Non-Philosophy as Magic: Incantation and Non-Mythological Semiosis
It has been claimed that Non-Philosophical texts exploit an incantatory style of language, attempting to produce a dogmatic belief in Non-Philosophy’s efficacy. In comparing Non-Philosophy to magic, one dissociates non-philosophical practice from its self-claimed “scientific” character and tries to demonstrate its irrationality. Yet, one can actually treat the comparison to magic positively and show that the incantatory and hypnotic use of language that Non-Philosophy employs reveals a deeper semiotic and discursive subtlety. In fact, the problems of Non-Philosophical discourse have not yet been adequately theorized, and I think a comparison to magic, or a magical usage of Non-Philosophy, could contribute to such a theorization.
There are three key features that make Non-Philosophy similar to magic. Let us first describe these comparative features, and then explore in what sense this similarity might contribute to a deepened understanding of Non-Philosophy and its possibilities. The three features are: incantatory repetition; esoteric terminology; and performative and symbolic efficacy. All three features form a whole in realizing the magical effect and status of Non-Philosophy.
1) Incantatory repetition.
There is a monotonous and “formulaic” character to Non-Philosophical texts. Works of Non-Philosophy tend to repeat a very restricted set of operations that characterize Non-Philosophy's structure; for example, axiomatic statements about the One’s irreducibility to Being, “deductions” concerning the necessity of occasional causes to clone/describe of the One, and the identification of the philosophical invariant as forming a layer of “sufficiency” that Non-Philosophy aims to critique and identify.
This incantatory repetition possesses a sort of theme-variation structure that is also common in magical spells. Repeating several, leading rhetorical figures or words, a range of different objects or features tend to follow the leading figure as a varied enumeration. Much like the diversity of philosophical material to be handled by non-philosophy, repetition highlights the power and range of application of the magical spell.
In addition, iteration produces a hypnotic effect. As the Non-Philosophical text develops in time, it becomes easier to see and to feel the movement of Non-Philosophical thinking. Int his case, more and more one might begin to feel strangely “separated,” just like the supposed differentiation of the One from Being, or a division of the soul and the body. Non-philosophical terms and ideas gain a discursive coherence the more one learns to enter into their rhythms, or to learn the music of Non-Philosophy. One then comes to "do" Non-Philosophy almost not by translating it into a more everyday discourse, but by learning its figures of speech, rhetorical tropes, and poetic style. One does not "explain" Non-Philosophy necessarily, but learns to chant it.
2) Esoteric terminology.
What is often hypnotically repeated derives from a store of esoteric terminology and strange textual markings that imbue the text with of singularity and a certain "incomprehensibility." Yet the text solicits the reader to appropriate such outsideness as what emanates from of a sort of inward force. This is an effect very similar to what Mary Douglas called the "internal power" of witchraft, the evil eye, or prophecy, a kind of "power of the strange." Esoteric language is seductive and produces a characteristic desire to grasp the text, to “get it.” At the same time, Non-Philosophy only affirms that there is nothing really to grasp. Esotericism unites with repetition to erotically sustain a kind of searching desire, or "wanting to believe." Furthermore, what we wish to believe in is in a discourse that poses itself as a sort of secret knowledge.
3) Performative and Symbolic Efficacy.
Non-Philosophy tends to self-affirm its own power and efficacy, its range of application, and how it is different from philosophy. Its force can seem to emanate from a specifically symbolic power, the power of speech (or text) itself. It does what it says, and seems to do it by saying it. Non-Philosophy's own performative declarations are similar to the frequent habit of magicians to explicitly proclaim their magical prowess and to state the foreseen efficacy of their magic.
Taking these three comparative features into account, should we not conclude that Non-Philosophy tends to be hallucinatory, irrational, or even manipulative? Instead, let us try to explore the semiotic process that Non-Philosophy instantiates. To start, we might point out two important "sides" of Non-Philosophy; first is the Real, as given or datum, and the other the “philo-fictions” produced through the incantations performed on philosophical material (much like a magician utters a spell over a given object). The essential idea we will develop is that the Real and fiction oppose each other like the given and the invented and that this is a semiotic relationship. Non-Philosophy demonstrates an implicit grasp of such a relationship and how to utilize it.
Building on Roy Wagner’s conception of semiosis, we might propose that semiotic practice unfolds fundamentally via a relationship between invention and counter-invention within a dialectic of the given and the constructed. Let us explain. By trying to articulate contexts of human action or meaning symbolically, we tend to counter-invent other contexts as “frames,” backgrounds, or given fields of the action. These contribute to the meaning of the symbolic action. For example, when we treat a field of activity as “artificial” (like the production of cultural objects or cultural norms for example), we implicitly counter-interpret something in response to it as innate or “natural.” Such is the semantic "ground" for an intervening or deviating "figure."
Building on this framework, notice how the critic of Non-Philosophy claims that Non-Philosophy remains "mere fiction," prey to the confusion of incantation or simple speech with the Real, or with that which is not fictional. In fact, according to our idea of semiosis, the critic invokes a discourse which attempts to counter-invent the “innate”, but is potentially only producing what he claims to be the “real.” The complexities of discourse are perhaps not so easily side-stepped.
We propose that Non-Philosophy is actually a way of undermining this double-bind of the artificial/innate binary, while acknowledging it as a problem. Though, on the one hand, the critic struggles to actually “overcome the fiction” - since he fictionalizes nature in a reverse direction through his obsession with the "merely fictional" - Non-Philosophy, on the other hand, employs a magical counter-invention of the Real while actually acknowledging the impossibility of total fictionalization.
The Real is of course only ever described or elaborated via fiction and this is the meaning of the necessity of an occasional cause as model and material. But the Real is not thereby “fictional.” Non-Philosophy’s use of hypnotic, esoteric, and performative formulae is ultimately a way to index a failure to grasp the Real while striving to sustain a consistent desire adequate to such failure. Reiteration serves consistency, hypnosis serves desire, and peformance the active component of semiosis (the usage of language and not only its structure, parole and not only langue). A non-philosopher is like an intentionally failed magician, who uses magic to show you how magic "doesn't work." But this can only be done by doing it, and by "learning the tricks." In turn, "learning the tricks" is again not "mere artifice," but an authentic uptake of desire, searching, and commitment, though authentic only in the act...
Let's consider the problem anthropologically-comparatively. Again referencing Wagner’s idea of semiosis, we can say that where European cultures tend to emphasize artificial and generalizing constructions (technology, scientific models, or "cultural norms”) so as to counter-invent innate nature, many indigenous cultures focus on differentiation and singularization to counter-invent “cultural” forces that people an enchanted cosmic atmosphere. Non-Philosophy as a mode of "weird" singularization would in fact seem to locate itself on the "primitive" or indigenous side. It is constantly differentiating, affirming the "non" of its separation from Philosophy, which on its side gathers the world together into a collectivizing Totality. Non-Philosophy is "one time each time" (to quote a mantra) an energetic and magical individualization. If Non-Philosophy is like "primitive" magical action, could we then try to invoke it for the project of reinventing a mythological and enchanted world (or "Universe"), of course in a certain "scientific" manner?
Such a usage of Non-Philosophy has of course not yet been made explicit, but our comparison points in this direction. Such an idea would point to a future domain of non-mythology through the attention to anthropological materials, whether such materials are drawn from “primitive" cultures, or by articulating (and critiquing and relativizing) our own mythologies. Non-Philosophical magic would be a way of "actualizing" the Real so as to produce new mythologies in a self-aware and critical manner, that is, aware of semiotic problematics of invention and fictionalization. This would be a way of building on Non-Philosophy’s capacity to be not a simple denial of the magical and mythological layer of language, but rather its its usage and explicitation.