Abstraction and Concretion

Posted by Edward Willatt on Thursday, September 3, 2009 Under: Abstract and Concrete

I recently attended a paper and discussion concerned with the teaching of philosophy at which the notion was put forward that philosophy has everything to do with abstraction and the abstract.  This is one of those notions that seems obvious but then suddenly appears to be really a big assumption.  If we consider the work of Gilles Deleuze, in the 1975 book on Kafka that he wrote with Felix Guattari and also in their other joint works, the concrete comes to define philosophy.  One notion or process that they invoke is ‘burrowing’ and this is taken from animal life.  They speak of a process of becoming-animal as a stage on the way to a becoming-molecular.  This is staged in their Kafka book where it is Kafka’s short stories that present a becoming-animal (such as in the case of ‘Metamorphosis’).  However, the ultimate liberation of thought and practice is found in Kafka’s novels in a process of becoming-molecular.  Deleuze and Guattari go so far as to argue that Kafka’s executor, Max Brod, incorrectly placed the death of K. at the end of The Trial when Kafka meant it to be a dream and not the conclusion of the novel.  They object to the ending it gives to a novel that for them is essentially unfinished.  Insofar as it stages a close engagement with the concrete, a becoming-molecular of its main character, it has no ending.  Rather than seeking to abstract, to rise above the concrete or secure an empty space as a beginning or ending, we should seek to engage directly with the concrete.

?

 

To take such a stance is to engage directly with current debates in philosophy.  Thus in the work of Quentin Meillassoux philosophy is charged with having become trapped in a ‘correlationist circle’ – the correlation between either thinking or language or consciousness and being.  What if the correlation is between the abstract and the concrete? Is it a stifling correlation now that it is between these two elements?  Another challenge comes from Alain Badiou’s thought which opposes to the continuous fullness of being the void or empty set which is for him at the basis of being whilst being subtracted from any presentation of being.  We therefore cannot encounter the elements of an account of experience in the fullness of being, in what Deleuze would call 'the being of the sensible'. 

These debates lead me to be concerned that when it comes to the teaching of philosophy we set up a presumed and artificial divide between practice and theory.  We assume certain notions that make practice possible.  We might define philosophy as abstract so that practice can then proceed without raising theoretical questions about the nature of, and relations between, the abstract and the concrete.  However, this is to take a definite stance, it is to pursue a form of practice impregnated with theory.  There is then something problematic about teaching philosophy on the basis of the assumption that it is abstract and gives rise to abstractions.  It leads to the assumption that the thoughts generated in a discussion are abstract when this is not straightforward.  The questions students are asked will now reflect the stance taken in the founding of this practice. 

 

Thus, for example, if a cliff face is very concrete for a climber, who relies upon the details and particularities of its face for their progress and their very survival, is it necessarily abstract for the geologist?  The geologic time scale might seem to abstract from the concretions that the climber has to deal with and rely upon but when the solidity of the cliff is dissolved in time is it any less concrete for being relatively fluid?  These questions need to be addressed when considering the basis of our practice if we want to avoid closing off avenues for thought in an apparently theoretically neutral and purely practical teaching of philosophy.         

In : Abstract and Concrete 



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Abstraction and Concretion

Posted by Edward Willatt on Thursday, September 3, 2009 Under: Abstract and Concrete

I recently attended a paper and discussion concerned with the teaching of philosophy at which the notion was put forward that philosophy has everything to do with abstraction and the abstract.  This is one of those notions that seems obvious but then suddenly appears to be really a big assumption.  If we consider the work of Gilles Deleuze, in the 1975 book on Kafka that he wrote with Felix Guattari and also in their other joint works, the concrete comes to define philosophy.  One notion or process that they invoke is ‘burrowing’ and this is taken from animal life.  They speak of a process of becoming-animal as a stage on the way to a becoming-molecular.  This is staged in their Kafka book where it is Kafka’s short stories that present a becoming-animal (such as in the case of ‘Metamorphosis’).  However, the ultimate liberation of thought and practice is found in Kafka’s novels in a process of becoming-molecular.  Deleuze and Guattari go so far as to argue that Kafka’s executor, Max Brod, incorrectly placed the death of K. at the end of The Trial when Kafka meant it to be a dream and not the conclusion of the novel.  They object to the ending it gives to a novel that for them is essentially unfinished.  Insofar as it stages a close engagement with the concrete, a becoming-molecular of its main character, it has no ending.  Rather than seeking to abstract, to rise above the concrete or secure an empty space as a beginning or ending, we should seek to engage directly with the concrete.

?

 

To take such a stance is to engage directly with current debates in philosophy.  Thus in the work of Quentin Meillassoux philosophy is charged with having become trapped in a ‘correlationist circle’ – the correlation between either thinking or language or consciousness and being.  What if the correlation is between the abstract and the concrete? Is it a stifling correlation now that it is between these two elements?  Another challenge comes from Alain Badiou’s thought which opposes to the continuous fullness of being the void or empty set which is for him at the basis of being whilst being subtracted from any presentation of being.  We therefore cannot encounter the elements of an account of experience in the fullness of being, in what Deleuze would call 'the being of the sensible'. 

These debates lead me to be concerned that when it comes to the teaching of philosophy we set up a presumed and artificial divide between practice and theory.  We assume certain notions that make practice possible.  We might define philosophy as abstract so that practice can then proceed without raising theoretical questions about the nature of, and relations between, the abstract and the concrete.  However, this is to take a definite stance, it is to pursue a form of practice impregnated with theory.  There is then something problematic about teaching philosophy on the basis of the assumption that it is abstract and gives rise to abstractions.  It leads to the assumption that the thoughts generated in a discussion are abstract when this is not straightforward.  The questions students are asked will now reflect the stance taken in the founding of this practice. 

 

Thus, for example, if a cliff face is very concrete for a climber, who relies upon the details and particularities of its face for their progress and their very survival, is it necessarily abstract for the geologist?  The geologic time scale might seem to abstract from the concretions that the climber has to deal with and rely upon but when the solidity of the cliff is dissolved in time is it any less concrete for being relatively fluid?  These questions need to be addressed when considering the basis of our practice if we want to avoid closing off avenues for thought in an apparently theoretically neutral and purely practical teaching of philosophy.         

In : Abstract and Concrete 



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