Wednesday, June 13, 2007

A reply to 'when a boat is or is not a boat'

In a recent blog entry K-punk has asked the question of when is a boat a boat? In attempt to answer this question I want to remove it from the linguistic nature of the question, which is directed at asking when the signifier can, or cannot be, attached to the signified. This assumes there is some natural ‘boatness’ form that functions under the ideas of ideal type or natural kind. The problem with this approach is it gets caught in trying to understand the social conventions (idealism) of labelling a boat and neglects to focus on the deeper physical process that are far more important for creating and destroying the boat. In short, the linguistic focus concentrates on identity, where I want to shift the focus to becoming.
Rather than thinking of how a boat is created in language I feel the focus should be to concentrate on the non-discursive factors that are involved in creating and destroying a boat. Far from a boat being an eternal archetype a boat is a product that is produced through a process of individuation. Every boat is a becoming that is produced at a particular point in time through the use of intensive forces. This, for example, could be the pressure of the saw used to saw the pieces of wood, or the force of the hammer used to insert the nails into the wood. However, far from arguing that the boat is a final cause of these intensive processes it is instead a duration that contains its form for a particular amount of time. Other intensive forces may cause this boat to transform and become other. This could be the pressure of waves from the sea or the speed from a projectile thrown at the boat. The important point about this is the focus turns away from thinking about a particular instance and a general type to one of the relation between the whole and the parts. This puts the focus on casual relations rather than the linguistic conventions of asking when a boat is a boat. There are therefore no natural traits for a boat being a boat, but rather the understanding of the intensive morphogenetic processes that can give rise to and destroy a boat. This can be some up by a quote from DeLanda discussing Deleuze:

Deleuze, of course, would not deny that there are objects in the world which
resemble one another, or that there are entities which manage to maintain their
identity through time. It is just that resemblances must be treated as mere
results of deeper physical processes, and not as fundamental categories on which
to base an ontology (ISVP, 2002, p38-39)

From this position I am therefore uninterested in when language allows me to call something a boat or not, but rather more interested in the ‘deeper physical processes’ that have created the boat, maintain its duration, and destroy it to become other. This seems more advantageous as starting from identities risks relying on some essence (e.g. the essence of a boat that allows me to call an object a boat) and instead recognise identities are mere results of other forces, which are not fixed or essential.


shadowpuppetmaster said...

I have two remarks about something you said:
"The important point about this is the focus turns away from thinking about a particular instance and a general type to one of the relation between the whole and the parts. This puts the focus on casual relations rather than the linguistic conventions of asking when a boat is a boat."

in my understanding, intensity is not conceivable under a whole-parts relation, because the field in which it is produced is not a totalizable dimension, but rather constituted by what Simondon referred to as disparation, i.e. differential tensions or torsions of potentiality which individuation 'solves' without erasing. multiplicity is precisely a way of getting away from binaries like "whole/parts", or "One/many"....hence the differential constitution of the 'parts' or elements...

second comment: if you're looking for a more 'causal' approach, how would you understand the claim Deleuze bluntly makes in his Leibniz/Whitehead lectures that "a genesis is not causal" ?? (Seminar Transcripts, 10.03.1987; Transcripts may be found at

Mark202 said...

thanks for the link on Deleuze. I'll look into it.

I'll also write a blog on the whole-parts relation, as i feel the whole can be discussed in a practical manner, as long as it is not mentioned as a totalizing whole, but rather a whole that is produced as another part. this would make the whole another part.

Jared said...

Hi, Jared from Sportive Thoughts here. I would like to invite you to participate in the first ever--to my knowledge--"Deleuze Carnival." There is a nice little webring (or should I say rhizome) dealing with Deleuze's philosophy and French postmodernism in general, and I though it would be great to gather together some of our collective work in one place. I would be happy to include one of your posts in the Carnival. If you'd like to participate, there is a BlogCarnival widget on my blog. Hope to hear from you; and pass the word!

ps: more substantial comment on your post to come...

The Brooks Blog said...

I must say I'm a bit perplexed by this post. Of course, Deleuze is far from the first person to consider whole/part relations: the best earliest discussion is found with Aristotle and developed most notably by Kant, Hegel, and Bradley (particularly in his 'Appearance and Reality'). The best known (even if often criticizes) view on whole/part may be Quine's 'Word and Object' and I'd recommend you take a good look at this.

More specifically, I fail to see how understanding 'becoming' rather than 'linguistic usage' helps us *better* identify a boat.

For example (and to put it very crudely), both would recognize the same objects designed for the same functions as boats. Surely, the 'becoming' person who recognizes the processes that went into creating a boat isn't directly answering the question. That is, if the question is --as you state it-- 'what is a boat?' there is no necessary link with giving a long story about *how to create a boat* that is not entirely relevant to answering the question at hand. A good analogy is the question 'what is a human being (as in how do I know a human being when I see one)?' To know what a human being is it is seems at least not directly relevant (if not entirely irrelevant) to give some long story about sexual reproduction. This talk confuses what a thing is with other elements.

Instead, it seems your real claim is that a more robust understanding of objects beyond language/linguistic usage is important. However, if (following Hegel, Heidegger, and many others) we believe thinking and language are connected, then it's not clear how we break free from language. Even the Romantics (who praised direct experience) were best known for their poetry.