional. I was born in this time, in this age, in this family, in this community, with this set of friends and acquaintances and constructs (most of which I feel into by accident and ignorance) to whom I have this set responsibilities. All this discussion, and all the thinking, acting and writing is in the service of those responsibilities. My friend, my acquaintance, my colleague, my child, asks, often just implicitly, “What do you think?” and/or “What should I do?” When Heidegger writes about logos as speaking to others as the ground of human existence (I am thinking of Basic Concepts of Aristotelian Philosophy, but I feel sure its pervasive in his work), that sounds fundamental to me. I think that is why I am attracted to his writing and those writing in his tradition. It took me a long time pick and sweep my way down to that level. I am just trying to grasp it and use it going forward. That’s what I mean by more fulfilling.

  9. Charlie says:

    I’m sorry to have been consumed by the global financial crisis. This is far more interesting. The theological dimension is at the cross section of gratitude and mastery. To the extent that openness to meaning is cultivated with submission then I think the line is crossed. But this distinction is only qualitative in a politicized arena. In the realm of ATS critics who guard the sacred. The takeaway for me is the efficacy of the phenomenology, which may piss off the pious, but more importantly makes this a philosophical project

    • dmf says:

      welcome back,being consumed by the gfc , despite your understandable preference for waxing philosophical, is very much to the point of the matter at hand.
      I would say that submission is a vital existential aspect to be separated from idol-ization,if mastery is not to be limited to ego-centrism.
      Is there a non-politicized area/realm?
      a talk with ecophilosopher Tim Morton on speech bubbles and beautiful soul syndrome:

      • Charlie says:

        Thx, dmf. Putting 3 daughters through college puts a crimp in my ruminations. Speaking of a concrete existence, I was thinking that my own normal juxtaposition to theological was another false duality. If submission to external (hidden) forces is a “theological” practice, there is a common denominator to finding the god within, mastering a trade/athletics or a rioting mood in London. As Sean aptly said, to the extent that the phenomenology is never complete, the openness is cultivating the worth of the independent world. Drawing or appreciating or refining the distinctions is reifying the meaning. Theological is then not casting an aspersion, which it would normally be for me. The participation just takes different forms. And, to belabor my favorite point, finding meaning independent of us – getting closer to it by yielding is so refreshingly non-Western. And novel, again as Sean notes, because it’s not passive like other (Eastern) trains of thought. So…the global financial crisis can play second fiddle to a vital phenomenology.

      • dmf says:

        ch, this is might be a bit of wishful thinking (and I resonate with the Romantic attraction of it deeply but not totally) I think.
        I don’t see how a vital existential-phenomenology can do other than make us more aware of, more implicated in, high frequency intensities like those we label/shorthand with gfc. Certainly will help teach us differences within, see aspects of, (back to the ‘things’ which get covered up by such sweeping figures of speech) to learn the limits of, generalization/idolatry, but won’t take us out but rather further in, or better yet “back to the rough ground.”
        We can’t do away with taking perspectives, and trading in metaphors, but we can do so with a poetic as-if sensibility. The lines of outside and inside the “self” (which is an emergent effect/affect) are just that lines that we draw, not unlike Harold and his purple crayon.
        I’m not a deleuzian but this might help some with the lay of the land:

  10. dmf says:

    dl, first let me say that I hope that none of what I say comes across as an attack it’s always meant as part of an attempt at clarity. It’s very hard to have this kind of public conversation with people from very different levels of engagement with the issues/authors at hand and some of the issues (tho luckily here not the participants) are contentious/conflicted and I apologize if you get caught in the middle sometimes.
    I share your interest in the how to live responsibly question (I’m from the ethics 1st tribe, but unlike J don’t see how this can be separated from our always already being-together and so the questions of extra-human authority) but have some concerns about equating this with leading a balanced/balancing life, what if things are out of balance around us, what if monstrous disequilibrium is what we find when we get tuned in to being limited/ mortal critters with our kluged together bodies, excessive drives/desires, and no niche of our own? if you get a chance in the midst of your many more pressing concerns check out the Morton interview above, he directly addresses this question of what to do, how to live in our ecological/anthropocene times.

    • david leech says:

      I don’t feel attacked or squeezed at all; not in the least. I enjoy the exchanges. I don’t normally live or work in an environment where these issues are regularly discussed (except when I get some adjunct time, and even then I am pushing the issues “up hill,” apparently for the first time from most “business admin” majors. They tend to be looking for technique and what I am pushing is perspective.) so it is a great source of “fermentation.”
      Thanks for our concern.

      • david leech says:

        dmf, sorry I am so slow on the uptake. I see know that had I been a little more sophisticated I SHOULD HAVW been feeling attacked when you tried to tell me I wasn’t in the same league as the bloggers who are trying to work through the tensions in Heidegger and ATS whereas I am merely “picking and choosing what fits with … [my] private projections.”

        I don’t buy it. But if you can tell me how one makes his way to the Archimedean point where, undisturbed by private projections, one is able to gain clarity on the more universal issues, unsullied by a POV, I’d like to try getting there myself (even though experience tells me its a fools errand). I think it was Feyerabend who taught us that POV is not necessarily an unproductive move.

      • david leech says:

        On the other hand, maybe you were just saying that my POV is tangential. I can see that.

  11. terenceblake says:

    Jermaine, I tnink we are agreeing with each other, including on the parallel between Wittgenstein and ATS. I would like to say that Wittgenstein is quietist in that he evokes an immanent field of language games and forms of life. At this level he “leaves everything as it is” in that he himself refuses any transcendent instance which would allow one to retain one set of language games as veridical, and reject all others. Here history and sociology rule, as you indicated. This is the level where the death of God is a sociological event, … or not. Michel Onfray notes ironically that the 20th Century was the century of the death of all sorts of things (the death of art, of the book, of philosophy, etc) and that in each case the declaration of such a death has been followes by a plethora of manifestations of life:

    “God’s death was an ontological gimmick, a conjuror’s trick.
    It was consubstantial with a twentieth century that saw death
    everywhere — the death of art, of philosophy, of metaphysics, of
    the novel, of music, of politics. So let’s announce the death of all
    these fictional deaths! Tongue-in-cheek obituaries that once
    served certain thinkers — before they turned their metaphysical
    coats — as a dramatic setting for the paradoxes they uncovered.
    The death of philosophy engendered works of philosophy, the
    death of the novel generated novels, the death of art produced
    works of art, etc. As for God’s death, it has released an outpouring
    of the sacred, the divine, the religious. Today we swim in these purgative waters.”


    This is an empirical question.
    But Wittgenstein is not quietist when dealing with attempts to posit a trancendent instance outside language games. His whole philosophical effort is against such attempts at installing, or surreptitiously or inadvertently presupposing, such a transcendence. I think we can distinguish two senses of the suffix “a-“: a negative sense in which atheism would be part of a belief system rival to theism; a privative sense located at a methodological level, in which atheism would be the refusal to let the supposition of a transcendent instance determine, orient or found our philosophical investigations. This is the level of Morton’s (and Zizek’s) post-lacanian slogan: The Big Other does not exist.

    • dmf says:

      tb, I enjoy Rorty’s mis-take that the later ethnographic-Wittgenstein completes/meets the early pragmatist-Heidegger, but if you look at the examples that Wittgenstein asks us to entertain of say builders or grocery shopping it would be hard to take those as realist depictions, so I think there is an intentionally art-ficial/amplified (if only Jung had adopted a consciously crafty/rhetorical sense of manufacturing amplification and not an inflated/manic one) quality to them and a cue to read his thought experiments along the as-if/family-of-resemblances kind of way.

  12. dmf says:

    oh vey, I give up this medium is given more to confusion that clarity.
    best to all and good luck with your various projects.

    • terenceblake says:

      dmf, please “don’t leave us this way”!
      As CS has dropped the “strong reading” egg into the omelette, I think we can make use of this notion to cope with the confusion a little more consciously. Even if we can’t really dispel it, seeing the confusion for what it is is itself a form of clarity.
      As you indicate Rorty produced a strong reading of Wittgenstein and this is what it takes to reappropriate W’s texts for our time. Another example, as you know, is Stanley Cavell’s reading which “allegorises”, as he calls it, the letter of W’s descriptions. Cavell does not just free associate, he relies on the fact that W read and admired Spengler to re-vision the examples you cite through Spenglerian glasses. Then you can see that the examples of the builders and of the grocery-shopper are not just devices to dissolve the assumptions of russellian- or tractarian-type approaches to language. They are also dealing with contemporary issues of the impoverishment of language, the simplification of desire, the regression to more primitive subjectivities, the lack of imagination or freedom. These themes are present everywhere in W but it requires the passage by a strong reading to get us to see it.
      Deleuze and Guattari would refuse the word “allegorise” for its connotation of the dichotomy of appearance vs reality in a context where we are trying to get away from the sometimes misleading implications it can convey. They propose “deterritorialise” to express the fact that re-appropriating involves suspending the implicit limitations that a given context can place on words and expressions that are capable of resonating on many different levels and in many different contexts. This is not giving words arbitrarily just any meaning, but of freeing the words from their stereotypic acceptions in the discourse of the One (including the One of academic scholarship). So “strong” reading as deterritorialising reading captures what I admire in many thinkers who creatively engage with the tradition.
      This, I think, is what Sean and Bert are doing in ATS: deterritorialising Heidegger’s analyses and concepts to apply them in new ways to new contexts. It takes mastery to deterritorialise in this way, and not caprice. This is why I like their book and their project, even though I think it does not go far enough as yet. There is their lack of clarity about possible “theological” (in the philosophical sense!) readings that can be given. Here I can only agree with Spinosa when he says “Like others, I am waiting for Sean to say more” on this subject. The other concern is that D&K avoid any talk of power-relations, except very indirectly in their talk of marginal practices – which cannot be just a statistical notion of minorities neutrally juxtaposed to a majority, but implies some notion of dominance and resistance. Here too “I am waiting”.

      • david leech says:

        Here, here! I agree with terrence that it would be a shame for you to leave. In fact, I’d say that of all the bloggers dmf might be most responsible for sustaining the multi-vocal conversation when it might otherwise have died. As dmf says above, it is hard to sustain with so many directions and levels of engagement but there must be a way forward.

        I think it might not be too hard for some participant with a good broad perspective — dmf, terrence, sean, charles, albert come to mind — to define the productive “lanes” and “layers” of the conversation and then we can proceed, trying to stay within the lanes and judging for ourselves what we have to contribute. If a line of thinking is not taken up by others (I might offer my “market is a work of art” suggestion as an example), its proponents might reasonably try to insert it a couple times, just to be sue, but have the good sense to just drop it and move on to other more collectively productive lanes and layers.

        I, for one, have gotten a lot out of the many many perspectives expressed here on the issues. I think dmf’s withdrawal will put a real crimp in the dynamic as it has developed so far. I hope he reconsiders.

      • david leech says:

        Here is a thought that might make a contribution to “lanes” and also may be pertinent to the subject question, “Is ATS Theological?” (in the philosophical sense!)

        Van Buren (“Young Heidegger””) puts an interesting twist on Heidegger;s “epoch’s” in the West’s understanding of being, calling them cosmos-centric (cosmological), theo-centric (theological), anthropo-centric (anthropological), method-centric (epistemological), and … while I have gotten any further but must assume … techno-centric (technological). (pp. 90-94)

        From terrence’s perspective, wouldn’t it be more thoroughly philosophical to ask to what extent ATS is cosmological, theological, anthropological, and technological? Aren’t all these expressions of ” transcendence outside and ruling over an immanent field”?

      • david leech says:

        In this framework, I think most of whatever I would have to contribute would fall in the technological.

      • david leech says:

        I made an error above in the suggested epochal categorization: should be cosmological, theological, epistemological (vs. anthropological), and technological.

  13. terenceblake says:

    David, have you looked at Elie Ayache’s work on philosophy and the market, especially THE BLANK SWAN (
    Here are the links to a two part article called BEING AND THE MARKET:

    Click to access 0505_ayache.pdf

    Click to access 0507_ayache.pdf

    He uses a mix of Heidegger, Deleuze, Badiou and above all Meillassoux that I find interesting, but the economic part is obscure for me. Tell me what you think.

    • david leech says:

      INTERESTING. I’ll get back to you on this. Was not aware of Ayache though I am familiar with Talib and black swan of finance. I suspect that the obscure “economic part” is more about “truth as correspondence” than the transcendental truth (the market as a work of art working) that I find most intriguing. Of course its not surprising that others with a foot in economic analysis and a foot in “thinking” would circle around the same kind of constructions. After my epiphany a few years ago, I first turned to Marcuse. Close but no brass ring so far as I can tell, and I have identified material in early Marx that comes close to the idea that the market is a work of art working (especially “On the Jewish Question,” below the anti-semitic surface) but, of course, the former didn’t have the latter.

      • afterautonomy says:

        dmf, davidleech, terenceblake et al., The topics opened up by Charles Spinosa’s original post are close to my heart. I’ll try to catch up and to enter the debate in the hope that the postings aren’t exhausted.

        My own thought over the course of a decade or so has traced a crooked line from Disclosing New Worlds through Heidegger to Badiou and then the Speculative Realists and hence through Graham Harman back to Heidegger and ATS.

        Some start points for my thinking, I hope it’s not too much of a mish-mash..

        I agree that we live in a techno-capitalist age and that its defining characteristic is a pervasive nihilism. I am quite content for a saving response to this age to be theological. But a theology of a kind not yet seen. I am reminded of Meillassoux’s idea of a future God still to come.

        In this context, ATS is timely. However, from my perspective, its proposal, despite its suggested solution for avoiding fanaticism, is inadequate. Why? I have two reasons – its privileging of gods over God (and hence truths over Truth) and, perhaps as a consequence, its lack of an adequate sacred practice.

        ATS appears to me to offer gods of attunement but they are rather feeble gods – and gods that too conveniently fit perfectly with the super-egoic command of the techno-capitalist age “Enjoy!”. For me, a more powerful theology would include the attunement and the phronesis but it would say a lot more about the creativity. Surely a God worthy of the name must be capable of creato ex nihilo? Dreyfus has written a lot on this elsewhere in his descriptions of the World Transformer, I’d love to see he and Sean introduce more on this in ATS Vol 2. Terence makes the connection to Badiou and I agree there is much there to be mined for this discussion. In particular, his ontology of events in “Logics of Worlds”, which clearly distinguishes between events that modify or elaborate on the organising principle of the existing situation (gods, for me, the equivalent to cross-appropriation and articulation from “Disclosing New Worlds”) and “truth-events” that found a new organising principle and a new language for the situation (God, equivalent to reconfiguration in DNW).

        I recently attended a short course on Art given by Badiou in which he further developed his thoughts on Art as a generic or truth procedure. Toward the end of the course, he seemed to be describing a form of subjectivity that sounded a lot like a kind of “gentle resoluteness” or “bold Gelassenheit”. I took this to be a further working out of his ideas on affects and of ethics, which in turn require the occurrence of one of the truth-events mentioned above. It alluded to the openness and gentleness of Gelassenheit but was predicated on the efforts to create some traces of Truth in the world. I found it not at all inconsistent with ATS but the connection to the truth-event, as a monotheistic event, is decisive in founding sacred practices that escape from the realm of worldly enjoyment.

        I suggest that Badiou, as a post-Lacanian, a communist and a mathematician, is unpalatable to many Heideggereans. I wish he weren’t, I find him to be very consistent with Heidegger, especially later Heidegger.

        By the way, @Terence and David, a couple of years ago, I corresponded briefly with Elie Ayache. He is a friend of Taleb’s. You may be interested to know he has been working with UK philosophers Nina Power and Robin Mackay for a while and has a collaboration with Robin here

      • david leech says:

        afterautonomy: cool handle

        Let me push back a little in defense of ATS. First, you say, “I agree that we live in a techno-capitalist age and that its defining characteristic is a pervasive nihilism.” I guess I don’t think that it’s all that helpful to say we live in a “capitalist” age. It’s to laden with “ism” baggage. I think that language quickly diverts one into political distractions. I don’t think ATS has much play at that level. Second, I don’t think that the defining characteristic of market-dominated societies is nihilism. I mean, the nihilism that ATS diagnoses is not a surface phenomenon. Rather it’s the implication of the surface phenomenon that we mostly celebrate: consumption, efficiency, economic growth (when we can sustain it), novelty, the celebration of, and striving for more; what Albert Borgamnn calls a device culture. It’s not an easy or obvious thing to those who are ensconced in that way of life (present company included!) to see it as meaningless and nihilistic. In fact I know a few articulate defenders of this way of life who think all our problems and worries will be solved not by less of this approach to life but more of it: economic growth/technological progress on steroids. And even if you do see it that way, imagining what a different understanding of lived life would look like, that was not backward looking, is no mean feat so far as I can tell. As I have said above too much, it’s the metaphysical commitments underlying the market (and modernity and post-modernity — those intertwined roots are another story) that I think are the real burden. And they are deep.

        Also, I don’t think (someone please correct me if I am wrong about this) ATS spends any time at all identifying “the capitalist age,” or its gathering work of art, as the root of our contemporary dilemma. I think it would be possible to develop this (and hope to), especially in the analysis of Moby Dick, where the global whaling industry forms the backdrop and the gold coin an important focal point, but it was just not on their plate. They have plenty of other important fish to fry.

        You say that you are, “content for a saving response to this age to be theological.” I don’t think that is viable either, first because as a civilization we are way past that. Terrence surely represents many contemporary readers of ATS in thinking that is main flaw its hidden commitments to the theological. To the extent that he’s right (I’m betting that it’s not a great extent), I suspect that the authors of ATS would also want to expunge any anachronistic metaphysical commitments be they theological, cosmological, epistemological, or technological. [That is not to say that current religious community practices (or like cosmological epistemological, and technological practices) might not have some important foothold for the future. I think both Borgmann and Taylor see the practices of communal celebration and “pilgrim seeking,” respectively, as offering a privileged set of historical practices around which some futural set of practices might take hold. I suspect these would be non-theological in the Heideggerian sense of the term.]

        Finally, for now, I also think it’s a mistake to say that Dreyfus & Kelley privilege of gods over God in ATS. As I understand them, they are positing the polytheistic experience of the Homeric Greeks as ANALOGOUS TO a poly-attunement to “things” outside us that create the occasion for “shining” — the experience of meaning in “humble things.”

      • afterautonomy says:

        @david leech:

        Firstly, for Charles’ benefit as I am a colleague and in case he picks up this thread, I should say my name is Matthew Hancocks, I was mystified to see my entry appear as AfterAutonomy – a page I set up many moons ago but have never used!

        Thank you for the response, I agree with a lot of the points you are making and appreciate the clarifications you’ve brought to the big leaps in my argument.

        I agree with the risk of introducing “capitalism” in the argument however, I contend that it is necessary. I am a fan of capitalism to the extent that it is the water you and I swim in, silly to pretend we can just reject it or improve it willy-nilly. I also appreciate the evidence it provides of how many seemingly solid relationships can be dissolved and reconfigured. However, to say there is a question of whether or not to bring politics in for me is a mistake. Politics is there from the start – as soon as one is making decisions or taking sides. For example, I would contend that the reason some people do not consider the nihilism of today’s market economies to be a matter for despair but for rejoicing is precisely because they have established identities entirely based upon filling voids (un-addressed market niches, un-fulfilled consumer desires) with new inventions. A smart way of building a non-nihilist identity around nihilism. I do not know where the decisions begin and end in those lives but am sure that there are some. Ultimately, I can see there are confusions in what I am saying and I would need to demonstrate why these identities are unsatisfactory. I have an inkling of how I could do that but it would take a long stretch of thinking and writing. There are connections with the work of Ray Brassier here – see his Nihil Unbound. I believe that the relevance of all this to ATS is a question of whether all Whooshes are equal or some Whooshes better than others. Is it enough to have a sense of wonder when articulating and fulfilling a market’s un-suspected desire? To the extent that, in Disclosing New Worlds, Hubert Dreyfus, made a defence of liberal democratic capitalist political economies and practices – although non-partisan within that broader situation – I consider the question of politics important to the appreciation of ATS’ solution to the problems of the contemporary era. I am assuming that that commitment is retained in All Things Shining.

        On the subjects of gods and God you write:

        “As I understand them, they are positing the polytheistic experience of the Homeric Greeks as ANALOGOUS TO a poly-attunement to “things” outside us that create the occasion for “shining” — the experience of meaning in “humble things.””

        I agree and this is why we need to consider more what they mean by “god”. My thoughts are conditioned by my readings of earlier Dreyfus work including that with Charles Spinosa that explicitly refer to the Heideggerean fourfold that was conceived in his thoughts on “the Thing”. Again, I am assuming that this commitment to the relevance of the Heideggerean gods is retained and so we are in to exploring what is signified by the signifier “god”. I prefer the terminology of signifiers or better still “rigid designator” to avoid analogies, vulnerable as they are on the confusions that set in whenever two people try to imagine the same thing. I am very happy to do away with the old gods, You’re right, they’re gone. However, if D&K, following Heidegger, are going to use the same name we’ll need to accept that it is going to continue to signify in ways that spark off the collective unconscious in all directions!

        I fear that I should read ATS again and more closely to discover whether these issues have been dealt with explicitly. I notice how both of my brief responses are dependent upon the earlier work and commitments of Dreyfus and an assumption that the commitments that these works make to political economic and Heideggerian gods are retained in ATS. Perhaps, one of the authors could respond.

        I am sorry, I couldn’t see how to reply below your response to my comments – here’s hoping this reply pops up in the right place.

      • david leech says:

        M.H. (the real “afterautonomy”):

        Re-reading seems to be a requirement! Oh that I had a better memory! (Placement in the string way also be an issue. I too apologize if I make it harder than it need be.)

        Even if Disclosing New Worlds endorses capitalism (which I must say sounds odd from what I have heard from lectures and read of Dreyfus) I still would argue that this is evidence of their falling into (not being able to escape from) a technological understanding of being as a result of not having gotten clear that there is a work of art that dominates our age. (I think it is conventional drydeggerian wisdom — to which I am deeply indebted — that our technological age has no Work of Art. In my opinion, a careful reading of OWOA (at least in English) demonstrates that this is not the case.) So, also as suggested somewhere close by (how one reckons “close” in blog space is a mystery), we should be able to subject all our interpretations of Heidegger-inspired work (maybe the work of Heidegger too) to imminent critique by using Heidegger’s understanding of the cosmological, theological, epistemological, and technological epochs in the West to ferret out (and, going forward, even to exploit) anachronistic of confining understandings of being. That is the only way I can see to get into a free relation to our own epoch; the only way to get past it without suffering oblivion. (BTW, I humbly submit that a great example of getting caught up in a technological understanding of being — not being able to see the forest for the trees — is the movie, The Ister. I strikes me that its sources’ interpretation of Heidgger’s lectures, “Holderlin’s Hymn, The Ister,” are completely ensconced in a technological interpretation of the point of the lectures and therefore completely mis-read it. (I am looking forward to Ruspoli’s film which I take to the alternative (and favored) cinema graphic standard for interpreting Heidegger.)

        As I said, I think the idea that entrepreneurial vision gives us a grip on what it is like to experience a new understanding of being is insightful and pedagogically useful (certainly among the economistic people I talk to), especially because the entrepreneur is our epoch’s hero, giving a ready example for such a hard topic. (I think the conversion experience is quite similar at the phenomenal level as best I can understand it. In our secular age, perhaps entrepreneurial vision and conversion are appropriate exemplars for the respective adherents) and therefore has some ready appeal.

        That said, your gloss about how “capitalism” (I would say, market habits and institutions, or maybe better, “market practices”) provides evidence of how many seemingly solid relationships can be dissolved and reconfigured raises questions for me. Perhaps it’s a quibble but I think its wrong to say that markets provide evidence of fungibility. Rather they assume it. It’s a metaphysical commitment that effective engagement with market requires: no fungibility (plus objectification, plus commensurability, plus money equivalence), no market; no market, no capitalism. (You can have markets w/o capitalism. The west has long had markets (agora) but its only relatively recently, a few hundred years, that allegiance to them has come to dominate society. I think its no mistake that Nietzsche’s Zarathustra heralds the death of god in the marketplace. Its been argued that “market socialism” is the answer to some of the social costs of capitalism. That may be but I don’t think we get to prepare a place for the gods by switching from one form of market-ism to another.)

        Finally for now, as to the relevance for ATS (always good to bring it home) that whooshes can be at least ordinally ranked, my “market ontology detectors” become agitated and my “technological understanding of being” indicator starts to flash on and off. I am guessing that there is something wrong with the conception of Whoosh^a > Whoosh^b and that brings me to the 4-fold. I think the 4-fold has a “virtue ethics” flavor and I suspect that one has fruitful whooshes if one leads a fruitful existence and one has fruitless whooshes leading a fruitless life. The meta-poietic skill acquisition that ATS advocates must head in this direction. It would be too inconsistent with the author’s earlier work otherwise. So, finally, we aren’t choosing on kind of whoosh over another. Rather we are developing attunement skills that reinforce fruitfulness and fruitful whooshing. It dawns on me that in so doing we are progressively opened up to the possibility of a new understanding of our being, one that recaptures our being-in-the-world and makes ready for a new god, a new work of art. My attunement skills aren’t what they should be so what that new work of art might look like is completely beyond me.

        Placeholder for later: your reference to the 4-fold. I am thinking about that in relation to Charles Spinosa’s post in response to Terrence @ “ATS Reception,” August 14. He suggests that Terrance read “Heidegger on Living Gods” in _Heidegger, Coping, and Cognitive Science to get clear on some of the point CS is telegraphing. I have done that; find it the essay to very illuminating and convincing — maybe the best thing I’ve read on the subject — but I think there is more to say about the divinities than CS says, having to do with Works of Art, past and present. I hope to return to that discussion soon.

    • david leech says:

      I have looked at the two papers and ordered the book. On a quick read, Ayache and I are VERY far apart. This is hard, and I can’t do it justice yet, but I think that most philosophically radically thoughtful economists tend toward Husserl. I get a whiff of that in Ayache’s papers. I think that the deepest philosophical elaboration of that POV is Ross, Economic Theory and Cognitive Science but I haven’t finished analyzing it yet so that is tentative. In a phrase, Ayache seems mostly concerned with the “physics” of the market and I am concerned with the metaphysical commitments required of life dominated by market habits and institutions. I also think that financial markets are but an instance of something more basic which is easier to grasp for most post-modern folks as the local farmer’s market or the traditional urban market with it butchers, bakers, fish mongers, and candlestick makers. Financial markets, goods markets, and resource markets (the trading of labor time for wages/salaries for employment and the shuttling to and fro from “home” to “work”) are all nodes of a larger “the market.”

      Again, I’ll have to wait to review his book, but I suspect Ayache is an economist struggling to perfect a market “pro-jection” (in Heidegger’s sense of the essence of modern science) — the grail of most economists (even Marx struggled with this, to no avail, with the best tools available to him) — and today economists “like” Ayache (I sense) are still struggling to improve their box of tools. A very illuminating “recent history” of that grail quest is Morowski’s “Machine Dreams” (the title is quite revealing of what I think are its Husserlian epistemological foundations) where he chronicles and laments how economists have struggled unsuccessfully to adopt the mathematical tools of physicists, to the determent of economists. I sense that Ayache’s work is partly a “memoir” of that struggle.

      Finally, with only the benefit of a quick review of the two articles, reinforcing my view that Ayache and I are on “different planets,” I have the sense that he doesn’t understanding what I understand to be “thinking” in Heidegger’s sense. In that sense, “thinkers” are rare and they are much like poets whose travels to foreign lands reveal the understanding of being of their “homeland.” I don’t think (cogitate) that Ayache is thinking (cogitating) in Heidegger’s sense of the term thinking. Rather, it appears to me that he is working, perhaps at the margins, of “normal science.”

      Ayache’s work surely goes in the “good” pile of material that I have to spend more time with as I work or the argument for a very different project. Thanks so much for the references. I’ll surely return to them.

  14. dmf says:

    I appreciate the kind comments and apologize for the drama but in my short forays into the blogosphere I’m starting to realize that comment sections without a moderator are an unwieldy beast and if I was a person with more patience for such matters I would probably be a teacher rather than a therapist but things being what they are I’ll limit myself here to trying to help with the publicity side of the blog and leave the expansion of the project to you folks.

  15. dmf says:

    Sean, if you do get around to an ATS followup it would be interesting if the counterpoint to the work was David Simon’s The Wire in the place of DFW. Here is his take on how the ancient Greek Gods of literature/tragedy play out in modern urbanized times:

  16. Charles Spinosa says:


    In writing a response to you, I realize that I do not know how to write in blog form. I have to allow myself the chance to give extended examples and explain and explain. I apologize then for the length of this response. I apologize to Sean especially for taking up so much blog real estate.

    I can’t very well respond to the richness of your philosophical “zigzag path.” It does not seem so much a path to me as a series of courageous acts where you have thrown yourself into living whatever you are thinking. This is how I suppose ancient philosophers were. For instance, you have the courage and fortitude to throw yourself into Buddhism at one time and then at another time into Jungian analysis to be more open to moods, affects, and attunings. Similarly, your pluralism comes across to me as a way of life, a style of thought, and only after that as a theme to argue for. Thus, it seems to me that you live in different philosophical incarnations. I say this to honor the courage and richness represented in your philosophical biography. But my words also have a thematic—you might say tendentious—purpose. To put my point simply, I believe that your philosophical biography shows someone who has lived and lives in multiple worlds.

    You might well think that your pluralism has gone beyond multiple worlds—you are no longer an “allegorical existential polytheist”–but permit me to ask you to take a look at things as I see them, which might be closer to that old incarnation. Tell me if you can see what I see.

    I live in multiple worlds or, perhaps better, micro-worlds. I want to elaborate a little on this claim so that I can defend my description of my philosophic practice, say a little about ideology and transcendence, which you seem to abhor, and then say more about Marilyn Monroe as a goddess. In writing this piece, I am no longer trying to say things that I believe accord with Bert and Sean’s project. I don’t know how far they would endorse what I am about to say.

    Whenever I attend to some important phenomenon, I find that I have more than one way of making sense of it. Indeed, on inspection, I find myself believing different, even conflicting things about the phenomenon. Let me give the simplest example that I have now. It grows out of my work, and it took place about four years ago. I have certain employees whom I talk about, think about, and treat as friends on the one hand and as employees on the other. As consultants away from home most of the time, we tend to eat and drink together. We take care of some of each other’s domestic needs: mailing a letter, paying a bill, and so forth. We are friends. So far as I understand my friendship practices, they are those of Americans growing up in the 50s. I believe you could probably trace them back to the notion of friendship that emerged in Western Europe in the 17th century when everyday life took on moral importance, leaving the noble, warrior and civic life behind. That was also the time when private feelings came to matter. I get Milton on friendship. Aristotle is an alien to me. As friends, some employees look noble and pure-hearted. I would never doubt that they would stand by me, and I by them. But when I looked at some of these same people as the manager I am, I saw some of them as untrustworthy and dull and others as highly-talented egomaniacs. You would guess correctly if you supposed my management practice as one closer to a medieval apprenticeship than any of the coach, motivate, and direct management styles of today. That medieval part of the academy has not left me. I look at my employees as all preparing for or conducting a masterwork, in short as graduate students writing dissertations. It’s surely partly an infirmity. But it gave me the view I described.

    Four years ago, I noticed I saw the same person—reidentified by name and appearance, practices that cross friendship and management—in a radically different light from moment to moment over the course of an hour. (By the way, I consider it a defining feature of human language and coping that we can reidentify things across language games and so forth. If we could not, we’d be like the hungry tiger that sees and treats as food the man who happens to be his trainer. We are not that way. We think ourselves across contexts and either refrain from eating or betray.) To return to my story, I felt uncomfortable with the radical changes, and, as I gave it thought and observed what was happening, the account I have just given you of the two micro-worlds emerged. Something else also happened at the same time. I found myself regarding certain friends as talented or untalented; they were no less friends but certainly required different kindnesses on the basis of their talent. I had not made that distinction before. In short, my friendship language game and practices expanded and gave me a stronger ability to cope with my teams.

    I will take up the obvious objection to this account in a moment. Let me say first that this account is a simple example of my philosophic practice. I extended a language game or way of making friends intelligible by bringing a distinction from another language game into it. I did that in the name of paying attention to a phenomenon, my relations with my fellow consultants. No pure phenomenon guides this change; at least, it does not do so as a _pure_ phenomenon. Nor does the additional richness justify itself as a better correspondence of the language game to the _pure_ thing. A breakdown no longer occurs. On this basis, there is room for some language of correspondence—without the demand of purity—if that language helps.

    Here’s the objection I imagine you would raise. Do I really live in two micro-worlds? Don’t I live primarily in one 21st century world that has an optimizing instrumental style or way in which practices gather? Isn’t my confusion basically one of dealing with a role that has multiple uses, namely, a fellow consultant? A fellow consultant can provide acts of kindness and incisive commercial analysis. I simply got confused because of the two different uses. I believe that we tell ourselves stories like this normalizing one all the time. We do so habitually, but I suppose that it has the purpose of making our lives more unified than they are. I am not satisfied with this unifying account, because I experienced the same consultant having two entirely different ways of showing up for me. I used to be stunned when they switched. I could feel friendly warmth one moment and then find myself repulsed by what seems to be a person who is so dull or so ego-maniacal that he could not be the friend of a moment ago. It was like a duck-rabbit gestalt shift. I don’t get stunned by my computer, which I can use for spread sheets and for writing. I surely do not get stunned by a hammer that can both drive and pull nails. Neither do I get stunned by mercurial personalities who can delight and then horrify me with the passing of a moment. The two ways in which the consultant appeared were different in a more fundamental way. That’s what I have to say for the experience. If I look to the practice side, I have to say that I observe my management practices to be wholly out of accord with those of others around me. No one else around me treats consultants like graduate students. They give them clear objectives and so forth. My friendship practices are not so out of sync but are still different from those of younger people I observe. They seem to see friends more like business partners. Accordingly, I have to say that I believe I have two micro-worlds of practice that make the same things appear quite differently.

    Consequently, I describe my philosophic practice as extending, deepening, and transforming ways of making things intelligible by drawing on alternative ways of making things intelligible and doing so in the name of attention to phenomena.

    Ideology and Earthiness or Generativity
    I do believe that we tend to have a dominant way of doing things, a dominant way in which practices gather. I do live as a 21st century flexible, instrumental, optimizer. But I also believe that when we focus our attention and activity on certain practices we find ourselves uncovering and allowing ourselves to get drawn into older or marginal ways in which practices worked or can work. Practices, or ways of dealing with and making sense of people and things, are rich in that way. I believe that Heidegger would call this richness the generative, earthy side of practices or “ways of being.” Thus, there is more to most practices and their equipment than the current way of gathering reveals. Talking about a dominant way of doing things or style in the practices does not, to my ear, hide the rich generative side of practices. If you say that “ideology” does not hide the rich generative side of practices, then I can adjust to your usage, though haltingly. To my old ears, “ideology” is redolent with false consciousness and so forth. With its old music, it naturally obscures the generative richness. I can’t help but think that Zizek wants to draw on that old Marxist music with his new use of the word. Even if he does not, many of the UK Business School professors, who adoringly draw on his thinking, do. That music might have died for you and Zizek, but it still lives in places where I work. And that makes adopting “ideology” difficult for me.

    I hesitate to take up this issue, because you seem to want to eliminate transcendence as though it were a cock roach walking across your kitchen table. Thud. I have to be a little more generous with the notion of something outside language games, outside the text. There’s a kind of simple, technical reason. If I can re-identify Sam as a friend and then as a consultant doing client work, even though he shows up differently in two different ways of becoming intelligible to me, I have the conceptual wherewithal to say: it is not incoherent to suppose that Sam has some sort of independence from language games or ways of making things intelligible. Certainly, Sam has an existence beyond the friendship language game. I do not know if it is helpful to say that Sam transcends the friendship language game. I have no strong argument to claim that he must have an existence that transcends all language games. But the multiple-world theorist could not argue the opposite either. Thus, contrary to Davidson and Derrida, a multiple world theorist can allow for such a possibility and cannot claim it incoherent. (I believe that it is a huge weakness in Davidson and Derrida that they cannot recognize such multiple worlds.) This multiple-world claim for transcendence seems rather technical to me. A more sensible way to use the term transcendence would be to draw on the earthy quality of practices use “transcendence” to indicate what lies beyond, and even in rebellion against, the current understanding constituted by today’s language games and their supporting practices. In my simple example, suddenly talent came to matter in friendship. It would make sense to me to say that this aspect of friendship transcended my friendship practices. Whether you want to say that they transcended the language game, I cannot tell. But I think that language games change in this way all the time. Transcendence might describe the not-yet-uncovered dimensions of things. Perhaps, this seems to you as odd a use of transcendence as Zizek’s use of ideology sounds to me. I do not insist on such a use of transcendence. I suppose the question is, What were earlier users of the term—say, Kant—trying to point to. How different is it from what I am trying to point to? I leave these matters with the question.

    Marilyn Monroe as a goddess
    I fear that bringing the distinction of transcendence and immanence does not really help me understand what I’m trying to get at in looking at in trying to understand the experience of the divine or sacred. It seems to me that the distinction obscures more than it opens up. I think that most of what goes under the head of transcendent gods comes from the materialist, comic book account of super-natural, super-hero beings. I suspect that no religious person ever had such experiences, though we do have a tendency to read those thinkers that way. When I talk about Marilyn Monroe as a goddess, I am first and foremost talking about the capacity of certain culture figures, works of art, actions, and even configurations of events (such as family meals) to transform us in ways that enable us to do what before the transformation was simply impossible. Therefore, a culture figure acting as a culture figure is certainly not a being like other beings: people, equipment, natural stuff, and so forth. I want people to think about what is going on during occasions where we encounter these transformative figures, because I think we experience what people in our culture have been getting at when they speak of the divine; I don’t think we have a very good account of these occasions. Similarly, and to a smaller degree but on the same spectrum, we don’t even have a good account of where the right word comes from when it just suddenly comes to us. We tend to think that we are in control of much more than we are. Or we tend to think—without much reason—that there is a controlling biological or unconscious faculty—that gives us the right word. People want to jump over the description of what happens to a causal account without even knowing the effect the causal account is supposed to account for. Whether people say my claim implies some sort of transcendent controlling spiritual being or rather implies the ordinary, immanent furniture of the universe, I think that they are trying to use old terms to paper over the wonder and mystery of what in fact happens. On my view, the phenomenon I am describing is one that will help us determine what we mean by “transcendent” and “immanent,” not the reverse.

    With the Marilyn Monroe example, I am asking people to consider a woman who developed a certain way of making herself attractive and sexy. It held power beyond anything we can easily attribute to this or that human being. The culture figure’s power in meaning making goes beyond our ordinary attempts to say what we mean. Her power did not come from just doing better what other women were doing. Something else happened. Her engagement with the solicitations of her world toward attractiveness and erotic appeal did not just enable her to cope better but rather changed the way the practices of female attractiveness hooked together to produce meaningful action. That change is long past and does not exert much pull any more. But you and I were around for the tail end of it. I speak then as someone with similar memories. At the time, everything she said and did was seen as just the right word and just the right act for female attractiveness. That compelling rightness is the power of the divine. People say, “You can’t get it out of your head.” You can’t help but be attracted and guided by it. At best, Marilyn Monroe managed this capability. She did not control it. Apparently, on days when she needed privacy, she dressed up as—for lack of a better word—an ordinary person, Norma Jean—and walked the streets with no one noticing who she was. To put it in Greek terms, she became invisible. That she could do this shows that the culture figure is something of an act, not fake, but a way of being that goes beyond normal personhood. Still, even though Marilyn Monroe could apparently retreat to something like ordinary personhood, I do not believe that she knew from moment to moment what exactly the right thing would be for attractiveness, for sexiness, for her role as a culture figure. In that role she was alike a master. No master understands in advance of the situation what the right thing to do is. Masters get carried away beyond themselves with the practice. That’s just normal masters. I believe that culture figures go beyond this sacrifice of self.

    In Marilyn Monroe’s case, the cultural practices were tending toward something and she became the image, the figure, of it. Her practices of female attraction became _the_ practices of female attraction. It does not always happen that a culture figure comes along to embody tendencies in our practices. The easiest way to see this might be with the contrast class of a tendency which never gets a figure. Practices of civility have been in decline since the Second World War—as Robert Putnam shows in _Bowling Alone_—but no one became the figure of that decline. Not Charles Manson, not Gary Gilmore, not anyone.

    To try to be clear, I am saying that the divine power of a culture figure is much more than the power of an individual human being and more than the power of disembodied trend in the social practices. It is the power that occurs when a masterful human being matches the change in the social practices so well that he or she becomes the image of the change, the way we think of the new way of being and deal with it, and without which we can hardly even attend to it. I don’t think that that new sense of rightness and meaning is something that cannot be reduced to ordinariness. I resist that for two reasons. These divine images are a critical part of how we make things intelligible to begin with. That is why the minimalist, Davidsonian accounts of language seem to miss the point for me. Second, the tightest description of the way this power captivates us strikes me as best described—though rather fancifully—by Plato in _The Phaedrus_. We need an account that captures the experience and the wonder that Plato sought to capture.

    It seems to me that Plato understood well the way we are attracted to culture figures and how the attraction works, though, of course, he never had our celebrities in mind. Plato put it in terms of explaining mostly the captivation of homoerotic love, as when an older man for finds a younger boy so attractive that he cannot help but pursue the boy and remain in his presence. That’s how we are compelled to attend to our cultural figures. Our eyes eagerly seek them out on magazine covers. We know of their doings even though we have no idea of the source. I am constantly surprised by how much people who don’t read the tabloids still know about, indeed, how much I know about, popular American cultural figures. But how does it work? However it works, it does work. I know of Lady Ga Ga. I will draw a bit on Plato’s account and then draw a little on Jonathan Lear’s _Radical Hope_.

    Plato says that we see in the beloved the image of the god our soul followed before we were born. I think that there is something exactly right in that. Let’s return to Marilyn. Members of my generation directly remember Marilyn Monroe singing, “Happy Birthday, Mr. President.” We might or might not remember the moment when we heard it. But we carry around the timber of the voice, the pacing of the song, the words, all as sexiness itself. We were attracted to it as a new part of life, a part that Marilyn Monroe got absolutely right and embodied (or that possessed her, to use older language). Her words, voice, and sexiness live in us like the memory of Plato’s god. Of course, it is distant now. When Marilyn Monroe ruled, girls would learn to talk like Marilyn Monroe. Men were immediately compelled to attend to that. It was like being compelled to hunger by the smell of a food we love, but it took place much more in the literary register of our lives, that part of our lives where we create a beautiful life rather than satisfy a need. As such, men worshipped the girl who spoke like Marilyn even as they desired her. Those are Platonic terms capturing an experience that I believe is widely available. The alcoholic who hears the divine, inspiring voice—like Marilyn Monroe’s voice—is every bit as compelled to respond appropriately to situations that call for resisting drink. Plato’s description partly captures our relation to culture figures and how they shape us. I believe Plato saw it as a divine attraction because it goes beyond what any person or group of persons could do. What makes this attraction extraordinary? It is not the attraction of the ordinary desires like the desire for food. Its frustration does not mean hunger or death. It is the attraction for making sense of things, for making our world intelligible. Its frustration means not being a human being, coping like some sort of lower mammal. I think we make sense of it as a compulsion or attraction only by analogy to everyday attractions. Alternatively, Plato suggested that all the ordinary attractions depended on this highest form of Eros. He might well be right. My only point is that this compulsion is quite different from everyday compulsions and has priority when it comes to making things intelligible.

    My simplest instances of the experiencing the divine or sacred usually involve simple family meals or gatherings of friends where all share in a sense of rightness that goes beyond ordinary rightness and marks its extraordinariness by bringing the family or friends to familial or friendly acts of conviviality beyond their power. Even such instances as these, which give meaning to family and friendship, occur with the sense that the moment has a personality. It is not a human personality with all of its complexity but a personality nonetheless. It is as though the feeling of the moment—the attunement—protects, cares for, or shepherds those in the moment. That is what I am calling the personality of the divine or sacred moment. I think some fans of Dostoyevsky are talking about this experience when they say that the moment remains eternal, protected from the ravages of time.

    Bert and Sean have drawn me to hesitate to say that all experiences of the sacred have such a characteristic. Bert and Sean point to Jules’ epiphany from _Pulp Fiction_. There Quentin Tarantino seems to have described an even more minimal religious experience than any I easily recognize. I am going to leave that instance aside because I don’t now know how to interrogate Jules on his claim, “God came down from Heaven and stopped the bullets.” I’ll leave it by saying that most instances of experiences of the sacred or divine that I’ve heard or read about include a sense of a protecting, caring, or shepherding personality. If Bert and Sean’s use of _Pulp Fiction_ provides a sense of the sacred more fundamental than mine, then I would have to reconsider all I say from this point forward. For now, I want to explore what culture figures tell us about the personality that comes with many experiences of the sacred. I think it explains a little more of what I mean by a power beyond the ordinary.

    Culture figures have non-human personalities. Cary Grant used to get at this when he would quip, “Everyone wants to be like Cary Grant,” suggesting that even he would like to be like Cary Grant, the figure that we carry around for making sense of suaveness. Jonathan Lear gets at the very same point in his book, _Radical Hope_, on Plenty Coups, the Chief of the Crow Indian tribe at the time of their conquest by white men. Plenty Coups grew up a warrior, and everything he cared about, he cared about as a warrior. When he spoke to his biographer about the warrior part of his life, he had plenty to tell. He had a full internal subjective life of personal passions and relationships. But he had to lead his people into submission. (He chose that course rather than fight to the end like the Sioux.) About that second part of his life, he tells his biographer that his biographer knows his life as well as he does. “Nothing happened,” Plenty Coups says. But enormous numbers of widely varied things happened including many trips to Washington, getting the tribe to try agriculture, getting his tribesmen to join the US Army, and so forth. But Plenty Coups did those things with the public personality his tribe needed. He had no love for his actions and felt only slight ownership. He plays the part of a converted warrior who showed intense vigor in exploring various ways of life that would be good for his tribe to explore. But he is not just playing a role; he is sacrificing everything for it. Though not known well, Plenty Coups gives the frankest account of a culture figure. As a person, the figure is almost empty. The figure has none of the personal loves and affections we think of as part of a personality. The figure has only what is needed to be seen, in Plenty Coups’ case, as the converted warrior.

    I believe most people who have demanding public roles can understand this. When you have to speak in public, your words will only resonate if they come from a personality. But that personality is seldom your own. It has to be bolder, less nuanced, and far less in love with this or that particular. It gives itself over entirely to the effect it is to produce. In the academic world, people establish performance personalities that purely love their subjects. Many transformative leaders find themselves in the same position. In bringing their companies to success, they have to give up what makes running the company personally rewarding. In one case I know, the leader had to give up his love of full transparency when Wall Street just could not get what he was doing. Another had to give up his love of the friends with whom, he as an entrepreneur, started the business. Culture figures are much more like Plenty Coups. In acting as that figure, they have to sacrifice all their particular personal affections for the sake of the effect they are producing. Such personalities seem staged or literary, and in one sense they are. They are not true to the individual’s biography, as Plenty Coups shows. On the other hand, they are not wholly artificial because they are true to a compelling cultural meaning—female sexiness in Marilyn Monroe’s case, a converted warrior in Plenty Coups’ case—that is emerging.

    Just as Cary Grant was not Cary Grant, so Norma Jean was not Marilyn Monroe. The culture figure is not the person. Likewise, the culture figure is not the role a person plays. The culture figure is a figure of a tendency in the practices to which the person sacrifices him- or herself. It _might_ be better to use an older language here and say that the figure takes possession of the person. More study is needed. In any case, I believe that we can see the non-human appeal—protecting, caring, or shepherding—of the culture figure’s personality precisely in the way we abuse them. While culture figures stand for certain public senses of rightness that are emerging, we generally seek to find out and talk about their every little trial, weakness, vice, false step, and so forth. We seek to make them into the superheroes of the comic books: people who are pretty much like us but who have an extraordinary power. In short, we try to make the bolder, purer, public personality that cares for us like our own. I don’t think we do it out of nastiness. I think we do it as a deformed response to the care we feel they bring to us in embodying new compelling meaning. We can’t get enough of them, but we are supposed to be autonomous and able to say what we mean on our own. Therefore, we try to make our divinities into comic book superheroes. We want their care to be like our care for the sake of our autonomy.

    How does the non-human personality of the culture figure extend to other, simpler moments when we feel touched by the sacred or divine such as the family dinner or the gathering of friends? If I am right, experiences of the sacred or divine have a particular pure caring personality attached to them. We certainly get this with culture figures who body forth a meaning to which we are compelled to accord ourselves. No one (of a certain age and background) has any trouble hearing that personality in “Happy Birthday, Mr. President.” Listen too to the wry tonalities of “Everyone wants to be Cary Grant.” Listen to the words with Cary Grant’s voice. On the more humble occasions of the family dinner or gathering of friends, we experience ourselves as drawn out of ourselves. We say and do things that we would never have thought. They are just right for the moment and make it memorable forever. I believe that we experience a protecting, caring, or shepherding personality in such moments because one or all of us in the family or friends are doing what culture figures do. We are embodying, for lack of a better term, the rightness of the emerging meaning. I think the Greeks would have said that in such moments, the god directs or replaces us. Thus, we feel the presence of the divine either in ourselves or in another.

    I have tried to describe what happens in a domain where shared meanings emerge that are so right that they compel our obedience and and the recognition of some care for us. When the meanings emerge in the form of culture figures, we evidently adore and celebrate them. When they do not, we still feel the adoration in attenuated fashion. Bert and Sean would say “gratitude” rather than adoration. It fits my phenomena too. I know that everything I’ve said raises more questions. Do these meanings embodied by culture figures have lives of their own? Clearly, they do not have the lives with human personalities. But just as clearly they have at least whatever form of life languages and social practices have. That’s as much as I can say now. If I had more facility with the terms, I would try to locate uses for immanent and transcendent within the descriptions I have given rather than as judgments about the descriptions.

    Thank you for your patience in letting me go on for so long. I hope I have provided more clarity about the way I see things and that it was an enjoyable moment for you.

    • dmf says:

      pardon the intrusion, just wanted to thank you for taking the time, effort, and care to share this and to applaud this shift from the thin Epic to the thick first person account.
      I find it much more engaging, enlightening, and useful/helpful, reminds me of why coming from the reductive disciplines of the scientific drive to generalization I came to love the richness of phenomenological accounts in the first place.

    • david leech says:

      I really appreciate the account you gave as well. I need to think about it a lot more before responding. I find this and your piece on Living Gods very insightful. Still, I have an intuition that something important is unaccounted for — something like a center of gravity (excuse the physical metaphor) — in describing the phenomena without the backdrop of the work of art. I’ll try to articulate that eventually. Wish I had the brain power to keep up with the flow of ideas here.

  17. Pingback: Charles Spinosa responds | AGENT SWARM: Terence Blake's Blog

  18. Charles Spinosa says:

    dmf and david,
    Thanks for your interest and kind words. I agree with you, david, that something important is not accounted for. Actually, I would say a number of important things are not accounted for and many more need to be more thoroughly worked out. Here is a list of several issues that I have sidestepped and therefore not accounted for: 1) differences between polytheistic and monotheistic experiences of the divine, 2) differences among experiences of the divine in different epochs, 3) the relations between accounts of experiences of the divine and accounts of the emotions (which Terence was hinting at in his use of Stendahl’s “crystallization”), 4) the importance of Bert and Sean’s use of Tarantino’s minimalist religious experience, 5) the relation of cultural paradigms without personality to those with personality, and 6) lots concerning the ontology of social practices and social paradigms. Given my work schedule, I do not expect to return to thinking about any of these issues for a month, more likely two. Thanks, again.

    • david leech says:

      CS: I have what I think is a simple question not expecting any elaboration, just “yes”/”no”. You use the phrase “body forth” in your phenomenological account above. I only recall seeing that term in M. Boss. I realize that could just show my limits but, if not, are you drawing on Boss in any significant way. Just curious. If so, it might be time for me to re-read that too.

      • Charles Spinosa says:

        I’m not drawing on Boss. I use “body forth” and “embody” fairly interchangeably and a little metaphorically. I’m getting at manifesting something in your important practices.

      • david leech says:

        Regarding your (2), I want to suggest that some practitioners and cultural analysts in one of my micro worlds — the micro world that includes economistically-oriented — are especially attuned to the “one true god” of our epoch. Here are some of their articulations:

        “Economists think of themselves as scientists … they are more like theologians …[their] basic role is to serve as the priesthood of a modern secular religion of economic progress.” (Robert Nelson, Economics As Religion, Pennsylvania State University Press, 2001)

        “Economics … is the cosmology and the theodicy of our contemporary culture … offers the dominant creation narrative of our society… relating each of us to the universe we inhabit… (Gordon Bigelow, “The Evangelical Roots of Economics,” Harpers Magazine, May 2005)

        “I maintain that economics does have useful lessons for understanding the world around us. My wife claims that I only hold to this belief because I am an evangelist, with economics as my religion. Perhaps so.” Timothy Taylor, Managing Editor, Journal of Economic Perspectives.

        “At the apex of any theological system, of course, is its doctrine of God. In the new theology this celestial pinnacle is occupied by The Market…” (Harvey Cox,“The Market As God,” The Atlantic Monthly, March 1999)

        “When I am on Wall Street and I realize that that’s the very nerve center of American capitalism and I realize what capitalism has done for the working people of America, to me that’s a holy place.” Senator W. Philip Gramm chairman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Banking (1995-2000), (“A Deregulator Looks Back, Unswayed,” NYT, Nov. 17, 2008)

        “Buying and selling is … a form of creation.” John McMillan, Reinventing the Bazaar, W.W. Norton, 2002)

        “Conceiving of the economy as a system is an achievement of eighteenth-century theory… but coming to see the most important purpose and agenda of society as economic collaboration and exchange is a drift in our social imaginary which begins in that period and continues to this day.” (Charles Taylor, The Secular Age, 2009.)

        I have a feeling that I am not charismatically musical; that I don’t get the compulsion that you attribute to us in relation to cultural icons. (For example, I am only impressed that those quoted above are articulators of technicity’s work of art. I don’t not feel compelled to embrace their vision as my ownmost, that is when I am not being entrepreneurial!)

        I “get” that even the most humble among us, take on roles and commit to/live those roles — father, smart guy, big brother, spouse — the way your corporate execs do, but I don’t feel in the least compelled to follow the cultural icon’s lead, to further legitimize it, valorize it. Rather, that role strikes me as mostly a “product” of marketing/projection, better resisted than embraced. (I feel the same way with respect to corporate executives and surely, outside of the inner circle, I am not alone. In fact, I’d say that a necessary condition of membership in the inner circle is commitment to the leader and a key management issue (the agency problem) is trying to organize the non-charismatically committed so that they behave “as if” they were compelled by the charismatic vision.) I respect the craft of the person shouldering the cultural (and corporate) iconography, and I see that his/her craft has the potential to take on a meaning of its own, but I react skeptically to those images so far as I can tell, probably due to being impressed early on by Marcuse.

        Your Plenty Coups example is very compelling too and I see that it really is a great example of the phenomenon you are pointing out. Seem like a great example of “a poet in a needy time.” But it takes on a different hue for me when I see it against the backdrop of the dominant work of art: as the ontic crowding out of practices that don’t dominate the age.

        I don’t know how far to take the analogy (or even if I know enough about the underlying practice I want to analogize) but I wonder, in honor of little Pip, and to connect back up with ATS and Moby Dick, if warp and weft are appropriate. Pip saw god’s foot upon the loom. (The foot treadle raises and lowers the arrangement of the warp threads, creating the shed (space) threw which the weft is woven.) A phenomenon of a certain texture and color appears one way against one warp system and it appears differently against the background of a different warp arrangement. I understand the the “turning” that Heidegger wrote about to preparing us for a different warp system, a new god/destiny/work of art. I understand some of his later essays (and ATS) to be attuning us to, and exercising our metapoietic skills for, some kind of an alternative work of art, perhaps by way of things thinging or perhaps composed, somehow, of things thinging.

        The weft (the rich phenomenological description) without the warp (the dominant work of art, or the emerging WOA, or what the phenomenon “indicates” about an emergent work of art) doesn’t feel right. I realize I don’t have an argument for the simplistic warp/weft analogy. But that striving for some sort of simple dimensioning seems consistent with the groping — perhaps only pedagogically — for a simple 4-fold, or the dialectical relationship of poet and work of art, or of Bert’s margin/center or H’s somewhat more dynamic, but essentially simple, watery infrastructure of foreign lands, seas, rivers, streams, towns and bridges. Have you gotten to a place where your (1)-(6) are arrayed in some framework? I tried to allocate them to warp and weft and the experience dimensions seem like weft (1, 3, 4) while the more institutional/historical seem like warp (2, 5, 6).

    • david leech says:

      Regarding your (2), I want to suggest that some practitioners and cultural analysts in one of my micro worlds — the micro world that includes economistically-oriented — are especially attuned to the “one true god” of our epoch. Here are some of their articulations:
      • “Economists think of themselves as scientists … they are more like theologians …[their] basic role is to serve as the priesthood of a modern secular religion of economic progress.” (Robert Nelson, Economics As Religion, Pennsylvania State University Press, 2001)

      • david leech says:

        I think my initial reply got truncated.
        Regarding your (2), I want to suggest that some practitioners and cultural analysts in one of my micro worlds — the micro world that includes economistically-oriented — are especially attuned to the “one true god” of our epoch. Here are some of their articulations:
        • “Economists think of themselves as scientists … they are more like theologians …[their] basic role is to serve as the priesthood of a modern secular religion of economic progress.” (Robert Nelson, Economics As Religion, Pennsylvania State University Press, 2001)

      • david leech says:

        Still trying to fix the above reply:

      • david leech says:

        Sorry for the mess I’ve made!

      • Charles Spinosa says:


        Since I have very little time this month, I will have to respond very briefly, though you open up big issues. I’ll take up what I can. Also, I’m running from airport to train and so forth. There might be some infelicities. Apologies!

        First, on your quotations of and about economists, I distinguish among fundamentalists in general, religious fundamentalists, and people who experience the holy, divine, sacred and so forth without fundamentalist beliefs about creator gods, beingest beings, and so forth. I think that it is fairly clear that with the exception of Phil Gramm and maybe John McMillan, the writers you are quoting are talking about fundamentalism and glamorizing it with religious language. Only Phil Gramm has a genuine sense of the holy and John McMillan a sense of wonder (which may or may not come with a sense of the divine). I’d have to know more whether I called either one of them a fundamentalist or simply sensitive to the sacred. As such, I would say that none of them articulates technology. From what you say, you agree. Technology does not come alive for you in its wonder with their words. You don’t find that you can’t keep them out of your head. You say, “I don’t feel compelled to embrace their vision as my ownmost.” Then, they are not articulators for you. I’d say that at best, with the exceptions above and Charles Taylor excepted as well, these are the words of people living in a form of Enlightenment rationalism and worried about whether they are really truly rational. I’d say the slogal, “Just do it” comes closer to articulating technology, but from your other remarks, I assume that it does not resonate with you.

        Second, I find it heartbreaking that you have no phrases, cadences, images, and so forth that captivate you in your life and draw you to certain kinds of actions. Without such, all the examples that ATS or I draw on must fall flat. The Ishmaelite “lowered expectations of felicity”—I quote loosely—must seem empty. Corporate and public life must seem dry. It’s not so for all. I work with many corporations where the CEO compels musical attention from people outside the board room and widely across the company. Since that might be an adversarial point for you, I’ll drop it.

        I wonder two things. Do Marcuse’s words rattle around your head and heart? Do they compel, inspire, and protect you? I can’t tell. If they do, I advise substituting them for “Happy Birthday, Mr. President.” If they do not, let me try another angle. You do write with a recognizably masculine voice: “I am not charismatically musical,” you say, “I don’t get the compulsion that you attribute to us.” That masculine-sounding challenge shows that you clearly have been taken over in one way or another by the masculine voice’s poetic history. (The recognizably English-speaking masculine voice came fully to life with the 16th century poet Sir Thomas Wyatt, faced a rejuvenating revolution at the hands of John Donne; went through revision with the writers of the King James Bible, and then I lose track of its development for awhile. The voice re-emerges with renewed strength and clipped tone with Hemingway.) In my time, Bob Dylan gave us a masculine voice that reverberates strongly with Sir Thomas Wyatt, Hemingway, and the symbolist poets. I confess, his phrases and cadences with their delicate surprises guide me in how I try to write and speak. “How does it feel to be on your own, with no way home, like a rolling stone?” “When gravity fails you, and negativity won’t pull you through.” “If you see her, say ‘Hello.’ She might be in Tangiers.” “Time is like a jet plane; it moves too fast.” (By the way, I hear cadence and timbre of this last Dylan line in your challenge to me.) I wonder if you really don’t have the sound of a guiding masculine voice in your head and heart. If you do not, look to wherever the poetry is in your life. There you might be able to find what I’m trying to make sense of without a new work of art.

        I really won’t be able to return to the blog for a while.

  19. david leech says:

    “Taken over in one way or another by the masculine voice’s poetic history” is a new wrinkle for me. Perhaps its true but I really have very little idea of what it means. I look forward to some clues more when you return.

    When I reported (vs. challenged) that I didn’t feel drawn to cultural icons, I alluded to musicality in more personal, family/community relations (father, smart guy, big brother, spouse). If I had to guess where the music stops, I guess it has something to do with where market relations start and stop. Even though those relations are pervasive in a contemporary life I feel like I could pick through layers of linkages to discern gradations of “distance.” (That’s actually an interesting concept that I’ll have to give more thought to, thanks.)

    No need to be heat broken on my account. Paraphrasing James in Varieties, it takes all kinds! I actually find a good deal in Heiddegger that inspires musicality. Borgmann writes about the table, the family, the craft, the garden, the run, all of which ring in new ways because I see them as marginal forms of resistance to technicity. I am just learning to discern the phenomenologically remarkable. It takes practice and concentration. I learned some from Heidgger, a good deal more reading Heidegger under Bert’s distant guidance, more yet from ATS, and your discussions of divinity are very helpful too even if we are probably listening differently and for something different.

    I think I do very much disagree that none of the writers I quoted articulates technology. These writers sense the deep significance of the market when they attribute religious significance to it; talk about it with religious imagery. (Oh, sure, there are better articulators. Gary Becker comes to mind for our contemporary world and perhaps Bernard Mandeville (Fable of the Bees) was one of the originating “poet/articulators” of the epoch.) In my view, technology and markets have become two sides of a the same coin. As Adam Smith famously said, “The division of labor [technology] is determined by the extent of the market.” I have been moved by the vision of some economists (especially Marx and Schumpeter, but also Marshall, Stigler, Coase, Williamson, and McCloskey, who, by the way, may hold the clue to the power of the masculine voice in what I write, granting that its there). That I am not now moved is the result of having come to see them as articulators of the metaphysical commitments of that govern our technological age and incline us to Heidegger’s concern about the oblivion of oblivion. I am trying to see past that now so as inspirational as the entrepreneur is; as great a contribution to material well-being s/he makes; as responsive as s/he is to the provision of people’s “spiritual” needs in the form of creative packaging of “spiritual services”; unless we see the metaphysical commitments that shape much of our circumspection, diagnose it, contain it, and cultivate a space where some alternative set of commitments can take root, those “sacred” moments that you write eloquently about will be ever harder to discern. Bolstering those discerning skills is what ATS is all about in my view. Whether the metapoietic skills are sufficient or whether they are a step toward a “new god” I don’t have a feel.

  20. Jermaine says:

    A properly philosophical review. It is charitable, yet appropriately critical. Commenters on this blog have already addressed addressed/discussed the reviewers concerns.

    • david leech says:

      OK, but I don’t see anything properly philosophical or phenomenological in harping on baseball games and coffee qua baseball games and coffee. I don’t think its even right to say that the authors of ATS think that “significance lies in such things.” I think Dreyfus and Kelly would find that depressing too. Significance doesn’t lie IN such things. It lies in our being open to the significance they evoke in use as things at the center of our community (narrow and broad) rituals; in their “thinging” for us. Its about the thinging not the thing.

      • Jermaine says:

        I meant “properly philosophical” in the sense of giving a careful reading of the arguments (unlike Wills). The rest of your comments have, at this point, been pointed out ad nauseum, so I skipped making those points again.

        Because such “harping” recurrently creeps up by reviewers, I take it as a sign of how far a departure ATS is from traditional conceptions of ‘significance,’ etc. etc.

      • david leech says:

        I agree with you. Didn’t mean to be critical of your comments about the review. It does annoy me that reviews — even the good ones — can’t seem to get below the surface. (Sorry if I got the placement of this response wrong.)

    • dmf says:

      thanks, that’s a fairly generous review and (despite dl’s comment) includes a pretty detailed (for a review) philosophical discussion of physis and meta-poiesis.
      just surprised that it doesn’t raise post-Marxist concerns about the all-too-human aspects of what we value and and how we come to value it given the author’s emphasis on choice/consumption. Look forward to a reply by Sean and Bert.

  21. terenceblake says:

    I have been frequenting two blogs for some time now, Larval Subjects and All Things Shining, and the question arises for me of the relation between them, between their respective philosophical understandings. The relation is clear in terms of the overall project of “pluralism in a world of becoming”: both blogs are pluralist; they decenter the subject, its sovereignty and its agency; they give great importance to affects or moods; they reject the domination technological rationality; they situate themselves firmly after the death of God; they seek to go beyond any nihilism that this may be thought to entail. The points of convergence are many and varied.

    ATS is quite Heideggerian in orientation and talks in terms of physis, poiesis, technology, and meta-poiesis. The level of physis involves the whooshing up of moods that are transindividual and that draw people to perceive and to act in certain ways. Poiesis is an affair of skills that allow us to perceive important distinctions in a material and act on it to bring it out at its best.

    LS is quite Deleuzian and talks in terms of affects, assemblages, and autopoiesis. The tone is quite different, being more open to diverse Continental thinkers and to social and political dimensions. The notion of assemblage is used powerfully by Levi Bryant to decenter the notion of human agency and distribute it throughout the superordinate groupings of humans and things that “whoosh up”, if you will, perdure and vanish. This is physis in a deleuzian sense; and I have always found the ATS sense too limited, as it seems to be restricted to the upsurge, perdurance, and vanishment of publicly shared moods and their associated perceptions and actions.

    There seems to me to be a complementarity between the two blogs that I can bring out in terms of what I think is a hesitation in Deleuze and Guattari over the meaning of the word “affect”, which sometimes is closer to physis and sometimes is closer to poiesis. Physis-affect characterises a plateau of affective tonality, a haecceity, that can last a moment or an afternoon, or several years. Poiesis-affect characters the powers of being affected (of perceiving differences that matter) and of affecting (of provoking and revealing differences). The whole notion of skills and crafts that ATS finds so important signals the necessity of a cultivation of affects, of the discipline of working on our affects to favorise more affirmative, more creative perceptions and actions.

    Jackie Chan is the assemblic man because he is the poietic man, having developped his skills, an apprenticeship for which, according to Deleuze, “there is no method but only a long preparation”.

    • david leech says:

      The more we think we understand, the more we realize that its just a little tiny corner of what there is to know. I am sticking to my little garden plot. As parochial as it is, its a source of endless fascination.

      • Charlie says:

        And now CERN scientists may have measured neutrinos moving faster than the speed of light. Nanoseconds beyond the calculation’s margin of error. Relativity at risk.

  22. dmf says:

    working models of the coding of vision

    • Charlie says:

      But the logical extreme harkens back to the earlier thread on the computer’s inability to existentially achieve. The elusive mattering. Maybe a world of excellent robots or internet bots would be like the rest of the animal kingdom. We are privileged, dmf? Schopenhauer’s aesthetic refuge doesn’t seem to qualify. (It’s been 30 years since I studied but he appears to be relegated to the dustbin of the discipline). Is taking solace with intermittent grace dispositive or selective? We absolve sin? Or, between ourselves, evil matters too

      • dmf says:

        despite a poor interviewer this exchange got quite interesting in places, I especially like the the point where the researcher explained that decoding was the easy part whereas trying to transmit/encode experience was like hitting someone in the head with a hammer (heidegerrian implications abound!), so yes this takes us back to the limits of computation but also I would say of texts and other vicarious experiences, coding experiences is not as easy as one might imagine from reading academic theories of hermeneutics/aesthetics (very good entry by the way at:, we tend to get very focused on authorial intent but have largely neglected reception studies (except for a brief foray into reader-responses). If to some degree existentialism is about learning from/by doing, having experiences, being experienced, than teaching it must include providing experiences.

    • Charlie says:

      This is excellent from the Stanford Encylopedia. In fact, quite topical as I’ve started Being-in-the-World again after following a few of these threads. Perusing the piece for the jist on historicity and the phenomenology of art I could not help but reconsider Nehamas’ Life as Literature. As I re-read Heidegger it is my failing that I see virtually everything in Nietzschean terms…which is why I mentioned Schopenhauer. In that the will the computer lacks may be blind. Sacred not so pure.

      Further, you raise another good point about providing experience as part of existentialism (maybe more than teaching it?). Indeed, I think we could say this participatory quality is emphasized in ATS

      Thanks for the link – I printed and retrieved the 55 pages at the office before anyone could see what I was reading

  23. dmf says:

    simulations of the past as thinking/understanding?

  24. david leech says:

    Returning to the orginal question — Is ATS Theological? — I wonder, with Van Buren’s “Young Heidegger” behind me, and with the question of the relationship between Heidegger and religion driving some of my thinking over the last couple of years, if it would be correct to characterize Heidegger’s oeuvre as essentially the duck/rabbit of the issue.

    And, to the (great) extent to which ATS procedes in the tradition of Heidgger, I wonder if ATS can’t claim to be both theological and post-theological. (In previous posts here I have asserted that ATS is post-theological — which I see as mostly right — but others (Spinosa and Jermaine) have asserted that we can hear both; that ATS embraces both the theological intuition as well as the secular intuition.) In any event, ATS would seem to reject the monotheistic intuition. I’d like to here some thoughts on the relationship between the “theological,” the “monotheological,” and the “ontotheological.” I am inclinded to hear them as the same but I don’t feel at all sure about that.

    Julian Young has asserted that Hediegger’s thinking has a “theological heart” (Heidgger’s Later Philosophy, p. 22). Dreyfus rejects this (personal correspondence). Van Buren (Young Heidgger) recalls for us that both are true, that Heidegger considered himself to be a Lutheran theologian who insisted that “philosophy must be atheistic in principle” because the formal indications of ontology must be capable of being applied to nonreligious experience also. (p. 152)

    I think ATS leans strongly in the post-theological direction because that is the way that I hear “finding-meaning-in-a-secular-age,” the books subtitle. But, as Spinosa has pointed out, it is also strongly Ishmalite, which inclines to the widest embrace of expressions of meaning. Given the genealogy of ATS, I wonder if its ability to be both — duck/rabbit — isn’t homage to something very special about what Heidegger was the first (?) to achieve: a pivot point of some sort that was both theological and not.

    • david leech says:

      This morning I am reading H’s Phenomenology and Theology (1927) and will now have to go back to the top of “Is ATS Theological?” equiped with a different understadning of “theology” and see all the ambiguity in my use (at least) of the term.

    • david leech says:

      someone answer my “wonder” please: I wonder if its ability to be both — duck/rabbit — isn’t homage to something very special about what Heidegger was the first (?) to achieve: a pivot point of some sort that was both theological and not.

      Mybe its just obvious but it only recently dawned on me.

      • dmf says:

        dl, it’s either theo-logos or anthropo-logos, Heidegger clearly wanted a 3rd possibility/space but such is life…

      • david leech says:

        But maybe the either/or is external to the phenomenological framework such that if I am open to religious experience (I am not and I can’t remember ever being so) I read it as inclusive of that experience and if I am only open to non-religious transcendent phenomenon (e.g., the sense of awe gazing at a sunset, a small child, or experiencing the way language works or the sense of oneness at a weavers guild meeting) I read it that way.

        So, just thinking of ATS, if I want to understand and cultivate metapoietic skills, I can do so, whether I am cultivating the communal experience of the family meal or I am cultivating the communal experience of the felt presence of a god. It seems to me that Borgmann and Taylor, for example, want to do both. (They may even think that their communal institutions/haibts privlege them with a certain “musicality” that someone like me lacks. I can imagine that.) I get the sense that Kelly and Dreyfus only want to do the former (me too) and get access to that possibility by analogy with the openess of the pre-Socratic Greeks.

      • dmf says:

        dl, if ATS was only a book about skill-development/expertise as relates to the living possibilities of phenomenology (and I wish it was as Bert is a pioneer in thinking about embodied/human expertise and Sean one of our cutting-edge experimental phenomenologists) than what you are saying would be the full picture but there is clearly an additional moral/cultural/epochal side to the text and it’s telling of our collective fall from and possible rebirth in Authenticity/Grace/Logos which is of course deeply Heideggerian.

      • Charles Spinosa says:

        I’m responding to your questions and points about your duck/rabbit. Consider Heidegger’s “Identity and Difference.” Around page 72–I do not have my version, just some old notes–, Heidegger condemns the philosopher’s god (the god of ontotheology) as one that no one could pray to or dance before. He goes on to claim that ontotheologians are further from divinity than the godless. In his later essays on things thinging, language, and dwelling he speaks frankly about divinities. He thinks that experiencing the divine is part of those experiences that give life meaning and mattering and occur at the outskirts of our dominant technological way of being. So, like Borgmann and me, Heidegger finds the divine in such experiences. I cannot help but infer that Heidegger would claim that the gods of the divine experiences of the saints, poets, and other inspired people are best understood without ontotheological window dressing. In his rejection of ontotheology and acceptance of divinities, I find Heidegger close to William James in “Varieties of Religious Experience.” James is looking at the experience of the sacred, divine, or gods of non-philosophers, of ordinary people. No doubt Heidegger would see more clearly how that experience is corrupted by metaphysics. Still, I’d say that for both such terms as immanence and transcendence, human being and divine being would have ultimately to take their definition from the experiences (over history) and not philosophical discourses that have given rise to them. Of course, working through the philosophical definitions might well be part of what has to be done to get to the experience behind the terms. And, of course, they would not think or write out of pure experience. I’d suggest then that your description of joining the theological and post-theological points at the attempt to work from celebratory meals and so forth to an understanding of dwelling or a meaningful life that matters in part because of the experience of the sacred.

      • david leech says:


        Another way of saying what I was trying to say with the “duck/rabbit” business is that Heidegger seems to offer a pathway to meaning from either a “theistic” (not ontotheistic) or a non-theistic starting point. I can’t tell from your response if you think the pathway H offers must be from a (non-ontotheological) theistic starting point. Your use of the terms “divine” and “sacred,” and the allusion to James and Borgmann, are ambiguous as I read them. I want to say that H offers a pathway from theistic OR nontheistic, from the ground of the experience. But to see that in what you say, “inspired experience” — of whatever kind — is just another word for divine and sacred experience. I am not sure that’s what you mean.

      • Charles Spinosa says:

        I honestly do not know how I missed that you were writing about Heidegger’s _starting point._ In all honesty, I was writing, and thought you were writing, about the kind of meaningful life Heidegger gets to when he gets, roughly speaking, to dwelling.

        If the question is about starting points, I’ll try to answer in a rough and unnuanced way. I see Heidegger as starting out with our (20th century) average everyday coping with people and things and asks how we make things intelligible on the basis of that coping. He then moves to the nature of the being who does the coping and how that being best expresses its nature or best makes itself intelligible: authentic coping. Then he looks at the history of that coping where he draws on currently marginal practices to make sense radically different coping practices–focused by works of art (Greeks and Medievals) and other cases of “truth establishing itself”–in order to clarify 1) our relationship to the practices that enable us to make things, ourselves and others intelligible, 2) how we have changed and are changing, and 3) what human being is like at its most revealing and how we can let ourselves be drawn to that as individuals and as a culture.

        To answer your question a little more directly, I’d say that Heidegger’s initial view of coping (take _Being and Time_ for instance) is undifferentiated as to whether the background practices imply deities or not. That is to say that within the constraints of his thinkerly project of understanding how we make ourselves, other people, and things intelligible to ourselves, he does not start his investigation with a view on deities. His fellow investigators would not start with one either. Of course, we might all have inclinations regarding deities. But the project is about how coping practices make things most intelligible.

        On my view, it’s not until Heidegger refines his understanding of coping and making things intelligible by looking at historical practices (consider the “The Origin of the Work of Art”) that he encounters divinities as part of what lets ancients make the world intelligible. Then it’s not until he writes about dwelling in the current age (consider “Building Dwelling Thinking”) that it is clear (at lest for me) divinities are part of making human coping intelligible at its best.

        We still have the question of the nature of Heidegger’s divinities.

        I hope I am _now_ speaking to your concerns.

      • david leech says:


        Yes, we are in synch high the broad brush strokes level. I was going to raise the issue of the nature of H’s divinities but decided to take it one step at a time. (I read the divinities as portals, offered, prominently, by great books (written language), onto other understandings of being. These allow us to travel to foreign lands; the homecoming from which allows us to learn to dwell. So, my understanding of “divinities” is non-theistic.) I think the nature of “divinities” has already been raised above, not least in your post that started off this “Is ATS Theological?” title, and a few of the initial replies. So now I’m back to the starting point! (I never claimed to be quick on the uptake.)

  25. terenceblake says:

    Levi Bryant has a post ( ) inciting us to quit hermeneutic nostalgia over the supposed superior inventiveness of the Greeks and its mourning for the loss of the Greek event. For him, our contemporary time is characterized not by the nihilist condition of the loss of meaning and intensity, but by an increase of novelty and inventiveness. He refuses to endorse the narrative of decline postulated in ALL THINGS SHINING. To convince us of the contrary he asks us to « pay attention » to the multiplication of invention in the domains of mathematics, the sciences, the arts, philophy and literature. The proper mood is not nostalgia and regret, but pride and affirmation. The goal is not to « bring back » the shining things, but to be attentive to the shinings that are already present or being produced.

    Mood and concept are closely linked. To dispel one we often have to deconstruct the other. “The Greeks” is a false unity, a concept that belongs to the dogmatic image of thought. The idea of the “Greek miracle” cuts them off geographically and chronologically from the multiplicity of sources, influences, encounters, exchanges, and rivalries. This creates an image of their inventiveness as stemming from some absolute break and absolute beginning, such that the Greeks become incommensurable with what went on before and elsewhere. This poses the novelty and inventiveness of the Greeks as some impossible to attain norm. There seems to be no way that we can ever make such a leap again, so we are reduced to just adding footnotes to Plato.
    “Incommensurability”, however, is not the final word. Beneath the hermeneutic incommensurabilities lie the pragmatic encounters and exchanges. “The philosphers have always been something else, they were born of something else”, claim Deleuze and Parnet . Michel Onfray develops the same idea for the Greeks:
    “Protagoras the docker, Socrates the sculptor, Diogenes the assistant banker, Pyrrho the painter, Aristippus the teacher … are not professionals of the profession in the postmodern fashion”.
    This “something else” is not just another profession, but also another site, the outside with its freedom from the semantic police and the hermeneutic priesthood. The forum and the agora allowed philosphers to address and discuss with anyone, as does the blogosphere today.
    Hermeneutic novelty is often the construct of the retrospective projection of striated structures onto the past. Pragmatic novelty is far more ambiguous and fluid, tied to the intensive encounter rather than the regulated exchange. This is why Lyotard too sees no difference between the ancient Greeks and us, in terms of the withdrawal of Being and the loss of inventiveness:
    “Nothing has withdrawn, we have not “forgotten” anything; the ancient Greeks, Heraclitus the in-between of faith and knowledge, are no more originary than Janis Joplin.” (Libidinal Economy, p275).

    • afterautonomy says:

      Badiou said it well in Logics of Worlds:

      “[Aristocratic idealism] is also the speculative vow of the best of the Heideggerian legacy: practically to safeguard, in the cloister of writings herein the question abides, the possibility of a Return. However, since such a preservation-which sustains the hope that the intellectual and existential splendours of the past will not be abolished-has no chance of being effective, it cannot partake in the creation of a concept for the coming times. The struggle of nostalgias, often waged as a war against decadence, is not only endowed-as it already is in Nietzsche-with a martial and ‘critical’ image, it is also marked by a kind of delectable bitterness. All the same, it is always already lost. And though there exists a poetics of the defeat, there is no philosophy of defeat. Philosophy, in its very essence, elaborates the means of saying ‘Yes!’ to the previously unknown thoughts that hesitate to become the truths that they are.” p3

      I’m very drawn to that proclamation, though I find frustratingly little written by Badiou to back it up. Indeed, I would name Iain Thomson as one of Dreyfus’ circle of former students who is anything but nostalgic.

      However, Badiou was making his proclamation as a way of promoting his version of ‘materialist dialectic’ against ‘aristocratic idealism’. He believes he has a better alternative to the dominant thinking of the contemporary times. This contemporary thinking he calls ‘democratic materialism’ or by another name post-modernism and by it he is referring to precisely the kind of infinite invention for the sake of inventing that it strikes me that Lyotard and Levi Bryant are at risk of promoting.

      The point is that Heidegger’s aristocratic idealism and Badiou’s democratic materialism may both be flawed but Levi’s statement such as it is surely misses, or perhaps elides, the point.

      • terenceblake says:

        I too am drawn by Badiou’s declaration, and I find his style often both conceptually deep and poetically powerful. I think you may overestimate the differences between him and Lyotard, due to an incomplete vision of Lyotard’s work. On the question of innovation, Lyoatard is favorable to innovation under the regulation of an Idea, and not some autotelic innovation for its own sake. It is true that Lyotard hesitated on the best way to express this Idea. In JUST GAMING he invoked the Idea of the plurality (to the point of incommensurability) of language games. He sought for the best way to be faithful to the infinity of the Idea and resist its instantiation in a finite presentation. He diagnosed capitalism as being based on the “instantiation of infinity in the will”, leading to the ceaseless pursuit of novelty and/or performativity. Badiou in the chapter on Lyotard in his POCKET PANTHEON Badiou declares his agreement on these two notions of plurality and the infinite, even if their analysis of them differs:
        “The important point, after all, is to retain the ontological sovereignty of the multiple,
        and to call it the infinite.”
        I think also that it is impotant to remember that Lyotard wanted to resist the exclusive temporal focus on the future that innovation so often implies. Lyotard’s counterweight was an equal emphasis on anamnesis as a means of interrogating the criteria and values that innovation exemplifies and so often conforms to.

  26. dmf says:
    Our iPhones, diaries, computers or collaborators are extensions of our minds, according to a philosophical argument. This lecture investigates the significance of this claim in our understanding of the notion of a self.
    Katalin Farkas is professor of philosophy at the Central European University’s Department of Philosophy, Budapest.

  27. terenceblake says:

    Wesley Autrey, the Spiritual Automaton: Mechanical Automaticity vs Spiritual Automaticity

    The first chapter of ALL THINGS SHINING begins with the description of an impressive news story. A young man, undergoing an epileptic fit, fell onto the rails of the New York subway just as a train was arriving. One of the bystanders, Wesley Autrey, at the risk of his life, jumped onto the tracks to save him. The train was approaching too fast, and there was no time to lift the man up and climb up onto the platform, so Autrey pushed him into a hole between the rails, flattening him under the weight of his own body. The train stopped over the two men, but as if by miracle they were unharmed, as there remained a few centimeters between it and them. The stupefied onlookers reacted with cries of wonder and spontaneous applause. Despite being congratulated by the New York police, by politicians, and by the media, Autrey remained humble: « I don’t feel like I did something spectacular, I just saw someone who needed help ».

    It’s a striking example, but of what? Dreyfus and Kelly comment this event from several points of view. The first aspect concerns the « humility » of the hero, which they claim is a trait frequently observed in the authors of heroic acts. D&K prefer to see in this type of declaration, that they had done what anyone would do in that situation, a phenomenologically accurate description, just an honest report of their own experience:

    « perhaps what Mr. Autrey and others are honestly reporting is that when they are in the midst of acting heroically, they do not experience themselves as the source of their actions. Instead, the situation itself seems to call the action out of them, allowing for neither uncertainty nor hesitation. » ( p3 )

    So, according to Dreyfus and Kelly, two essential features of the heroic act are certainty and the decentering of the subject (to which we may add a third trait: openness). The situation calls for action, it calls the action out of the subject who is open to the situation, and the « hero » accomplishes it without hesitation or reflection. There is an automaticity in the action, which accounts for the certainty felt in accomplishing it; and there is a non-autonomy of the acting subject, which accounts for his humility after the event. D&K seem to want to pose the heroic act as an ethical model, avoiding the two dangers: the « self-confident man », who imposes his will on the world; the addict, who who has become a passive slave through lack of will. Only the automatic act can save us from the twin maladies of arrogant willfulness and the paralysis of indecision. The automatic act is the decisive act in Deleuze’s sense:

    « The act of decision is not the will to set something in motion, but the doing itself. »

    Of course, the decisive act is « automatic » not because the agent is a mindless zombie or in a lowered state of awareness, not because the action is a habitual one many times repeated, carried out in some state of inattention, but because the agent is in a heightened state of awareness and the action is accomplished in an unreflective responsiveness to the situation. The heroic action is not a routine reiteration but an ethical invention:

    « whereas the habitual actor lacks a sense not only of himself but
    of his surroundings, the heroic actor by contrast has a
    heightened awareness of what the situation calls for. » ( p8 )

    Thus good actions are accomplished, according to Dreyfus and Kelly, by a sort of hyper-conscient automaticity, where the hero does not willfully act but is enacted by the situation.

    Note: The title is meant to signpost the comparison with Deleuze’s concept of the « spiritual automaton », as developped in Deleuze’s cinema books. The apparent contradiction in terms is explained by the attempt to describe an action (and a thought) that takes place outside the clichés and stereotypes that regiment our actions in the familiar situations of habitual experience. The spiritual automaton is a type of awareness that awakes in us at the disruption of our routines and the interruption of our ordinary sensori-motor schemas, when a different sort of automaticity is needed to respond to the new situation and not just react to it.

    • dmf says:

      very good, of course this particular telling (in ATS) of automaticity/hyper-conscientiousness implies that the goodness/heroism was “given” in the situation and for anyone properly/authentically attuned to such, no?

      • terenceblake says:

        Yes, but even this use of “attuned” is normative, and used as a sort of ontological compliment for an action that we like. Autrey’s children were at least as attuned as he was, since they didn’t try to save Hollopeter, which was the correct thing to do as they had neither theirv father’s achillean force, nor his hephaestean perception. Autrey was perhaps less attuned than them, as he was not “certain” of his success, he was taking an “inspired” risk (if you will), but for all he knew he could have ended up dead. Moral luck, justification by post hoc success, is not the best of arguments.

  28. terenceblake says:

    « Wesley Autrey is a good example, but an example of what? »
    Further thoughts here:

    • Charles Spinosa says:

      I just want to write a quick note on the “Pulp Fiction” line which plays a powerful role for you in justifying your claim that Bert and Sean are engaged in normative phenomenology. I like your approach in responding to the resonances and details of the scene. I read it differently and will say a little bit about that. But I think that both of us are doing something quite different in reading the scene from what Bert and Sean are doing.

      You cite Vincent and evaluate his words quite differently from Jules. Here are the lines:

      JULES: That was . . . divine intervention. You know what divine intervention is?
      VINCENT: Yeah, I think so. That means God came down from Heaven and stopped the bullets.
      JULES: Yeah, man, that’s what it means. That’s exactly what it means! God came down from Heaven and stopped the bullets.

      You write that this formulation “is a false perception and account of what happened, an ontotheological interpretation.”

      To me, it’s more of a comic-book interpretation than an ontotheological one. An ontotheological interpretation would likely have to say why an omnipotent, omniscient deity comes down from heaven. (One supposes for the educational value.)

      I’d also like to say that it is very hard to interrogate Vincent’s description and Jules’ embrace of it. (That’s why I wish that Bert and Sean had used a different example.) For instance, I don’t think that we’re meant to think that Jules hallucinated a God coming down from heaven.

      So what are we to make of Jules’ embrace of the quotation? After all, didn’t they both have the same _visual_ experience? I’d say that they did. In working it out, I’d say that we’re supposed to believe that Jules is a reader of Ezekiel. He claims to quote Ezekiel 25:17 before he kills people. He doesn’t really quote the real Ezekiel 25:17. The words are Tarantino’s. But the words are not far from the spirit of the vengeful God of Ezekiel. In Ezekiel, God wreaks vengeance this way: “I will stretch out my hand over the Philistines, says the Lord God, I will wipe out the Kerethites and destroy all the rest of the dwellers by the sea. I will take fearful vengeance upon them and punish them in my fury. When I take my vengeance, they shall know that I am the Lord.” (Ezekiel, 25:16-17).

      Could Jules have felt a divine presence or even a protective hand stretched over them? I don’t know. Unless we think that Jules is suffering from a hallucination and that Vincent thinks so too, it is hard to know Jules’ precise meaning. Therefore, I’d say it’s hard to know if it is a false perception. Likewise, it is hard to know if Vincent’s account, “this shit happens” is true or false. Tarentino has a lot going on in this scene. We discover that “this shit happens” speaks Vincent’s end. Should we hear Vincent’s words as prophetic with a kind of endlessly reverberating irony? Should we hear other words as similarly prophetic in this film? You no doubt can guess which way I lean.

      Still, in responding to the details and resonances of the scene as you and I are doing, I think we are doing something quite different from what Bert and Sean are doing. I think that they are treating the scene more as a memorable thought experiment in which Jules’ and Vincent’s views are supposed to be precisely equally justifiable by the evidence available. Then Bert and Sean ask whether Jules’ gratitude is better than Vincent’s equanimity.

      Set up that way, it feels to me (and I think to you too) like an empty victory whichever way you answer. Therefore, I can see why you want to say that there is more evidence on one side than the other. I do too.

  29. terenceblake says:

    thanks for your prompt comment. I think my formulations have inadvertently been open to misunderstanding. I did not wish to say that Jules had a hallucination of God physically descending from heaven when I said that his words expressed a “false perception”. By “perception” I did not mean purely sensory perception, but the wider notion where perception, affect, and cognition are mixed inextricably in our awareness and understanding of the situations we are in. I would however maintain that he exhibits affective alienation and and cognitive dysfunction. His comic-book simplified, exaggerated, and caricatural stereotypes shape and perfuse not just his understanding of the situation, but also his affective reaction. His “gratitude” is perfused by his literal-minded theism, and is thus bogus.
    I’m surprised to see you oppose, as if they were incompatible, comic-book and ontotheological interpretations. “Ontotheological”, it seems to me, characterizes a type of understanding of being, and not just an explicit philosophical position. Ontotheology is and has been an overriding influence (I would like to say “perfluence”) in favour of literalist (and fundamentalist!) interpretations and enunciations, such as those of Jules. This is a case not of moral luck, as occurred in the Wesley Autrey example, but of ontotheological luck – even the experience of luck is perceived in a theistic way of understanding.
    So of course it’s a false perception, as we both know that God does not exist and there is no divine intervention, or why are we talking to each other? Vincent’s phrase “this shit happens” has, in my opinion, been given short shrift (short philosophical shrift) by Sean and Bert. It need not be an expression of nihilist apathy, the postmodern ingrate zombie syndrome (“Vincent is an ingrate”, they seem to be saying). It could be Lucretian and Mallarmean, and I think that gratitude to the throw of the dice (or to the “flip of a fair coin”) is a possible, and desirable, mood. You talk of “a kind of endlessly reverberating irony”, which is a beautiful expression, but sometimes I like to use Deleuze’s distinction between irony and humour. Irony is ontotheological (of course, as you know, Deleuze does not use this term, as he has no truck with Heidegger, finding him too turgid and pious), whereas humour is atheological, as no foundation or last level is posed. So a good question would be: is Tarantino being ironic or humoristic here?
    I like your perception of incommensurability that does not shatter the dialogue, when you say at the beginning and also at the end of your comment that you and I are doing something different from what Sean and Bert are doing. I too think that incommensurability exists but that it is porous, and is not what rules out any dialogue, but potentially, and sometimes actually, what makes it interesting. Unfortunately, Bert and Sean set up a (typological) opposition between Jules and Vincent, and come down firmly in favour of Jules and his comic-book gratitude. You say (but you are a formidable rhetor) that D&K set up “thought experiment in which Jules’ and Vincent’s views are supposed to be precisely equally justifiable by the evidence available.” But D&K say: “Our claim is that gratitude is the more fitting response.” And unlike you they do not seek to perceive incommensurabilities here, but fall into monistic commensuration: “Whether that gratitude is directed toward Athena, Jesus, Vishnu, or nobody at all is almost irrelevant”. (Please don’t try to make something of the reflex “almost”. The whole style of ATS is one of qualification and attenuation, which are themselves consensus-building, monist, tools). My whole response to ATS is one of enthusiasm for the pluralist and incommensurabilist aspects, and disappointment at the monist and commensurabilist residues. I always liked Bert’s translation of “Das Man” as “The One”, precisely because of the connotations of pluralist resistance to the hegemony of the One. So I guess I have to disagree with your “empty victory” thesis as well.

    • Charles Spinosa says:

      Unfortunately, I cannot say that I follow all you say and the lines of your reasoning, particularly at the end. In general, I find your pluralism illuminates a good deal of life, but here you baffle. One line from your note seems important, baffling, and surprising to me: “So of course it’s a false perception, as we both know that God does not exist and there is no divine intervention, or why are we talking to each other?”

      In interpreting the scene, I’d have thought that the question of God’s existence is a question about the conceptual space that Tarantino sets up. Are we to think that in that space–the conceptual space of the three stories in the film–it is perfectly obvious that God does not exist? I do not think so. It would trivialize Jules who has a pretty powerful voice in the film.

      I am also baffled by your claim that we both know that God does not exist, I can’t tell whether you are saying that an onto-theological god of the philosophers does not exist or that the God of the Ezekiel does not exist or something more. I know that you claim the God of the philosophers, the God of the literalists, and, I think, the God of Ezekiel overlap, but so far as I can make out, the god of the philosophers is quite different from the others, though the onto-theological (self-causing cause of the universe) God is supposed to be a philosophical interpretation of the Christian-Hebraic God. In any case, I do not believe that a God as described by onto-theology makes sense. I do not, however, think that the God of Ezekiel is the god of the philosophers. I think some fundamentalist literalists accept the God of the philosophers. Others do not. In any case, so far as I’m concerned the rejection of the philosopher’s god does not touch the God of Ezekiel. Moreover, like William James, like Melville, and I think like Heidegger, I tend to grant the existence of gods that people experience in their transforming moments. I do not believe onto-theological interpretations of those gods.

      “Or why are we talking to each other?” That point baffles me. Though I can’t fully make out how the figure of porous incommensurability works, I’d suppose that something like that or something a bit more Ishmaelite would be the answer.

  30. Pingback: Comic-book Gratitude | AGENT SWARM: Terence Blake's Blog

  31. terenceblake says:

    I think that in my last post I am agreeing with you that to adjudge the victory to Jules or to Vincent is to oppose them inside a commensurable field, and that such a victory is empty. For me the force of ATS is to describe and exhibit incommensurable understandings of being. Unfortunately, I think that Bert and Sean pose a normative overlay to this descriptive task, and so I accuse them of doing “normative phenomenology”. I do not wish to play Vincent to you Jules, and I think that you too do not accept this distribution of roles and understandings as exhausting the conceivable possibilities. Like you I think that a third way can be articulated, outside this dualism, and this is what makes talking to each other possible and interesting. Each of us has a different way out of this opposition, and sometimes I see you as trying to transmute Jules’ vision by Heideggerizing it, where I would prefer to transmute Vincent’s vision by Lucretianizing it. In both cases we are trying to see the event as an occasion for metapoiesis, so maybe there is no need to presuppose one unique response. A metapoietic Jules would allow himself to be perfused with gratitude without affirming, or even feeling, that God stopped the bullets. A metapoietic Vincent could resist the affect here as too entangled with theistic sentiments, without refusing gratitude absolutely. “This shit happens” could be an enunciation of opennes, the affirmation that the world contains many wondrous combinations.
    However, I cannot accept D&K’s solution as it stands. They operate by extracting and decontextualizing from Jules’ theistic perception of the event the pure affect of gratitude that they valorize when it occurs in quite other contexts. My feeling is that this gratitude is somehow a cliché closing Jules off from the encounter with the world, a “comic-book” version of the affect, as you so aptly call it. This is why I embraced tne notion of nontheistic gratitude formulated by William Connolly. In the chapter “Nothing is Fundamental” of his book “The Ethos of Pluralization”, Connolly talks of “a nontheistic gratitude for the rich diversity of being” ( p31: But perhaps by still calling it “gratitude” I am implicitly accepting the validity of this extraction of affects and their reappropriation in other contexts. The problem is to determine whether their is a living affect in the cliché or if it is a caricature all the way down.

    • Charles Spinosa says:

      I appreciate this response. I mostly agree with what you say and will explore that a little at the end of this note.

      We have some simple, and, I think, small differences. I would not have said that “A metapoietic Jules would allow himself to be perfused with gratitude without affirming, or even feeling, that God stopped the bullets.” I believe that a metapoietic Jules could well have his gratitude directed toward a divinity but not one understood as a superhero or comic-book figure. Did the shooter miss because Jules had the charismatic force of an Ezekiel? Though I have a affection for the way Samuel Jackson played the role and want therefore to say “yes,” I am not so sure that there is enough in the scene or film to touch any but those with a similar affection to mine.

      Similarly, I am not inclined to Connolly’s “a nontheistic gratitude for the rich diversity of being” or the very similar Catholic gratitude, described well by Garry Wills, as gratitude that there is something rather than nothing. (That gratitude is supposed to comprise all other forms of gratitude and therefore logically depend on a creator.) I do experience both Connolly’s and Wills’s gratitude. But I can’t talk myself into believing that these forms of gratitude do not depend on a thicker form of gratitude directed toward something that has some sort of personality. The nontheistic and monotheistic accounts of gratitude strike me as starting with no gods or one god and then making sense of gratitude from there. I think you are expressing a very similar difficulty when you say, “[P]erhaps, by still calling it ‘gratitude’ I am implicitly accepting the validity of this extraction of affects and their reappropriation in other contexts.”

      I could not agree more with what you have to say about playing Jules and Vincent. As we have them in their untransfigured forms, I suspect that each co-creates and depends on the other. I’d say the same for the moods they bring with them. The simplest way I know to bring my intuition to light is to ask another version of Bert and Sean’s question. Who would you want over for dinner? Jules or Vincent? It’s like asking whether you want Kirk or Spock to dinner. For me the answer is obvious: Both and only both.

      • terenceblake says:

        I am glad that we still agree on enough to be able to have a conversation, and differ enough to have something to say other than phatic consensus. I have no desire to be an intellectual cheerleader who cries out “Yes, that’s great” to every thesis of ALL THINGS SHINING and “Boo!” to all its adversaries. As Bert and Sean imply at the end, only the shining parts of the book (and of the blog) are shining. I am glad you brought up Gary Willis as I think the reactions to his critique on this blog were unfair, concentrating on his motivations rather than the detail of his arguments. I think a title like “Gary Willis really did not like our book!” with a host of commentators rising as one to applaud this response was a case of the bad physis that one should resist.
        That said I don’t think it’s fair to assimilate Connolly’s nontheistic gratitude to Willis’s Catholic gratitude. Connolly is not grateful that something exists rather than nothing, he is grateful at the wondrous diversity of the world. It’s non-propositional: grateful-at not grateful-that, and pluralist: “the rich diversity of being”.
        Your “thick gratitude” towards “something that has some sort of personality” is tempting, but I regard a personality an assemblage of intensities and singularities in a problematic field. I am ready to grant psychic and social existence to the born again Christian fundamentalist’s experienced God, but I do not think of this God as an unanalseable unit but as aa assemblage of cognitive, affective, and perceptual elements, each of which has both singular and stereotypical components and aspects. I would choose Richard Dawkins over Billy Graham any day (and as you know, I am no scientistic positivist).
        My problem with the extraction of a pure affect of gratitude is more a problem of theory-ladeness and practice-ladenness. I wonder to what degree a pure affect that is transposable to other contexts is conceivable, and to what extent the transfer or translation modifies the very quality of the affect, leaving only a family resemblance. I think that there is a typology of gratitudes, and not just the idealists who begin with a preconception and who make sense of gratitude in its terms versus the phenomenologists who start with the phenomenon of gratitude and stick with it.
        You seem very at ease with the idea of inviting two hitmen to dinner. In a similar vein, Sean saw no problem with watching the superbowl with Moby Dick (how “living dangerously” can you get!), I can reveal that I would like to have Nyarlathotep the Crawling Chaos to dinner.

  32. Pingback: Lucretian Gratitude | AGENT SWARM: Terence Blake's Blog

  33. Pingback: Thick Gratitude | AGENT SWARM: Terence Blake's Blog

  34. dmf says:

    yes to thinking in terms of familial resemblances (perspicuous representations) over common/underlying depth/thickness, no reason to wax metaphysical (nor to create taxonomies as if there were established natural kinds, we don’t need Plato or Aristotle in the broadest sense, let us be contemporary/demythologizing in our anthropology) if we are sticking to evocative descriptions and avoiding prescription, and hopefully employing a means which performs/shows what it means to say. And to stick with Wittgenstein a bit longer in his critiques of Frazier and Freud he rejects their attempts at reductionist/functionalist accounts of human behavior(including psychology) and broadly offers an aspect of human-being that is something akin to poetic/ritual dwelling, leaving us to flesh it out and here I think that existential/phenomenological anthropology has much to offer in the way of field/experimental work yet to be done.
    ignore the writeup of this lecture as the topic is really how should we approach thinking about enduring/character traits in a world of extended-minds:

  35. dmf says:

    Bellah has some limits as a thinker but:

  36. Pingback: Multiple Worlds and Post-Identity | AGENT SWARM: Terence Blake's Blog

  37. dmf says:

    naturalism, hypothetical imperatives and “nice” nihilism:

  38. dmf says:

    selling vs selling-out in homer and beyond:

  39. dmf says:

    “Chuang-tzu goes further in this direction than Heidegger, however, since he seems to advocate unselfconscious craft-activity as an end in itself. For him, enlightenment consists in overcoming reflectivity altogether. Sages achieving this condition, while not concerned with bettering the world, are at any rate harmless; they injure no one while carving ox carcasses, catching cicadas, or swimming down waterfalls. Heidegger, by contrast, places no special premium on harmlessness or tranquility. Authentic action, for him, does not aim at achieving an indifferent attitude toward death, but rather an active acceptance of finitude and the anxiety attending it. Contrary to the tenor of much Asian thought, Heidegger’s philosophy almost never envisages an equalization or homogenization of anxiety-causing oppositions, for example between human beings and the world of things, or between life and death. If Heidegger undermines such dualisms on a metaphysical level, it is only by way of preserving many of their dramatic implications in existential contexts.”

  40. Pingback: Compte Rendu: ALL THINGS SHINING | AGENT SWARM: Terence Blake's Blog

  41. dmf says:

    “The main condition of absurdity,” writes Thomas Nagel in a 1971 essay, The Absurd, “is the dragooning of an unconvinced transcendent consciousness into the service of an immanent, limited enterprise like a human life.”

  42. ericlinuskaplan says:

    does polytheism lead to a fractured self?

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