Anarchist Metaphysics: Immanence & Transcendence
It’s dark out, Jack
the stations out there don’t identify themselves,
we’re in it raw blind like burned rats,
it’s running out all around us,
the footprints of the beast,
one nobody has any notion of.
The white and vacant eyes of something above there,
Something that doesn’t know we exist.
I can smell heartbreak up there, Jack,
a heartbreak at the center of things,
and in which we don’t figure at all.
-Kenneth Patchen “All the Roary Night”
The transcendental worldview assumes that in all forms of interaction
one thing relates "to" something else and implies the existence of an
inequality and an essential separation between a "one" (object, being,
condition, process, phenomenon, etc.) and an "other". Put
simplistically, it assumes that there is always a "higher" (plane,
power, consciousness, etc.) to which a "lower" relates and aspires to
or derives its relative value from. There is an implicit
epistemological negation embedded in this view of existence: one thing
will always derive its form to some extent from the concept that it is
"other" to something else. Implicit in this is the mechanism of
devaluation, whatever one does is by definition inferior to something
else, its value is determined by its relationship (some degree of lack)
to something of "higher" value. The emphasis (expressed or not)
of this worldview is based on separateness and, by extension,
What is attractive about this template of the order of things is the
assumption of a sense of humility on the part of its perceiver.
The transcendentalist places her/himself in a role of relative
unimportance to whatever transcendent object or entity they identify as
the "higher" (nature, "god", the "cause", "Art", etc.). At the
same time it's a humility without a cost --there isn't anything truly
humbling (or ethically rigorous) about accepting a subservience one
believes to be pre-ordained. Additionally, this form of humility
implies (even logically requires) a sense of superiority over those who
would be equals but do not derive their value from the same
transcendent entity (ones humility to the transcendent entity of choice
places one in a superior position to another who has not chosen
humility to that particular entity). The identification of the
"one" requires the identification of the "other": if the "one" is a
god, the non-believers are infidels; if the "one" is a nation, the
non-citizens are enemies; if the "one" is good, the "other" is evil;
Put simply, transcendence assumes a standard by which things can be
measured. The standard exists as an absence, or, to reduce that
equation (existence=absence), the standard doesn't exist at all in any
of the ways we exist (existence=presence). The essential
mechanism of transcendence is separation: of the ideal from the real;
of the "higher" from the "lower"; etc. Despite its proposed
intention of unifying the disparate elements of the real, it can only
unify them insofar as they are separate and devalued --it must identify
something (as "lower") in order to include it "under" the ("higher")
field of its transcendence, divide it from inclusion in the totality of
life in order to include it in the transcendent "unity". This
implies that it must reject and devalue its own (local, presence-based)
reality to some degree in order to "belong" to the transcendent,
without which it has no value.
This idea is what drives humanity to accept the society of the
corporate, the society of state(s), the society of empire(s), the
"kingdom(s) of god(s)". It is transcendence that creates an
environment for a "new world order", for degrees of closeness to its
(universal / absent /static) ideal that depend on degrees of
inferiority and subservience in order to rationalize their
existence. Our received ideas of culture tend to devalue anything
that doesn't participate in the fetishization of the static.
Essential to this is the epistemological concept of a fixed and stable
identity, the static universal to which all things relate. This
in turn requires that we view the "rest of life" as fixed and stable
identities --that we see ourselves, our environments, our works, etc.
as discrete objects, definable as identities, separate from one another
and connectable only through our participation in the fixed identities
of the transcendent. As all things aspire to the fixed condition
of the transcendent identity, they acquire a quality of its
permanence. For the transcendent to exist as an idea it has to be
permanent, it has to be static, it must exist above and beyond change,
immune to mutability and, by extension, participation.
But nothing we see, nothing we do, nothing we feel or experience is
static, is immune to anything. Everything in our lives is
mutable, is subject to and capable of influence, has changed from what
it was, is becoming different from what it is. "Is" can only
describe the temporary --in order for it to describe anything else, it
must impose the concept of the immutable / transcendent upon all things
and this requires that we equate being ("is") with exactly what our
experience teaches us that it is not. In order to participate in
the transcendent (which presents itself as the source and/or arbiter of
all that is valid), we are required to devalue everything we know, to
reject the evidence of our senses, to deny the reality of our
experience, to discredit all that has been, is, or will be present with
us in life. Repressing all this in the name of the "higher"
constructs a template that invests repression with a positive value and
ultimately identifies all positive values with repression. "It"
participates in the transcendent only to the extent it is excluded from
participating in actual (mutable) life.
The transcendental, the absent, the static, the immutable, the
permanent, these are descriptions (attributes) of what does not exist
in what we experience as living reality. Basing our senses of
values on them binds us to living in hostility to reality, binds us to
repression as the mode of our lives.
The worlview of transcendence is reliant on sameness (the static, etc.)
--it is sameness that defines difference (difference from a static
"one"). Because of this epistemological mechanism interaction is
by definition "one" to an "other" and the "one" is assumed to be stable
(immutable, permanent, etc.) while the "other" is a deviation from
it. Difference is expressed and perceived as a negation of the
same and by definition inferior to it.
By contrast, the immanent worldview sees no deviance, interactions are
based not on the binary "one" and "other", but upon multiplicities
--things relate not "to" one another, but "in" one another.
Immanence does not assume stasis (or accept the concept that stasis
represents any living reality), it assumes that differences are not
negations of sameness, but natural expressions of uniqueness
--everything is unique and collective existence is a multiplicity of
those uniquenesses influencing (and participating in) one
another. (That the gravity of the earth pulls more quantifiably
at the apple than the gravity of the apple pulls at the earth only
tells us that the earth is larger than the apple, not that it is any
more static or any less subject to influence.)
Because the static (aside from conceptually) does not exist, the
worldview of transcendence impels us to value as "higher" (and treat as
the "one" or its representative) either things which are absent from
life or those things that appear to be closest to absence, so our sense
of what is whole (of unity, of completeness) is permeated with
inferiority, deviance, failure, etc. Two simple exhibits from the
culture of humanity express this: according to the christian ethos we
are "born into sin" (i.e., automatically defective); according to the
buddhist ethos "life is suffering and suffering is illusion" (i.e.,
reality is not real, our bodies, our senses, are hostile). In
both paradigms we are essentially taught to despise ourselves, to
reject and/or repress the phenomena of existence, to consider our
experience of actuality to be invalid. In these paradigms
potential (i.e., non-static life) is expressed as the movement towards
a desired (and by definition never achieved) transcendent goal which
exists prior to (and removed from) the individual. In other
words, the life is always measured by what it is not.
Why would anybody think this was good?
Obviously it empowers the self proclaimed agents of the transcendent
--priests, kings, generals, etc. and those who derive positions of
relative comfort (power as safety) through subservience to them --their
buttboys. This is the world of power relations and we have
generally come to accept it as the pre-ordained condition of human
life. But everywhere we see power in operation, it is derived
from something transcendent (whether "god", "democracy", "duty", or
some other abstract concept) that is absent from actuality.
The transcendent offers the illusion that (through aspiring to it) we
can control life, that if we achieve a certain stasis we will be
rewarded with fulfillment of our desires, that stability will guarantee
us satisfaction and that non-stability insures our frustration.
This assumes that our desires are finite and that the conditions that
would satisfy them are finite as well. It assumes that what we
desire is control of our conditions, that we crave stasis. The
idea of control (power to induce stasis, power to define, power to
impose limitation) can only exist in a field of transcendence (because
in a field of immanence, everything participates, interacts in mutual
influence, and nothing can possibly be limited --reduced-- to
In the transcendental paradigm desire is an absence (a vacuum).
It is assumed to be a condition of negativity whose elimination will
allow us to feel satisfied. Satisfaction is assumed to be a
stable state, the "solution" of a "problem" that can only be achieved
through control which in turn can only be achieved through the
limitations one has the power to impose on the desideratum. By
this logic our aspiration turns inevitably toward the elimination of
the negative as its ideal paradigm of existence: we overcome, we solve,
we control, we conquer, we get, etc., i.e.: the primary condition of
existence is the absence of good. Within this paradigm, desire
itself is based on separation, on non-participation.
The apparent convenience of the transcendent (the simplicity of its
binary logic) as a tool (for making decisions, solving, etc.) is how it
has acquired its pre-eminent place in our epistemology and
methodology. But other (apparently) convenient tools (the fossil
fuel internal combustion engine, DDT, canned and/or fast food) have
proven toxic to our overall health in a parallel sense to the way
convenient (transcendence based) philosophical tools (bigotry in all
its forms --dismissal of the "other", ownership --deprivation of the
"other", religion --identification of the "other" through the
identification of the "one") have proven toxic to our overall society.
The transcendent ethos is embedded with the necessity of redemption
(and/or the goal of salvation), assuming the negativity of the present
to the degree that all that is present and participatory (and by
extension presence / participation itself) is essentially construed as
negative. Redemption and salvation are not implicit expressions
of actuality but repressions of it and forces exterior to it. The
transformations that invest transcendent life with validity always
originate from somewhere outside of it --they are hostile to actuality.
Derived from religion and philosophy, this concept of the necessity of
the exterior (the absent) to validate the present has permeated our
civilization from culture (the equation of fame with meaningfulness in
the arts) to the physical world (the ascendancy of property over the
health of the planet) to our epistemology (meaning derived from the
situation of the act / idea within a pre-imposed ideology rather than
from what is implicit with the act / idea itself). This paradigm
is based on the concept of power (the transcendental analogue to
strength). Strength is specific, local, and unique (i.e., like
the mass of the earth in relation to the mass of an apple, present, not
derived from abstraction), power (derived from abstraction and
expressed through absence) is neither specific, local, nor unique: we
have come to confuse the two and this has led us to assume power to be
a natural occurrence when it has no basis in reality. Power
exists, is expressed, by its imposition, its relation "to" the "other",
strength expresses itself, in reality, as reality. Strength
exists temporarily --in and according to its conditions, i.e., it does
not have the same qualities under different sets of circumstances (a
hammer has no strength as food, a cabbage no strength as a tool).
Additionally, strength, because it is temporary, cannot be controlled
(nor can it control) in the same way power can be controlled (delegated
through absence) and control (delegate through absence) --i.e.,
strength wields the hammer whether it owns it or not, power owns the
hammer whether it wields it or not.
Immanent life measures itself only by itself, by what it generates,
how, why, where, when, and in what it participates: validity is what is
actualized, absence is not fetishized or valued, it is simply what is
not present and of no consequence.
Things do not move from "one" state to an "other", the movement is the
state (insofar as a state --stasis-- can be said to exist).
Things do not begin anywhere: they can be located in the present (or
the past), but the present is what they have already become. All
things are in the condition of becoming something else, but the
something else is not (nor will be) any more static than the becoming
is. "Something else" is a verbal convenience (i.e., a trap, a
pretense of stasis) necessary to describe becoming (ideally we would
think of being the way we think of becoming, as a process of change:
but, in our common epistemological usage, being has been embedded with
stasis). Immanence is continual becoming, not freezing into
stasis at some point of becoming "something else". (As physicists
put it: matter tends to exist.)
Simply. immanent life does not divide becoming from being, nor
appearance from reality, nor force from resistance. Struggle
exists as a (naturally occurring) mechanical component of life, not as
conflict (although it can be perceived as such). Immanent life
does not "aspire" in the same sense as transcendent life does --toward
an ideal (and unreachable) goal through a series of measurable steps
from a specific and dissatisfactory origin / location. Immanent
life becomes what it desires through expressing what is already
implicit within it and participating with what is in its field of
Some aspects of music that relate to this are examined in FOLK MUSIC AND EPISTEMOLOGY.
"Worship the verb, if you need something. Then even God is after the fact, since He is the leavings of God-ing."
"There is no such thing as Art and Politics, there is only life, and
its many registrations.) If the artist is the raised
consciousness then all that he touches, all that impinges on his
consciousness must be raised. We must be the will of the race
toward evolution. We must demand the spiritual by being the
spiritual. THE LARGEST WORK OF ART IS THE WORLD ITSELF. The
potential is unlimited."
"Naturalism . . . directs its attack against the prestige of the
negative: it deprives the negative of all of its power; it refuses the
spirit of the negative the right to speak in the name of philosophy."
"In order for music to free itself, it will have to pass over to the
other side, there where territories tremble, where the structures
collapse, where the ethoses get mixed up, where a powerful song of the
earth is unleashed, the great ritornelles that transmutes all the airs
it carries away and makes return."