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, inferiority.

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; etc.

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 stasis).

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 presence.

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."
(from HOME)

"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."
(from RAISE)

--Amiri Baraka

"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."

--Gilles Deleuze



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