The problem of contingency and the transmodern condition
A glimmer, a glint, at the City’s dusty edge, where the line between sky and land cut the eye. An everlasting gleam that yet evaporated upon the arrival of the three and left behind a smell like chrome and chemicals1
This paper will deal with the most pressing problem which has plagued my life.
I had just turned fourteen and I was skimming the list of the classes hung on the door of what was going to be my future high school. I was looking for my own name amidst the monotonous lines, I was about to discover what was going to be my location in the first upper limb of my academic life.
Without any warning, the world was pierced in front of my eyes. The names started to be incomplete, they were missing numerous letters. The lines on the sheet where abruptly interrupted by a glimmer which I could hardly locate. I could not figure out whether my eyes were malfunctioning, stricken by the sun or transfixed by a sudden form of incipient blindness. The strange occurrence was preceded in the hours prior by an almost manic sense of unrest, an alien energy which made everything light and gigantic. I was invaded by an otherworldly weightlessness which numbed any anxiety concerning my future and, now, the intercranial intruders were manifesting themselves with this exclusive lightshow burnt in my retina.
Half an hour later, the glimmer stopped. My sight was almost unnaturally heightened, and my vision was back. A few minutes passed and my brain began to spasm. My head was scorched from above by an ulcerating pain, my veins started pulsating against my skull and the back of my head started to burn. I never loathed my upright position more in my entire life. My brain felt like the peak of a useless obelisk, the throbbing culmination of a reckless ascent towards the Sun. If the paleo-anthropologist André Leroi-Gourhan claimed, while analysing human’s upright posture and the liberation it entailed, that: ‘Freed from the animal world, the plant world, from cold, from microbes, from the unknown world of mountains and seas, zoological Homo sapiens is probably nearing the end of his career’2 I was certainly feeling a premonition of my species’ coming expunction.3
This was my first migraine. The shine which attacked my vision was a usual sign of chronic migraines, called aura. From that moment on, I’ve lived with my condition, who pays a visit to my nervous system at least once a month.
This phenomenon is interesting for a vast set of reasons. The most obvious ones are easy to see. Picking up one of the most accessible tomes on this illness, Migraine by Oliver Sacks,4 one will immediately learn at least three peculiar features of my condition.
1) The cause of this illness is unclear and almost undetectable. There’s a variety of hypothesis which could potentially explain it, most of them congenital and hard to tackle medically, linking the appearance of the insufferable pain to a heterogenous group of human apparatuses, from the digestive tract to the cardiovascular system, but none of them seems to explain why it manifests.
2) The cure is not univocal or even possible at times. I was lucky enough to find a painkiller which numbs the main symptoms of my chronic illness, but, oddly enough, it is the only one that works. A slight change in the chemical formula and my body simply won’t respond to the medicine. Also, the painkiller works if and only if I take it at the very beginning of the migraine, otherwise it just won’t work at all. Furthermore, I’ve met many people who suffer from slightly different forms of migraine who take wildly different drugs to stop it. What kills my pain won’t kill yours.
3) Not only the origin of the sickness is unclear and the cure is a shot in the dark, but the symptoms which could plague my species’ burning nerves are a vast and unpredictable archipelago. The aura which accompanies most migraines can manifest in many forms. ‘The simplest hallucination takes the form of a dance of brilliant stars, sparks, flashes or simple geometric forms across the visual field. Phosphenes of this type are usually white, but may have brilliant spectral colours. They may number many hundreds, and swarm rapidly across the visual field (patients often compare them to the movement of radar blipping across a screen)’,5 but the most complex forms of aura can branch out and become an almost total blindness (which has been the case for me many times). Furthermore, the aura can manifest in tactile and auditory hallucinations. The illness can shapeshift in absurd forms.
Building on the darkness which shrouds the origin, the cure and the manifestation of the illness, one could abstract the problem posed by migraines on a more metaphysical level. Sacks himself observes that migraines pose a serious problem for our understanding of the world. According to Sacks: «good descriptions are hard to obtain, because many aura phenomena are exceedingly strange – so strange as to transcend the powers of language; and good descriptions are made rarer still by the presence of something uncanny and fearful, the very thought of which causes the mind to shy».6 Something disquieting awaits the thinker who might investigate the experience of migraine: ‘[…] the subject of migraine aura is touched with the incomprehensible and the incommunicable: nay, this lies at its very center, its heart’.7
Plainly speaking, migraines embody a problem which has plagued me and contemporary philosophy for a long time: relatively unpredictable disruption, or, in other words, contingency. Migraines are a figure of abrupt, indeterminate and whyless discontinuity between me and the world. Even more crudely, the problem which migraine poses to philosophy is that it is a phenomenon which is hardly predictable, which disrupts my experience of the world and shows that, beneath the manifest continuous image we have of reality, lies a fundamental brokenness. For example, the transit between my mind and the world is, in fact, a complex ruse which lures me to believe that I am, quoting Rorty’s metaphor, the mirror of nature8 and I am part of a continuous One. In reality, at least as far as I can see from the point of view of my migraine, there is an ocean which separates me and the world, filled by complex cognitive mechanisms which smooth out all difficulties and misunderstandings, or, in other words, all contingency. There is a transcendental wall which separates me, my representation of things and the world, my headsplitting pain reveals this demarcation clearly and shows what my intercranial firewall was meant to block all along: the messy, broken and contingent nature of the world around me.9
Furthermore, making things a little more complicated, this revelation goes against what has been the main trend in the past century, at least in so-called Continental philosophy. From Merleau-Ponty’s10 and Michel Henry’s11 fleshy ontologies to certain Spinozist strains of Deleuze’s immanentism12 or Heidegger’s being-with existential analysis,13 philosophy seems to have accepted that the idea of the negative and the contingent, which, for example, traumatically separates myself and the world, which erupts involuntarily and lawlessly and which was at the heart of nineteenth century philosophy, has been a myopic concept, created by a Kantian and Cartesian hegemony. The world truly is continuous and unbroken, just exit the claustrophobic doxa of past philosophies and you’ll see. But my migraine says otherwise.
Lastly, we claim that this problem must be addressed since some of the most interesting philosophical research concerning the future of our species has oriented itself, almost naturally and automatically, to the question of contingency. After all, contingent disruption poses a very concrete problem for our capacity of navigating the world. If the migraine simply breaks the flow of my everyday life, the scope and the severity of the contingent disruption could be scaled up to the level of an existential risk for humanity as a whole. Having a functioning ontological model which could accommodate, rationalize and manage the contingent and the abrupt could be a vital task for the philosophers to-come.14
In this paper, therefore, we will try to take the problem of abrupt contingency and radical discontinuity seriously. We will firstly analyse some basic features of two of the best examples of philosophical lawless disruption, one taken from the Analytical tradition and the other from the Continental one. We will not give a complete account of these two thinkers, but we will show how they meet the traumatic and the contingent, the whyless and lawless. We will highlight their style of meeting a conceptual catastrophe and what useful elements we could deduce from their work.
At the end of our work, we will try to propose a possible solution to the problems raised by these two figures and by my migraines. In order to do so, we will analyse Zalamea’s synthetic philosophy and we will try to sketch how it could help us make sense of discontinuity and rupture, preventing us from slipping into absolute despair.
Let us start with a monster.
In 1982, Kripke published one of the most misguided and extreme interpretations of Wittgenstein’s thought, Wittgenstein on rules and private language. It was a hermeneutical aberration, which took two of Wittgenstein’s propositions from the Philosophical investigations and disfigured them completely, radicalizing the so-called Rule Following Paradox, which we will tackle below. While Kripke’s reading keeps somewhat loose ties with the Wittgensteinian oeuvre, the argument of the book derails the Austrian philosopher’s work into a form of full-blown scepticism, bordering on the unbearable. Kripke’s Wittgenstain looks a lot like Sebald’s Wittgenstain: a caged animal staring into the terrible darkness.15
Kripke himself was aware of the lingering conceptual monstrosity of the work he was crafting. After all, talking about the argument he was about to present, he claimed, at the very beginning of the book, that:
Wittgenstein’s celebrated argument against ‘private language’ has been discussed so often that the utility of yet another exposition is certainly open to question. Most of the exposition which follows occurred to the present writer some time ago, in the academic year 1962-3. At that time this approach to Wittgenstein’s views struck the present writer with the force of a revelation: what had previously seemed to me to be a somewhat loose argument for a fundamentally implausible conclusion based on dubious and controversial premises now appeared to me to be a powerful argument, even if the conclusions seemed even more radical and, in a sense, more implausible, than before.16
Nonetheless, he plunged forward.
It is important to note from the very beginning that the scepticism and the argument endorsed by this book were not an isolated case, they were not the odd-one-out in an otherwise constructive debate. If one inserts the book in the wider context of analytical philosophy, one would certainly notice that most of what we could call classical analytical philosophy is a philosophy of crisis, a philosophy which has to deal with the limit of thought itself. This label, which is mostly associated with phenomenology, existentialism or post-Conservative Revolution thinkers like Martin Heidegger or Ernst Jünger, is probably more suitable for the foundational texts of analytical philosophy. The tradition which has always been considered, at least within that vague domain we could call academic discourse, the herald of Enlightenment rationality and logical solidity is to be regarded as a reaction to a profound period of historical and conceptual crisis.
This idea, which we will justify and make explicit below, is not so outrageous, not even at a surface level – especially if we are to believe Kripke’s words. After all, he inserts his own work on Wittgenstein within a series of thinkers – namely and most prominently Quine’s empiricism,17 Goodman’s grue thought-experiment18 and Ryle’s deflation of the concept of the mind19 – which he describes as thinkers coming to terms with a generalized conceptual dead-end.
Nonetheless, according to Kripke, even within this supposed widespread crisis, Wittgenstein’s work around this conceptual dead-end is still the most radical and disquieting, the one which endures the test of rational reassurance and containment, so much so that Kripke himself simply can’t accept to claim this theoretical position as his own, nor, still according to Kripke, can Wittgenstein. Quoting Kripke:
Wittgenstein has invented a new form of scepticism. Personally I am inclined to regard it as the most radical and original sceptical problem that philosophy has seen to date, one that only a highly unusual cast of mind could have produced. Of course he does not wish to leave us with his problem, but to solve it: the sceptical conclusion is insane and intolerable.20
The timeliness and the radicality of this argument are clearly attested by the long, ongoing debate this book has sparked. To this day, a monster walks in the halls of analytical philosophy: Kripkenstein, an imaginary philosopher who endorses the scepticism presented in this work.
But what is the crisis which plagues classical analytical philosophy? And what is Kripkesteinian scepticism all about?
Plainly speaking, the core conceptual problem which runs through this crisis is the idea of the groundlessness of Reason. From Gödel’s incompleteness theorem’s through Goodman’s neo-Humean analysis of the problem of induction and the Duhem-Quine thesis to Rorty’s anti-realism, Sellars’ post-foundationalist empiricism and the endless discussion on the problem of ontological grounding, the Thing at the heart of the analytical tradition is the idea that nothing can ultimately justify and ground our cogitations in any meaningful way. The core principle which engendered this crisis is that there is no fact of nature, no non-contingent and non-arbitrary axiom, no ultimate rule which can justify our beliefs, judgements or concepts. The mirror which reflected Nature within our own minds has cracked for the last time, no law or justification will ensure us that what we do, say or believe is ultimately an emanation of a stable Truth independent, or justifiably dependent, from us. Quoting Alexander Wilson at length:
From Bertrand Russel through Ludwig Wittgenstein, Rudolf Carnap, Wilfrid Sellars, and Willard Van Orman Quine, and from Edmund Husserl through Martin Heidegger, Jacques Derrida, and Deleuze, philosophy on both sides of the divide has been urged toward a consensus that foundationalism, the idea the justifications for knowledge can be neatly reduced into primary sensations or nonpropositional engagements with reality, has failed. The history of mathematics has followed a similar path: from the discovery of non-Euclidean geometries and the paradoxes of Georg Cantor’s set theory to Kurt Gödel’s discovery of the necessary incompleteness of formal mathematical systems and Alan Turing’s confirmation that many mathematical proofs are incomputable. And the theories of science have also taken similar steps in last century. While Karl Popper attempted to legitimize science by defining it in terms of deduction and falsification rather than induction and verification, the Duhem-Quine thesis which exposed the arbitrary nature of how scientists choose which assumptions to modify in the face of contrary evidence, ultimately dissolved Popper’s strict demarcation.21
Clearly, this vanishing demarcation has some very dire consequences for thought and our ability to think about our own mentation. If no “thing”, worldly or cognitive, can simply and unproblematically justify and ground our own mental labour and the norms we give ourselves in order to think orderly, then thinking and rule-following become preternatural – unnatural, even – acts. If there is no natural or given reason to act and think reasonably, any norm we decide to follow becomes a lonely sovereign action, severed from an indifferent world, and this idea could potentially raise the suspicion that we, as a species, are following empty delusions and meaningless laws, born out of our brains as a result of one-too-many sleepless nights. Most classical analytical philosophy is “created” by the strife to resolve or, at least, numb this lingering fear.
Given this context, we can now see why Kripkenstein is so infamous and why we have characterized this reading as properly monstrous or terrible. Kripkenstein’s position is in tune with the theme which undercuts the analytical tradition, but the argument and the conclusions he presents are the most radical form of destructive acceptance and acquiescence towards this impasse.
The book starts presenting the Rule-Following Paradox, quoting two of Wittgenstein’s Philsophical investigations most important proposition: §243 and §202. The former claims that: ‘It is not only agreement in definitions, but also (odd as it may sound) agreement in judgements that is required for communication by means of language. This seems to abolish logic, but does not do so. It is one thing to describe methods of measurement, and another to obtain and state results of measurement. But what we call “measuring” is in part determined by a certain constancy in results of measurement’22 while the latter affirms that: ‘That’s why ‘following a rule’ is a practice. And to think one is following a rule is not to follow a rule. And that’s why it’s not possible to follow a rule ‘privately’; otherwise, thinking one was following a rule would be the same thing as following it’.23 The upshot of these two propositions, according to Kripkenstein, is that there is no necessary reason to follow any rule or norm whatsoever; every justification is absolutely contingent since it relays completely on the contingent act of following a norm and on the contingent approval of a community which regards the norm-following as appropriate or correct to the context at hand. No one can follow a norm on his own, but, also, no norm can be valid outside the contingent realm of its own actuation.
Sidestepping the rich debate concerning this thesis, the interesting thing for the problem of contingency we are trying to tackle, is that, in this context, contingency, which is, according to Kripkenstein, the groundless ground of everything we believe, is itself presented as a contingent and whyless event, just like my migraines, and its effect is not just a circumventionable obstruction to the unfolding of thought, but it is the unquestionable appearance of the limits of thought itself, which result in a claustrophobic quietism which excepts the finitude of thought without blinking.
For a great portion of the book, the problem of contingency is presented not as a fully formed theory, but, just like Nietzsche’s exposition of the eternal recurrence in the Gay science, as a whyless, quasi-demonic voice which poses a disquieting riddle to the reader, a thought experiment which has now become a classic in the Anglophone world. Let us quote the thought experiment:
Let me suppose, for example, that 68 + 57 is a computation that I have never performed before. […] I perform the computation, obtaining, of course, the answer 125. I am confident, perhaps after checking my work, that 125 is the correct answer. It is correct both in the arithmetical sense that 125 is the sum of 68 and 57, and in the metalinguistic sense that ‘plus’, as I intended to use that word in the past, denoted a function which, when applied to the numbers I called 68 and 57, yields the value 125. Now suppose I encounter a bizarre sceptic. This sceptic questions my certainty about my answer, in what I just called the ‘metalinguistic’ sense. Perhaps, he suggests, as I used the term ‘plus’ in the past, the answer I intended for 68+ 57 should have been 5! Of course the sceptic’s suggestion is obviously insane. My initial response to such a suggestion might be that the challenger should go back to school and learn to add. Let the challenger, however, continue. […] But who is to say what function this was? In the past I gave myself only a finite number of examples instantiating this function. All, we have supposed, involved numbers smaller than 57. So perhaps in the past I used plus and + to denote a function which I will call quus.24
In other words, the quasi-demonic voice says: ‘This function you now perform and have performed it, you have performed it wrong innumerable times. Every time you saw the ‘plus’ sign, you actually performed an arcane function called ‘quus’. And imagine that this same mistake will present itself again and again, and you with it, speck of dust’.
Following this thought experiment, the first half of the book is spent proving that there is no way – no stringent reason and no valid appeal to dispositional approval or inner state – to prove that I’ve actually been performing a plus function all along. No matter how hard I try, there is no good enough answer to the sceptic’s dilemma. Therefore, it follows, according to Kripkenstein, that there is no ground to any truth-value. It is impossible to counter the sceptic’s obvious insanity. ‘The sceptic argues that there is no fact as to what I meant, whether plus or quus. […] Wittgenstein’s sceptic argues that he knows of no fact about an individual that could constitute his state of meaning plus rather than quus’.25
The striking thing about this thought experiment is that the Thing which makes our truths contingent is not presented as a fully formed theory or a positive proposition, but as the eruption of an invincible whyless negation, an absolute and unsurmountable limit to Reason. It is not a confrontation between two rational propositions, but it is presented as Reason’s impossible, uphill battle against the unreasonable and the contingent, presented as a univocally disruptive or negative property. Stylistically speaking, it is a conceptual catastrophe, not a Socratic confrontation, which looks like a noir, in which the philosopher tries to reconstruct the motives of a senseless crime, failing miserably. ‘The sceptical argument, then, remains unanswered. There can be no such thing as meaning anything by any word. Each new application we make is a leap in the dark; any present intention could be interpreted so as to accord with anything we may choose to do’.26
In fact, Kripkenstein draws some drastically pessimistic conclusions from the encounter with contingency and the limits of rational thought. After presenting all the ways in which we cannot rationally refute the sceptic’s insane idea, Kripkenstein settles for the idea that we can live with the contingency of truth and that no real resolution can stem from this confrontation. This conclusion blooms out of a very original reading of Wittgenstein’s Private Language Argument.
According to Kripkenstein, Wittgenstein’s argument could be boiled down to a statement we have already used previously: no one can follow a norm on its own. In order to be able to follow any rule whatsoever, one must be part of a wider community which, for whatever contingent flight of fancy, acknowledges the rule-following as correct or appropriate behaviour in that particular, contingent setting. It does not matter whether the statement or the function is true in a strict sense of the word or if there is any stringent reason, out in the world or in my brain, which justifies any utterance which might come out of our mouths, the thing that really matter is if the context is contingently appropriate. Quoting Kripke:
The simplest, most basic idea of the Tractatus can hardly be dismissed: a declarative sentence gets its meaning by virtue of its truth conditions, by virtue of its correspondence to facts that must obtain if it is true. For example, “the cat is on the mat” is understood by those speakers who realize that it is true if and only if a certain cat is on a certain mat; it is false otherwise. […] In the place of this view, Wittgenstein proposes an alternative rough general picture. (To call it an alternative theory probably goes too far. Wittgenstein disclaims (§65) any intent of offering a general account of language to rival that of the Tractatus. Rather we have different activities related to each other in various ways.) Wittgenstein replaces the question, “What must be the case for this sentence to be true?” by two others: first, “Under what conditions may this form of words be appropriately asserted (or denied)?”; second, given an answer to the first question, “What is the role, and the utility, in our lives of our practice of asserting (or denying) the form of words under these conditions?”27
It logically follows that, unless the sceptic’s madness posed some serious threat to our communal ability to understand each other and to continue to idly do additions, the problem becomes absolutely irrelevant. The obvious downside, though, is that the sceptic’s insanity is not eradicated, not even meaningfully confronted. The conceptual crime remains utterly unsolved and we will have to live in fear, since the sceptic could potentially strike at any given moment. All we have while confronted with the strength of contingency is the so-called sceptical solution, which is not a solution at all. Quoting Kripke:
In his Enquiry, after he has developed his “Sceptical Doubts Concerning the Operations of the Understanding”, Hume gives his “Sceptical Solution of These Doubts”. What is a ‘sceptical’ solution? Call a proposed solution to a sceptical philosophical problem a straight solution if it shows that on closer examination the scepticism proves to be unwarranted; an elusive or complex argument proves the thesis the sceptic doubted. Descartes gave a ‘straight’ solution in this sense to his own philosophical doubts. An a priori justification of inductive reasoning, and an analysis of the causal relation as a genuine necessary connection or nexus between pairs of events, would be straight solutions of Hume’s problems of induction and causation, respectively. A sceptical solution of a sceptical philosophical problem begins on the contrary by conceding that the sceptic’s negative assertions are unanswerable. Nevertheless our ordinary practice or belief is justified because – contrary appearances notwithstanding – it need not require the justification the sceptic has shown to be untenable.28
We gain quietude and acquiesce, but not a way out.
Let us now talk about eternal damnation.
Maurice Blanchot is the anaemic shadow haunting contemporary Continental philosophy. The French author has been the most faithful inheritor of post-phenomenological philosophy, with its crises and its abyssal problems, and he was profoundly influential to most of the most prominent voices in the Continental canon, but his philosophy is still considered a forbidden area for many contemporary debates. Everyone that matters, so to speak, in contemporary Continental philosophy passed through the cleansing fire of his works, but his writings are criminally understudied and undercommented by contemporary critics with the depth and the precision they would demand. Blanchot stands, like the Lovecraftian Stranger at the door, right outside of the realm of philosophical discussion, but, to the attentive eye, his cold hand looms large on every debate the Continental philosopher could possibly have today.
The reasons behind this premature and undeserved oblivion are, potentially, many. Certainly, Blanchot’s writing are not welcoming or clear. Most of the times, his work voluntarily and openly plays with languages and registers which are esoteric, building a hostile abstract architecture. While reading some of his most important works, one cannot avoid the feeling of being scrolling through the secret codes and inner communications of a conspiratorial sect, whose theses and propositions were buried underneath the ashes of a lost aeon. Even for a field of research inhabited by notoriously obscure figures such as contemporary Continental philosophy, Blanchot’s writing seem to be closer to twentieth century occultism, sounding like an acolyte of figures like Aleister Crowley and Austin Osman Spare, than sound and academic philosophy.
Furthermore, his political past is extremely fraught and troubled, and it could easily scare off many. Blanchot’s early career was spent as a far-right journalist, endorsing nationalist and even monarchist political positions. The later and more philosophically consistent part of his intellectual career, on the other hand, swung abruptly on the other side of the political spectrum: he became a communist and insurrectionist, while also rehabilitating and arguing in favour of the cursed political thought of authors like Kafka and Sade.29
Lastly, and tying these two aspects together, we must also note that this early conceptual grave was a self-imposed burden. This forgetfulness of many contemporary critics towards Blanchot was something he actively looked for. After all, the French author saw the obscurity and esotericism of his work as an ethical and political position. He lived most of his life as a recluse, away from the contemporary theoretical and political scene, and he was perceived by his peers as a menacing and remote figure. He tried to cover his work underneath a permanent fog and he wilfully decided, for reasons which, as we shall see, are strongly justified in his writings, to let silence be the future of his theoretical endeavour.30
Setting aside this brief analysis of Blanchot’s legacy, or lack thereof, this author’s work is extremely useful to tackle the problem of contingency and the conceptual disastrous consequences it begets in authors like Kripke. In fact, the striking feature, from our point of view, of many of the extremely obscure Blonchotian tomes is that they are an a very precise study of the concepts of contingency and disruption, analysed in their most dramatic and traumatic aspects.
In order to defend this thesis and give a good conceptual unity to our work, we will weaponize in our favour a completely contingent but nonetheless striking commonality which ties Kripke and Blanchot together: their painful battle with Wittgenstein. We will start by presenting Blanchot’s Wittgenstein’s problem, underlining the similarities with Kripkenstein’s monster, but also highlighting its main lines of departure from Kripke’s analysis of monstrous scepticism. From this diacritical confrontation between these two and a half authors, we will describe a different style of encountering the abrupt destruction of contingency.
So, what is Wittgenstein’s problem? What does language and eternal damnation have in common?
In a brief passage in one of Blanchot’s masterpieces, The infinite conversation, the French author pens a passage which bears a striking difference compared to the densely Continental jargon which characterizes the rest of book. This passage looks almost like a piece of analytical philosophy and it talks about what Blanchot calls Wittgenstein’s problem. This passage travels in the same murky water which were navigated by Kripkenstein’s monster: the groundlessness of Reason. Quoting Blanchot:
At this point we come very close to Wittgenstein’s problem, as corrected by Bertrand Russell: every language has a structure about which we can say nothing in this language, but there must be another language that treats the structure of the first and possesses a new structure about which we cannot say anything, except in a third language- and so forth. […] although there may be reason to regard the ensemble of things and of values as a whole (for example, within given scientific and perhaps political conception), the virtual ensemble of the different possibilities of speech cannot constitute a totality.31
The basic idea behind this concise passage is that there is no way to justify one’s linguistic utterances from without, outside the logical structure of language itself. There is nothing in the world or in our pre-linguistic cognitive labour which can ground and justify our truths, values and beliefs. The only thing which can testify the correctness of our linguistic utterances is a metalanguage which explicates the rules we’re following while saying or doing this or that and the context in which we’re saying or doing this or that. Nonetheless, the metalanguage suffers the same paradox: nothing can ground or justify the metalanguage, only another metalanguage can do such a thing. And so on, forever.
From the very beginning, we can see the obvious similarities which unite Blanchot and Kripkenstein. Both theoretical positions are undercut by an acceptance of the groundlessness of Reason and a radical scepticism towards any form of foundationalism. The given premise of both arguments is that there is nothing and no thing which can guarantee the sound character of my words and thoughts.
The first notable difference which separates the two thinkers is the consequences which are logically drawn from this impasse: while the Kripkenstein’s monster lingers on the Rule-Following Paradox until it is blinded by numb acquiescence, Blanchot points out the problematic nature, on an existential and a first-person perspective level, of such a scepticism. The tone of the Blanchotian paradox is far more claustrophobic and panicked, expressing a profound sense of entrapment.
Most importantly, what Blanchot points out about the scepticism regarding the foundation of Reason is the infinite regression it entails. The Blanchotian fight with Wittgenstein produces a Russian doll of metalanguages which forces the reader to fathom the idea that she is stuck in an infinite abyss of meaningless linguistic mazes. The human subject is, in other words, trapped in an inhuman infinite conversation, which is neither true nor grounded. We, as a species, are caged in the bottomless pit of our unfounded linguistic utterances. Quoting Blanchot’s blood-curdling analysis of Flaubert’s neurotic philosophy of literature:
A sentence, and a sentence that cannot be written: “The simplest sentence, like ‘he closed the door,’ ‘he went out,’ requires incredible artistic ruses”; which no doubt means that the most ordinary actions are very hard to formulate, but also that in a more profound sense, at the level of literature, the sentence “he closed the door” is, as such, already impossible. Hence the many declarations that were found laughable or merely pathetic, until one began to take them seriously: “I have come to the conclusion that it is impossible to write” (the italics are Flaubert’s). “Writing is more and more impossible,” and for this reason “despair is [his] normal state”; a state from which he can emerge only by means of some violent distraction, exhausting himself, “unceasingly gasping for breath” in this exercise of writing that exceeds life because writing is this very excess. (“Art exceeds.”) Then why persist in this unhappiness, why not rest from it? “But how can I rest? And what to do while I am resting?” “There is a mystery beneath this that escapes me”; a mystery, however, that he helps us approach when to one of his correspondents he writes the following, which must be understood unreservedly: “What is diabolic about prose is that it is never finished.”32
This is the narrow and dark vista disclosed by human intelligence and linguistic mastery. But as soon as we reach the grim apex of sapience and, consequently, of linguistic despair, the problem of contingency, the bleeding heart of our essay, comes in our rescue.
In fact, while the Kripkestein’s and Blanchot’s premise and, to some extent, the elaboration of their respective Wittgensteinian paradoxes are similar, the problem of contingency plays a radically different role in the two authors. As we have seen, contingency in Kripkenstein is the prime mover behind the paradox, the preliminary reason of the philosophical interrogation and the insurmountable limit which quietist acquiesce must respect. Everything is contingent and we shouldn’t go near this vision in our day-to-day life. On the other hand, contingency in Blanchot is both a radical destruction of the linguistic entrapment, a representation of reality which disrupts our humanist ideations projected onto the world, and, ultimately, we should plunge towards it.
In fact, if one reads carefully the quoted passage above, one of its glaring peculiarities is the mystery which appears ghostly at the end of the paragraph. Furthermore, a few sentences were missing in the first quote of the Blanchotian Wittgenstein’s paradox. Let us present the words that were elided:
Several consequences follow from this, among them the following: (1) what is inexpressible is inexpressible in relation to a certain system of expression; (2) although there may be reason to regard the ensemble of things and of values as a whole (for example, within a given scientific and perhaps political conception), the virtual ensemble of the different possibilities of speech cannot constitute a totality; (3) the Other of any speech is never anything but the Other of a given speech or the infinite movement through which a mode of expression-always ready to unfold in the multiple exigency of simultaneous series – contests itself, exalts itself, challenges or obliterates itself in some other mode.33
From the two quoted passages, it clearly appears that while commenting our linguistic entrapment, Blanchot always disturbs our panicked claustrophobia with the abrupt intrusion of the Other – of a relative, since it is inexpressible only when put in diacritical comparison with linguistic expression, inexpressible alterity. Our linguistic cage is punctured by an Outside which Blanchot calls, alternatively, the Night, the Neuter, the Other, Death and by many other names. Something dark slips within the bounds of Reason and opens it up to an unreasonable world.
But what does this have to do with contingency?
In brief, the Other is not only a relative outside to Reason, but it is, first and foremost, the revelation of the deep structure of reality itself. According to Blanchot reality is nothing but contingent facts, indifferent towards us, our cognition of their eruptions, our languages and our thought. We tend, as rational human subjects, to imagine the world as a coherent unity or whole, but this image, still according to Blanchot, is just an optical distortion caused by our isolation in the prison of meaningful language. The world is venomous, contingent and disjointed. The universe is whyless and unbound.
This idea, which is far more speculative than Kripkenstein’s quiet sceptical apathy, is plastically exemplified in one of Blanchot’s many analyses of Mallarmé’s Igitur and Un Coup de dés. Quoting Blanchot:
Un Coup de dés is not Igitur, although it resurrects almost all of Igitur’s elements. It is not Igitur reversed, the challenge abandoned, the dream defeated, hope changed to resignation. Such comparisons would be worthless. Un Coup de dés does not answer Igitur as one sentence answers another, as a solution answers a problem. That reverberating proclamation itself—A THROW OF THE DICE NEVER WILL ABOLISH CHANCE —the force of its affirmation, the peremptory brilliance of its certitude, which makes it an authoritative presence holding the whole work together physically — this lightning which seems to fall upon the mad faith of Igitur in order to destroy and consume it, does not contradict Igitur, but on the contrary gives it its last chance, which is not to annul chance, even by an act of mortal negation, but to abandon itself entirely to chance, to consecrate chance by entering without reserve into its intimacy, with the abandon of impotence, “without the ship that is vain no matter where.” In an artist so fascinated by the desire for mastery, nothing is more impressive than that final phase in which the work shines suddenly above him, no longer necessary but as a “perhaps” of pure chance, in the uncertainty of “the exception,” not necessary but the absolutely unnecessary, a constellation of doubt which only shines in the forgotten sky of perdition. The night of Igitur has become the sea, “the gaping deep,” “the identical neutrality of the abyss,” “a whirlpool of hilarity and horror”.34
The cosmos is everything but orderly and harmonious; if we step outside of our humanist point of view, we discover that it is incomplete and cacophonous. Furthermore, this cosmological intuition shouldn’t be read, at least according to Blanchot, as a cautionary tale which must warn us about the dangers of the inhuman out-there and our ventures in the further regions of experience should be actively promoted and endorsed.
Blanchot’s privileged route towards the Outside is literature and, following Heidegger’s lead, the ‘raw exceptionalism of poetic language (that which reveals an uncommon thinking)’.35 The reason behind this theoretical position is the idea that literature and, broadly speaking, poetics conceptualized as the pure, unbound exercise of our linguistic abilities are destitutions of Reason, sabotages from within of the practice of linguistic rationality. As Adam Potts puts in a marvellous analysis:
Language, especially the language of literature, is the space in which this incompletion surfaces as the rupture within meaning. As the world emerges from a pool of impossibility, it has no determinable centre and this is realised in language. […] Death, for Blanchot, is particularly significant as it is one of several names – including the neuter, the outside, impossibility – that he gives to this uncontrollable discontinuity felt in language.36
One should follow the lead of the ‘Sirens’ of literature and poetic language which sing:
an inhuman song – a natural noise no doubt (are there any other kinds? ), but on the fringes of nature, foreign in every possible way to man, very low, and awakening in him that extreme delight in falling that he cannot satisfy in the normal conditions of life37
Contrary to Kripkenstein’s monstrous scepticism, the outcome of Blanchot’s fight with Wittgenstein is the opposite of quietism: Blanchot proposes, as a theoretical and deeply ethical position, an ecstatic plunge towards contingency and chaos. Blanchot wants us to step the line which divides us from the world and dive deep within the unbound sea of the Outside, losing ourselves completely and gracefully. While this proposition is, as far as we are concerned, certainly far more interesting and fascinating than Kripke’s defeated scepticism, we can clearly see some serious issues raised by this reckless abandon. Namely, and restricting the possible critiques to, in our eyes, the sharpest one, we see this sabotage of Reason as mystical, in the worst sense of the term, and ultimately ineffective.
Blanchot repeats many times throughout his oeuvre that the result of the sabotage of Reason through literature is silence and self-annihilation. The work of art, according to Blanchot, naturally strifes towards its own immolation and expunction, trying to destitute, first and foremost, itself. As François Bonnet puts it:
In Blanchot’s text, the frontier between the world and the individual, between the personal and the prepersonal, begins to give way on the occasion of ‘a sort of revery’-that is to say, upon the relaxation of reason. The individual no longer seeks to possess the world, it is the world that possesses him and destitutes him of himself. This is the experience, the affective experience, that then becomes central to the establishing of an immersive relation to the world, a dynamic and disseminatory relation.38
The endgame of Blanchot’s sabotage of Reason is not a new mode of thought, not even a brand-new shadow-realm of rationality, but it is complete surrender; it folds onto itself, collapsing into a poetic and mystical silence.
Contrary to Jason Mohaghegh’s or Giorgio Manganelli’s nocturnal philosophies, Blanchot’s Night is not the time and place: ‘where unforeseen cunning triumphs over sober intelligence, where the will to play is rewarded with momentary lawlessness’39 and where reason can interact even with the dark arts of mentation (ecstatic vision, gambling, deceit, mimesis, strategic think and deeply abstract thought), but it is the Tarkovskijian Zone where we capitulate in an aristocratic, trembling silence, lost for good. We believe that, especially concerning the problem of contingency and working the chaos and darkness evoked by Blanchot, we can do so much more and so much better than weak quietism, inane silence and anaemic abandon. We can strive for a new conception of intelligence which weaponizes scientific and mathematical rationality, art, poetics, fiction, metis, deceitfulness, mimetic prowls and theatrics to walk away from the worn path of Enlightenment towards an unbound map of rationality.
Finally, let us propose a way-out.
The roads which lead out of both Kripkenstein’s quietism and Blanchot’s abandon could be many, all equally interesting. One example could be, clearly, the nocturnal philosophies we have mentioned above, which work with very similar problems, but reach extremely different results. Nonetheless, we want to restrict the scope of our work and take a different path, proposing Zalamea’s synthetic philosophy as a possible solution.
Fernando Zalamea is a mathematician and a prolific writer. He is a truly polymorphous mind. He has had, over the years, a profound engagement with art, mathematics, cultural criticism and, broadly speaking, abstract thought and the strife towards a rational and aesthetic summum bonum, which he has always exerted with grace and a poignant and precise perspective.
His most interesting contributions for many contemporary philosophical debates could be summarized under two main labels: transmodernity and the aforementioned synthetic philosophy. Transmodernity could be considered, reducing the complexity of this position to its bare bones, the framework, the image of the contemporary world in which we are immersed, and the desired outcome of Zalamea’s philosophical labour, while synthetic philosophy could be imagined as the programmatic core and the chosen methodology to accomplish the transmodern status.
Transmodernity, a word coined by Spanish philosopher Rosa María Rodríguez Magda, could be considered an oceanic, patchwork-y and staunchly anti-postmodernist and anti-conservative reading of our contemporary planetary predicament. If we had to encapsulate the transmodern condition it would definitely be Novalis’ mystical and acid vision of a new Romantic pan-scientific system:
I have been on my journey of discovery, or on my pursuit, since I saw you last, and have chanced upon extremely promising coastlines—which perhaps circumscribe a new scientific continent. This ocean is teeming with fledgling islands.40
While the postmodernists imagine the world after the end of all Grand Narratives as a disjointed ensemble of non-communicating particularities and the reactionaries, inspired, in their most extreme forms, by Carl Schmitt’s thalassophobia, see the global condition as a monstrous and meaningless liquidity which eliminates irrefutably any and all identities and peculiarities, the transmodern perspective sees the particular as a relative and non-trivial part of one of many possible flourishing archipelagos, weaved together by the murky and open waters of a global ocean. This condition, rather than being characterized by the anti- or post- prefix, is prefaced by the trans- prefix to indicate a planetary movement in which strict borders recede to let porous frontiers emerge.
The conceptual protagonist of this revolutionary movement is the figure of the relative universal. The relative universal is a reversal of the postmodernist and conservative particularity, be it conceptual, ethnical, ethical, subjective or political. The particularity, in the postmodernist and conservative logic, is either an insurmountable incommunicability or a figure which must be defended at all cost, the Blut und boden which must remain uncontaminated by all pathogens and intrusions. In the transmodern logic, the particular becomes a universal figure, since it is a bearer of a specific, unamendable and local truth, but, at the same time, it is transfigured in an always-already contaminated and transgressed individuality. In fact, it is a relative universal because it acquires its meaningfulness and contentfulness only through this transgression of its boundaries and this diacritical communication with the outside. If the particular and the individual identity weren’t weaved in an archipelago of radically different particularities and identities they would simply be a meaningless monad. Quoting Zalamea:
“Transmodernity,” introduced as a serious tendency which would help to balance some dogmatic Postmodernist claims, was proposed by Rosa María Rodríguez Magda some twenty years ago. Transmodernism maintains the open dissemination spirit of Postmodernism, as well as some of its main emphasis (not conquests: already in Novalis, Valéry, Florenskij, etc.) around Truth fragmentations and Antinomy conjunctions, but goes well beyond the mere register of singular breakdowns and tries to propose new relative nets to encompass residuation. A rich counterpoint emerges between Postmodernism and Transmodernism: break, locality, differentiation, contradiction, ambiguity, impossibility of universals, “all is worth,” Death – sort of Postmodern dissonances – are to be contrasted with revision, local/global dialectics, oscillation differentiation/integration, partial gluing of relative coherences, fabric vagueness/exactness, relative universals, “some is worth,” Renaissances – sort of Transmodern harmonics –. Both the dissonances and the harmonics are fundamental for our epoch, but one should not forget the necessary swingings of the pendulum.41
From the very beginning, if we translate Kripke’s and Blanchot’s problem of contingency in, respectively, an example of a moderate conservative model, which sees contingent and foreign irruptions as possible deadly pathogen and conceptualizes contingency as a problem and not just as the neutral ground for the sovereign and arbitrary conceptual decision only in so far as it potentially damages our calm interiority, and the postmodern model, which reveals, through the disruptive nature of contingency, the disjointed and non-communicative nature of reality itself, we can clearly see that transmodernity sidesteps the problem of contingency by transforming it into a generative process, rather than a merely destructive one. The particular grows through whyless contaminations, communications and obstructions coming from without and chaos is the underbelly through which it has to navigate in order to establish itself.
The transmodern particular is both fragile, since it always exposed to a world which transgress its boundaries, and antifragile, since it manages to establish itself through these transgressions.42 For example, the abrupt intrusion of my migraines in my day-to-day life might destroy my routine and, to some extent, my identity, but around this destruction I reshape myself, through an augmentation of my ability to contain and confront the problem. Transmodernity is, then, an existential Lullian topology of relative destruction and subsequent generation.43
Obviously, the transmodern picture is appealing and this first refutation of the two previous positions sounds agreeable, but it is not sufficient to undermine neither Kripke’s scepticism nor Blanchot’s mysticism. If we want to be able to uphold this refutation wholeheartedly, we need to understand how the transmodern logic conceptually works. We need to understand how it deeply functions. In order to do so, we have to comprehend Zalamea’s synthetic philosophy.
Synthetic philosophy could be divided into two main claims concerning the state of contemporary philosophy and what should be conceptually done to think in new ways philosophy’s old problems: 1) synthetic philosophy begins by diagnosing the hegemony of analysis in both the Continental and Analytical tradition and calls for a subversion of this domination, upholding, through the most advanced forms of mathematical thinking, the primacy of synthesis 2) the hegemony of analysis is characterized by a reductionist ethos, a will to reduce everything to its primitive or simplest components, the primacy of synthesis requires the reconstruction of the object of knowledge as a weave of relations and a sedimentation of the various dynamic processes which constitute it. This requires a mode of inquiry which follows the logic of ruination and a cave-dweller ethos.
1) According to Zalamea, contemporary philosophy could be characterized by the method of analysis, the strife to reduce everything to its simplest parts, utilizing as little as foreign disciplines’ knowledges. This attitude, which boils everything down to its smallest functional components or aspects before talking about the object of knowledge at hand, is also labelled by Zalamea, as reductionist. Clearly, this definition of reductionism could be considered non-standard or somewhat heretical. After all, it could encompass and critique schools of thought which are generally considered anti-reductionist. For example, following Zalamea, we could claim that some phenomenology is reductionistic, at least in its main premises, since it seeks the most basic and most primitive components of our waking life, stripping the complexity of the world down to its bare bones and most undeniable and self-evident parts through epochè. Also, in doing so, it repels most forms of scientific knowledge on consciousness, which are deemed unhelpful or trivial to the philosophical consideration of the problem of intelligence.
Nonetheless, as the reader has probably already guessed, the epitome of this tendency is analytic philosophy. Most of this tradition, especially its philosophy of mathematics, could be easily identified with the struggle to ‘attempt to reduce mathematics to grammar’ and ‘in short, assumes a (fallacious) reduction of mathematics to elementary mathematics and then applies the (plausible) identification of elementary mathematics with finitary grammatical rules’. It has had, in other words, a general tendency to reduce every problem to its most elementary expression in formal logic, drastically undermining the idea that any object of knowledge could be considered in a more holistic and dynamic way, without losing one’s grip on rationality and scientific reason. This will to reduce everything to its clearest and simplest components could be the reason, according to Zalamea, behind the analytical philosophy of crisis we have described above.
Against analysis, Zalamea proposes a ‘multivalent’ approach, which considers the object as a dynamic and shapeshifting whole, treated as the stratified and diverse outcome of an historical synthesis, and, in order to do so, he uses a vast variety of technics. Quoting Zalamea:
In that attempt at a global conceptualization of certain mathematical tendencies of well-defined historical epochs, the immense variety of the technical spectrum that had to be traversed was evident. Nevertheless, various reductionisms have sought to limit both the philosophical multiplicity and mathematical variety at stake. Far from one kind of omnivorous philosophical wager, or one given reorganization of mathematics, which we would then try to bring into a univalent correlation, we seem to be fundamentally obliged to consider the necessity of constructing multivalent correspondences between philosophy and mathematics, or rather between philosophies and mathematics in the plural.44
Pragmatically speaking, in order to defend this synthetic and protean approach, Zalamea accuses the analytical tradition of having distorted the actual, historical development of mathematics to be able to consider only set theory and elementary formal logic as viable interlocutors and upholds the idea that we, philosophers and scientists alike, must engage with the real forms of contemporary mathematics, which he identifies in the works of figures like Grothendieck, Galois, Riemann, Poincarè and others.
The interesting thing which we most note about this theoretical torsion towards a new synthetic tradition is that the analytical model, which decomposes its object in a disjointed mess of bits and pieces, rests upon the Cartesian assumption that there are clear and distinct parts within each and every phenomenon and that all of those things which are not clear enough to be considered primitive or undeniable must be discarded. This assumption can be found, implicitly, in the characterization of the contingent disruptions analysed by Kripke and Blanchot: if it’s not a clear object of knowledge, then it must be a dark piece of unknowing or an aberration of sorts. The possibility of a liminal and murky knowledge, of a vague and unprecise form of conceptual grasping which could, nonetheless, be rationally constructive is not taken into account.
On the contrary, Zalamea’s synthetic model upholds the idea which the vague is an integral part of our dynamic gnosis. If the object is not broken in its basic components, but it is considered in its evolutionary, in the broadest sense of the term, movement through a kaleodiscope of technics, then the catastrophes, the hiccups, the absolutely unforeseeable are positive and even generative moments through which the process of knowledge and comprehension can eventually occur. Against the stupefied dividing absolutism of the blinded-by-its-own-light Enlightenment, the synthetic method sees darkness, chaos, obstruction and contingency as the necessary eruptions which constitute the real content of the object taken into consideration.
Nonetheless, this idea, which gives us a strong reason to dismiss both Kripke’s and Blanchot’s approaches as fundamentally unfounded, needs further methodological recalibration. After all, for now, the synthetic philosopher anchors its intuitions in a confrontation with that which she is not.
What sort of method could support this madness? Or, in other words, can the synthetic philosopher describe its method in simpler, broader and most importantly, positive terms? Can she do without the diacritical comparison with the analytical tradition, asserting a synthetic autonomy and upholding its own method with its own tradition?
2) The answer to this question is, in our opinion, a resounding yes. There is a specifically synthetic method which has been used by various authors to analyse the world around us. We will call this method either the logic of ruination or the cave-dweller ethos.
This method has been used by a diverse set of writers, cultural critics, philosophers, historians and scientists. For example, we could ascribe to this tradition diverse authors such Walter Benjamin and Aby Warburg, with their incessant strolls through the ruins and symbols of this world; Charles Sanders Peirce and William James, who pioneered a method, the pragmatist maxim, for finding the truth of a phenomenon in its effects, its remains and its afterglow, and not in its causes,; novelists like Joseph Conrad, Herman Melville, Malcolm Lowry and James Ballard, who plunged in the heart of darkness and into the madness of quotidian and extraordinary reality, building literary seismographs of our worldly condition, without assuming a final cause or an absolute ground; or, again, geophilosophers like the aforementioned Novalis or Schelling, in whose work the mine, the volcano and the cave become spaces where sapience must delve in order to reconstruct its autobiography on this planet and to purchase some futural freedom from its current bounds and limitations. And the list could certainly continue,
Describing this synthetic method in a sort of mythical fashion, it could be characterized as a rationalist inversion of the Platonic cave. Rather than pitying those who reside in the viscera of the cavern and upholding the idea that everyone should be led out in the blinding light of otherworldly and definitive knowledge, the cave-dweller obsesses over the sedimentations which compose the walls of the cave, the stalactites and the rocks. She does not exalt the darkness around her, but she compulsively navigates her surroundings and she constructs a map of how time’s arrow piled, one upon the other, a stack of ruins, which tell the story of how everything on Earth was rendered non-necessary and contingent through its eventual dissolution. In this way, the synthetic philosopher charts the dynamic movements which transfigured the surface and submerged it in the material unconscious of the ground on which we rest and from which we take leave.45 As Iain Hamilton Grant, intoning the arcane seismography of the multifaceted movements and processes of genetic inscription, puts it:
Movements are worldmakers of exactly the sort that worlds make, etching ontogenesis over the earth, by way of which the latter acquires, so to speak, lithic ‘morpholects’ in consequence of what is made of them. A mark’s being made renders any actual beginnings of directionality into referents for subsequent movements, but nothing dictates that such later movements merely continue or issue from their precursor states. […] The ladder of beings does not lead ever upward but attains points of critical reversal, so that its uppermost rungs are bowed to coincide with those preceding their achievement.46
In other words, the logic of ruination catalogues all existing things as ruins and comprehends them through their conceivable past, present and future effects, signs and remains, since these elements, and not their causes, their ground or their foundational justifications, arbour within themselves the deep, complex history of the object of our inquiries, of its ‘waves of fluxion/refluxion’.47 The posterity and the effects of the object, its sediments and its asperities, give back to us a rational imagine of the true dynamic growth of their evolution and decomposition. The patterns, the relations, the dynamics and even the catastrophes inscribed within the objects we are taking into consideration narrate a rich and unfolding comprehension of the things which stand before us, which must be chased, diagrammed and recapitulated in order to obtain a veritable image of whatever we are studying and to invent new forms and unheard-of concepts. Quoting Zalamea:
Awareness of given polarities and of intermediate fields of strength between these poles, explicit in Peirce, Florenski and Marey, combines in their work with a methodical effort to unravel the lattices of forces from the inside out. In fact, an image – “more there” [“mas alla”] than a word – in turn encourages and contemplates their verse. In this coming and going between light and darkness, between the positive and the negative, the important point is not so much the situation’s “facts” of the “here” or the “there”, as much as how the dynamic image provides the oscillation. When, in Peirce, on the reverse side of the sheet arise the assertions of existential graphs the dotted cuts open areas of possibility, when, in Florenski, reality arises in the reverse side of the plane in the warps of imaginary numbers, when, with Marey, in the reverse of the black background of the Physiological Station arise the traces of movement, we find ourselves before specific configurations of the geometry of the situation requiring the use of topological tools very sensitive to the dynamic transformation of the entities that still record their position. […] Perhaps the greatest strength of human creativity consists in its extraordinary capacity to evoke an entire world from this very fragile debris. Today there does not exist a greater sense of wonder than that produced by contemplating images of the universe captured by astronomers; nothing produces more stupefaction than knowing that our astrophysicists can now track the total evolution of the cosmos. From the most trivial position in the universe, from the security of our desperation, humanity has nevertheless been able to really contemplate the All that it warps. Although the particular view of each individual is limited, the creative capacity of the community as a whole is truly prodigious. The fact that the human mind has been able to search for – and, surprisingly, discover – precise correspondences between imaginative capacity and the folds of the world, moreover [“mas alla”] the inevitable awareness of the limits of the exploration, opens doors unexpected to reason.48
The synthetic philosopher should decant the things she is analysing and see the patterns, the symmetries and asymmetries within their remains to describe the unfolding of its compositional dynamics and predict their future trajectories. Against the luminosity of the absolute knowledge of the ultimate ground, the synthetic philosopher dabbles in the penumbra of the uncertain and, most importantly for our methodological quibbles, of the ruins of this world and their prophetic afterglow. Quoting Zalamea:
Serre, who should no doubt be considered as one of the major stylists of contemporary mathematical literature, used to point out the importance of mixtures in mathematical creativity, and of the presence of a vital inventive penumbra – ‘I work at night (in half-sleep), [which] makes changing topics easier’ – behind the supposed luminosity of proof. It could be said, observing the almost crystallographic luster of Serre’s own work, that the great mathematical creator laces his perpetual decantation of the penumbra (the realm of discovery) with a rare capacity to reveal/construct luminous crystals (the realm of invention), on his zigzagging path. Indeed, it is remarkable that Serre’s limpid style, astonishingly smooth and ‘minimal’, should, in the author’s own words, reveal itself as a ‘wonderful mélange’ situated on penumbral ground. In the same sense, many of contemporary mathematics’ crystallographic gems emerge from the obscure grounds where they are born.49
Or, again, quoting Rosa María Rodríguez Magda:
The contemporary zone is transited by every tendency, every memory, every possibility; transcendent and apparent at once, willingly syncretic in its ‘multichrony’. […] Transmodernity is the postmodern without its innocent rupturism […] Transmodernity is an image, a series, a baroque of fugue and self-reference, a catastrophe, a twist, a fractal and inane reiteration, an entropy of the obese, a livid inflation of information, an aesthetics of the replete and its fatal entropic disappearance. The key to it is not the ‘post-’, or rupture, but the glassy transubstantiation of paradigms. These are worlds that penetrate one another and turn into soap bubbles or images on a screen.50
As far as we are concerned, this revision of the work of the philosopher puts a nail in the coffin of the vampiric figures we have been struggling with throughout our paper. Kripke’s scepticism and Blanchot’s abandon become forms of innocent rupturism, in which the comprehension, the mapping and, if need be, the risk-management of the destructive and generative process of catastrophic events gets annihilated and obstructed to further the ongoing research for an absolute ground which we might never discover – or, even more speculatively, whose discovery could actively impede our capacity to cognitively penetrate within the messy fabric of the actual world around us. The world model constructed by the synthetic philosopher is, then, a broader and more speculative version of what Nick Bostrom called a vulnerable world hypothesis.51 While Bostrom concentrates on a risk-oriented analysis of technological contingency and catastrophe, Zalamea invites us to consider a risk-oriented ontology in which contingency and catastrophe are fundamental features of our understanding of this planet’s ontogenesis. The problem of contingency is reformulated in the baroque and ruinous unfolding of the diagram of the cosmos which the poet Alina Popa crystalized in her beautiful weak method:
The weak method (Greek methodos from meta-“after” + hodos “a travelling, way”) is a vague travel guide, a shape-shifting map to navigate a shape-shifting terrain. Written or drawn in a language reaching beyond itself. The weak cross the limit not by going forward but by falling through.52
As Peirce put it in a catastrophic letter to Lady Welby, the world unfolds through its calamities and the only thing which will spell the end of the cycle of destruction and sapient recapitulation is the heat-death of the universe itself, and that would be a terrible bore:
[…] the evolution of the world is hyperbolic, that is, proceeds from one state of things in the infinite past, to a different state of things in the infinite future. The state of things in the infinite past is chaos, tohu bohu, the nothingness of which consists in the total absence of regularity. The state of things in the infinite future is death, the nothingness of which consists in the complete triumph of law and absence of all spontaneity.53