On Circumstantial Propriety

Circumstantial Propriety from Daniel Coffeen on Vimeo.

There is a right thing to do — or, rather, there are appropriate things to be done — but this propriety is immanent to a circumstance. It emerges from amongst all the bodies and parties — people, weather, food, etc — that constitute the always already networked circumstance.

Propriety, then, is not outside the situation but of the situation.

This is the logic — and an odd logic at that — of rhetoric.


On Happiness, Joy, and Bliss

Untitled from Daniel Coffeen on Vimeo.

Happiness is contingent — you're happy because something happened.

Joy is not — joy is the exuberance of this life.

Bliss is transcendent, a wallowing in the infinite. Where bliss takes leave of this world, joy remains utterly of this world.

On Deleuze, Form, and Generosity



Bound Infinity


A limit is at once infinite and stipulated: it goes like this.

A Cosmology in 39.1 Propositions

This is a cosmology I wrote many years ago, just for the goof...

1. There are bodies and there are events, or what happens between bodies.

2. Bodies are defined by their capability of encountering and being encountered.

3. A body may be visible or invisible. Invisible bodies occupy virtual space.

4. A body prehends other bodies. These bodies are not aggregates or conglomerates or compounds. The limit of a body is defined locally by that body. A body may be said to be constituted by other bodies but only from an ideal perspective (ie, God's).

4.1. A complex body, such as the human body, prehends other bodies (cells, fluids, synapses, skin, fingers, bones, etc). (Invisible bodies, such as concepts, prehend ideas, gestures (logical, hubristic, poetic, etc), personae, ideas, other concepts.) But from its perspective, cells, fingers, toes, etc… are not necessarily other bodies but are zones of activity of its own body. A body, then, may be viewed as an assembling force, the vehicle by and through which different bodies hang together. This complex body remains a body, albeit fundamentally multiple.

5. Prehension is not an encounter, is not an event; it is a perceptive assumption. Prehension has always and already happened, even if a body has never prehended that element previously.

6. The movement from prehension to event is the movement of alienation. The movement from event to prehension is growth, extension, fecundity.

7. Bodies interact with each other in a calculus of attraction, repulsion, and indifference; this interaction is called an event. Attraction, repulsion, and indifference can be further distributed into finer categories of interaction: sympathy, antipathy, empathy, apathy.

8. Events are relentless and perpetual as bodies are always already engaging other bodies. Bodies line each other, more or less actively.

9. Bodies and their events are more or less local, depending on the body and the event. Contingencies remain local. There is no fundamental unity or necessary series of repercussions. Unlike Leibniz’s monads, then, bodies have windows. And unlike monads which each house the entire universe but each from its own perspective, bodies do not necessarily share anything: there may or may not be interaction, may or may not be contingency.

10. Bodies configure themselves; there are no determinative external terms. And yet a body may very well discover its limit at the border of another body. Limits are not determined by an external term but may very well be revealed through another body.

11. The limit of a body is not fixed; a body perpetually extends to its infinite limit, even if this extension is a retraction, a less and not a more; it nonetheless pushes to its limit.

12. Bodies are always in flux. A body is never still, stalled, as if awaiting the event. Bodies are always already in motion, internally and externally, even if very, very still.

13. Indeed, as bodies are relentlessly interacting with each other, they are in a state of perpetual modulation. They are sites of physical action and affective flow, sites of spatial movement and sites of virtual movement. Affective states, thought, sensation, emotion never cease. They line, infuse, and pervade the matter of a body, all at their own respective pace.

14. Each body configures itself in its own way; this is called its style. Style is the operation, the algorithm, of assemblage. It is the mode—the speed and intensity—at which bodies are assembled, consumed, and encountered.

15. One body may begin to prehend components of another body's style. This is a kind of transference of vibratory possibility. That is, due to some calculus of attraction, two bodies linger around and through each other. Zone of indiscernibility begin to form where the limits of one body become entwined with the other.

16. A body propels itself as much by need as by desire; let’s call this appetite. Appetite is not determined by an external term; it is at once the will and the wont of a body. Like style, appetite is known by what a body does. But whereas style is an operation, a way of touching the world, appetite is a force.

17. A force is primal. It precedes operations and therefore a force does not necessarily touch the world or even perceive the world. Appetite precedes perception. But what becomes quite complicated is that force and perception interact—and in both directions: appetite drives perception just as perception inflects appetite. Yet this inflection is not directly causal as perception is worldly and appetite is not. Their relationship is much as Leibniz describes the relationship between spirit and body: coincidentally parallel. Or not.

18. Appetite is primal but not univocal. A body has multiple appetites that may or may be in accord.

19. A body has an ideal state that is self-determined. The ideal state of a body is when it is thoroughly satiated where satiation is not necessarily a passive or perfect state: a body at its productive limit where there is a harmony of appetites and perceptions.

20. The ideal state of one body may very well be at odds with the ideal state of another body. There is no external ideal dictating the relations between bodies; events do not have ideal states, only bodies do. Conflict may not be inevitable but it is very, very likely.

21. Because a body enjoys a certain shape, speed, rhythm, and consistency it tends towards certain bodies with shapes, speeds, rhythms, and consistencies. Some shapes fit well together; some do not. Some shapes and speeds will pass each other in the night, others in the day, some fit tightly together.

22. An event is what happens between bodies. An event involves change, a re-arranging of bodies both internally and externally, that is, in relation to each other. Hence, while an event does not have extension it affects the spatially extended world.

23. Events may follow different logics than bodies but there are no bodies with events and no events without bodies.

24. Events are a calculus of the bodies’ respective shape, speed, rhythm, and consistency. As events take place between bodies, events are cooperative, authorless, usually asymmetrical. No one body determines the shape or inflection of an event and yet events are rarely, if ever, symmetrical. Which is to say, events are democratic in that every body involved participates but the bodies are by no means equal. The event cannot be reduced to quantitative analysis; “more” is only one applicable term.

25. Perception is a body’s perspective of an event. And yet perception is neither solipsistic as it is for Leibniz for whom perception is not a window but the internally fluctuating states of a monad; nor subjective, as it is for Kant. Perception is perspectival but not subjective: I perceive what there is, but from my perspective. Perception is bound by what is perceived as well as by the perceptive faculties of the perceiving body (and yet is not necessarily a chiasmus, as Merleau-Ponty claims).

26. Bodies are lined with perceptive capability—sight, hearing, touch, taste, smell, feel, intellect, emotion, intuition, sense. Perception lines every interaction without constituting the totality of the event. A body’s perception of another body may shift the terms of the seeing body without at all affecting the perceived body; like all events, perception is asymmetrical.

27. Perception is communication of one body’s vibration by another. These vibrations reverberate (or don't) and are distributed through the perceptive body along the channels of the diverse perceptive faculty. These paths may or may not intersect, may or may not coalesce.

28. When a body reflects, it forges a reflective or virtual event that participates with a body’s current events. Reflection may be a construct of perception-events, the continuing of a perception-event-series.

29. A reflective-event may be a construct of a body’s combinatory capacity; that is, a body does not continue a perceptive series but combines different moments of different events in order to forge a combinatory-reflective-event. The combinatory capacity might also be called imagination. (Imagination is an operation, like perception; it is not a force).

30. A body does not cause an event; there are no causes, only effects.

31. Events have a temporal configuration that is not the same as duration. Duration suggests a continuous hum of activity. An event may last eight seconds, four millenia, 6.3 days but these figures do not account for the temporal configuration or propensity of an event. For instance, many events hurl themselves across the surface of time, touching down here and there like a rock skipped across a lake. Events are not solid blocks of time and intensity; they have internal ceasuras, loops, they morph and twist and extend and bloat. And sometimes they vanish all together.

32. Events enjoy their own temporal configuration: we call this its rhythm and its intensity.As bodies move and interact, series and patterns of events form as shapes cohere (or don’t) and rhythms harmonize (or don't). These series and patterns are what are often referred to as laws but here laws do not legislate, they are not determinative.

33. An event may very well belie emerging patterns and shapes. Events are delirious.

34. A body wears its events. Or, another way of looking at it is to say that an event persists until it no longer persists. This means that an event is not necessarily immediate; it may, and often does, persist or insist for quite a while. We call this memory.

35. Memory is the site of a body’s events’ configurations; a memory is an event still happening. Memory is not confined to the brain, to the mental or the virtual. A scar, for instance, is memory. Memory is not a database; it is not an accumulation of experience per se. When we remember, we do not make a call to the database, to the Library of Memory Congress. Memory is the place where events configure themselves and are configured. An event may have a lengthy internal gap whereby it is not a component of experience until it touches down, as it were. A memory is an event expressing itself, perhaps as a memory but perhaps as something else, such as tying one's shoes or ordering a chicken salad sandwich.

36. Memory assumes shapes and patterns due to the congruence, or incongruence, of events. That is, as events happen, each with a rhythm, arranging a body this way and that, the body, which already enjoyed a certain shape, speed, rhythm. intensity, finds its state of becoming nudges this way and that. This nudging can take the shape of discipline—one can train one's body—just as it can assume the stature of the stilted as a body finds itself in a rhythmic niche—the soul death of work. The varied temporalities of events play in and through each other, forging planes more or less consistent. These states are both internally and externally varied. Events happen; some pass without a trace, some with the slightest effect, some endure, some solidify. A map of the events of a life would resemble the Manhattan skyline. The varied durations and temporal configurations of the events of a life forge the structure-in-flux of that life—moral, aesthetic, and otherwise. As events gather, disperse, and distribute bodies consistencies form which shape or inflect new events.

37. There is no ideal to an event (as there ideals for bodies); events are what happen.

38. There are no terms external to bodies and events; the universe is the set of all bodies and events. The universe is not capable of encountering or being encountered; it is therefore not a body and therefore has no ideal state.

39. The universe is therefore a plenum and a becoming.

What is Rhetoric?

Rhetoric, more often than not, is cast in a secondary position to the world. It’s “useful,” as if there were first the world and its truths, then rhetoric. Or rhetoric is the means of twisting and turning language in order to be persuasive or eloquent, as if language came before rhetoric, as if language were not itself always twisting and turning. Or rhetoric is cast as that which disrupts language, sends meaning astray—and once again, rhetoric is seen as acting upon something else, upon meaning or philosophy or truth or metaphysics. None of these definitions heed the logic that is immanent to rhetoric; they offer a philosophic rhetoric or a linguistic rhetoric but not a rhetorical rhetoric.

But perhaps that is inevitable as it is rhetoric—and not linguistics or philosophy—that proffers the logic of difference and its reckoning. That is, linguistics and philosophy have a way of reading the particularity of this or that in light of something else such as ideas, concepts, linguistic structures. It is no surprise, then, that they read rhetoric after the fact rather than as the fact.

If we read rhetoric rhetorically, it provides a fundamentally different way of making sense (of itself and of the world). Or, rather, it is that way of making sense that is always different. Rhetoric offers up difference as difference rather than as an untamed nuisance, secretive sameness, or endless deferral. But then we must configure rhetoric according to its own logic rather than reading it in terms of something else. So I will attempt this pithy definition of rhetoric, a redundant definition to be sure, a rhetorical rendering of rhetoric.

Rhetoric is the art and logic—the practice and the theory—of how things go, things of all sorts—human, textual, animal, conceptual, emotional, natural (rhetoric is nomadic; it can make its home anywhere). As different things make sense of the world differently, the rhetorician is there to make sense of this sense-making. The trick is that the way of this or that is not pre-known but emerges in the very going; borders and modes shift as circumstances shift. The rhetorician is she who heeds the specificity of circumstance, the configuration of these things here and now, the propriety of the occasion.

But this rhetorician—who tends to a world on the fly—is on the fly herself, another thing in motion, another part of the circumstantial configuration. She must heed the world as part of the world. And it is the circumstance, the spatio-temporal configuration of these particular ways of going, that determines the course of action (say, an exegesis). A propriety, then, but an emergent propriety, a network forged on the go, every encounter a different occasion to heed.

Rhetoric, then, proffers the logics, stratagems, and tactics of difference reckoning difference, this making sense of that, particularities heeding particularities. Another way to say it is that rhetoric is the theory and practice of reading a world in motion while in motion.

Another way to say this is that rhetoric is the calculus of textuality.
And yet another way of saying this is that rhetoric offers the logic of difference and the ethics of negotiating this difference.

What is joy? Unqualified affirmation.

Joy is the unabashed, unqualified, affirmation of this life. It is the great Yes saying we find in Whitman: Yes! Yes to that, too! And that! Joy is not contingent — we are not joyful because something happens (that's happiness). Nor is joy transcendent, taking leave of this world (that's bliss). Joy loves this life as it is.

But we can still say no, as long as that no affirms. For instance, I say no to curds and whey because curds and whey evacuate my bowels; when I say no, I affirm my health, myself, my own way of going. This is the joyful no we find in Nietzsche.

Words, Images, Syntax

Percept, Affect, Concept

On Marc Lafia's "Permutations" — Multi-Screen Films

Cezanne, Merleau-Ponty, and The Miracle of Form

On Marc Lafia, Merleau-Ponty, and Cezanne

On Cassavetes' Faces

Deleuze, Bacon, and Fighting Cliche

Deleuze, Bacon, Cliche

Deleuze, Bacon, Cliche

Joyful Seeing and Bergson

Bergson's Matter and Memory

The Architecture of the Seeing Event

On The Life Aquatic

Merleau-Ponty's Chiasm, again

Merleau-Ponty's Chiasm